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How clean is your spouse?
I'd planned on starting with a line about how Loretta is an exception to how psychological horror games are about trudging around an abandoned mental hospital with the worst torch in the world until the girl from Ringu menaces you. It was already interesting and good enough pretty much right away to earn a recommendation, but after one of what will definitely be several playthroughs, leaving my praise that faint would do it a terrible injustice.
Loretta is goddamn excellent by any standard. Where other games use the mentally unwell narrator to explain everything away with "turns out you're secretly crazy", it's instead just one layer of a complex horror mystery with splashes of drama and noir, whose surprises I'm straining not to spoil.
I got a hug from Ellen McLain. That's not relevant to the video I just wanted to brag about it.
At PAX West in Seattle last year, I had the pleasure of interviewing the voice cast of Team Fortress 2. I chatted to John Patrick Lowrie (The Sniper), Gary Schwartz (The Heavy, The Demoman), Robin Atkin Downes (The Medic) and Ellen McLain (The Administrator) about the game's fifteen year long legacy, the process of finding their character's voices as well as their favourite quotes. It was a riot of an interview and, to be honest, a bit of a career highlight. It also did really well on TikTok, which I have mixed feelings about.
Fifteen minutes after the gang left the grimy conference room in which the interview took place (I had immediately crawled onto the floor in an attempt to ease the anxiety from having conducted said interview), I got a Twitter notification. Robin had posted a video. Following our chat, the group had attempted to order a sandwich from a cafe in-character, leaving the staff completely bemused as a result. Understandably the video did numbers, and over the last six months, the gang have been releasing new episodes in what is now known as "The Sandvich Saga" on a regular basis.
Let me take you on a tour of words
After 15 years, I finally managed to go back to Japan! And now I'm back, I thought it would be nice to recount the trip. It's a somewhat selfish thing, admittedly. Mainly because I think jotting down my scattered thoughts will help me process the holiday and, hopefully as a by-product of my outpouring, you'll get a sense of what it's like out there if you're interested in going yourself one day.
Don't worry, we also asked about Zach's dog
There are few success stories more inspiring than that of Tarn and Zach Adams. After twenty years of development Dwarf Fortress finally made the jump to Steam in December 2021, complete with exciting new features such as "graphics" and "mouse support". Although the game was already critically lauded, its availability on Steam made it a financial success, with thousands of long-term fans thrilled to provide the brothers with a long-overdue payday.
Following their panel on the highs and lows of procedural generation, the pair had a chat with Rachel about the game's recent Steam release, upcoming features, their favourite player stories and - most importantly - Zach's dog.
There are so many ways to cut this cake. I could call it a weird game, and bang on about those for a bit. I could call it a 2D beat 'em up with your classic heavy/light attacks (actually punch/kick, but whatever), which is important to mention. It's also tempting to namedrop the things it reminded me of, like Hotline Miami, Beraltors, and a tiny hint of The Cat Lady, but that could get you picturing just about anything, and is unfairly reductive to a game that has the right to stand on its own.
Pill Baby is, obviously, all those things. It's far better and more coherent than any of those descriptions would make it sound.
Featuring a surprise marriage proposal that I recorded by accident
There's a moment in BioShock Infinite's opening act that's always stuck with me. As you emerge onto the floating city of Columbia, the game takes you on a guided tour of the sights and sounds of this airbone civilization. As you saunter through the streets, you learn about its citizens and its creator, just sort of taking it all in. The sun is shining. You're surrounded by smiles. Before you know it, an airship rises above the clouds and perches next to a hugging couple, gently swaying in the summer breeze. Aboard the ship is a barbershop quartet, cheerfully harmonising the iconic Beach Boys tune God Only Knows. It's a memorable scene, and has become an integral part of the game's lasting iconography.
But for Tyler, Nick, Derek and Greg, this section was more than just a fun tease for the secret behind Columbia's unusual success. Self-confessed music school kids, the quartet inspired them to create their own musical group styled after Infinite's singing hairdressers. In 2023, BioShop Infinite celebrated their ninth year at PAX East, where they performed a wonderful collection of harmonised tunes to an absolutely packed community room - and we were there to film it.
We've played it, and it absolutely rules
I really like retro first-person shooters. Show me a game with a gun in it that looks like it could feasibly run on Windows 95, and all of the neurons in my brain will start to fizzle and spark. I just think they're neat, and their recent resurgance has been extremely nice for me, specifically.
Unsuprisingly, then, I've been very excited to get my hands on Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun, a retro FPS by Auroch Digital set within the grim-dark universe of Warhammer 40k. A retro shooter where you play as a Space Marine is so obvious a pairing it's a wonder the concept has never been tackled before, to the point where the game's own marketing materials sort of pretend that it already was back in the 90s but everyone just forgot about it.
We chatted to the folks behind Slay The Princess, Xenotilt, Go-Go Town! and Paper Trail on the show floor
At last year's PAX East, we spent a lot of our time poking around the PAX Rising Showcase booth, which is a collection of indie games curated by PAX itself. Not only did we find a bunch of cool games to play, but we were also able to chat to the games' creators, as all Rising finalists are invited to attend in person to show their work to the public.
This year, though, Rachel and I decided to go one step further. We interviewed the teams behind four of the eleven 2023 finalists, asking the developers behind Go-Go Town!, Paper Trail, Slay the Princess and Xenotilt: Hostile Pinball Action about their experience of bringing their games to PAX, what they learned along the way, and what it’s like to spend four days standing on your feet talking to thousands of attendees (spoilers: it’s really bloody tiring).
There's a kind of game that we all have a fondness for. It transcends genre, even if it doesn't particularly push the boat out. It's not the first game that comes to mind as a favourite or recommendation, but it's a plain good time. Raidborn is one of those.
It doesn't try to take over your life, or be the Everything Game that invariably becomes the Nothing Game. It's just a neat little thing to have some harmless fun with. Sometimes that's what you want.
Plants, turnips and farming are a major theme here, with some added horror thrills
Liam and I played a lot of games at PAX East, like a lot. Most of them we managed to make videos for, but there were many more that we just didn't have the time to cover, and that were also very good! So here's a quick list of five more games I wanted to spotlight in written form while Liam's busy in the editing mines working on all the community videos we filmed (the first of which is out right now, chronicling the PAX Facebook group that takes a community photo every single year). It's very wholesome. We've got more community videos coming out this week, plus an article listing our absolute favourite games we played throughout the entire event, so keep your eyes peeled for those, too. For now, though, let's dive into some more indie highlights.
Too many jangling keys
Graham (RPS in peace) text me yesterday and, with little warning, launched into what were clearly pre-prepared paragraphs of complaints about games he'd tried playing in his free time at the weekend and not enjoyed. I shall draw a veil of discretion over the names of the actual games, but his chief complaint was that none of them had, actually, very robust design or tutorialising fit for purpose (i.e. teaching you how to play the game), especially for people who aren't able to give games their singular attention for hours at at time. I agree with him, although his attention is divided by, e.g., having a child in need of stimulation, and mine is divided by, e.g., being a child in need of stimulation.
It's probably turning my brain into cottage cheese, but I often do things at the same time as playing a game, like listening to music or a podcast. I understand that podcast games are sort of a genre now, but I've started doing it with regular games. Is this a me problem? Sure. Does it mean I want games to bring back that thing where NPC quest givers will just explain the quest again to you if you ask? 100% also yes.
But will normal people like it too?
With the solemnity of Samwise Gamgee informing Mr Frodo that one more step will take him the furthest he's ever been from home, I recently realised that it'll soon be the longest we've gone without a new Life Is Strange game since the franchise debuted in 2015. I looked into it and sure enough, the current record-holder is the gap between the season one finale of Life Is Strange and the first episode of its prequel Before The Storm: 1 year, 10 months, and 12 days. That means that come mid-August of this year — specifically, the 14th, which marks the 683rd day since True Colors' Wavelengths DLC released — LIS fans will be leaving the Shire whether we like it or not.
I suspect that Life Is Strange: Steph's Story — the first prose novel tie-in to the franchise, released on March 21st — was commissioned with fans like me in mind. Fans who work out useless trivia like the above because they need something to occupy them when there's no new game on the horizon and they've played all the existing ones to death. Fans who know every character's canonical middle name and birthday. Fans who complain that it feels like they never have time to read any more, but nevertheless finished the novel and wrote a silly supporter post about it within ten days of publication. Of course I really liked Life Is Strange: Steph's Story. But will you, as a person whose relationship with this franchise is statistically guaranteed to be more normal than mine?
"None of it matters without them"
PAX East is a great place to play the latest games, sure, but as anyone who's attended the event will tell you the games are just a small part of a wider medley of things to see and do. Last year we highlighted the show's thriving pin collecting scene, for instance, interviewing a bunch of Pinny Arcade enthusiasts about the hobby and discovering that physical badges are just a minor part of the appeal.
Encouraged by the lovely warm feeling making that video left in my belly, we set out to shine a light on other lesser-known parts of PAX East during our time at this year's show. This led us to discover the PAX East Facebook group, a community of over 8,000 members brought together through their shared love of video games, pop culture and PAX itself. The page is dominated by a striking banner image, a photograph that shows a large group of people crowded around the PAX logo that's a permanent fixture in the main hall of the Boston convention centre.
Rachel and I found this photograph fascinating. Who were these people? Do they take this picture every single year? How did something like this start, and who was responsible for organising it in the first place?
Huh? Harvesting the planet? None of my business *turns on hose*
It has been said (by me) that a lot of games journalists are generalists in terms of what we play, especially if we're talking about people who are staffers at an outlet, or have ever worked in guides. Though we all have stuff we prefer, or series that we serve as the go-to expert on for in-house needs (I think vid bud Liam might actually walk around wearing an ASK ME ABOUT RESIDENT EVIL badge in his day-to-day life), we - unlike the blue-haired neo-Gods of streaming - often can't focus on one game all of the time. You have to know enough about enough to be able to write about enough.
There are, however, a bunch of big important games that I haven't played. Sometimes it's because a bunch of other people have, so that gap in the site's knowledge is already plugged (and I do always make sure to be aware of their impact and basic facts). Other times, they might be games that I'm not really interested in playing, either because they're not my genre or they seem too overwrought. Or, in some cases, it's because everyone says they're really good and I have to try them, though I've been burned before on this method (you people said the same about Ready Player One). But you know what would make me take in info about these games, even if it's just by osmosis? If they all got PowerWash Sim DLCs.
Imagine for a moment, if you will, that Persona 5 let you suplex your opponents. Even better, imagine if those moves were pulled off through timing based minigames that resembled the battles found in Nintendo's excellent (and underrated) Mario & Luigi RPG series. Sounds good, right? Well guess what, that game exists! It's called Wrestle Story and it's definitely a project to keep an eye on.
After spending twenty glorious minutes with its colourful demo at PAX East, I was keen to chat to creative director Steve Jimenez about the team's inspirations, the challenges of translating wrestling into a turn-based RPG and the exciting locations that players will attempt to liberate from a group of devious heels.
Friend or foe?
Earlier in the week, Liam and I had the opportunity to chat with Animal Well's solo developer and publisher Bigmode about creating their eerie subterranean world. We then had a chance to go hands on with the PAX East demo, and wow, we were both incredibly impressed. Watch the video below for our enthusiastic impressions:
If we could give an RPS 'Bestest Best in show' award to a game, is would be Animal Well. Liam and I loved the game's dense atmosphere, spider-web of interconnected caverns, and creepy creatures that lurk in the dark. We also loves the effects the game has, which reminded Liam of Octopath Traveler's visual flairs. If I had to compare it to one game, it would be Hollow Knight, which is very exciting.
We have plenty more PAX East indies for you to check out so make sure you have a peruse through our RPS@PAX tag. A couple of our favourites have been chaotic rouguelite Pizza Possum, Resident Evil-like Alone In The Dark, and island exploration game Mythwrecked.
Time to eat
Show me a game about a feral, furry creature with a never ending hunger for junk food and I'm immediately interested. I played Pizza Possum on the first day of PAX and knew it would make a great indie highlight for our time here at PAX East. Liam and I have now both played the demo and you can listen to our impressions in the video below:
What really appealed to us about Pizza Possum is how chaotic it is. It's like Untitled Goose Game but at double the speed. Playing the eponymous possum, you need you scamper around a sunny Mediterranean town scoffing as much food as you can get your grubby mitts on.
There's an element of hide-and-seek too, as there are patrol dogs who will try and stop your food eating rampage, but you can quickly jump into a berry bush to thorw them off your scent. It's goofy fun, and we're completeley smitten with it.
3, 2, 1, FIGHT!
Liam and I had a fun time chatting with the folks over at Mega Cat Studios about their upcoming wrestling RPG WrestleQuest last year at PAX West, and this time at PAX East we finally cornered them in the ring for a proper interview.
Watch below to learn about how the developers created their zero to hero story, how they're addressing myths and persaonl issues in the world of pro wresting, as well as sharing a story about how one of the team got their nose broken in a wrestling accident during development.
My main take away from the interview is how much of the RPG incorporates all aspects of Wrestling, not just the ring fights we see on TV. Another interesting thing is that Mega Cat reached out to a handful of real-life wrestlers to ask their permission to use their likeness in the game - not an easy feat to secure, I'm sure.
World's worst boss
I've played a bunch of indie game demos at PAX East, but none left my head reeling as much as 43 Studios' fiendishly frantic action platfotmer Hell Of An Office. It's a super fast parkour adventure in the vein of Neon White, and after ten minutes with the demo my heart race was through the roof. If I owned a fitbit it would have been screaming at me to have a nice sit down with a cuppa. Check out my full impressions in the video below:
Hell Of An Office puts your platforming reflexes to the test as you're tasked with sprinting ad jumping your way straight outta hell. With only a stapler as your means of survival, you need to navigate through each level before it slowly sinks into the burning lava. React quickly, or fall victim to Hell's scorching pools.
If you love the blood-pumping, sweaty palm inducing action-platforming of Neon White, make sure to keep an eye on Hell Of An Office as it makes it's way through Early Access.
A sun-drenched vacation
I really enjoyed dark fantasy adventure Roki when it first released back in 2020, and keen to see what developers Polygon Treehouse have gotten up to since, I jumped at the opportunity to play the PAX East demo for Mythwrecked: Ambrosia Island. You can watch my impressions of the demo in the video below:
In Mythwrecked you play as Alex, a backpacker who has washed up on the sun-drenched shores of Ambrosia Island. As she begins exploring, she soon realises that this island seems to be a hot spot for the gods from ancient Greek myths. Your task is to befriend each god, help them restore their memories, and find a way back to civilisation.
From playing the demo, you can see much of what made Roki fun reflected in Mythwrecked. The environments are interesting to poke around in, puzzles are breezy brain ticklers, and it has Polygon Treehouse's sense of humour. Each Greek god has a humerous twist on their lore, and during the demo I had a fun time chatting with Hermes, who is dressed in nothing more than a pair of skimpy white speedos and a matching white sweat band - a bold choice of attire.
Cute but deadly
Out of all the game demos Liam and I have played at PAX East, we both agree that Animal Well is something special. It's a 2D metriodvania where you play as a little blob trying to navigate a subtterranean labyrinth filled with creatures - some cute, some not so cute.
To find out more about this strange puzzle platformer's beginnings and development, we spoke to solo develeoper Billy Basso and Bigmode's Leah Gastrow which you can view in the two videos below.
You can watch me interview Billy here:
Liam played the prequel story demo of Pieces Interactive's psychological horror
Join us for another PAX East game highlight straight from the show floor, and this time we decided to revisit a cult horror classic: Alone In The Dark. This psychological horror is being developed by Pieces Interactive with publishing backing from THQ Nordic and is a love letter to the original game released back in the 90s.
As someone who had played the original, and RPS' Resident Evil uber fan, Liam decided to check out the demo and you can hear his impressions in the video below:
According to the devs at the THQ booth, this demo is a stand-alone prequel story that will not be in the final game, but shares the same eerie atmosphere and action that'll be in the main game. This reimagining is set in the Gothic American south and in the main game you'll be playing as Edward Carnby or Emily Hartwood as they navigate the monster infested Derceto Manor, the same mansion featured in the demo.
Sad teens making sad music
We've had our eyes on Goodbye Volcano High since it appeared in Sony's State Of Play back in February and the demo at PAX East is one of the first times that the devs have placed a game preview in the hands of eager players. I had the chance to sit down with the demo and play KO_OP's teen dino adventure first hand. Check out the video below if you're interested to know what I thought:
Goodbye Volcano High follows a group of teen dinos as they begin their senior year of highschool. It's part coming-of-age visual novel part rhythm game as the group try to grapple with school while also trying to make it big as up-and-coming musicians.
I had a great time with the demo, and it looks like we won't have to wait long for the full release at Goodbye Volcano High is launching on Steam and PlayStation on June 15th.
A robot dinosaur, a giant treehouse, and more
It's almost become an RPS tradition to search the show floor at PAX events and find the coolest stuff and highlight it in a video, so that's exactly what we've done at PAX East. There's a lot of cool booths, fun props, and generally weird stuff to see, so we've chosen our absolute favourites and have listed them in video form for your viewing pleasure.
Everything at PAX East is situated in one massive hall (instead of PAX West's multiple floors, rooms, and buildings) so it's nice and easy to see everything in one or two loops. It doesn't feel cramped at all, even with Friday's busy crowds, and the booths are as spectacular as ever.
Some of our favourites included Devolver Digital's movie theatre-inspired booth, which has the new addition of a candle-lit shrine for Cult Of The Lamb's upcoming free expansion Relics Of The Old Faith. We also loved Ysbryd Games' Demonschool booth which had a school desk layout and cool retro TV. Another favourite was the animated robot dinosaur (complete with rideable saddle) that we found at the Roots Of Pacha demo builds.
I can't remember if I've already banged on about what a terrible, unhelpful term "metroidvania" is, so let's skip past to say that Angel's Gear reminds me of the one Castlevania game I've ever played.
It's partly the tone: a compelling blend of gothic and biomechanical horror, with a 90s game boy goriness that's cartoony enough to feel colourful rather than repulsive. "Camp" isn't the right word, but a hint of melodrama gives the story severity without self-seriousness. I mean, within the first minute of the game, your soldier goes from a terrified Normandy-style amphibious assault on a fortified metal church to seeing their war made irrelevant when the moon explodes. The whole thing is kind of metal, to be honest.
Our first indie highlight from the show floor
It's day one of PAX East and what better way to kick off our show coverage than highlighting a great indie game! We first came across Demonschool back at PAX West last year and have loved it ever since. It's a slick, tactical Persona-like where you play as a band of university students navigating school life by day and beating up ghosties and ghoulies by night.
I had a chat with Demonschool's Jenna Stoeber who talked me through what Demonschool is about, the game's many horror inspirations, and what spooky shinanigans players can expect. If the giant skeleton lad in the game's trailer and demo is anything to go by, we're in for a treat. You can watch the full interview by watching the video below:
If you've haven't yet, set your peepers on Demonschool's slick trailer to see what demon hunter Faye and her gang of misfits are up against. There's no concrete release date, but like Jenna said, Demonschool should be out sometime in 2023 with a playable demo available in May.
We've got plenty more interviews, demos, and highlights lined up for the rest of the week and you can find all our PAX East coverage by checking out our RPS@PAX tag.
It's better than it sounds
Exciting times! Liam and I have wrapped Inventory Space episode two, in which we documented several weeks of us returning to Bungie’s live service behemoth Destiny 2. We found it to be an FPS delight, but one that’s wrapped in a taxing MMO.
One thing I can’t stop thinking about are the game’s piss-coloured walls. They appear right at the beginning of the game’s latest expansion Lightfall and I genuinely believe they summarise Destiny perfectly.
Home on the range
I rarely enjoy adventure games, and in fact resent them for pinning that term for a genre that almost never feels adventurous. And yet I don't quite want to say that 24 Killers is an exception, because confining it to any genre feels reductive, let alone one that will probably put you off if you're anything like me.
Breaking ships is hard to do
I know you all like Hardspace: Shipbreaker, and I get that on paper it is very much my type of game. It is a manual job (slicing up spaceships for salvage) with an extra layer (unionism) to elevate it far beyond what it could have gotten away with. In this way it seems a lot like my beloved PowerWash Simulator (washing things; time travel).
The main thrust of the game I can really get behind - peeling apart big metal ships like clanky onions - but the more literal thrust, i.e. the moving around in zero gravity using a jetpack, is awful. I need you to give me a frame of reference for if you all felt this way at the start, because, genuinely, I am so bad at Hardspace: Shipbreaker that it makes me want to cry.
All these squares make a circle
One of the best things games can do is bring you an appreciation of something you've never thought about before. You'll probably start out Zellige thinking "oh, it's making some shapes and they turn into a pattern, whatever". But within ten minutes you'll be actively saying things like "does the empty space over here feel like purity or desolation" and "what does the contrasting colour of these triangles say about their relationship with the central star?".
It's been a while since I played a game about creating art that felt effortless even as I put in a lot of effort. Zellige: The Tilemaker Of Granada is humble but delightful. It's about designing tiles. And why something that straightforward is also rich and complicated.