This year’s Eurogamer Expo took place over the weekend and I, along with Mat C, Joel ‘Harbour Master’ Goodwin and a couple of other friends, had the fortune of being able to attend again and spend a few days bumbling about sampling whatever we could. And there was a lot more to sample this year.
Now, before the trip, I was considering how exactly I should write about my experience because I felt that last year’s coverage was a little unfocused and lengthy. I was originally intending to do what Harbour Master did last year with a sort of live comment feed but this would have proven difficult as the only device I have capable of doing media stuff on the go is my netbook which requires a wifi connection, so it wouldn’t have been as impulsive (or as convenient) as I’d hoped. Then I considered peeling off to the media areas to type up smaller articles or doing the typing in the evenings at our lodgings, but I’m a slow writer and the prospect of trying to quickly squeeze out a series of articles scared the hell out of me. In the end I decided to simply go to the expo as a gamer and not as a writer. I wasn’t even sure whether I’d follow up my visit with an article because expo coverage goes stale very quickly and, I repeat, I’m a slow writer. But here I am, on the Monday after the Sunday, wondering whether I can get this out before the end of the week (Ed – hurrah!)
As the article title suggests, this is going to be a mind dump because I saw and played a lot, most of which I don’t feel I could get single satisfactory/worthwhile articles out of. So lets get cracking and see where this goes.
This year seemed to be home to more manshooters than I realised existed. There was Medal of Honor: Blah, Battlefield 3 Premium, the laughably entitled Warface, Call of Duty: Blah, Crysis 3, Far Cry 3 and I suppose I could lump Dust 514 and Halo 4 in there as well. Perhaps even Gears of War: Blah and Sniper Elite V2. I wish I could say more about these but the truth is I didn’t play any of them because they did so little to stoke my imagination or excite me, I felt like I’d seen them all before. Even Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (catchy!) and DMC: Devil May Cry (genius! What next? MGS: Metal Gear Solid?), two typically over the top Japanese cool-fests, turned me off. God of War: Ascension looked like more of the same, only even prettier, more graphic and somehow sillier (at one point I saw Kratos split open a giant elephantine creature’s skull, slopping its brain onto the floor. This after stabbing its head countless times).
Being an avid Aliens fan, and a big fan of Rebellion’s Aliens versus Predator back in 1999, I was eager to check out what Gearbox had done with Aliens: Colonial Marines. Suffice to say, I was expecting disappointment but came away pleasantly surprised, with a few reservations. It looked fantastic as I queued up, watching what looked like experienced Sega stewards play as the xenomorphs in team deathmatch, tearing up what were presumably inexperienced expo punters playing as the marines. Sure enough, that’s exactly what was happening. At first it felt a bit unfair (and counter-intuitive given the length of the queue) but it certainly made the aliens more threatening and, in a sense, terrifying, despite their potency to scare being long gone. I wasn’t that enamoured by the third person perspective when playing as a xenomorph, revealing them in all their biomechanical glory as well as their awkward movement and adhesion to various surfaces. In team deathmatch you could select a few different weapons, none of which in the noisy expo environment seemed to quite have the heft and punch of the arms featured in the 1999 AvP, or its sequel for that matter. I blame the less than ideal listening conditions for this. By pressing the Q key you could put your weapon aside to use the infamous motion tracker. The pace of the game and abundance of aliens made using the motion tracker feel more like a cool gimmick than a useful piece of equipment because by the time I pinpointed a blip it was usually on top of me anyway. Perhaps with more practice I’d have made better use of it. Nevertheless I had a lot of fun despite the connected 360 pad frequently causing my marine to drift left, I just wish Gearbox/Sega had showcased some of the campaign or the other multiplayer modes because team deathmatch seemed positively anaemic in comparison to Natural Selection II, but more on this later.
I managed to have about fifteen minutes with the 360 version of Dishonored which wasn’t nearly enough, but if anything was ever going to sell it to fellow Tappers it’s this: it felt more like Thief than any other game I’ve played. The mission that was demoed was like a cross between Bafford’s Manor (get inside) and Cragscleft Prison (get Basso the Boxman out). It was much more freeform than those missions, but given how little time I had to play I was only able to act out a handful of solutions and even those were half-cooked and executed badly, due in no small part to my incompetence with a pad on a first person game and my inexperience with the numerous abilities on offer. I’m a little concerned about the short-sightedness of the guards and hope that this is because I didn’t have the difficulty up high enough. I’m also hoping that the difficulty affects the mission objectives as well, like it did in Thief and Thief II. We shall see in a few weeks when it’s released, either way, I’ve high hopes. The Bioshock 2, Thief, Half-Life 2 and Deus Ex vibes I got from it are intoxicating though. One more thing, I want to see it localised in the UK to Dishonoured.
Another game soon to be released which I briefly checked out was XCOM: Enemy Unknown. The version I played was the demo available on Steam which seems to have caused a bit of a furore in certain corners of the gaming community due to its linearity and heavily scripted scenarios. News flash: it’s a demo and it’s trying to ease new players in. Not only that, but the first mission serves as an extension of the opening cutscene. And besides, even X-COM veterans are going to need a few pointers on the new UI and controls, both of which worked wonderfully in the thirty or so minutes I spent playing the demo. In the original X-COM I was constantly wasting time units from accidental mouse clicks or missing soldier hitboxes when trying to select them, causing my currently selected soldier to needlessly make a beeline for them. Thanks to double clicks and left/right mouse button changes, as well as a trim HUD, none of this happens any more, which is a huge relief. Unfortunately it was difficult to get a good feel for the game in such a small space of time but it looked, sounded and felt great, adopting a similarly gruff yet distinctly B-movie sci-fi horror tone to the original games. If the initial rumblings across the web are to be believed, XCOM is looking set to live up to or exceed expectations.
Tomb Raider naturally reminded me of Uncharted, which in turn reminded me of Indiana Jones. The biggest difference is that Tomb Raider doesn’t feel like a highfalutin unbridled action adventure like its forebears; it’s grim, gaunt and garbed in dirt, blood and cold sweat. But you knew all this already. Like XCOM, the opening moments of the demo felt more like a tutorial rather than a glimpse of the game proper. It was fenced in and heavily scripted with cutscenes frequently taking control away from me. Unlike XCOM however, I didn’t feel as though Tomb Raider needed quite as much hand holding and linearity, hell, the first game didn’t have it and Uncharted has climatised most gamers to this genre anyway. Lara also spoke to herself a lot which didn’t sit right with me. I was reminded of Lion-o from Thundercats. Coupled with those developer comments about wanting the player to take care of Ms. Croft, hearing her whimpering about her predicament felt more like it was for my benefit than a natural reaction to her situation. It felt forced. Having said all this, I’m keen to see how her personality develops and whether it can become as entertaining or compelling as Nathan Drake’s well timed remarks. With Rhianna Pratchett at the helm I’m confident she’s in good hands. I didn’t play for much longer as Dishonored was vying for my attention, but if the game opens up to separate itself further from Uncharted I can see it competently standing on its own two feet.
I’ve been wanting to play Doom 3 on my PC for ages so I jumped at the opportunity to have a quick go on the BFG Edition for the 360 (or as my girlfriend calls it, the Big Friendly Gamer’s Edition). I wasn’t half bad with the controls but despite the game’s technical improvements and stereoscopic 3D support (which I have no interest in) it felt horribly dated. The guns lacked the punch I expected of an id game and, coupled with the uninspiring enemies and environments, the moment to moment play felt dull. Also of note is that the interesting torch or weapon restriction has been thrown out the window, so, er, nice one id. Next we’ll be restricting how many guns you can carry in first person shooters and allowing the protagonists of Resident Evil to shoot and move at the same time… oh wait.
I hadn’t heard of Playstation All Stars: Battle Royale before but Mat, Ry and Warren insisted I gave it a go; it was four player after all. Playstation All Stars is basically Sony’s answer to Super Smash Bros. with their own platform exclusive characters occupying the shoes of the likes of Pikachu, Mario, Link and Samus. The only thing is, the character roster is a little… dull, so to speak, and ‘safe’ compared to the vibrancy of Nintendo’s stable, despite years of content for the Sony boxes. For the full list take a look here. There are a few welcome and unexpected additions in there, my favourite of which is Fat Princess who obliterated my opposition six games in a row. Apart from Nariko, she’s the only other female in the game too.
I’d like to have seen a few more colourful and creative entries in there like, say, Ethan from Heavy Rain with special QTE powers and a press X to JASON! attack or perhaps the King of the Cosmos rolling up players in a giant katamari. Where’s Oddworld’s Abe as well? And Reiko from the Ridge Racer games? Or Jill Valentine? Or even Lara Croft? They deserve to be on the roster far more than the not-so-exclusive-either Big Daddy and Cole, who’s in there twice as himself and Evil Cole. Those entries just struck me as lazy. Other than that though, Playstation All Stars presses all the right buttons that Super Smash Bros. does so I expect it to be a roaring success given the abundance of Sony fanboys out there and y’know, people like me who want nothing more than to punch anything Metal Gear related in the face. With friends of course.
So that’s most of the AAA stuff I sampled out of the way. I saw a bunch of Wii U games but didn’t get a chance to play any of them due to the stand being absolutely packed. Of them all, Rayman Legends excited me the most as it made terrific use of the touch controls on the Wii U controller and looked much fresher than the numerous Mario games hogging the space. That, and Rayman: Origins was an unalloyed delight. I ought to wrap this up and continue the rest in another post. In the next part I’ll be covering everything else ‘below’ AAA, from games that are ostensibly indie to those grey areas we’ve yet to come up with a suitable term for. For me, this was where most of the magic was and as such I played more of these than anything else. Stay tuned!
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