The best games we played at PAX East 2024: zombies, slime, and more

A white PAX East logo over an image of a busy convention show floor.
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It’s been a busy month for gaming enthusiasts. As last week’s Game Developers Conference wrapped up in San Francisco, PAX East kicked off for a fun weekend in Boston. We were on hand for the East Coast show, exploring the show floor to check out some upcoming games.

As always, the show was a celebration of all things gaming. The halls were packed with players, cosplayers, and developers, as well as kiosks full of game demos. We went hands-on with many great titles at this year’s show. These are some of the standouts that you need to know about.

Lucid

A small figure wearing a fur lined coat fires a duplicate of itself, which slashed a bomb in the game Lucid.
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The one game it seemed like no one could stop talking about at PAX East was Lucid. Made by The Matte Black Studio, this 2D action platformer features gorgeous pixel art and buttery smooth Mega Man X-meets-Celeste gameplay. Its colorful Crystal-Punk world looks great, particularly its clever use of depth of field in the background and foreground. It strikes a great balance of resembling something from the Super Nintendo era but with looks and effects that would never have been possible.

The levels are interlocking and full of secrets, ala Super Metroid. Defeating enemies using a combination of shooting and sword slashes feels great, and I immediately fell in love with the movement system.  You have limited charges of air jumps and dashes, but hitting sword slashes renews them. That means you can chain long combinations in combat or traversal, never touching the ground with skillful play. The most important and hardest-to-describe element of a game like this is feel, and what I played of Lucid absolutely nailed it. This was the surprise hit of the show.

Into the Dead: Our Darkest Days

A middle age man is walking through a run down kitchen, aiming a gun at a zombie
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The pitch for Into the Dead: Our Darkest Day is simple: What if State of Decay was a polished 2D side-scroller? That’s the ambitious question developer/publisher PikPok set out to answer in bringing their mobile exclusive Into the Dead franchise to PC for the first time. Set not long after the start of a Zombie apocalypse in 1980s Texas, you control members of a group of survivors trying to figure out how to stay alive in this suddenly broken world. One level had me sneaking through an abandoned house in a residential area, scrounging for food and other useful things I could bring back to my safe house. While there, I overheard an SOS call on the radio from a zombie-infested police station.

Moral choices and risk management are central topics in gameplay. A risky rescue mission into the police station could give me more characters to play as or out to work at my safe house, but I could lose the person I send in to rescue them if I’m not careful. I decide to risk it, and it does not go well. My attempt to go in fully stealthy fails, and I’m in rough shape by the time I reach the room where the SOS originated. Bloodied and battered, I was crestfallen when I discovered I was too late and there were no survivors. I had to try and get out alive with naught but a few gathered supplies to show for my trouble. It hurt and perfectly captured the tension and risk of choices like that. It left me very intrigued for what the full game has to offer when it enters early access sometime next year.

Pioneers of Pagonia

A bustling town is built into a forest covered mountainside, while groups of villages walk along dirt paths in Pioneers of Pagonia.
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Pioneers of Pagonia was easily one of the most impressive games at PAX. This colorful real-time strategy game is very much in the vein of Age of Empires, as you direct your people to build a thriving town from the ground up by harvesting wood, stone, and other natural resources. What makes it stand out is the impressive object-based system on which everything runs. Woodcutters gather bits of wood. Each piece is then used in construction. At one point in our demo, I was building a guard tower, which expanded the borders of where construction could take place. One group of people was bringing shipments of materials to the build site while workers picked them up and put them to use. It was like hundreds of tiny survival crafting games, all happening at once.

The world is populated with dangers, like bandits that will rob your citizens or werewolves that will attack and attempt to turn people.  The former is somewhat easier to deal with, the latter a tough challenge that necessitates careful consideration of tactics and how units are armed). That’s a lot to handle on top of building a bustling metropolis, but a versatile interface gives you the option of playing a very streamlined game, where you assign tasks and people handle them as they see fit, or micromanaging in detail what everyone is doing, like which exact types of wood to focus on gathering. It is so impressive to go from the zoomed-out view of the entire town to a close-up look at a vendor selling individual pieces of fruit at a stand.

Fera: The Sundered Tribes

A green haired character stands ready with an axe, a large purple lizard like creature staring them down in Fera: the Sundered Tribes.
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Shows like PAX are always full of interesting sights and sounds, so it takes a lot to draw my attention when I’m just walking by. Fera: The Sundered Tribes from Massive Damage, Inc. did just that. It features a colorful open world, with tall rocky spires and plateaus and some of the coolest-looking creatures I saw at the show. It mixes an open-world village-building RPG with the classic hunt-and-harvest gameplay of Monster Hunter. In my time with it, I tracked down some missing villagers, built a few crafting stations, and successfully hunted a giant lizard to build myself a new ax from his parts.

It’s a great concept, but the thing that impressed me the most was the movement skills. Sure, you can run or walk, but who wants to do that when you can sail through the air on a glider or throw out a magical Tetherhook, similar to the Wire Bugs in Monster Hunter Rise, to fling yourself from cliff to cliff or around a giant monster. Those each have a cooldown, but chaining them together let me move at soar endlessly with speed, and using that to get on top of the monster and smash it in the head with my hammer felt great. I’m a big Monster Hunter fan, and this left me feeling like I found exactly what I needed to tide me over until Monster Hunter Wilds hits next year.

Dustborn

A woman swings a bat at a bandit, the words SOW appearing in block letters across the screen in Dustborn.
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There are a lot of indicators at PAX that a game is worth paying attention to. Sometimes, that’s word of mouth or loud reactions from a crowd. In the case of Dustborn, it was a line that grew every day, eventually wrapping around the booth as more and more people wanted to get their hands on it. In this genre-hopping game from Red Thread Games, you lead a colorful band of misfits on a road trip across an alternate-history United States to deliver a mysterious package. It’s a fascinating mix of story-driven adventure, third-person combat, and … Guitar Hero? Let me explain.

One section I played through had me searching for the mechanism to activate a robotic lift and stop a bus from crushing my mechanic friend. A later section had my crew and I on that exact bus driving up the California coast before being pulled over by some fascistic state police, demanding to see our papers. To bluff our way out, we had to pretend to be a band, including an impromptu performance that played out like a rhythm game. Fast forward once more, and I’m beating down a group of goons with a baseball bat that can be thrown and recalled like Kratos’ Leviathan Ax. It was a fascinating juxtaposition across each genre, all tied together by the characters’ natural, easy banter and a vibrant comic book-inspired style. It was pretty damn cool and could be one of the most exciting games of the year when it arrives on August 20th.

Slime Heroes

A slime has formed a sword and is slashing it at a group of dark monsters in Slime Heroes.
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Ok, I wasn’t ready for Slime Heroes. When I sat down to play, I was completely unprepared to ugly cry from the story within the first five minutes. And had no idea I was about to play some of the best action on the show floor, but here we are. Set in a magical forest being overrun by a strange corruption, you (and a buddy, if you are so inclined) are a simple slime taking up the fight across a colorful overworld and puzzle-filled dungeons. Developed by Pancake Games, it’s a cute and modern take on the classic mascot action-platformer, and I mean that in the best way.

The very first time I encountered an enemy I was blown away by how fast and responsive the light/heavy/dodge combat was, as my slime transformed parts of its body into a sword or anvil to punish the monsters making trouble in the forest. Skills gems allow you to do all sorts of things, like fire ranged projectiles or blast enemies with wind attacks. What makes it really engaging is how you combine them; you can use your projectile gems to make the attack more powerful, or you could mix it with an electrical skill gem to apply shock damage. It’s easy to do, and every time I picked up a gem I couldn’t help but try it with every other possible combination to see what it would do. We don’t know exactly when Slime Heroes will be released, but it is coming to both PC and Xbox when it does.

Other highlights

  • Ra Ra Boom is a gorgeous beat ’em up that mixes fast action with cool gunplay.
  • Helskate is a unique Tony Hawk-meets-action roguelite mash-up.
  • Deathbound is a Soulslike with a twist: You can switch between different characters, each with different abilities and weapons, on the fly.
  • Be My Horde is a Vampire Survivors-like where you cannot attack enemies, only resurect them to fight at your side once they die.
  • Phantom Fury is a bombastic new boomer-shooter in the vein of classic Duke Nukem.
  • Heartworm is a spooky throwback to the era of Silent Hill and Parasite Eve.

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