There is so much to see and do at PAX East and so many great games, but some stand out even in the crowded space of the Expo Hall. These games tend to be experiences that stuck with me or fresh concepts that I want to explore further.
On the first day of PAX East I enjoyed a lot of what I saw, but two games stood out. One had aliens from our nightmares, and the other was a co-op adventure in space.
Aliens: Dark Descent
Full disclosure: I am a massive Aliens franchise fan. I have all the movies on various formats (including the new, sort-of Alien ones) and play each game in the universe; some better, some worse. Thankfully after playing Aliens: Dark Descent, I can say this is one of the good ones; in fact, it may be one of the better Aliens games in recent memory.
In this game we command a squad of Colonial Marines to stop a Xenomorph outbreak on Planet Lethe. Lead soldiers in real time combat iconic Xenomorphs, rogue operatives from the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, and a host of creatures new to the Alien franchise.
This is an isometric overhead squad game that had a lot of really cool tweaks that surprised and delighted me. There is a squad of marines that can each be customized with items, skills, and weapons. As they explore the areas as a squad, time can be slowed as they use skills or items to deal with scenarios or threats.
We have seen this kind of thing before, but in this game there were so many story tweaks and customizable options that I nearly giggled with joy as I played. The squad has history with other marines who have gone missing here, and at times little side missions can be triggered to get more info. Secret areas or armories can be found and doors can be welded shut to stop incursions.
The main branching story line was very cool, with the Marines trying to manage the outbreak, determine what happened, and survive. As I mentioned I was very impressed with the branching options and optional objectives, including neat investigative hooks like dead compatriots and video/audio/text logs to discover.
Each minute I played the game there were more and more interesting things to do. Shelters can be built for safe havens, squadmates get stressed and can lose their cool unless meds are applied, turrets can be left to guard areas, and so much more.
Graphically the game looks amazing; the voicework is stellar, the story already looks rock solid, and game-play wise this will be an addicting and immersive experience. Aliens: Dark Descent is coming out June 20, 2023, for PC via Steam as well as PlayStation and Xbox platforms.
I am typically not a huge fan of co-op only experiences, but after having a chance to try out Void Crew I may now be a convert. The core concept of the game is a crew of four clones (with their brain functions fed from The Chosen safely stowed back home) who man a ship and explore, fight, and try to bring order to the galaxy.
The game starts with the crew getting activated on the ship and having to prep the vehicle for launch. This involved working together to get power to systems, guns placed and loaded and then navigating to a waypoint, where materials or enemies are bound to be found.
What impressed me was the deep communication needed to get the ship running correctly. Some activities need simultaneous activations, and others need an engineer on standby for creating ammo or repairing the ship.
In the demo I tried at PAX East, I and a few members of the development team played the role of the crew and got the ship ready to blast off to a new area. Once we were powered and a navigation was loaded, I sat in the captain’s chair and brought us to a salvage site.
Once there I space-parked next to the destroyed ship and we boarded; working together, we got into an airlock, recovered some loot, and headed back to the ship. On our way back some enemies appeared, so we had to hustle into the airlock and man guns and fly the ship.
This time I hopped into a cannon and I was in gunner mode, shooting at enemies, tracking targets, and feeling like a badass. Periodically some of us would pop out of guns to do easy repairs, fabricate new ammo, and create new shields for the ship.
After the conflict, another cool aspect of the game was available to explore: repairing the hull and creating new mods and items. Once we created hull plates and other mods, I went outside with a jetpack and repaired the damage from the firefight.
The game initially felt daunting, but once we started communicating I actually felt like part of the crew and truly enjoyed the teamwork aspect of the game. Talking to the devs, I learned they will really focus on many different team tasks as well as deep character customization to make every crewmate feel unique for the full release.
I had a great time with Void Crew and left really excited to take the full game for a spin once it releases later this year on PC via Steam.