EGX Expose 2014

For the fourth year running, I somehow managed to bag a press pass to the Eurogamer Expo at London’s Earl’s Court. I would once again be spending two fun filled day queuing for demos of soon to be released games and generally fending off the dizzying marketing forces and pre-order culture that runs rampant in and around the main show floor.

A part of me is perversely fascinated in the marketing efforts applied to the event. I guess it’s because I work in digital marketing, where nearly every aspect of our campaigns can be recorded and measured. The marketing I’m involved with is less concerned with overly promotional advertising messages and hyperbole and more to do with link building and reading data. So the glitzy world of traditional physical marketing is somewhat fascinating in it’s boldness especially when humanity in general is slowly adopting methods to parse out advertising all together with adblock and the decline of traditional channels such as TV and print media. It’s different with games however.

Even before I even reached Earls Court, the underground station was awash with advertising from Ubisoft and Sony. Visions of two more Assassin’s Creed games, another Farcry and The Order 1886 taking advantage of the London setting for the tourists. And then Earl’s Court itself, displaying the headlining banners from Bethesda as has been the case over the last four years. My first Expo it was Rage, the next year it was Dishonored and last year the convention centre had taken up Nazi regalia in respect of the new Wolfenstein game. A game which demoed badly under my initial frowns of internet cynicism but a game I nonetheless enjoyed when it finally came out. This year it was Bethesda’s new survival horror game The Evil Within. What else? After the continuing gamergate controversy, Earls Court now full to the brim with the white male gamer demographic. It all felt too perfect to be a coincidence. Somebody behind the decision had to foresee all those initial reactions!

As my party left EGX at the end of the day, we went via the West Brompton tube station. The queues leaving Earl’s Court through the turnstiles were even worse than the queues at the convention itself. West Brompton was covered with ads for Evolve, the four player co-op monster hunting game from the people who made Left 4 Dead. I assumed West Brompton was cheaper to advertise than Earl’s Court station where the masses would trundle through. In contrast, the more savvy gamer/London traveler would surely opt for West Brompton rather than Earl’s Court to travel to the event and I wondered if at any stage this was the purpose of placing the ads here.

The real test would be playing the game itself, but a 2.5 hour queue prohibited that…

Getting into the exhibit, EGX felt the same it had ever done, but the main showfloor on the groundfloor felt far more segmented between the big brands than it had done in previous years. You had Xbox in Green, Playstation in blue and Nintendo in White. The latest Call of Duty was there, the Oculus Rift, GAME, and Nvidia, each of the sections felt more of a spectacle. Each seemed to have its own stage from which they would perform live broadcasts. Each shouting against the other for ultimate exposure. In some ways it was actually easier to go around and actually play the games, but gone was the sense of discovery you used to get just by ambling on though the showfloor seeing things being played.

The best thing about the organisation was more space seemed to have been dedicated to Indie Rezzed section. In previous years it had occupied a mere corner of the show floor, but now it had almost half of the second floor. With most of the crowds heading for the main show floor or the over 18s section, it actually made it a bit of a haven against the bustle of the showfloor.

Bloodborne

The first thing I did was make a bee line towards Bloodborne. Over the last year I’ve been converted to the way of Dark Souls almost to the point of obsession where most other games feel like trifling exercises in hollow empowerment. Now arguably, all games are exercises in hollow empowerment, or at least that’s what they want you to believe anyway, but once you realise that there is a slim chance that you can beat the Smelter demon with a ladle all other video game achievements and indeed real life achievements become obsolete.

Bloodborne is the latest game in the ‘Souls’ series, the notoriously difficult yet ingeniously designed Japanese RPG action games that have become the jewel in every sado masochistic gamer’s library. Whilst Dark Souls 2 came out earlier this year, some Souls fans have declared the game impure simply because the series’ original creator Hidetaka Miazaki was not at the helm. Well, Daddy returns for Bloodborne, hence all the erections.

Bad dog…

The game obviously looks pretty with a new Gothic Industrial setting. The Souls series has always been beautiful to behold and all that attention for artistry is there to see, underneath elegant Victorian spires and architecture of Bloodborne. In terms of combat, Bloodborne seems to be played more offensively. Gone are the days in which you slowly stalk through a level with your shield raised reassuringly. Each character loadout carried a projectile weapon as well as a melee weapon which has the same light and heavy attacks but can be transformed into a different iteration for a slight change in tactics. I just went for the normal build, armed with a blunderbuss and ‘saw cleaver’ which could be folded up for faster close range attacks or elongated into a sythe for wider area crowd control kinds of situations.

These crowd control situations seem to be common in Bloodborne, as you traverse the initial level, a plague ridden cobblestone industrial town, you come across angry mobs of its inhabitants.  It felt very similar to the villagers in the first stages of Resident Evil 4, wandering around with torches armed and makeshift weapons adapted from their working tools. Everything in previous games was very static, you would traverse through areas learning specific enemy and trap placement until you became a master of your location. Bloodborne’s enemies aren’t so static, patrolling around he level in large groups and throwing in a new layer of randomness to playthroughs.

Follow the group and you’d come to a massive bonfire, where something was getting burned at the stake. I felt largely threatened by the scale of the crowds without a proper handle of the new combat mechanics, so I doubled back. I found a much larger hunched back enemy armed with a giant axe of some kind. This guy was somebody I could handle I missioned, falling for the oldest trick in the Dark Souls book.

In Dark Souls, whenever a larger threatening enemy stands with his back turned towards you, this is a sign to think VERY CAREFUL about initiating combat. The game isn’t signposting you to initiate stealth attack, more this enemy is so powerful it doesn’t even acknowledge your existence.

Before I could even hit him, he turned round and was on my case. Then, in my attempts to flee, he jumped clearing twenty metres and crushed me underneath his axe. I was dead. Oh yes, that familiar feeling. The problem was, this demo was policed by a one life policy and I was escorted out of the booth.

“Ah bad way to go, mate” said one of the PlayStation helpers as he ushered me out of the tent.

My first impressions are quite limited then… Bloodborne certainly looks very pretty even if the framerate struggles at points. It is still very unforgiving and I’m a bit concerned I will no longer be able to hide behind my shield…

Farcry 4

Not far off from the PS4 exclusives section was Farcry 4. Which seems to be virtually identical to Farcry 3 in terms of mechanics albeit with a couple of new features and enhancements added in to stem stagnation.

The most obvious change is the Himalayan setting. Most of the demo played out in front of a fortress within a green low lying valley cordoned off by snow capped mountains in the distance. There was no reason to suspect that this fortress wasn’t in need of liberating or that this world would be full of pointless collectibles.

YES!

But Farcry’s strength has always been its open world theatrics that allow player invention and moments of singular nonlinear randomness. My friend had first go with the demo and promptly mounted an elephant smashing it through the large doors of the fortress. The assault rifled militia scattered, the elephant threw a car into a heavy machine gunner. It was just like that time when I went to Thailand.

On my turn, I used a grapple to climb a cliff face illustrating some new mountaineering mechanics. I’m not sure of the extent of how elaborate this is, I don’t know if you’ll get ice hooks or be able to absail. It made me think of that one dream game I have, the one with you and the mountain, in which exploration and platforming were the focus of the game. Not a knife takedown or assault rifle in sight and absolutely no references to Cliffhanger.

So you fire the grapple and hold the right trigger to climb up.

From my higher vantage point I could see the entire base, over yonder were the two elephants playing in the water. I immediatly reasoned that I would create a Jumanji styled stampede by spooking the elephants with gun fire. As I was equipped with the stealth loadout, I had only  a silenced sniper rifle, but it should be enough to create an angry elephant.

And then I accidentally shot one of the elephants square in the head.

It slumped over in the water, whilst it’s friend bathed nonchalantly. I was absolutely mortified.

And then the assault rifled goons started shooting at me. I spent a brief moment running around chaining a series of knife attacks before I got put down permanently. To be honest it all happened so fast, but killing the elephant definitely put a dampner on proceedings. I felt awful, worse than that time I played the God of War game in which you desecrate an elephant man’s brain. I promptly put the controller down for the next guy.

Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris

Pharaoh with a machine gun.

Before last year’s Tomb Raider reboot, Crystal Dynamics took Lara Croft and put her into a highly enjoyable co-op isometric arcade romp called Guardian of Light. It was a great time, both as a co-op experience and resurrecting the energies of those old Tomb Raiders in which you evaded devious traps and put down dinosaurs with a shotgun.

There was only one terminal dedicated to it’s sequel Temple of Osiris, but I championed that my friend and I play it immediately. We would trade witticisms and collect treasure, it would be magical. The result was an experience not too dissimilar from the first game but the gameplay is tight and the co-op nature provides a real cohesive and satisfying progression to proceedings. The game has four player co-op, obviously I had to be Lara but my friend opted to be the pharaoh styled character, because he’s never played a pharaoh before (he hasn’t played Exhumed). Each character has a range of different abilities. Lara has a grappling hook to scale walls with, which she can then use to help her friend up. The pharaoh could summon this casing around him, which allowed Lara to jump up top and access hidden areas.

The demo progressed with an encounter of this giant crocodile monster wearing an 80s mullet which I think was supposed to be a lion’s mane. It ended up with both Lara and the Pharaoh wantonly blasting mummies and giant beetles away with sub machine guns. It was an awesome time.

Nidhogg

Nidhogg is one of those games where you wonder why no one had thought of doing it before. It has already been rapturously received on PC and is coming to PS4 this winter, which will be perfect for parties and couch co-op. Nidhogg is a 2 player sword fighting game played as a competitive 2D side scroller. Death occurs with one hit, each victory allows the player to gain ground in whatever way they are going. Once the player reaches the end of the level they are swallowed by a smiling giant worm. Just a perfect contrast to the tight all or nothing fencing that occurs throughout the level. It is quite simply a blast to play and it’s the kind of game where an audience naturally gathers round to start commentating. Perhaps the best game we played at the event!

The Evil Within

I guess the advertising adorning the face of Earl’s Court had been successful because I had now optioned to play the demo of The Evil Within. I haven’t really been following the game by any means. All I really understood was that it was the latest game from Shinji Mikami, the mastermind behind all the good Resident Evil games, my old favourite Dino Crisis and Vanquish. I also understood that his new game was supposed to be a return to proper video game horror with more than a few nods to the Mikami legacy.

The Evil Within is basically Resident Evil 4 with a Victorian occult setting that places a renewed emphasis on survival horror mechanics. Resources are scarce and where ever possible you should be using melee attacks to despatch foes or simply evading them by hiding in cupboards or under beds. In addition, you can burn the bodies of the monstrous to prevent them from reanimating, much like the Gamecube Resident Evil remake.

Which is all well and good, but the game gave me a shotgun and put me in a mansion with all sorts of horrible monsters roaming around.

So on I go through the mansion kicking doors open and brazenly blasting walking cadavers in the face. Shoot them in the head, their head explodes blood everywhere. Mmm…

At times my approach meant that I inadvertently conjure up a hooded ghost character who walks calmly towards me to the soundtrack of screaming behind the kind of ambience noise that you’d expect from an experimental Nine Inch Nails jamming session. Upon exiting the area I seemed to loose him easily enough. I’m not sure what that was all about in all honestly.

And then the sign above the booth fell down. Almost comically.

tew-gif-trap
Oh shit, how did this happen?

The game included a number of overblown theatrics which reminded me of Resi 4. The mansion is riddled with traps, most of which require a certain tactical approach to circumnavigate. At one point, I’m minding my own business walking down a hall, when I fall to the floor and start sliding down the corridor the way I came. The wooden panels open up revealing a mincer. Luckily, all you need to do is shoot the tell tale red light to deactivate the trap and everything returns to normal.

As a whole the demo reminded me of vintage Resident Evil, set within a mansion that owes a lot to the Arklay mansion of the original game. There is even one of those weird puzzles that involves you finding three vault locks to get you through a central door. It also involves you performing unnecessary surgery on three different brains, probing particular areas attached with primal emotions with a massive spike.

It was weird but entertaining. I wouldn’t say it was scary and I didn’t exactly feel pushed for resources. I felt some of the hiding mechanics felt a bit gimmicky, as if the developers played Amnesia and said, “Yes more hiding in our horror game”. I’m not sure whether the game can effectively give you this option whilst also giving you a shotgun and heavy duty crossbow. Regardless, The Evil Within reminded me favorably of Resident Evil 4 and since the Resi series is on the fritz at the moment, The Evil Within felt like a welcome diversion to that single player experience.

 

 

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Shoot a monster in the head, head comes off. Which is all anybody ever wants, surely?

Driveclub

The only good thing about Driveclub is the sublime gifs that have come out of it. The game didn't demo like this though...
The only good thing about Driveclub is the sublime gifs that have come out of it. The game didn’t demo like this though…

Driveclub is a racing game that was supposed to come out when the PS4 originally launched last year. It is a racing game of which I have difficulty differentiating from the rest of the racing crowd in all honesty. The only racing games I’ve shown any interest in are the Project Gotham games (cone challenges), 2010’s Hot Pursuit (nee naw! nee naw!) and Split Second (expolosions). The demo had you drive this red super car around a track a couple of times with the intention of beating all the other cars. A race, is what they call it, I think I may have already mentioned it… The only thing that I think distinguishes Drive Club is how it attaches a leaderboard element to individual parts of the track. SpeKtral_Knite cleared this corner faster than you, M1tCh_TeH_B1TcH cleared this track faster than you. I guess this puts an interesting slant on the old racing theatrics and may enforce that ‘one more go’ mentality but meh.

Oh sure it looks nice. Those trees… Remember when trees were just two sprites stuck together?

I played Driveclub at last year’s EGX and my feelings haven’t really changed at all.

Destiny

EGX demoed a lot of games that were already out. So in some cases it felt a little redundant to play.

Irrefutable evidence of penguins in the next Assassin’s Creed game.

Destiny for example. I own Destiny. I’ve been playing it religiously for the past month. I’ve completed the story and gone beyond the soft level cap and am now a respectable level 26. I don’t really need to spend an hour queuing at the Expo to play Destiny. But regardless, here I am because my friends demand it. Secretly, I’m hoping the demo will be enough to convince them to get a PS4 so I can finally play the game co-operatively with my friends. Halo was always our jam at university, Destiny could be our new jam for when we all come back from work and just want to catch up whilst shooting aliens in the face.

Destiny is a strange game to analyse, but based on the demo we played, a three man strike into the heart of the moon, it is best enjoyed co-operatively. The demo put you in the shoes of level 20 characters, with most of the perks and weapons unlocked. My friends were able to fall into the combat rhythm fairly easy, and we basically thundered through the level without much resistance.

This was really my first time playing the game with an actual fireteam of my friends and it was kind of awesome. The sound coming through the headphones was incredible, seemingly emphasising ever action in the game. I didn’t realise how tremendous each bullet sounded as it was fired from the assault rifle, the way the enemies vaporise and crackle when shot in the head. It was very much a shock to the senses.

My friends seemed convinced. Maybe they’ll join me in Destiny. Maybe I won’t be so lonely all the time…

The Order 1886

The Order 1886 is another of the shiny PS4 exclusives a third person period shooter set in Victorian London, in which you play a member of an ancient monster twatting order where everyone has Arthurian knight call signs. It is being developed by Ready At Dawn who were behind the God of War PSP games and the game certainly looks impressive graphically. But nothing could disguise the fact that this was yet another third person shooter with more defined cinematic elements and quirky steampunk weapons.

There is cover, there is an over the shoulder camera, there is a left trigger for aiming and a right trigger for shooting... Particle physics... non linear cinematic linearity, Victorian monster twatting... bowler hats...
There is cover, there is an over the shoulder camera, there is a left trigger for aiming and a right trigger for shooting… Particle physics… non linear cinematic linearity, Victorian monster twatting… bowler hats…

The core of the demo seemed to highlight your primary weapon – the thermite rifle. Rather than being a normal bullet slinging firearm, the thermite rifle fired off gas pellets, which you would then ignite with flares, thereby lighting up everything in the gas cloud. The demo was basically a showcase for the game’s particle physics, as you light up a small army of bowler hat wearing dudes. Core blimey!

The game moved on with one of your team members getting wounded. A cutscene then played out leaving you with control of your character. You could explore the room whilst your buddies patched the wounded up. There wasn’t much to do at all of course. I could check a tell tale map showing the enemies plans. I could put the map down on the desk again. I could pick it up again, because the game would not continue until I saw the whole drama played out.

Needless to say, I came out of it thoroughly underwhelmed. Based on the short demo, The Order 1886 feels like the kind of flashy game that you would expect from a launch title with a new console. All flash, no substance. Maybe the final game will prove me wrong, but it was very yawnsome.

Alien Isolation

I have issues as a fan of the Alien movies and the constant degradation the franchise has spurned over recent years. Not least over last year’s game… the game that won’t be named. I’ve already expressed my thoughts about going into Alien Isolation after… ahem… the game that won’t be named. The demo took the form of one of the game’s challenge levels, in which you have a certain amount of time to get through a level, whilst evading the alien and completing a number of optional objectives like don’t use the motion tracker. So fuck that…

Get used to this sight.
Get used to this sight.

Alien Isolation is a survival horror which aims to closely emulate Ridley Scott’s seminal 1979 horror masterpiece, right on down to the grim 70s sci-fi aesthetic. In many ways Alien Isolation is a better sequel to Alien than James Cameron’s Aliens. Remember that stifling feeling of claustrophobia as Ripley slipped quietly through the Nostromo having activated the self destruct sequence to get her cat? The game puts you in the boots of Ripley, another Ripley, the daughter of Ripley in a brand new interactive adventure that is designed specifically to make you feel that sense of dread and claustrophobia first hand. At the end of this game there will be a self destruct sequence and the alien will be there, and it will be difficult and draining…

I did not beat the demo. Not even with the flamethrower, which is good for one shot! I still feel the alien is tethered to you. No matter where you go, the alien will follow you instinctively. Even if the alien wanders into this corner of the map, it’s not as you’ll be safe if you go in the complete opposite direction. It’s always there. But if you could throw something to distract the alien and evade him just like that, it would be too easy wouldn’t it?

Assassin’s Creed: Rogue

Irrefutable evidence of penguins in the next Assassin’s Creed game…

There are two Assassin’s Creed games coming out this year. Two. I only just completed the last one and I don’t know if I’ve got the patience to play through two more. Assassin’s Creed V: Unity is the big one, which is being developed exclusively for the PS4, Xbox One and PC. The second game, Assassin’s Creed: Rogue, is being released for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC (though let’s face it a HD version for next gen consoles is obviously going to be released at some point) and is essentially a reskin of last year’s Assassins of the Caribbean Black Flag. At the Expo, Rogue was playable whilst Unity was demoed in front of visitors in a theatre.

Assassin’s Creed: Rogue is basically last year’s Black Flag played out in the cold Northern Atlantic. There are ice bergs and a ram for your boat to break through ice sheets. Your ship carries more guns, even though the mechanics of naval combat haven’t changed that much at all. Enemy ships can now board you seems to be the only change, which means that you don’t have to leave your ship when initiating swordplay with an enemy frigate. One of the things that I didn’t like about Black Flag was how clunky it felt. Sometimes when you boarded a ship you would do the piratey thing and grab a rope to swing from your ship to the other. Only to miss and fall anti climatically into the ocean.

The demo move on, with your character, a Templar of Irish descent (!) investigating the wreckage of a ship run aground on an ice berg. This portion played out exactly  like all the other acrobatic sections that have been a core part of the 7 previous Assassin Creed games. The platforming still looks cool and is easy to pull off, but there is no fail state, everything is so prescribed and automated. I had to fend off a polar bear with QTEs, and for the second time in a day I felt bad for killing an endangered species of animal.

There were some penguins! A flock of penguins dived into the water in perfect unison just like in those nature programs. I imagine the designer behind them was pretty pleased with how they turned out and so they should!

I guess whilst Unity returns the series back to the distinguished period setting with Paris there won’t be much in the way of ship on ship naval action, which was the best thing about Black Flag, which explains Rogue’s existence. It seems like more of the same, I reckon the full game would be rife with all those annoying escourt and tail missions. And whilst I like the ships and penguins… I honestly don’t have the time to play another Black Flag…

I feel like Assassin’s Creed only has one real period setting to go after Revolutionary France and that’s Victorian London. I’m sure that would go down well at next year’s EGX.


 

This covers the big games at the Expo. Stay tuned for a more in depth analysis of the smaller (more interesting) indie titles…

 

 

 

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