Reports From The Front – An EGX 2014 Round-Up Part 1
The weekend brought with it, wrapped up in its coattails and unfurling all over the slightly shabby and browbeaten Earls Court Exhibition Centre, the latest edition of EGX or the ‘Eurogamer Expo’ in old money – and the last one to be held at the ageing venue, rumours at this point directing next year’s expo to the Midlands, more specifically, Birmingham’s NEC.
But to the matter at hand! After a few days scouring the show floor, attempting to purloin swag at each and every possible opportunity and to cram in as much gameplay as possible in between the frequent, extended bouts of queuing and the various attached existential crises, a report of my findings is due and I’d hate to keep my good readers waiting; I now truly know what it means to wait.
As the UK’s largest video game event, Earls Court this weekend played host to all kind of gamers, sucked in indiscriminately from the corners of the isles and even beyond by a shared passion for the industry and its output, bound by a dogged will to remain in line for mini-eternities whilst maintaining a veneer of positivity, nay, of sheer, wired excitement. Said gamers, I salute you, for the same optimism and heart in the face of adversity was not my own and by day two, the phrase ‘sod that f***ing queue’ was becoming far more commonly heard by those around me than any lyrical waxings over the quality of the demos we’d just experienced.
Perhaps it’s just too big; somehow the way it’s organised has people waiting four or five times longer (often even more) than the length of the playtime in queues with little distraction or entertainment on offer, only the odd cosplay girl in a short skirt drifting by ahead of a wave of foot-shufflings, cleared throats and body odour, changing the tempo.
After passing through the desert of the waiting, dehydrated, dying for a piss and nauseous from the interesting bouquet of the affair, aching legs were rewarded with a brief stint on some of the newest and most hyped games just waiting to be released – and here, at long last, are my impressions:
Alien Isolation, developed by The Creative Assembly and due out on October 7th, brings with it a tension thick enough to warrant bringing in a chainsaw for the cutting; the scarcity of light and constant anxiety over the whereabouts of an unseen foe have you riding the edge of your seat, gripping the controller as if your life depends on it.
A deft manipulation of lighting and shadows, along with an insidious,echoing audio track plants the nerves firmly on edge; and the ease with which a sudden and untimely death may arrive, death from above, below, this side or that, has the game demanding the player’s full attention. This rapt attention and an interactive creepiness distilled from the same essence seen in the movies make for a terrifying combination. Note: do not combine with hot drinks or nearby priceless ming vases; disaster is guaranteed to strike.
Patience is an absolute must and frustration may prove the player’s most potent enemy, but if your life demands an injection of fear-soaked adrenalin and you’re a masochist when it comes to giving yourself a severe case of the shuddering heebie-jeebies, I can happily prescribe a dose of Alien Isolation, to be taken only when alone in the dark with a light snack.
Amusingly when it was clear out time for the brief session I got on the game, a booth tech tapped me on the shoulder and nearly got his nose broken upon the back of my skull. Thankfully there was no cause to call in the authorities and I’m sure the devs will be largely pleased, both that the game builds the atmosphere just as it is designed to and that press response has been generally positive towards the latest output from the studio.
This is survival horror, and as such, marmite; fans of the genre will find lots to enjoy here.
Mortal Kombat X
Having largely eschewed fighters for many of my gaming years due to a total lack of skill and a crippling fear of failure, pleasant surprise was to be had at finding a satisfying game that took me back to the hours of mirthful amusement enjoyed in the days of Tekken 2 on the original PlayStation.
Being Mortal Kombat, the focus is snared entirely on the gratuitous and the absurd, with Fatalies and X-ray moves returning better than ever thanks to the leap in graphic technology that’s arrived with the new generation of consoles. X-ray moves will deliver mid fight cutscenes taking us beneath the skin of our fighters, exposing the bone crunching, organ grinding damage sustained with each blow.
Still complicated enough that there is room for mastery only for those who put the time into learning the combinations, MKX has also opened the floor and made things entertaining for its noobs and button bashers.
Even getting thrashed about, as I was, is an experience in gory cinema, and the inventive range of new fighters immediately shows that there’s a space for originality and fun in the genre, in a time where some find it difficult to be overly enthused by the endless rehashings and tweaks of a certain well-known fighting game.
To match the enticing character design, the levels on offer in the demo were well crafted and visually engaging, adding to the overarching cinematic effect
It’s still a fighter, so it’s the same basic concept with all the bells, whistles and visual fidelity that the new-gen permits. Not one for the faint of heart, but this is shaping up to be a rollicking fighter putting the visual spectacle back into a genre that for me has been growing stale in recent years.
The latest beneficiary of the recent revival of the zombie love-in is Dying Light, an FPS styled survival horror, full of gore and full of the walking dead.
A Warner publication and developed by Polish outfit, Techland, the guys behind Call of Juarez and the first Dead Island, after their split from Deep Silver, Dying Light gives us a post-zombie apocalypse scenario in an open-world, vertically varied setting, whilst allowing us a swathe of head-popping gats, choppers and blunt objects to defend ourselves and an array of freerunning moves with which to smoothly (or not so smoothly) navigate a favela-esque environs.
The freerunning navigation of the maps is not just a blessing; it’s paramount. Zombies swarm the streets and when moving at speed from alley to alley it’s all too easy to find yourself backed into a corner. The rooftops are the answer, and this turns each map into a hotbed of possibilities – finding the best route to and between objectives will prove the key to success, and finding the worst results in the bells tolling at your funeral.
The camera style is very shaky, making the heavy-action experience a highly immersive one, and the substantial use of lens flare and film-graining in the visuals are all leaning in the same direction, giving an effect shared by the Bourne films, a realism which acts to counterbalance the surrealism of the zombie infestation.
Aiding the Dying Light cause is a very satisfying combat system, it’s first person, and the melee is accompanied with a sense of weightiness, the impact of big melee hits really being communicated by the action.
A day/night cycle forges a contrast within the game, where the player may dominate in the light, they must stick to the shadows as the sun sets, turning a frivolous rampage of leaping between rooftops and crushing skulls into a far more stealth-oriented experience in the darkness.
4-player co-op sounds promising and also confirmed is asymmetrical multiplayer, of the sort we’ve been hearing about with regard to Evolve and Fable Legends, where a player can ‘be the zombie’.
However one might feel about the torrent of zombie chunks hitting screens over and over at the present time, Dying Light looks set to be an interesting addition to an already large and growing raft. Let’s hope it can set itself apart from the pack; more than just another zombie.
Fable Legends is shaping up to be fantasy’s answer to Evolve’s 4v1 model, another asymmetrical multiplayer title pitting one villain against four heroes – things quickly become hysterical. The heroes are modelled on the usual fantasy layout: tank,dps, healer and debuffs all making an appearance.
Visually vibrant, following the trend of past Fable titles, Legends is an explosion of colour and action. Fable Legends conjures the same rich and vibrantfantasy environments we’re accustomed to from past adventures, though the improved hardware definitely buffs the polish a little.
The gameplay is energetic, to match the very busy visuals, and can sometimes be confusing and frustrating but a riotous laugh nonetheless, Evolve may champion the 4v1 model for the shooter fan, but Fable is serving itself up for the fantasy fans.
The concept of the villain is a brilliant breath of life into an old but underutilised notion. Of a kin with the role of the dungeon master in D&D, the villain must pit their wits and muster the forces of evil against the four heroes and, on each occasion, chaos will ensue. For the heroes to succeed, avoidance of bottlenecks and kill boxes is vital, though that’s not as simple as it may sound once the heat of battle starts to melt away all your planning as you descend into a frenzy. Get signed up for the beta at http://www.fablelegends.com/ for your crack at being the hero!
Check out part 2 for some more hands-on impressions from this year’s EGX. If you too managed to get some time with any of the games mentioned here, let us know your views in the comments below.