EGX Round Up – Player 1: Dean

EGX (formerly Eurogamer Expo) at Earl’s Court was, as usual, quite the arcade. Dozens of games, in many cases months off release, were playable on the show floor of the cavernous space. This year, even more so than any other, indie games confidently rubbed shoulders with triple A games, not only confined to the large (and busy) indie area, but at the booths of Playstation, Xbox and Nintendo. But with so many new games on show, and tickets sold out weeks ahead, there was obviously going to be one downside: queues. Many of these were several hours long, like the yearly ritual stand-a-thon for Call of Duty and, this year, Dragon Age: Inquisition (although that was mainly down to there being just 8 stations and the demo being an impressive 25-30 minutes long).

Tarot cards introduce the classes for Dragon Age: Inquisition
Tarot cards introduce the classes for Dragon Age: Inquisition

Even at such a busy convention there are pockets of relaxation. I spent far too long on Thursday afternoon with our friends at Esdevium games playing some of the latest board games, including a frantic game of Dobble which can only be described as Snap! on Crystal Meth (look it up) and the ever popular Love Letter. Aside from playing board games (when I should be playing videogames) I’ve always found the perfect chance to sit down and reflect is to head to the developer sessions and listen to the game creators lay bare their thoughts on game design. One such talk was by Neil Thompson, art director of Dragon Age: Inquisition, who demonstrated how the team took inspiration from a variety of sources including architecture, film and, in his case, Renaissance art. He also commented on a section of gameplay, discussing how the use of light and environmental design helps to guide the player along the critical path, whilst teasing side activities. And that game is looking very fine indeed and very capable of giving The Witcher a run for its money.

They not only govern the control of the spacecraft, but the chemical and mineral composition of the various planets that can be found in the 400 billion star systems open for exploration, each one accurately mapped on our own galaxy.

Meanwhile David Braben, creator of the original Elite and pioneer of 3D graphics, and now 30 years later, Elite: Dangerous, spoke about the real world physics in the game. They not only govern the control of the spacecraft, but the chemical and mineral composition of the various planets that can be found in the 400 billion star systems open for exploration, each one accurately mapped on our own galaxy. Braben, who is a charming and enthusiastic uber-geek – a kind of cross between Professor Cox and your dad – spoke, optimistically perhaps, about how he hopes that players will band together in informal alliances to explore the galaxy together and take down the occasional player turned rogue space pirate.

Tom Francis's Heat Signature is another quirky gem
Tom Francis’s Heat Signature is another quirky gem

A much smaller space project is Heat Signature by Tom Francis, of Gunpoint fame, who was on hand to discuss the game’s emergent systems. In an infinite open space, ships of various sizes and compositions are procedurally generated. Each ship has different sensitivity of scanners (that can detect your heat signature, which warms up the more you use your engine), amounts of missiles and sensor limits. Once attached to their airlock, the layout of the ship’s corridors is exposed and you can sneak (or shoot) your way to the captain’s chair and hijack the ship. Tom talked about how the game is programmed to build a series of corridors that always provides a connected route through the ship, but if the ship is blown apart, each exposed corridor will turn into an airlock and if you are ejected into space you’re given a chance to pursue your body with your ship and pluck it out of the sky, a sequence that is almost always hilarious (in much the same way jumping through plate glass whilst punching a guard in the face is in Gunpoint).

Back on the show floor it was time to join (or in some case jump) some queues, so without further ado let us guide you through the games that stood out and our thoughts on them.

evil within

Evil Within

Shinji Mikami has deservedly earned a place in the videogame hall of fame, as creator of the Resident Evil series, which came to define the survival horror genre, and then the third person shooter with Resident Evil 4. Since leaving Capcom he has had a hand in some of the finest modern Japanese studios including Clover, Platinum Games and Grasshopper Manufacture. His latest game, which started life as Project Zwei, was later revealed as The Evil Within and not only did it promise to redefine the survival horror genre (again) but is supposedly Mikami’s swan song as director. If that’s the case then he seems to be going out with a bang, because The Evil Within is terrifying. The mansion setting and creepy atmosphere seems to evoke the feel of the original Resident Evil (or at least as I remember it, discovering it for the first time as a kid) even down to the slowly creaking doors that seem homage to that game’s iconic load screens. Only this time shambling B-Movie zombies are the least of your worries as the mansion’s corridors are littered with spirits that play out traumatic scenes from the past and pursue you relentlessly in glitchy, spectral terror. This game has just clawed itself to the top of my list of most anticipated games and this generation is shaping up to be a good one for horror games.


Alien Isolation

Another great horror experience, Alien Isolation is the result of a passion project from The Creative Assembly, best known for their Total War series. Whilst most games licensed from the classic Sci-fi horror series take the space marines of Aliens as their reference point, this game is heavily inspired by the original film, which was more horror than action. It’s a brave choice that sees you hunted through an off-world facility by a single Alien threat. As one of the only surviving scientists on the base, which is falling apart around you, and with little access to weaponry, you feel completely and utterly vulnerable. Hiding in lockers and holding your breath, or observing the progress of the alien as it bumps around in the ship’s air ducts via a motion scanner (which cleverly blurs out the background as you focus on it, obscuring your view), are amongst the few things you can do to keep yourself safe from the AI controlled threat. The purpose of the demo seemed to be about tension leading up to the inevitability of death (to the point that being torn apart is almost a cathartic release), but whether this is sustainable over the course of an entire game remains to be seen.


Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

It’s hard to think of Shadow of Mordor as a Lord of the Rings game, set as it is on the fringes of Tolkien’s narrative and drawing much from the Assassin’s Creed and Arkham series in terms of structure and combat mechanics respectively. Monolith Productions’ big twist on the genre is in the form of the ‘nemesis system’, which game journalists have been attempting to articulate for months as though it were an exotic tongue twister. It’s a system that doesn’t show well in a short demo, as it’s based on a process of evolution and adaptation to player choices. The Orcs (sorry, Uruks) in the game are structured in a complex hierarchy via a series of procedurally generated traits and alliances. Basically taking out your assassination target becomes easier if you either kill or control their underlings, but if anyone kills you (and since the game is very difficult to take a direct approach in, this is likely) they are promoted up the structure and gain in strength. As the demo had been played by dozens of people before me, and apparently not reset between plays, each of my targets was incredibly powerful and harboured a mean grudge. It’s an interesting emergent narrative system that could benefit from being spliced into many objective based open world games (Ubisoft take note).


The Order 1886

The Order 1886 is possibly the next gen exclusive game that I have been looking forward to the most. The evocative steampunk Victorian setting, in which you play a member of a crack unit of secretive monster hunters with cool codenames like Galahad, looks to be very nicely realised with developers Ready at Dawn really pushing the boat out in terms of graphical prowess. Aesthetics aside, the gameplay itself seems to be fairly run of the mill third person cover shooting, though the mechanics do seem nice and direct. One of the weapons on offer was a rifle with two modes of fire: one sprays a cloud of thermite powder, whilst the other launches a flare that ignites the powder and turns it into something resembling napalm. It’s a satisfying one-two punch that makes it clear the developers are looking to mix up the usual formulae for gunplay. Whether the game’s story and length live up to the promise of its look and feel remains to be seen, but I remain tentatively excited.

dragon age inquisition

Dragon Age: Inquisition

Dragon Age: Inquisition was one of the lengthiest queues at the show, although this was mainly due to the booth only sporting 8 monitors and having an uncharacteristically lengthy playtime of about half an hour. That’s the average length of the multiplayer mode as it turns out, because that’s what the demo was showing off. This immediately piqued my interest given that this is the first game in the series to feature it and Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer was unexpectedly very good. Rather encouragingly, according to the PR person I spoke to the Dragon Age: Inquisition multiplayer team is half made up of devs who worked on Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer and half from Dragon Age. The mode I played was a team based dungeon storm with each player granted a limited amount of health potions and revives, but a chance to fully heal between each of the five floors. Every couple of stages gives you a specific optional objective and the whole thing is capped off with a boss. Like the Mass Effect 3 multiplayer, tactical coordination seems vital, with each of twelve classes offering a different combination of skills.



To say that Bloodborne is hotly anticipated would be a massive understatement. The new game from Hidetaka Miyazaki, whose Demon Souls and Dark Souls have had an immeasurable impact on game design that reaches far beyond the RPG genre, was always going to have a spotlight on it. Like the Souls games it’s an action game with a nuanced combat system that relies on timing, finesse and patience. Oh yes, and it’s really bloody hard. This time around enemies seem slightly easier to handle on their own, but there are a ton more of them. In the area I was let loose on in the demo a procession of the strange figures that populate this gothic European setting, with their battered Dickensian top hats and Bram Stoker torches, made their way to a large bonfire, on which a person seemed to be burning. Although initially oblivious to your presence, attacking them causes them to mob you in a sequence that was vaguely reminiscent of the opening of Resident Evil 4. The big change to the combat this time around is the transforming weapons, which adds a degree of flexibility, for instance my sword could be instantly turned into a huge hammer by placing a block on the end of the blade. Most happily is the fact that Miyazaki’s incredibly unique sense of world building and creature design seems to be present in spades.


Elite: Dangerous

It’s hard to disassociate my first experience of Elite: Dangerous with my first experience of the Oculus Rift, and that’s no doubt partly down to how well realised the Rift’s incorporation into the game is. Frontier’s booth was decked out with top of the range flight sticks and thrusters that exactly mirrored the controls you use in game, making the VR environment you find yourself sitting in unnervingly real. The whole ship cabin is rendered around you in full 3D and shifting your head even subtly will change your view out of the windows, allowing you to eyeball your targets as they fly overhead. Even with flight assist on, controlling the pitch, yaw and speed of the ship whilst trying to keep a moving target in your view finder, and negotiate a crowded asteroid belt, is pretty tough if you have little experience with flight sims. I was taking so long to shoot down my target that someone approached the person giving me the demo to ask how long I’d been on, to which he replied: “it’s OK, he’s press.” Translation: “It’s OK, he’s shit at games”. I hereby apologise for holding up the queue. Although this isn’t really my genre I can’t deny that it was an incredible experience.


Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light was one of my favourite multiplayer games on Xbox 360.  An incredibly experimental deviation from the core series, it saw two players control Lara and Totec, a reanimated Aztec warrior, navigating a series of tombs packed with intriguing physics puzzles from an isometric perspective and engaging in arcadey twin stick shooter combat. This time around Crystal Dynamics have upped the ante by allowing up to four players to cooperate in a drop in drop out multiplayer that will see the game dynamically scale its puzzles to accommodate the shifting player count. The plot is just as playfully hokey as the first game, with Lara once again accidentally releasing the demonic god Set, who is bent on the destruction of humanity, as well as two benevolent gods, Horus and Isis, who will help with his recapture. This time around Lara has been shadowed by rival upstart treasure hunter Carter Bell, and the four will have to work together to save the day. Or not. You see the beauty of this game is on scrambling to get more gems than your fellow players or accidentally letting go of your grapple just as your friend is dangling over a yawning chasm. More players means more opportunities for chaotic, back-stabbing fun.


Lords of the Fallen

I mentioned earlier the tremendous impact that Dark Souls has had on game design, which has mainly manifested itself in a resurgence of difficult games. However Lords of the Fallen is the first game I have so far played that is utilising Dark Souls mechanics wholesale. It uses the same control scheme, the same animation priority combat and even the same corpse run mechanic, which sees you able to reclaim your experience from your dead body. The twist here is that the longer you leave your corpse the more experience will be lost, and whilst you don’t pick up that experience you get a slight boost in power, making the choice of picking it up a more tantalising one. The game also seems to be less dependent on stats and features design elements, particularly in the environment’s chunky art style, with Darksiders. If it does enough differently from its two big points of influence, Lords of the Fallen could be a great game, but it’s going to struggle to sell against Bloodborne.


Galak-Z: The Dimensional

Skulls of the Shogun dev 17-Bit’s next game is a procedurally generated 2D spaceship shooter that is a clear love letter to classic shmups like Gradius, as well as late 90s Sci-fi anime, like Neon Genesis Evangelion. The fact that your ship is effected by inertia requires skilful use of rear front and side thrusters. Whilst initially difficult you’ll soon be drifting around asteroids and shooting enemies with pin-point precision, with each manoeuvre you pull off making you feel more like an absolute badass. Meanwhile enemies with intelligent AI and large procedurally generated open environments (explored via a Castlevania style map) keep things interesting. You can keep Elite, No Man’s Sky and Star Citizen; this is the space shooter I’ve been waiting for.


Never Alone

Made in collaboration with the native Iñupiat people of Alaska this puzzle platformer sees you take control of a young girl and her wolf on a journey to find the source of an endless blizzard, narrated by an Iñupiat storyteller in his own language. An aesthetically beautiful, thematically profound and utterly charming game, this is a unique attempt to use the medium to positively build empathy for a people marginalised and threatened by the modern world. Amidst a show floor full of violent, somewhat generic shooters, it’s once more an indie game that makes the biggest impact, just by quietly existing.


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