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PAX 08: All The Small Things

PAX 2008

With two journalists and one photographer, The Penny Arcade Expo was more than a little overwhelming. Faced with hands-on previews, interviews, and general chaos, we tried our best to cram as much as we could into our three-day stay. Not everything made it in; but in this article I’ll try to tie together a few loose ends of games that I saw and played but didn’t feel like I got an appropriate feel to write a proper preview. Tidbits ahoy!

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Raven Squad: Hidden Dagger

Tucked away in a corner of Southpeak’s booth was Raven Squad: Hidden Dagger, an upcoming action game for Xbox 360 and PC that attempts to combine FPS and RTS gameplay modes in one package; basically, a group of mercenaries winds up on an island in the middle of nowhere and needs to complete their mission, as well as help a few people living on the island out. They gain a satellite, which allows players to zoom up over the map and view the entire field from above. It’s a unique idea, and in practice it works well – I was telling my squad to toss grenades in places I would otherwise have been ambushed by enemies, and so on. The beta build I played was fairly ugly, with missing terrain and poor animation – character’s mouths never even moved. However, the concept alone has our curiosities piqued. Hopefully it can be cleaned up before release.

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Mercenaries 2: World in Flames

Mercenaries was a cult hit back on the PS2 and Xbox, so a sequel is certainly an exciting prospect. However, the near-release game certainly didn’t blow any minds during the demo we watched at EA’s booth. While the physics are impressive, the game doesn’t look very nice, and the controls seemed clunky – of the three other people I watched play the game, none of them quite got the hang of aiming during the missions available. Still, the destruction is quite pretty, and little touches like water effects and bending metal were nice bits of detail. Perhaps I’m missing something, but overall it looks like more of the same for Mercenaries 2 – which isn’t all bad, just disappointing.

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Facebreaker

The extremely limited demo of Facebreaker was just like the amount of buzz the game is getting in the press: barely anything. Only one mode was available, and three characters were unlocked for play. The actual game is a simple fighting game with high and low punches, as well as a parry system (hold the attack button) and “breakers” which are more brutal moves that charge up for a few seconds. Overall, the experience wasn’t unpleasant, just uninteresting. Mash buttons, mash more buttons, block, mashmashmash, round over! The selling point of face deformation was barely noticeable.

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Velvet Assassin

While the two juggernauts of the genre are both gamer-household names – Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell – stealth-action games are few and far between. Velvet Assassin puts players in the role of Violette Summer, an undercover agent sent behind enemy lines during WWII to sabotage the German war machine. We watched a ten-minute gameplay demo and came away mildly impressed. The game seems to be a fairly simple dodge-the-guards classic stealth outing, with tidbits of stylish action thrown in – a chase scene at the end of the demonstration saw Violette dashing down a hallway with a shotgun blasting anyone in her path. There are unique touches too, like the sudden cutaway to Violette in her hospital gown reenacting her war experiences like a madwoman. Hopefully the game will be more artsy than fartsy, but so far it’s looking interesting.

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X-Blades

SouthPeak’s booth at PAX this year had numerous offerings, but none as colorful or booby as X-Blades. We weren’t told much about the plot during the demo, but the game was incredibly colorful, with gobs of style. The plot probably wasn’t that important though, X-Blades is a straight hack-n-slash, no thinking required. Basically, it’s pretty violence to look at while buttons are mashed. That said, it is quite fun to look at. Many magic spells and combos can be learned for the heroine to put to use in battle, and a lot of them involve tiny matrix-esque sequences where times slows down enough for you to really appreciate the lightshow of colors and sword trails. What remains to really be seen, however, is how well this can hold the average gamer’s attention. Without at least some kind of point, mindless violence can get boring no matter how awesome it looks.

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in October 2006.

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