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Death Stair – PAX South 2016

In the drowning noise of video games with complex control schemes and features lists that put some car manufacturers to shame, it’s important to take a quiet moment to step away and remember that simple games are good too. A game doesn’t need much to have you grinning from ear to ear, just a straight forward mechanic that lets you do something you couldn’t (or shouldn’t) otherwise do. Like knocking people down stairs.

That’s the general premise behind Death Stair from RnD Labs, described to me as a “competitive stair climbing game.” Thankfully this game has nothing to do with actual stair climbers, though if it did, you’d be pretty bruised and exhausted at the end of a round. In each round, one player (randomly selected) takes the role of the gunner, and the remaining players play as runners. Runners must head up a narrow, long staircase and try to reach the top before the timer expires. Gunners are out to stop them.

Death Stair

It looks something like this.

As a runner, your mainly reliant on your ability to dodge and keep moving, though some perks are promised to make your life just a tad bit easier. You’ve got to keep an eye on what’s incoming down the stairs, and be ready to not only dodge and jump, but rush back to your feet after you get knocked down – because you will get knocked down. Along the way, you might even find a little spot of refuge, though you’ll still want to keep moving upward.

The gunner, on the other hand, looks down on the stairs and does everything they can do to prevent runners from making it. Gunners have a loadout of three weapons, each with a different recharge timer. In the demo I played, I had a fast-firing beachball that practically never expired, a small but hard-hitting dodgeball with a moderate recharge, and mines which had a slow timer. Uses of your weapons can be accumulated and used in bursts, but once you’re out, you have to wait for the recharge. While it’s tempting to spam everything down the stairs at once, winning requires some thoughtful aiming – as I proved with my last dodgeball shot that sent my opponent clear down the stairs just seconds before they claimed victory.

That’s it, really: simple stair-climbing mayhem with wacky characters and intense moments of skill. Death Stair is planning for full release later this year on PC, PlayStation 4, and XBox One.

And to whoever the grumpy guy was that I played against: sorry. No one told me knocking people down stairs would be so satisfying.

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