Well, I took a trip to the Eurogamer Expo last friday with Habboi and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. The day started off in chaos with us managing to miss each other at London Bridge but thanks to Google Maps on my phone we managed to hook up eventually.
I actually surprised myself by really enjoying the Expo! I don’t usually go to these events since I’m not that confident playing games in public (uh, I do play better when no-one’s watching – honest!!), and I always seem to undervalue the breadth of my gaming knowledge so I don’t look forward to these kind of “meet n’ greets”=S But it was actually a really relaxed affair and people seemed genuinely interested in seeing the games themselves (rather than my feeble attempts to play them).
There were already quite a few people inside already when we got to the front of the queue, but we got to spend a good while on some machines before the crowds really started forming. The event was held over a few floors, with the basement and ground floor dedicated to professional titles, while the indie games, careers fair and developer conferences were upstairs.
I first played Split/Second while Habboi and co played Tekken 6. Split/Second is a high-speed racing game from Black Rock Studio, and one of the developers talked me through it as I raced around the streets trying not to batter the wing mirrors off my ride. The hook of the game is that you can destroy parts of the environment to open up new routes and wreck your rivals. It’s an interesting mechanic, but in practice it wasn’t as freeform as it sounded. You fill a powerplay meter by drifting around corners and close to enemies, and performing jumps – yeah it’s basically like the Burnout games (which is no bad thing) – and as the meter is filled your given the option to trigger events. The more full the meter is, the more powerful the events that become available.
In the level I played, when the meter was around half full you could shoot at nearby enemies, then when it became full you could trigger a tower to fall, crushing your rivals, and in another area destroy a section of road to open up another route below. It was fun, and with practice I can see how a bit of strategy comes into it, deciding when to execute triggers, but it felt a bit limited since the larger triggers were one-shot only and it would have been nice to be able to have more control over which parts of the scenery are destructible rather than being stuck with only the elements provided in the level (Although think of the content generation needed in a fully destructible level=S) Still, with a little variety in the rest of the game, it could make for really fun multiplayer gameplay, even if it is just a spin on the traditional shortcut routes in racing games.
After that I wandered off and found myself in front of Batman: Arkham Asylum. Batman looked good, well good to me anyways since I don’t have any next gen consoles (wah!), but his face looked a bit rubbery in cutscenes. Gameplay wise I liked that you could use a grapple thing to swing up to high places and stay on the move. That and gliding down on an unsuspecting enemy and using the x-ray vision were cool. It’s been done before in other games of course but it was implemented well, rewarding the player rather than being fiddly. I would definitely like to see more of this one when I get a PS3 as I didn’t really have get a chance to explore the combat system or use many gadgets. I might try the PC demo in the meantime although I do prefer third person games on console.
What else? Well I didn’t actually play that many titles since a lot of the mainstream ones were just shooters. Yeah they looked good and i’m sure they each have their own selling points, but it was all a bit samey to me. There wasn’t anything that really grabbed me. One game I did try was Borderlands and, apart from seeming to run out of ammo constantly and trying to figure out who was who since there were multiple “Roland’s” running about (NPC’s?), I had a blast attempting to take down the creatures attacking us.
I actually still like First Person Shooters, but I prefer to go at my own pace, in my own time, soaking up the story and trying to get headshots. I prefer games that have a strong single player story like the Call of Duty titles, rather than just a multiplayer fragfest. For multiplayer I tend to prefer co-op as I like to organise a strategy as a group, but I don’t mind versus if all the players are in the same room and you can really get vindictive;-) Multiplayer was the big thing for a lot of the games at the expo and it was great fun, especially when you play the new Super Mario Bros and your so-called mates keep stomping on your head 😉
I watched He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named play through Assassins Creed 2. Now there’s a game I would REALLY enjoy playing. Anything with stealth and free-running gets my vote, and despite not really knowing the interface since I haven’t yet played the original, I could see various approaches I would take if I was playing. I also got a chance to play Wet which was fun, but like a lot of the games at the expo, there was limited information on the controls, so short of doing slo-mo jumps and getting handy with a katana, I didn’t manage to finish the level I played since I couldn’t get the heroine to run up walls. It did feel a bit constrained, a bit like one of the Matrix games, possibly Enter the Matrix, where you weren’t really in control of everything. If it has a decent storyline it could be good, but ill need to look into that.
I also snuck away at one point to try Fairytale Fights. Some random bloke joined in and we had a great bloodbath, him chewing me up with a chainsaw and me running around with an axe. From the point we started at, there weren’t many enemies to take on and we didn’t make it past the boss despite persevering for bloody ages. From the videos i’ve already seen, it looks like great fun in bigger brawls. A little disturbing is that, while my character was some little girl in a purple dress, his guy was like a cherub, naked and all with just a strawberry covering his unmentionables:-O
The indie games were something I was really looking forward to and I was not disappointed. The first game we played, Cletus Clay, is a side-scrolling stopmotion created game about a shotgun-toting country-bumpkin taking on the invading alien hordes. It was brilliant! The squishiness of the aliens as they’re gunned down was really satisfying and kudos for the two-player co-op. Having a look at the videos on the site, there’s more to it than we had time to discover. Take a gander here.
I absolutely LOVE anything to do with stopmotion (Oh! Twentieth anniversary of Wallace and Gromit today!) and I was blown away a few years ago when I realised you could combine it with games. It was a side-scrolling shooter that I played at the time – i’m thinking now that it must have been Platypus, also by one of the developers of Cletus Clay. If you’ve looked into stopmotion, you’ll appreciate just how much effort is involved. Now try doing that for a something as interactive as a game. No wonder it’s taken three years to get Cletus this far. I can’t wait=)
Other indie titles on show were Plain Sight, a cool futuristic shooter with robots, and Eufloria/Dyson, which looked beautiful but with no control hints we couldn’t figure it out?? I’m tempted to try it out again but I might wait for the promised Mac version so I have a chill out game to complement World of Goo=) I particularly liked the gravity in Plain Sight as you could launch yourself off the boxy world and gravity would pull you into an orbit and back down again. Too bad the PC’s kept overheating otherwise I would’ve racked up more kills. We also tried VVVVVV. I loved the retro-stylings (took me back to my Amstrad days) and the core mechanic of flipping gravity was very well implemented, but it soon became insanely difficult for one as sluggish with a keyboard as me. I’m keeping an eye on this developer though;-) Another one that looked fun was Joe Danger, a game where you play as a stuntman, setting up you ramps and obstacles before attempting to jump it on a dinky motorbike. I didn’t get a chance to play it but it seems to have the same replay hook as the Crazy Machine games. The graphics were very easy on the eyes too.
Not sure what else to say. Looking back at the expo website, we missed lots of titles that I wouldn’t have minded trying like Star Trek Online (I like Voyager, all right?) and Ratchet and Clank, but at the time we seemed to cover everything worthwhile. I think it was important for me to just try those games I might not get a chance to play again for a few months (namely the PS3 titles) and try something a bit different like the indie titles. Good stuff overall=)