The light and airy Tobacco Dock is a far cry from the oppressive atmosphere of Earls Court
The light and airy Tobacco Dock is a far cry from the oppressive atmosphere of Earls Court

EGX Rezzed is like the younger, idealistic brother of EGX (formerly the Eurogamer Expo), and rightly so given its roots in PC indie games. This year’s festival took place in the capital for the first time, following a two year stint at the NEC in Birmingham (which, incidentally, is where this year’s EGX proper will be held since Earl’s Court is closing down – yeah, I know, where will we go to see B-list TV celebrities showing off the latest sofas, steak knives and kitchen islands at the Ideal Home Show now?!). We’ll have to hope that the lights of the big city don’t corrupt the festival in future years, but now at least it feels true to its lo-fi roots.

Outside the venue a retro ship embodies the building's heritage
Outside the venue a retro ship embodies the building’s heritage

This is in no small part due to the new venue, Tobacco Dock, which created an atmosphere that was the difference of light and day to the dark, cavernous hanger spaces of the NEC and Earls Court. It may have looked like a giant brick bunker on the outside, but inside the place was flooded with light courtesy of some large glass and open ceilings. That might have led to problems of screen glare (it’s a well-documented fact that sunlight and gamers don’t often get along), if it weren’t for the fact that each publisher or grouping of exhibitors was compartmentalised and cocooned in spacious rooms lining the gantries like a boutique shopping arcade of… well, arcades.

Meanwhile, the lower floors – which held the press area as well as the board gaming space – sported charming vaulted ceilings that hint at the original use of the place as an old fashioned shipping warehouse, as did the period ships that stood in the dock outside. Although I could imagine the place getting crowded at its busiest times, the Thursday we attended felt so luxuriously laid back that I could almost have imagined I was there for my own amusement rather than to play and write about as much as possible.

The rest was a wide expanse of indie titles, big and small, for the eager player to navigate, much like the seafarers of yore, the adventurous spirit of whom the venue evoked perfectly.

EGX promised a more intimate show and this year you can’t help but feel they delivered. As a consequence, it didn’t feel that Indie devs were as chained to their stalls or exclusive areas as much as in bigger shows, and it was common to see famous figures (famous within the small world of indie development at least) like Mike Bithell and Rami Ismail strolling around the show floor or enjoying the sunshine and artisanal food by the water outside, mixing with the general punters.

Whilst [email protected] and Sony had a large presence, whole rooms were set aside for small publishers like Devolver Digital, Team 17 and Versus Evil. With no massive booths, giant flashing lights or expensive architecture to vie for the eye, everyone felt a lot more equal. In fact the biggest games there were Bloodborne and Guild Wars 2, showcasing their forthcoming Heart of Thorns expansion. The rest was a wide expanse of indie titles, big and small, for the eager player to navigate, much like the seafarers of yore, the adventurous spirit of whom the venue evoked perfectly.

Below are a selection of the games I spent time with. More coverage coming up in a series of blogs where Philip Gallagher outlines his discoveries.

The Room 3
The Room 3 picks up on the implied story of the previous 2 instalments, with the player hot on the heels of enigmatic, dimensional jumping acquaintance/friend/antagonist known only as ‘AS’ – or is he hot on the heels of you? An early note would imply the latter with AS alluding to the fact that he has brought you to him and signing off “I would tell you that this is a trap, but you already know.” Whichever way it is you can be sure there will be a ton of tactile, intricate puzzles between you and the looming finale. I was, once more, entranced and absorbed as I navigated my way around a topographical diorama model of a cathedral, replete with arcane symbols, star maps and logic puzzles. I’m looking forward to losing a night of sleep to Fireproof Games’ delightful brain teaser again.

Omega Agent is a colourful jetpack joy ride
Omega Agent is a colourful jetpack joy ride

Omega agent
Fireproof seem to be branching out with this one. After 3 instalments of the claustrophobic, head scratching, macabre The Room series, they’ve chosen to shake loose with not only a cheerfully coloured open world, but a game designed for Samsung’s forthcoming Gear VR system. But as company founder Barry Meade tells me it might not be such a big leap, as most of the core team members cut their teeth with the Burnout series so immersive environments are in the company’s DNA. In Omega Agent your dude pilots a jet pack around a tropical city not a million miles from Mario Sunshine’s Delfino Plaza, shooting targets and performing other tasks in what the developers hope will be an honest-to-goodness videogame for VR, not just an exercise in immersion. Although the result seemed solid I developed a bit of motion sickness after a few minutes zipping about, but that’s more likely because the demo was running on a now fairly out-of-date Oculus DK2 dev kit.

It may look confusing but Big Pharma's systems are very easy to grasp
It may look confusing but Big Pharma’s systems are very easy to grasp

Big Pharma
Big Pharma is a delightfully satirical take on the shadier side of the pharmaceutical industry, as depicted in Ben Goldacre’s infamous book Bad Pharma which is not, as I thought, a game about burly farmers. Largely operating in the sim management genre, made famous by Theme Hospital and more recently modernised with Prison Architect, the thing that sets this game apart is its incredibly logical design, which makes a potentially complicated set of systems imminently accessible. First you send your Indiana Jones-esque adventurers to gather active ingredients, then you decide which node the ingredient will enter your expandable factory. Now it’s simply a case of linking it to an exit node via a Rube Goldberg machine of conveyor belts, pill printers, mixers and centrifuges, designed to refine the ingredient, limit its side effects (and profitability) and turn it into this year’s revolutionary super pill. Meanwhile your impact, and profit margin, is affected by a dynamic economy, which includes competition and random epidemics. Big Pharma looks to be thought-provoking and brain-bending in equal measure.

Be heard, but try not to be seen in Volume
Be heard, but try not to be seen in Volume

Volume
Mike Bithell’s much anticipated follow up to the charming Thomas Was Alone is a recasting of the Robin Hood legend in a future dystopian setting. In this, and its stripped back stealth aesthetic, it shares much in common with Camouflaj’s République. Danny Wallace returns alongside Charlie McDonnell as Locksley, as well as Andy Serkis, who Bithell assures us makes an astonishingly compelling villain. Volume might not have much in common with Thomas Was Alone’s gameplay, but the use of narration, this time as a conversation between Wallace’s AI companion and Locksley, suggests the same subtly emotive approach to story and the art style is very much still built around bold geometric shapes, although there are a ton more of them this time around. The stealth itself seemed highly challenging to me, but I was battling with unfamiliar keyboard controls (activating stealth with my pinky was a rather tricky affair) but the game benefits from an incredibly quick respawn, encouraging trial and error. Be heard, but try not to be seen.

Even the decorative sculptures in Titan Souls want to kill you...
Even the decorative sculptures in Titan Souls want to kill you…

Titan Souls
One arrow? One life? Just bosses? Are you kidding me? This will likely be your initial assessment of Titan Souls, before the elegant genius of the design dawns on you. Soon you’ll be throwing yourself with gusto at the half-dozen or so bosses that are all right there to fight from the beginning. Each one has a theme and follows patterns that riff on classic Zelda boss fights, just as the game evokes A Link to the Past in its top down, retro aesthetic. Fire your arrow, run, and then telepathically drag your arrow back to you, all whilst desperately dodging the boss’ devastating one-hit-kill attacks. This game, a kind 8-bit Shadow of the Colossus by way of Dark Souls, gives you an incredible sense of accomplishment when you finally nail the sucker that’s been giving you the run-around for ages.

Knee Deep has a very atmospheric, theatrical presentation
Knee Deep has a very atmospheric, theatrical presentation

Knee Deep
Set in Florida, Knee Deep is an episodic ‘swamp noir’, by the writer’s own admission, bringing it tonally in line with the kind of uncharacteristic, acerbic takes on the genre the Coen brothers are famous for. Like the recent Kentucky Route Zero there are vibes of Twin Peaks here too, but the bold art design, in which the action takes place seemingly on one darkened cinema sound stage, with each setting built minimalist and surrealist detail, is more reminiscent of Lars Von Trier’s radical piece of anti-cinema, Dogville. The result is shaping up to be a tense, claustrophobic and weird mystery, which promises the player the ability to shape the course of the story.

Use angles to good effect in Steamworld Heist
Use angles to good effect in Steamworld Heist

Steamworld Heist
‘Take the tactical, turn-based movement of XCOM: Enemy Unknown and make it 2D’ is the conceit of Image & Form’s follow up to the breakout success Steamworld Dig, and the revelation this creates will blow your mind. It’s an idea that not only works, but works so well it makes you wonder why it hasn’t been done before. In a futuristic, spacefaring take on steam world’s former western setting, our robotic renegades take on their foes on a series of tiered levels. Unlike XCOM, the combat doesn’t revolve around probability but how good your aim is. As with games like Shadow Complex, you have full 360 degree analogue aiming movement. Also adding tactical depth is the fact that the different guns all behave in different ways, but almost all of them allow you to ricochet bullets off the walls like Revolver Ocelot. Very, very cool!

Afro samurai 2
Made by largely the same team as the original Afro Samurai game, only now working independently, this doesn’t initially seem as interesting as it could be. Of course it doesn’t help that the combat boils down to hammering the square button constantly as you build a huge combo seemingly uncontested. This demo took place in a samurai night club, where sordid topless geishas cut tunes as you face off against hordes of ninjas that seemingly endlessly spew from the rafters. It’s a bit of an archaic-feeling design, but the saving grace is that the original soundtrack is shaping up to be brilliant. The inimitable RZA is involved once more, only this time, rather appropriately given the indie nature of the project as a whole, he’s hand-picked a roster of independent hip hop artists and rappers from all over the world. Buy the soundtrack instead perhaps…

The weird and wonderful world of Armikrog
The weird and wonderful world of Armikrog

Armikrog
Most modern takes on the point and click genre crowdsourced through Kickstarter try to avoid the more obscure, frustrating elements of old-school adventure games, but Armikrog unashamedly embraces them. In spite of having no inventory to speak of (players solve puzzles by switching between the non-copyright infringing protagonist – apparently DreamWorks still own the rights to Neverhood – and his dog, and probing the increasingly bizarre environment) the game seems to relish complicated, obscure puzzles. But the biggest selling point here is the utterly beautiful claymation aesthetic, which has been laboriously brought to life through actual stop motion animation, as you’d expect from the creators of the cult classic Neverhood. This is shaping up to be a very interesting (if not accessible) adventure game indeed.

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