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Picks of PAX 2018: a roundup

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Another PAX has come and gone and I’ve only now just recovered enough to reflect on the experience. For me, PAX is a wonderful but exhausting whirlwind, trying to get to innumerable panels to attend, big title sneak peeks, loot to buy and upcoming indie games to play.

What is PAX?

This was the sixth year of PAX Australia but the 15th year of the convention itself, which spans multiple US states. PAX Australia has been an extremely successful event since it came to Melbourne in 2013, and while official numbers are never released by organisers, it’s estimated over 60,000 people flow through its doors each year. Arguably, one of the more wonderful and important aspects of PAX is how it draws the fans and gaming community together and into a space to celebrate a joint passion. Wandering around PAX and soaking in the atmosphere is one of my favourite things to do as there is a sense that everyone is there to celebrate and share something they love – gaming in all its many forms.

Possibly due to this and surprisingly to some, it is an incredibly welcoming and generally accepting space. The attendance boasts a wide breadth of people, from small children and their families to older generations who have been gaming in some form or another for years. There is a fierce LGBTQIA+ community at each convention, several spaces for those who need time out or support, and a focus of many panels is accessibility in gaming as well as gender representation. While PAX, and the gaming community and industry at large, still certainly have some ways to go, it is affirming to see such a varied and accepting community find a space for three whole days.

PAX Rising is my second favourite part of attending PAX and is an amazing opportunity to not only play interesting new indie titles, but also speak to their developers. PAX Rising is a central part of PAX which was reflected this year by the fact that it was twice the size of previous years. Rows upon rows of games and their developers were on show with crowds of people waiting their turn to play.

After much to-ing and fro-ing, I've settled on my top five picks among PAX Rising this year. It was incredibly hard this time around as there was a staggering amount of amazing games on display this year but the games below are the ones that appealed to me because they either did something entirely new, flipped the switch on a classic or said something interesting.

Dead Static Drive

Self-described by its developer as Grand Theft Auto meets Call of CthulhuDead Static Drive is a game that I have been eyeing off for over a year or so now.

In Melbourne-based solo developer Mike Blackney's Dead Static Drive, you take a road trip to reunite with family, but given this game draws inspiration from Call of Chuthulu, it’s not as simple as it sounds. While the world appears a lot like nostalgic America with small roadside towns and gas stations, there are also monsters and fighting for your sanity. It’s Kerouac all over again.

The visuals are simple in style and palette but also add to the sense of nostalgia that pervades the atmosphere of the game. At its essence, Dead Static Drive is a survival horror game, but I’m looking forward to seeing how that plays out in narrative and gameplay.  

There’s currently no release date of Dead Static Drive so we can only hope to hold onto our sanity a little longer until it’s released.

Follow them @deadstaticdrive

Hunt 'n' Sneak

The couch co-op game has been finding increasing popularity over the years as we bring gaming into a more social space. Titles like Overcooked have brought delight to a lot of us and make for a great (if frustrating) time at parties.

Hunt 'n' Sneak is a four-person (mostly) co-op game where one player plays as a creature known as a Gobbler and the others play as Pixies. Gameplay wise it reminded me a lot of playing murderer in the dark. The three Pixies are trying to hide from the Gobbler, and on their side is the fact that they are invisible unless in the direct ray of the Gobblers vision.

The extra interesting part is that the Pixies are also invisible to those playing as them. You run around the map literally being unable to see your own character but can push a button to light yourself up and reposition. However in doing so you also reveal your position to the Gobbler and its player.

It’s a really interesting take on the co-op game and I’m looking forward to playing it again when it’s finally released. You can currently play a demo on their website, but the release date is to be determined.

Find out more on their website.

Henry Mosse and the Wormhole Conspiracy

Henry Mosse and the Wormhole Conspiracy is the story of a teen and his mother who operate an interstellar delivery business servicing the outer-worlds. If you're a fan of point-and-click puzzle adventure games like Broken Age or classic Grim Fandago, then Henry Mosse and the Wormhole Conspiracy is sure to appeal to you. Walking around PAX Rising, I was first drawn to the game because of its visuals and art, which are a combination a wonderful illustrated cartoon style and vibrant use of colours. It feels like a call back to Saturday cartoons or the amazing Humongous series of games like Putt-Putt or Freddie Fish

The gameplay is like what you would expect from a classic point-and-click graphic adventure, however, when speaking to the developers at PAX they said they have gone to great lengths to ensure there are multiple ways to solve a puzzle. The game places a focus on players solving things in their own way to allow for different play-styles and approaches.  

Henry Mosse and the Wormhole Conspiracy is currently on Kickstarter and a 45-minute demo is available to play right now.

Necrobarista

Necrobarista is the story of a Melbourne cafe where the dead can return for one last night on earth to walk among the living and enjoy some last sips of coffee. Coffee and necromancy; it’s very Melbourne and I love it.

Necrobarista is a visual novel game with a bit of a twist in that amongst the conversation you can collect keywords that will provide you different avenues of conversation later. You’re only allowed five though, so if you’re like me and want to collect everything, you’ll soon be forced to make some hard choices.

The game is absolutely stunning with 2D hand-drawn illustrations reminiscent of anime and film. Even the loading screen had me floored with its level of detail. 

While the demo at PAX was quite short, I already got an impressive feel for the characters and the setting of the game. I’m really looking forward to exploring this fantastical version of my hometown Melbourne where the dead are just looking to grab one last cup of magic.  

Necrobarista is yet to be released: follow their progress on their website.

Ticket to Earth

Ticket to Earth is a mobile puzzle game combining elements of RPG and strategy.

It plays very much like Into the Breach where enemies arrive on the board and you move your own character around to engage them as you desire. However, the developers have added a really interesting mechanic where you can only travel along tiles of the same colour. This limits where you can travel in a turn, adding an extra level of thinking to how you play and engage. It also serves another purpose as travelling along colours also powers up your special abilities and the more tiles you can cover in one move the stronger they become.  

It also makes use of a very strong narrative and characters as it’s backbone, meaning it doesn’t just feel like you are in level after level of combat for no discernable reason. This really ties the game together and kept me playing at PAX for longer than I would have expected.  

The first two episodes of Ticket to Earth are already out on iOs, Android, PC and MAC with the third to be released soon.

Notable mentions: 

Agent A

Ashen

The Dark Room 

Totem Teller

Caitlin Cronin is the brains behind the ACMI Women and Non-Binary Gamer Club. In 2018, she was named as one of Australia's most influential women in games by Trade Media. You can follow her on Twitter @ccandherpc.