Live Event: EGX 2021
EGX 2021 was always going to be a bit strange. Unless you’ve been living under a particularly huge rock, most people will know the 2020 event was cancelled due to the ongoing global pandemic. Instead of being filled with thousands of enthusiastic gamers, 2020 saw the Excel arena transformed into the temporary NHS Nightingale hospital to deal with the growing number of people sick from COVID-19. I don’t feel particularly qualified to talk about all things Covid related, so I won’t for very long. I will say I didn’t really know what to expect from EGX 2021. We’re sort of in that limbo phase where there are no real restrictions anymore, but people are still understandably anxious. I always knew the event would be scaled back, but by how much? Would it be safely managed? How busy would it be? Don’t worry, I’ll answer those questions later. Another reason EGX 2021would be a bit strange was because for the first time in over 10 years I’d be travelling on my own and not with my great friend Wayne (@JetSetDiddy).
A few words on Wayne. Wayne and I have been going to EGX together since 2010. Just to make me feel old and set the scene, Medal of Honor, (sic) Killzone 3 and Gears of War 3 were a few of the big games on show. Aside from 2013 when Wayne’s son was born, we haven’t missed an EGX trip; until now. I lovingly refer to Wayne as my personal assistant or Sherpa because if it weren’t for him, I’d probably end up in Scotland! He can negotiate the trains, tube, and DLR with frightening efficiency, whereas I’m oblivious to my surroundings and follow him around like a child who stays close to their parent. I first met Wayne in 2004. I’d just started going out with my new girlfriend (who has now been my wife for 14 years) at a Hawaiian themed garden party. This was my first introduction to my girlfriend’s friends and their boyfriends, so I was keen to make a good impression. I’m pleased to say things went well and Wayne and I quickly discovered a shared passion for videogames. This carried on with the release of the Xbox 360 and our bond was cemented through many hours of Call of Duty, Halo, Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter and many other online gaming sessions. So, with 10 years of annual EGX trips together, it’s fair to say this year had mixed emotions as I made my own way to London. For the first part of the journey, I kept expecting him to emerge from the toilet and we’d continue our chat about the games we were excited to play. Sadly, this didn’t happen. You are probably thinking something bad has happened to Wayne which is why he didn’t make the journey? Thankfully, this isn’t the case, but for whatever reason Wayne decided not to make the trip this year I fully respect his decision. I’ve mentioned Wayne before over the years I’ve been podcasting, so thought why not pen a little tribute to him, so in some way he’s still with me on my journey. Luckily for me, I was going to meet my other friends Pete (@tat_sun_) and Tom (@TomMarett) who would make sure I didn’t get lost. One thing we all agreed is that we missed Wayne very much. We love you buddy and hopefully we’ll all be back together at EGX 2022.
Now I’ve got that soppy shit out of the way, let’s talk about the show and answer some of the questions I posed earlier.
As we start to get back to some form of normality, the effects of the pandemic were obvious. Normally EGX is packed to the rafters with people and dozens of publishers and developers after your attention. The absence of the “big three” titans of the videogame industry, Nintendo, PlayStation, and Microsoft were huge in terms of providing a “box office” draw. In one sense this was a disappointment, but also understandable. This was definitely a show where the indie developers had a chance to show off their games and fill the gap left by the “big boys” of the gaming industry. As a result, the show was notably smaller than normal. There were also fewer people, but on the positive side this meant barely any queuing to play the games. Another observation is normally you need at least 2 days to experience everything EGX has to offer. Let’s just say if I’d have bought a four-day ticket I’d be fairly disappointed, but as I was only there for one day it wasn’t a problem. The reduced number of people and stands meant you had more room to move and keep distance. There was also lots of hand sanitiser and wipes to use before and after you picked up a controller, so in that sense there were a lot of safety precautions.
As well as the games listed below, we also spent a fair bit of time in the extensive retro zone which is a treasure trove filled with videogame history. Not only did I play a full cab version of A.P.B, Pete, Tom, and I had an absolute blast playing Bomberman 2, Time Crisis 2, Point Blank, Timesplitters, Micro Machines, as well as a selection of pinball machines. This was great fun and provided one of the many highlights of the day.
So, let’s take a look at the other games we played:
Aliens: Fireteam Elite
I’ve been intrigued by this release as I like third person shooters and the Aliens franchise. Put the two together and it’s a perfect mix, right? My first impressions of Aliens: Fireteam Elite is how well it captures the aesthetic and tone of the James Cameron movie. Much like Predator: Hunting Grounds, the faithfulness to the source material is undeniable. However, as fun as Predator: Hunting Grounds was, you ended up playing similar missions and ultimately getting bored quickly. It’s hard to tell if Aliens: Fireteam Elite will be the same based on playing one level, but I definitely enjoyed what I played. If you’ve ever played a third person shooter, the controls will quickly become familiar to you. The arcade feel as well as the pickup and playability are another tick in the box. You and two other friends take control of marines and face off against the xenomorph threat. As I mentioned, the locations, weapons and Aliens all look spot on. I can imagine playing this with a group of friends would be a lot of fun, but my only real concern is the longevity. I’ll probably pick it up when it’s discounted. Aliens: Fireteam Elite is available now.
Back 4 Blood
Made by the people who brought us Left 4 Dead, Back 4 Blood is the spiritual successor to these games. You and three other friends take on a horde of the undead in this first-person shooter. Left 4 Dead was a relatively simple affair of getting from A to B, but Back 4 Blood adds an extra layer of complexity with player cards. You can earn various cards in the game which give you additional benefits such as faster reloading, extra health, and other perks. This allows a fair amount of customisation with your character, and you can tailor your playstyle. The bad news is the game director can also play cards which add extra challenges. This random nature means although you may play the same levels, you will never play the same game twice. I’ve already pre-ordered Back 4 Blood after playing the beta earlier in the year, and I’m hugely excited to get my hands on the full version and kick some zombie butt with my friends. Back 4 Blood is available now.
Cheftastic!: Buffet Blast
Cheftastic is a twin stick shooter where you control a chef fending off mutant vegetables. Helping you out are a selection of different weapons, pepper pot shields which spin around you, and traps, including a blender blade which chops up enemies. The levels are themed around the outdoors such as farms and castles. Once you’ve cleared a wave of violent veggies, you choose which direction to tackle next. I was nicely surprised with the amount of variety in each level and rarely seemed to play the same area twice. The environments themselves form part of the challenge. For example, you can be restricted by bridges, barns, or other objects. This can lead to quickly being surrounded and losing your lives. There was a challenge on the day to try and reach the furthest wave. Tom set the record with twenty-two on the previous day. Being an old git with aging reflexes I didn’t get close, whereas gaming savant Pete got to twenty-four. Well done Pete!
Cheftastic!: Buffet Blast is a modern-day variation of Smash TV where you always need your wits about you. It’s a great indie title which definitely has that “just one more go” factor. At the moment Cheftastic is only coming to PC, but I hope it comes to console as well so it finds a larger audience. You can get updates about Cheftastic by following @cheftasticgame & @NotAGooseGames on Twitter, Not A Goose on Facebook and @cheftasticgame on Instagram.
Formula Retro Racing
I’ve never made a videogame before, but I’d imagine it isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do. You must be talented to make one playable genre of videogame, but to make two completely different type of game is just showing off! Thanks to a smaller setting, I had the pleasure of chatting with the super talented Andrew Jeffreys who is responsible for Formula Retro Racing and Clash of the Metal. Andrew mentioned he makes these games on his own and Formula Retro Racing was made in approximately 6 months, which I find quite astounding to be honest. The first thing that drew me to both games are the striking visuals. Formula Retro Racing immediately reminded me of Sega’s Virtua Racing. The handling of the vehicles was really nice as I sped around the track trying to reach the next checkpoint before time ran out. The success of Formula Retro Racing on Xbox and PC meant Andrew has been able to quit his day job and focus solely on making videogames. We’ve been blessed with racing games that harken back to the golden days of 90’s arcades with the likes of Hotshot Racing. Formula Retro Racing looks set to continue that trend and is also coming to PS4 and PS5 soon. I will definitely look forward to a full review upon its release. Building on the success of Formula Retro Racing, Andrew is also working on a Ridge Racer style game which I’ll definitely have my eye on.
Clash of the Metal
As well as Formula Retro Racing and his previous game Velocity G, and forthcoming release Gravity Chase (see I told you Andrew was a busy boy), he has also been working on Clash of the Metal. Andrew said he makes games he enjoys playing, which is why he wanted to make a 2D fighting game. With an anime/manga setting, Clash of the Metal is an incredibly beautiful looking game! The cel shaded effect really makes the graphics jump off the screen and is very eye catching. There is a selection of different fighters with the usual set of weak and strong attacks, as well as different special moves. Clash of the Metal was a lot of fun playing against Tom and Pete. Andrew is currently working to improve the game and add new fighters, but so far it looks great!
Andrew is one to watch and you can get updates about everything Andrew is working on by visiting his website www.repixel8.com following him on Twitter @Repixel8, Instagram on repixel8 and YouTube at Repixel8
I don’t tend to go in for Real Time Strategy (RTS) games because to put it bluntly, they stress me out. To me an RTS is like keeping multiple plates spinning at the same time until I panic and watch everything go wrong. Most RTS games have been about war and domination, but instead of “Commanding and Conquering” with Fire Commander you’re saving people and putting out fires. I started with the training missions which took me through moving my firefighters, smashing in doors, saving people, and managing my water supply. Everything felt very intuitive and easy to pick up. Within a few minutes I was moving my crew around and completing the various training missions. Once I did that, I was let loose to put my newly acquired skills to the test. Putting out a burning petrol station and saving two victims trapped inside was my task. Was I up to it? It started off well enough with my crew tackling the fire, but it all went horribly wrong as I drove my fire engine into a petrol tanker and the whole thing blew up taking out the victims and my crew in the ensuing explosion. Despite this, I really enjoyed Fire Commander! Graphically it looks really nice and detailed as you zoom in and out of the action. It’s simple to pick up and play which is perfect for someone like me, but there is enough challenge for hardened RTS fans. Fire Commander will be coming to PC and console in the future. You can keep updated about Fire Commander by following @PxCrow on Twitter, Pixel Crow on Facebook, and www.firecommander.info
Hot Wheels Unleashed
Pete and I managed to have a quick split screen race of the recently released Hot Wheels Unleashed and it was a lot of fun. Pick up and play is definitely a positive feature as we instantly took control of our toy cars and raced around a kitchen area. There were various sections of the track which gave you extra speed, and power sliding was easily achieved. Hot Wheels Unleased felt like an updated version of Micro Machines which we’d had such fun with earlier in the day. Hot Wheels Unleashed is definitely a game I would enjoy playing online, or with couch co-op. Hot Wheels Unleashed is available now.
As we were walking around the Team 17 area at EGX I noticed Thymesia and immediately did a double take. I thought ‘that looks just like Bloodborne!’ Indeed, after watching someone play for a few minutes, my suspicions were confirmed as the area the main character walked around could have been taken from the opening area of Hidetaka Miyazaki’s masterpiece. Even the text when the player died resembled the famous YOU DIED. Upon getting my hands on Thymesia it also played a lot like Bloodborne where the character movement felt fluid and fast. As well as taking elements from the famous From Software games, it also reminded me of the Ninja Gaiden games. Although I was thrown into the action and didn’t play a tutorial, I figured out that when you die you have the opportunity to retrieve your memories. Again, another trait taken from the Souls series. Speaking to the representative from Team 17, the influences used in Thymesia are undeniable. Initially only being released on PC, it is hoped Thymesia will also be released for consoles. On the plus side, Thymesia will be reasonably priced as a budget title at mid-£20 rather than a £60 or £70 game. From my point of view Thymesia played well enough. Although the combat might not be as nuanced as Bloodborne or the other Souls games, it was still enjoyable. I guess the big challenge will be to convince players Thymesia offers something a bit different, and not just trying to be a carbon copy. We won’t have to wait long as Thymesia is coming out on PC in December and hopefully consoles in 2022. You can keep updated about Thymesia by following @Team17 on Twitter and Facebook or visiting www.team17.com/games/thymesia
Overall EGX 2021 was different in many ways to usual. It was a much smaller event, and the lack of bluster and bombast would have been a disappointment to some. From my point of view, I really enjoyed my day. Not only did I get to play some great games, but I also got to catch up and meet my friends as well as sharing a lot of laughs. It was a temporary escape from normal life, but at the same time wasn’t quite normal if you know what I mean? I’m sure EGX 2022 will be back to its full glory, along with 2 hours queues to play a game for 10 minutes! In the meantime, thanks to everyone who was involved in bringing EGX 2021 to life. You should all be commended for your efforts.
Review by Chris, with thanks to EGX for the press access.