Yes, Power Up Gaming is back for another year to provide coverage of PAX Aus, the largest video game convention in the southern hemisphere.
There are triple-A titles, lots of independent games from Australia and abroad, as well as an understandably larger virtual reality presence. Here are just some of the highlights of what I got up to today.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole, feat. the Nosulus Rift
I immediately headed to the Ubisoft booth in search of arguably the most experimental piece of tech at the show, the Nosulus Rift. For the uninitiated, this bad boy is strapped over the head and around the nose to funnel in-game smells directly towards your sinuses. Novelty or not, you cannot dismiss its uniqueness.
But what kinds of in-game smells could the Nosulus simulate from a game like South Park? I’ll tell you what – nothing good. I was the first person to try on the device and was immediately sent to the bathroom to ‘test’ it out. Whether the New Kid was doing a fart, taking a shit, or perhaps a bit of both, I was not prepared for the intensity and prolonged odour that was created. It’s like someone farted in a jar, kept it in there for five years and said to you “Hey, open this jar that I found!”.
It only got worse when I came to a segment labelled ‘Fartcore’. This is like a wall-jumping section – only involving farts instead of actual jumps. Missing a timed ‘jump’ meant restarting and every jump equals one fart – so a mandatory four farts in a row to get to a rooftop wasn’t pleasant at all.
The Fractured But Whole uses a grid-based combat system and I was told the actual demo was a couple of months old. There was no evidence of the ‘block’ mechanic from the first game, which decreased the amount of damage from enemies as well as awarding small counter-attack windows. Fingers crossed this is rectified when The Fractured But Whole’s released in March, 2017.
If co-operative games like Portal 2 or Battleblock Theater are your jam, then you’ll easily be seduced by this game. Developed by Australian indie developer SMG Studio, Death Squared hits that sweet spot between clear, concise, satisfying teamwork and yelling at each other until you almost switch to another game.
You play as a coloured cube – red or blue – while your teammate plays as your opposite. Both must navigate through an elevated grid to reach a matching goal reflective of your colour, where the locations of potential traps and other nuisances are determined by both of your movements.
It starts off seemingly simple, with basic horizontal movements releasing a second coloured cube knocking your partner off the stage – unbeknownst to you. In the demo I came across far more mentally challenging areas using combinations of colour co-ordinated lasers, spikes and moving platforms only triggered by my teammate’s movements.
The developers are aiming for 100 stages in Death Squared and, from what I played, it’s a very well-polished little game that’s bound to make friendships and brake a few hearts. Scheduled for Q1, 2017.
The American Dream
In this VR title from the team at Samurai Punk, guns are a part of everyday life. From driving a car to eating an evening meal, they’re the one thing that’s always with you. Confused? So was I.
Using the Oculus Rift, the demo began with me as a baby in my cot, trying out my first gun. There were a few basic tracking and point-and-shoot tutorials about shooting at the right math equation and knocking down the paddle of my favourite leader – the in-game President, Jesus or… a gun.
Set in the 1940s, The American Dream is quite quirky and, despite its eye-opening content centred around the over-indulgence of guns, doesn’t take itself too seriously. When my dual pistols were empty, pressing down on a gold button on my right or left side would eject a new magazine for that weapon. They’re released in a cool slow-mo style and it’s up to the player to slide them into the gun sideways – mid-air – like something out of an action movie.
For its sheer use of originality, The American Dream is one I’ll be keeping an eye on. Aiming for a release on all major VR platforms, it’s slated for a 2017 launch.
This game from Brisbane-based dev team, Screwtape Studios, is about a badass girl trying to save the world from being overrun by vampires. Damsel is an action-platformer and the demo showcased a wonderful colour scheme and combat mechanics as well as the game’s open level design and mission progression system.
I only had access to a basic shotgun, which resulted in a string of close-quarter deaths, but Damsel can use each level’s environment to her advantage. She can hang from overhead balconies and streetlights to aim down or to the side when enemies approach. Her melee skill was largely ineffective, but a jump followed by a melee strike would trigger a quick mid-air dash in a trail of purple light. This cancelled out the melee kick quite quickly and became a favourite of mine throughout the demo.
Damsel is a game built for both the speed runners and completists. You’re awarded a points value reflective of how swift and effective you can use Damsel in battle. There are also objectives dotted throughout each stage and completing these, which vary from rescuing hostages or destroying coffins, adds a nice chunk to your overall score.
Screwtape Studios’ first game has its sights set on a Q1, 2017 for PC, Mac and Linux, with a console port to come in Q3-Q4, 2017.
S1T2, a technology development agency based in Australia, is testing the waters of virtual reality by creating their first video game, Kept. It’s an exploration game that may mean different things to different people, but I was told the crux of it lies in accepting death and coping with loss.
Powered by the HTC Vive, the Kept demo began at night time in front of a large tree. There was a surprisingly deep draw distance on the surrounding reeds, where a swamp-like ambience injected an immersive atmosphere. The large tree suddenly exploded with fireflies and it was my task to catch one inside a glass jar to kickstart an ancient ritual.
I’ll going to go out on a limb and say that Kept is the most detailed VR game I’ve played to date. It has crisp visuals while maintaining an impressively high and steady frame-rate throughout, with no tracking or other connection issues.
S1T2 are releasing Kept episodically, across three chapters, starting from Q2, 2017 on all major VR platforms.
Stay tuned to Power Up Gaming for more game previews, interviews and analysis from developer panels across PAX Aus 2016.