There’s always a strong showing in the indie game area at PAX Aus. A very capable local indie scene sees to that, and reserving a few hours to wander around the massive space is one of the best things you can treat yourself to.
Of course there are more cool titles than we can feasibly write about, but after a few laps through the indie arena, these are the ones that stuck out the most.
There were many indie Soulslikes on display, and Sinner was not only the best looking but the best feeling. It was also one of the few games not actually made in Australia, coming from a small Chinese team to make noise in the West.
As a pint-sized knight, you’re simply tasked with taking on seven bosses to atone for your sins. It’s dripping with Souls influence — not just with the controls and style, but the main boss on show was basically the Looking Glass Knight encounter.
That’s not at all a bad thing. But there are a few unique elements in Sinner too. You can take on the bosses in any order you wish — but after each victory, your character receives a permanent debuff. In Sinner, you “level down.”
These could include a limited stamina or health bar, lower damage, or less healing items. All of a sudden, the order in which you beat bosses becomes incredibly important. What are you willing to deal without when you take on the final one?
‘Hand of Fate 2’
This one has a lot of different stuff for different types of gamers. A new challenger in the deadly card game, you’re ultimate goal is to defeat the player character who won the previous game.
Each overturned card is a bit-sized episode. This could be a simple die roll, or an RPG decision-making minigame, or a spite of third-person combat.
What I loved about this game is there’s a little bit of theorycrafting before every encounter. You’ll come across challenges such as an ogre attacking your caravan before you can respond, and starting the fight with low hitpoints. It’s up to you to build your deck for the task at hand — in this case, presumably around heals.
The writing also really stands out. It’s hard to write such short snippets that really grab the player, but I found myself reading through the entirety of what was served up. Even when it wasn’t necessary to win.
We were awaiting the announcement of the next game from Monument Valley creator Ken Wong, and it came just before PAX Aus. Florence is about starting a cute-as-anything relationship with a dreamboat cello player, and all the little social interactions along the way.
I’m always a fan of games that try to get across concepts and emotions within the actual gameplay, and that’s what Florence is all about. Conversations between a nervous Florence and her future lover involve fitting puzzle pieces into the shape of a speech bubble. As the conversation flows easier, the puzzles become easier. Should the two disagree, the puzzle pieces have sharper edges.
It’s a linear story using interactivity to strengthen its emotional impact. It works. Florence will make you feel things.
‘The Gardens Between’
A puzzle game in which you don’t control the actual characters, but time itself. The two brothers very much like to walk forward though, and will automatically interact with certain objects as you play and rewind their travels.
Much like Braid, some of the items in the world are immune to your manipulations, which enables logic puzzles that slowly get harder over 26 levels. Once a bright light is stolen from a flower and put into your lamp, no amount of time tickling will make it leave until you use it to power a bridge or something similar.
The graphical style here will instantly pull many people in, and the logic puzzles will keep them. It’s a slow paced puzzle game though, so expect to watch animations play out.
“We really wanted to make a stealth game without the focus being on killing people,” said the developer on the booth.
Heist is very much that — a noir stealth game in which you’re not out to kill anyone — just maybe take a buck or two from the wise guys who won’t miss it.
It doesn’t cheat, either. There’s no “disabling” guards with sleep darts, or anything similar. I distracted guards, and tripped them up for a bit with tripwire, but there isn’t even so much as knocking them out.
This makes windows of time very important. Whereas most games have the “don’t be seen at all” style of play as a Hard Mode or an achievement, that’s just normal play here. Heist has been shown at PAX Aus as early as 2015, though its website says to expect it “soon.”
Another Soulslike, Ashen showed off a forest area in which you combat hostile tribesmen to access a dungeon with an “ancient evil” inside. Stamina-based combat with different movesets for different weapons, Souls players know the drill. It was competent combat with a cool art style throughout, especially with the enemies.
Ashen really nails the understated storytelling angle. There are very few words throughout. The actions of your companions and the levels themselves take the place of traditional narrative. Our main guide was a shadowy ghost who could only point.