PAX West 2022 - Apogee Entertainment
Hands on with Turbo Overkill, Dead Fury, Elements, and Below the Stone
Apogee Entertainment have been pretty busy as of late, and their PAX West 2022 presence certainly reflected this. Many of the games on show were also in development at PAX West 2021, and it was really interesting seeing how far along these games have come and where they find themselves twelve months later. I played four games while hanging out at the Apogee booth - Turbo Overkill, Dead Fury, Elements, and Below the Stone. On top of this, I was able to talk to some of the developers about how far their projects have come since we last got a taste of them.
Turbo Overkill is an arena-style FPS set in a brutal cyberpunk future. Johnny Turbo - the heavily armed cigar-smoking protagonist - is tasked with eliminating a whole host of augmented mutants hellbent on taking control of Paradise, the dingy cyber city Turbo Overkill takes place in. With a massive array of weaponry (including a chainsaw that attaches to his knee) Johnny must take the city back from the mutants and eventually take out the AI responsible for it all. The story is appropriately cyberpunk and works exceptionally well given the setting and general aesthetic.
Turbo Overkill is a fast, frantic, glorious tribute to some of the greatest video games in history. From the way it plays to the way it looks, the DNA of Doom and Quake course through Turbo Overkill’s veins with violent and visceral fervor. Blood, guts, and goblet spray the screen and decorate the walls as you shoot, blow up, and carve your way through hordes of mutants. A vast array of weaponry is available to accomplish your task, from fast-shooting pistols to massive rocket launchers. Each weapon has its own strengths and weaknesses, requiring the player to think on their feet and switch depending on the enemy type. Enemy types are creative and varied, with the modes in which they deal damage creating a hectic but fair challenge. The gunplay is smooth, frantic, and punchy, requiring the player to constantly move and adapt to their environment or else be berated by a barrage of bullet hell. One of my personal favorite aspects of Turbo Overkill is the art style. It’s like Quake on steroids, with crystal-clear lighting and buttery-smooth animation. However, the game is made up of pixelated 3D sprites and environments. It emulates exactly how I remember Quake looking like, rather than what it does look like, and I adore it.
Turbo Overkill is a fast, frantic, glorious tribute to some of the greatest video games in history.
The first episode of Turbo Overkill released on Steam on August 16th of 2022, with the second episode releasing soon. I was able to get a taste of the arenas devised for the second episode and oh my goodness, did they kick my ass. Turbo Overkill follows the age old tradition of arena shooters - it’s damn hard. The challenge comes solely from a demand to master the systems, not from anything artificial or frustrating.
Turbo Overkill is an excellent ode to the big arena shooters of the past, and anyone who loves the genre absolutely needs to give it a try.
Guns, explosives, and the violent fury of the undead hordes. That’s the general idea for Funder Games’ third person shooter Dead Fury. Set in rural New Zealand, Dead Fury has gone through quite a few changes since I last had the pleasure of playing it last year at PAX West 2021. While by no means a bad game, 2021 Dead Fury was definitely much more rough around the edges and plainly trying to find its footing in the zombie shooter genre. This time around, the story elements and overarching narrative have been replaced with fast, frantic zombie gameplay. I sat down with with Paul - the main driving force behind Dead Fury - to talk about why the zombie adventure has taken on a new direction and what challenges changing the formula up presented.
Originally, Dead Fury was an intense, narrative-driven experience. Humanity’s hybrid and ignorance had destroyed the planet past the point of no return. A deadly virus remained locked away deep in the polar ice caps, unable to be unleashed and infect the billions of human beings roaming the Earth. Because of our irresponsible consumption of non-renewable resources and the copious amounts of unfettered carbon emissions, however, the polar ice caps have melted, unleashing this virus unto humanity. The result: mass infection rates and a global zombie outbreak. Few humans are left alive, and those that are must fight tooth-and-nail to stay alive and see another day. It’s very grim, and not too far fetched from reality - a fact Paul really wanted to drive home.
Few humans are left alive, and those that are must fight tooth-and-nail to stay alive and see another day.
This story was devised by some pretty prominent members of the industry, including those who worked on the storyline for Duke Nukem Forever. While this story still remains intact, the focus has been shifted away from the serious nature of the storyline and put more into making Dead Fury just a blast to play. The story elements are still there, and ultimately will follow the characters throughout the playtime, but Paul informed me that the arcade nature of the mechanics will now take center stage.
The mechanics themselves are solid and time-tested. You’re given an arena filled with various weapons and traps, ranging from revolvers and pistols to AR-15s and Scars. Along with firearms are explosive traps that can be set up around the arena between waves of enemies. Both game modes I played are based around survival, with one tasking the player with staying alive for 15 minutes, and the other tasking the player with surviving for as long as possible. As the rounds progress, not only do the number of enemies increase substantially, but the resources diminish just as quickly. Intuitive trap placement, strategic maneuvering, and consistent accuracy are crucial for making it through each stage and surviving to the end of the countdown. On top of a vast array of weaponry, occasional care packages will drop as an award for staying alive for a certain amount of time, such as air support clearing roadways or circling helictopers taking out zombies as they fly. The difficulty ramps up just as it should, and it’s very satisfying when you get a little distance and mow down zombies with well executed headshots. It’s a really fun time, and anyone who enjoys games like the criminally underrated World War Z will have a blast with it.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to give Elements a try last year, so I wanted to make sure to give this intriguing and beautiful-looking game its fair due. I was joined by Devon, a developer from Wreckit Games, as I explored some of the beginning areas of this third-person open-world adventure game.
What struck me initially within Elements was the fantastic art direction. The character models, world, and overall feel of Elements has an irresistibly adorable charm, reminiscent of a Pixar or Disney film. Everything within the world of Elements is unabashedly high fantasy, from the multitude of armor sets and weapons available for your characters to use, to the different tameable mounts unlocked to traverse the open world. It’s visually striking and beautifully rendered. Elements wears its inspirations on its sleeve, drawing from some of the best aspects of games like Breath of the Wild to make an open-world that’s genuinely fun to exist in. The player will come across various towns while exploring (the one I was able to go to was filled with charming little anthropomorphic squirrel townsfolk) that offer a variety of services. These towns also allow you to build a home base, with a surprisingly intuitive build system that allows for quick and snappy building. The buildings you create serve as fast travel points for easy and quick traversal across the open-world. These services include crafting new weapons and armor, along with growing crops that will be used for potions and other crafting aspects.
The character models, world, and overall feel of Elements has an irresistibly adorable charm, reminiscent of a Pixar or Disney film.
According to Devon, a lot has been added in the last year that wasn’t present in Elements at PAX West 2021. Additions include a new and updated journaling system, allowing players to easily keep track of their quests and objectives, a taming system akin to Breath of the Wild that allows players to tame and ride multiple different mounts, and a dialogue system that’s totally ready to go. While the UI wasn’t totally finished, it was snappy and easy to navigate. Mounts are available at all times during play, so the annoyance of finding a stable in order to call or change mounts isn’t present. This allows for some fast and seriously free navigation of the large overworld, without making it feel like a chore to get around.
Elements is shaping up to be a fun, colorful adventure through an interesting world with incredible character design. On top of this, untethered two player co-op is being implemented, allowing players to share in this adventure together. It’s surprisingly in-depth, with a crafting system able to make entire armor sets, gemstones that can be inserted into weapons that change the effects the weapons have on enemies, both ranged and melee weapons, and a magic system centered around the four elements that have some really interesting implementations.
Elements has a kickstarter coming soon, and is slated for full release sometime late 2023. Keep an eye out for it!
Below the Stone
If you read any of my previous coverage from PAX West 2021, you’ll know that I quite enjoyed Strollart’s rogue-like dwarf simulator Below the Stone. In fact, I played the demo for so long that I ran out of playable map, where the ground became simple squares and the enemies stopped attacking me, choosing instead to sit like aimless statues while I ran around an empty void. I loved everything about it - the excellently rendered 2D pixelated sprites and environments, the multiple biomes, the adorable enemies, the often-times addicting gameplay loop of “find gems, mine gems, repeat,” and - most importantly - that my dwarves brethren were finally getting some representation outside of Deep Rock Galactic. From the graphics to the gameplay, Below the Stone was my kind of game, so I was super excited to see where the project had come in the last year.
I had the opportunity to once again sit down with Mike of Strollart to talk about the changes and how far Below the Stone had come since I had last played it. Right off the bat, more story elements were included that set the stage for what will be your dwarves mining adventure. The player character starts by rescuing one of their dwarven kin from cave monsters using not but a giant wooden spoon. Your rescued companion informs you that they’ll be heading back to your base, and that you’re to join them when possible. This leads you to the large dwarf base filled with multiple crafting stations and multiple NPCs. These NPCs serve a variety of purposes - they can help you craft and gear up for the next run, hold onto the valuables and loot recovered from previous runs, and give you the missions necessary to head out into the mines once again.
I loved everything about it - the excellently rendered 2D pixelated sprites and environments, the multiple biomes, the adorable enemies, the often-times addicting gameplay loop of “find gems, mine gems, repeat,” and - most importantly - that my dwarves brethren were finally getting some representation outside of Deep Rock Galactic.
One of the biggest and most noticeable changes is the inclusion of more biomes to explore, along with a larger and more traversable map. Along with these different biomes are multiple new enemy types and lootables just begging to be discovered. Below the Stone is - at its core - a roguelike however, and the enemies do not let you forget it. If you aren’t careful or if you move too quickly through the different biomes and areas, you will be overwhelmed by dozens of enemies, ultimately losing your loot and starting back in the beginning hub area. The beautiful thing about Below the Stone is that despite the difficulty, you want to hop right back in, do another run, and see what new loot you can find.
I had to be very conscious of my time while playing Below the Stone, because if left unchecked I would have sat in that chair for hours. The gameplay is simple enough to be addicting but challenging enough to not get boring. The graphics are beautifully rendered and adorably pixelated. The soundtrack is memorable and pleasant. It will eventually add in co-op, so multiple players can mine together. It’s a fun and addicting roguelike about a fantasy race that doesn’t get the reputation they deserve, and I personally can’t wait to dive back into the mines and see exactly what Below the Stone has to offer. What more could you want?
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