Holy crap, you guys. There were a lot of really good video games at PAX East. While we've already written up several of them, there were even more that definitely deserve your attention. With three writers roaming the show floor this year - editors Dave Roberts and Connor Sheridan, and guest editor Marshall Lemon - we figured we'd give each one a chance to step up on the soap box and tell you the best of the rest.
David Roberts' picks
The Long Journey Home
Humanity’s first attempt at faster-than-light travel has gone horribly awry, and the USS Firefly finds itself adrift in the furthest uncharted reaches of space. You’ll have to use your cunning, rely on your crew, and make numerous life-and-death decisions if you ever want to make it back home again.
While The Long Journey Home shares a lot of its DNA with games like FTL - both games feature procedurally generated galaxies to explore, filled with enough alien races, items, and events that no two sessions will play the same - The Long Journey takes a more realistic approach to space travel. You’ll be able to control your ship directly through the stars, and can even use the gravitational pull from surrounding planets to slingshot yourself to your destination in order to conserve fuel. You’ll also choose four different crew members from a total selection of ten, and they will offer advice and additional help based on their individual speciality. And you'll even be able to survey planets and explore the surface to find resources and mysterious artifacts to help get you home, whether that's with fuel, materials you can use as barter, or the ability to understand new, alien words.
While The Long Journey Home follows in the footsteps of other space survival games before it, its more realistic and collaborative take on the genre offers a far more human struggle than its competition. It's set to release later this year on PC, with PlayStation 4 and Xbox One releases to follow.
Masquerada: Songs and Shadows
The best way to describe Masquerada is that it's a bit like Baldur's Gate or Diablo, only set in a fantasy world that resembles Venice during the height of the Renaissance. In Masquerada, having a mask is a big deal. Not only is this city a hive of political intrigue and deception where a mask can keep you from revealing your true identity, each mask imbues its wearer with special powers. You play as Inspettore Cicero Gavar, who has recently returned from exile to investigate a kidnapping that threatens to rock the city to its very core.
In doing so, you run through various environments and engage in fast-paced, real-time RPG combat. Your party members are controlled via AI, leaving you to manage your own attacks and area of effect spells, though you can pause at any time if you really want to get granular with your strategies. The abilities are as varied as they are interesting, as Cicero can imbue his sword with fire, or summon two additional fencers to join him on the field, while his buddy Kalden backs him up with healing spells. While Masquerada is more linear than most games of its type, and far less loot-driven, it's focused on providing an engaging narrative - complemented by stellar voice work from Jennifer Hale (Mass Effect) and Dave Finnoy (The Walking Dead Season 1), among others.
What I played of Masquerada was incredibly solid and absolutely resplendent, though it's currently on Kickstarter to secure funding for a few months of additional polish and testing. If all goes well, Masquerada: Songs and Shadows will simultaneously release on PC and PlayStation 4 this summer.
We all know this movie cliche: a hard-boiled detective living in a cyberpunk dystopia goes into a bar and shakes down the bartender for the latest gossip. But what happens to the bar and its patrons after the detective leaves and the credits roll? That’s the story that VA11 HALL-A is aiming to tell, only this time, you’re the bartender.
As the bartender of VA11 HALL-A (known by the locals as Valhalla), you provide libations for the various customers who walk through your doors. They’ve all got a story to tell, and as you ply them with drinks, they’ll reveal additional details about their backstory, as well as a broader narrative that begins to unfold over the course of the game. But the stories you get aren’t always the same. Of course, you can decide to give the customer the drink they ordered, flipping through the recipe book and dragging ingredients into the mixer in a simple minigame, or you can screw it up, and give them something totally different. The drink you give them determines how they react to you and how their story unfolds, and the path the narrative takes can end up in wildly different directions.
The brief story I got to experience followed a young girl who just turned drinking age, and as you mix drinks you get to know her a little better, learn about how she feels about losing her arm, and what she plans to do now that she's not in the hospital any more. Oh, and she might not exist, if that large puddle of alcohol on the ground is any indication (and your boss really wants you to clean that up, thank you). If any of this intrigues you, you'll be able to find VA11 HALL-A on PC in a few months, while a Vita version is coming later this year.
Building a procedurally-generated metroidvania game seems like a difficult task, but Chasm is more than willing to take on that challenge. If you've played games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night before, you generally know what to expect - you explore side-scrolling dungeons, fight monsters, gain new abilities that let you access parts of the map you couldn’t reach before, and so on. But Chasm uses hand-crafted rooms along with an algorithm to change up the dungeon's layout every time you start up a new game. You'll always come across its various abilities in the same order each time, but where they are located, and the traps and treasures you'll encounter along the way, will be wildly different.
That's not to say that Chasm is a roguelike. Far from it, actually. You'll have to head to the surface periodically to shop at the stores that open up as you rescue the town's citizens from the depths below, but the dungeon is exactly as you left it each time you head back in over the course of a single eight-to-12 hour playthrough. Of course, if you're feeling particularly hardcore, you can turn on permadeath, which will cause the dungeon to reset completely when you die and start over. Considering Chasm is already difficult enough as it is, this mode is only for the truly masochistic among us who crave that extra bit of challenge.
Chasm is aiming for a simultaneous release on PC and PlayStation 4 later this year, and should please Castlevania fans looking for another adventure.
Read on for Connor's favorites from PAX East.