To be honest, I'm speechless. The very fact that someone decided to try to set up a public VG show in the U.K. is beyond all previously discovered realms of bafflement, but for the show to happen is surely a clear sign of the approaching apocalypse. For the show to actually be half way decent suggests to me that the choirs of heaven have finally lost to the legions of the pit and that, come the aforementioned Judgement Day, we are all well and truly f@#?!*.
If you gleaned anything from the nonsense above then you know that Play.com held a games exhibit and that it was surprisingly quite enjoyable. The Event took place over this weekend passed in Wembley stadium. I bought my tickets the moment I got wind of the event, back in December, (thank you very much Gamespot U.K.'s London Calling Blog) and was quietly stoked about the thing for the 4 months leading up to the event. My anticipation was partly because it was a U.K. games show but mostly because it was all I had left, my job having stopped me going to a couple of truly epic gigs over winter.
After months of waiting the magic date of March 15th rolled around and I, armed with a bit of cash and with my cousin by my side, made my way to Wembley. When I got to the stadium the first thing I did, the very, very first thing I did, was queue. That's alright though, we're English and if there's one thing we English can do really well, it's complaining. So as we whiled away the time enjoying a really good moan about the fact that we had to queue, the line itself whittled away until, before we knew it, we were all inside. You see the, the true secret behind the English's almost inhuman propensity to withstand the most outrageous of queues is not some natural factor of temperament, such as patience or subservience, bred into our genetic code; far from it. The real secret is being able to truly loose oneself in the throes of minor, but righteous, indignation and thus passing the time in ways that would have old A. Einstein revising certain aspects of his now legendary Special Relativity.
Enough babble now and onto the games.
Kung Fu Panda (360):
The first thing I encountered upon entering the show was picking up a 360 controller and spending an innocuous 20 minutes playing Kung Fu Panda. I suppose there's nothing really to report here. It was a pleasant enough demo in which I had to progress through a fairly linear stage filled with simple platform elements and several waves of tiny warthog beasts, through which you have to brawl and maul. The graphics were sharp and the controls were simple. From what I saw the game does nothing particularly impressive, but then you wouldn't expect anything else from a movie port. The game seems set to be an acceptable, perhaps even solid, experience aimed at fans and the younger consumer.
de Blob (Wii):
Alright, I've looked in on this game a couple times over its development and regarded it with lukewarm interest at best. It looks interesting, sure, but it also looks simple and potentially tedious. Tedious it isn't. Simple, yes, but this definitely works in its favour. I had the opportunity to play through a level but, while the somewhat attractive demonstrator had her back turned, I discovered I could play a mode called Free Paint. This done I was free to roam around a bleak, monochromous town and get my paint on. You know what? The game works. It just does. The nunchuk thumb stick moves de Blob and a wiimote waggle sees our gelatinous friend jump, which is pretty much all you need. With these two controls you can guide our man around the town, pick up colour from a wandering colour beast type thing and then proceed to paint the town red... or blue, or green, or purple, etc. And that's it. Pretty much. I dunno, the B trigger did something but I didn't have enough time to figure it out. But apart from that it's a simple, and joyful, matter of wandering around town, painting all that you see (and avoiding enemies, but regrettably I did not encounter anything.
The Bourne Conspiracy (360):
If I'm being honest, which I am (mum always told me it was the best policy after all), then all I can tell you about this game - based on hands-on experience at least - is that there is a driving section that seemed to work just fine. That's it. That's all I got to play of this title. However what else I can mention is that it does look good. Surprisingly good. There's a trend amongst ported games which sees most of them, whether ported from, or based on, film, T.V., or literature, turning out to be unimpressive at most and truly dire, quick buck for the publisher, pieces of trash that are intrinsically offensive to every gamer everywhere. What I saw while standing in line for this game was gamers standing, playing, completely transfixed. The graphics aren't groundbreaking by any means, they're even slightly lazy in places, but overall they stand up to casual scrutiny. The combat and movement systems seemed to work fine; I certainly didn't see anyone screaming at the thumb sticks in paroxysms of rage because the aiming reticule was too sensitive or anything to that effect. Overall, the game looks promising. I'm not entirely sure it's going to be another Chronicles of Riddick, but it's got the potential to at least stand its ground.
The most impressive thing about this game was the fact that the demo I played was a several month old pre-alpha build (or at least claimed to be). For the life of me, I can't see how they're going polish the game they demonstrated. It looked beautiful (so long as you ignore the observers in the stands - but hey, when do they ever look that great?), and the visuals were technically sound as well. It took me a while to get to grips with the controls, but once I did they were solid as a rock, emulating a real driving experience quite closely. I would have loved to have tried a different car though as I really had to fight to keep mine from over-steering. Even when the cars got damaged they still looked fantastic, and it here that I was expecting to find some flaws, but no, not all. The dents, scratches and crumples were all realistic enough and they appeared to be entirely unscripted - the car took damage according to what was hit and how hard, i.e. a head on collision did not always cause the bumper to fall off or the bonnet to fly open. If drive sims are your thing then Grid is definitely one to watch.
Lego Indiana Jones (360):
Unfortunately I didn't get as much as I wanted with this one. No sooner had me and my cousin gotten 5 minutes into co-op play (which was in no way hampered by the camera) than everyone was kicked out of the event as the morning session of the day came to a close. But what little we did play was thoroughly enjoyable. It played as slick as it looks. The controls can be grasped within a minute or two and suit the environment down to the ground. The characters had the obligatory jump, attack and action commands but they also had their own weapon/ tool. Indiana had his whip, naturally, which can be used to take out foes or swing from certain branches, and the Indian kid I played had a spade which was good for laying the smack down, digging up treasure or paddling a raft. Had I had a little more time with the game I might have been able to expand on this a little. Have no fear though; I think I can safely say that this is going to be a fun game when it's released in June.
Of course I played more games than I have so far talked about, but as most of them are already released I have decided to omit them. The day wasn't all about the games on display. Unfortunately the organisers saw fit to have a stage and fill it with bands that did nothing but stopped me hearing the games I was trying to play. There was also a GH3 rock out competition that I caught the end of that I'm sure would have been fun to watch had cared about it in even the slightest. Still the other asides seemed to distract a certain volume of people from the games, making the queues less severe. So, y'know, "every cloud" and all that. What was nice was that as my cousin and I were politely but firmly ejected from the stadium with the rest of the crowd we handed a free copy of Knocked Up, which is a surprisingly good film.
We strolled away from Wembley and stumbled upon a little Irish pub and decided to sit down with pint of Guinness an take stock, not only of the day so far, but of the contents of our free goody bags. I won't bore you with the details of the bags contents because it's all been recycled now. One cool freebie I did pick up was a de Blob T-shirt, and I'm not afraid to admit that it has only further warmed me to that charming little title.
A quiet pint and a sandwich later and we headed back to the stadium, skipping the crowds thanks to our *ahem* V.I.P. passes. That's right: V-I- mother f***ing - P, baby! (In truth, they weren't anything special and only cost a couple of pounds more than a normal ticket. I just thought I'd mention. Because, yes, I am that sad that I need to exaggerate something insignificant to anonymous readers in a bid for validation. *sigh* It's a curse.) Once we got inside we made a rather startling discovery. There was a whole other freakin' room to view. It was most definitely time to get our game on.
Far Cry 2 (P.C.):
Regretfully, this wasn't a playable demo, but a couple of developers from Ubi's Montreal studio playing and commentating their way through a several month old build of the game. Aside from frame rate issues and an audio bug that forced them to restart the demo, the game looked good. No doubt the poor frame rate was due to the stunning particle effects. The game is set in Africa, which is dusty as hell, and the game reflects that. Lots and lots of dust, not quite the same magnitude as the amount of smoke in F.E.A.R but it looked just as good. So what's new in the sequel? For one, there's a 50 sq.Kilometre sandbox world to play in, and there seemed to be quite a dynamic friend system in play as well. The player can ally or befriend certain NPCs around the world who will, if they're aware of what you're doing, come and haul your ass out of a conflict when you fall, patch you up (we got to watch this NPC cauterise a grievous wound on our character's leg) and then provide cover fire as you decide what you want to do. This sounds great, but if your friends cops a cap to the face he stays dead and can no longer help you when you fall. The demo ended with a paraglide flight over some savannah, demonstrating for us the overall graphical beauty and some funky, entirely autonomous wildlife. They showed nothing of feral abilities, but what I saw seems to be shaping into a solid game.
Don't hate me, but I am starting to get a bit jaded with all the FPS games coming out. We get them one after another and for the most part they're just another action packed, thrills 'n' spills shooter held together with, to be fair, another shamefully nominal storyline that even the trashiest of American thriller novelists would turn their nose up at. Usually though these games come out with a hook- be it an extraordinary scenario or clever little mechanic intended to blind us from the gameplay's otherwise painful monotony. So what's Haze got going for it? Erm... well... pretty much everything I mentioned above. You shoot things, you employ the clever little mechanic to your advantage and try your hardest to ignore the storyline. Alright, so I'm being a little unfair. As a shooter, it's solid, it really is. It's got the compliment of ballistics you might expect and which are all easy to aim and fire. In truth, I found the aiming in this game the least fiddly of any console FPS I've played so far. I also got to charge around in an APC which was great, preferable even over Halo's Warthog. And what about 'Nectar', the all important gameplay hook? It makes your enemies glow and washes out the background a touch. Um... super. That's just... yeah. It does have a cool twist though. I was lucky enough to witness one of my team mates having his Nectar supply slashed, sending him crazy and forcing me to shoot him.
Hands up. I'm being very harsh towards this game, especially seeing that only played parts of the first couple of levels. I'm aware that you eventually change sides and that the story gets interesting, but I have been embittered. For the half hour I played I spent 10 - 15 minutes in effectively one cutscene. 10 - 15 minutes!?! I wouldn't mind if there was some substance to the script but it's not, it was all B-movie banter. I'm reserving judgement on Haze at the moment, but I hold no high hopes for it. From what I've seen it looks for all the world like just another FPS. I hope to be proved wrong.
Battle of the Bands (Wii):
A rhythm game that utilises the wiimote motion abilities to have you waving along with the song? Hella fun! That's it. Ok, so there are some motion detection issues but it only seemed to affect the game when I had to wave the wiimote down to hit the beat though and could quite possibly been fault of my own. Another thing is that there is a lot of inter-band action going on, which is mostly pure violence, but you never notice it because you're so focused on hitting the notes. What you do notice though is the way the songs you're playing change genre depending on which band is dominating the battle. It's easy, it's almost cute, it adds a new flavour to the rhythm genre and regardless of how simple it looks and how stupid it makes you look, this is a fun game.
Soul Calibur IV (360):
No. No I did not get to play as Yoda. You can go elsewhere for you star wars fix.
I suppose I'm probably not the best person to talk about this game as Fighters are not my forte and this was a very, very early build. So early that a character would still get back up after being K.O.d, but it is so early that we can forgive it its flaws. What I did find worrying was that more time and effort seems to have been put into the visuals than the actual fighting gameplay, and for a game that is ALL fighting, that can't be good. There nothing wrong with combat, per se, it was just bland, and a hell of lot slower than I remember the SC series being (admittedly it's been some years since I picked up a Dreamcast pad and revelled in SCII). I think too much time may have been put into breasts. Literally. If you've ever played DOA extreme 2 you might get an idea of what to expect from the female characters in this game. It's not quite as extreme as DOA, but it's not far off. It's too early to say, but I hope this won't be the death of a longstanding IP.
Condemned 2: Bloodshot (360):
I found this little gem five minutes before the event closed, leading to much the same situation I experienced with Lego Indi. This was even more of a shame as the three minutes I played of this was three solid minute of sheer grim, but unbridled joy. Whoever had played it last had left in the middle of a fight so I was thrown straight into the action, braining 3 maniacs with a crowbar, one of which I executed via an environmental kill; to wit. I rammed his head into a T.V. A couple of further fights followed, including one with a flipped out Doberman and another which resulted in me throwing some schizoid into a dumpster and standing back to watch with ill restrained glee as the lid toppled and concussed my would be slayer. It was at this point that the security guard approached me and said "This is the third, I will not say it a fourth, it is time for you to leave."
He... well, he didn't appreciate my trying to bribe him to give me five more minutes so I decided to cut my losses and make with the offski. But Condemned 2, from what I played, seems to live up to hype that might be surrounding it. It's moody, it's gritty and it's brutal, all of which is reflected with flair through the visuals, sound and gameplay. As to whether it's cerebral too, I can't comment because I didn't get a chance to play with any of the forensic mechanics, nor glean any of the story, but one can only hope. I only wish I could have played longer and gained some sort of genuine insight into what this game is and what it's trying to do. But from 3 minutes I'm hooked and seriously considering investing in a 360.
All in all, the event was a solid day out. I was a little disappointed by the lack of new content on display, but as it was the first U.K. games exhibit in about half a decade it's hardly suppressing that publishers put little faith in it as a medium to display new content. Ubisoft and THQ both put forward a reasonable and well received slew of games and definitely made their presence felt, as did EA to a certain extent, except that most of their display pieces are already on release. Conversely, Square Enix screwed us over. There was present not a single demo, they simply set up a couple screens and sofas and played a series of trailers that have been shown many times before at other shows. There was definitely enough going on for those whose attention not held by the display games. There were bands, competitions and impromptu Rock Band bands performing in public as well as a whole host of cos players, cult celebrities, cult displays and a reasonable attractive woman sitting on a reasonably attractive motorbike. I ignored al that though and what time wasn't spent playing pre-release game builds was lost to either queues, UT3 for the P.C. or, for some inexplicable reason, dynasty warriors.
It was a pleasant surprise but the day was really good. I didn't go back for the second day purely because I knew I'd just wind up playing Condemned 2 for 8 hours straight. If Play.com Live rears its head for a second year I shall certainly be making an effort to attend, and suggest it to anyone able to make. My only hope is that we get some brand new content on show next time.