Live Event: EuroGamer Expo – NEC Birmingham, September 22-25th, 2016

Eurogamer Expo 2016 (or EGX for short) returned to the NEC in Birmingham following a hugely successful show in 2015. As people will know I love EGX as it’s a chance to play the latest upcoming video game releases and more importantly, meet up with friends and have a laugh. My impression of the show this year is that it seemed a little smaller compared to last year. This is more than likely due to Nintendo and Microsoft not having any stands on the show floor. I would imagine that they will be back in full force next year when more news about the Nintendo NX and Microsoft’s Project Scorpio are revealed. However, with the lack of their main competitors it meant that Sony could show off their new VR headset and really push virtual reality as a viable gaming platform.

Even though the venue was a bit smaller it didn’t mean it was any less enjoyable, as there was plenty of space to move around and despite the huge amount of people visiting it never felt crowded. Here are the games that I played over the course of 4 days:

Battlezone
battlezone-copyPeople will know that I am hugely sceptical about virtual reality. I think some of my scepticism comes from the fact that over the past few years we’ve been told that motion controls are the next big thing. The Nintendo Wii made them hugely popular, then Sony followed up with the PlayStation Move, whilst Microsoft weighed in with the Kinect motion sensor. They have all but faded into obscurity, especially Kinect with Microsoft realising that it was a mistake less than a year into the life of the Xbox One. In fact the latest Microsoft console called the Xbox One S requires a separate adapter to use Kinect. My fear was that VR will be another fad and the thought of spending £350 is an expensive risk. That is until I played Battlezone.

The person showing me the demo described the game and handed me the VR headset. I was impressed by how lightweight and comfortable it felt on my head. When the game started I was instantly transported from the real world and into the seat of a fully armed battle tank. I cannot state this enough but the sense of immersion was absolutely incredible! There is no other way to describe it except that I was there and any semblance of the real world became a distant memory. I was looking around the cockpit as far as my head would go, up, down, behind me and I couldn’t see any flaws in the experience. I held a DualShock 4 controller in my hand and when I lifted it from my lap it appeared in front of me as if by magic. I was instructed which buttons fired weapons and how to move the tank around. The game itself is a fairly standard shooter, that if played as a regular game without PSVR would be fun enough, but nothing spectacular. However, playing it in VR added a whole new level of immersion and if I’m honest was a potential game changer in terms of how we play games. Moving the tank around was very intuitive and I was soon strafing whilst avoiding enemy fire and shooting down other tanks. It really was excellent and with the promise of online coop and competitive multiplayer, Rebellion may have a massive hit on their hands.

Battlezone is released on 13th October 2016 for Playstation 4.

Mantis Burn Racing

mantisburnFrom the makers of the amazing Pure Pool comes a superb new racing game, which harkens back to games I loved from my childhood like Rock n’ Roll Racing and Ivan Stewart’s Off Road Racing. The first thing to strike me about the game is just how fantastic it looks! Anyone who has played Pure Pool will know that VooFoo Studios have pedigree making their games look amazing. The different environments in Mantis Burn Racing ranging from dusty canyons to night time street racing look stunning! The cars themselves have a real sense of weight and handle beautifully. Even on my first go I managed to power slide around corners which made it feel instantly accessible and was hugely enjoyable. As I was chatting to Creative Director Shaun Read, he was explaining that there will be an extensive campaign featuring different cars with an RPG upgrade system. There will also be 4 player local split screen and 8 player online multiplayer. Mantis Burn Racing was my surprise hit of the show and considering there are less than a dozen people developing the game, VooFoo Studios have created something incredible. I cannot wait for Mantis Burn Racing to be released and will be buying it day one.

Mantis Burn Racing is available now on Steam Early Access and will be released on Xbox One and PS4

Horizon Zero Dawn

horizonzdawnHorizon Zero Dawn is the hugely anticipated PlayStation exclusive from Guerrilla Games. Anyone familiar with their Killzone games will know that Horizon Zero Dawn is a huge departure from making first person shooters. I think it’s fair to say that the hype for this game is growing and it was certainly one of the busiest games at the show. I have to give the people at the Sony stand massive credit, because instead of making people wait hours to play the game, they took your details and gave you an allocated time slot. This meant that you could play other games instead of wasting time queuing, and when we did eventually go to our appointment it all ran very smoothly.

We were ushered into a closed area and took a seat to watch a trailer and live demonstration of the game, as a member of staff explained what was going on. You play a character called Aloy who is an outcast from her tribe. The game features an open world where you are free to explore, hunt the robotic creatures that roam the land and carry out missions. Aloy’s main weapon is a bow and arrow, which can be customised in different ways which help you defeat the various enemies. Each enemy has weaknesses which can be exploited using the scan feature. You can also hack creatures to turn them friendly, meaning you can ride them around the world making traversal easier. When the presentation finished we had chance to play the game for 15 minutes. Graphically it looks very impressive, with the sunlight hitting the trees and blades of grass looking especially nice. Movement and control of Aloy was also very good as she runs around, with sliding and climbing feeling very responsive and easy to do. The combat also felt satisfying and there was a slowdown feature reminiscent of the Dead Eye aiming in Red Dead Redemption.

The game itself reminded me a lot of The Witcher 3 and the latest reboot of Tomb Raider, which is no bad thing at all. Certainly the combat and movement was more refined than The Witcher, but I do have reservations about the game. The hunting and resource gathering was fun, but I have to wonder how long that will last before it becomes tedious. Although the gameplay mechanics were more refined than The Witcher, the beauty of that game is the world and the characters in it. If Horizon Zero Dawn has a compelling story with interesting characters, then the PS4 could have one of the biggest exclusive games in 2017.

Horizon Zero Dawn is released on 3rd March 2017 for PlayStation 4.

Mafia 3

mafia-iii-deluxe-edition-coverWe didn’t get to play Mafia 3, but we did get to watch 25 minutes of gameplay in a booth that had been turned into a makeshift cinema. They were even handing out free popcorn to all of the people who attended, which was a very nice touch! I was massively excited for Mafia 3 and I’m sorry to say that my excitement levels have dropped slightly after watching the footage. The game itself looks great, but the gameplay left me a bit worried for the final product. The voice over explained that the game can be tackled in differently ways, either stealthily or all guns blazing. Although the main character started quietly, it soon turned into a shootout. The enemy artificial intelligence (AI) also seemed weak, and even though you were choking out enemies next to another bad guy, they didn’t react at all. Also, the bad guys were killed with one hit, but when it came to the end of level boss he took multiple shots in the chest before going down. This just didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the game. Your character also seemed practically indestructible, taking bullets full on as he seemed to run straight into enemies rather than flanking them. I will still get Mafia 3 day one because I loved Mafia 2, but I am a little concerned it may not fulfil its potential.

Mafia 3 is released on 7th October 2016 for PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare & Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Remastered

call_of_duty_infinite_warfare_possible_new_art_1Despite hearing people complain about Call of Duty games, they are still massively popular and sell millions of copies every year. The main criticism I hear is that they are essentially the same game with a slightly different setting. This years instalment looks to feature space battles, and based on the trailer it looked fantastic! Call of Duty multiplayer has always allowed you to create classes and weapon load outs to suit your own personal taste. Infinite Warfare has had an overhaul and now features rigs, which have their own unique skill sets. The rigs on offer are Warfighter, Merc, FTL, Stryker, Phantom and Synaptic, which doesn’t tell you much, but they promise to offer different characteristics to suit your own play style. We played team death match and if you have played a Call of Duty game you will not be disappointed, as the fast and frantic gun play is still there. The new rigs work very well and there are a number of special powers that can be used at different times of the game, giving it a slightly more tactical element.

The other reason that Infinite Warfare has garnered a lot of interest is because the classic Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare comes bundled with the legacy pro and digital deluxe version of the game. I’m a little bit disappointed that it isn’t available to buy as a standalone game, but I’m sure Activision will eventually sell it separately. The game features 10 multiplayer maps and the original campaign with updated graphics. Again, we played team death match and it does look lovely and instantly reminded me of all the fun I had when it was originally released in 2007. It occurred to me whilst playing that it’s amazing how stripped back it felt compared to the newer iterations of Call of Duty. For the first time in ages I am really excited to play a Call of Duty game, and I will definitely be picking this up when it’s released.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is released on 4th November 2016 for PC, Xbox One and PS4.

Gears of War 4

gears-of-war-4-ultimate-edition-coverIt’s been 5 years since Gears of War 3 was released and there has only been the remastered version of the original Gears of War to appear on the Xbox One, so there is quite a bit of anticipation for the next instalment of the blockbuster franchise. Gears of War 4 is set 25 years after the events of Gears of War 3, and you now get to play as Marcus Fenix son. We played a section of the campaign and it looked absolutely stunning! There was a violent storm happening which affected the trajectory of grenades, making them a danger to not only your enemies, but to you as well when the wind blew them back in your face. I’m a big fan of the Gears series with its crazy weapons (the Lancer chainsaw gun returns) and over the top gameplay. Gears of War 4 is one of the Microsoft play anywhere titles, meaning that Xbox One players can play with PC gamers. It will also feature multiplayer and Horde 3.0 makes a return. Definitely one to watch.

Gears of War 4 is released on 11th October 2016 and is available on Xbox One and PC

Yooka-Laylee

yukalayleewiiBanjo Kazooie on the Nintendo 64 is one of my all time favourite games, so I was extremely excited to get my hands on this spiritual successor. Yooka-Laylee is being developed by former Rare employees who worked on the original game. It raised over £2,000,000 in Kickstarter funding, which goes someway to show the love people have for the original game. After playing Yooka-Laylee I am happy to say that it is exactly the game that I wanted. It has the same charming characters, gameplay and exploration that made Banjo Kazooie such a classic. Listening to the music in the game put a big smile on my face, and it’s fantastic that Grant Kirkhope returns as composer. Yooka-Laylee is clearly a labour of love and will be an essential purchase for any fan of Banjo-Kazooie.

Yooka-Laylee will be released in Spring 2017 on PC, Xbox One, PS4 and WiiU

Super Arcade Football

superarcadefootballI was a massive fan of Kick Off 2 on the Commodore Amiga, so it was no surprise that Super Arcade Football caught my eye. It pretty much plays exactly like Kick Off 2, but with better player animation, plus the ball sticks to your feet meaning that dribbling is slightly easier. The beauty of the game is that it is simple to pick up and play. There are no complicated controls like modern football games, and you only need to kick the ball and slide tackle. I played a two player competitive match and had an absolute blast! I genuinely think that this could be a brilliant couch coop game, and it was a reminder of just how much fun these type of games can be.

Super Arcade Football is available now on Steam Early Access, and there are plans to bring it to consoles in the future.

Resident Evil 7

resident-evil-7-biohazard-478407-1My second experience with PSVR was definitely not for the faint hearted, but would it wow me as much as Battlezone did? There were lots of games to try in VR and as you would expect, there were limited places as people were clamouring to get their hands on it. I had an appointment to try VR and I have to say that it was handled extremely smoothly. I went a few minutes before my appointment and booked in. I asked to play Resident Evil 7, was handed a bottle of water then invited to sit down and wait in the players lounge. Within 20 minutes I was called up and the friendly guide explained how the VR headset worked.

I’d heard that Resident Evil 7 wasn’t a particularly good VR demo, nevertheless I was intrigued to see how it worked. When I put the headset on, I quickly found myself looking through the eyes of a young woman, who was running towards a decrepit house being chased by a crazy would be murderer. You moved using the DualShock 4 controller and was able to look around by moving your head. If I’m honest I was a little disappointed that the field of view only seemed to extend three quarters, and when I looked behind me, the screen was black. The graphics themselves also took me out of the experience slightly. It’s not that they were bad, but I’ve been told that VR works better when the setting isn’t necessarily real world and is slightly more fantastical. It’s like my brain realised that I was playing a game, rather than feeling like I was in another world.

Saying all of that, playing Resident Evil 7 was definitely a very tense experience. The game played very much like Outlast, where you cannot fight back and could only run and hide. I nervously crept around the old house, craning my head around corners looking for the woman who was chasing me. When I heard her voice I hid behind a broken wall which had gaps in it. I physically moved my head to duck and peek over the wall to see if she was still there which was very cool.

The demo finished with a scene reminiscent of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, where I was being taunted by a family of psychos. I looked down and saw that my arms were tied to a chair, which gave me an unnerving sense of fear and helplessness. A man approached me holding a knife in front of my face, and I felt the need to get up and run. He moved the knife closer to my face and I physically moved my head to try and get away. It was scary and very cool at the same time! Although not as mind blowing as Battlezone, Resident Evil 7 showed me another side of VR, and the potential for playing horror games like this is definitely something I am interested in.

Resident Evil 7 will be released on 24th January 2017 and will be available on Xbox One, PS4 and PC.

Blockships

blockshipsDescribed as a cross between Tetris and Space Invaders, Blockships was one of the best 4 player competitive games I played at EGX. Your space ship starts off as a single block, with other blocks, including weapons and speed power ups floating around. The fun begins where you and three other players are all chasing the power ups, gradually making your ship bigger by adding more and more items. As your ship gets bigger it adds another challenge, because although you may have more firepower, it also means you can be slower and become a bigger target for the smaller ships. You also have to be careful because if you attach a weapon block to your ship at the wrong end of the gun, you end up blowing yourself up. The screen also gets periodically smaller, meaning that the battle area is tighter making for some really intense fights. I also loved the way that the screen expanded and contracted depending on how close or far away each ship was from one another. The game is bright and colourful and all four players were shouting at each other and laughing whilst we played. Blockships if brilliant fun and comes highly recommended especially if you have your mates around.

Blockships is available now on Steam Early Access, and will be released on PS4 and Xbox One.

Driveclub PSVR

driveclubvrMy third and final foray into virtual reality came in the form of PlayStation exclusive Driveclub. I’ve played the non VR version of Driveclub and think it is a stunning looking game, but how well would the visuals and experience hold up using PSVR?

First of all it’s worth saying that I wasn’t just using a controller to play the game, as I was sat in a full driving rig, complete with force feedback steering wheel and acceleration and brake pedals. This in itself added to the experience and certainly made it a memorable one. When the VR headset was placed on my head I choose my car and then walked towards it and got in. Again, the feeling of immersion was incredible, and I soon began looking behind me and through the sun roof to see if I could find any flaws. I started racing and looking around the car, seeing the road to my side and behind me. I have to say that it was an absolutely incredible sensation! I’ll admit that I wasn’t particularly good at driving the car, and would often crash or do doughnuts, but that didn’t matter as I was stunned by what I was experiencing.

Out of all of the VR demos I tried, Driveclub was the one that made me feel a little bit uneasy. I wouldn’t say that I felt sick, but even though I was sitting down I felt unsteady, and reversing made me feel like I’d left my stomach in front of me! Imagine the feeling of going over a bridge when you are in a normal car and it was something like that. Driveclub VR was another incredible showcase however, my only reservation is that I can’t see myself playing it for extended periods of time for fear of feeling a little ill!

Driveclub VR will be released on 13th October 2016 for PS4

Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration

rise-of-the-tomb-raider-ps41Rise of the Tomb Raider was originally released as a timed exclusive for Xbox One in 2015, and came out earlier this year for PC. The PS4 release is due imminently and features improvements to the graphics, and various other new modes including a PSVR experience. We managed to try one of a new coop modes called Endurance. Two players have to work together to stay alive by finding food and shelter. Icons indicating how hungry and cold you are were displayed in the corner of the screen. As well as keeping an eye on this there are also animals and other bad guys to contend with. The aim of the game is to find as many artefacts whilst trying to survive and then call in a helicopter to escape. You have to work together, because if one of you die then you both perish. Endurance is a neat mode and will add value to an already excellent game.

Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration will be released on PS4 on 11th October 2016, and is available now for Xbox One and PC

Hitman

26831_hitmanThe latest instalment of Hitman has been out for some time and I’d heard really good things about it. The game initially received some flak for being an episodic release, but I generally think that the game has been well reviewed and people seem to enjoy the fact that you can pick up a level for under a tenner.

We attended a developer session, and after listening to them speaking enthusiastically about the game, we decided to try the demo that was on offer. We were challenged to kill three targets within 20 minutes. The setting was a luxurious hotel in Italy and it looked gorgeous. Despite not playing the game before, I was already stalking my targets planning how to take them out. The developers said that there is a lot of freedom to be creative with how you approach each level and they were absolutely right. I initially disguised myself as a security guard, meaning I could walk freely about the hotel without arousing too much suspicion. With each target there are optional ways to kill them to gain extra points for example, taking out an enemy by strangling them rather than shooting them gave you a massive bonus.

As well as the standard game there are online contracts and elusive targets. You may have seen that Gary Busey was recently in the game as an elusive target. The developers were saying that they like to be creative with the elusive targets, and an example of this was making identical twins targets. The objective was that one of the twins had taken out a contract on the other, and you really had to study their movements before deciding which one to kill. Take out the wrong target and they were gone forever, with no second chances, which really upped the stakes.

Despite the episodic nature of the game, the developers have been supporting it with new content released on a regular basis. I have to say that I was really impressed with Hitman and will be picking up the game soon.

Hitman episodes 1 to 5 are available now for PC, Xbox One and PS4.

Gran Turismo Sport

gtsportGran Turismo Sport has been delayed indefinitely, and based on my play through I can see why. With games like Driveclub, Forza and Project Cars taking driving games to another level, Gran Turismo needs to work extremely hard to find its feet in an already crowded marketplace. Although Gran Turismo Sport looked ok, the aforementioned games already look so much better. I’m sure the finished product will be great, and the one positive thing about the game is that is should feature full PSVR support.

Gran Turismo Sport is expected to be released in 2017 for PS4

Tekken 7

tekken-7I haven’t played a Tekken game since it was released on the original PlayStation, so I was excited to try out the latest version of the much celebrated series. My first impression is that it looked absolutely gorgeous and played extremely smoothly. Even though I didn’t know any of the special moves, I quickly found that I was able to pull off throws and attacks fairly easily. Tekken 7 was probably my surprise triple A game of EGX, mainly because I wasn’t expecting it to be so good. One to watch!

Tekken 7 is expected to be released in 2017 on Xbox One, PS4 and PC.

Review by Chris (co-host of 60 Minutes With and The Same Coin)