A few of the games we're most excited for next year
If you overlooked some of the news coming out of PAX West last month, you may've missed some of the exciting new games being exhibited. And hey, we get it, everyone's got a busy schedule. But if you're starting to get antsy for 2018 games, we're here for you. Call it an early retrospective-prospective.
Here's a handful of games that really stood out to us at PAX West!
Much like the mechs they deify, a good mech game is comprised of many intricate systems. Complicated loadouts which require fine-tuning and proper internals, huge maps with various objectives, and locational damage which turns battles into drawn-out slugfests over objectives are all reflections of that drive to make a game worthy of the complexity of a bipedal machine.
Phantom Brigade is a continuation of this tradition. It revels in complexity, giving you many options both in and out of game to customize your experience.Take combat. Phantom Brigade plays much like XCOM: mechs have action points which they expend to perform actions. But it hews closer to the original UFO Defense formula, where every character has a pool of action points and you aren't restricted to only two or three actions per turn.
Combat is also physically-modeled. When you select a target, you are shown the cone of fire, a hit percentage, and any cover blocking your way. Cover isn’t invulnerable and doesn’t require anything special to destroy, so missions will commonly end with your mechs trudging around the ruins of a small town.
Finishing missions feeds back into a campaign mode where you research, upgrade, and modify mechs, as well as mentor your pilots. While the campaign wasn't fleshed out in the demo, there were bits and pieces hooked up already. Mechs could be edited down to the individual parts, and the campaign promised to make salvaging individual parts from derelict mechs a major component. Pilots could be swapped between mechs, and the campaign promised to make their ejection and retrieval and important mechanic.
All of these elements are, in grand PC tradition, moddable. So you can create new mechs and scenarios, name your pilots, and so on. Like its predecessors, Phantom Brigade aims to put as much design power into the hands of its players as possible.
Do you want to play Tribes: Ascend, again, but it’s more like Tribes 2? Do you miss inventory stations? Are you ready for another free-to-play Tribes-like game? Well, that’s Midair.
For those who don’t know: Tribes is a classic PC first-person shooter franchise which revolves around jetpacking warriors using momentum and a little bit of strategy to attack enemy bases. There are base structures, a wide variety of armor and weapon types, and even vehicles to aid you in your goal (usually capture the flag).
The appeal of Tribes lays in its variety and size. There are roles for everyone, from the siege guy who hurls mortars into enemy turrets to the speedy little flagrunner who dies to a sneeze but travels the speed of sound. You can stay at the base and help maintain your team’s infrastructure, shoot down attackers in the midfield, or even sneak into the enemy base to blow the generator with explosives.
As for Midair, it’s Tribes. The way weapons handle - motion inheritance and physical simulation - the structure of your base - inventory stations and a vitally important generator - and even the art style - a simplified and more colorful Tribes 1 - all scream “You are playing Tribes.”
Midair is a true callback, for better and worse.
NBA Jam was never a realistic game, but Dunk Lords goes one step farther. It’s 2v2 basketball at its most ridiculous.
Gone are the trappings of basketball which attempt to impose any sort of order, such as fouls or free throws. In their place is a robot which will blast you through a wall with its laser face. By stripping basketball down to its most basic rules and adding in comic-like abilities, Dunk Lords is both accessible and free of the baggage of sticking to real life.
There’s one major downside, though: games snowball far faster and worse than any NBA game, precisely because of those comic-like skills. Some characters definitely seem stronger than others, and good special ability use can completely freeze out the enemy team from competing.
But if balance isn’t your key concern - if you just want to play a silly basketball game about balls going in hoops and people getting knocked over - there’s a lot to love here. The character design is goofy and cartoonish, abilities are over the top, and the rules of basketball are simplified just enough for anyone to understand.
You zoom through space, somehow slower than everyone else. You attach to a nearby surface to get a speed boost, but it’s rather limited in length. Hopping from surface to surface, you try to maintain your speed without becoming too disoriented. It’s tough.
This is the basic premise of Light Field, a racing game like no other.
Light Field is, simply put, a time trial. You compete against a timer to complete a course as quickly as possible, with ghosts of various completion times to guide you. You can move however you like in three-dimensions, but you’ll move pretty slow if you only putter along through the air.
So, to keep your speed up, you must attach to surfaces. Doing so gives you a big speed boost, and also reorients your camera so that your look like you’re racing along the surface. This sudden shift in camera orientation may be dizzying, but it’s also very useful, as it allows you to snap your camera to see where you’re going.
Mastering the attachment system is important because Light Field’s tracks are full of tight turns in every direction. Getting the best lap is about maximizing your time attached to a surface while taking strategic shortcuts and compensating for the camera shift. You’re constantly thinking about where you need to attach next, what turn is coming up, and how you could shave seconds with good timing.
The variety of paths you can take through a level means that you’re constantly learning new tricks to a map you’ve beaten a dozen times. Every lap is different, and you’re constantly evaluating yourself to see if you could shave off a few seconds by attaching to this pipe or that one.
Way of the Passive Fist
Can you make a brawler without brawling?
That’s the premise of Way of the Passive Fist, a brawler which follows a pacifist (get it?) as they wander through a desert landscape filled with angry and murderous enemies, surviving entirely through the art of not fighting.
Functionally, it’s a brawler where all you do is parry. Parrying reduces enemy stamina, and when that stamina reaches zero, you can tap them to knock them unconscious. The way you move around the field, how enemies approach you, even the little health bars; it’s all reminiscent of games like Final Fight or Streets of Rage.
By making a brawler based around parrying, your entire arsenal is based on the cadence and predictability of enemy attacks. Thankfully, every enemy of a particular sprite will always attack you in a specific way, and encounters involving more than one enemy become a rotating circle of attackers each taking their turn.
The most important traits for a good brawler are a pleasing combat rhythm and predictable enemies, and Way of the Passive Fist perfects both.
Away: Journey to the Unexpected
Every indie game is a little bit nostalgic, but Away is packed to the gills with love for the age of Japanese RPGs.
Dragon Quest is a clear inspiration. The art is certainly similar, but there’s also Dragon Quest’s trademark goofy charm. Dialogue is frequently just a little bit silly, but ties into larger themes. Characters have particular vocal quirks or turns of phrase. There are, dare I say, puns.
Then there’s the the influence of dungeon crawlers like Shin Megami Tensei. You move around an overworld in first-person and occasionally go dungeon-diving, and you use a party - each character bearing an attack or special ability - to eliminate monsters and solve puzzles. You even negotiate with NPCs to get them to join your party.
But Away doesn’t have much in the way of XP gathering or skill synergizing, so the end result also smacks reminiscent of Zelda. The point isn’t to spend fifteen hours grinding to get a new party member by finally being strong enough. You solve puzzles and answer dialogue correctly to advance.
Away is a hodge-podge of every charming JRPG out there, both in mechanics and in aesthetics.
Super Impossible Road
What if leaving a track during a race to skip most of it wasn’t just allowed, but encouraged?
This is the basic premise of Super Impossible Road. You are a ball, and there is a winding path going down. You can try and control your ball on the path the whole way down, but it’s true: the road really is Super Impossible. So when you eventually fly off the track because it’s just what happens, you are allowed to fall a long way before you have to touch the track again.
The end result is you feel like a pinball. You’re constantly bouncing off curves and using boost to achieve just the right impact angle to keep you on the track. Until you get used to it, you fail constantly. But once you have a grasp on the physics, you can do feats like skipping half the race and finishing in under a minute.
Needless to say, it’s a great party game. A group of four all trying to “cheat” and often failing means that you can be in first one second and dead last the next. It’s the sort of down-to-the-wire tension that makes racing so much fun to watch. And when you are finally good at the game, the skill necessary to complete a course in that time is also an awe to behold.
There are few survival games which encourage true player-run economies. While many multiplayer survival games are about players separating into their own petty factions and building mini-economies, those economies are rarely of scale or require complicated logistics.
Eco makes those economies more important. It makes them the whole game. And the result is much more cooperative and friendly than your average Rust or ARK server.
Eco is about players cooperating to build a functioning economy before a meteor hits the planet and kills everyone. This economy, however, can’t kill off the planet before the meteor has a chance to hit. So you must juggle production with conservation, greed with cooperation.
Suitably, Eco is an excessively complicated game for the genre. When you chop down a tree, it tumbles predictably. Then, you must chop the logs up to make them easier to carry. Then, you take them to the carpenter. Then… you get the idea.
This complexity is what makes Eco so interesting. There is a place for everyone in the system, from lumberjack to pump mechanic to mayor, and the tools you are given to realize your place are so detailed you can lose yourself in the numbers. But you aren’t forced to be good and cooperative; Eco is a game about encouraging cooperation, not mandating it.
Eco balances the ecology with the economy, and the result is a fascinating labyrinth of complex systems.