Hang the costumes back in the closet. The mayhem of PAX Aus (aka Penny Arcade Expo) is done for 2018. And for the second year in a row, the hottest place to be wasn’t queuing to play new blockbuster titles like Smash Bros Ultimate (although we did a bit of that) or sitting ringside for the Omegathon (we did a lot of that too). It was wandering the Indie Showcase and seeing what Australia’s small-time game designers have been cooking up.
This year the PAX team moved the indie showcase right up the front. Prime real estate. Which is a good sign for grassroots Australian gaming. There were dozens of sweet new titles worth your time, but these are the ones that are also worth your money. Here are our Top 5 indie games from PAX 2018.
Aurora44 brought their new game, Ashen, out to PAX last year. But it was still in pretty rough-as-guts beta. This year’s version is pretty close to what you’ll play on release. It’s a shadowy, ash-covered, open world RPG, with some pretty intuitive combat mechanics. Feels a lot like Dark Souls, but with the atmosphere and thrills cranked to 11. This is what Diablo 3 should have been. There’s open-world exploration, multiplayer MMORPG-style adventure (without the gear grind), and some genuinely spooky dungeons. Ashen doesn’t have a release date yet, but keep an eye out on Xbox and PC. Very, very cool.
Atari founder Nolan Bushnell has an aphorism known as ‘Bushnell’s Law’, which says the best games are always “Easy to learn, but difficult to master”. Lanterns absolutely nails this, and it nails it without fancy graphics, millions in funding or Hollywood explosions. It’s basically a 2D, level-based, co-op puzzle game. You and another player have to work together and think your way through each level, using a creative ‘lantern’ mechanic to reveal hidden blocks. Oh yeah, did we mention you play as tiny blue and red koalas? Artefact Assembly is still looking for funding to get this to the finish line, but you can sign up for early access on Steam.
Hyper Jam describes itself as a “neon-soaked arena brawler for up to four friends.” To be honest, they had us at “arena brawler”. This thing is like Bladerunner meets Smash Bros, except the camera perspective feels more third-person RPG. You can play over LAN or online, the maps spawn random bonuses and weapons, and there’s even a sweet system called ‘Perk Drafting’, where you can customise your character and level up certain abilities. The combat has real oomph to it—even though it’s a top-down camera, you feel every hammer blow and rocket grenade. Hyperjam is up on Steam, but you won't be able to play it till the official launch in 2019.
When do video games become art? That question doesn’t get asked much during Duke Nukem 3, but check out something like GRIS—a new side-scroller adventure from Nomada Studios and Devolver Digital. GRIS looks like the intro to Catch Me If You Can meets Miyazaki fairytale meets…who the fuck knows. The meditative gameplay is easily the equal of Limbo or Inside (two other modern masterpieces, if you’re a fan of the genre). People are already calling this the “most beautiful game of 2018”. Expect to see it everywhere. GRIS is available on Steam from December this year, and you’ll be able to play it on Switch and PC.
When VR was invented, people thought it would allow us to travel the world, explore space and extend the potential of human imagination. They didn’t expect you standing behind a bar, mixing cocktails with one hand and blasting bad guys with the other. Welcome to Double Shot. It’s the new project from Aberrant Realities, and the devs have done a great job on the VR animations. There isn’t much storyline, but how much do you need? Mix martinis. Headshot gangsters. Pretend you’re in an 80s movie. Pretty wild stuff. It’s currently available in early access on Steam.
And here's your entire guide to every must-see movie this month.
Image credit: Double Shot