PAX Prime 2011 came and went this past weekend in Seattle, and with it, as with all gaming expositions worth their salt, came a steady stream of neckbeards, cosplayers, geek celebrities, and, most of all, the latest video games. PAX, the brainchild of the Penny Arcade creators, opened for registration in mid-April and sold out completely by the end of May the fastest the exposition has ever sold out. Here are some of the weekend highlights.
PAX-goers began arriving in Seattle as early as two days before the exposition itself, many of them boldly decked out in various arrays of gaming finery. These costumes themselves often represent a fleeting glimpse of the year that was in gaming, and as such, some are but a passing fancy, never again to be seen in convention halls. Here’s a quick look at some of the most popular costumes of PAX 2011:
- Alice, from EA’s Alice: Madness Returns. Alice costumes made a comeback this year at PAX, and it’s not hard to see why. Alice’s signature blue-and-white dress and striped stockings make for a simple, cute, and distinctive look with relatively minimal effort. It’s the female equivalent of Heath Ledger’s Joker.
- Catherine and Vincent, from Atlus’ Catherine. A newcomer to the cosplay scene, Catherine fans sported two costumes in particular at PAX this year. Girls opted for the clean, elegant look of Catherine’s white-and-red dress, whilst Vincent’s ram horns were a common sight throughout the exposition. A few bold souls went whole-hog with Vincent’s costume and wandered PAX grounds clad only in purple polka-dot boxers and ram horns. Gentlemen, I salute you.
- Spartans and Cortana from Halo. Time-honored classics present at gaming expositions for the last decade, Halo costumes were by far the most prevalent (and extravagant) costumes of PAX. From lovingly crafted Spartan armor (complete with working LED lights), to flood-infected Marines (with papier mache infections), to bodypainted, spandex-wearing Cortanas, the Haloverse made its presence widely known.
- Chell and the Companion Cube, from Valve’s Portal. There were several orange jumpsuits visible amongst the crowd, although they were frequently torn or strategically cut-off in ways that Chell’s never was. As for the Companion Cube… ah, Companion Cube. I can barely restrain myself from typing out a heart every time I type out Companion Cube. Don’t judge me. Maybe my favorite inanimate “character” from a game, ever.
- The Utilikilt… wait, what? Seriously, Seattle. What was with the extreme prevalence of Utilikilts at PAX? Is this some kind of Seattle-specific or PAX-specific trend I’m unaware of? Anyone help me out here?
- Also, there was Robocop playing Fruit Ninja Kinect. Need I say more?
- And Wil Wheaton as himself.
The longest lineups (and by association, the most popular games) of PAX generally played themselves out in predictable fashion.
Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 3, BioWare’s Mass Effect 3 and Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim naturally generated the longest wait times, given the popularity of the franchises and the epic scope of the games. Skyrim in particular looks extremely promising. The world practically pops off the screens, and the dragons look incredible.
Honorable mentions go to ArenaNet’s Guild Wars 2 booth, where gamers waited for hours to return to the lands of Tyria, and id Software’s Rage booth, a post-apocalyptic first-person shooter that will draw obvious comparisons to Borderlands in terms of its look and feel.
Finally, I would be remiss to mention long lines and popular booths without mentioning Good Old Games booth, which featured Good Old Grannies serving up freshly-baked macadamia-white chocolate and dark chocolate chip cookies. GOG.com sells classic (and sometimes forgotten) PC games of the 90s and 2000s, such as Dungeon Keeper, Gabriel Knight, Planescape: Torment, and Heroes of Might and Magic, and is an indispensable resource for the nostalgic gamer.
Note to future exhibitors: free food = popular booth.
In an attempt to gain a sense of the entirety of the exposition, I tried to avoid the heavily popular booths so as not to sink long hours into longer lineups. Instead, I tried to play some of the lesser-knowns that were still of interest.
- Runic Games’ Torchlight II. All signs from the playable demo indicate impending release, though no date outside of “by the end of 2011” has been made official. Players of the first Torchlight will immediately feel at ease with the gameplay of Torchlight II, even though the three character classes of the original game have been replaced by four entirely new classes. Those versed in the PC RPG world will recall that the original Torchlight was billed as a preview of Diablo III. Torchlight II, with its $20 price tag and addition of multiplayer, may well lose the “preview” tag and become a viable alternative to those still waiting for Blizzard’s next magnum opus.
- Human Head Studios’ Prey 2. The first actual gameplay footage that I’ve seen of this game was here at PAX, where the first 15-20 minutes of the first level were shown. In contrast to the original Prey, which posits the player as being hunted during an alien invasion, Prey 2 situates a bounty hunter in an alien city well after the invasion has occurred. The environment has a very Blade Runner feel to it and, in fact, shares a look similar to the intriguing, soon-to-be-released cyberpunk streets of Hard Reset. Prey 2 implements a reputation and honor system akin to that of Red Dead Redemption —an intriguing touch. This is a game to watch for.
- EVE Online had an impressive booth with a large stage and screen showcasing the recent Incarna expansion pack and talking about CCP’s upcoming venture into console gaming, Dust 514. Author Tony Gonzales (EVE: The Empyrean Age) gave a rousing speech about the human aspect of the EVE dystopian universe, the fascinating darkness and goodness humanity brings to every scenario. They also showed some fun fan vids. Truly, EVE is a game perfect for nihilists.
- Telltale Games’ Jurassic Park. As a dinosaur nut, I really wanted to like this game. I have yet to play a truly enjoyable dinosaur game since Turok (though Trespasser had its occasional moments). However, I still can’t bring myself to reconcile a game consisting entirely of quicktime events (a technique which worked well for Heavy Rain) to a game with dinosaurs. Graphics were mediocre and dino kills left no blood behind. Perhaps the story can make up for some of these shortcomings, but that remains to be seen.
- Techland’s Dead Island. Killing zombies on a tropical resort island. Simple, mindless fun. This game plays a lot like Left 4 Dead, but with a heavier focus on down’n’dirty melee attacks. Who knew a kayak paddle could be so deadly?
These are, of course, but a few of the notables, but if you have any specific questions about specific games or any other aspect of this year’s PAX, please feel free to ask and I’ll share what I saw. PAX 2011 was a smashing success so much so, in fact, that a third PAX con is in the works. Here’s to next year.
Pritpaul Bains is an avid gamer and an alum of the 2008 Clarion West Writers’ Workshop. This was his first time at PAX.