Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) East returned to Boston last week for the first time since 2020. What started as a grassroots labor of love for fans to celebrate the latest in tech, gaming, and cosplay with the developers of their favorite games has exploded into one of the two largest gaming events in North America. We met with developers of all sizes from some of the biggest video game publishers—including Gearbox, Focus Entertainment, and Larian Studios—to dozens of indie developers in order to go hands-on with demos of their upcoming releases. Here are the best games we saw at PAX East, with 2022 shaping up to be a huge year for indie darlings over larger AAA titles.
Isonzo – An Online World War I Simulator
Isonzo is an ultra-realistic World War I first-person shooter that proved to be the highlight of our time from PAX East. This sequel to the popular game Tannenberg accurately recreates the Italian front from 1915-1918. In the game, you wield highly detailed recreations of weapons like a bayoneted M1870 Vetterli rifle, various Beretta sidearms, and Perino machine guns as you and your online teammates engage in mountain warfare across a lovingly recreated vista. Like its predecessor, Isonzo is a tactical one shot, one kill game that requires precise aim and accounting for bullet drop at higher altitudes. Each encounter is tense, especially during segments of trench warfare, pushing through enemy lines, and cutting through wire fences. Mechanics include building fortifications and navigating treacherous rivers and towns to navigate and destroy objectives. Isonzo will be available on all consoles and PC later this summer.
Dolmen – Explore A Sci-Fi Hellscape
Zooming out to a third-person camera perspective, Dolmen is a sci-fi horror action game that can best be summed up as Elden Ring meets Dead Space. The goal is to complete quests, extract crystal resources, and level up as you fight against alien monstrosities. Dolmen has all the staples of solid combat mechanics—dodge rolls, parries, and un-lockable skills. Your vitals are tied to an energy bar, which is used to recover ammo and health. This adds a new challenging layer to the experience, since it takes a bit of skill to properly juggle the levels. Leave them unchecked and you’ll find yourself at a disadvantage when you encounter enemies. Gameplay is tough but rewarding to master, and after 30 minutes of playtime I walked away impressed by the fluidity of switching between ranged weapons and close-up combat. Other than being a treat to play, the game has neon visuals that pop, and there’s a wide variety of environments to explore (even though our playthrough mostly took place in the ship and jungle areas) rich with detail. If you’ve ever wanted a FromSoftware-like (creators of Elden Ring, Dark Souls, and Bloodborne) game in a sci-fi setting, this is for you. Dolmen will be available on all consoles (except for the Switch) and PC when it releases next month.
Evil West – Shoot Your Way Through Evil Vampire Cowboys
Evil West is a third-person shooter being published by Flying Wild Hog. This is the same high-octane studio behind the Shadow Warrior series, which explains the over-the-top gore and fast pace. The game’s historic western frontier setting sits on the staunch opposite end of Dolmen’s futuristic aesthetic above, but it is equally as dark with its own demonic enemies. Strap on your spurs, slap on your cowboy hat, and grab your guns as one of the few remaining agents of a vampire-hunting order. In your gothic cowboy getup, you’ll shoot, cut, and punch though your enemies with satisfyingly brutal chain kills and tight gunplay as you stumble upon plenty of loot during exploration. Yes, this game is absolutely as ridiculous as it sounds—and we are here for it. This desert adventure comes out later this year and will be available on consoles and PC.
Postal 4: No Regerts – Find A Way Home Peacefully (Or Not)
Postal 4: No Regerts is an open-world FPS that serves as a sequel to the infamous Postal 2, one of the most controversial dark-comedy games of all time. While that predecessor’s quests revolved around mundane chores like picking up ice cream for your wife or cashing a check at the bank, you would constantly stumble upon bizarre events as you went about your day. Whether you were surviving a mugging or fighting to the death with Gary Coleman (who lent his signature line to the game), the game—and its world—was full of surprises. While it is a first-person shooter loaded with guns, explosives, and the ability to urinate on anything, you never have to kill a soul and can simply take in the craziness. Postal 4 doubles down this ridiculousness as you return to the role of the “Postal Dude.” This time you have a new city inspired by small-town Arizona to explore as you try to recoup your stolen RV. There’s plenty to discover, and the juvenile humor is as offensively funny as it was back in 2003 without trying too hard—and with excellent physics to boot. This title is a guilty pleasure that ups the fun of the classic Postal experience while cranking the ridiculousness up to eleven. This nostalgic romp released on the first day of PAX East and is available now on Steam.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge – A Love Letter to ’90s Beat-Em-Ups
Speaking of nostalgia, TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge is an upcoming successor to the beloved ’90s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle arcade games. It feels great running around again as the titular quartet as you slice, dice, and kick your way through corloful 2D levels. Unlike the ’90s games, combat hits its stride with fluid strikes, tag team combos, and special attacks making for fast-paced fun. And there are plenty of easter eggs, from each character being voiced by the original cast to various enemies doing things on their own like playing Gameboys or making calls on old-school phone booths before joining in on the melee. Order your favorite pizza when TMNT releases on consoles and PC this June.
Baldur’s Gate 3 – Every Choice Matters In This D&D Action RPG
Baldur’s Gate 3 flips the camera angle top-down in this tight party-based ARPG. In this game, Dungeons & Dragons meets tactical turn-based combat with a huge level of freedom and role play as you explore the sprawling world of Faerûn, leveling up, siding with factions, and collecting new gear solo or online with others. You can opt for a peaceful playthrough—taking actions like negotiating your way out of combat encounters, bartering for better prices, and helping citizens with requests—or rob and slaughter your way across the world. The beauty of this game is in the imagination it affords its players with a huge amount of choice and interactivity. PC gamers can play the first act in Early Access right now, with the full game on track for a 2023 release date.
Demeo – VR and Console Tabletop Crossplay
Like Baldur’s Gate 3 above, Demeo is a cooperative virtual D&D experience. The difference is that it’s limited to four players, recreates a tabletop experience, and allows you to play in virtual reality. Demeo is the ideal gateway into D&D since it’s easy to learn with card-based combat that minimizes the need to remember abilities and effects. While that’s helpful for novice players, the system is still enjoyable for intermediate gamers to craft their own stories. At PAX, the developers showed off Demeo as three players were on flat gaming PCs and another joined them from virtual reality. Virtually gathering around a table and strategizing with your party over the internet recreates the real-world tabletop charm. Demeo is available for purchase now on both Steam and the Oculus Store.
World of Horror – A Retro Slow Burn of a Scary Story
World of Horror is terrifying despite being a text-based RPG. Don’t let its simplistic appearance fool you. If you’ve ever played Oregon Trail, the gameplay mechanics are quite similar. You explore, talk, and fight through the world, except instead of braving the Wild West frontier, you have to make your way through a haunted seaside Japanese town. It’s up to you to make choices on which rooms to explore, items to grab, and monsters to defeat in challenging turn-based combat. Since this game is a rogue-lite, no playthrough is ever exactly the same. The world is ever-evolving, with multiple endings for each of the five playable characters. Combining retro pixel style, a spooky chiptune soundtrack, and grotesque imagery, this is a truly unique title. You can grab the early access version from Steam now, with a full version release planned for sometime later this year.
Terra Nil – Restore The World
Part strategy game, part puzzle, Terra Nil flips the city-builder genre on its head by having you restore nature to a post-apocalyptic landscape. Each barren map is randomly generated and requires you to place resources like water and plants to create an oasis and thriving ecosystem. You need to expand the environment to purify soil and further clean up the ashy atmosphere. It’s a gorgeous game with a warm soundtrack that keeps you driven toward making progress and feels rewarding after a session. While publisher Devolver Digital was tightlipped on a release date, it’s slated for sometime in 2022.
My Time At Sandrock – A Life-Sim RPG With Rich Customization
My Time at Sandrock (much like its predecessor My Time at Portia) toes the line between life-simulation and city-building. You take up the role of an owner of a fledgling workshop. After you create your character, the game lets you freely explore and shape its world. Using tools to gather resources, construct equipment, and manage inventory, you work to make friends with the townsfolk and transform the run-down city into a booming oasis. When you aren’t exploring, you can hang out with neighbors, knock out quests, and fight monsters. Taking the time to learn more about each citizen unlocks new relationship options and quest possibilities. You can take a trip to Sandrock when the game comes out on May 26th.
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