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!