Bitscreed at EGX 2014

In which Matt chronicles his journey to the The Event Formerly Known As The Eurogamer Expo
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[TRANSCRIPT]

Hello my name’s Matt and I’ve recently come back from EGX 2014, at the Earls Court Convention Centre in London, where I went with a camera and a plan. That plan being to play a bunch of upcoming games and give you my honest verdict on them, while also rubbing it your faces a little bit like the smug bastard I am.

Sadly as the great Scottish poet Rabbie Burns once said, “the best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley.” That means “go wrong” for those timrous beasties out there who don’t speak Scottish.

For starter’s EGX is a very noisy place, and I mean very noisy. Between the noise of the crowds, the sounds of the games themselves, stages pumping out loud music and the screams of people clamouring for swag, you’d be lucky if you could even hear yourself think most of the time. Assuming you hadn’t drowned in your own sweat first.

It’s also very busy! Insanely so in fact. If you plan to go to an event like this for the first time expecting to play every game available then put a bullet in that lofty ambition and chuck it in a ditch. Even with an early access or press pass, like I had for the first two days, the queues are still so long they could almost be measured in parsecs. For some of the biggest games the wait times at the official booths were upwards of 45 minutes, an hour being the average.

Thankfully I still managed to play a bunch of games, although that meant any sort of on-site reportage was damn-near impossible.

[CLIP OF ME IN THE PRESS AREA TRYING TO DO A VLOG]

So I focused entirely on just playing the games with the first being the multiplayer demo for Dragon Age: Inquisition. If only because this crimson-haired bint dragged me there as soon as we got inside, with the force of a tornado full of galloping horses.

Still, there are advantages to being best mates with someone who makes very good Dragon Age videos. Like getting shunted to the front of the queue and into a special VIP area for example. (Thumbs up)

Unlike Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer, which was a tremendous amount of fun, Dragon Age Inquisition’s multiplayer is entirely separate from the single player campaign. You and up to three friends pick a class and roll through several levels of a progressively more-difficult dungeon, utilising your unique abilities to put down teeming hordes of Red Templars and other Dragon Age enemies.

If you’ve played any post-World of Warcraft MMO then you’ll be immediately familiar with the classes, their abilities and the roles they play in the party. In my session I played as the Legionnaire, your classic tank character whose role is to keep enemies distracted from beating up the rest of the party and taking punishment like a boss. If you like playing warriors but don’t want to be a meatshield then you might like to play as the Reaver, a damage-dealing warrior variant who does more damage the lower her health is.

Alternatively if you’re too much of a wuss to get up in enemies’ faces then there are also rogue and mage class characters to choose from. So you can sit at the back safe and sound while the Legionnaire does all the hard work. Until said Legionnaire gets the snot beaten out of him by two Red Templar Behemoths because you were trapped behind some red crystal wall at the top of some stairs or some other excuse.

Yes, like other team-based multiplayer games it absolutely requires…well, teamwork, obviously, so it’s something you’ll want to play with people you know to get the most out of it. It’s certainly shaping up to be a fun diversion from the singleplayer campaign, and it’ll be the first time you get to play in the Dragon Age setting with your friends.

Until they stop being your friends because you’re a scrub who can’t play your class properly

After that I went on the hunt for Bloodborne, FROM Software’s forthcoming PS4 exclusive directed by the sadistic mind behind Demons Souls & Dark Souls. A hunt that didn’t take me very long, thankfully, because it was down in the official PlayStation area where the queues were generally shorter.

As befitting a game with such sadistic pedigree you only got to play it as long it took you to die once, which is inevitable in such games. I managed to play a good ten to fifteen minute’s worth because I’m just that good.

None of the four character classes available to play had anything resembling a shield, so combat required a lot more dodging than I’m used to. The class I picked had a pistol and a hand-blade type weapon, which could be extended to a whopping great two-handed scythe at the press of a button. So for example you could hack one enemy to bits with quick flurries, then switch to two handed and slice through a whole bunch of them. Speaking of enemies you encounter a lot more of them at once and they like to patrol around in big groups, which makes “sneaking” around them more difficult.

Slain enemies have a chance to drop blood flasks, which is your main source of healing and also a possible clue as to how and why your character will keep coming back from the dead time and again. Well it IS a Victorian gothic horror setting after all. The guns are the biggest new addition and to be honest feel more like crossbows did in Dark Souls. You can even see the bullet travel for a second before it hits an enemy for absolutely sod-all damage. Rather than being a serious damage-dealer the guns in Bloodborne are more for stunning an enemy long enough to close the distance and hack them to bits. So anybody worried the game was going to become a third-person shooter can put those doubts to rest. And yes your enemies have access to guns too, as I discovered to my cost when a whole bunch of the buggers around a bonfire started filling me with lead. I died of course.

At first glance it’s easy to write-off Bloodborne as merely Dark Souls with a different title and a reskin, but it plays noticeably differently with its quicker pace and emphasis on agility. The environments are also absolutely gorgeous with a great sense of vertical scale. Overall it’s familiar enough to fans of FROM Software’s previous games to jump right in, but even they will still need to adjust to it.

Unlike Lords of the Fallen, which plays almost exactly like Dark Souls. So much so in fact that if you’re at all familiar with Dark Souls, you can literally pick up the controller and start using the exact same tricks, tactics and skills that got you to Anor Londo.

None of which is necessarily bad of course, especially if you’re a fan of this sadistic little genre. Lords of the Fallen might be emulating Dark Souls but it does it relatively well, much in the same way Dark Souls 2 did. The level in the demo was somewhat too-confined but the hit detection seemed solid, the controls felt responsive, I was able to use an environmental traps to kill enemies, and it had a fair bit of colour in its cheeks, so to speak. It certainly wasn’t a cakewalk, which will please fans of That Other Game but might put-off people looking for a more forgiving introduction to the genre.

Still, if you need something to scratch that particular masochistic itch while you’re waiting for Bloodborne then Lords of the Fallen looks to be a decent contender.

One game that was definitely on my to-play list for EGX was Creative Assembly’s “Alien: Isolation”, a first-person survival horror starring H.R. Giger’s iconic cosmic nightmare. The demo available to play at the show was for the game’s survival mode, in which you have to navigate from one end of the level to the other as fast as possible without getting eviscerated by the alien, armed only only a motion tracker, your wits and a flamethrower.

Yes I said flamethrower there. In fact we were specifically told by the booth staff to pick it up in the first room before proceeding through the level. You’ll be pleased to know however that it only has about two shots in it, and all it does is scare the alien off for a bit.

Or so I was told. I completely forgot I had the bloody thing.

Because I was too busy hiding in lockers and holding my breath – in real life AND in-game – quietly praying for the Alien to go away. Or crawling through vents, glancing at my motion tracker for seconds at a time in case it magically summoned the alien from out of fucking nowhere. Or glimpsing the creature’s silhouette in a smokey room and immediately scurrying behind some boxes like a terrified child. Or listening for the subtle audio cues that told me it was getting closer before the ambient music changed, indicating the bugger was right on top of me and probably just about to chew my skull open.

Because Alien: Isolation’s immersion is absolutely fantastic.

You see even with headphones and darkened booths conventions are not the best place to play horror games for obvious reasons. So the fact Alien: Isolation still managed to scare me, a self-avowed horror gaming snob, under those conditions is a testament to just how good a job Creative Assembly have done with it.

At one point during my playthrough of the demo I hid under a desk to catch my breath and check the motion tracker, as you do. Of course the motion tracker tells me the Alien’s on the prowl so I stay put because I’m not suicidal, and then I swear I hear it jump right on top of the very desk I’m hiding under. After some tense seconds that felt like eternity I heard it scuttle away and the incidental music lowered in volume. And then, as I thought it had gone and I was literally just about to crawl out from under the desk, the bastard walked right past me.

And I loved every second of it.

After playing Alien: Isolation however I had this weird sensation of deja vu, like I’d played it before. And I’m not talking about something like Amnesia or Outlast, no. It reminded me of something older, something more basic and primal. It bugged me for the rest of my time at the expo and it wasn’t until I got home that it finally hit me. Alien: Isolation’s survival mode…

Is 3D Monster Maze for the 21st Century!

The similarities are clear as day. You have to navigate a mazelike environment to reach the exit, avoiding a terrifying unkillable enemy that can appear without warning, and when it does spot you it absolutely will not stop until you are dead.

Just goes to show the simplest concepts can be the most effective.

3D Monster Maze didn’t have motion trackers or lockers to hide in of course, but then it did come out on cassette tape in 1982 and only needed 16 kilobytes of RAM. You’ll need considerably more than that for Alien: Isolation when it launches on October 7th.

Continuing along a horror theme I also got to play The Evil Within, Shinji Mikami’s upcoming third-person horror game. After waiting 45 minutes in a queue that moved slower than a particularly slow glacier that graduated with honours from the School of Taking Your Sweet Time. Eventually however I got ushered in with a bunch of other people to play the PS4 version.

And you know what? It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.

For me personally it was about as scary as Dead Space, which I enjoyed but didn’t find particularly terrifying. The Evil Within even goes as far as to pull the old “monsters pretending to be dead” trick that even a toddler can see coming a mile off. And I still don’t get what’s meant to be scary about a bunch of people who look like they were caught in an explosion at the pointy sticks, barbed-wire and nails factory.

It’s not all doom and gloom however. Well, I mean there is some there obviously what with it being a horror game. The environments in particular do a good job conveying the sense of being trapped in an unearthly other dimension, similar to our own but warped and twisted by nightmarish forces. A bit like a part of Silent Hill that can’t decide if it wants to be the misty version or the blood-soaked metal and darkness version, so has gone for something in-between and ditched the fog. Presumably the same part of Silent Hill where the pointy sticks, barbed-wire and nails factory exploded.

I know I’m sounding very snarky here but I can’t help it. When it comes to horror games I am an incorrigible snob. That said however The Evil Within did do a couple of neat little things I thought were rather cool.

Like randomisation! At one point I was in a library room and encountered a ghostly vision of this bloke from the trailers. After he disappeared I got killed by a small mob of zombies that stormed into the room and beat me to death. When I returned there after the game reloaded my last save the ghostly man didn’t appear and the ambush didn’t happen. Instead the weird ghost man caught me in a hallway much later on.

It’s always nice to have a horror game antagonist that makes the effort and goes the extra mile to torment you. Even if he does look like a bit like an Assassin’s Creed protagonist who’s just got out of bed late at night and put on his special Assassin’s brotherhood dressing gown to go to the toilet.

The controls are responsive enough to survive without making your character feel overpowered, the stealth elements worked well enough, and the demo section I played kept me starving for ammo the way any horror games with guns should do. Overall however I simply didn’t find it as intestine-squeezingly terrifying as Alien: Isolation. And I played both games under the same convention floor conditions, in a darkened booth with headphones on.

Some might argue that I shouldn’t compare the two because one is a third-person game, which provides a certain level of detachment from the protagonist, and the other is first-person which allows for greater immersion. And that is a reasonable argument to make.

If you live in a world where Silent Hill 2 never existed.

To cut a long ramble short The Evil Within is NOT a game I’m going to rush out and play on day one, although I might pick it up when it goes on sale. Sorry Shinji Mikami. Still, if you prefer horror games that give you a fighting chance against the spawn of nightmares, you’re a fan of the creator’s previous work and you’ve been aching for something like the survival horror classics of old, then you might get a fair amount of enjoyment out of it. Still, I’m less sceptical about it than I was before. So that’s something.

The Evil Within wasn’t the only game at EGX to make me re-examine my own scepticism. Elite: Dangerous was another game I wanted to experience since I was such a huge fan of the original. I arrived at the booth expecting to just sit down and play it on a screen so I was a bit taken-aback to find an Oculus rift there.

The first time I ever tried the rift was about last year and I had some problems, what with me needing to wear these on my face if I want to actually see anything. The headset didn’t fit with them on, even though the bloke at the booth said they should, so I just took my glasses off and viewed stuff through a blur. This time was a whole different story.

Because my experience with Elite: Dangerous on the Rift, with my glasses on, blew my sodding mind. Firstly the physical controls at the booth were a flight-stick and throttle controls laid out almost exactly like they were in the in-game cockpit, which gave you that sense of “being there” almost instantly. Since the cockpit itself was fully rendered I could track my target visually, as well as using the on-board scanner, by simply looking out the window. You can even stand up and look directly behind you out the rear window. Just make sure you have someone ready to catch you if you do.

The demo was a dogfight in an icy asteroid field against an unmanned drone ship, and I had a whale of a time chasing my target through tiny gaps between giant floating chunks of ice. All the while being able to keep a visual lock on my target simply by moving my head. It felt so natural, and I now finally understand what all the fuss is about with the Oculus Rift.

I’m confident the full game will be more than immersive enough without an Oculus Rift, but with it? It made a believer out of me. I’m not going to immediately rush out and buy a devkit – I’m not made of money – but when the final product hits stores I won’t sneer it at like a cat with a lemon in its gob.

The game itself controls great and anyone who played the original Elite, or any space-sim for that matter, will adjust to it quickly. The sense of movement as you’re flying around is superb, particularly in dense environments like an asteroid field, and combat was super simple. There were controls for redistributing power to shields and so-forth but the chap demonstrating it for me handled all that, leaving me to focus on the business of pew-pew-pew-pew-boom!

The Elite: Dangerous booth was one of the best setups at EGX, and if you didn’t get to visit it then you missed a treat. The staff were all super-friendly and they were all big Elite fans too. So when I asked the guy demonstrating it to me if the Thargoids were still in the game he knew exactly what I meant. Which was the only question I actually managed to ask. The rest of the time I was just going “oooh” and “ahhh” and “buuuuuh” like a caveman being shown a smartphone.

Other big name titles I got the chance to play included Far Cry 4, specifically the Ratu Gadhi fortress assult shown in the E3 trailers. And it basically looks and plays like the previous game only with more verticality and in a Tibetan setting. You can tag enemies with cameras, cut their throats with a machete, engage in mass-firefights with alarms blaring and reinforcements pouring in, and everything else you experienced in Far Cry 3.

I enjoyed Far Cry 3 though so that’s not really a huge criticism. Just don’t expect any radical departures from that formula for Far Cry 4.

I also got to play Mortal Kombat X which was, well, Mortal Kombat. I don’t know enough about fighting games to be able to say with certainty if it’s better or worse than MK9 mechanically, but the new characters seem interesting. One feature I can tell you about is that when you select a character you also pick one of three different Variant fighting styles. So if you picked Scorpion, one of the eight characters available to choose from in the demo, you can select Ninjitsu which gives him some unique attacks involving dual swords, Hellfire which adds three fire-based attacks to his repertoire, or Inferno which lets him summon demons to temporarily help him out. Scorpion still gets his trademark harpoon and teleport punch whichever style you pick.

Which I used to full effect in securing victory over my opponents.

Not everything was playable. Some of the booths were just presentations, such as this one for Assassins Creed: Unity that I couldn’t be arsed to queue up for. One I did queue up for were this one for The Witcher 3 hosted by Damien Monnier of CDProjekt Red, a confident and charming speaker who has done shitloads of work on the Witcher series. Like those birds for example. Damien did those.

The presentation was about 30 minutes of story and gameplay showing off an open world with ubiquitous “mountains you can travel to”, as well as dynamic events, combat and everything else you could want from a presentation, closing with THAT trailer featuring Charles Dance and fantastic music by Polish folk band Percival. It was a fascinating presentation and I’m glad I went to see it.

Another person with an obvious passion for their work was Rocksteady Studio’s Jamie Walker, who hosted a video presentation for Batman: Arkham Knight inside an enclosed black box in the centre of the expo. To put it mildly Jamie is a man whose sheer screaming fiery passion for…well, just about everything up to and including breathing, could meet the entire world’s energy needs for at least the next 100 years.

You know the kind of longtime rockstar in their 50s or 60s who puts on a squillion shows in a row, with seemingly all the vigour and energy they had in their 20s? Showing no sign of ever slowing down or needing to rest? Jamie Walker is a bit like that.

Seriously, Jamie Walker promoting a game needs to be its own TV show. Hell, Jamie Walker promoting ANYTHING needs to be its own TV show. The man could literally make a crowd of people with lactose intolerance rush out and buy trolley-fulls of cheese. Anyhow the Arkham Knight presentation showed off the combat, which now allows for multiple stealth takedowns, or “MULTIPLE STEALTH TAKEDOWNS! LOOK AT THAT BATMAN JUST SMASHED HIS FACE IN!” as Jamie put it. And the Batmobile, which is not just for getting around Gotham city in. It also proves essential for solving some puzzles using its in-built tow cable and transporting rescued hostages and captured villains into police custody.

I will of course be getting it when it’s released next year, to fill out the “Batman, Batman, Batman” category in my Steam Library.

I didn’t get to play many indie games sadly, although the ones I did were fun, interesting or just downright strange. Like Galak-Z: The Dimensional, an open-world space shooter that plays like Asteroids on steroids, has a fantastic 80s saturday morning anime vibe and kept me enthralled for ages before I finally dragged myself away to play Hotline Miami 2 for a bit.

There was also Toryanse, a Grim Fandango-esque point-and-click adventure game about a woman in the midst of a mid-life crisis. War for the Overworld, an ode to the Bulfrog classic Dungeon Keeper. the Marvellous Miss Take, a stealth game of lateral thinking with a swinging 60s vibe, and Haunt the House: Terrortown, a puzzle game about scaring people that reminded me a bit of The Haunting on the Sega Megadrive.

It wasn’t all games games games however. EGX was also great for:

Spotting well-known gaming YouTube and Twitch personalities, such as the Yogscast peeps here.

Spending more money than I really should at various merchandise booths.

And witnessing some absolutely fantastic cosplay, like this incredible one of Morrigan from Dragon Age.

Perhaps the best moment of my entire experience at EGX 2014 however was meeting other awesome YouTube people. Often in a pub, which are generally great places to meet anybody.

YouTubers like Warden of the North and epic beard-owner TheBatNaz, DA_FAN_OFFICIAL who told me the best way to illegally cross the Mexican border, family-friendly all-ages entertainer PixelTwitch, Portugal’s official ambassador to the gaming United Nations TheSparrow’s Journey, TheLukasAitken from Denmark – a country where the government literally pay you to breathe, and last but not least DemonicJacky, renowned pigeon-fancier and the world’s worst Mortal Kombat player.

Not forgetting of course the other great non-YouTuber people I met. Overall I had a whale of a time.

So that’s my rough and ready account of my trip to EGX 2014 and all the games I managed to play. If you liked it please do let me know, and let your friends, family and…hang on, this is my Pixel Burn outro. Well anyway, I hope it was at least insightful, amusing, informative or entertaining for you.

If you get the chance to visit EGX then you should definitely do so, although you might not want to do all four days like I did. It really can take it out of you physically with all the walking around you have to do, although I did lose a bit of weight as a result. And I also developed the kind of calf muscles you can shatter hammers on so there’s a plus. If you’re up to the challenge then the next one is being held up at the NEC in Birmingham, in what will probably be the last week of September 2015.

And who knows, I might even see you there!

Depending on my finances of course. London was bloody expensive.

Matt

About Matt

Matt is the irresponsible degenerate behind bitscreed.com and the sarcastic writer, editor, director, presenter and tea boy of Pixel Burn.