Some thoughts on Eurogamer Expo 2013

Much like previous years, Eurogamer Expo 2013 started with a queue. The big surprise this year was being shunted down into the Earls Court basement. Not a big deal, I appreciate being able to wait out of the rain. It did, however, look a lot like that big room from 28 Weeks Later. If you’ve seen it, you know the one. Only instead of infected, it was a group of people who seemingly haven’t discovered deodorant or toothpaste. Yay for stereotypes I suppose.

PS4 Controller

The first thing I did upon getting into the Expo itself was head upstairs to the 18+ area, hoping to get a quick look at the Titanfall demo that’s wowed the industry since E3. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea, and the queue only got worse throughout the day. Ah well.

But I did get plenty of hands on time with the DualShock 4. Is it as good as my all time favourite controller, the wired Xbox 360 pad? No. But it’s a vast improvement over the Sixaxis or DualShock 3. The first thing I noticed was the more ergonomic design, allowing it to sit more comfortably in my hands. It’s also wider (no doubt a side effect of the touch pad) and bulkier. There’s more weight to it, and I’m certainly happy to spend the next eight or so years of my Playstation life with a controller that feels less likely to snap apart in my hands.

The triggers have been worked on too. There’s still some width to them, but they curve outwards now, allowing my fingers to rest naturally in the grooves rather than being in danger of slipping off. The buttons have a bit more give to them, especially the d-pad. Overall, it’s just a much better design.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

After the disappointing third instalment, I was about ready to give up on Assassin’s Creed. Then they dropped the Black Flag reveal and I knew I was back in. I fucking love pirates.

The small demo I played had me starting out at sea on my ship, the Jackdaw. Ship controls have been improved since the last game, and the addition of a faster travel speed is useful for traversing the vast open world.

My travels brought me to a small island. Since it is an Assassin’s Creed game, I had to quickly shimmy up a viewpoint tower. Climbing works in much the same way it did before. If it ain’t broke, I guess. I do like that the leap of faith is now a dive into water. The hay thing always struck me as weird, and water makes more sense with the new nautical theme.

As well as being a pirate, Edward Kenway is an assassin. After a quick gander at a beach bar, I took an assassination contract from a pigeon coop. Apparently a man was coming into dock with a lot of illegal weapons, so I had to take him out. His boat and the lead up to it was a restricted area. I had to be cautious. The two guards at the foot of the gangway were easily dispatched with poison darts fired from bushes. A note here. It appears the crouching Edward can do is contextual. He automatically ducked to blend in the bushes when I entered them. I didn’t have a control list to see if it can be done at any time.

Nevertheless, as I approached the ship, my target saw me, and beat a hasty retreat. Fortunately, I was quick to get back to the Jackdaw, and using the new fastest speed, caught up with relative ease. Some cannon volleys served to slow them down enough for me to order a boarding, and I dispatched my target with the good old hidden blade. The naval battle was tense, and the boarding and foot combat was classic Assassin’s Creed. The assassination and piracy seems to work well, and I can’t wait to see more come November.

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number

Another case of if it’s not broke, don’t fix it is Hotline Miami 2. At least on the surface. The stylised 80’s aesthetic has returned full force, along with the hyper violence and pounding soundtrack. The basic mechanics are also still in. One hit kills, careful stealth, and the occasional frantic murder spree as everyone in the level gets alerted to my presence.

So, what’s changed? Well, the characters. A short prologue introduced me to the Pig Butcher. I smashed down a door, knocking an enemy down in the process. One broken neck later and his crowbar was mine. The rest were easily dispatched in a fairly intuitive tutorial, with a neat twist. The Pig Butcher is an actor. And they seem to be making a film loosely based on the events of the first Hotline Miami.

The first level proper introduced the Fans, a group of bored teenagers hoping to get a phone call from the original game’s masked benefactors. And how do they go about this? By putting on home made animal masks and murdering scores of people. What’s interesting this time is rather than selecting a mask, like Jacket used to, I had to select one of the Fans to play as, each with specific abilities. For example, one was similar to the first game’s Tony mask in that his punches kill instantly. But he can’t use weapons this time around. It’s an interesting addition to the formula, and one that I hope will lead to more varied replayability as I try different tactics on different levels.

I’ll confess, I never finished this level. I played the first game on Vita, and the hand gymnastics required to transfer from a dual analogue setup to keyboard and mouse were more than I could handle. Still, I walked away happy, knowing that when the PS4/Vita port does finally land, I’ll have more Hotline Miami to play.

The Crew

With every new generation comes a glut of racing games. Why? Because flashy cars are an easy way to show the capability of new hardware. The Crew has a nice, vibrant look to it. It’s painted in bright pastel shades, a nice arcadey aesthetic.

Unfortunately, the driving didn’t quite live up. It felt a bit too floaty, like there was no real weight to the car I controlled. The other problem was I couldn’t find anything to do for the life of me. There were some ambient speed challenges lying around, but I couldn’t find a race anywhere, at least in the first half of the demo.

The second half was more guided, with four of us teaming up in modified cars to take on a ‘boss’ driving a huge off road vehicle. This basically consisted of ramming it until the health dropped to zero, and I’m proud to say I got the kill shot in. But other players seemed more concerned with ramming each other out of the way than any actual cooperation, and I’m nervous that’s what the main game will end up like.

If they fix up some of the issues, I’m sure The Crew could end up being a solid racer. But I left the Expo considerably less excited about it than I was going in.

Need For Speed: Rivals

Ahh, this was more like it. Having learned that EA’s Ghost studio is mostly staffed by former Criterion devs was of no surprise, because Rivals plays like a Criterion Need For Speed game. It’s got the drifting and handling they’re well known for, and the upgrade to next generation platforms has only served to improve the look of the game.

The demo pitted four of us against each other, two cops and two criminals. I had the pleasure of playing a cop, with several objectives to fulfil, all building towards taking down various racers, both player and AI controlled. The handling was perfectly tight, but with that still arcade feel to it. Forget Hashtag Driveclub, this is the racing game I’ll be playing upon PS4 launching. Granted, it’s not Burnout. But it’ll do until EA get in gear and order another one.

Batman: Arkham Origins – Blackgate

I love my Vita. And I’ve already got a fair back log of games to play on it, not to mention the recent Killzone Mercenary and upcoming Dragon’s Crown. But I think I have room to fit in Batman. The handheld spin off of Arkham Origins is an interesting little beast. It seems more guided than its console counterparts, and the demo I played was very linear. I’m pleased to note however, the melee combat system and gargoyle stealth sections have made it across relatively unscathed. They just happen to be constricted to a two dimensional arena. Somehow, it works, and I was scoring free flow combos and tying up thugs in no time at all.

Also worth noting are the cutscenes. They play out as mini motion comics. I’m not sure who the artist for them is, but they seem to have nailed down the Batman look well. And though it’ll be weird playing without Kevin Conroy’s iconic voice, the new guy does a reasonable facsimile of him, though a little younger sounding. It seems to be coming together well, and I hope the final product lives up, if only to add more ammo to my salvo when someone dares tell me the Vita has no games.

Wrap Up

There was more I played, and a couple of dev sessions I saw, but this really covers the main stuff. All in all, a fairly good year, and it was exciting to finally get a preview of the PS4, if only a short one. Here’s hoping next year is bigger and better again, to give Earl’s Court the send off it deserves before being torn down.

Further adventures in Gaming

Some thoughts on Dead Rising, and chasing the ‘Call of Duty crowd’
Impressions from the Eurogamer Expo (2012)

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