Last week, Aoife and I flew out to PAX East (which is run by Eurogamer's parent company ReedPOP) to sample some lobster and play some video games, although not necessarily in that order (they were interspersed). Since this is Eurogamer and not Eurocrustacean, here are the five best games we played at PAX East and not the five best times we ate lobster in Boston.
Rad is a new project from Double Fine that's all about being a teenager with a baseball bat in the post-post apocalypse. With humanity having suffered not one but two cataclysmic events, you might think it's going to be a fairly drab affair, but it's actually one of the most hopeful versions of humanity living on the brink I think I've ever seen. Whereas we're used to seeing humans warring against each other in a grim, rusting hellscape, Rad takes place in a world where humanity has rather sensibly united in order to fend off the greater threat of, well, everything else. Admittedly the world you venture into is kind of drab at first glance, but that's only because you haven't explored it yet - wherever you walk in Rad, plants bloom in your wake like you're some kind of chlorophyllic messiah. As well as helping you keep track of where you've already been, it paints the world in cheerful tones and really makes you feel like you're doing some good.
This is especially handy as the price of adventuring in Rad is extremely high. As your plucky teenager sets out on a fresh run - Rad has a procedurally generated world with a persistent town in which all the people live - they are exposed to a great deal of radiation. When the rad meter is filled, in fact, the player character gains a new random mutation - retractable spikes might grow from your torso, for example, or your head might be replaced with that of a massive, stretchy cobra.
All these elements, from the inspired mutations and the bat swinging gameplay to the hopeful, colourful world, make for a really fun and frenetic experience. Definitely one to watch.
Phogs is a cooperative game in which you and a friend control a pair of conjoined 'physics dogs', or Phogs. It's a bit like House House's Push Me Pull You, only cute and not the stuff of nightmares. As you make your way across a plush, dreamlike world, you encounter a series of short puzzles, often requiring you to stretch across a gap or drag an object to another part of the level. Talking these puzzles through with your teammate - you can play using half of the same controller each for added authenticity, by the way - is a process punctuated by little eureka moments and genuinely delightful instances of discovery. Having one dog grip on to a glowing orb, for instance, will cause the other to shoot a beam of light directly from its mouth, presenting an adorable and entirely unexpected solution to one of the game's puzzles.
Moving about as one half of a stretchy almost-cerberus can be a clumsy affair, but thankfully Phogs knows its limits - the puzzles are just complex enough to be rewarding without being so taxing that navigating them becomes a serious hindrance. Phogs, then, is shaping up to be a calming, heartwarming treat, even if the implications of a two-headed dog being able to shine a light clean from one end to another are a little troubling.
Layers of Fear 2
There's something very gratifying about playing a sequel and seeing it imbued with a fresh sense of boldness. It gives the impression of a confident development team that knows its worth, and that's a feeling that runs very strongly through Layers of Fear 2. The demo we played on the show floor swapped the studio of a tortured artist for a nightmarish cruise ship - I'm loathe to say too much more for fear of spoiling the atmosphere. You can see the demo in full below if you like, but suffice it to say that Layers of Fear 2 looks like it'll comfortably live up to its predecessor while offering some bold new innovations along the way.
Of all the games available on Devolver's stand at PAX East, Katana Zero was the one that most made me nod to myself and think 'yep, this is definitely a Devolver game'. Combining gameplay that controls very much like Dead Cells with the same mission / story cadence of Hotline Miami, it's an intriguing tale of a sword wielding assassin with a mysterious past and precognitive abilities.
Said precognitive abilities basically mean that, each time you attempt a new room in each level, the protagonist is trying a new theory on how to proceed. Succeed and a popup says 'yes, that should work' before playing a replay - or should that be a pre-play? - of your work. Fail, and you get a brief rewind animation and start again. Like I said, very Devolver.
While Katana Zero's story is pretty heavy in tone, the 80s stylings and goonish appearance of the enemies keep things light. The visuals in particular deserve a shout-out here - while its pixel graphics may seem simple enough at first, the way the light from neon signs glances off your hair as you pass, or the sheer level of expression in the smallest mannerisms makes it a far more visually sophisticated experience than you might otherwise think.
Katana Zero is out very soon - the 18th of April, to be exact - and is perfect Switch fodder.
What the Golf?
Crowds of people watching others play an interesting looking game at PAX are not uncommon, but undoubtedly the most entertaining one at this year's show was that around What the Golf. Which is just about the daftest golf game you'll ever see.
Making even the likes of Mario Golf seem po-faced by comparison, What the Golf is a series of short levels, each with an unexpected twist to it. There's one level in which a golfer gets ready to tee off, only to be launched themselves down the fairway and toward the hole. In another, you have to punt a house across a road and round a corner to the green. Finishing the level earns you the placard 'Home in One'.
It's as much a series of jokes as it is a golf game, in other words, and it's great fun. While some of the levels are tricky, mind you, the nature of its structure as a series of one liners makes me wonder about its replayability. That said, the crowd watching others play the demo and the atmosphere it generated leaves me in no doubt as to its potential as a party game, and it's well crafted enough to make it well worth seeking out on launch - even if you don't end up pouring hundreds of hours into it. If nothing else, I promise it's the best game you'll ever play in which you have to smash an office chair across a golf course.
And there you have it! The five best games we played at PAX East 2019. The best lobster I had was in an omelette. You are welcome.