At PAX 2015, MEGHANN O’NEILL met with a designer on every PC game in development. This year, she saw 82 games. Next year, she may need an assistant, especially if 2015’s trend towards local multiplayer experiences continues. The many, “couch co-op,” titles lent the PAX Rising area a definite, “good game for a convention,” feel. Passersby could duel as inflatable men, or race to transform their gelatinous bodies into weapons caches, obliterating friends and winning physical loot. It was fun. But which games could you bring home and enjoy in a more enduring fashion? We chose 12 to feature, both multiplayer and not, and reflecting a range of genres, release dates and price points.
[developer] SMG Studio
Prior to PAX, SMG Studio had thrown down their gauntlet, via email, daring press to beat the demo of Death Squared. I was like, “Yeah, I’ll put you on the list.” (It was already long.) When freelance games journalist, Jason Imms, found me and said, “You have to play this with me right now,” I came to understand the nature their challenge. Despite the queue behind us, I was soon ready to kick anyone who tried to take my controller away before we’d cracked the demo.
You are a cube, red or blue, and you have to stand on a circle. Getting there requires not falling, being lasered or spiked, and appreciating that your movements may cause these things to happen to your partner. You can pass the dynamic forcefields of your colour, but they can precariously push the other cube. Or, protect your partner from your coloured laser by standing in its way. Just observe how the laser moves as cubes do, or die.
So, is this just a fun thing to do at a convention? Gosh, no. I asked for a build and played the first ten levels by myself, with one cube bound to each of my controller’s sticks. The single player experience is like patting your head and rubbing your tummy, only with hilarious explosions. My husband and I played the last ten levels together, nearly got divorced at level fifteen, but also shared many very genuine, “high five moments.”
Death Squared’s game designer and programmer, Patrick Cook, says, “It's about communication and coordinating a plan together as two, or four, people solve a puzzle they're each uniquely intertwined in.” Inherently, it’s not incredibly replayable and I’m personally hoping for a generous volume of carefully constructed levels, maybe an editor, at release. This is the convention experience I want at the con, but also in my living room.
[developer] Digital Confectioners
[release] Available now
Within the many multiplayer games on show at PAX this year, we saw shooting, lasering, pushing, going faster than, leaving to die and taking slow motion strikes at. But, Depth was the only game which involved eating your opponents. (Probably. There were a lot of games.) No, this is not some cute PacMan style thing where you gulp down 8-bit creatures. One moment you’re pillaging the treasures of the sea, the next you’re looking at the gore floating away from your tibia.
Oh please, play as a diver first. The idea of you doing so is filling me with glee, because I know how terrifying the experience is. The party of four descends through one of the many gorgeous levels with the loot collecting robot S.T.E.V.E. Simply protect it until it has finished its task and returns to the surface. Easy, right? Cue the music from Jaws. You’re disrupting the habitat of two sharks and their aim is to ensure none of you escapes alive.
The game supports a maximum of six players online, on these two very different teams, although you can play with bots. The humans buy increasingly better guns and the sharks evolve during the course of play. As a diver, this feels like playing a tactical first person shooter underwater. Being a wily shark, however, is an exercise in deadly grace, smashing terrain, ramming S.T.E.V.E and grabbing divers, then shaking them furiously with the mouse.
Other game modes, like Megalodon Hunt, allow players to hunt the shark together, taking its place when they kill it and competing for points. Or, play hide and seek with your fellow divers, keeping a bang stick handy for any pesky predators that happen by. So, suit up, what are you waiting for? Community Manager, William Scott, says, “The diver side is based around careful play, where positioning, gun angles, and use of equipment is crucial.” And intestines. He left that out. But, definitely intestines.