One Last PAX Experience

I hit PAX on Friday and Saturday, so I should post my notes before they become irrelevant…  It was my first PAX, although I’ve been to many similar con-type events in the past.

General show:

  • With its unabashed “nerdcore” attendee list, PAX is better described as a mini-GenCon than a mini-E3. They have an impressive size for being a fairly young show, but it still is very much centered around fandom of the Penny Arcade comic. The sessions with the authors and on the PA game were some of the hottest tickets, as opposed to other sessions talking about more “serious” topics of development.  Not surprising, it’s not supposed to be a GDC or anything, despite heady topics about PR and episodic content.
  • On the upside, it actually had a fairly impressive turnout of games in playable form, including many that I hadn’t seen before in any form. I assume that falling at the same time as Leipzig gave the publishers some ready-made material to show.
  • Aside from what I mention below, there was a great spread of playable games:  Haze, Eye of Judgment, Metroid Prime 2, Conan (console), Heavenly Sword (a new demo), Warhammer Online, a big America’s Army thing, and several dozen more I’m not thinking of here.
  • Nintendo, Microsoft, Sony and EA all made an appearance, which is impressive given recent news that E for All won’t have that sort of backing.
  • Overall PAX surprised me with an air of “legitimacy” as a serious show. It would take a couple more years, but if it ultimately balloons into a notable national event, it’ll be cool for Seattle.

Kane and Lynch:

  • I was able to sit down and play through an entire level… this is the Japanese street battle against cops that you’ve probably seen videos of. They did a great job of maintaining a feel… all the civilians running around gave it a good feel of chaos, even if they were just there to block shots and fall down dead. As you can probably guess, the game’s pretty grim.
  • This game was one of many ones that I played that use the Gears/Killswitch cover scheme. Here, it felt pretty good. AI used cover extremely well, with multiple animations to shoot out of cover at a number of angles and heights. If you flanked them, they did an impressive job of adjusting their stance to keep cover.
  • In the demo I was grouped with a bunch of nondescript allies who fought alongside me, so I don’t know if I was Kane or Lynch, and my partner didn’t really strike me as any different as any other ally. That said, the feeling of directing a group was good… These guys looked cool coming up alongside you and firing out of cover… You could direct them and it felt okay, even though I didn’t always see a big impact from the commands: “go there”, “attack this” and “follow me”.
  • The control scheme read like a scientific calculator manual, with multiple commands on the D-pad and L3 sprinting… Bleah.
  • The demo was a fight along a directed path, with none of the usual “open world” experience you see so much.  I must admit that I went up to a car whose door was open (for cover) and almost expected to be able to drive, but in the end the game was better without it… allowing there to be a lot of detail in smaller spaces. This gave a pretty intense experience… however, I still didn’t get a feeling that the characters they were marketing were distinct in any way, other than having to fight cops a lot.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune:

  • In this one I played in a small playground with a bunch of climbing pillars and a courtyard fight against modern pirates.
  • The climbing didn’t really stand out to me much, except for the fact that the animation was crazy-smooth. The problem with its smoothness is that sometimes my character felt “lazy” or slow. In general it had all the Prince of Persia-style climbing mechanics you expect…  I didn’t really engage in any climbing puzzles in the demo.
  • In contrast, I really enjoyed the shootout I had. There was something a bit more personal in my combat with these enemies… I took cover (once again) like Gears, but there was something about the feel of the shootout that felt intense. The videos really don’t do it justice.
  • At the same time, while the renegades I fought were pretty generic, how they moved and the personality of the shootout that really made it seem like they were dangerous people. This is something that Half-Life and a couple other games do, but isn’t always the case… more often you’re afraid of “a bullet” or “an explosion” than you are of an organized, motivated group of people. I think it delivered that feel really well to me. Since I didn’t get that feel from the videos, I’m trying to figure out why I felt so strongly, whether it was control, or responsiveness, or how the enemies were moving, shooting and constantly trying to flank me.
  • Melee combat was cool too, a sort of side-on, slow-mo affair that had a good visceral feel. Of course everyone does the up-close takedowns now (again you could credit Gears’ chainsaw for this).

Lair:

  • I picked this one up and played it for about five minutes. It was really hard to get into… My dragon steered by tilting the controller, which was not particularly responsive and always led me to want to touch the sticks (which controlled the camera). If there was a way to reverse direction, I didn’t know what it was.
  • The game is definitely a child of Rogue Squadron rather than what I was hoping for, a spiritual successor to Drakan. Generally I was flying from checkpoint to checkpoint, destroying distant targets with flybys. I felt like I had already experienced all there was by watching the videos online.
  • One thing that using the tilt-sensor allows you to do is to load up BOTH sticks, D-Pad, all four shoulder buttons and all face buttons with commands. This game gave Kane and Lynch a run for its money in terms of control complexity. I guess it comes from those sim roots.

Dark Sector:

  • I was shocked to see this playable, six kiosks, with open slots always available.  I’m not sure whether there’s big buzz around the game or not.  I played through a chunk several times, but I’m not sure how far I got (it was pretty hard).
  • There was hiding behind pillars and seeing them disintegrate as they are shot up, which I got my fill of in Stranglehold. For some reason the cover didn’t feel as cool as it did in Kane and Lynch or Drake’s though.
  • My glaive was probably my deadliest weapon when I threw it (my SMG seemed weak against enemies, they just kept getting back up), but I didn’t feel like I had experienced it the way it was supposed to be used…  I just saw a blurry thing go to the enemy and make them fall over.
  • I didn’t get far enough in the demo to try out the “elemental powerups” to it, which is what I’m interested in trying.

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