A diary of sorts, wherein I moonlight as a games writer. Under haphazard construction.
Weeks have slipped by, and this is now very, very late. xD
So the weird thing about Eurogamer this year was that I’d already played the game that was at the top of the billing for me. My chance encounter with Evolve at MCM left me looking over the rest of the games on show, trying to work out what else I should be getting excited about spending hours queuing for. Alien Isolation? NOPE. Not after Rezzed. Far Cry 4? Meh. Borderlands 3-not-really-3? Maybe? This year’s Assassin’s Creed, whatever the hell that is by this point? Meh.
I found plenty of cool stuff over the two days I was there, but I felt like I was actively hunting for it more than usual, rather than vaguely knowing in advance what it was probably-more-or-less-likely-to-be, and then finding the odd surprise along the way. This was fun, because after I’d spent the first few quiet hours of Thursday queuing up for Evolve, Far Cry 4 and whatever the hell this year’s Assassin’s Creed is (the demo felt exactly the same as the one I played at Eurogamer last year!), I didn’t really know what to do with myself next.
I spent most of my time trying all the interesting-looking stuff in the PC area, because of course I did, but found lots of cool stuff outside as well. My favourite game of the show took me completely by surprise, as did my biggest letdown. So yeah, here’s the stuff that was noteworthy for me in the entirely arbitrary order of whatever springs to mind:
for the moment, at least. it totally will if they don’t fix the stupid controls.
It’s not an absolute failure, and all the nice stuff you can read in all the very optimistic articles that have been written about it since E3 definitely stands, but the controls work very hard to prevent it from being too much fun. The problem for me wasn’t so much that you’re forced to use the motion controls for aiming as the fact that they’re only for aiming up and down. The right stick lets you look around in the x-axis like in any console FPS, but the y-axis is locked to be motion-only. Aiming becomes this bizarre mess of the two which feels like rubbing your stomach and patting your head, where you’re constantly aiming too far in one direction or another because your hands and your right thumb are constantly having to compensate for one another’s motion. Unintuitive’s the word, and they’ll be mad not to just let you pick analogue controls or motion controls in the final version. I’m worried that they might not, though, because they’re Nintendo, and they do arbitrary shit like that.
Sidenote: whyyyy won’t the new Smash Bros just let me use the fucking d-pad to move and put taunts on the circle pad instead? let me rebind my own goddamn controls. ;_;
I really hope they do, though, because I want to believe in this game so badly. It’s the most exciting thing Nintendo have done in a decade, and reads in concept like one of the insane mods for the original Half-Life that you used to find on PC Gamer’s cover disks.
In case you’ve not heard of Splatoon and that last paragraph made absolutely no sense to you, it’s an arena shooter where instead of killing the enemy team, the idea is to paint the arena itself in your team’s coloured ink. You can shoot people still, forcing them to respawn back at the edge of the map, and you can cover over patches of enemy ink with your own, but ultimately it’s simply whoever paints the most that wins. The concept’s glorious, and some features, like the way you refill your ammo by transforming into a squid and surfing invisibly through your territory, give the impression that the developers have been allowed enough freedom to really revel in it. You can even swim along walls, letting you climb up to vantage points or circumvent patches of enemy ink. It’s awesome. The map on show also had grates which could only be swum through, which might actually have been my favourite piece of design on show. On a basic level they simply acted like shortcuts between different areas of the map, letting observant players get to the front lines more quickly, but you can only use them if the area is inked with your colour. If the enemy drives you back too far the shortcuts become theirs. This creates something of a checkpoint system where the team on the push is able to maintain pressure through the grates after being forced to respawn at their base, and the team on the bounce needs to try to take them back to stem the tide. It didn’t play out quite so perfectly amid the chaos of the show floor, but all the pieces were there for more experienced players to slot together. It’s a mad bit of genius that Nintendo have come up with here.
Everything in the nice paragraph is completely mooted by the stuff in the nasty paragraph about the controls. The issues might be overcome with practice, but from what I played, this game is not Timesplitters 2. I want my fucking mouse.
EVOLVE is even better with a competent team.
and embarrassing as hell when you can’t tell which monster is the monster and drop your shield trap too soon
I was gonna give Evolve another short come whatever may but was pleasantly surprised to find that there was actually more content in this demo than the one I’d played previously. The map was the same, but everyone, monster included, had the choice of two different classes. There was a bald, beardy male Medic to go with the existing female one, a robot who could use his head as a UAV, and a female Trapper with a pet quadrupedal monster thing that was constantly sniffing out the monster’s trail for us and pointing us in its direction. I forget which class the robot was, or who the fourth character was. A huge dude with an equally huge gun sticks in mind, but he may have been one of the original four I saw. Pro journalism, this. As tempting as the robot dude was, I elected to play Trapper so I could see how the pet worked, and try to avoid the horrible issue I had in my first game where we didn’t once manage to force the monster to stand and fight.
My hit rate was 50-50 there, and to be fair, the first time was pretty close. We were closing in fast and I had my arena grenade in hand, ready to put up the domed shield that would create an arena for us to fight in once we got the monster in our sights, desperate not to fuck it up. When I was set upon by something massive and scary in a dark patch of dense undergrowth, what was I supposed to do? It turned out to just be some of the local fauna, and we saw the actual monster making its retreat through the edge of the shield, but by the time I worked out how to deactivate it, it was gone. The hunt resumed. I didn’t miss the second time, and by this point the four of us were all hungry for blood. It’s a weird thing in games when you’re given a weapon and nothing to use it on. You’ll fire random shots off at barrels or walls, or swipe away at thin air with melee attacks, getting more and more desperate to play with your toys the longer you’re denied the opportunity. When you’re actively looking for something to shoot at that’s just not appearing, the tension rises and rises. There’s a political game (maybe about gun control or police militarisation?) just dying to be made there.
We so very nearly had him, and I’m still not entirely sure how he got away. The encounter came on a stretch of road in a canyon between a pair of cliffs, and were using one side as both a vantage point to keep the monster in our sights and a place to retreat to when we came under individual attack. Between the Medic’s tags and my deployable harpoon traps, our Assault specialist was having no difficulty piling on the damage, and despite the abject chaos and confusion (caused as much by the noise and spectacle of our own attacks and abilities ripping through the darkness), it felt like we had actually taken the upper hand. The second the arena dropped, however, it was over.
Unlike my first game against the brutish Goliath, this time we were facing the new monster, the Kraken. Rather than simply stomping around, throwing rocks and punching things, The Kraken relies more on agility and stealth, which means of course that it can fly. Without the dome of the arena confining it to the ground, we didn’t even see where it went. It just suddenly wasn’t there anymore.
Our final encounter came in the huge power station at the end of the level, once the creature had managed to reach it’s third and final evolution. We arrived at the objective a good few minutes before the monster did, which resulted in one of the standout moments of the entire show for me. We were hunkered down in bare concrete room with a humming power generated surrounded by rusting metal gantries, trying to watch three different entrances with torrential rain lashing down outside. My pet, which had thus far been guiding us toward the monster was now acting as a compass, telling us which direction it was coming from. We could tell that it was circling, calculating it’s approach, by the way the pet kept constantly moving around, refusing to settle. When at last it came to stand, growling, by one of the gaping doors, we knew what was lurking outside.
I’d like to say that this fight was close too, but we failed to keep our medic alive, and that was about it. The war of attrition against the fully-evolved Kraken’s huge pile of HP was lost before it really got off the ground. The confines of the generator room made for a drastically different backdrop to the stormy forest outside, one which made our target much easier to spot and the fight much easier to follow, but that advantage was not ours alone. One by one we were aggressively focused down, unable to revive one another quickly enough to rally. That was it, demo over!
Same verdict as the last time I played: Evolve is gonna be awesome.
SPLENDOUR is splendid, and in the space of one game shot to the top of my list of boardgames I want to buy.
A boardgame? Yes, Eurogamer has boardgames on show too! Splendour’s actually more of a card-and-plastic-disk than a board game really, but it wasn’t something I was expecting to play or really enjoy.
The basic concept is that you are gem merchants seeking your fortune by buying stones and mines and expanding your business. Things to buy are represented by a grid of cards laid out on the table, which all cost a combinations of gems of particular colours and will in return grant victory points and/or recurring gems of another colour. For example, a card may picture a mine and cost an opal and a diamond to buy, but then grant a ruby each turn. So you pick up your white and black poker chip-style disks, drop them back in the bank with an incredibly satisfying clatter, place the mine card in front of you, and draw a new card to replace it in the grid. Often you’ll have to make the difficult decision between picking cards that will help build your economy and cards that will offer more victory points, whilst racing your opponents for the ones that appear to offer the best balance of both. It’s also possible to use your turn to ‘reserve’ a card, taking it either from the grid or from one of the decks to your hand. This guarantees it to you, but doesn’t guarantee you’ll have the resources to actually pay for it, as if you drew it from the grid, everyone else will know you have it. Drawing blind grants you the element of surprise, but you won’t know whether you’ll be able to afford what you find.
Very few cards are free, and the recurring gems cards are not represented by chips, so how did you get that opal and diamond to begin with? Well, instead of buying or reserving a card on your turn, you can simply choose to gather gems, picking either two of the same colour or three of different colours from the bank. The stocks of each in the bank are tightly limited, however, meaning that you’ll never be able to guarantee the gems you want will be available when you want them. The result of this is a tight and tactical resource game where you’ll be watching your opponents’ stockpiles and economies as closely as your own, trying to hoard the gems they need in order to slow their plans, whilst attempting to prevent them from doing the same to you. This manoeuvring around the marketplace is what really made the game for me, adding an extra layer of interaction between the players beyond simply competing to buy cards.
It’s smart, simple and turns out to be surprisingly deep once you’ve played a couple of games. Shifting big heavy plastic chips around is also ridiculously satisfying. It’s hard to express just how good that feels, but every time you take some from the bank you’ll savour putting them down in front of you, deliberating with each weighty clink whether they were the right ones to choose as you try to weave the threads of your plan more tightly together. If I spot this in a game shop between now and Christmas I’ll probably end up going home with it on an impulse. It was a shame the one stand selling board games on the show floor didn’t have any copies in stock.
HAUNT THE HOUSE was one of two indie things I played which has stuck with me in the weeks it has taken for me to write these words, and I’d be remiss not to mention it.
I played about a quarter of the game in the 45 mins or so I spent at the developer’s stand, so it’s not a big thing, but it was addictively satisfying in the best kind of way.
The game begins with a sad-looking ghost, a classic white-sheet-with-a-face ghost no less, rendered in a cute 2D cartoon style, rising from the grave to haunt the inhabitants of a sleepy little town. You float yourself to one of four different locations which you then must scare all the people away from by possessing parts of the environment. The more people you scare, the spookier the atmosphere of the place gets, lending you greater power to perform more terrifying pranks.
There were hints of a story behind who you were and why you were out for mischievous revenge, but it was the gameplay that really drew me in. Some people scare easily, others do not, some people move around a lot, others not so much. Trying to drive them all away required both planning and experimentation, revealing the game to be more of a puzzle than it first appeared. A rocking horse tipping over on its own won’t be enough to drive someone away completely, so maybe you’ll end up gliding from the horse to a cupboard at the other side of the room to make it rattle when your unnerved quarry attempts to look the other way. If they leave the room then you’ll need to chase them down before they can calm themselves. As they get more frightened they’ll move around more quickly, though, until you’re frantically chasing after them trying desperately to deliver the final shock that will push them over the edge. I loved the way the people’s eyes swivelled around, immediately showing you both where their attention was focused and how frightened they were. It gave them so much character, and made them feel far more human than they otherwise might if they’d be animated another way.
I hadn’t planned on sitting and finishing an entire stage, but once I started exploring I found I wanted to see absolutely everything in motion. All the artwork and all the animations for the different ways in which you used the environment are so beautiful, I loved just sitting there playing with it all. When I unlocked a second interaction for everything, I went around possessing things a second time just to see what they all did. It was a nice change of pace from everything else on the show floor, but required enough direction and thought not to be completely whimsical. I’d love to play the Vita version.
SHADOW OF MORDOR surprised the hell out of me, and everyone else too apparently.
I skipped over it on my first day, but then caught a Eurogamer article about it on the train which put it straight to the top of my list for day 2. I’m a big fan of the Arkham games, so hearing the combat was practically identical but with some layers of extra strategy across the wider gameplay was all the draw I really needed to get me interested. The fact that I’ve not returned to any of the Arkham series for nearly three years now probably coloured my impressions a bit, because wow, I had forgotten just how addictive that rhythm-based combat really is, but there was more on show which I liked besides. Although short, the demo did a good job of demonstrating both the open world and the Nemesis System, and how a lot of familiar, perhaps even over-familiar, elements have been blended together with just enough innovation to make something special. This stuff’s all been covered in massive depth by RPS and Eurogamer and other review sites since, so I’ll direct you there for detail on how it all works and just tell you the coolest things that happened between my two play-throughs.
The first was an encounter with some of the huge, scary, catlike Caragors out in some wide open ground. I’d already learned the hard way that the things will kill you really quickly, so I was trying to sneak past them on my way to my target without attracting their attention. This failed miserably, and I ended up just sprinting as fast as I could for the nearest cover in sight, which turned out to be the ruined keep which the orc I was hunting was hanging out near. I somehow managed to climb the walls without getting too badly mauled, and was sat weighing my fairly bleak options when a button prompt popped up near the ground below me. “Dominate”. This is how I learned that you can ride Caragors.
The other was when I waded into a massive camp, not realising that I needed to actually activate a mission to lure the leader out, rather than simply plough through all his minions until I found him. Captains, archers, shield troops and all manner of other tough, non-grunt enemies kept showing up in waves and waves as I fought on, wondering just how long it was going to take for me to find the guy I was actually looking for. I beat careful retreats up to the tops of walls and out through gates to control the crowd of enemies I was fighting, I danced acrobatically between high-threat targets, eliminating them as quickly as I could whilst evading the dozens of grunts who were threatening to overwhelm me, I slowly but surely succumbed as the numbers escalated to ridiculous levels. The combat does ultimately feel like a copy of what Rocksteady created for the Arkham games, but the balancing feels subtly different somehow. I can’t put my finger on it quite, but I think it feels a little more fluid, with more generous timing windows for counters and executions and the like, giving you an even greater sense of power and control. Using special attacks and powers without breaking your stride felt easier too, like I could seamlessly move from clearing out some grunts to focusing down an archer with a flurry of magic before he could put another shot in me. I took my headphones off when I fell, and found I had a small crowd of booth staff watching me, with one of them bursting to tell me that a. I had missed the mission start and b. they were having far too much fun watching to stop me at the time limit. As a prize of sorts I got given another quarter of an hour to take another run at the mission armed with some advice and pointers towards things I’d missed, which was nice of them.
I’m just gonna hit post on this one now so I feel like I can get on with other things. I’ve played a total of 30 hours of Wasteland 2 now, and something like 15-20-odd hours of the Evolve alpha that was on this weekend. In comparison, Eurogamer is rapidly slipping out of both memory and relevancy. xD
Stuff I was gonna write here: Far Cry 4= a bit meh, will probably still buy because the Himalayas are bloody beautiful. Assassin’s Creed whatever= double meh, demo indistinguishable from last year’s. Terratech= Minecraft with modular robot cars, lots of promise. Elite: Dangerous with Oculus Rift + full flight controls= reason to buy Oculus Rift and full flight controls. New Gauntlet= NEEDS VARIETY BADLY.
That’ll do for now. Next Wasteland 2 roundup will have to come next before that all slips from mind too. Barely played it the past couple of months thanks to an urge to replay Half-Life 2 as Autumn has set in, a return to Terraria and a ludicrously good Humble Bundle. Will have to spend a night in the Wasteland to remind myself where I was and sit down to write immediately after I think.
But yes, room to write and breathe again now that I’ve finally bothered to get this stupid Eurogamer post out the way.