Keeping up with my trend of relevant irrelevant blogs, I'm going to talk about GAMEfest, a sort of video gamey conventiony type thing that took place in Birmingham, UK, at exactly the same time the Tokyo Game Show opened its doors in the East. Think of it as TGSs' ugly little brother that doesn't get any attention.
GAMEfest is, essentially, a little clubhouse meeting organised by Britain's most innovatively named rip-off merchant, GAME. It allows GAME (I'm not shouting here, they seem to have used allcaps to distinguish themselves) reward card holders to go and try out the demos of several upcoming GAMES (ahem), score a bit of swag, and queue as if your life depended on it. In all fairness to GAME, the line-up was surprisingly impressive. Playable were games such as Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3, Mass Effect 3, Saints Row: The Third, Batman: Arkham City, Rage, Dark Souls, Super Mario Land 3D, Mario Kart 3DS, Assassin's Creed: Revalations, and Dragon's Dogma.
So, early on Sunday, I trekked my way up to Birmingham with a couple of friends and got the train to the NEC. On the train, it was immediately obvious that most of the sweaty nerds travelling to GAMEfest had only one thing on their minds: Modern Warfare 3. Call of Duty has an almost messiah-like quality in the UK, to such a degree that half of all gamers literally play nothing else. I was pretty disappointed that half the people there didn't have a clue about any of the other games on offer, but I guess it made the queues shorter for me so I didn't mind. I also had a great laugh at the expense of some shit-for-brained kids who had travelled to Birmingham just to play Modern Warfare 3. Obviously the word "photographic ID" wasn't in their vocabulary.
As soon as we'd lumbered our way into the hall, it was obvious MW3 was the order of the day. A 4 hour long queue of complete morons stretched completely around the massive COD booth. We smirked at them as we joined the second longest queue in the hall, for Skyrim.
-Why lookee here! A real life Elder Scroll!
I don't know what it was about queuing to look at a game, but I was far more bored than waiting in line at a theme park. And don't get me wrong, I'm mad excited about Skyrim. After a good 90 mins, my feet were numb, my shoulder hurt from carrying my bag, and my neck was bent into a permanent upright position after I'd been craning it to watch trailers on a massive screen above the booth.
But finally, a representative from Bethesda came over and led our group into the booth. We sat down eagerly, rabid to hear some new Skyrim news. The lights went down and on came...
...a slightly extended preview of the Skyrim demo that's been circling around Youtube for 3 months. I felt spectacularly trolled, and so did most of the audience who were desperate to see some new footage. Aside from an amazing Prey 2 trailer, it was a massive let-down. It was made even worse by the fact I could see people having a ball on the other side of the room trying out Rage, which was a 2 hour queue all of it's own. Disheartened, we slumped out the back door of the booth ready to try out some other games. At least they gave me an extremely funky Skyrim carrier bag to lug around with me and bash into people with.
The next game I was foaming to see was Silent Hill: Downpour. Despite recent Silent Hill titles getting a harsh deal, I really like the look of Downpour and hope it'll breath some life back into the series. When we got to the Konami board however, there was no sign of it. The Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, El Shaddai, and PES 2012 were all there. I went over to one of the clerks and asked him where it was.
"Oh" he said "We pulled it yesterday, because it kept crashing and had so many bugs."
Bloody brilliant. One of my most-anticipated games of the year is so broken it can't actually be shown to the public. Mercifully, Downpour appears to now have a cool 6 month delay until March 2012, so there's still hope, but this isn't exactly great news.
-My hypothetical reaction to Downpour, had it not had characters floating through walls and whatnot
Finally, we could now knuckle down and play some real games, so here's a comprehensive review of all the different demos I tried out over the day.
Forgive me, because I don't actually know much about Dark Souls, but what I played was pretty good fun. My opinion of it was slightly marred because the complete fucking tosser in front of me thought it would be great to go through the demo again with a small queue forming behind him. Being British, we of course were all too polite to point out he was a complete dickwad. The kid to my left spent about 30 mins creating a character for a sodding 20 minute demo, so I wasn't impressed with him either. I did feel a bit sorry for him though, because one of the COD maniacs starting goading him for "looking at him funny" and told him to "look at the f*cking screen". Just your average Brit COD obsessive.
Oh yeah, the demo. I didn't realise Dark Souls was an open world game, because the demo gave me the complete opposite impression. I was playing through a very linear tower. Then I died. Then I died again fighting this big troll bloke. It was entertaining stuff, but I don't think I was getting the full picture of what the game was really about (and I didn't have my own character, just the guys' before me), so I can't give an accurate review.
The Good: + Beautifully challenging
+ Bosses are great
+ Combat is satisfying
+ Shit-tons of customisation is always a plus
The Bad - Horribly challenging
- I never got past that bloody boss
- You have to wait in line for a snotty little kid to deck out his warrior
Oh good lord, Rayman: Origins. The third game I was dead excited to play, I seized upon the opportunity as soon as I saw it, seeing as there was basically noone lining up for it. The pain and disappointment of Skyrim and Downpour disappeared as soon as I began to play, and within minutes I was smiling so hard the edge of my mouth was touching my eyes.
Rayman: Origins is fantastic, you see. I feel that I can say that with absolute certainty, even at this stage, it's going to be one of my favourite games of the year. Each of the 3 levels I played on was colourful, sweet, and had some kind of devilishly clever mechanic to keep you hooked. The four of us first had to traverse a desert cave while keeping swarms of bats away by punching sonic cymbals, avoid a giant hairy thing that was chasing us through a jungle, and simply gawp at a beautiful forest level that had us travelling down a rushing stream.
There haven't been any 2D platformers on home consoles for donkey's years, so I'm incredibly impressed that Ubisoft have decided to take such a bold gamble with Origins. I was having so much fun, even the little tosspot we were playing with who was intent on trying to kill every other player at every possible moment couldn't ruin it. In the end, my friends also unanimously agreed that it was brilliant stuff. It was a complete shock to have an Xbox game that absolutely demands local 4-player coop, and I can't wait to run through it with my friends, punching each other off cliffs and down pits. Rayman's return is going to be sweet.
The Good: + Insanely beautiful artwork and animation
+ 4 player local coop! Hell yes!
+ Large effort to make every level unique and interesting
+ Trolling opportunities by the bundle
The Bad: - Trolling opportunities by the bundle
- May ruin friendships
I don't like Sonic much. It has to be said. I missed out on his golden years, so most of the Sonic games I've encounted are hideously over-done, unplayable garbage with some of the worst casts in game history. Which is why Sonic Generations was such a shock to me.
Possibly the biggest surprise of the show, I found myself enjoying the hell out of Generations. The levels I played involved a massive truck chasing Sonic though a beautifully rendered San Francisco look-a-like. Ridiculously exhilirating, the chase involves you outrunning the truck, jumping on top of the truck, leaping over platforms being destroyed by the truck, hiding from the truck, dodging buzzsaws coming out of the truck, and having penetrative sex swith the truck. Funnily enough, the game could have been complete crap outside of the huge truck. It's amazing how much you can add to a game by throwing in a massive, rampaging vehicle.
In all seriousness though, I think Sonic: Generations is a certified win. The massive, sprawling levels, the ridiculously fast pace, the gorgeous visuals and the tight gameplay combine to create a fantastically fun experience. And this is coming from someone who doesn't even like Sonic particularly.
Word of warning though: I also tried out the 3DS version and it wasn't half as fun. Save for the lack of truck, it was also far too slow-paced, incredibly buggy, and generally difficult to get through. At the very least, it was the first time I played the 3DS and the 3D came through for me. Pick up the console version, though.
The Good: + Breathtaking pace
+ Shockingly good level design
+ No sign of the supporting cast
The Bad: - I still have no idea why Classic Sonic and Modern Sonic have to be two different characters
- Might not be as fun without a massive rampaging truck
Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games
With the exception of the most hilariously over-blown title ever (try saying it as fast as possible), MaSatL2012OG is pretty much business as usual. I played my favourite British Olympic sport, the one where four people ride horses while pulling a cart full of eggs, which they have to balance in order to stop said eggs stop falling out. Intense stuff.
I then tried out the Beach Volleyball aspect, with an intense Robotnik/Metal Sonic vs Daisy/Tails grudge match. It dawned on me that there's very little connectivity (even less than usual, that is) with these mini-games. You barely do anything besides tap a couple of buttons or shake the Wiimote around like you have a mouse-trap latched onto your fingers. This is terribly lacking for people who have played and enjoyed real beach volleyball games, such as Dead or Alive: Mammary Tit Championship, or my personal favourite, Klonoa: Beach Volleyball on PS1, an absolute tour-de-force with no less than 14 endings, the funniest dubbing I've ever heard in a video game, and a character so broken he literally takes up half the court.
But anyway, if there's one thing I did enjoy about MaSatL2012OG, it was seeing my friend Tom sat in a plastic canoe looking terribly embarrased as a booth girl taught him how to row by shaking the Wiimote, while Amy Rose incessantly squealed the same 2 lines with each stroke. It's just a shame plastic canoes won't be included on launch.
The Good: + You can pair Dr. Eggman up with Lugi
+ Makes Britain look a lot better than in reality
The Bad: - It's exactly the same as last time
- Hideous voiceovers
We then went and ate lunch, possibly the most disgusting bacon sandwich I've ever ever had, sat on the dirty floor with an obese man who'd only gone there to play COD. It was possibly the most depressing moment of my whole life.
With that harrowing meal over, we later took a break in the "retro" corner, and I had a quick battle on Pokemon Stadium with Tom. Afterwards, my friend Rory, who is mad keen on Mass Effect, gave in to his desires and joined a 2 hour long queue for a demo of Mass Effect 3. This seemed awfully silly, given that it was a bloody Mass Effect sequel. I could demo it right now by playing ME2 for 10 minutes. Unless Bioware have pulled a spectacular U-turn and made it into a rhythm-action snowboarding game with RPG elements.
None-the-less, Tom and I couldn't give less of a shit about Mass Effect, and headed over to look at some new properties. It was time to try out some...
We had been queueing for half an hour when I realised that we were in the queue for Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City. It was at that point I noticed that there was literally no queue for Dragon's Dogma, one of the biggest games being made in Japan at the moment. Nobody seemed to be paying attention to anything that didn't have a "3" in the name or an instantly recognisable brand. We waltzed into the booth and got to work on it.
And... it's amazing. Seriously. As a huge fan of both Shadow of the Colossus and the Monster Hunter games, this was like a dream come true for me. The first part of the demo involved me and my squawking AI teammates taking on a griffin outside of a ruined castle. After a great little battle that involved taking out some goblins (one move I particularly like is grabbing a wounded goblin and tossing it over your shoulder, like a hessian sack, then casually tossing it into some fire), we were set upon by a massive griffin, that proceeded to tear the shit out of everyone and stamp on me. I counterattacked with a volley of arrows, then proceeded to jump onto the griffin and start stabbing it in the throat. My wizard friend then proceeded to set it on fire while I was still on it, so I death-stared him until I fell off the griffin and climbed back on it again. Make no buts about it, this was all great fun. Controls were very similar to SotC, so it didn't take me long at all to really get stuck in and kick some griffin ass. Perhaps my favourite moment was when I finally killed it, clinging to its burning posterior in mid-air. As it plummeted towards the ground in slow-motion with me clinging to it, I realised that I simply had to get this game.
Then came the next part of the demo. This sees you waddling through a big old dungeon to fight a chimera, perhaps the most hilarious underdog of Greek mythical monsters. To begin, I had to fight several goblins in entertaining hack n' slash gameplay. Disappointingly, I didn't have my bow this time around, but I eventually found some great ways to off goblins, grabbing them and holding them in place so your teammates can easily finish them off. After a bit of trawling, the chimera finally jumped out and started eating some faces.
Thus began another brilliantly engaging fight where I had to kill each seperate head on the chimera, from the snake, to the goat, to the lion. "Beware the goats' magic!" screeched my teammate. I was trying very hard not to laugh. I kept jumping onto the chimera's back and pummelling the goat head jutting out while my teammates quickly diced the snake to ribbons. Finally, after slashing the lions face for a while, the chimera dropped and I sighed a sigh a relief as the demo faded to black. There was still no queue for Dragon's Dogma.
"Shall we go through again?" asked Tom
"Yeah, alright" I said.
So we played through the whole thing again, and it was still just as fun as last time. It was like being part of an exclusive club who had stumbled upon one of the best games in the expo.
Don't get me wrong, there are a few problems with Dragon's Dogma. The dodging controls are poor (RB and A? Seriously?), even next to a game as difficult to control as Monster Hunter. Your teammates never shut the hell up, more than once saying the exact same line at the same time, and the immersion is unneccessarily broken by cutting to slow motion shots of AI characters firing off spells or going in to attack.
The game did occasionally get buggy at points, with the most annoying case being the griffin getting stuck in a ruined castle that I was unable to get to. All I could do was shoot it for 5 minutes until it eventually jumped out and rejoined the battlefield. While the invisible walls were probably only exlusive to the demo, they proved exceptionally annoying in cases, with perfectly flat areas being randomly blocked off.
The pure, unadulterated fun that Dragon's Dogma provides more than makes up for these shortcomings though, and I'm sure that some of these problems will be addressed in the next 6 months.
The Good: + Insanely good fun
+ Climbing on monsters is always amazing fun
+ Nice level of interaction with teammates
+ Excellent combat
The Bad: - I'll set it alight! I'll set it alight! I'll set it alight!
- Dodging is unneccessarily difficult
- Slow-mo cuts were crap in Alan Wake, and they're crap here as well
-Tom's reaction to Dragon's Dogma. This is the most emotion he's ever shown towards a game.
Asura's Wrath was just as empty as Dragon's Dogma, so we simply jogged around the corner and got to work on it. I can't say that Asura's Wrath came across as a particularly good game, but it did come off as completely and utterly batshit insane. If you've read any previews of it, you know what happens, but in short, Asura gets into a fight with an extremely fat bastard who doesn't like him much. Jabbering about gods and demi-gods and exile and Asura's daughter, the two get into a brawl and Asura naturally kicks his ass along with shouting a lot. Fat man returns, only now as big as a mountain, and I then had to go through a quick-time style event that involved throwing missiles back at him and shooting hadoukens out of my manly palms.
After being catapulted into space, Team Rocket style, fat bastard proceeds to become planet sized and crush Asura with his index finger, which is absolutely brilliant to watch. But that was the problem with Asura's Wrath. It was only fun to watch. From what I played, there's really very little game there at all. It more resembles a ridiculuously cheesy anime brawl. That might not be all bad, depending on your tastes, but it certainly wouldn't convince me to plonk down £40 for it. It is fun though, in a goofy sort of way. Maybe there's a little more game outside of the demo.
The Good: + Hilariously over the top
+ Asura is a strangely entertaining character
+ It makes absolutely no sense
+ You get crushed by a middle finger the size of a country
The Bad: - It's 85% quick-time events
- Overabundance of dialogue can get dull, fast
Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster
Of course, this booth was completely abandoned, so we seized the opportunity and got to work on it.
Knowing that this game was made by Double Fine, I could tell that it wouldn't be your average licensed property. Sure enough, it was far too fun for it's own good, and we casually made ourselves look like complete idiots in front of the queue for Arkham City. This was my first time using a Kinect, and I was surprised by how well it worked.
In the demo, we played as Elmo and Cookie Monster respectively, and had to perform dance moves in order to copy this other chap. While I was having great fun making Cookie Monster do rude gestures, the core game itself was also disturbingly fun. If anyone could sell me a game based on Sesame Street for the Kinect, it would be Double Fine of course. Eventually, a family started queueing behind us, so we left them to enjoy it instead. I wish I could have tried out the full thing, but I got a suitably delectible appetiser.
+ Not broken at all, unlike some Kinect games
+ Goofy fun
+ I made Cookie Monster mock masturbate
- Friends and family won't look at you quite the same way when they discover you own it
Happy Feet Two
For some absolutely bizarre reason, the booth for Happy Feet Two was completely empty, so we grabbed the controllers and began to play on a TV embedded in a giant cardboard penguin stomach, like some sort of twisted Teletubbies mock-up.
Much like I has suspected, the game was an absolute tour-de-force, and will probably rival Skyrim, Battlefield 3, and MW3 for GOTY. Never before has a game so consistently challenged my perception of gaming as an art form and entertainment format. As my penguin smashed into ice spikes while it slid down a very white hill, I wept as the symbolism finally dawned on me. The game was making a timeless statement about the corruption of innocence, and the obstacles we must all face as we travel through the blank canvas of life.
As we neared the apex of the demo, the bitter truth finally revealed itself, and "Area Failed" flashed across the screen. Weeping bitterly, Tom screamed and smashed his controller through the screen. It was true. Mumble had failed to get down the hill. We left in floods of tears.
+ Will induce an incredible range of emotions, from bitter grief to unsurmountable joy
+ Will forever change the way we look at gaming
+ Will contain penguins
- It ends
Metal Gear Solid: HD Collection
I'm not particularly versed in MGS, but I really do enjoy stealth games, so I excitedly hopped onto the platform and started playing. I gave up after about 5 minutes.
It wasn't that I didn't like it. I really enjoyed what I managed to play in fact; it's just that there were absolutely no tutorials or control settings. Anywhere. And MGS has a completely maverick control style, so the most I managed was to constantly throw enemies to the floor. After a few minutes, I worked out how to shoot, but I wanted to pull of some mad stealth moves. Reluctantly, I gave up and went to pursue games I could actually play. I blame Konami.
+ It's 3 Metal Gear Solid games I badly want to play, for a cheap price
- How the bloody hell do I play this shit
By this point, Rory had finished his 15 minute Mass Effect demo, and returned to us happily with aching limbs.
Mass Effect 3
"It's good" - Rory
+ It's good
-Rory's GAMEfest, in a nutshell
The day was beginning to draw to a close, so we went around trying to snap up as many demos as possible before the show concluded. Interested in trying out some new 3DS titles, I made my way to the empty 3DS booth and tried out both MarioKart and Super Mario 3D Land. They're both very good, but we both already knew that, didn't we. MarioKart's new draw was that it featured paragliding (wat) and some funky new tracks. I took on one race as Luigi and nearly lapped all the other opponents, but it carried that traditionally fun MK feeling, and I was happy with what I played. The 3D also worked pretty well with it.
Since I basically played Mario Land for under a minute, I have very little to say about it. I will however, say that I liked the wacky new camera angles they've put in this. The fact it seems more of a hybrid between a 3D and 2D mario platformer was also interesting.
Saints Row the Third
What a brilliant way to end the day. Being ID'd for all 18+ booths is incredibly annoying when you're 18 in under 6 months, but we decided to take the risk, seeing as there was basically no queue. Sure enough, we got in scot-free. Inside was my favourite booth of the day, decked out like a bar with leather armchairs everywhere. A booth girl came in, and in a completely sincere tone stated:
"Ok guys, we've got a special weapon for you today. It's called the penetrator. It's a four-foot long dildo."
Everyone sat down, foaming at the mouth to get started. I relaxed in my comfy leather armchair and began the first level of the campaign, while Tom and Rory got stuck into the open-world section. I absolutely loved what I played. My level was a bank robbery that takes place early in the game, where the Saints dress in masks of their own leader, Johnny Gat, and have to deal with Swat teams and machine-gun toting clerks. The whole thing was hysterically funny, and a blast to boot.
I think the point at which the game really came through for me was when I was being lifted through the roof by a helicopter, stood on top of a bank vault. Toting a massive machine gun, I got to work on the numerous SWAT teams dotted around the roof. Purely cathartic, I loved every second of it. Next to me, Tom was running about in green spandex and a purple wig beating people to death with his giant penis of doom. We both unanimously agreed that it was one of the best games of the show, and a beautiful end to the day.
+ You can go completely balls-out wild, but you knew that already
+ Hysterically funny
+ Cool enough for underage kidz
- It's not out yet
Satisfied and tuckered out, we left the hall and made our respective ways back home toting gigantic, empty Skyrim bags. Despite the disappointing start to the day, everything got one hell of a lot better once I'd started aiming at more obscure titles, and giving these games a chance to take me by surprise.
Would I go to another GAMEfest? Oh, certainly. But next time, I'm ignoring the Bethesda booth.
My favourite games of the show:
1. Rayman Origins
2. Dragon's Dogma
3. Saints Row the Third/ Sonic Generations
Mass Effect 3 (lol)
So there we have it. That's a complete, comprehensive list of all the games I managed to get my teeth into at GAMEfest. I realise a lot of this is probably stuff you've read before, in Destructoid previews from 3 months ago, but I'll be happy if you even pulled a couple of new facts or enjoyed hearing a different perspective. Oh, and on the Modern Warfare 3 demo. I managed to see a bit of it in action through a curtain. It was a multiplayer skirmish in a generic desert town. I hope those people enjoyed the massive queue! I don't hate Modern Warfare at all, but it seems hilarious people waited so long for this.
And with that said, I hope to be writing more of these kinds of blogs in future. See you at GAMEfest next year!
-MW3 was happy to remain as inconspicuous as possible