From the painstaking recreation of 15th Century life in the Kingdom of Bohemia and its notable inhabitants, to the need to eat, drink and sleep in order to continue your day-to-day existence, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is an RPG that shies away from the fantasy side of things in favour of a more authentic medieval experience. As the game’s tag line puts it, this is ‘dungeons and no dragons’.
The opening chunk of gameplay I was given access to was set not long after Henry, the game’s young protagonist, woke up in the town of Rattay after being nursed back to health following a raid on his village that destroyed his home and family, and left him gravely wounded. One of the first things that struck me as I began to explore was the way the landscape, and even most buildings, looked almost photorealistic at times; it’s clear a lot of research and effort has been put into making the world feel as authentic as possible, though an inconsistent frame rate did spoil the immersion a bit.
I soon bumped into Peshek, the miller whose daughter had kept Henry alive. He wasn’t blessed with quite the same generous streak as his offspring, however, and wanted payment for his hospitality; namely the illegal moving of a buried body, an act that was considered sacrilegious at the time (and is, probably, still frowned upon today).
This was an early example of the many choices players will face throughout the game, with most decisions you make having a knock-on effect in some way. For example, by turning down Peshek, I was informed that he would send men who would harass Henry throughout the rest of the game unless he was payed off or they were killed.
One of the first things that struck me as I began to explore was the way the landscape, and even most buildings, looked almost photorealistic at times.
It’s a rule that can be applied to a large chunk of your interactions within the game world; while doing the rounds as a newly employed member of the Rattay night watch (the culmination of my time in the opening chapter) I came across a heated dispute between the local blacksmith and a beggar, which ended in my ordering the ‘smith to be a good chap and give the poor girl some alms, in this case a couple of coins.
This was a decision that could have a negative influence on a player’s reputation within the town, specifically with the traders, who, as a result, may give Henry bad deals or even refuse to trade altogether. Thankfully, Tobias (the Warhorse rep) did assure me that it's possible to reverse a poor reputation, whether through completing missions for the townsfolk or by tipping traders some extra cash while haggling.
Given my limited playtime, it’s hard to tell how far reaching some of the consequences of my actions could be. I can’t be sure that the animosity between Henry and the irritatingly smug Lord Hanush – one of many Game of Thrones-esque characters lurking amongst the walls of Rattay – would have been so great had I not bested him in an archery contest and won his expensive hunting bow in a wager.
Perhaps I could have rebooted the chapter and deliberately lost, but after spending two hours exploring the town, talking to the locals, giving drunk guards a good rollicking and even finding time for a nap in a tavern, I’d had my fill of peaceful medieval life. My sword arm was growing restless, and to channel a certain Robert Baratheon - I needed to hit someone.
Luckily, hitting people is what the second act was all about, as I was to take part in a siege on a bandit camp hidden in some woods. The three-staged attack consisted of taking a lightly guarded bridge and then razing the main camp, before a showdown with the imposing bandit leader.
For a game that encourages you to favour diplomacy over violence, battles in KCD are pretty darn fun, although, as I quickly found out, Henry is no super soldier. On more than one occasion my eagerness to rush ahead of my allies led to a quick (and bloody) death, as I either ended up surrounded by enemies and cut down, or picked off by archers as I tried to limp away.
Once I got used to the fact that I wasn’t a medieval Master Chief and learned to advance with others, battles became a much more tactical affair as I carefully picked my moments, taking on weaker, unaware or injured enemies in quick, hit and run attacks, whilst keeping an eye open for archers, who I would take out with my own bow.
While this section of the game was deliberately chosen to showcase the combat system in action, there were still hints of the freedoms KCD gives players to tackle situations in different ways, from the recce information Henry presents Lord Radzig regarding the best way to storm the fort, to more subtle and stealthier ways.
“Before this fighting quest, you could have snuck into this camp and poisoned the food, then most of the people would be a one hit kill,” said Tobias. “You can also burn the arrows of the archers, but this is super tricky because you need to sneak in and try to not get caught, though you can try to kill one of the bad guys and dress as him and they will not attack you.”
Although my afternoon with Kingdom Come: Deliverance was cut short, it encompassed far more than I could fully recollect here, and left me wanting more.
Combat in KCD uses a similar method to the one seen in For Honor, in that players can adopt a number of stances – high, low, left, right, etc. - while wielding a melee weapon to counter or attack an enemy. Dealing out damage felt accurate and weighty; I was able to target weak points in enemy armour and exposed areas, such as a bandit leader's completely unprotected head, which lead to him dropping very quickly. As for defence, I found it easier to just dodge an enemy attack rather than try to stop it with a correctly-timed block.
After my glorious victory came the third and final chapter, which tasked players with sneaking their way into a monastery to find a murderer who was posing as a monk, but by now reality was calling (also known as the last EasyJet flight back home to Amsterdam) and it was time to say farewell to medieval Bohemia.
Although my afternoon with Kingdom Come: Deliverance was cut short, it encompassed far more than I could fully recollect here, and left me wanting more. Medieval Bohemia feels ripe for exploring, and there looks to be a progression and choice system in place that allows players the freedom to approach the game however they wish.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance is just around the corner, releasing 13 February on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.
On a beautifully clear, crisp autumnal morning, I ventured forth from the homestead, braving a treacherous business-folk drenched train from quaint St Albans to the big smoke of London. Two further underground feckers later, I found myself wedged inside a DLR filled with Batman, Luigi, Wonder Woman and so many brightly coloured haircuts I didn’t know where to look. Did I wish I’d dressed up as Bananaman? Undoubtedly, yes. But pray tell, chums, I hear thee cry: “Where the buggery funk art thou, Bobby?” Why, MCM Comic-Con 2017, of course…
Jokes aside, it was all good fun, and I especially enjoyed playing Arms for the first time. The presence of Charles Martinet (the voice of Mario, Luigi, et al) was very welcoming, too. New stuff was what I was after, mind, so I barrelled over to Fire Emblem Warriors for a bit of the old hack ‘n’ slash.
I thoroughly enjoyed its Wii U cousin, Hyrule Warriors, so I entered expecting much of the same. Unfortunately though, comrades, I had no such luck. Objectives felt dull, the same combat system I enjoyed so much in Hyrule had gone hard like a Sunday morning posh-loaf of sourdough come Monday, and the constant pop-in and muddy background visuals left all four of my eyes aggrieved. I adore many of the Fire Emblem games, so it was great to see Chrom and the gang, but Warriors lacked any soul, and, ultimately, fun.
My hacking ‘n’ slashing muscle felt rather weak after its pitiful Fire Emblem Warriors workout, so I decided to do a few more reps with Dynasty Warriors 9 next. I can hear your chants already: “But Bobbo, these Warriors games all be the same!” And by the power of Greyskull are you right, folks; Dynasty 9 is the same punnet of shiitake mushrooms Koei-Tecmo have been flogging for years - dull, dirty and gone-off.
With those disappointments under my belt, I felt it would be a good time to see what lower-budget treats the show had tucked away. There were slow-paced horror adventures like White Day, pulsating SHMUP delights such as Raiden V, and text-heavy readathons like Dangaropa V3. Two games stood out for very different reasons here, though: Cat Quest and Gal Gun: Double Peace.
Cat Quest puts you in the claws, tail and anus of a cat on - you guessed it - an adventure… The top-down perspective, charming visuals and funny, funky characters reminded moi of Nintendo’s very own Zelda universe, with a feline twist of course. The sub-quests were enjoyable, the dialogue was amusing and the combat was fabulous. We especially enjoyed the extra strategy of the boss fight on show, where careful planning and learning of tells proved very effective in constructing his demise. Check it out on Steam now, or wait for its console release in the near future.
Gal Gun has been out for awhile now, apparently, but I definitely wasn’t aware of its existence - it’d be hard to forget, honestly. The game is a rail shooter unlike any before it; instead of firing bullets at angry aliens or roided-up meatheads, here you shoot kisses at waves of oncoming female classmates, stopping them from confessing their love for you. Yes, chums, you read that correctly, and for that reason only - and because it was so bloody hilarious - we’re happy to present Gal Gun: Double Peace our (un)official Wackiest Game of the Show award!
Still reeling from our truly bizarre experience with double-G, we stumbled towards the hidden-behind-ultramega-secret-curtains area belonging to Ubisoft. Once we’d completed the classified handshake and coughed up the password (“same old shit”), we slithered in to sample Assassin’s Creed: Origins and South Park: The Fractured But Whole (both of which we have full reviews in the works for, so keep ‘em peeled).
The former is everything you’d expect it to be, albeit reskinned with an Egyptian flavour. It was fun for five minutes, but, to be frank, I’ve personally been Bogtrotter'd with the series for a long time - time to put the assassin’s down now please, Ubi.
The highlight of my playtime was a QTE-filled sexy dance, where I had to control Sidekick’s hip movement and flatulence...
South Park fared better, but again I left with the feeling that it wouldn’t hold my interest in the long term. Playing as Sidekick, you infiltrate a strip club alongside Captain Diabetes, trying to find a dancer with a phallic tattoo. The highlight of my playtime was a QTE-filled sexy dance, where I had to control Sidekick’s hip movement and flatulence to extract information from a couple of seedy punters. It was funny, but I reckon the humour and RPG-style fights will wear thin rather quickly for non-hardcore fans of the show.
The long-awaited Ni No Kuni 2 was also playable on the show floor, and, although RPGs certainly aren’t my forte, I thoroughly enjoyed the luxuriant Ghibli-influenced art, as well as its compelling boss encounter during my session. This has the potential to be the RPG I finally bother to play through, grinding and all!
Comic Con isn’t just games either - as the name suggests... - so I took a jaunt around the venue and out of my comfort zone to see what else the show had to offer. There were plenty of Marvel bits and bobs, as you’d expect, but they stood alongside much smaller properties, where my personal highlight was meeting a fellow who calls himself BompKaDunk. He draws and writes a lovely comic titled Dungeon Crunch, but what really caught my eye was his drawing of a character that had gherkin-like genitals. This was for a commission, gang, and apparently not that uncommon a request…
So, we come full circle to my game of the show; none other than the fabulous Super Mario Odyssey. I eagerly awaited my turn for what felt like an age, hairline receding dramatically, until finally I got my hands on those far-too-small Joy-Cons. Time crumbled into dust, such was the perfection of platforming, humour, gorgeous colourful graphics and wonderfully invigorating music. Odyssey proves yet again - alongside Breath of the Wild - that Nintendo are still the masters of creating astoundingly enjoyable, fun-filled video games.
And with that, my time was up. I had trains to catch, a three sausage sandwich to eat, and an editor (James Michael Parry, of course!) to liaise with for old man ales. Had I learnt much about the comics world? I can’t be sure. Did I still wish I’d come as Bananaman? You betcha.
The biggest event on the UK gaming calendar, EGX 2017, is already over, but there were plenty of exciting things to see and do at this year’s show, so let’s see if we can remember a few.
This year, for the first time ever, we’ve singled out the top showings from the event into an easy to digest list of awards, so that you can jump into the comments and disagree vehemently.
One To Watch: Yoku's Island Express
A delightful little game coming from Team 17 in 2018 combines traditional 2D platforming with a more mobile-friendly pinball element, which sees your character - the titular Yoku - only able to jump by using bumpers embedded throughout the level. Feeling somewhat reminiscent of the Sonic 2 Casino Nights Zone but with an aesthetic closer to recent iterations of Rayman, what we’ve played so far has us hooked and itching for more.
Biggest Disappointment: Far Cry 5
A change of location, villain and tone isn’t enough to spark interest in Ubisoft’s explore-'em-up franchise. While we’ve only had limited exposure to previous games (personally), the performance of the demo in particular was very poor and really muddied what would otherwise have been a serviceable shooter experience. The ability to take command of a dog is a nice touch but hardly unheard of in today’s gaming world.
Best Newcomer: Raiders of the Broken Planet
While Sam and James already have some hands-on time with Mercury Steam’s asymmetrical third-person shooter, it was clear the development team had since spent some considerable time polishing things up. The game feels fresh and unafraid to present brash, unattractive characters in building its sci-fi world. While the game plays best in multiplayer, it’s compelling in single-player as well, and in chunks just the right size for its simple and effective mission objectives. Expect more on this one soon.
The 'Shut Up and Take Money’ Award: Mario Odyssey
This award is fairly self-explanatory. We’ve already gushed on our podcast about how much we’re looking forward to Mario’s next adventure, and after just a 15 minute demo that’s enough for us to say we don’t want to know any more until the full game is in our hands. Swimming costumes aside, the design and presentation is some of the best we’ve seen on the Switch, even rivaling Zelda’s stylised look in terms of sheer shininess. The variety offered by Cappy alone is impressive, and certainly not just a gameplay gimmick.
Most Ridiculous Queue: Shadow of War
It cannot be overstated how large the queue to play Middle Earth: Shadow of War was, on both days we attended the show. We have no doubt that the final game will offer a wealth of Tolkein-inspired goodness for us to immerse ourselves in, but dipping our toe in the water proved out of the question at EGX itself. Fortunately, there’s quite a few trailers to look at in the meantime, including ones which talk more about the nemesis system, which we can’t wait to explore.
Game of the Show: Vostock Inc.
When we were invited by Wired Productions to try out an unannounced (at the time) title for Nintendo Switch, speculation ran wild for what the game might be. It’s fair to say that we never expected anything quite like Vostock Inc. Already released on PC, Xbox and PlayStation, the Switch version is undoubtedly the way the game is intended to be played. There’s wall to wall character and humour built into the game at every turn, as you’re put in charge of a company tasked with making as much Mulah (the universal currency) as possible. It combined idle gameplay elements which see your cashflow tick up when you aren’t even playing the game, with tons of content thrown in to keep you coming back for more.
Platform of the Show: Nintendo Switch
Everywhere you looked at the show - you could see the Nintendo Switch. Whether it was the games on show or eager gamers passing time in the queues, this year shows the real potential of the hybrid platform. Now that the launch period dry spell is over, there’s plenty to look forward to, not just Mario (with the superlative Mario+Rabbids just released and Odyssey not far away) either, there’s Fire Emblem Warriors, indie games and ports (Wolfenstein anyone?) galore to look forward to.
Honourable Mention: Hyper Sentinel
One title which shouldn’t go unmentioned is Hyper Sentinel. Not only is it sharp, but CEO & Creative Director Rob Hewson’s commitment with both outfit and swag is absolutely what EGX is about. Aside from dressing in full space pilot attire, he furnished us with treats from days of yore - flying saucers and Space Invaders crisps.
Take a look at his geddup, and his thoughts on the game, in our round-up video.
Hello there! You've stumbled across a treat: we have a brand new podcast for you to watch and listen to, which features Gamescom 2017 and also includes some exclusive gameplay from Conan Exiles (as you can see above), which is currently in Game Preview on Xbox One.
Last year I made the silly mistake of walking up all 78 stairs of fair Shadwell Overground’s underground train station, to the nitty-gritty London surface. Learn from every experience, chums, as Lord Cliché always says, and with that firmly in mind I took the lift and whistled me a tune, before escaping out towards Tobacco Dock. Where was I, comrades? Well, Rezzed 2017 of course…
I love a good shmup (see recent release Ghost Blade for proof) and was especially overjoyed to see next stop Aperion Cyberstorm running on the much maligned Wii U! Taking advantage of the Wii U’s local multiplayer capabilities, I jumped into a five player destroy-em-up that managed that winning combination of frantic gameplay and fantastic fun. The single player also proved to be mighty interesting, riffing on many classic space ship games of the past (it felt like the Mega Drive’s exploration shooter Sub-Terrania mixed with genre classic Bangai-O). Keep your eyes on PTC for an interview with developer Apriori Digital in the coming weeks.
My next stop was publisher Soedesco’s stand. Here I had the pleasure of meeting Thomas Tyssoy from Rain Games - the makers of Teslagrad - to talk about the Norwegian gaming scene and to play their new game World to the West. WTTW is a top down action-adventure game full of character and cartoony visuals that builds on what the team achieved with Teslagrad. We look forward to playing this one when in releases in early May.
I also had the pleasure of playing 8-Bit Armies and AereA at the Soedesco stand. Fans of Command & Conquer and pixel art will surely adore 8-Bit Armies and it’s classic RTS gameplay, whilst Musical RPG lovers will certainly care for AereA, too. Both games were charming, and will release later in the year in both digital and physical forms.
Venturing forth from Soedesco’s realm I ducked into Wired Productions section of the show to sample their upcoming console game (already available on Steam) - The Town of Light. A first person psychological adventure, the game tells the story of Renée, a woman trying to understand why she has been institutionalised. The subject matter driving the story forward is not something we’ve seen a lot of in the gaming word, and despite a few dodgy frame drops I’d recommend having a look at the game when it releases later this spring.
This was my first time playing a Switch and I have to be honest, I left disappointed; the buttons - triggers especially - were just too damn small for my fat hands.
Next up for me was Nintendo’s own section, and, in spite of being a lifelong fan of the company, I approached with some trepidation. Seeing Overcooked (my game of Rezzed 2016) running and surrounded with laughing people was a lovely start, as was having a quick blast on FAST rmx, the follow up to the excellent FAST Racing NEO. I was after new Nintendo joy though, so waltzed over to have a crack at the other offerings on the table.
De Mambo is a self proclaimed Smash Bros-loving arcade bash-em-up, with local multiplayer mayhem its main focus. I enjoyed the hectic, headless-chicken nature of a four player match, but found myself really enthralled with the single player element of the game. The game presents short, sharp challenges such as pushing items off a stage before the timer runs down, or completing a mini platforming level as quickly as possible. I savoured it's Mario inspired bouquet - keep your onions peeled for this one in the summer.
The rest of Nintendo’s stand left me rather underwhelmed though; Steamworld Dig 2 will be loved by fans of the original but I found it to be rather frustrating. Yes, the graphics were nice, but the game just wasn’t that fun and that’s what I expect from games on Nintendo consoles.
Gonner played a tough game of procedurally generated platforming, boasting an intriguing art style of muted primary colours against black backdrops. I enjoyed it, but it really didn’t feel like new ground, something that resonated through most of Nintendo’s offerings.
This was also my first time playing a Switch and I have to be honest, I left disappointed; the buttons - triggers especially - were just too damn small for my fat hands. It felt quite flimsy too, which was both a surprise and a shame considering how well it has been reviewed on the whole (including by our very own James). I’ll be waiting for a pro controller bundle at a sensible price before I take the plunge.
With that Nintendo fueled melancholy in tow I plundered the stairs to the Unreal Engine showcase, to have a crack at Formula Fusion, a furiously fast racer with more than a slight feel of Wipeout to it. The game looked beautiful; the super smooth framerate highlighting the contours of each vehicle and every bend in the road. Developer R8 are promising a stack load of tracks and content - and online races - when the game launches later in the year.
Pumped full of Formula Fusion techno I hopped, skipped and jumped to the ID@Xbox Arena. I was lucky enough to try many of the games on offer here; from story driven adventure game Blackwood Crossing (review in the next couple o’ weeks, kids) to multiplayer shoot-em-up Full Metal Furies to musical shooter Aaero. There was a lot of decent content here, but one rose several leagues above the rest: Wargroove.
Wargroove is a turn-based strategy game that takes cues from both Advance Wars (it's GBA inspired art style) and Fire Emblem and makes it its own. I played a lot of games at this year’s show and found 10 minutes to be enough playtime for most, Wargroove though was so moreish I found half an hour just slipped away. I’m keeping my flippers crossed that developer Chucklefish get this one finished ASAP, as I’m jonesing for more!
From the green-tinged halls of Xbox I stumbled into the blueish-hues of Sega’s exhibit. Like many I was there for one reason and one reason only: Sonic Mania! Just as expected, the hectic Hedgehog’s latest side-scrolling adventure played as if 3D gaming had never occurred. I myself couldn’t differentiate Mania from Sonic’s 1 & 2 - this will be joyous or displeasing news depending on your opinion/thirst for nostalgia.
I finished my time at this year’s Rezzed with three of my favourite games of the show; sidescrolling action game Sundered, ethereal adventure game Lost Words and stealth/cleanse-'em-up Serial Cleaner.
Sundered comes from Thunder Lotus Games, the makers of the fabulous Jotun. Like Jotun, Sundered features an absolutely gorgeous hand drawn art style that brought to mind classic hand drawn films of the past. The action itself felt like a cross between the great Disney platformers of the 90s (hello Aladdin) and Prince of Persia, whilst also feeling fresh. I look forward to taking on the huge bosses and procedurally generated underground caves when the game is completed.
Lost Words (pictured above) is the evolution of one of my top picks from Rezzed 2016; The Last Word. The name has changed but the quality of storytelling and interesting gameplay mechanics have remained. The game really stands out, not just from everything else at the show, but from the standard independently made swell of platformers and shmups. This year creator Mark Backler showed us some new stages of the game, as you work your way through the diary of a young woman coming to terms with her Grandmother’s stroke. I was left both impressed and deeply moved by Lost Words; keep your eyes on PTC for more from the game, and Mark.
My game of Rezzed 2017 goes to none other than ifun4all’s glorious stealth-em-up Serial Cleaner. From my first sight of the game’s stand - full of smiles and laughter - to my last arrest mid-job, the game endlessly entertained me. The game presents a simple premise: clean up all the dead bodies and blood from the crime scene before the police bust you.
And it’s from this simple premise that the game builds each stage. Starting off small with a reduced map, fewer police and only one body to dispose of, the game teaches you how to be successful in a fun, hilarious and intuitive way. Before I knew it I was using cupboards and long grass to hide from PC Plod, jumping out at just the right moment to scoop up a corpse and canter back to my 1970s station wagon. The aural bombast of classic cop show music only heightened my joy. Pray for Curve Digital and ifun4all to get this one finished soon, it really is that good.
Rezzed 2017 had some wonderful moments for me; from Wargroove to Lost Words to Sundered to Serial Cleaner, several independent devs proved yet again that our industry is thriving from the bottom up. With that in mind chums, I’m off to bed. See thee next year.
Were you at this year's Rezzed? Let us know what you thought of the show over in the forums.
PlayStation Experience, or as its better known as PSX, has debuted at the Anaheim Convention Center in California, and has showcased a fantastic lineup up of the latest and greatest PlayStation announcements. I’ve put together some highlights from this year's convention.
Displayed in classic cinematic fashion, Naughty Dog hit a home run with their announcement and conformation of The Last of Us: Part II, which featured some familiar and seasoned faces. Rest assured, Ellie and Joel are back, and it looks like Joel really did live up to at least one of his promises.
Set 5 years after the events of The Last of Us, we take the role of Ellie in this latest instalment, and in a recent Q&A, Writer/Director Neil Druckmann explained that the game will focus on the resonants of Hate. Quite a contrast in comparison to its original counterpart.
Additionally, TLOU fans would be thrilled to know that, indeed, Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson will be reprising their roles as Ellie and Joel for the second time. Great news as, after the perfomance they both put in, it just wouldn't have been the same without them. A film based on The Last of Us had been half-heartedly announced back in May this year, remaining silent ever since. In light of this recent announcement, it’s looking like the sequel could be a plausible explanation for its delay. The game as it stands is in the early development process, but already fans are eagerly anticipating Naughty Dog's next moves over the coming months, myself included.
In pursuit to uncover an ancient Indian artefact, Chloe and Nadine will encounter many challenges whilst facing the land's hostile residents along the way. Also, in standard Naughty Dog convention, the game is looking equally as stunning to its year old counterpart, A Thieves End, if not better.
Hopefully, the integration of two female protagonists will give Uncharted a jolt in the direction it needs, making for an interesting concoction of chemistry between both cast members, and a homely addition to the franchise.
Naughty Dog haven't put the series to rest as of yet and it's great to see.
At a PSX Panel, Kojima had confirmed that Mikkelsen will be playing Death Stranding's antagonist (I guess the grimacing glare was a give away). Take my money, Kojima. I trust you'll put it to good use with that brilliant mind of yours.
Check out the live streams from the event below, and let us know your highlights from this years exhibition.
It's one of the biggest gaming shows in the UK and from Thursday 22 to Sunday 25 September the NEC in Birmingham is taken over by a host of games developers, gaming fans and cosplayers. We went and had a look around, managed to convince a few people to speak to us, and we've got a video round-up to share with you all.
A few weeks ago I boarded an unusually sparse train from Brighton to the beige capital of the world: London, on my way to Leicester Square for a preview of Blizzard’s upcoming six-on-six squad-based shooter, Overwatch. I was expecting a fun game, but certainly nothing take-notice-special - I was about to be proved wrong on a few counts (the complimentary sandwiches were also exquisite).
So into the flesh and liquid of the day; playing the actual game! I played the Xbox One build, and am very pleased to announce that the game not only looked beautiful, but ran as smooth as Galaxy chocolate (other brands are available). I revelled in the particularly responsive controls - something that is often a concern for more PC-centric games on console. It was evident from the first match that Blizzard really are stamping their mark on the genre here, and the way in which they’re developing and supporting the game across both Xbox One, PS4 and PC simultaneously is commendable.
For those of you in the dark, Overwatch’s characters are boxed into four different classes; offence, defence, support and tank. Each class handles very differently to the other, and getting the balance right within your team will go a long way to ensuring victory (the character selection menu alerts you if your team has too many snipers, or defensive units for instance - a lovely touch that helps you build your strategy) - although the folks at Blizzard did tell us that your whole team can happily play as the same character, if you really want to!
I’m happy to report that every character moved, jumped and fired differently, something I was immensely impressed by.
We've heard developers talk about how individual characters feel unique to control many, many times, but rarely ever is that evident in the actual game. I’m happy to report that every character moved, jumped and fired differently, something I was immensely impressed by. The characters Reaper & McCree both form part of the fast moving offence class, but both felt hugely different to control. Reaper stomps across the terrain wielding two beefy shotguns that are a (pun intended) blast to use. McCree on the other hand skipped across the turf - firing his six-shooter made me feel like a cartoon Clint Eastwood. The difference in feel across characters of the same class was present throughout, as I tried every single one of them during my play session.
Another huge plus for the game is the ability to change characters at any given time, a real perk when the tactical situation of the game changes. During a game of assault (two teams battle over key areas of the map, one team attacking, the other defending) I used the brawn and shield of tank character Reinhardt to protect my team-mates from the onrushing forces of the enemy. Unfortunately we were all wiped out, so respawning as a fast moving character like Tracer proved invaluable, as I could race back to the action asap, to (hopefully) protect the capture points.
The diversity of the characters and settings was another lovely touch, as almost every character hails from a specific part of the future-world. “Bloody hell, guvnor” Tracer is crumpets-and-tea London through and through, with a red phone box strewn King’s Row being her equivalent map. To create so many characters, from so many different locations is a really smart move by Blizzard. Everybody I spoke to at the event had soft spots for certain characters (Junkrat’s constant giggling and Aussie accent, and McCree’s Wild West drawl were my favourites). To actually get personality into characters in this type of game is great work - I particularly loved the silly one liners after every kill, or respawn.
I did have some apprehensive first-impressions from my brief play through though, chiefly the amount of modes on offer. Team-based games obviously aren’t going to offer deathmatches and other individual game modes, but I felt the few on offer at this time were a bit thin. Standard capture games and escort missions were great fun, I’m just concerned that they won’t hold the attention of a huge base of players for a long time. The folks at Blizzard assured me that the game will receive a lot of love post-launch though, with new maps, modes and characters on offer, and the majority of it for no extra cost. Fingers and toes crossed that they come up with some interesting new game modes, as it would be a shame to have a game with so much personality fall short in this regard.
I had one other slight concern; that the game would benefit people playing with friends as opposed to with strangers online, but the folks at Blizzard assured me that this will not be the case. Players who enjoy dropping in for a quick session with people across the world should get just as much enjoyment from the game as pre-existing gaming teams and friends. Something I should note though is the fact that none of my team used their headsets to communicate during the two hour session, and we duly lost every game. Now this may be partly due to the other team having had prior experience with the game (and my shoddy playing), but I couldn’t shake the feeling that Overwatch will be more rewarding with the much maligned headset.
I thoroughly enjoyed getting a hands-on with Overwatch; a smart, funny, beautiful looking game with marvellous performance. Whether I was firing my primary weapon, using my special Overwatch ability, or just staring at the alluring cherry blossom trees, I savoured every minute. Here’s hoping that Blizzard chuck in a few extra modes to go with this bountiful base - if they do, we’re in for a real treat.
An overground train arriving in the underground of Shadwell (around 80 steps to the surface if I recall correctly) fired me towards Tobacco Dock, the home of EGX Rezzed again this year. Anyone struggling with directions need not have worried; for a procession of bespectacled, self-aware folks (yours truly included) led the way.
Mario Kart-like Coffin Dodgers provided me with a few minutes of entertainment, but nothing hugely inspirational - it played well enough to convince me that the multiplayer could be a good laugh, mind.
Gear Gauntlet played a devious hybrid of puzzle/platformer that had me quite addicted; guiding your gear through - you’ve guessed it - a gauntlet of treachery, you must hold down buttons that correspond to coloured walls (A is green, and so on) to progress to the end goal. This has one-more-go syndrome built into it, so keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming release.
Skylar & Plux: Adventure on Clover Island and Subnautica both tickled my taste-buds, but ultimately left me a little disappointed for similar reasons; frame-rate and camera issues in the former, and frame-rate and appalling texture pop-in in the latter. It’s worth noting that both are early builds, however. Skylar & Plux had a gorgeous art style, and played a decent game of 3D platforming that will please fans of Ratchet & Clank. Subnautica had beautiful water effects to perfectly match its attempt at underwater exploration, so let's just hope that the teams behind both games will smooth out the technical side of things before release.
...a place crammed full of interesting games, interesting people, and not-so-interesting smells...
Number one for me from the Xbox area was The Last Word, a charming, personal platformer set partly inside a diary. The game tells the tale of a young girl coming to grips with her Grandmother’s stroke, with certain elements of the story (like the protagonist’s name) left in your hands. The differing art styles from the levels in the diary itself, to levels set in what we can only imagine is the girl’s imagination, provided a sumptuous juxtaposition. The game’s designer Mark Backler warned us that it could be a while until the game sees the light of day - don’t worry Mark, we’ll still be here whenever it’s ready.
Next I ventured downstairs to the halls of the Indie room, a place crammed full of interesting games, interesting people, and not-so-interesting smells. The warming blue and orange colours of Binaries attracted me almost instantly, with the game itself also proving to be a real contender in the puzzle genre. One stick controls the movement of both an orange coloured dot, and a blue coloured dot - traversing the cavernous terrain you must reach the end goals and seat each colour in its respectively coloured position to pass the level - just watch out for spikes!
Nature’s Zombie Apocalypse, Super Dungeon Bros, Super Arcade Football and The Breakfast Club provided some much needed local multiplayer madness next. NZA puts you in the shoes/webbed feet of ducks and other animals as they blast away at the undead - a fun little game but nothing exceptional. SDB played like a cartoon edition of Gauntlet, and much like NZA it was fun, whilst certainly not groundbreaking. SAF played like a more controlled Kick-Off/Sensible Soccer, with attractive toonish player models and brightly coloured playing surfaces. We enjoyed a few closely fought contests and predict this’ll be an excellent game to play with friends, pizza and beer. The build we played of The Breakfast Club was an early one, but the group chaos of manipulating knives, forks, toasters and the like to make breakfast was very amusing.
Black & White Bushido and Featherpunk Prime rounded out my time in the indie room. Bushido is a highly stylised multiplayer beat-’em-up, where you fight as ninjas from either the white clan or the black. This colour dynamic is highlighted with a black & white backdrop, allowing the player to use stealth to his or her advantage. I had good fun with this one, playing many rounds. Featherpunk is a Metroidvania type game, with all the fun and potential frustration that the genre entails. I enjoyed the bits I played, and the poster above the booth was neon perfection.
The leftfield collection provided me with one of my most hilarious moments of the day, as I played through a few games of Pool Panic. In the game you control a cue ball, blasting target balls and enemy balls into pockets, off ledges and into water with some wonderful, amusing animations. Developer Mike told us not to expect the game anytime soon - but was decent enough to inform us that it is “the least realistic pool simulator around”.
Next up was the biggie - PlayStation and PSVR. The Sony indie offerings were pretty slim, with most of their space taken up with VR and those ghastly blue lights. I did manage to sit down and play a few games of Dino Dini’s Kick-Off Revival, the return of one of the Godfathers of football gaming. Purists will be pleased to hear that the game plays as if FIFA and PES never happened. One button controls, after-touch and close control are the keys to being Barcelona or Barnet. Football fans will be pleased to hear that online and local multiplayer options will be available in the final build.
PSVR came next - I was booked in for a 30 minute slot with the new technology (it actually turned out to be ten minutes, I was not best pleased), playing the game SUPERHYPERCUBE. The game is a fully 3D Tetris, where you manipulate shapes to fit through a hole in a distant wall. As you progress more and more blocks get added to your shape, forcing you to crane your neck round the corner to decipher the puzzle. It was simple, it was addictive, it was fun, but ultimately - and this goes for the other VR experiences I saw at the show - £350 plus for this new technology is just too decadent a dessert at this stage. Those who can afford VR will definitely have fun (be it on their own - something I’m personally skeptical about - or as a party piece), I’m just not convinced it’s the finished article yet.
We were fortunate enough to receive an invite to this year’s PLAY it! Manchester launch event, hosted by the Museum of Science and Industry - “rebooted, reloaded” and “better than ever before”, here’s what to expect if you’re thinking of heading down.
If that sounds just a smidge before your time, wrap your hands around an N64, PlayStation or Dreamcast controller and revisit the early days of 3D gaming. To answer your immediate and burning questions - yes, they have Goldeneye, and yes, there’s 4-player co-op. Continuing the march towards present day, you’ll find Master Chief hosting a Halo 3 LAN party on Xbox 360, League of Legends and Minecraft on PC, as well as an array of recent Xbox One and PS4 releases.
By splitting itself into themed sections, PLAY it! also offers a more specific look at developments made within genre and franchise. You can chart Sonic’s rise and fall, gauge Mario’s continued innovation, compare visuals and mechanics between racing and fighting games, shake, smack and strum an array of music peripherals - even play Disney games with some recognisable princesses.
Perhaps the highlight of the event is a look into gaming’s future, courtesy of Ubisoft’s Rabbids VR-Ride experience. Donning the Oculus Rift and a pair of headphones whisks you away to a world of trademark Rabbids insanity, whilst a hydraulic seat mimics your movement for added immersion. It definitely succeeds, as you’ll feel it in the pit of your stomach when the ride stops and allows you a moment to peer over the sheer cliff drop before sending you plummeting.
Take a look at an earlier version in the footage below, and keep an eye out for a more indepth analysis of the experience to come.
PLAY it! offers something for everyone, whatever their age. The event’s well organised, the room’s well dressed and a chiptune DJ station blasts out gaming classics to set the perfect backdrop. Everything amalgamates in a great family friendly day out during the Easter holidays, whilst if you don’t have anybody under 18 in your party, there are also adult-only sessions that’ll switch out the games for something a little more… violent.
Interested? You can find session times, pricing information and purchase tickets through the Museum of Science and Industry’s official website.