There were four major things I noticed at this year’s Rezzed.
1) Yogscast signings were as popular, if not more so, than the majority of the games on the show floor, with long queues full of Minecraft-sword wielding youngsters skirting one end of the venue. If ever there was a sign of the times, that was it. My friend and I were gobsmacked.
2) The show floor was awash with video cameras, mics and folk interviewing other folk. At one point we couldn’t move for fear of video bombing or tripping over tripods.
4) Early development builds with all sorts of quirks and feature shaped holes in them were everywhere. Some games were just really hard to get excited about because they had a long way to go.
4) Finally, party games seem to be gaining some real momentum with groups of four or more huddled round a single screen being a common sight. Hurrah!
It’s the first time I’d been to Rezzed and it was a much more laid back affair than the full fat Eurogamer Expo (now known as ‘EGX’). The fact that it wasn’t in London probably helped. It was primarily focused on independent games with a few AAAs sneaking in their like Alien: Isolation, Titanfall and Infamous: Second Son. From what I’ve gathered, it’s been a largely PC-oriented show in the past but with Sony really embracing independent gaming on the Vita and PS4 they had an impressive presence. In fact, there was little sign of Nintendo or Microsoft. And no, you can’t fool me with Titanfall being played on Xbone pads running at 60fps at 1080p with all the graphics cranked up.
Anyway, I managed to play quite a lot in the two days I was there, some standouts, some deserving of a mention, some not, and others I think probably need longer in the oven before I spare too much thought on them. In no particular order, here are the games that I enjoyed or got the most from:
Motion Tracker: The Blip: The Game
Or Alien: Isolation as most people (read: everyone else) referred to it. There was one big queue outside the massive installation that, inside, splintered into three for the PC, PS4 and Xbone versions. The interior queuing foyer was dark and smoky with flashing belisha beacons periodically lighting up everyone waiting their turn. The PC version had the biggest queue which was probably for the better because the fear was really bubbling up in my loins by that point, and any extra time to psyche myself up was welcome. Besides, I wanted to play on mouse and keyboard too. You’d think that with the PS4 and Xbone versions at the event the PCs would be hooked up to mice and keyboards, right? Wrong. There was much grumbling, wailing and gnashing of teeth. I was surprised to find out afterwards that the PS4 and Xbone versions were running at 30fps too, instead of the 60 I’d just experienced.
Anyway, each version had its own shielded corridor of sorts lined with demo stations on either side and veils on either end to make the space darker, more enclosed and intimate. It worked well, I’ve got to say.
The thing you first notice in Alien: Isolation is just how well Creative Assembly have nailed the aesthetics and ambiance of the first film. It’s a real feast for the eyes and ears– when you’ve got some light to see it, that is. The demo was a fairly long canned sequence with a few initial scripted bumps to keep you on edge before a cinematic reveal of the alien itself. Once the alien had made its appearance you were tasked with navigating the space you’d just been through to escape without getting caught. I say the demo was ‘long’, but it probably felt that way because I spent most of my time hiding under and behind stuff staring at the motion tracker, watching the blip and trying to get a handle on its movement patterns. The alien was very much ‘the blip’ because I rarely looked at it directly and when I did, I could scarcely see it in the dark, which is kind of brilliant really.
Naturally, the power had gone down (the power always goes down) so the green screen of the motion tracker against the inky black was all I could see most of the time. I was told in the intro video that the flashlight could reveal my position so there wasn’t a chance in hell I was turning that thing on if I could help it. The thing is, the motion tracker not only tells you where the alien is in front of you, it points you in the direction of your objective, flashes if the alien is on to you and will even warn you if you’re being flanked. What’s more, I don’t think you get the motion warning noises if you’ve not got the tracker held up. There’s no denying it’s a pretty nifty piece of kit but it’s so useful that it seemed silly to not be using it at all times. Sure, Creative Assembly have made it so that if you’ve got your motion tracker up the background goes out of focus, but with another button held down you can shift the focus back meaning that if you’ve got any sense you’ll just walk around with your motion tracker and shift focus buttons permanently held down. That’s three buttons to move around, and I found that not knowing the whereabouts of the alien was a death sentence.
Watching the alien’s movement on the motion tracker I realised a few things: it roams, presumably between invisible nodes, in areas without any discernible pattern. The areas it roams seem to depend on where you are and what objective you’re trying to accomplish. So for instance, I had to get into an airlock to complete the demo and despite the alien spending most of its time elsewhere, once the airlock opened it had a propensity to hang around just outside the door. Admittedly this did force me into doing something that the developers clearly wanted me to do because my actions segued into a scripted sequence seamlessly (and it worked very well indeed) but I can’t deny I could feel their hands at work. I’m also convinced the alien spawned ahead of me once when I bolted in the opposite direction of it when it was moving away from me.
Avoiding the alien wasn’t all you had to do though. I found a blowtorch that I had to use to burn through a panel to open a door, I pulled a few levers and had to hack a terminal which involved trying to kind of ‘tune’ into a frequency while selecting a correct sequence of glyphs. It wasn’t Human Revolution but it was different and kind of clicked with the overall presentation of the game.
Perhaps my biggest fear with Alien: Isolation is that it will be a linear series of set-pieces similar to the demo. Playing Miasmata I know how an open environment, a single creature and a bunch of emergent interlinked systems can create its own unique and compelling experiences. Still, this was a demo and I’ve got to say I thoroughly enjoyed my half an hour or so with it despite being rather pathetic with horror games these days. I died three or four times in total and each time I lurched back from the screen (yoinking the headphone cable no less) screaming ‘FUCK ME’ before realising I was sat amidst lots of other people. That’s quite an achievement in such a busy environment. At home though, no-one can hear you scream.
War for the Overworld
Of the two existing Dungeon Keepers (no, the iOS version doesn’t count) War for the Overworld seems to be channelling the sequel the most, what with its brighter colour scheme, horizontal UI, lighter tone, and (my favourite) the micropiglet slaughterpen. It’s a generous and honest update judging from the time I had with the tutorial and first level but it wasn’t obvious what the major differences and presumably improvements were over Bullfrog’s seminal do-badders, so I grabbed a developer and threw him on the rack to torture some information out of him. He’d done this before (no doubt on camera with a mic in his face) because he knew exactly what to say. Branching specialisations instead of linear research, minion and group allocation and multiple call-to-arm flags for more strategic manoeuvring and control, no mindless dumping of your minions on the enemy, special chambers on each map to discourage turtling and I’m sure I spotted some sort of way of stopping minions from moving into certain areas — a very welcome addition if so. If you’re a fan of Dungeon Keeper (and why the hell not eh?) then this is one you should definitely be keeping your eye on. It’s currently in ‘Bedrock Beta’ (v0.3.2) and available to purchase and play from Subterranean Games’ site.
When I wandered over to Overruled I noticed in the corner of the screen it said ‘pre-alpha v.0.0.001’. I said to my friend that if we get a chance to play this it will probably be the earliest development build I’ve ever played. What I didn’t know was that the developers were stood directly in front of me laughing at my comment. Overruled is a local and online multiplayer game for up to four players that plays like Smash Brothers with collectible cards that change the rules of play and how each player can score points. So for instance, there’s a king of the hill card that spawns a halo somewhere in the arena that players have to stand inside to score points. Other cards include, amongst others, ‘smash and grab’ (collect coins), ‘swag bag’ (hold on to a bag for points) and ‘fire tag’ (the person on fire doesn’t score points so has to try and tag others). Rule sets eventually time out but playing cards overrule any existing rules so you can really turn the tide with some careful card use. Though it was a very rough and ready build there was no disguising the potential this idea has and it’s telling that when I sat down to have another game on the second day, everyone else who I was up against were returning players as well.
Another local and online multiplayer, but this time one that is finished and available to purchase on PS4 and PC (the original Towerfall debuted on OUYA). Towerfall: Ascension is an arcade platforming deathmatch game in the same vein as Samurai Gunn, Gun Monkeys, 0space and to some extent Nidhogg. The neat thing with Ascension is that each player only starts with a few arrows so as tempting as it might be to just fire off a salvo, it’s risky because you might be left high and dry with an empty quiver, not only that, if you miss there’s every chance your enemy will pick those arrows up and fire them back. Apparently you can catch arrows in mid-air, and, try as I might, I didn’t have much luck with that; I’m guessing that catching arrows with your face is the wrong way to do it. In addition to all this, there are chests that appear that hold all sorts of surprises from angel wings and laser arrows to bomb traps and slow motion. Something else I liked was that the screen edges wrap giving way to all sorts of devious manoeuvres and shots, not to mention, one pickup actually causes the screen to scroll vertically or horizontally which is very cool. Even with just the two of us, Ascension was good, solid, clean fun, but with a full complement of friends I can see it becoming a games night stalwart in the future.
Mega Coin Squad
Here’s another multiplayer game, although I’m not sure whether it’ll be just local or online. In fact, there’s very little info anywhere on the internet about it– not even a decent screenshot. Either way, Mega Coin Squad takes plenty of cues from Mario and Sonic both visually and mechanically, requiring players to collect as many coins as possible and bank them in piggy banks that change position around the level. Shooting players causes them to drop their coins (in true Sonic fashion); the player with the most coins banked at the end of the round wins.
It sounds simple enough but when you start factoring in the different pick-ups and weapons, spikes, springs, wall-jumping, double-jumping, dashing, ground slamming, destructible blocks and the different ways of collecting coins it adds up to something that I thought was more fun than Towerfall: Ascension. I look forward to seeing how it develops because what was on show was very promising. Here’s an off-screen video of it in action taken from Rezzed:
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number
I’ve always seen Hotline Miami as a kind of ultra-violent rhythm game and it was nice to dance that gruesome dance again with the sequel. Visually, sonically and mechanically it didn’t seem that different from its predecessor, and while the narrative was similarly dark, unsettling and psychotic, it touched on at least one riskier subject: children. If there was any stone to turn that would be it, but whether Hotline Miami 2 will or not is anyone’s guess but I can’t see it going by without some sort of controversy. What surprised me the most however, was that all the demo stations were hooked up to mice and keyboards. Really? No pads? I was fine either way, but it struck me as a game more suited to controllers.
By the same devs that brought us the incredible Magicka, comes Helldivers, a top-down 4 player co-op shooter in a similar vein to Alien Swarm. Available on PS3, PS4 and Vita, with cross-platform local and online mixed multiplayer, Helldivers is a more open affair than the free mod-turned-full-game by Valve, with a few new tricks up its sleeves– some straight from Magicka’s school of friend abuse and muscle memory.
First off, in true Magicka-style, friendly fire is always on so make sure you’re out of swinging distance of your friends. Secondly, most abilities require a beat ‘em up-style combo; there’s no hitting L1 to revive or R1 to just summon a turret or call an airstrike, you’ve got to press the right sequence of buttons to get anything and in the heat of combat that can be quite a challenge, as Magicka clearly showed. Prior to a mission, loadouts can be customised and a drop zone determined before heading out to accomplish the different objectives in alternating parts of the map. Aliens roam the environments together and are visible as hotspots on your map, so with a little planning you can work out safer routes to navigate and bottlenecks to hunker down in.
What’s really exciting though (and wasn’t apparent from playing the game at Rezzed) is the community-wide campaign that Helldivers will be championing. From Polygon:
“The Galactic War is played out over two months,” said Sony San Mateo producer Mark Rogers. “Every game that a player plays counts towards this war which is fought on three fronts against three enemies at the same time.”
Every two months, the game is reset. “If the entire community manages to defeat the aliens, the war begins again but this time at a higher difficulty,” said Rogers. “There is a dynamic difficulty system for the entire game that is unique to this title. We’re planning for it to be global so that people from all regions fight together. It’s all of humanity against the aliens, so there are no regions.”
Coupling this with the alleged satirical tone of the game, I think Arrowhead might be on to another winner here. Besides, it’s about time we had some more quality top-down multiplayer bug hunting.
On appearance Luftrausers doesn’t look nearly as enjoyable as it actually is. Its popping sepia visuals and frenetic arcade aerial combat are enticing enough, but it’s the roster of mini-missions to complete, the scoring system and the pull of unlocking more ship parts to customise your whirling death machine that keeps you playing and launching it just one more time. One of my favourite builds was a ship that was unaffected by gravity but was blasted backwards by the high knock-back from the cannon I’d equipped. It effectively meant I could fly backwards shooting constantly, which was great when you’d got bogeys on your tail. Which was almost always. Luftrausers is available on PC, Mac, Linux, PS3 and Vita and is well worth your time if you’re a sucker for arcade score-chasing.
Dungeon of the Endless
Dungeon of the Endless is as unusual as it is beautifully rendered. Part roguelike(-like?), part resource management, and part defence game, you control a rag tag crew of former prisoners who have crash landed on an alien planet in some sort of high-tech dungeon. Your escape pod’s power generator is still functioning and must be protected while you try to find a way out by exploring further and further afield, building resource points and defences along the way. As you stretch your reach further, your powerline — and everything linked up to it — is threatened by the inhabitants of the dungeon so it’s a careful balancing act of holding your ground while pushing carefully into new areas. I wasn’t on it for long, but for a first attempt I didn’t do too badly, surviving nearly an entire level before my characters succumbed to hordes of enemies as I tried to transport a power crystal. A bold and eclectic game, it’s one I’ll definitely be watching out for in the future.
Of all the games I’ve covered here, 0RBITALIS by Alan Zucconi is without doubt the most unusual. When I first walked past it it didn’t really grab my attention, it was only later on when I noticed my friend using the custom built interface to control it that I knew I had to have a go. In 0RBITALIS your aim is to set a trajectory for a probe so that it maintains an orbit for ten or so seconds.
The unique controller pictured above is like a steering wheel with a button on it, mounted on to a bar which can be pulled out and pushed in. Turning the wheel moves the launch trajectory right and left, pulling and pushing the wheel adjusts the strength of the launch, and pressing the button launches the probe.
Now, the first level where there is only a single star with a few satellites (each with their own gravitational pull) is fairly straight forward. On my first go I managed to maintain a seemingly stable orbit that hypnotically whirled around the star leaving a trail behind it that was slowly but surely making a pattern. It was lovely to watch. The next level however, involved a star that was off-centre and a few more satellites which unpredictably tugged the trajectory all over the place so finding a stable orbit was a bit of a crap shoot. I managed it in the end but the following level threw me into what looked like an asteroid belt so nailing that elusive vector was even trickier.
I’m not sure how much of my enjoyment came from the novelty of the controller but I thought 0RBITALIS was terrific and a strangely calming experience despite the seemingly trial and error nature of the game. It’s still in development but you can get early access (of the non-Steam variety) for PC, Mac and Linux through Alan Zucconi’s website.
I didn’t actually play this but I watched my friend and a few others give it a spin and it looked fascinating (and terrifying). In Monstrum, you play some poor soul trapped on a creepy-ass, claustrophobic ship and naturally, your job is to make like a tree and get out of there. Unfortunately, you’ve got to pick up a laundry list of items dotted around the ship before you can make your getaway. Oh, and there’s a creature onboard hunting you down. And the layout of the ship is procedurally generated. And the item locations are randomised. And the creature won’t always be the same (from a planned three incarnations according to the developer, each with their own behaviours and characteristics).
In the demo shown at Rezzed there were torches, glow sticks, light switches, lockers to hide in and, rather interestingly, a radio which you could apparently turn on (and throw) to distract the creature. My friend, in a moment of madness, thought the radio looked sturdy enough to be used as a weapon to clobber the creature. It didn’t work.
Unlike my friend, Monstrum showed great potential though and I’m very keen to see how well the procedural and random nature of the game will work once it’s finished. Not that I’ll have the balls to play it mind.
Aaand I think that’ll do for the time being. I may do an odds and ends article listing some of the other games that caught my eye but I didn’t play, or simply didn’t enjoy enough to warrant a slot on here, but we’ll see.
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These all look cool. Looking forward to trying them out.
Great roundup, from wonderful obscure indies to more mainstream stuff. Especially glad to see that Creative Assembly seems to have hit many of the targets with Alien. That franchise deserves a good game (Aliens vs. Predator was a long time ago), so hopefully the full experience will address some of the concerns you had, Gregg.
I’m disturbed by this trend of horror games. Why don’t developers consider my needs? Don’t they understand that I jump and scream when I play horror games?
I’ve never heard of Monstrum, but it looks cool. Thanks for the interesting write up.
It looks terrifying lakerz! Terrifying!