Posted October 28, 2018 by David Latham in Feature
 
 

PAX Rising 2018 Round-Up


Saturday at PAX 2018 Australia was hugely popular, and without the queue hall properly set up we found ourselves lining up on the grass outside. The process took a little while longer than we had planned, and unfortunately meant we couldn’t get around to as much of PAX Rising 2018 as we wanted, but here’s our wrap-up of the games that looked interesting from afar.

PAX Rising 2018 is where independent developers, usually teams of less than five, can showcase their newly released or upcoming games direct to the public and get feedback from fans and media alike.

SNEAKER – ThreeBeak

First up we sat down with Sneaker developed by ThreeBeak. The game uses both literal definitions of the word ‘sneaker’ in that it is a stealth-based game similar to the Dishonored franchise, except your only weapons are your sneakers. In the level we tried, we didn’t have any sneakers at first but instead had to find them behind a few locked doors. There was some basic puzzle solving required and then the second half of the mission had us sneaking around past guards which felt very similar to Dishonored. There is also a rewind feature (just like Dishonored again) which allows you to go back in time and retry puzzles or stealth actions.

PAX Rising 2018

While the game felt like an arcade-style Dishonored, it had cute cartoony graphics. It looks promising, and ThreeBeak plans to release it on Steam first, followed by Xbox One, PS4 and Switch later. Find out more about Sneaker at its official website here.

BRINKO – Zain ul Hassan

Next we went around the corner and immediately sat down with a demo of Brinko. Brinko is a platformer inspired by the Super Mario Bros. series. It has an overworld, with about ten planned levels in each world. Zain explained plans to have the worlds released as episodes, adding story as he goes. While Brinko was still in its early days, it had some solid platforming ideas including the ability to place your own platforms, as well as the use of a portal to travel to and from the background and foreground of each level to collect coins. The game also currently features a day/night cycle.

PAX Rising 2018

While Zain admitted there were still fundamental gameplay elements to work out, he was happy to say the game was still a year away from completion. A Brinko demo is already available on Steam, with plans for full releases on Steam and Nintendo Switch in November 2019. For more information you can check out the official Brinko Facebook page here.

SUPERTRUCKS OFFROAD – Meltdown Interactive Media

The next game that caught our eye was SuperTrucks Offroad by Meltdown Interactive Media. This game originally launched in January 2018 on Steam, however the developers say a huge update is coming to the game next month, with plans for Android/iOS launch before the end of 2018.

PAX Rising 2018

What we got to experience with the game was a pretty basic 1v1 figure 8 race. There was boost and damage to the vehicle, however in the PAX 2018 demo there weren’t any items to pick up on the course to replenish your boost or repair your vehicle, which is apparently in the full game. Boasting up to 8 truck races offline and 4 truck races online, SuperTrucks Offroad could be a decent handheld racing game for fans of super trucks. The developer said he has plans to rework the braking in the game, possibly adding a handbrake option as currently if your car hits an obstacle there’s just a vehicle reset button.

BRIEF BATTLES – Juicy Cupcake

Brief Battles had a lot of attention at PAX 2018 and for good reason – it looks to be a solid Smash Bros. style game with unique and innovative gameplay revolving around briefs. Yes, that’s right, Brief Battles is all about what underwear you’re wearing and what you do with it. At the start of a game you pick a character, but the character is more about looks because the underwear you collect during the game is what gives you your power abilities. Multiplayer was quite chaotic, and with the use of a double jump and also a super jump that allows you to hang from ceilings, we found the gameplay to be original and unique enough to separate it from other platform action fighting games.

PAX Rising 2018

Singleplayer hosts an array of gameplay modes, with a detailed tutorial to get you started. With just two people working on the game we were surprised by how far it has come and excited to see its release on Xbox One and PC platforms. The developers said they’re eager to see the game on PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch as well. Keep your eye on this one. For more info check out the Brief Battles website here.

DAMSEL – Screwtape Studios

This one garnered quite a bit of attention at PAX Rising, probably because of its fast-paced action and puzzle-solving techniques. At its core it’s a shoot-em-up similar to ‘Splosion Man, Super Meat Boy, etc. Damsel just came out on Steam a couple of weeks ago, with plans for consoles in the not too distant future.

PAX Rising 2018

The game has stacks of levels, each slowly getting more difficult and requiring you to master the different gameplay elements such as rescuing hostages, unlocking safes and defusing bombs. The story is wonderfully presented in comic book fashion with some amazing artwork. Levels will vary from under a minute to 3-4 minutes long, but the developers say that some of the tougher levels will probably take many attempts to complete. While your gun has unlimited ammo, it can be disabled by certain enemies and objects, though it does recharge over time. There’s fun double-jumping action in Damsel, as well as being able to shoot downwards to give yourself some extra height.

We also got a little bit of information about a sequel being in the works but stay tuned to Rocket Chainsaw for more on Damsel 2 when the developers are ready to discuss it more. For more on Damsel, check out its official website here.

ECHOES OF ORION – Teepee Studios

Just four weeks into development, Teepee Studios was already eager to give PAX 2018 attendees a functional gameplay experience of Echoes of Orion, a new action adventure game that they say will be similar to Monster Hunter World. The demo we played was co-op and pitted us against a Mushroom Boar in a unique rocky biome. The boar had three phases, and the final phase saw a poisonous purple mist sweep the area. It was a difficult fight and unfortunately the boar got stuck so we weren’t able to complete it, but the game is looking promising. The developers said the monsters will drop loot such as new weapons and armour, and there will be many different original biomes to explore.

PAX Rising 2018

The above image shows a ‘town hub’ which presumably will be similar to Monster Hunter World where you get quests and bounties to attack more enemies. No word on a release date yet given the game is just four weeks into development, but we did learn that Echoes of Orion is planned to launch on Windows PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One platforms. For more on this one, check out the official page here.

DIMENSIONSVS – Teepee Studios

Another game from Teepee Studios, DimensionsVS has been available on Steam via the early access program for three months. A full release is expected as early as August 2019, and from what we played of the game it’s going to need as much time as it can get if it wants to compete with other games of the same genre.

PAX Rising 2018

As you can see from the image, DimensionsVS is a Smash Bros. clone with its own unique characters and abilities. There are currently only six characters to choose from, and the game has no singleplayer. It was fun to play briefly, but Teepee Studios is going to want to work on the action and pace if they want this one to be a bigger success. Currently DimensionsVS is only on PC but the developers plan to release it on all consoles as well. Head to the official DimensionsVS website here.

SOUNDFALL – Drastic Games

When someone tells you there’s an indie game you have to try out at PAX, you’d better haul over and try it because chances are it’s going to be a stand-out game. Soundfall is just that. The idea is simple: attack and move to the beat of the music. Drastic Games have done a great job implementing the idea, and along with some great graphics this one is shaping up to be a whole lot of fun.

PAX Rising 2018

The developers were confident in saying the game won’t be ready until late 2019 on all platforms, and there’s good news for Windows PC/Steam players as we learnt you’ll be able to add your own music to the game. Drastic Games also wants to work on ways for console users to mix up their music, but that feature might not be available at launch. Check out the official Soundfall website here.

SPEAKING SIMULATOR – Affable Games

The last game we had time for at PAX Rising 2018 was Speaking Simulator. This hilarious simulator game has you literally learning how to control your lips and tongue as a robot who is pretending to be totally not a robot. The tutorial level involved sitting down for dinner with Karen from HR (Damn it, Karen!) and involved a few sentences and trying to eat some peas while not being too suspicious. As your suspicion meter builds, your face begins to malfunction and things like your ear popping off or your eye twitching and overheating are hilariously animated.

PAX Rising 2018

The premise was simple but the gameplay was difficult to pick up. In our chats with the developers, they were interested in user feedback and are considering ideas such as changing the controls around (e.g. via a system update to your character) to force you to learn how to play the game differently, as well as working on putting different things in your mouth such as liquids.

This one’s due out in early 2019 on Windows PC, and Affable Games wants to bring it to consoles soon after. While we found the actual speaking audio to be a bit weird, with a bit of practice and repeating the levels, the movement and flow of the sentences should become clearer. If you want to learn more about Speaking Simulator, head to the official website here.

QUANTUM SUICIDE – Cotton Candy Cyanide

previewed by Adam

After exceeding its crowdfunding target by thousands of dollars, the visual novel Quantum Suicide has been in development for three years, but is finally nearing the home stretch despite some production troubles. Largely developed by a single person, Tina Howard, with the help of art and voice-work contractors, the game draws inspiration from the Danganronpa and Zero Escape series, albeit being unique in mixing that style of narrative with a dating simulator as well.

From playing the short demo at PAX this year, I was able to get a grasp on the basic gist of the story. Players take on the role of a researcher on board a spaceship, with a colourful crew of unique – and romanceable – characters, all run by the pleasant and sweet ship’s computer – AI. However, periodically AI becomes overtaken by a darker persona, DAI, who forces the crew to take part in the ‘Deletion Game’, where they’re forced to compete for survival and avoid execution. The demo’s deletion game round involved participants being assigned card numbers, and having to trade or form alliances with others in order to come as close as possible to making a total of ‘10’.

There also appears to be some quantum time-travel shenanigans going on, as the demo suddenly and violently came to a close as our romantic partner, the ship’s captain, decided to murder us, just before her own doppelganger, who looked mortified. Playing the demo, it is definitely reminiscent of the Zero Escape series, albeit with some more humour and of course, a bit more saucy romance. At the moment, the game is currently coming to PC, with ports to Vita and Switch planned. If you’re a fan of visual novels or high-stakes stories, then Quantum Suicide may just surprise you – and then stab you.

NECROBARISTA – Route 59

previewed by Adam

Not only developed in Melbourne but with a story centered around Melbourne itself, Necro Barista certainly earns its hipster credentials. However, it also may be the most impressive looking visual novel I have ever seen. Featuring fully-rendered real-time cel-shaded graphics, with dynamic camera movement and text that integrates with the scenery, it almost feels like you’re watching an anime movie at times, rather than clicking through a visual novel. Inspired by the anime OVA series, Time of Eve, Necro Barista takes place in a Carlton café where for a single night, the dead and the living can meet and mingle without knowing which is which.

Gameplay comes in the form of collecting keywords throughout each chapter – you’re only allowed to keep a certain amount and the ones you pick earn you ‘points’ towards different stats. The stat which wins out determines the course of the next chapter of the game. There are also first-person sections where you’re allowed to explore the café and pick up and analyse objects. While the demo was limited to a couple of interior sections, there was plenty of Australian-ised dialogue and the trailer promises even more Melbourne flavour, like trams. Currently set for a 2019 release on PC, and later to other platforms, Necrobarista has a solid concept and an eye-catching design – and, of course, it should have much better coffee than any Sydney-developed games.

NEO CAB – Chance Agency

previewed by Adam

The idea behind Neo Cab is so simple, yet ingenious, I’m still thinking about it days after playing its demo at PAX. Developed by Chance Agency, and being published by Fellow Traveller, Neo Cab turns the tables on anyone who’s ever taken an Uber ride, or any ride-share service, and putting you in the potentially perilous and uncomfortable shoes of the driver. Set in the future, you play as Lina, one of the last human cab drivers in a driverless-car world. New to town, you’re just trying to get by and keep your star rating high enough to continue working, while looking after your friend in town who appears to be getting involved in serious trouble.

As you choose riders to pick up, each one has their own story and pressures they place upon Lina, who has to evaluate whether getting a better star rating is worth it. For instance, my first passengers were a couple on a first date that quickly went south, with the young man making advances towards Lina instead – which I chose to play into, in order to get a good review. Later, I was pulled over by police, who encouraged me to pay a donation for their charity ball, in exchange for lenient treatment for small infractions/ The camera remains almost entirely centred on Lina and the backseat, with a stylised look not dissimilar to Archer, but with the neon glow of Blade Runner. Despite being confined to the one location, and largely the one angle, Neo Cab is able to use this to its advantage and tell involving stories. On track for an early 2019 release, Neo Cab is clever, intriguing, and makes me want to be a bit nicer to my Uber driver.

GENESIS NOIR – Feral Cat Den

previewed by Adam

A message at the start of the PAX demo for Genesis Noir explains that the narrative details events happening before, during and after the Big Bang and the formation of the universe. Even with that in mind, what happens in Genesis Noir is still too weird for me to really describe, although not really a bad thing, since it does it all with so much style. Presented as white chalk drawings on a galactic black background, you control a hard-boiled detective character, ostensibly looking for his ‘love’ in a point-and-click adventure interface.

After spinning a galactic black hole a few times, the detective finds himself in a growing environment, which soon manifests plants, animals and eventually humans and the beginnings of civilisation. This is all set to some very smooth music performed by a real Jazz quartet, which makes for an incredibly unique and endearing presentation. Gameplay is done via point-and-click, like an old-school Adventure game, although you don’t seem to have an inventory, and some sections instead require you to interact directly with the environment, spinning objects or brushing aside foliage. I have no idea where it’s all going, but nevertheless I was onboard with Genesis Noir’s strange brand of whimsical, metaphorical storytelling. You haven’t seen anything like Genesis Noir, not before, during or after the Big Bang.

THE CHURCH IN THE DARKNESS – Paranoid Productions

previewed by Adam

A unique take on a top-down shooter, The Church in the Darkness mixes in a lot of elements in to a setting we haven’t really seen before in games. Set in a Christian mission deep in a South American jungle which has cut ties with its roots in the USA, your character is a relative of one of its members, who has come to investigate what is really going on. As you explore the compound, you’ll find letters and documents fleshing out the situation, along with constant updates and re-assurances from the ever-present PA system, letting you in on the charismatic leaders of the mission – Isaac and Rebecca Walker. However, what is unique is that the story itself is meant to be procedural, in a way that your decisions and actions shape the course of the story on the fly. In the demo at PAX, getting killed by members of the mission early on didn’t result in a game ending death, but the start of a new ‘chapter’ where your capture is taken into account as part of the story. So too, is your escape and subsequent raising of an alarm if you’re not careful, signalled by another chapter marker.

You’re able to go through The Church in the Darkness guns blazing, but of course that won’t get you very far with limited ammunition. Taking things slowly and utilising stealth takedowns is the much safer option, although foes you leave alive don’t stay down for long. You can cut access to alarm systems, but this requires special parts and may only delay guards as they run to find the next-closest alarm. It was difficult to correctly complete a stealthy run in the demo, but the game is still being fine tuned as it is in Alpha. The things I remember about The Church in the Darkness are the small scenes I came across – a firing line, with one person already dead, in the middle of town, and me without a way to effectively stop it – or the litany of empty, metal cages around the compound. If The Church in the Darkness can pull of these effectively into an affecting, yet shifting narrative, it could very well be an intriguing title that warrants multiple playthroughs.

Stay tuned to Rocket Chainsaw this week as we bring you more from the show floor at PAX 2018 as well as exclusive interviews with AAA developers.


David Latham

 
David has a Bachelor of Arts (Journalism) from a Group of Eight university, but only uses his very unique set of skills writing about video games. By day he's a stay-at-home dad, by night he's literally Batman. Where does he find the time?