I spent Friday at the EB Games Expo in Sydney, walking the floor, playing games, and keeping an eye out for what seemed interesting. For me, it was a chance to catch up with the “AAA” space and chat to some Australian indies. It was also a chance to learn about games that I would otherwise have missed. Read on for more!
Hands-on: the highlights
My first surprise hit was Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris, the follow-up to 2010’s Guardian of Light. From the moment I picked up the controller, I was impressed by the ease of running, jumping, and fighting. Play seemed very fluid – when monsters approached, I would run back and forth, sometimes even jumping over chasms, while Lara blazed away1. The puzzles were quite simple, simple enough to be consistent with the overall flow of the game, yet they still tickled my sense of accomplishment.
I can’t assess Temple of Osiris’ staying power from the 20-30 minutes I played. Otherwise, I am very pleased with what I saw. This has gone from ‘hm, maybe I’ll check it out on a sale’ to ‘buy at launch’.
I was also keen to try Far Cry 4, which dropped me in front of a gated hillside compound held by enemy troops. Several elephants roamed a river nearby. This is how I attempted to clear the compound:
- The first time, I jumped aboard an elephant and rammed down the compound’s gates. Bad idea. Turns out, a man on an elephant’s back is a big target!
- The second time, sneaking through a different gate on foot gave me the advantage of surprise… for ten seconds.
- The third time, I inadvertently dismounted from the elephant – and this worked best of all. The elephant charged, the guards scattered, and I wreaked havoc amongst my distracted foes. I ran past the elephant… only to succumb to an attack from behind. Probably, the elephant trampled me. I was too busy laughing to mind.
For this sheer originality, FC4 deserves attention. I look forward to seeing how it turns out.
From Software’s Bloodborne was also playable at the show. Souls veterans will feel right at home with the controls, the need to manage stamina, the ability to unlock shortcuts in a level, and the game’s penchant for “gotcha!” ambushes. There are a couple of key differences:
- First, instead of a shield, the player character in Bloodborne carries a gun that can be used to stagger enemies and leave them open to a counter-attack. (The gun doesn’t do very much damage on its own; this is not the new Soul Arrow.) This being a From Software game, the gun has finite ammo – I discovered this the hard way! I relied heavily on my shield (and, in fact, I played a royal in Demon’s Souls so I could use a rapier from behind the shield), so this will take some getting used to.
- The most striking difference is Bloodborne’s mood, far bleaker and more oppressive than the Souls games. If Souls was dark fantasy, Bloodborne is horror. We visited Boletaria and Lordran long after their respective disasters. Bloodborne‘s apocalypse is still fresh. The demo area is dark and gloomy. The streets are filled with coffins – some have fallen off abandoned carts, others have been used to barricade doors. The humanoid enemies are gruesomely mutated – they look far more monstrous than Demon’s Souls’ dreglings or Dark Souls’ hollows. Despite their appearance, they retain enough humanity to shout, “This is your fault!” as they attack. And they gather around burning pyres – a sinister inversion of Dark Souls’ bonfires.
Overall, Bloodborne’s gameplay seems fine. My concern is that I prefer the world and atmosphere of Souls. Hopefully, the rest of the game will be more varied.
Middle Earth: Shadows of Mordor reminded me of Assassin’s Creed2 in its combat and free running. Even the protagonist’s “diving off a tower” animation is similar to Assassin’s Creed’s iconic “leaps of faith” (minus the haystack – on which more below). My first attempt saw me charge blindly into a fortified camp of orcs. That did not go well. On my second attempt, I lurked behind cover and ambushed a different, smaller group of orcs, with much better results.
Shadows of Mordor’s signature feature is the “Nemesis” system, which dynamically generates named, specific enemies for the player. Orcs will duel each other, rank up, and remember the player. Unfortunately, this is not the kind of feature that can be assessed in a few minutes on the show floor. I did notice that the orc who killed me, on my first attempt, earned a level-up… and if I’m not mistaken, he squandered it by getting himself killed duelling a superior.
Given how cool an idea the Nemesis system is3, I think this is worth a look if the moment-to-moment Assassin’s Creed gameplay appeals to you.
Other games I played
Minecraft for Vita, which controlled surprisingly well on the small screen.
Counterspy, a 2D Vita stealth/action side-scroller with a colourful Cold War spoof theme4. Taking cover causes the perspective to shift, so for example, if I press my back to a corner, the camera will pivot to focus on the background. Visually stylish, although I wonder how much depth it has – I took only a few minutes to jump, ambush, and shoot through the mission on display.
I attended gameplay presentations for Assassin’s Creed: Unity and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, in which their respective developers played pre-set sequences for us to watch. In AC: Unity, this was a mission set in Notre Dame cathedral, while in The Witcher 3, Geralt fought bandits and hunted a griffin. These sequences have been shown before – here they are:
The Witcher 3 presentation also included a separate section, a walking tour through the outskirts of the largest city in the game.
Both games were visually impressive. Both were recognisable as part of their series. Arno in AC: Unity lurked, used smoke bombs to cover his tracks, climbed Notre Dame, and even dove into a haystack while inside the cathedral. Geralt meditated, and used a mix of swordplay and magical signs.
One stylistic change that has yet to convince me: AC: Unity is gorier than its predecessors. On the other hand, I prefer The Witcher 3’s music to TW2’s.
Blunt Instrument, which is developing two games: Oculus “cylindrical platformer” Super Mega Mega5, and Tokyo Jungle-meets-survival game We of the Woods, in which players respawn as the animal that ate their last avatar.
The Giant Machine, which is developing Last Gun – think a fighting game, with guns, viewed from the top-down.
Little Reaper Games, which showcased a cute 2D platformer – Grim Balance. The protagonist, Death’s little assistant6 uses red and blue scythes to dispel enemies (or bring objects to life) of the respective colour.
Watching other people play Nintendo games was the second surprise highlight of the expo. I saw:
- Splatoon, a non-violent take on, of all things, the shooter. The trick is that you shoot paint, not bullets. Your goal is to quite literally paint the map your colour!
- Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (skip to about 1:10), a platformer starring one of the most adorable characters in video game history:
- And I was tempted by my glimpse of Hyrule Warriors:
What strikes me about the Nintendo games is their sense of joy. After the giant grin that Captain Toad put on my face, I’m almost ready to buy a Wii U…
Games I’d like to finish, now that I’ve seen their sequels
Far Cry 2 (possibly)
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
The Witcher 2
And finally, something special for the readers…
Courtesy of the Square-Enix stand, I have two Steam codes for Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. Please comment if you would like one!
I attended the Expo using a media pass supplied by the organisers.
- Contrast this to last year’s Tomb Raider. Against human enemies, TR’s combat all too often turned into a disappointingly static shooting gallery. ↩
- Other reviewers have compared it to the Batman: Arkham games. ↩
- The Nemesis system would work brilliantly in, say, a crime-themed open world game – imagine Sleeping Dogs meets Yojimbo. ↩
- The two superpowers are called “The Imperialists” and “The Socialists”. ↩
- The Oculus seemed to be a hit, judging by the queue. ↩
- At least one developer is a Terry Pratchett fan ↩