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.

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