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PAX East 2012: Gaming Hands On Quick Hits

With so much going on at PAX East this year, I found my time to check out the various games to be a series of quick bites, rather than several large gulps.  In honor of that, I wanted to relay to you my quick impression on four games that I got some hands-on time with: A Valley Without Wind, Double Dragon Neon, The Secret World and Spec Ops: The Line. There may be some gameplay spoilers, but I didn’t get deep enough into any single game’s story to reveal anything juicy about plot.  Ready? Let’s go:

Double Dragon Neon

Admittedly, I got about 5 minutes of play with this game from developer WayForward.  I did watch others play for a bit though, and am happy to report that, as a fan of the original, it was nice to see the homage this game was paying to it.  Everything from the ridiculous opening “story” (seriously, why couldn’t our fearless heroes just, you know, run to save the girl? The bad guys had just left the screen a second before the garage opened), to the intro music for the level being a nice remix of the original’s, to the familiar looking characters and enemies; it all screams nostalgia.  Fortunately, there is some modernization going on, particularly with the graphics.  I personally liked the style that was displayed; if felt very 80s, in a modern day way.  Colors are vibrant, muscles are bulging, and boobs are bouncing.  There is some nice attention to detail on the characters, and also a strong variety of moves available to use.  Best part? (or worse, depending on how you liked to play) No team killing!  I don’t know if it was an option that was turned off, but I certainly threw my share of bad guys into my friend, and they tumbled safely through him.  I am sure there are many surprises waiting, but my initial playthrough and impression was positive, and I’m looking forward to this hitting the XBLA and PSN virtual storefronts this summer.

A Valley Without Wind

Arcen Games, the folks behind AI War, had a new game available to play at PAX: A Valley Without Wind.  Citing influences such as Metroid and Zelda, the team was very excited about what they had created.  Sitting down to play it myself, I could see why.  Controlling the character movement with the keyboard, and using the mouse to move a target around the screen that will be the focus for your spell’s direction of fire, you will embark on a 2D side-scrolling adventure through various continents, doing battle, collecting resources, building up cities, and exploring the area.  I will say this; there is a TON to do in this game, and the fine folks at Arcen Games told me that the game has endless gameplay, thanks to procedural generation of the lands and environments.  The basic premise is to collect items by defeating enemies, knocking down trees, or exploring buildings.  You can select from a variety of characters that have different focuses (some have more HP, some more Magic, others are a hybrid), and these characters can be built up, learn new spells, and learn new skills.  One thing I was told, however, is that your characters will die, a lot.  Once a character is dead, it’s gone, but any items you accumulate are transferred over to the next character.  Since skill boosts are actually items that are picked up, it may be wise to save those skill boosts as items, if you think your character won’t make it.

There was a decent variety to the enemies in the 15 minute demo I had access to, and each one of them came with a variety of resistances and weaknesses.  If you played AI Wars, then you know that Arcen Games is not shy about the amount of information that they put into their games’ tooltips, and A Valley Without Wind is no exception.  You will be pausing the game quite a bit to hover over new enemies, read their stats, and decide the best course of action.  Items, spells, resources, trees; everything has a tooltip, so be ready to stutter through the game at first while you get your bearings.  This does mean there’s some depth and strategy, but the tradeoff is that it must be communicated somehow, and that means heavy reading. The jumping mechanic also feels a little off, with valid jumps not always registering on the platforms I created, but I’ll reserve judgement, and say it was perhaps user error.

A Valley Without Wind will be releasing in April on Steam for PC and Mac, and will feature solo play, as well as online 2-8+ player co-op.  I think I’d need a little more time with the game to decide if it is worth investing in, but there is a ton to this game, and those looking for a challenging scroller with RPG elements and endless gameplay have found their game.  I got the impression there was more to the multiplayer facet, and particularly with the civilizations and cities that you’ll be building, but with such a short time with the game, it was hard to get into those aspects.  I’ll be curious to get more time with this, and see how those play a factor.

The Secret World

If there’s two things this world might not need more of, it’s zombie games and MMOs.  FunCom is hoping they have a magic bullet with The Secret World, however, by introducing a zombie MMO to the world.  Set in the modern day, you can choose to be a part of one of three secret societies: the Illuminati, the Dragon, or the Templars. The societies will form the basis of your allegiance, and will be useful both for building up your society’s strength, as well as taking part in PVP combat against other societies.  It’s important to note that there are no classes in The Secret World; your character is defined by whatever skills and equipment you choose to give them, so there is a very flexible playstyle that will likely minimize the need to re-roll (or eliminate it altogether).

I played for a short while, and found the game to be serviceable. The atmosphere was excellent, starting off in a spooky wooded area, and being directed to get to the nearest town. Soon you’re dashing down a road while zombies tear at lifeless corpses, wander the street, or lurk in the forests.  You can choose to engage many of them, or just run past, but eventually you will do battle with the zombie horde.  I saw all types of zombies; runners, walkers, crawlers, climbers, you name a zombie, it’s here.  Lifeless corpses that look innocent enough suddenly rise up behind you, so you’re always on your toes.  You have a variety of weapons at your disposal, as well as some initial skills that augment those weapons.  I had a shotgun and assault rifle, and found it did the trick fairly well.  I am sure I was missing something, but could not for the life of me figure out how to free-fire my weapons; I had to use skills at all times in order to attack, so while some skills were refreshing I was left without a method of attack (again, I was probably missing the command, but it certainly wasn’t immediately intuitive).  I did enjoy skills like Tactical Retreat, which places a bomb at my feet while I leaped back to safety.  The leap would hit all enemies with a slow effect, ensuring they stayed in range for the explosion while I was safely away.

Dialog was hit and miss, which is to say, on par with your average MMO.  There is a ton of dialog options and mission with most of the characters, and you’ll also trigger missions as you walk around interacting with the environment.  There was plenty to do and play with, so the mission variety seemed ample.  I was playing this game early, so I didn’t see any other characters in the world at the time, but this is an MMO, so there will be the opportunity to group up and kill the zombie horde.

I’m intrigued enough to want more, so I’ll be looking forward to the Beta coming soon.  You can get in on it too: click here for a signup on getting into the beta and seeing the zombie MMO for yourself.  The Secret World will be available June 19th, so you have time to check it out for yourself before deciding if this is one you want to sink your teeth into.

Spec Ops: The Line

Borderlands 2 wasn’t the only 2K game showing off its stuff at PAX.  Right next to that booth, and taking up an equal amount of space, was an impressive demo of Spec Ops: The Line.  I was able to get some considerable hands-on time with the game, and can say that if the entire game is as memorable as the first 30 minutes, you’ll have a hard time not picking this up when it hits the shelves.  You start the game off at the turret of a helicopter flying through an urban area that is being ravaged.  You’re working on taking down other choppers, and when you do, they tend to crash in spectacular fashion: into buildings, cranes, or each other.  There’s one point where you’re shooting through a high-rise building to hit the chopper on the other side.  Very impressive way to get things going.  Eventually you find yourself on the ground, in the deserts of Dubai, looking for a lost squad.  I won’t delve too much more into the story, but you’ll encounter resistance, and do battle both outside and in while trying to find your targets.

The game plays as a third person shooter, with a focus on cover. The game won’t constantly prompt you to take cover, but you’re going to find yourself doing so often, because not only do you take damage fairly quickly, but your gun is pretty inaccurate when trying to free-fire, or even aim down the sights while standing.  I found I had the best accuracy, and lowest recoil when I was tucked under cover, and coming out in a way that allowed me to balance my gun.  So there’s some strategy there, which is a nice change of pace from the run and gun style that I’m used to.  There’s some excellent situational sections that require some quick thinking, as well as varied gameplay in the short demo (some areas were stealth, with silenced weapons, others involved sniping, some were close quarters combat).  There’s also a nice touch of slow mo death scenes from time to time; I noticed them most frequently on head-shots, but I was typically moving to the next target as I noticed it slowing down, so I lost the effect when I would break out of “down the barrel” view.  Other gimmicks like rappelling and zip lines are here, but only as transitions between areas, rather than having any tactical use.

Graphics were hit and miss. There were times when I was impressed with some level of detail, and then other times when it was noticeably awful.  Truth be told, I was having fun playing, so they only stood out when I had time to notice it, which was typically during cut scenes.  Otherwise, the game, while standard fare for shooters, was still a fun run, and one of the better games I played at PAX.  Details were sparse on the multiplayer offerings, and with games like this, those details tend to be what makes or breaks games, so once they release this information (we were told two weeks), we’ll let you know!  Based on my 30 minutes with the game, I’d certainly be willing to see the single player through, so this may be worth picking up for that alone (though if multiplayer disappoints, perhaps it will be a rental).  Spec Ops: The Line will be released on June 26th.

This was just a small sampling of what was on the floor at PAX, but it’s what I got the most time with.  Keep it locked to Platform Nation for more PAX East 2012 coverage.  Did you get a chance to play these games, want to share your thoughts, or have questions? Drop a comment below and let us know!

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