Features

Hands-on game previews: PAX East / EGX Rezzed 2019 – Part 1

Chris O’Regan takes us through some of the games that he’s had hands on with at shows and events so far this year (in alphabetical order).

Alkimya: Memories of the Last Alchemist

Format(s): Windows PC, Mac OS, Xbox One, PS4

Developer: Bad Minions

Website: https://www.badminions.com.br/blank-page

While wending my way through a somewhat congested corner of PAX East 2019 I stumbled upon a dimly lit booth that had on it a large poster with the words Alkimya: Memories of the Last Alchemist plastered across it.

Images of a sword-wielding woman who apparently has power of the four elements that make up the world in which she resides. As an alchemist she is able to create complex spells that can lay waste to large parts of the environment and can also construct pathways across previously impassable terrain.

Set in the a region known as Isur, the player takes on the role of  Mya, a woman who has no memory of how she got to Isur but does have the power of alchemy to help her find out her own past and perhaps save the world while she’s at it. With the quest set the player must guide Mya as they see fit, which can vary as Alkimya has branching storylines that result in different endings.

Alkimya is an isometric third person action adventure that has the player controlling the formidable powers of Master Alchemist Mya. Every spell is created using a variety of components drawn from the four elements: fire, water, air and earth. It is possible to create lightning from fire and air while water and air is used to create ice. There are a myriad of combinations that the player can use to create a formidable arsenal of spells that are constructed from the base components of the four elements.

While my time with Alkimya was somewhat short, I did find the ability to create almost any spell both empowering and intimidating at the same time. The interface consists of a wheel, which has the player selecting different components to eventually develop a spell. These can be triggered at will as they are bound to a particular button on the controller. I found the controls to be very responsive and the freedom of movement on the part of the player was welcome also.

The visual and audio presentation of Alkimya  is impressive and the in game menu is very much in keeping with the rest of Alkimya  as it is Mya’s spell book, with pages flipping back and forth as the player reviews the spells they have so far concocted.  

While Alkimya is an extremely promising title, I did actually found its spell crafting interface to be a little fiddly. It also requires the player to focus their attention on relatively complex spell creation methods while trying to stop creatures from eating Mya as they did so!

Hopefully Bad Minions will refine the interface prior to the release Alkimya, which should be out some time in 2019.

AVARIAvs

Format(s): Windows PC and Mac OS

Developer: Juncture Media

Website: https://avariavs.com/

While attending a panel at PAX East 2019 on the history of JRPGs, one of the panellists was representing Juncture Media, a developer who had created a game that is centred on the concept of player v player combat using JRPG turn-based engagements.

This idea intrigued me, as typically these systems assumed the player had to overcome AI-driven combat against computer controlled opponents, that typically act predictably. This is the downfall of many JRPGs as in many cases it can result in the player optimising the characters in their party to such an extent that they do not have much of a challenge towards the end of the game, thanks to the ability to outwit the AI routines by exploiting combinations that the computer cannot counter. But what if both sides were controlled by humans? This is where AVARIAvs comes in.

Set in a future world with biological and mechanical beings fight one another using the familiar turn-based system of commanding characters to carry out actions on either the enemy or their compatriots as the player tries to counter the onslaught of attacks. Styles of play vary depending on the array of characters selected for the combat. Offensive relies on all-out attacks with buffs focused on increasing damage output, while defence based parties rely on soaking up damage in an attempt to reduce the resources of the other side before launching a counterattack.

I managed to have one match of AVARIAvs at the Juncture Media booth and attempted a defence based play (as that is that I tend to do when playing JRPGs and therefore was the most comfortable adopting that style). My opponent seemed to be of similar mind but had a better handle on the combinations that can be used to trigger extremely powerful attacks, which I failed to counter effectively.

One of the key features of AVARIAvs is the presence of a timer that is visualised in the middle of the screen by a burning fuse. This pushes the players to select their moves within a short period of time, maintaining the fast pace of the combat, otherwise sessions could grind to a halt as players crunch numbers trying to create the optimum actions in an given turn.

The interface for AVARIAvs is largely icon driven with dials selected and sub-menus triggered creating actions relatively quickly. Tooltips are present, but given the short time players have in selecting their attacks it makes it difficult to digest these while engaged in a play session. All characters also have a super powered action that can be triggered provided the player to complete a simple mini game that appears as the player attempts to invoke the action. The opposing player can see this occur and its fund to watch as you see your opponent flail about in a dexterity based mini game that runs counter to the turn based action of AVARIAvs.

The visuals of AVARIAvs were not what I was expecting, with JRPGs firmly stuck in the 16-bit era in my head, I had assumed a pixel art driven game engine powering this PvP based title; I could not have been more wrong. Instead I was presented with something that looks more like Mass Effect with soft focus visuals allowing characters under the player’s control to be easily highlighted.

AVARIAvs is certainly a very promising title that is set to appear in May 2019.

Barotrauma

Format(s): Windows PC, Mac OS, Linux

Developer: Fakefish Games

Website: https://barotraumagame.com/

Demoing a game at PAX East 2019 was never going to be terribly easy when it is as detailed a title as Barotrauma, but developers Fakefish Games were not going to be put off by the barrier of a loud and crowded room while trying to explain the intricacies of a survival horror game. So much so that it caught my attention and I’m glad it did, as Barotrauma is a very complex title that holds much promise.

Set in the near future where Earth has become a toxic wasteland thanks to the overexploitation of the resources on it, humanity has been forced to flee to one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa, in order to survive.

The player takes control of a submarine that travels through the cold oceans of Europa, trying not to cause the sub the implode as it is attacked from both the creatures that live in the waters of Europa as well as the crew who are all – quite understandably – suffering from extreme stress.

The player controls crew members all of whom have varying abilities. Some are excellent cooks, but not so great at welding bits of hull together. Others are excellent with a gun but can’t navigate to save their lives. Which is unfortunate considering that they will have to do that very thing in order to prevent themselves from dying at the bottom of Europa’s many oceans.

The one aspect that immediately leapt out at me about Barotrauma was how granular it is. The level of detail presented to the player is quite intimidating as almost every component of the sub is broken down to its constituent parts. This is backed up by a detailed crafting system that allows players to develop Heath Robinson like solutions to the technological problems that beset the sub as it drifts through the murky depths of the waters of Europa.

It is also possible for each crew member to be controlled by another player, thus creating a coop experience with each player given a task by a designated captain and the success of their survival is based on the player’s ability to work with one another. With a 16 member crew, the possibility of consensus is slim, even if it is a life or death situation, which it normally is in Barotrauma.

The visual style adopted is of a 2D cross section through the submarine with the crew represented as mannequins with joints within their limbs. It’s a simplistic method of conveying movement and interaction with the world, but this does not make it any less effective.

Barotrauma is set for release in 2019 as an Early Access title, which is not unusual for games of this type thanks to the need for extensive play testing to make sure all of the possible combinations are covered. Barotrauma is set to appear on Windows PC, Mac OS and Linux platforms.

Colt Canyon

Format(s): Windows PC

Developer: Retrific

Website: https://colt-canyon.com/

The Wild West has been the subject of many a videogame, with Nintendo’s earliest arcade game, Sheriff, being a good examplenot to mention the Red Dead titles by Rockstar Games. Colt Canyon attempts to boil down the Western theme by putting it into an extremely fast-paced roguelite top down action adventure game.

Colt Canyon is so fast that any hesitation by the player during combat will likely result in their swift demise as being hit by a bullet is not something you’re going to recover from very quickly. I know this as I experienced it at PAX East 2019 where it was being demoed.

Colt Canyon opens up with the partner of the main protagonist being kidnapped by bandits. With the West being lawless, there was only one solution, embark on a revenge driven rescue mission. This will likely involve a body count that would not be inconsiderable, but the end justifies the means, right?

The player controls a small figure with limited animation that is not too dissimilar to the sprite found in Nintendo’s Sheriff. The sprite runs around a 2D map at great speed picking up items from chests that litter the landscape as well as from fallen foes as they slowly bleed out following your assault, which had a plan until it was executed and it degenerated instantly into ‘kill everything’. But the player has to be careful as not everyone in the Wild West is out to get you. Some may even befriend and fight alongside you.

That’s right, in Colt Canyon you get to form a posse. You may even be able to ‘head them off at the pass’ with said posse, but I didn’t get that far in the demo to find out.

Despite, or maybe because of the sparse presentation of Colt Canyon the game itself is laid bare before the player. This is actually a major strength as so simple is the interface that it’s very easy to understand, removing barriers that in more complex games would be present.

It’s very easy to get straight into the exciting yet stressed filled experience Colt Canyon offers, for every new place the player ventures offers yet more opportunities for them to meet their end, or their fortune.

If it’s not obvious from the above description I really enjoyed my time with Colt Canyon. It does an excellent job of providing a delicate balance of risk and reward that so many other games in its genre fail to get quite right.

Colt Canyon is due for release in the fourth quarter of 2019 on Windows PC and I for one shall be heading off into the desert to that infamous pass when it does.

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