PAX East 2020 has come and gone, but it's left us with plenty of exciting games to anticipate. I roamed the expansive show floor and nearby hotels, searching for the most fun, polished and innovative games to highlight, and came up with five serious contenders.
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These games range from big-budget first-person shooters, to throwback indie side-scrollers, to experimental rhythm games, but each one has something unique — and incredibly gripping — to offer. These are some of the best games that Boston had to offer, at least until PAX East rolls around again next year.
30XX demonstrates that you don't need an enormous budget to make a killer game — just a great concept and a fantastic execution. Picking up where its predecessor, 20XX, left off, 30XX combines run-and-gun side-scrolling gameplay with roguelike elements. The result is sort of a spiritual successor to the Mega Man X series, but with much faster-paced play sessions and a much higher difficulty curve. You get one shot to dash and blast your way through eight procedurally generated stages — but even if you die, you can use your hard-earned currency to buy powerful permanent upgrades. It's an addictive gameplay mix, with gorgeous graphics and a memorable soundtrack.
We've given Doom Eternal accolades before, but each time we see the game, something new about it impresses us. During my PAX East demo, I was pleased to discover that Doom isn't (entirely) about the pure catharsis of blowing up demons — it's also about resource management. Keeping your ammo, health and chainsaw fuel in balance can be a delicate process, and you'll need to think on your feet. When you're low on ammo and health, dodging enemy gunfire and trying to decide which foe is worth your last few shots, it's an exhilarating experience. It's one thing to be stylish and fun, but providing a little depth along the way is even better.
Harmonix has been refining the rhythm game ever since it released Frequency in 2001. After Guitar Hero, Rock Band and DropMix, the Boston-based company is ready to shake things up once again with Fuser. This game casts you as a DJ playing for a huge crowd of dancers. But here's the twist: You can choose any four songs, from a catalog of more than 100, and combine the percussion, instruments, rhythm and vocals any way you see fit. By my calculations, that's roughly 4 million different combinations that you can try, and the result is guaranteed to sound great, no matter what. But the game itself can get fairly demanding, as you have to balance what fans want with a demanding rhythm.
A looter-shooter is only as good as its shooting mechanics, and no one does shooting like Polish developer People Can Fly. The company's newest game is Outriders: an online live-service game that lets you team up with other players to take down wave after wave of agile gunmen, furious berserkers and superpowered bosses. After choosing a class and learning a handful of special abilities, you'll be able to find your role on the battlefield, level up and improve your equipment. The tight, cooperative gameplay mechanics make the game work, but the dramatic sci-fi story could also be a big draw in the long term.
Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous
Making a video game adaptation out of a tabletop RPG is much more difficult than it sounds. You've got to keep the essence of the rules while streamlining a lot of minutiae, give the player a ton of choices with distinct outcomes, and provide challenging combat and sensible skill checks. And, while you're at it, an epic story with memorable party members wouldn't hurt. Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous aims to deliver all of these features. Based on a tabletop module of the same name, this game lets you customize an adventurer, then wage a war against an army of demons. You'll get to explore the world, command an army and even ascend to one of six Mystic classes.