Eurogamer Expo 2012 – Winners and Losers
I could recount a great deal about my personal time at the Eurogamer Expo. My adventure filled journey there, the great people I met, the amazing atmosphere, the discussion I had with the great and the merely good and how I survived on junk food for two days…. but you don’t care about me! “We don’t even like you Tom, Tell us about the games!”, you say. That’s some attitude Mr!
Fine, here you go. The Eurogamer Expo games arbitrarily categorised as either winners and losers based entirely on my subjective judgements:
Company of Heroes 2
A low key demo for this RTS was uninspiring. I played Company of Heroes back in 2006 and I really struggle to see how this sequel pushes the series forward. Looking generic and playing very similarly to the original, I struggled to see a place for this title in the market today. Visually the game doesn’t look much better than the original, at least in this demo, and while using flame-throwers to clear out buildings inhabited by enemy troops remains fun, its hard to see what this title brings to the table that you haven’t seen already. Dawn of War 2 was ambitiously different to the original game, but Company of Heroes 2 feels like an expansion pack right now. One that’s 6 years late.
There were long lines for this one (understandably), but Bethesda’s new IP shows great promise. Looking far more like Bioshock than I expected, the demo section we played was a good, solid, discrete chunk of gameplay. Watching others play, there seemed to be a great deal of options for how you approached the mission. It seems like your character is quite powerful, possibly having leveled-up a number of powers at this point of the game, and I was spoiled for choice when confronting enemies as to how I eliminated them. At first I possessed NPC’s, summoned hordes of rats and sent enemies to sleep with poisoned darts. Later, I discovered the ridiculous power of the wind attack which threw enemies off of precarious platforms to their death below.
All of this made the game feel a lot like Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, as I used the environment and my powers to throw enemies to their death or lure them into traps of my own devising. There were also a lot of different routes through the levels, and I was pleasantly surprised when I took a risk and dropped down on to some pipes to find a hidden route into a building via a large turning water wheel that led to secret passageways.
The only small disappointment was how average the visuals looked throughout. In comparison to other gorgeous titles on console like Tomb Raider, Dishonoured looked like it could have come out three years ago (and even then look no better than average). A muted colour palette and a design aesthetic so close to Bioshock meant that it never really impressed visually. Still, the fact remains that it was ambitious and original and fun to play and that’s far more important.
Far Cry 3
I really like the tone of this new entry in the Far Cry series, and I’m surprised by how excited the third game has made me since I didn’t like the other two. The first was initially impressive, but its crazy mutants ruined the story and the enemy AI’s tendency to see you from miles away through cover that you’re own sight couldn’t penetrate always frustrated me. The second game meanwhile had some clever ideas, but I played the somewhat average console port and got annoyed with the lacklustre save system that saw me lose progress.
This new title really impresses firstly technically (as you would expect), but then with its clever emergent gameplay. With grenades flipping jeeps over onto enemies, wild boars charging around during gunfights and explosions knocking people off high ledges, there’s lots going on, none of it scripted. In comparison to the tightly scripted nature of many of the games at the show (like the new Black Ops and even Tomb Raider) the more freeform nature of Far Cry 3 was welcome and it evoked the very best moments of the Halo games. Each encounter felt like a puzzle with multiple solutions, none of which were imagined by the game designer, but rather engineered by the player.
I did get a little lost at times, but the open nature of the levels mean this is likely to happen from time to time. A map helps, and by climbing radio towers you unlock more info about the surrounding area like in the Assassins Creed games. A flying section on a glider was a highlight, and I enjoyed jumping from it into a cool, clear sea before swimming to shore to kill some guards. Far Cry 3 seems to have captured the spirit of the first game and improved upon it. Lets hope there’s no mutants or aliens later to spoil everything this time.
God of War: Ascension
There were two separate demos for this, one for the four player multiplayer and one for the regular singleplayer with Kratos. While the multiplayer had some hot, cyclops eye-stabbing action, the singleplayer was the very definition of irrelevant. Playing exactly like any other God of War game, it was dispiritedly generic, and resembled the PSP spin-offs more than the main series.
Kratos had a very definite goodbye in GOW3. Why is he back? Will anyone offer an answer that isn’t “money”? GOW3 had an ending; a fairly good and conclusive one. Why is poor Kratos ripping apart enemies in the exact same way as he has for the past 7 years? Doesn’t the guy deserve a break?
Sadly he has stayed around long enough to see his rivals surpass him. He has slid into irrelevance and the combat of God of War: Ascension feel archaic and mindless when compared with more satisfying systems in the Arkham or Assassins Creed games. That’s probably a divisive opinion, but there’s just so little new or interesting here that spending more time spinning those blades around inspires nothing but apathy. Sub-par level design, gimicky multiplayer and moderately attractive visuals won’t save this title.
Thankfully there weren’t any rubber nuns of any sort at the Eurogamer Expo. The nuns that were there wore leather.
Terrible character design and misjudged game trailer aside, Hitman Absolution had a fairly strong showing. The way that the game is structured – as a series of “hits” where you have one contract to fulfil per game level – means that Hitman Absolution lends itself well to a 20-30 minute demo. The level that was shown was good looking with busy streets populated by literally hundreds of NPC’s wondering around an Oriental environment.
It was clear that there were a great number of different approaches that could be taken to kill the target, who was in the middle of a huge crowd, without alerting the police and guards that patrolled the area. Killing police and stealing their uniforms, triggering car alarms, planting bombs, poisoning food or finding a sniper position were all valid and viable strategies. I failed often and alerted the police, resulting in a lethal SWAT team being dispatched to find me. Despite these failures, I still felt the urge to restart the mission and attempt a different approach; a sure sign that this is the kind of Hitman game the fans want.
Despite some systems in place for taking down police – including faking surrender or taking hostages – I still found that combat was poor and unsatisfying. Hitman is at its best when it is prioritising stealth and lateral thinking, and to that extent this demo showed a lot of promise for the final game.
I managed to play a lot of Indie games, but I was most excited by this one before I got to the Expo, and after I played it I was hooked. Admittedly I was also very frustrated (as the game is absolutely brick hard) but my numerous failures just encouraged me to practice and get better at the game.
Played from a top down perspective, this is a lightning quick game where you can die in a tiny fraction of a second. Moving smoothly and quickly, the goal is to get through a level filled with armed opponents and guard dogs as quickly as you can. Every enemy dies easily, but so do you. Chaining your attacks together and going quickly from unarmed attacks to knives to guns is exhilarating, and each play session normally lasts seconds rather than minutes. Like Super Meat Boy though, each death is just a stepping stone to eventual mastery. Its horribly punishing in an old school way. Unashamedly retro and thoroughly addictive.
PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale
Its Smash Brothers. Do you like Smash Brothers? If you do, then this is it again. With less memorable characters.
Ok, maybe that’s harsh. I did kind of have fun with this. Its so desperately, painfully, almost comically shameless in how it copies Nintendo’s classic beat em up. Despite that, in copying a successful game so completely, it has managed to retain the inherent chaotic fun of its source material. Playing as Fat Princess and “Guy from Infamous” instead of Link or Mario really highlights the weakness of Sony’s mascots though.
Still, with some gorgeous backgrounds, well animated and enjoyable combat and fun multiplayer, this wasn’t as terrible as it could have been. That’s not a winner though, so by the dichotomous rules I created for myself at the start of this article, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is a…
I’ve been excited about this title for over a year now, and I absolutely loved trying it at last.
It’s a niche title, but I fall into that niche perfectly. I can play guitar (very badly). As a result, I know enough to see the benefit of all the different game modes, which are effectively training exercises. I am also a gamer (obv), and so I enjoy learning by increasing scores, playing along with songs I love and getting achievements. If you don’t want to learn guitar though, there really is nothing in the game for you. Unless you want to play bass. It can teach you bass guitar too. Yay bass!
I played a number of different game types. One involved firing missiles at targets in lanes by strumming at the correct fret on the low E string. As the difficulty increases you can no longer look at the guitar frets, meaning you start learning how to position your hand without staring down at where your fingers are all the time. Another mode taught power chords and was more like Guitar Hero.
Once I had the chord names appearing on screen I had far more success. Playing along with “House of the Rising Sun”, I was happy to see that the game scaled the difficulty, and as I played arpeggiated chords like I’d learned, the game didn’t punish me even though it asked for simple strumming.
I also have to say the people who worked at the stand for the game from Ubisoft were fantastically patient and knowledgeable and even after four hard days of work they were still friendly and helpful. Thanks guys!
With some gorgeous visuals and a strong narrative hook, the new Tomb Raider makes a good first impression. With gritty and battered Lara in a Ray Mears-style battle for survival, the rainy jungle setting with stormy seas and burning wreckage looks great. The idea of a Tomb Raider origin story is a clever twist on the series and a more vulnerable Lara is a great heroine for a game.
Sadly comments from the developer have shown a real ignorance and insensitivity to the series fans. Patronisingly they portrayed the gamer as a benevolent father figure who would want to “protect” Lara, demonstrating a complete lack of understanding for everything positive they themselves have achieved with the shift in tone. A gritty, vulnerable and human Lara who has to stand on her own two feet and overcome her fears and weaknesses is a great heroine, but by framing her struggles as being overseen by the player as a caretaker figure, they undermine their own game.
These criticisms would fade had Tomb Raider demoed well, but for me it was a big disappointment. Very linear, every person who played the game had the exact same experience. Crossing over a log bridge saw every player almost slip and fall at the same point regardless of how well they controlled Lara. Being on rails to this extent doesn’t mean that the game will be bad. The Uncharted games showed how exciting an experience it can be to play through a game that seamlessly combines gameplay with well directed and choreographed yet tightly scripted action sequences. Tomb Raider felt a lot like the Uncharted games.
Sadly though the platforming and climbing was very prescriptive with only very specific areas of the level being traversable. Worse, when the gameplay opened up for the first time and you were asked to hunt a deer with a bow, I got hopelessly lost despite the small size of the environment.
The general average-ness of the demo combined with the sour taste left by comments made about the game recently make this one a….
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
The game of the Eurogamer Expo for me. Despite hearing some negative buzz about it before the show I loved this demo, and now can’t wait to play the game.
It opens promisingly, with a tutorial level managing to both teach the basics of gameplay while also telling a great story of the first encounter humans have with the aliens. It manages to make your enemies both kitsch and terrifying at the same time; evoking the exact same atmosphere that the original games had. I played on console and found that it played well with a controller, while the PC version looked and played almost exactly the same.
The most impressive thing was the game engine. The game shifts effortlessly between the overhead, “isometric” style to some cool zoomed in cinematic camera angles at appropriate moments. For example, when one of your troops bursts through a door you will see them in what looks like an animated cut scene. It’s the game engine that’s the star though, and the character models, animation and level of detail is very impressive. Couple this with some very well designed environments and the ability to do things like destroy walls or climb up drainpipes to rooftops and you have a very dynamic combat environment.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Character progression. Individual stats. Customisation. Base building. Its all here and more. I can’t wait!
Game of show.
What we missed
So what did we miss? Halo 4? Its Halo. The guns are orange instead of purple.
Black Ops 2? Its Black Ops again. Left trigger > right trigger.
Wii U? The queues were too long. Sorry, I just couldn’t spend my whole time waiting. Its looked very Nintendo-y.
So what did you think of the Eurogamer Expo? Did you attend? If so, write below and tell us why we’re wrong about everything!