Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Noah - The Film Review Based on The Trailer.


Russell Crowe leads in another star studded historical vanity piece where he follows in the great shoes of… erm… Steve Carrell... to play Noah in the story of the ark and the great flood and all the animals coming by two by two and the widespread incest that presumably followed the cataclysm. Before you write the film off completely for all its bible-isms, realise that this is a Darren Aronofsky (The Fountain, The Wrestler, Black Swan), so it is time to put on your credible film watching hat as you watch this visually arresting but extremely po-faced yet hilariously melodramatic event film. 
As Noah, the Crowe is a noble and humble patriarchal man, with long free flowing hair and man beard. Noah is obviously aware of the sin around him, represented here by a dark and gritty colour palette and scenes of the sex, violence and general bastardry. Obviously Noah is only one man, so he tries to do the best he can, leading a quietly saintly life devoted to God and his family represented by his wife Jennifer Connelly and his adopted daughter Emma Watson. Adopted. See? Selfless. What a guy. 

Because you're worth it. 
The Crowe has a dream of the world ending after God throws a hissy fit. The big cheese has seen far too much sex and violence, drunken debauchery and twerking and would rather just kill all of humanity and get back to making something cooler. Maybe dinosaurs, dragons, space Whales or an array of sharky hybrids. 
His dream is only validated by sagely old Sir Anthony Hopkins, who provides further validation that this cataclysm is DEFINITELY coming. To save his family and all that is good in the world, Noah selflessly constructs an ark to brave the oncoming storm. It won’t be easy building a wooden titanic so things have to get serious. Witness the Crowe undergo a full on ‘Heisenberg’ transition and shave his head. He has no time for washing his hair or indeed annoyingly having his hair blow in his face. Things are literally that serious.  
Not too many people take kindly to Noah’s ark building, here represented by the masses led by Ray Winstone’s cockney king. With Noah being a lowlier man, now sporting a shaved head, building this massive awesome boat thing and denying anyone else a place on it. It’s like he is saying that he is better than all of them. Sort of a dick move from Noah, you can sort of see where Ray Winstone is coming from.    
Animal hordes come forth!
The Crowe is not alone, and so comes the first money shot, a computer generated horde of animals gathering at the ark. As cinema has taught us, animals have developed a six sense when disaster is about to strike and so they orderly board Noah’s ark.  
The storm comes, meteorites fall, water literally explodes out of the earth and all this coincides with a big epic battle sequence where Ray Winstone’s army of blasphemous heathens try to take the ark. He was here to 'kill your monster' in Beowulf, he is her today to 'take your ark'. Big words, but they fail and mostly drown once the flood hits.
"...On that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened"
This all leads up to the second payoff, in which the realistically recreated ark braves the big computer generated storm of legend. There is a massive hill in the background and the whole audience is left to wonder why the survivors did'nt just run for the hills? Anyway things are getting mightily tense, as the ship creaks into action and all of Noah's resolve is put to the test in a head on match with big beard himself. 
Despite all the spectacle and drama you always know that The Crowe will make it out in the end. It is scripture after all. If Noah's ark were to get destroyed and everything killed, you wouldn't have a movie would you? Well... you would, but it would be an extremely depressing and nihilistic film. Potentially it would be a brave retelling of the Noah parable where one man's misdirection from a non existent omnipotent entity gets all of his family killed despite his 'faith' and good intentions. This film will only be seen by the pretentious naval gazing crowd and for a movie costing upward of $130 million it would ultimately be a flop, so best play it safe. 
The flood eventually subsides and the ark opens up and the survivors walk upon terra firma once again. The Crowe sees the flower from his dream and smiles quietly to himself before joining his family as they walk off to start a new world. 

The movie went on to gross $800 million altogether, thanks in part to the retrofitted 3D and of course the repeat viewings from the US bible belt. The film achieved all this, despite the awkward implication that all of civilisation is basically inbred. You, me, your friends, your pets we are all essentially inbred and it's all thanks to Noah. This is what this movie is saying. This was the ultimate intention of film maker Darren Aronofsky. A brave inward looking point indeed.  
  • All the bible references. Genesis is easily my favourite part of the bible and I was a fan before everybody else was. Genesis FTW.  
  • Sir Anthony Hopkins' death scene, in which he is cruelly killed by Winstone's men for blasphemy against the king. He dies in The Crowe's arms and with his last dying breath whispers "build the ark, save as many as you can". That was pure acting. 
  • The hair shaving scene. Badass. 
  • The bit when The Crowe selflessly risks his life to save one baby stick insect amidst the storm and all the fighting.
  • The bit when The Crowe seizes the opportunity to selflessly save the life of his mortal enemy Ray Winstone in the midst of the storm, putting the whole plan at risk. But at the last moment, the cockney heathen king is snatched away by the waters, because God intends it. Unsuccessful but at least his intentions were good. The Crowe gains even more good karma from the saint McHero bank of the collective audience's mind.
  • The bit when the bear saves Emma Watson from the rapist. Such a cool bear. 
  • The bit when the elephant farted, and everybody was like… "dayum… that shit is naaasty" 
Noah threatens to make the old testament cool once again in a largely athiest society. With a star studded cast, big scenes of apocalyptic action with fireballs and lots and lots of barbarian sodomists drowning as they fucking well should. Undoubtedly this paves the way for the gritty bible story adaptation franchise. Of which we can expect great things like the Moses movie in 2016 starring Liam Neeson as the cantankerous Hebrew. Then of course we have the big one to look forward to. The Jesus trilogy kickstarting with Jesus Begins: Straight out of Bethlehem in 2017. 
All hail God.
A Parting Gif

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Eurogamer Expo Expose: Day 2

I was up bright and early, eating bran flakes and fresh fruit, ready for the second day of the Eurogamer Expo 2013! Like a seasoned pro, I rode the underground to Earl’s Court. Drinking a herbal tea the epitome of a true cosmopolitan gent of London, I awaited my friend to arrive, still finding myself mesmerized by the stupidity of the nazi d├ęcor regaling the convention centre’s front. Today, I was going to do the Expo right, I was going to have a plan and I would see more games with more original mechanics than killing people. Having a good idea where everything was on the showfloor it was time to do some serious coverage. I’m hobbyist gaming press damn it, not some mere pretender… of course they are very much one and the same.  

With a brisk walk, we headed over to the 18+ section to play Battlefield 4, which probably had the biggest queues of the event. So yes. After yesterday and the previous paragraph, I said I wouldn’t focus on games involving killing on this day, but I felt I had to play Battlefield 4 and see if it was the grand multiplayer experience I’ve and indeed we have been waiting. My friends and I, have been known to be partial towards a bit of Battlefield. Large team based battles supported by vehicular mayhem and destructible environments.

The appeal of Battlefield has always been the feeling of momentum in the turn of battle itself rather than the lock and pop of COD. You always feel like a cog in a bigger machine, holding and advancing the line. You feel it as you are advancing and taking ground, you feel it equally when you are losing ground and forced into making your last stand. Throughout the game, the map and landscape gets increasingly worn and by the end of the match it is not uncommon to stagger around in awe of the destruction – mumbling repeatedly “so much death… so much death”. I mean it was not uncommon for me to finish a game of Battlefield by breaking down and going full on Charlton Heston punching the ground and shouting “you finally really did it. YOU MANIACS!“ down the headset.

This is the Battlefield brand, but despite being addicted to Battlefield 1943 and Bad Company 2 for these kinds of simulated experiences. We hadn’t been very enamored with Battlefield 3. The release back in 2011 was patchy, and when we did get into a game we found ourselves playing under populated maps dominated by snipers. Then, of course, came Battlefield Premium and all the map packs that were supposedly going to advance what was the diet console version rather than the full 64 player PC experience, we should have been playing.

Gamers privileged enough to play Battlefield 4.
Upon going into the demo, we were merrily informed that we were among the first BF4 players to enjoy the 'privilege' of playing the game on Xbox One. For a moment we all felt like kings, but in reality we were more like pigs being queued up for the trough with the EA as the overbearing farmer licking his lips at the sight of so much pork. And so the match started up, a large forest environment peppered with warehouses and railways. Graphically, I have to say, I wasn’t blown away. Again it seemed very generic to the point of mundane, in all the online media, there were skyscrapers falling down and motor boats jumping over rolling waves of a stormy sea. Regardless, I carried on believing that it was the systems in play that would shine through.

But when it comes to Battlefield, you are only as good as your team and from the beginning it was clear that I was on the losing side. I earnestly got into an armored truck and gunned down two enemies with the turret, briefly feeling like a real man, before getting stuck in the geometry and blown up by a RPG.

I’ve always been a bit of a sore loser and Battlefield just isn’t any fun when you are losing. The advantage of COD or Halo is its accessibility, it may only take up 5-10 minutes of your life. Whether you win or lose it's not a major sacrifice of your time. Battlefield has always required more investment of the player’s time. If you’re not winning, apathy takes place, what indeed is the point? Which leads to the overriding question surrounding all of the medium. What is the point of any video game?

The demo seemed to have a couple of commentators in session, my surround sound headphones had a microphone, but I couldn’t talk to my team mates who would have benefited from my leadership. Instead I had to listen to the banter from the commentators barking orders at me, in a way that nobody talks in video games ever. In some ways it felt like going through rugby training again on a Saturday morning. Fuck this game.

I spent the last minute, sitting in the gunner seat of some helicopter, piloted by some player who had gone idle. And with that the match ended. Wasn’t exactly sold on the experience, but again, Battlefield would require investment of time and a bunch of friends to team up with. For the moment, however, I was happy to wait...

We passed the Titanfall booth once more. And I had to resist the urge to get back into the queue. You don’t need team mates to not fly choppers in that game...  

Titanfall. Next generation baby. 

But we were off in search of more games, no more killing today... At least until after we checked out Dying Light the latest game from the creators of Dead Island. Yes it has zombies in it and yes I was aware that I was again spending time on another gory FPS. The game is basically Dead Island mixed with Mirror’s Edge. An open world full of zombies, in which you control a character with specific skills in melee combat and the athletic skills of a true parkour champion. The demo was a timed 10 minute playthrough, in which you had some vague objective to get through.

This gameplay demo was basically a sandbox to introduce the game’s mechanics defined by the melee combat and the traversal mechanics a spin, which for the most part feel great. Just like Mirror’s Edge. The melee combat seems very similar to Dead Island, which I had rented once upon a time. My general consensus on Dead Island was that it was fun for the first twenty minutes, sadistically chopping zombies arms off, but that game was big, with A LOT of zombies. And once you’ve chopped off one zombie’s head you’ve pretty much done it all… I reasoned it would have to take some mega sociopath to complete it.

I just wanted to include this pic, because it makes me laugh. 
My first impressions of Dying Light, is that it is the game that Dead Island should have been. If it has 4 player co-op then I’m sure it will give gamers the apocalyptic zombie survival game they have wanted since creation but wasn't fully fulfilled by Left 4 Dead, Day-Z, Dead Rising or State of Decay. I would have to see more to have my mind made up, as it felt like another exercise in zombie survival in another second world country composed mainly of shanties. Honestly, if you want a real demo of what this game is, you should just watch the following video and then hold your gamepad as if you are playing it. 

Having said that I did go from a sprint to a slide to swing a hammer at a zombie, right in his undead nads. So… Not all bad.

It was time to check out the PlayStation4. Sony had a big blue booth on the centre of the main show floor. The queue was massive and we could only play two games one indie and one launch title. It seemed like a legit way to spend our time under the circumstances.   

Nice blue glow from the PS4 circus.
I watched as my friend played Octodad. One of the more high profile indie projects Sony is getting behind to prove their credentials as supporters of smaller developers and more original IPs. Based on what I saw, Octodad could be the game of the show. I’m serious. The premise is beautifully simple. You play as an octopus wearing a suit trying earnestly to lead a normal suburban life and pass himself off as a regular human being. 

This demo involved ‘piloting’ Octodad through his wedding day. It felt like a physics based tech demo, controlling Octodad’s movement, whilst trying not to break anything as you awkwardly walked on tentacles. The final stretch is walking up the church aisle to your blushing bride. Lining the aisle on each sides were a bunch of elegant vases perched on top of tables. It seemed both funny and refreshing to feel that sense of videogame dread when faced with this seemingly innocent church setting. Seems like it could be a lot of fun, but I wondered if the whole game would be the same thing or whether there was going to more mechanics coming into play later on.

These vases look harmless enough, but each one you knock over is a mark against Octodad as a man. 
As a fan of Super Stardust on the Vita, I decided to play Resogun, which will be launched for both the PS4 and the Vita in November. It plays similarly to super stardust, though whilst that game was confined to the surface of a planet, Resogun is applied to the surface of a cylinder. I also caught a sneaky play of Hohokum, a whimsical 2D game in which you pilot a flying line through a colourful cartoon world. As this flag you fly through different zones nonchalantly interacting with the world and figuring out puzzles, sometimes by moving past that react as you touch or by picking up inhabitants of the world as if skiing through the sky. It will be coming in 2014 and looks like it will provide an extremely zen feeling of calm coupled with the joy of levity and flight. Perfect inbetween bouts of Killzone then.    

For my main PS4 game, I had the choice between, Killzone: Shadow Fall, Drive Club and Knack to play. I will stand up for the Killzone series, I think its one of the better console shooters out there when it comes to reducing yourself to a blubbering shellshocked. However, I pretty much know what to expect from the latest release, and like I said, I had already killed enough things at this Expo. Knack was more intriguing to me as it is being developed by Mark Cerny, the head system architect of the PS4 and Vita, one of the people behind the early Sonic games, Crash Bandicoot and Spyro.

Eventually I went for Drive Club, because I hadn’t played a next gen driving game yet and didn’t exactly know what Drive Club did that was so different from Forza and Gran Turismo. I remembered that weird spotlight at the initial PlayStation unveiling… It seemed like the developer just really liked cars. Good for them. But what for me? Who couldn't care much for cars and how they go vroom. 

I’m not too sure if there was anything different to many other racers. It looked real nice with all those trees. Remember, when trees in game used to be just sprites? So the trees looked real nice. The one thing that did become clear about Drive Club was the way each corner and stretch had its own leaderboard, throughout the race you were notified by all the other people who had beaten you. I don’t play enough racing games to know whether this is a legitimately original mechanic, but it seems to take Need For Speed’s autolog system and apply it to each individual component of each track, emphasising the social challenge. PlayStation Eye cameras were placed to take pictures of yourself during play, which then showed up on the leaderboards. I wondered to myself if I did actually get a PS4 would I have enough friends who would play driveclub with me? And then I felt lonely and a little sad.

You could be this guy. A part of the club. The drive club. 
Leaving the PS4 circus, we were determined to check out the Indie section, stopping off to play Tearaway on the Vita, the latest game from Little Big Planet creators Media Molecule. I’m not exactly sure what the story of Tearaway is, all I really know is that it’s a cutesy puzzle platform set within a colourful origami world involving you to deliver a message to someone. I immediately found myself getting sucked into the game, it was a great breath of fresh air.

The game seems to make the most of all of the Vita’s features without feeling too gimmicky. The front facing camera for example, is used to capture your image which is then displayed in the gameworld’s sun whenever it appears. The whole gameworld revolves around you, sort of like the sun in the teletubbies. This led to me gnashing my teeth into the camera, creating a kind of infernal Giger-esque nightmare vision of the sun as an eater of worlds.

I really liked Tearaway. It feels like a game precisely made for the Vita as a portable device, something you can sit and get absorbed into. I’m definitely willing to give it a shot, when it comes out.

Media Molecule created each physical piece of origami before scanning it into the game. Madness I say. But I guess it works. 
On to the indie section!

Foul Play is a side scrolling two player beat ‘em up from London based studio MediaTonic. Previous efforts from the studio include Look Who’s Flying and Monsters (probably) stole my princess. They make games with distinctive cartoony art styles and a tone that stands apart from the usual pedigree. The game is a two player side scrolling brawler in which you play Victorian adventurer/demon hunter Baron Dashforth and his accompanying chimney sweep sidekick Scampwick. The game effectively serves as a theatrical retelling of Dashforth's adventures and is played out on a stage, your actions and combos determining the excitement of the spectating crowd. Stylistically this game is brilliant, and the combat is punchy if lacking in depth.  

I had read a lot of good things about Sir, You Are Being Hunted on various websites from Eurogamer to Rock, Paper, Shotgun. There are elements of DNA from games like Stalker and Day-Z. You are a British person, stranded on a randomly generated island arpeggio, forced into retrieving special crystals that powers the machine that is your sole way of getting home. Also, you are being hunted, by bands of marauding robots with stiff upper lips, so must do whatever you can to evade them or fight back. This is quite difficult since you start the game abandoned within this game world with little or no resources. 

It seems all throughout the expo I was playing games of empowerment (exception to Dark Souls II obviously). It was much different with this game, as my friend and I took it in turns to scramble through the moors literally dripping in pathetic fallacy. You’d see the red Cylon lights in the distance indicating the appearance of a hunting party, you drop to the ground into the undergrowth desperate not to be seen. Seizing your moment, you spy a nearby hamlet and make a desperate dash to gather supplies. You open the door and find rotten fruit cake, an alarm clock and other seemingly useless British themed bric-a-brac. What the hell am I going to do with a fine china plate? You question feebly as the robots descend on you. 

The developers were on hand, dressed in tweed to provide pointers, but the nature of the demo was very much immersing you in the experience and letting you find your own way out. Eventually I came across a location of one of the crystal shards. But it was guarded by two robots, gallavanting in the mist. I would have to go through them. I only had a pistol with a couple of shots, an axe, an alarm clock and a bunch of foodstuffs. I creeped up as close as I could, and then set an alarm clock to sound providing a distraction, causing the robots to investigate. I dived in to get the macGuffin, but the robots had already seen me. I fired all my bullets at one, finishing him with the axe, but his friend put me down quickly with his shotgun. It reminded me of the ending fight scene climax of a Field in England. A firefight played out between desperate shots and hitting the deck to avoid retaliation.

Sir, You Are Being Hunted is a game with very simple objectives but elegant systems in place that ensure emergent play to take place. The game excels at making you feel like prey and the distinctly British dry wit and black comedy goes down very nicely. The game also includes four player co-op, which should be interesting. The game is in alpha at the moment, but can be purchased through steam. It was the first thing I did, upon returning from the Expo. A great great game.  


Next door was Velocity 2X, the sequel. I lost a weekend to the original Velocity when it was released as a mini on the PlayStation network on the Vita. I then lost another weekend playing the HD version Velocity Ultra that was released earlier this year. Totally worth it. The second game offers more of the same, with enhanced visuals but also a brand new side scrolling on foot section, in which you dock your jet in a hanger and traverse interiors on foot. Effectively the same mechanics of the jet sections are applied to a side scrolling map, and it seems to work and transition nicely. This will be another game I will be losing a weekend to. Can't wait.  

There was only one terminal for Red Shirt. A game that has you play a hapless low ranking member of staff on a space ship. Using the ship's onboard social networking site, you have to interact with your superiors to get promoted to better roles on the ship. At first the interface was quite overwhelming, a parody of facebook with all kinds of textual content to carewse and absorb. Once I got into liking my superior officer's comments and arranging a drinks party, I realised that I was getting well and truly sucked in. There is a real sense of humour at play, and it made me think whether I was playing Facebook all right. A great premise and one that I have every intention of checking out more fully in the future. 

Red Shirt is at once a satire and a simulation of facebook.
Tucked away in a little corner of the Rezzed area was Hot Line Miami 2: Wrong Number. Very clearly an 18 rated game, the first level played out with you clearing out an apartment full of bad guys before committing an act of sexual assault. But then a director yells “cut!” and you are supposed to twig 'Oh it was just a movie'. Not actual rape. The game told me to press spacebar, I didn't know what was going to happen next. And this is just a game. I don’t get it. I Think I need a lie down.

Hotline Miami 2 is more of the same. No bad thing. The first game had a great soundtrack, its addictive nature sucked you in as you committed gross acts of violence against unsuspecting mobsters. The many different weapons and many ways of mutiliation together with the speed at which success and failure was dealt based on your hastily put together risk reward tactics just drew you in further and further into the violent drug fuelled experience.

I guess the sequel will do more 'clever' stuff as with the first game. Like the rape bit. That wasn't a rape bit. But the game told me to hit the spacebar. I... I...   

Things had gotten dark pretty quickly and only one thing could rectify this... it was time to hit the Nintendo booth. 

Nintendo are in a funny place at the moment, the Wii-U isn't doing so well and looks settled to be buried by the PS4/Xbox One progression. Sonic: Lost Worlds looks like another average Sonic game to exist in the great pantheon of average Sonic games. Trying earnestly to be Mario Galaxy with its gravity defying geometrical landscapes.

Zelda: A Link Between Worlds on the 3DS was a far better experience however. A throwback to the original top down Zelda of the 80s and early 90s. The demo entailed a wander through the green fields of Hyrule before presenting a dungeon. This new Zelda feels perfectly suited to the 3DS, the combat seems fairly standard, but the joy of puzzling and exploring through dungeons was classic Nintendo. A new mechanic allows Link to immerse himself into a wall and appear like a hieroglyphic capable of negotiating across walls.  

I was able to sneak in a quick go of Super Mario 3D World for the Wii-U. At this point there have been so many mario games, Nintendo have forgotten how to name them properly. Super Mario Universe is obviously going to be continuing the legacy of Galaxy on the Wii-U, but still... Super Mario Fusion. Maximum Super Mario Brothers. Super Mario Smorgasbord. Super Mario True Baller. Any of these titles are bound to strike a better chord than 3D World...  It is a title brainstormed in a board room. That guy Reggie Fils-Aime saw what team Mario were working on and probably declared something boldly and simplistically like he does in those E3 keynotes... "it truly is a 3D world", let's call it Super Mario 3D World. 

Luckily, Nintendo still seem to know how to make decent Mario game, 3D world is the game Wii-U gamers have been waiting for last year's perfectly acceptable/perfectly middling New Super Mario Brothers U. Adapting the format of Super Mario 3D Land (...) for the 3DS, 3D World throws in the 4 player co-op, where friends can either work together or attempt to screw one another over. I was quite happy playing it myself, but then others joined in on wii-motes, and suddenly it became a lot harder to collect the coins and generally get around... One of the power ups is a cat suit, which has Mario running around on all flours running up walls and climbing trees...  

And hey, it's beautiful, its colourful, it has the pop you have come to expect from Mario platforms. As ever the biggest prospect of the Wii-U is Nintendo doing HD games, and visually this is as good as anything 'next gen'. 

Super Mario Orgy
I only had about half an hour before my time at the Expo was done. I had so many games still left to play. The Crew. Lego Marvel Superheroes. Surgeon Simulator 2013. Ratchet and Clank! There is a new Ratchet and Clank game coming out later this year! For some reason, I settled on Batman: Arkham Origins, probably one of the biggest titles slated for release this winter. I had written off this game at first. I think it was because original designers Rocksteady are not specifically at the helm, supposedly working on something new and tasty for next generation. Supposedly golden age era… Supposedly Justice League.

(I don’t really know anything about the Justice League)

From the demo, this is another Batman: Arkham game. A large gothic open world set in perpetual night, free flowing combat and those big rooms where you perch atop of gargoyles snatching hapless henchmen like a becaped teddy picker. I’m not sure if I have much to say about it, to be honest. The premise looks interesting, with Batman at an earlier point in his career, a bit more arrogant and angrier. Also the Joker is back in it… now voiced by man of the moment Troy Baker. Gameplay wise the game still looks to be based on gliding around an expanded Gotham city, freeform fighting and the predatory stealth sections, y’know, like I just said. More of the same, not necessarily a bad thing of course, but I still couldn’t shake the sense of tiredness and lack of inspiration.

Still no Batmobile of course, but no need for inclusion if it doesn’t work, right?     

Yeah. It was alright

Still waiting for the Adam West era Batman Arkham game. 
And with that, the bouncers were upon us… I was about to have a go on Fez for the Vita before one of them chased me away like a plague carrying street pidgeon and so I let out an angry squawk and ran awkwardly away from the show floor. Ah the show floor at closing time. Empty and deserted, games left running with no players, controllers resting by the side. This big commercial show, suddenly had a hint of sadness, games are nothing without the player. Staff were turning each station down, going dormant for the next day, for the the next onslaught of hundreds and hundreds of gamers desperately looking to play the next thing to get them excited…

I would probably be back next year. I had no doubt, but this year had been strange. Titanfall had been the standout game most probably. Tearaway, Octodad, Sir You Are Being Hunted, Velocity 2X and Red Shirt had all left a very positive impression on me. Nintendo too, showed that recognisable Nintendo imagination it's colour a nice refresh from all the shooting and the dying and the bleeding. I simply cannot wait to play Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and Mario Land in greater depth. I was obviously going to buy Dark Souls II and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag but that was a given before playing the demo. Everything else was pretty much a sequel or an iteration of an existing interface and genre I had played a dozen times before. Enjoyable yes but it did leave me a little hollow.

As for as the PS4/Xbox One, I’m not sure if I was overwhelmed by either, though Sony’s embrace of the smaller indie titles was everywhere to be seen and very encouraging.  Xbox One… well titanfall… Oh titanfall. Based on the short time I had played with it, I do love Titanfall.

I know. Burnt. Right?

So there you have it. That was my experience of the 2nd day of the Eurogamer Expo as the hobbyist gaming press. Did I do well? Let me know via email or twitter. All I’ve really taken away from this experience is that writing these kind of previews… is exhausting.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Eurogamer Expo Epose: Day 1

Somehow, I bagged a press pass for Eurogamer Expo 2013, which occurred a few weeks ago at London’s Earls Court. I felt like a bit of a fraud when I was handed over my pink wristband, its been a while since I wrote for any gaming website. I had no appointments, no extensive online following dying to hear my thoughts about the latest games, no YouTube channel for people to like, comment and subscribe. All games related ‘content’ I churn out is usually through this blog, twitter rambles and maybe very occasionally whatever Vines I can make whilst playing a game one handed.

I felt obligated to write something however, so here it is. The first part of my Expo coverage. I’ll probably call it my Expo Expose or something. Yeah, I like that…

That's me, by the way. I'm with the press. 
This year threatens to be the biggest Expo ever, with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One both playable at the event taking up mainstage in the central showfloor. Together with the Oculus Rift and an expanded indie game section there was certainly a lot to get excited about.

Arriving at the Earls Court tube station, I could see the iconic convention hall looming above - draped in neo nazi red banners for the new Wolfenstein game. It seemed a little in bad taste on first impression. A thought I instantly tweeted, facebooked and vined just like everybody else who was attending the Expo. This is the last year the Expo will be taking place at Earl’s Court, since the site has been scheduled for demolition to make way for new housing and a new high street – which I hear London is crying out for. I wonder how much money Bethesda spent to decorate the building as a Nazi rally. Alot, I imagine, lets hope it works out for them.  

My press pass meant I got into a show an hour before the general public and it is wise to use that first hour to make a b-line to the most popular games, so you won’t be queuing for three hours later to play a ten minute demo. For the first day, my priority, was the Xbox One and Titanfall in particular. As with many gamers, I haven’t exactly been bowled over by Microsoft’s pre-release buildup of their new machine. Over the last generation, the 360 has become my console of choice, thanks to most of my friends owning the console and a decent online infrastructure that connects me to them. We all know about the Xbox One’s original policies: always online, gamers licensed to play games, rather than owning them. All messages that promptly bombed like lead balloons. Their subsequent 180 reversal on said policies, has done much to revert the new Xbox as the uninspired sequel to the 360. Personally, it feels as if Microsoft no longer know what they are doing with the Xbox One, and whatever progressive elements the console had originally, like family sharing, have evaporated.

So there I was on the showfloor, desperately unable to find Titanfall and panicking as a result. With queues already building I had to pick one Xbox One game, but they all seemed so bland. Forza 5, FIFA, Fable Anniversary, Ryse… In the end I chose Dead Rising 3, Capcom’s wacky zombie slaughter fest… After a queue of about 20 minutes, I was allowed into the booth. There were some people dressed as zombies that tried to scare me, which they were successful at. One lunged at me, and I did feel that red flare shoot up  – the words “DESTROY THE BRAIN/SEVER THE HEAD shouting loudly in my mind. The feeling subsided - “they are just actors,” I quickly reasoned. “Y’know to promote the game… the zombie game”, and so I diligently took my place in front of one of the consoles to play said zombie game.

Ironically, if I was in the kind of situation in which I had to fend off against zombies, the Xbox One would be perfect for delivering that lethal killing blow. It is absolutely gargantuan in size, and if you brought it down upon anybody’s head with enough force it would definitely cause some serious medical harm and brain damage. Possible death as well, especially if you were to bash repeatedly, which is most likely in a zombie outbreak scenario, because you do want to be sure.

Could definitely kill a man. 

So the Xbox One is big. Dimensionally, we are talking about 80s VHS player proportions.  It reminded me of the original xbox, needlessly gigantic and something of an inconvenience to its immediate surroundings. The big black American machine taking its place underneath my TV set, greeting the PS2 and dinky GameCube with an exuberant ‘howdy’ as it pushed them aside asking when the steak was going to be served. The Xbox One is so big, so monolithic, it was kind of impressive to behold its majesty. The new kinect was also arranged in front of me, a thick slice of black plastic seemingly cut from the box itself.  I’m not even sure if I have the space in my house let alone under my TV to accommodate the bloody things of course. The day when it inevitably gets redesigned into a slimmer form could not come sooner. 

The new controller is not too different to the current 360 handheld, but again, it reminded me of the original box and the second wave of controllers Microsoft introduced after the cow pads were judged too big for mortal hands…   

Zombies. Bloody thousands of them. 
The game though. I was approached by a friendly member of staff and asked whether I had played a Dead Rising game before. For a brief second, I remembered the first game, putting the mega man masks over countless zombie heads whilst dressed in women’s clothing. I thought back to the second game, to the time in which my friend and I played co-operatively, frantically pedaling a pair of child sized pink push bikes away from the shambling hordes. Again dressed mostly in women’s attire and cowboy hats. Yes, I had played Dead Rising before.

The demo essentially put you in control of the game’s new character, a greaser mechanic type in a leather jacket, faced with countless undead corpses amassing towards you within an urban sandbox. When the 360 was coming out, it was the original Dead Rising which proved its power revealing literally hundreds of zombies on screen at once. On Xbox One the scale of the crowds was definitely impressive, but I'm not sure if it had the original wow factor that the first game had.

I was told by the friendly member of staff, that the demo had equipped me with a number of special weapons all selectable from the weapon wheel. A sledgehammer connected to a car battery. Great! A flamethrower, that roasted the hordes into charred husks rewarding me experience points upon experience points. Fantastic! Best of all the weapons was a pair of wolverine blades that were also pistols. Brilliant! A weapon that could stab and shoot zombies at the same time. 

Based on the footage I had seen of Dead Rising 3 at E3, I was a little concerned that the series had lost it’s wacky streak. Based on the general purpose of the demo, that feeling was crystalized. I was here to commit wholesale murder to legions of shambling corpses. Sure the polygon count was seemingly endless but it was hardly, what I would call next generation. It was essentially the same as the other games then, except now, when you slashed at a zombie with a machete, it would slice them exactly where your blade hit them. Radical!    

Fortunately all was not lost, I found a high-class boutique, and it wasn’t long until I was wearing a fine fur coat and women’s skirt, batting zombies away with my handbag. I then found a digger, and ploughed through more hordes whilst bashing them away with sweeps of my rear digger arm. Why have there been no diggers in games in this current generation? Is it only with next generation that diggers become viable? And with that profound thought the demo countdown ticked down and I shuffled off in search of Titanfall, eventually won over by Dead Rising 3, but not to the point of buying an Xbox One for the pleasure.   

It turned out that the over 18 section, in which Titanfall was contained was now upstairs rather than the main show floor. I face palmed and made my way to join the already lengthy queue. For those who don't know, Titanfall is the new game from Respawn Entertainment, a company founded by Frank West and Vincent Zampella - the original heads of Infinity Ward and pioneers behind the Call of Duty franchise. In a big public fallout, the two deflected from Activision taking with them some key talent from Infinity Ward to ally with EA and form Respawn to deliver the next evolution in multiplayer FPS. The result is Titanfall, a futuristic sci-fi shooter with mechsuits and jetpacks, or COD killer in scriptures... Originally unveiled at the tail end of Microsoft's E3 conference, the game has wowed critics and gamers alike with its dynamic new approach to multiplayer FPSing.

And now it was press banded Charlie’s turn.

Standing by for Titanfall. 
Going into Titanfall, COD muscle memory instinctively takes place. The combat has that same lock and pop feel to COD, but it is the new manoeuvrability mechanics that make player movement enjoyable, if not more enjoyable, than the shooting. Taking control of a pilot (foot soldier), there is something of the Tony Hawk in the way you can traverse distances by connecting jumps, jump jets and wall runs into one single chain that has you cover large lengths of the map without even touching the ground. It is absolutely exhilarating, but it will take time for players to adapt. I was getting to grips with the system, and I felt I had a distinct advantage to other players who were ambling around on the city streets and tightly knit corridors. I did come second in the winning team so there’s that too.

There is a very clear evolution to the way Titanfall is played and approached. For instance, there is an enemy firing from a window from the second floor of yonder building. If this were COD, you’d charge to the building looking for the entrance, then the stairs and then the window avoiding enemies and claymores in the process. Alternatively you may take cover and hope to take the guy out once he peeks his head out again, or you just lob a grenade through the window. In Titanfall, all you have to do is jump jet through the window and bam! You've mastered the situation.

And then you have the titans, giant mech suits, which add another dimension to the gameplay. Every player is entitled to their own personal titan throughout the game. I managed to gain three titanfalls during the 15-minute demo. Rather than being rewards for killstreaks, they are a timed release and the player has the option to use them should they wish. When piloting a titan, the game controls the same as if you were on foot, accept you are packing tremendous fire power and the protection of armour.

Within my first titan drop, I was battling it out with enemy titans over the level’s more open spaces, whilst squishing pilots underfoot. It is that different sense of scale which adds further dimensions to the experience. And there are ways to better titans as a foot soldier, like dropping down from the rooftops onto its back and shooting out its engines or just standing back shooting with anti-tank weapons, which most classes are equipped with.   

The game is looking to be predominantly multiplayer, though packing in those single player moments within a multiplayer environment. The match ended, with my team winning, but it didn't end there. All survivors on the enemy team had to evacuate from the area, whilst our team had to put them down with extreme prejudice. Cue another exhilarating sequence in which we chased the enemy team down the streets towards their drop ship. All the while stuff is happening, massive aircrafts and spacecrafts just careering overhead. A mass exodus I cut short when I brought down the craft with my rocket launcher.     

Exhilarating is the key-word here. Titanfall is just an exhilarating experience to play. I only had one go of course, one fifteen minute demo, given more time with the game, you would undoubtedly uncover greater nuances perhaps even imbalances within the game's systems. For the moment, Titanfall represents the same kind of evolution of the multiplayer shooter that COD4 brought to the culture back in 2007.

This level was the same level demoed at the EG Expo. 

It comes out for Xbox 360, PC and Xbox One, but I wouldn’t put it past EA of all people to maybe think of a wider release on PS4. Titanfall made a strong impression, and it really has to be played to be believed. Surely there was no better game at the Expo. And with that I moved on.

I made my way to play Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag next. I’m something of a fan of Ubisoft’s historical stabathon series, with Brotherhood being a particular favourite. Black Flag takes the FarCry approach by setting the game in an enormous Caribbean flavoured open world involving pirates and pirate ships. The naval battles which were the best bit of the rather disappointing Assassin’s Creed III, have been fleshed out into a more dominant ingame feature now, with you in control of a ship, which acted as your hub, your means of battling enemy ships and navigation and exploration across the tropical blue waters for that earnest seafaring vibe reminiscent of the Windwaker.

The demo was only 10 minutes. Not much to really get a sense of the game. I essentially had a play with the game’s deeper naval mechanics, sinking a number of English ships, before exploring a sea shanty. I then got into a harpoon fight with a Bull Shark, when I was told to move along. 

The demo was running on PS4, so it was my first play of the new controller, a vast departure from the dualshock3. Bigger and chunkier, feeling a more natural fit in my manly hands obviously. It reminded me of the original analogue stick controller for the PSone that predated the first dual shock and was a good size bigger than the ordinary PSX pads. I didn’t actually see the console, so I couldn’t tell you whether they’d be suitable with regards to zombie defence.

The advertising worked, as I soon found myself in line to play Wolfenstein: New Order. Truth be told, I actually quite enjoyed the last Wolfenstein game. It was a tasteless shooter in which you shot Nazis in the face and beat them to death with hammers, but it was a solid b-movie shooter. I was expecting nothing less from the new game, which involves the third reich discovering time travel and thereby using it for evil to conquer the world resulting in a nightmare future where the Nazis have taken over London with an array of robotic monstrosities. One of which they had displayed outside the booth. Set in London, the game features most of the city’s famous landmarks adorned with red flags and swastikas… Kind of like how Bethesda decorated Earl’s Court. Oh… now I get it. It’s like the Nazis have taken over, its like the nightmare future of the game. We are the lone American who are called to put a stop to this madness. Ideally through playing your game and pre-ordering it to get a £5.00 discount at GAME. I get it now.  

Anyway, the demo opens with you in some kind of rubble reduced warzone. The first Nazi had his back turned and the game provides instructions of how to stab enemies, so I stabbed him and then shot his friend in the face. Evil Nazi. Then I fought a robot. Admittedly, different to shooting at something that dispense blood.  You had to shoot out the robot’s weak points, which I think was just its face… It was super effective, and soon the metallic beast was done. Onto the next bit. 

Dual wielding is also a ‘thing’ the game is calling its own. With BJ what’s his name able to dual wield most if not all weapons. Again, it feels like a serviceable shooter, something that doesn’t require much thought or tact to play. The perfect game to play if you’ve had a tough day at the office, if the only way you can unwind is to shoot Nazis in their stupid faces. There are probably better ways of chilling out, but I'm not your dad, so go figure. 

Nope, I don't know what's going on either. Best keep shooting. 
Another thing I noticed, that may or may not be of note, was that the game wasn’t very well signposted in terms of giving you orders and waypoints. In some ways this was quite refreshing, to not have that constant onscreen impetus demanding you go here – flip the switch. Go there – still this kid’s candy bar. Go yonder to stop the world from exploding. On the other hand, it was a little annoying, because… I did get lost… To the point one member of staff actually came up and asked me if I needed help. He pointed to a switch. I pressed X on it, and it worked. On to the next bit. “Well its not very well signposted is it?” If it were Halo it’ll have a fat marker above it. If it was Bioshock or Uncharted it would probably be shining obviously. I felt a little stupid, as these are elements I have criticized of other games in the past. Yet without them, I am nothing…

I guess I’ll go downstairs and play Dark Souls II then…

And so I walked to the Dark Souls II booth. The game was demoing with a challenge. If you could defeat the sequence’s boss – the mirror knight, during your allotted 20 minutes of game time, you would win a prize. This meant business for a lot of Dark Souls fans and it was genuinely encouraging seeing so many people fall back into the mannerisms that only Dark Souls can provide. The game is not a bold departure from the first games or Demon’s Souls, but of course it doesn’t need to be.

In and around the booth, that sense of Dark Souls community had taken root, as players, most strangers came together to study those playing the game, formulating strategies and plans of attack together. Everyone knew the language, and everybody was talking and in it together. Some gamers had obviously been queuing up to play repeatedly. With each sitting getting closer and closer to victory. I saw one girl psych herself up as if she were about to run a marathon. She came close, knocking down the boss’s health to a quarter, but to know avail. Maybe next time?

Eventually, one guy did manage to beat the mirror knight. A mere boy, aged not more than 17 winters. He felled him to the applause of the entire crowd. The feeling of jubilation ascended to the furthest reaches of Earl’s Court interior. Even to those who just didn’t get Dark Souls felt the mirth and grandeur of such achievement. And with that it was my turn…    

I made the mistake to pick the guy armed with two swords. You need a shield to play Dark Souls effectively. That’s how I had played the previous game and Demon’s Souls before it. The queue snaking around the booth started laughing behind me, I could hear them through my turtle beach headphones. And it brought great shame. Worst of all, I kept on getting defeated by the first two foot soldiers… I was not having a good day. Eventually, I had to go for broke and just run through the level to get to the bastard Mirror Knight. I did this, dodging legions of unpleasantries, artfully designed to be gawped at, I’m sure, not that it mattered as I charged my way through the level.  

Walking, finally, through the veil. I was faced with the mirror knight. Standing in gleaming armour some ten feet tall. His shield a mirror, perhaps unveiling the true enemy of the Dark Souls experience… Myself. Standing there with my stupid two swords. I did have an ace up my sleeve however, unbeknownst to the village people spectating behind me. A single strategy that had defined most of my prior victories (granted I never got as far as Ornstein and Smough in Dark Souls) - equip the biggest sword I had, and hold it tightly with two hands.

Total vindication. The 'professionals' behind me were stunned to see me nimbly evade the mirror knights attacks, hacking him selectively with quick decisive attacks. Keeping my distance and seizing my opportunity, even when he had spawned a mirror version of myself to attack me. I had regained…

And then I got killed, after I got stuck in the level’s geometry, and was flattened by my adversary’s lunge attack. A friendly member of staff came to tell me that my session had finished and if I would kindly vacate the area. I embraced defeat, like a man and went in search of new quarry. Until next time, I guess. 

Not even the real Dark Souls knight could beat the game : (
I had played a grand total of five games during my eight hours at the event and I had an hour left. I decided to play Call of Duty: Ghosts, to see what next generation COD is all about. I don’t care what anybody says, I like Call of Duty, like David Tennant likes Coldplay. After I’ve been swimming and my reflexes are at their most reactive, I can play Call of Duty for a good hour and feel like a king.   

Upon entering the booth I was met by a number of videos showing interviews with Infinity Ward and gameplay footage of what is probably the first mission of the game that sets the larger apocalyptic events in motion. They say space is the last vantage point when imagination has exhausted all other worldy settings. I couldn’t help feel that watching the segment. You are an actual astronaut in space, whose space station is hijacked by terrorists, calling for you to defend yourself in zero-g combat and, for gods sake, to stop the nukes from going off. Which you totally fail at doing, but fail valiantly at least.
The world has accepted that Infinity Ward, at some point in the story, will kill Riley, the German Shepherd Attack Dog. 
Aside from that, there were interviews with designers at Infinity Ward talking up all the big features of the game. Mega textures, dynamic sound, fish that realistically swim away from you, attack dogs, mantling, leaning and a story written by Steven Gaghan – the writer of traffic. Sounds great, but all of these seem like technical flourishes that will obviously enhance the core components of the game, I failed to see the leap into next gen. I’m probably getting ahead of myself, since the majority of gamers will own an Xbox360 and/or PS3 and will most likely be playing Ghosts on current gen consoles anyway. Maybe next year? 

But hey… Apparently Brandon Routh is in it. Brandon Routh is awesome and should really be in more stuff. That Superman film was underrated in my humble opinion. 

The playable demo was a multiplayer mode on a small map in some wasted urban zone. It’s definitely more COD for sure. I picked a high speed class armed with sub machine gun and just went nuts. Strangely, control did feel a little more weighty to what I was used to in most COD games. I experienced the new mantling techniques, and set an attack dog on somebody, which I couldn't help but feel was one of Treyarch's ideas originally. As ever, the demo just made me want a pair of turtle beach headsets that bit more, because the sound was phenomenal. 

The deer... Keep an eye out for the deer. He did it all... 

That said, the game didn’t leave much of an impression. I hate to bring up rivalries, but Titanfall was the quantum leap of those COD mechanics I was looking for, something new and like I said... exhilarating to play. 

And with that, my first day Expoing it up to the all time max was at an end and it was time to go. I exited the hall with a burly security guard hot on my heels, lest I try to sneak in any other demos in the vacant show floor. All in all, it was an okay day. I had stuck only to the triple-As and played a meagre 6 games in total and all of them involved murdering people in some fashion. In all honesty, it did leave me feel a little bit hollow. This was supposed to be the next generation, apart from Titanfall, all I had seen was better graphics and better looking incarnations of the games that have defined this generation. But maybe I'd have better luck tomorrow, where this time I would be checking out the Sony booth, the nintendo area and of course the indie game section.

Stay tuned!