34 Captivating Games From PAX East That You Should Take Notice Of
The Games of PAX East 2019
For many years, PAX has been a popular destination for fans and developers alike to share their passion for gaming. It's also an excellent place to put your finger on the pulse of what's new and exciting. With PAX East 2019 behind us, GameSpot is taking a look back at the games that made this year's convention such a blast to visit.
In this rundown, we've put together a list of games that made a big impression on us during the show. Though PAX has mostly been an indie-centric show, one of the big headliners this year was the reveal of Borderlands 3. At Gearbox Software's PAX panel, they released a lengthy gameplay trailer for Borderlands 3 and also announced a Game of the Year version of the first Borderlands. Shortly after PAX East, it was revealed that the upcoming looter-shooter will release on September 13 for PS4, Xbox One, and on PC as an Epic Store exclusive.
Yacht Club Games and Devolver Digital also revealed new games in the form of Cyber Shadow and Heave Ho respectively. We also got some hands-on time with Streets of Rage 4 and played the newest DLC for the roguelike Dead Cells with developer MotionTwin. So with that, here are several games for PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch that made PAX East 2019 such a stellar show.
If you want to see more of GameSpot's coverage of PAX East 2019 including updates, our video roundup of the standout games, and the latest news, be sure to visit our hub page rounding up the best of the show.
Alt-Frequencies | PC, Mobile | Accidental Queens | Release: TBD
Accidental Queens has built up a reputation for crafting unique, narrative-driven mobile games. The studio's previous efforts, A Normal Lost Phone and Another Lost Phone: Laura's Story, both had players gradually piecing their narratives together by sifting through messages and apps left on someone else's phone, thus utilizing the platform they're played on in clever ways while simultaneously examining our relationship with technology. Its upcoming game, Alt-Frequencies, likewise uses mobile interfaces to great effect, telling a compelling story around hidden frequencies.
Unlike Accidental Queens' previous titles, Alt-Frequencies is audio-based. The story, which unfolds through various radio stations, revolves around a time loop. In just a few days, the government is holding a vote over whether or not to implement the time loop, and as you surf through the stations you'll hear different radio hosts--from typical DJs to news reporters and conspiracy theorists--discussing the upcoming vote (among other topics). However, as you channel surf, you also intercept a hidden message, which reveals the vote is a cover and the time loop has already been implemented. Before the message fades out, it implores you to ask questions and discover the truth.
Your task then becomes to listen to the different radio stations, record clues and clips of interest, and send them to other stations, altering the time loop and progressing the story. You'll swipe left or right on the screen to change channels, swipe down to record a clip, and then swipe upward to broadcast that clip to another station. The entire experience becomes a sort of puzzle, as you need to listen carefully to the broadcasts and suss out which clips will affect the story. It's a compelling premise and another thought-provoking entry in Accidental Queens' portfolio.
Barotrauma | PC | Undertow Games & FakeFish | Release: Spring 2019 (Early Access)
In broadest terms, Barotrauma from developer FakeFish Games is a 2D underwater survival simulation, although it takes a different approach to "survival" than that description may suggest. Set in the near future after humanity has fled the Earth and resettled on Jupiter's oceanic moon, Europa, Barotrauma casts players as a member of a submarine crew, and it's your responsibility to pilot the vessel, navigating it through the murky alien waters and operating its various on-board tools, from its sonar system to its nuclear reactor.
Ostensibly the biggest threat to your survival are the various alien creatures lurking in the seas, which will often attack on sight; the Hammerhead, for instance, is a grotesque shark-like monster with a penchant for burying its head into the hull of your ship, breaching its walls and potentially causing it to sink if you aren't able to react quickly and solder the puncture. That's only scratching the surface of the hostile beasts you'll encounter, and there are numerous other mysteries waiting below the waves, like alien ruins to explore. Levels are also procedurally generated, ensuring you can never be quite sure of what to expect when you venture out into the depths.
Beyond the main adventure mode, the game features a flexible suite of creation tools that allow you to make or edit your own monsters, submarines, and other sprites, which you can then share with other players via Steam Workshop. And if the deep simulation mechanics may seem overwhelming, you can team with up to 15 other players online to pilot the same submarine--or sabotage it, if you're so inclined. Barotrauma launches in early access on Steam this spring.
Bloodroots | PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch | Paper Cult | Release: TBD 2019
Bloodroots is set in a chaotic world where might is right, and you'll take on the role of Mr. Wolf, a lone warrior seeking revenge against those who betrayed him. Essentially Hotline Miami by way of a Jackie Chan action-film, you'll be able to use every object you can get your hands on as a weapon, including barrels, lumber, and other inanimate objects. Coming from developer Paper Cult, Bloodroots keeps its action moving and at a fast pace, allowing you to chain a series of brutal, over-the-top kills together in quick succession.
Our hands-on time at PAX showed a game that mixed its playful ultra-violence with a surprising amount of humor. Almost everything is a weapon, including food items like carrots, cabbage, and an entire roast turkey. That particular humiliating demise comes from running about the battlefield until the enemy hits something painful, or just suffocating inside a poultry helmet. Ouch.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night | PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch | ArtPlay | Release: TBD 2019
Coming from Koji Igarashi, one of the key developers behind Konami's Castlevania series, Bloodstained is often seen as a return to form for the classic Metroidvania sub-genre. Taking direct inspiration from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, the game that ushered in a big change for the series, Bloodstained places a great focus on exploring its large interconnected world while gradually collecting new weapons and abilities for your character. Funded on Kickstarter and now being published by 505 Games, the Metroidvania-style action-RPG is heading towards its release later this year.
Borderlands 3 | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Gearbox Software | Release: September 13, 2019
After numerous teases online, Gearbox Software revealed the next entry in their "looter-shooter" action-RPG series at PAX East 2019. Just like in the previous games, Borderlands 3 will have you take on the role of a vault hunter who battles countless bandits, monsters, and ruthless warlords--all the while collecting tons of new guns. The next game will also see the return of many familiar faces throughout the series' ten-year history, including Brick, Lilith, and Claptrap.
In Borderlands 3 you'll play as four new vault hunters; Moze the gunner, Zane the operative, Fl4k the beastmaster, and the new siren character Amara. The team of vault hunters will face off against the new antagonists The Calypso Twins, who lead an army known as The Children of the Vault. Along with exploring Pandora once again, you'll travel to new planets as well, uncovering other vaults hidden throughout the star system.
Shortly after PAX East 2019, it was revealed that Borderlands 3 will release this fall on September 13 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. The PC release will be an Epic Store exclusive for the first 6 months, before making its way to Steam sometime in Spring 2020. For more on Borderlands 3, including a look at the debut trailer and along with our thoughts on what was revealed, be sure to check out our continuing coverage.
BoxBoy + BoxGirl | Switch | Nintendo | Release: April 26, 2019
Nintendo's adorable square hero Qbby seemingly bid farewell to the world with his final 3DS adventure, 2017's Bye-Bye BoxBoy, but the blocky protagonist is making a comeback next month in his first outing for Nintendo Switch: BoxBoy + BoxGirl. The game arrives on the Switch Eshop on April 26, and this time around, Qbby shares the spotlight with Qucy, who a second player can control in a new cooperative mode that boasts its own unique assortment of levels designed around teamwork.
Developer HAL Laboratory has made a few other changes in BoxBoy + BoxGirl as well, but the game is otherwise a classic BoxBoy adventure, retaining the same gameplay and charmingly minimalistic look the series is known for (albeit now with an HD sheen). As before, your objective is to navigate through a myriad of bite-sized puzzle-platforming levels, using Qbby and Qucy's ability to create rows of boxes to reach high ledges, press buttons, and clear other environmental obstacles. Complicating things, each level restricts how many boxes you're able to conjure up at a time, forcing you to think carefully about what shape you form them in.
BoxBoy + BoxGirl boasts 270 new stages, each of which features collectible crowns and other secondary objectives to encourage repeated plays. And once you clear the game, you'll open up the option to play as the rectangular Qudy, who has his own assortment of levels designed around his unique shape. If you've enjoyed previous BoxBoy games, BoxBoy + BoxGirl looks like another great installment in what is fast becoming one of Nintendo's best new IPs.
Creature In The Well | PC, Switch | Flight School Studio | Release: Summer 2019
When you first see Creature in the Well, you'll think pinball, but in practice, this action game feels more like a twin-stick shooter. You don't have to worry about letting a ball slip by your flippers; instead, your hero swings a sword to charge up and launch balls all around the room. As these fly into bumpers and other contraptions, you rack up points. Get enough, and you can open the door to the next chamber.
Yes, that does sound like pinball, but here's the thing: some of those bumpers are actually turrets that fire lasers right back at you. You can dash past lasers and other traps as you smack pinballs around each room, and you'll need to master those mechanics if you hope to survive the game's intense boss encounters against the titular creature in the well.
Creature in the Well was first introduced during the Nindies Spring Showcase, and it's headed to PC and Nintendo Switch this summer.
Cyber Shadow | PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch | Yacht Club Games | Release: TBD
Yacht Club’s first foray into publishing comes from one-man developer Aarne "MekaSkull" Hunziker with Cyber Shadow. The dark and gritty action game is set against a post-apocalyptic future, starring a cybernetic ninja with a mysterious past. While Hunziker has spent years developing the game by hand, Yacht Club is assisting with marketing and business dealings, as well as providing feedback on level design.
At PAX East, Hunziker described the title as the darker side of 8-bit games. If Shovel Knight was an homage to the happy-go-lucky but hard-as-nails games we remember from the NES era, Cyber Shadow is a hat tip to the grimmer side. Ninja Gaiden is the clearest influence, but it has definite shades of Contra and Batman as well. Pixel-perfect precision with a challenge that always feels fair is the key to recalling those heady days sitting on the carpet in front of a CRT TV, and on that front it appears to deliver. Cyber Shadow is coming to Nintendo Switch, PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
Dangerous Driving | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Three Fields Entertainment | Release: April 9, 2019
It's been a very long time since the last Burnout game from developer Criterion Software, which has long since moved on to the Need For Speed series and other projects at EA. However, former Criterion developer Alex Ward and his new studio, Three Fields Entertainment, have made their own spiritual successor to the action-racer with Dangerous Driving. Focusing on the classic fast-paced action and brutal wrecks shown off in slow-motion, the new racing game places a lot of emphasis on putting the pedal to the metal and coming away unscathed.
We got some hands-on time with the game at PAX East 2019 and were surprised to find how faithful it was to the Burnout spirit. If you've played previous Burnout games, then you'll feel right at home in Dangerous Driving. Not many racers have managed to evoke the same sense of speed and tension that occurs when narrowly avoiding obstructions and smashing into opposing drivers. However, one wrong turn of the wheel can result in a gnarly wreck--yet Dangerous Driving made me feel like I was right back in the driver's seat in a Burnout game.
One interesting feature that will likely get some use is the integrated Spotify playlists. If you have a Spotify Premium account you can stream your favorite songs in the game, allowing you to race and cause serious wrecks to your own soundtrack.
Dangerous Driving is shaping up to be a solid and fast-paced action racing game. If you've longed for the days of another classic Burnout game, and have been playing Burnout Remastered since its release, then this game just might be the next best thing to a new entry in the franchise, which is set to launch on April 9.
Dauntless | PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch | Phoenix Labs | Release: April 2019
Phoenix Labs' Dauntless has been in open beta since 2018, but the ambitious co-op action RPG is now set to officially launch this summer. Since it was first unveiled, the game has drawn frequent comparisons to Monster Hunter, and it's easy to see why. Much like Capcom's popular series, Dauntless casts players in the role of specialized monster hunters known as Slayers, who are charged with venturing across the Shattered Isles and bringing down ferocious beasts called Behemoths. After each hunt, players will use the materials they've carved from their bounties to craft increasingly more powerful and ornate gear and weaponry.
Despite their similar premise, Dauntless does diverge from Monster Hunter in some notable ways, the biggest of which is its pricing model. Like Fortnite, Warframe, and many of today's most popular online games, Dauntless is free to download and play, with optional microtransactions in the form of cosmetics and the Hunt Pass. Similar to Fortnite's seasonal Battle Pass, the Hunt Pass gives holders access to an assortment of challenges to complete and exclusive rewards to unlock, including seasonally themed sets of gear.
Dauntless has also grown significantly since it entered open beta. Phoenix Labs has continually updated the game with new gear to craft and Behemoths to slay, one of which--Boreus--we got to fight for ourselves at PAX East. The developer is also aiming to implement cross-play and cross-progression in the title when it launches on consoles and PC via the Epic Games Store later this year, so if you've been itching for a new Monster Hunter-like experience, Dauntless is one to watch out for.
Dead Cells: Rise of the Giant | PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch | MotionTwin | Release: March 28, 2019
The developers at MotionTwin have shown off a new expansion for Dead Cells that adds an even greater challenge to the already difficult action game. With the Rise of the Giant DLC, you'll take the undead warrior to two new dungeons where you'll find new monsters, uncover lost treasure, and ultimately face off against the strongest enemy in the entire game.
That boss is found in the new Astrolab biome, only available after toppling The Hand of the King with four Boss Stem Cells in hand. It's the toughest boss MotionTwin has designed yet, and simply reaching its home turf sounds plenty challenging. The expansion's other boss, the titular Giant, is found in the second new stage, Cavern. Accessed after the Stilt Village, this biome will see your undead warrior facing down giant bird-like enemies and other new beasts.
Rise of the Giant is live now in the PC version of Dead Cells, and it's totally free as a thank you to the game's active community. The expansion is headed to other platforms at a later date.
Destiny's Sword | PC | 2Dog Games | Release: 2020
Destiny’s Sword is blend of genres and influences. It’s a sci-fi multiplayer tactical game, pitting teams of players against tough AI-controlled opponents. Each of your characters has their own skills and abilities, and your custom deck of cards can be used to help your human allies manning the other squads in combat. But as unusual as that combination may be, it’s the emphasis on mental health that proves the most surprising.
Each of your soldiers has a matrix of emotional responses, represented by a color-coded chart. These emotional responses can present themselves in combat, but they’re much more prevalent outside of combat, when you’re debriefing your troops in the barracks and probing what’s on their minds. One might recall a harrowing story from a past mission, while another might recount some interpersonal drama with another soldier. Every story has several emotional touchpoints, and how you respond can impact both how they feel about their various traumas, and how much they trust you.
Developer 2Dogs Games is working with mental health organizations and veterans groups to assure it represents these elements with fairness and respect. While it’s still early in development--2Dogs is targeting a 2020 release--it’s an unexpectedly compassionate look at warfare and the people it impacts the most.
Divinity: Fallen Heroes | Platforms: PC | Larian Studios | Release: TBD
Larian Studios' elevator pitch for Divinity: Fallen Heroes reads as such: "Divinity meets XCOM." It's taking the systems-driven combat of its tentpole Original Sin series and giving it space to breathe, focusing an entire game around it, and using permadeath and progression trees to inform its tactics. From what we played at PAX East, Larian's trademark difficulty is still present. However, you'll now be spending time on a seafaring hideout between missions, getting to know your characters before disembarking on close-quarters missions. They'll probably die, but that's kind of the point.
Embr | PC | Muse Games | Release: Fall 2019 (Early Access)
The advent of Uber, Lyft, and other ridesharing apps has allowed anyone to earn a little extra money driving people around or delivering food, but what if you could also moonlight as, say, a firefighter? That's the premise of Embr, a humorous cooperative firefighting game from Guns of Icarus developer Muse Games. As an employee of Embr, an "Uber for firefighters" service, you'll need to hop from job to job, responding to fire alarms and rescuing hapless civilians from conflagrations to earn a quick buck.
Missions in Embr will come in three different varieties. First are standard rescue jobs, which have you and three other players bravely venturing into burning buildings and retrieving the inhabitants trapped within. Other missions will have a more puzzle-y bent, forcing you to utilize your surroundings in clever ways to escape from blazes. Finally, there are confrontations with employees of Hosr, a rival Canadian firefighting app that will stop at nothing to put you out of business.
Embr is still early in development--Muse says it is aiming to release the title in early access by late 2019--but from our hands-on time with it at PAX East, it shows some clear promise. Depending on which "class" you select for your avatar, you'll have access to a different assortment of firefighting tools than your teammates, so you'll need to coordinate with them to successfully complete missions. Most memorable, though, are the hilarious situations you'll encounter on the job; during our run, we barged into the bathroom to rescue an elderly man who was sitting on the toilet while the house around him burned down. If Muse can further build upon this promising framework, Embr has the potential to be a riotous multiplayer experience.
Falcon Age | PS4 | OuterLoop | Release: April 9, 2019
Coming from Outerloop Games, Falcon Age puts you in the role of Ara, an escaped prisoner who befriends a resourceful avian ally. Over the course of their adventure, the pair learn more about the land and its history as they battle fierce machines trying to further colonize their planet. Falcon Age features an interesting approach to the first-person adventure. Though there are a number of humans to interact with, allowing you to engage in dialog with them, there's also a focus on increasing your bond with your feathered ally. Though there's a healthy dose of combat and action to be found in Falcon Age, allowing you to use some team-up attacks with your pet on the colonizing robots, there's also a focus on storytelling and exploration. If you want to be able to experience the plot and go at your own pace, you can play Falcon Age's Imprint mode, which makes all combat encounters optional.
Falcon Age also happens to be fully playable in VR with standard dual-shock and motion-controls. If you do use the motion controls, you'll be able to interact with your falcon, petting it and even performing some tricks with the movement of your controller. Falcon Age possesses a vibrant and fun atmosphere, but there's also a lot of heart to be found in the game's rich focus on environmental storytelling. Set for release on April 9 for PS4, Outerloop Games' upcoming adventure game possesses a lot of personality and charm, which will make the journey to retake your land all the more engaging. And yes, you can put funny hats on your pet falcon.
Heave Ho | PC, Switch | Le Cartel | Release: Mid-2019
The developers behind ultra-violent brawler Mother Russia Bleeds have gone down a decidedly different path with their next project with Devolver Digital. Heave Ho is a physics-based platformer where you control a disembodied head and well as the individual motion and grips of the two arms attached to it. The goal is to grapple and climb your way through a variety of stages without falling to your death.
It might look and sound straightforward, but where Heave Ho really shines is in its 4-player local multiplayer mode, best accompanied (at least in our experience) with a few beers. Communication and cooperation, no matter how poor, are key to making Heave Ho the raucous, entertaining experience it can be. You'll be trying to coordinate who's grabbing what, where we're swinging to, how we're going to transport the coin to the goal, and OH GOD WHY DID YOU LET GO?!!
A release on Nintendo Switch is the smart, obvious move for a party game like this one. We'll see how it holds up when it releases in the middle of 2019.
Indivisible | PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch | Lab Zero | Release: TBD 2019
Developed by Lab Zero, the creators of the fan-favorite fighting game Skullgirls, Indivisible is the team's first crack at making an action-RPG. Paying homage to cult JRPG games like Valkyrie Profile, Indivisible focuses heavily on controlling your party of characters simultaneously, letting you pull off some exciting combos with well-timed spells and attacks.
Iratus: Lord of the Dead | PC | Unfrozen | Release: TBD 2019
Taking on the role of a resurrected necromancer, you'll command a squad of demons and undead creatures as you make your way across the frozen Norse landscape. In a similar vein to Darkest Dungeon, you'll manage and improve your squad of minions in the face of increasingly more challenging threats. However, the twist in Iratus: Lord of the Dead is that your army is made up of fallen warriors resurrected from previous battles. For each opponent (or are they the good guys?) you slaughter, you'll earn guts and other body parts to help you construct your undead army.
These can be wraiths, vampires, death knights, and other assorted monsters, and each comes with its own set of skills to attack enemy health or weaken their sanity. In fact, you can deplete the enemy's sanity for a one-shot heart attack that wipes them from the battlefield. Enemy troopers have their own tricks too, so you'll need to master different strategies: one type can ignite a bomb that kills neighboring characters at the end of a round, while another whips his own teammates to buff their stats.
Iratus: Lord of the Dead has no set release date, but developer Unfrozen is looking to bring it to Steam early access sometime in May.
Katana Zero | PC, Switch | Askiisoft | Release: April 18, 2019
In Askiisoft and Devolver Digital's Katana Zero, you'll play as a wandering katana-wielding mercenary who possesses the ability to control time, allowing him to cut through hordes of enemies with ease. Katana Zero blends the action and pacing from a retro-action game with the time-bending antics from Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. With the central character able to die in one hit, you'll have to rewind time to just prior to your death and do things slightly different to clear the stage.
For such an action-oriented game, it may surprise players that it has a complex winding narrative based on dialogue choices, or even the choice to interrupt NPCs as they speak. Check out our hands-on impressions for more details. Katana Zero is coming to PC and Switch on April 18.
Killer Queen Black | PC, Xbox One, Switch | Liquid Bit & BumbleBear Games | Release: Summer 2019
The original Killer Queen is a pretty massive arcade cabinet, but developer Liquid Bit is bringing the experience to your home with Killer Queen Black. While the original cabinet supports 10 players in 5-on-5 competition, Black has 4-on-4 for a total of 8.
One player takes on the role of Queen, while their three teammates function as Drones. You can win a round by completing one of three objectives: killing the enemy queen thrice for a military victory, bringing berries back to the hive for an economic victory, or riding the snail to your side of the map for a snail victory. That's easier said than done, as the Queen can spear and kill Drones, forcing them to respawn, and Drones can upgrade their speed or strength to fight back.
Killer Queen Black includes new weapons and skills for the various Drones and Queens to use, and you'll be able to play competitive multiplayer online. It also sports a different art style than the original arcade game. You can see it for yourself on PC and Nintendo Switch this summer, with a Game Pass release on Xbox One later in the year.
Kunai | PC, Switch | TurtleBlaze | Release: TBD
Countless games over the years have put players in the role of a ninja, but Kunai from TurtleBlaze is a little different. Instead of casting you as a typical Japanese assassin, the game puts you in control of Tabby, a tablet infused with the soul of an ancient ninja. It's an odd premise, to be sure, but the game embraces it wholeheartedly, making for a charming, fast-paced Metroidvania adventure.
Kunai is set in a derelict, post-apocalyptic world where an army of evil robots has wiped out most of humanity. In true Metroid fashion, you must explore the expansive landscape, using the abilities you gradually acquire to navigate the environment and cut down enemies. The first one you'll find is your katana, but that's only scratching the surface of your arsenal; as you travel deeper into the world, you'll acquire other weapons like machine guns and add new ninja tricks to your repertoire, such as a dash that allows you to phase through thin walls.
Your most versatile tools, however, are the titular kunai. You'll pick up a pair of them early on in the adventure, but rather than using them to dispatch foes, these are more akin to grappling hooks. Throw the kunai at walls and you'll be able to swing across chasms and climb up 90-degree surfaces. You can also throw both simultaneously and slingshot yourself up vertical shafts. Kunai is still a long way out, but between its acrobatic action and charming visuals, it's shaping up to be a game to keep an eye on.
Layers of Fear 2 | PC | Bloober Team | Release: TBD 2019
As the sequel to the 2016 psychological-horror game, Layers of Fear 2 turns things up with a new story that aims to push the scares even further. Like in the original game, you'll play as a tortured artist whose sanity is gradually slipping, resulting in some horrifying apparitions appearing before his eyes. Layers of Fear 2 appears to channel that same unnerving tone, where reality slowly falls apart, giving way to some genuine moments of terror.
Where the first game featured a painter, Layers of Fear 2 stars an actor. Where the original's monsters looked as if they'd been created on canvas, the sequel's creepy crawlies stutter and flash as they move, as if they crawled right off of a film reel. And where the first game was set in a large manor, this new entry takes place on a cruise ship, with hallways and cabins that bend and twist to match the protagonist's paranoia.
Liberated | PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch | Atomic Wolf | Release: TBD 2019
The ubiquity of technology--and particularly social media--has made it easier than ever to share information and ideas, but those same technological advances can just as easily be exploited for nefarious purposes--a point that developer Atomic Wolf explores in Liberated, a stylish new 2.5D stealth game. Set in a dystopian near-future in which the government uses technology to surveil and manipulate the public, Liberated follows the story of a group of characters who must ultimately decide whether to side with the authoritarian police force or the underground resistance group opposing them.
Drawing inspiration from noir films and some of the more mature graphic novels of the '80s, the game is divided up into four chapters. Each one is presented as a comic book and follows a different character; in the first chapter, for instance, players take control of a hacker whose activities have brought him to the attention of the police. Continuing the comic theme, the story and gameplay sequences unfold across different panels, making the experience feel like an interactive graphic novel. The decisions you make as you play will also carry consequences, shaping the narrative and potentially leading to different endings.
With a thought-provoking premise and unique visual style, Liberated is intriguing both as an interactive experience and as a commentary on creeping authoritarianism. The game's emphasis on choice and its brief run time--Atomic Wolf estimates it will take roughly four hours to see the story through to the end--also encourages players to make different decisions each playthrough and see how they affect the narrative. Liberated launches for PC via Steam later this year, with a console release planned afterward.
The Messenger: Picnic Panic | PC, PS4, Switch | Sabotage | Release: TBD 2019
Following the success of the original game, the developers of The Messenger are gearing up the main character's next adventure--which will be made as a free update for all owners. Picnic Panic brings you to a new land where you'll need to defend the local villagers from monsters planning to take over both the 8-Bit and 16-bit realms. Releasing later this year as a free update, The Messenger: Picnic Panic will deliver a set of new worlds to explore, and will undoubtedly maintain the same fourth-wall breaking humor that made the original such a joy to play.
A brief stage at PAX East was very different than the main campaign of The Messenger, instead featuring an auto-scrolling surfing stage that documents his journey to the new area. This moment is reminiscent of the speeder bike from Battletoads, with a sharp challenge that tests your timing in a new way, and culminates in a very wet-and-wild boss fight. After that, we’re assured, the game goes back to its regular Ninja Gaiden-like action gameplay.
Mortal Kombat 11 | PC, Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch | NetherRealm | Release: April 23, 2019
Mortal Kombat 11 is fast approaching. NetherRealm's latest entry in the fighting gore-fest uses alternate timelines to bring in multiple versions of characters from throughout the series' history. Naturally, it follows its predecessors' lead in being a technical fighter with a brutal sense of impact and weight, and the Fatalities and new Fatal Blows offer a bit of the old ultra-violence.
Our hands-on time at PAX East was our first opportunity to try MK11 on Nintendo Switch, and we were pleasantly surprised. Shiver Entertainment is handling the port, and while the visuals have been downgraded, it runs smoothly and the mechanics of the match feel responsive. It's a good indicator that NetherRealm, which is overseeing production, prioritized gameplay over graphics. You can read more in our hands-on impressions.
My Friend Pedro | PC, Switch | DeadToast Entertainment | Release: June 2019
Hotline Miami and Max Payne: Two iconic action games that have seen numerous imitators over the years, and even a few that have tried to fuse the two signature styles. My Friend Pedro is the latest to mix frenetic, bloody gun action and slow-motion cinematic bullet ballet, but the point of difference this time is that it's a 2D side-scroller that plays like a twin-stick shooter.
You probably have a good idea of what to expect--you'll be gunning down a lot of gangsters and performing a lot of flashy acrobatic moves while doing so. The demo we played introduced a number of different mechanics to concern yourself with in a very short space of time--slow-motion, dual-wielding aim separation, and a spinning bullet dodge move--on top of needing to keep track of your ammo while you're flipping all over the place avoiding a flurry of bullets.
It's tough to initially get a masterful handle on everything, but when it all clicks, the satisfaction of executing beautifully masterful action scenes is fantastic. The demo also featured a multi-planed vehicular combat section as your protagonist rides a motorcycle in hot pursuit, and the trailers they've released so far also show off absolutely ridiculous scenarios that appear later in the game. We're really looking forward to seeing how high My Friend Pedro can ramp things up with elaborate techniques, stages, and setpieces when it releases in June 2019.
Panzer Paladin | Platforms: TBD | Tribute Games | Release: Spring 2020
Panzer Paladin is a game that likes to wear its influences on its sleeve. It's coming from Tribute Games, the same crew behind Mercenary Kings and Wizorb--both of which were about showing off the aesthetic of games from 8- and 16-bit eras. And Panzer Paladin very much maintains that tradition of paying...well...tribute to retro games. You take on the role of a mech pilot and control the powerful Paladin power armor to battle legions of monsters with a variety of unique melee weapons and magical spells.
On the surface, Panzer Paladin looks to channel the same gameplay and style found in the original classic Castlevania and '80s sci-fi/fantasy anime shows, respectively. And while that's very true, this retro action-platformer does it in a way that feels endearing and all its own. In addition to mecha action, you'll switch off between on-foot sections with the pilot, creating a nice contrast between strong combat and fast, platforming gameplay. The pilot wields an energy whip and can swing and attack enemies at a distance, just like Simon Belmont from the Castlevania series.
Though games that try to evoke a style and design sense of classics from a bygone era seem very common in today's age, Panzer Paladin has a unique, stylish charm in its own right. I'm looking forward to seeing more of this retro action-platformer, and what other callbacks it has in store for us.
Shovel Knight: King of Cards | PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch | Yacht Club Games | Release: April 2019
Since its release in 2014, Shovel Knight developers Yacht Club Games have continually added new expansions for the renowned retro action game. In King of Cards, the final expansion for Shovel Knight, you'll play as King Knight as he explores four new worlds to prove that he has what it takes to become the ruler of the land.
Yacht Club proudly calls this its most ambitious expansion yet. While our hands-on time at PAX East only sampled one stage, it did show how King Knight is a marked change from his Order of No Quarter compatriots. While Plague Knight is tricky and Specter Knight is agile, King Knight is built like a walking tank. His movement is a forward dash, and the stage's puzzles and obstacles mostly involved throwing his weight around. Slamming into serpent-like creatures would coax them to move, making for platforming challenges reminiscent of Battletoads or Mega Man.
King Knight looks to close out the Shovel Knight saga with royal grace when it launches this spring. Along with Shovel Knight Showdown, it makes up the last remaining parts of the "Treasure Trove" set of free updates.
Shovel Knight: Showdown | PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch | Yacht Club Games | Release: April 9, 2019
Along with King of Cards, Yacht Club Games is prepping another game set in the Shovel Knight universe--and this one centers around competitive brawler gameplay. In Showdown, you'll select one of the many Knight characters, including Shovel Knight, King Knight, and Plague Knight, and fight it out against the other brawlers to see who's the best one of them all. Similar to Super Smash Bros., you can compete in four-player fights with a variety of different stages, conditions, and items to use.
A hands-on at PAX East was raucous and wild, as each of the famed Knights (along with some new creations for Showdown) battled over Gems and fended each other off. It may not be perfectly balanced--newcomers seemed to dominate with Specter Knight regardless of experience--but it is a short and sweet bonus with tinges of new retro arcade games like Towerfall or Killer Queen.
Star Renegades | PC | Massive Damage, Inc. | Release: TBD 2020
Massive Damage's Star Renegades is a visually gorgeous and challenging take on a sci-fi action-adventure. Blending together tactics gameplay with the old-school structure of a JRPG, you'll take your group of resistance fighters across an expansive, far away world to dispatch enemy strongholds and bases. Along the way, you'll level up, improve your party's skills and take on new objectives that will put your group's dynamic to the test.
Just at first glance, Star Renegades features an incredibly detailed art-style, emulating the look of '90s-era PC adventure games, with the vibrant pixel-art showing some strong personality for its characters. With your party consisting of interstellar vagabonds, ex-soldiers, and exo-suit wearing brawlers, you'll have to plan your team's moves carefully in order to punch an opening in the enemy's defenses. Every battle is a big exercise in patience and careful planning, with the ensuing victory allowing you to push the enemy force's influence on the planet back.
With a planned release set for sometime in 2020 on PC, Star Renegades looks to use its particular gameplay stellar pixel-art to really gives life to the interstellar conflict.
Streets of Rage 4 | PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch | GuardCrush Games & DotEmu | Release: TBD
The sudden revival of the Streets of Rage series last year was a welcome surprise. As one of Sega's most celebrated series from the Genesis era, its return has many long-time fans excited for what's to come. Developed by DotEmu and Guard Crush Games, the fourth entry introduces some interesting innovations for its core combat, which will reinvigorate returning characters Axel and Blaze. Though there's no release date set, we got to play an early build of the game last year, and even then it delivered the same sense of style and pacing that defined the original 16-bit classics.
Our hands-on time has shown a faithful update to the classic series. Combat feels weighty and hits carry a sense of impact, and it displays a fighting game influence in its variety of move sets and recovery options. The 2D art is recognizable from the team that brought us the gorgeous Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, but with an edgier, ‘90s pop-punk aesthetic. The studio suggested that the generous amount of content will surprise players. It’s a visual treat and a faithful homage in one, making it a fighting game revival worth looking forward to.
Super Crush K.O. | PC, Switch | VertexPop | Release: TBD 2019
Super Crush K.O. is a very energetic game, proudly exuding a sense of youthful exuberance and positivity. As the follow up to Vertoxpop's shooter Graceful Explosion Machine, this 2D brawler/shoot-em-up hybrid places a lot of emphasis on pulling off some stylish moves against your enemies while trekking through the streets of your hometown. Playing as an amped up teenage brawler, you'll fight off legions of machines trying to enslave humanity. With only your fists and a special laser gun that can pick off enemies at a distance, you'll chain together attacks and other moves to vanquish the invading machines.
The visuals of Super Crush K.O. really pop when in motion, which makes for a exciting and visually interesting romp through the streets as you take down your enemies. With the flow of combat moving at a smooth pace, it was incredibly satisfying pulling off some slick combos against the evil robots. Launching this year for PC and Switch, Super Crush K.O has got a lot style packed into its fun, action-packed adventure.
Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble | PC, Switch | Area 35 | Release: Spring 2019
As a stand-alone sequel to 2017's turn-based strategy game Tiny Metal, Full Metal Rumble increases the stakes by adding a game-changer for the warring factions--giant mechs. Intended as a spiritual successor to Nintendo's Advance Wars series, Tiny Metal puts you in control of a variety of different units to secure your place on the battlefield. Continuing on from the original game, you'll follow your squad of soldiers and pilots as they attempt to stay alive during the brutal conflict.
At PAX East, the sequel showed a series of smart improvements and the team acknowledged that the first one had a rough launch. While the first game was intended to have ongoing updates, Area 35 is aiming for a more feature-complete product at launch. Full Metal Rumble adds fuel resources, as well as quality-of-life improvements and a new campaign to sate those itching for another Advance Wars.
Warsaw | PC | Pixelated Milk | Release: TBD 2019
Of the handful of games trying to emulate successful tactical RPGs (see Divinity: Fallen Heroes above) Warsaw has the most obvious influences. It takes the character and resource-driven combat of Darkest Dungeon and projects it into the streets of Warsaw in the summer of 1944. Playthroughs consist of building a ragtag team of Polish resistance fighters, equipping them for each firefight, and dealing with the omnipresent spectre of permadeath at every turn. What sets War Saw apart from its inspiration, however, is its "momentum meter." Whereas Darkest Dungeon places stress and mental illness at the center of its systems, War Saw emphasizes the importance of momentum to a rebellion. The uprising may be doomed to fail - historically, at least - but War Saw aims to make it impactful nonetheless.