If a gaming expo can be judged on the calibre of its Triple-A line-up alone, then EGX 2016 showed all the hallmarks of success: big budget titles drawing in hoards of fans, with queues extending across the show-floor like a bad game of Snake, towards beloved properties and franchises.
However, whilst VR may have stolen the show last year due to its implied innovation, the offerings this year felt a little stale in comparison, dominated almost entirely by sequels, reboots and (ugh) remasters. If EGX proved anything, it is that the ambition of the industry can be measured in annual pit-stops, with the only long term goal of most companies being to stop their beloved cash-cows from becoming old, fat and irrelevant; ignorant of the fact that the milk they produce still stinks of the year before.
Admittedly, it would be crazy for companies to put aside successful franchises in such a competitive industry, especially with the guaranteed Christmas sales that will likely bring in more money than the GDP of a small South American country. But unless you were hoping for a million-and-one different ways to shoot a virtual foreigner in the face, there really wasn’t a lot that the larger companies could offer you.
So, let’s be more specific. Battlefield One (the fourteenth instalment in the franchise) was announced earlier year in a blaze of glory. World War One glory to be precise. It bred a lot of hype due to its setting, with the open-beta in August drawing in around 13 million players, possibly happy to have a break from the contemporary shooters which have saturated both the franchise and the market over the years.
This change in setting was definitely a welcome one, and I really enjoyed my time with the game. Playing the online conquest mode on the St. Quentin Scar map, I found that the game recreated the Great War in a really authentic way, with the art design and the more frenzied handling of the weapons helping to create tense, atmospheric battles. Anyone who played the beta will be familiar with the gameplay, and I was glad to see that the new damage engine was as dynamic as promised, with the environment reacting honestly to the chaos going on inside it.
However, that’s where my excitement for the shooters on display ends. For means of comparison, I also spent some time with Call of Duty’s new offering, Infinite Warfare. Space is known as the final frontier, a fact which developer Infinity Ward must have known, as it definitely seems like a last-ditch attempt towards creativity. I can’t comment on the setting in any helpful way, as the online multiplayer that I had access too played almost identically to Black Ops 3, and featured very few markers that it was a different game, apart from the obvious aesthetic.
Particularly irksome was that the future aesthetic made the game just seem like more of a clone of the pilot gameplay in Titanfall in the mobility aspect, and there wasn’t much to make Infinite Warfare memorable. I’m sure that the folks behind Titanfall won’t mind though, as they were busy showing off their biggest innovation for game’s sequel, in the form of… a campaign mode. Which you couldn’t play. Still, it’s a cross platform game this time around, maybe in the hope that they’ll have more chance of rolling a couple of sixes if there are more players, and getting out of jail with something slightly better than mixed reviews. I didn’t actually get a chance to try out the multiplayer on display, and so can’t say anything about how it compares to the first game.
Call of Duty may have been aware that things were getting a bit samey, and so they did the only logical thing, in re-releasing a 9 year old game that they knew everyone would like, but this time with a shinier coat of paint. Modern Warfare was a good port, updating the graphics well whilst keeping the game stable, but the fact that everyone seemed more excited about this than their new game seems a little worrying in terms of their ideas for the future.
Also on display was the latest entry in the Gears of War franchise, and the first to developed by developer The Coalition, Gears of War 4. The gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has played any of the previous games, with the main difference being that the action is set 25 years after the events of Gears of War 3, with you taking on the mantle of J.D Fenix; son of previous Gears protagonist, Marcus. Presumably because Marcus got so tired of chest high walls and the colour grey, and just didn’t have any passion for the job anymore. J.D is joined by friends Del Walker and Kate Diaz, completing the team dynamic, but don’t expect anything revolutionary here beyond a graphical overhaul.
There were a few beacons of light from the world of Triple A, once they had put the majority of their guns down and remembered that some gamers like to at least experience some variation in the way that they end virtual lives. Enter Dishonored 2, which offered up a confident demo that gave players the chance to play as original protagonist Corvo, or a grown-up Emily Kaldwin. Playing as the latter, I got to see how the style of the original transferred when utilising the powers of a new character, and was glad to see that there seemed to be more of a puzzle aspect to the environments this time around.
I was also glad to finally experience Playstation VR after missing out last year, and was encouraged by the fact that it seemed at least on par with the Vive and the Occulus, despite the relatively modest price tag. I would have liked to have tried out a few more of the games available, especially Batman Arkham VR, but was extremely satisfied with the gameplay of London Heist. This game puts you in the shoes of a passenger in a heist getaway vehicle, fending off attackers with a selection of weaponry, and I was amazed at how interactive the interior of the vehicle was; allowing you to do something as small as change the settings on the radio, or turn on the hazard warning lights.
But the lights that shone brightest at this year’s showing came from the Rezzed section, showcasing the best games to come from smaller companies and developers. Particularly noticeable were Team17, with their new game Overcooked. A game focused around co-operative multiplayer, you take on the role of a quirky cast of chefs, racing to prepare and deliver dishes to appease the giant spaghetti monster (no conspiracy theorists here, please). The gameplay was fast and tense, and gave you a true sense of achievement upon competing a level.
It was also nice to see how far certain games had come in a year, with Prospect Games’ flagship title Unbox realising its potential as a fresh and exciting multiplayer platformer. You plays as self-delivering cardboard boxes in a selection of mad races and battles, and the game also has a single player mode this time around, promising hours of gameplay in a style reminiscent of classic games like Super-Mario 64. This game is sure to be a hit amongst casual gamers, promising engaging and chaotic multiplayer experiences.
Other hidden gems included exploration game The Signal from Tolva, which presented itself as a slower-paced experience that would allow players to get fully immersed in a beautiful, space-age world. Competitive fighter Brawlout was a blast to play, with an obvious Super-Smash Bros. influence that made it seem fresh and yet familiar.
Indeed, it was these lower-key releases that brought the colour back into the cheeks of this years showing, proud to break away from the grit and seriousness permeating through the champions of Triple A, and all in all it was these games that rekindled my dwindling enthusiasm for EGX; An enthusiasm that was also waivering in most of the conversations I had with those around me. One guy said to me as I queued for the second day: “To be honest, the thing I’m most excited about is Pokemon Go on DS”.
Behold, the future of gaming.