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BTPF Does EGX

September 26, 2016 Leave a comment Go to comments

Another year, another EGX. Held at the NEC in Birmingham (sorry, “Brimingham”), it’s a major video game trade show that happens right on my doorstep, so naturally I had to attend. And after last year’s somewhat disappointing single day that I bought at the last minute, a four-day ticket was a much better idea this year as I got to experience a lot more games than the two and a half I got to play last time. So enough preamble, here is The Cheap Ferret’s guide to the good, the bad, and the unpolished of EGX 2016, starting with the big titles and working into the indies.

A booth so popular that Sony resorted to handing out timeslots rather than letting a huge queue trail through their entire section, Horizon: Zero Dawn is looking like a very good game indeed. A rich, vibrant world with interesting enemies and a varied bunch of weapons to experiment with, it looks like a game worth playing when it comes out early next year.

The problem is, the demo did a very poor job of showing this off. After a brief presentation where you watch someone else play the game for a few minutes, which was bizarre, you then get to try out the demo yourself. A demo which mostly consists of being yelled at every 30 seconds for stepping outside the game area, which was seemingly the size of a postage stamp. You also only get 15 minutes to experiment with the game as well, and mainly with a bunch of bison-type robo-dinos rather than anything more interesting. In other words, it seems barely representative of anything that you’d be doing in the full game, and I really can’t understand Sony’s decisions here.

We’ve officially reached the point where the definition of Final Fantasy is “a game made by Square Enix”, because apart from the haircuts and the pretentious character names I barely saw any Final Fantasy in Final Fantasy XV. This is an open world game where you wander for hours to encounter a group of enemies that you fight in what is probably one of the least responsive battle systems I’ve ever encountered. I lost count of how many times a prompt showed up to tell me to block, I pressed the button, and I still got hit despite obeying the prompt. And that’s about it.

Also, two of the party members sounded like poor man’s versions of Tidus and Balthier from FFs 10 and 12 respectively. And it’s hilarious that in the demo this boy band made up of guys called Noctis and Prompto have to rescue a guy named Dave. I really do hope that Square Enix Japan know what they’re doing because lord knows I don’t anymore.

Speaking of Square Enix and bad decisions, this is another example of a decent-looking game being hampered with a bad demo. From what I could tell, Rise of the Tomb Raider is 2013’s reboot but more refined and focused (naturally, Xbox and PC players would know this for sure but I’m working with what I’ve got here). The controls felt more responsive, Lara seemed to be a less stumbling character and it looks fantastic.

Problem is, the demo consists of you being dropped into Endurance Mode, seemingly with a co-op partner on another machine, and then being told to do the thing. What thing? I had no idea, and it seems neither did the player who I think I was in the game with (???), as much of it was wandering aimlessly in a forest. Great job.

Coming from a AAA publisher (Bandai Namco) but having the sensibilities of an indie, Little Nightmares was easily a show highlight for me. The booth alone put it in a great position in my perspective, as it had the appearance of a Tim Burton nightmare kitchen with disgusting chef creatures hassling players and badgering the queue, while the game’s yellow-raincoated protagonist was running around and climbing on the scenery.

As for the game, it’s a sort-of-2D-but-not-really puzzle platformer with some creepy atmosphere and tense chase sequences with the creepy chefs who scream horrifically if they see you. This is shaping up to be something great, I’m sure, although the demo was a little short.

I got lucky with Sonic Mania. Demoed very strangely by offering players the choice of two levels, but only offering them the chance to play one, I turned up late on Friday to play this, just before they closed the queue and allowed remaining players to play both levels. As a result, I got to experience both the re-imagined Green Hill Zone and the brand new stage Studiopolis.

And it’s Mega Drive Sonic all over again. It’s the game that Sonic 4 should have been to begin with, bringing back all the old mechanics and subsequently everything that still makes Sonic 2 a classic to this day. Great if you’re interested in playing a new Mega Drive/Genesis era Sonic game, but there’s not really much else to say about it.

This is a personal highlight (this shouldn’t be a surprise), although it’s also a game that got largely ignored because Sony seems determined to keep this game hidden from the general public at all costs. Even at EGX, it wasn’t listed on the programme, and the actual machines were hidden in an alcove at the back of their section, just off to the side of the stage and looking like little more than a backstage area closed to the public.

But I found it, and I played it, as I was a fan of the first game, and thoroughly enjoyed revisiting Kat and her powers. It’s a more polished Gravity Rush, although they took evasion off the touch pad (where it is in the original game’s remaster), and it took some getting used to using the triggers for it instead. But it looks like a bigger, more vibrant game and I look forward to it later this year.

Enough about the AAA crowd, let’s talk about the real star of the show here. After backing Yooka-Laylee on its initial Kickstarter and then watching Mighty No 9 implode in every way it could, I will admit there’s been a little irrational fear that this game may end up going the same way.

Fortunately, having played the incredibly popular demo at EGX, I can safely say that this game sets out exactly what it wants to do, and does it with so much charm and love that it put most of the rest of the show to shame. It is, admittedly, Banjo-Kazooie with a new coat of paint and some tweaking for modern sensibilities, but isn’t that the whole point? It’s such a joy to play this kind of game again and I really can’t wait for the final game.

Another indie title with some hefty backing behind it (in this case from Sony), shadow-based ninja title Aragami looked intriguing to me before the show, and now I’ve had a chance to play it, I’m happy that my interest was not misplaced. There was something incredibly satisfying about teleporting through the shadows and silently taking out guys like a vengeful ghost, and the atmosphere was consistently tense and exciting. Another show highlight for me.

While Square Enix’s main booth was little more than two drab AAA demos sandwiching a selection of remasters, their Square Enix Collective selection in the Rezzed Zone was much more interesting. Forgotton Anne in particular caught my eye, which is a 2D platformer point and click style game with an art and animation style that is very reminiscent of Studio Ghibli. The demo was a little short, but there’s an imaginative fairy tale world, some potentially-interesting powers and a cast of seemingly likeable characters, so I’m keeping my eye on this one.

Sticking with the Square Enix Collective, here’s Black the Fall, which is Abe’s Oddysee with robots. Simplistic description, but also the fastest way to describe its gameplay. There are also ways to manipulate robots to do your bidding with a stick that shoots signals and a lot of really cool gameplay elements utilising sound and shadows that I really enjoyed.

Elsewhere, there was YIIK. Imagine a hipster EarthBound and you basically imagined this. Set in the year 1999, you play as a group of friends investigating a haunted cave and using instruments as weapons. It’s full of great humour, some interesting dungeon design and a cat that you throw to pull levers for you. Bizarre but enjoyable.

Joining Yooka-Laylee in an attempt to revive old school 3D platformers, Snake Pass adds the twist of playing a snake bound by a physics engine. You have to slither around to build momentum, and you can climb by coiling around objects. It’s unusual, but there’s also a lot of charm here, and what should be fiddly and annoying actually feels fun and intuitive. And also it came from concepts worked on for LittleBigPlanet 3 (it’s developed by the same team), so that’s interesting.

And the rest…
Also amongst the Square Enix Collective games was Tokyo Dark, a currently unpolished point and click that seems to hit all the right buttons for me by being a detective story involving ghosts. The Turing Test was demoed, and while this is already out, it was my first experience with it and it seems like Portal but with a focus on atmosphere, which is no bad thing.

The Bunker looks like a fairly interesting idea, but it’s also a reminder of why people don’t typically make FMV games anymore as interactivity was a little too limited for my liking. She Remembered Caterpillars was a fascinating puzzle game experience featuring a mysterious narrative that seems to have little to do with the gameplay (of course). Klang was a fun and slightly stressful rhythm action platformer. And Mekazoo was a platformer that felt a lot like the good modern Sonic titles (ie. Generations), with a few twists like the ability to turn into a frog and swing off things.

In the less stellar category, Electric Lullaby seemed to be an interesting concept marred by some confusing design choices and an uncomfortable control scheme. 88 Heroes was your typical retro-inspired “wacky” run-and-gun so it failed to impress. Super Powerboy was a decent endless runner that also felt a bit too clinical in its design to truly win me over.

I also wanted to check out Political Animals to satisfy my desires to prove I can run the world better than actual politicians, and also Overcooked because it looked like a blast judging by the crowds it kept drawing, but in both cases I wasn’t able to get to play either, but I’ll be keeping an eye out for both in future all the same.

And that was EGX. A show that seemed incredibly lacking when it came to AAA games, with most simply not interesting me, and those that I did try being generally underwhelming. But the indie titles more than made up for this, with some genuinely interesting ideas being showcased and the devs being more present and open to chatting with players. And quite frankly, I’m now more excited by Yooka-Laylee and Aragami than anything the AAA teams are half-heartedly throwing together right now.

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