MCM London Comic Con – October 2014 – Hands-On Game Impressions

Evolve - Big Alpha
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You’ve seen my daft pictures in the last post, now it’s time for some daft game impressions to go with them. Like a strong odorous cheese to complement a fine wine, here’s the savoury and slightly nutty fromage to go with all those pictures.

Abandoning that clumsy metaphor right there, MCM’s London October 2014 Comic Con  brought with it an impressive variety of games, catering for mobile and handheld gamers right up to those with top of the line spec’d out PCs. I spent most of my time this last weekend – in between snapping pics of creative cosplayers – getting stuck into whatever gaming based nuggets I could get my hands on.

What was really great was that a lot of the games on offer here were ones that I didn’t get chance to play at last month’s EGX event at Earls Court, so this gave me the chance to effectively plug a few of the gaps in my gaming knowledge so to speak. So without further ado, let’s read on…or perhaps that should be “Fight on!” in the case of the first game I got to try, Mortal Combat X.

Mortal Combat X

CC14 - MK Booth

The first game I was able to have a go at during Comic Con was Mortal Combat X, the latest in the infamously bloody fighting game series from developer Midway Games, due to come out in April next year.

After a relatively short queue, I found myself towards the front of the Mortal Combat area, eager to play. It just so happened that upon getting this far in the queue, I spied that the PS4 game booths set up all had two controllers attached. This was also when I felt a deep churn of fear in my gut. Anxious that I’d potentially made a huge mistake, I nervously asked the guy in front of me (who’d boasted of having queued up three times today for the game already) “We’re fighting against the CPU…right? RIGHT?” Almost perfectly timed with my question, one of the booth attendants yelled out to see who wasn’t already matched up with a partner – thereby confirming that the demo was a fight to the death with another human player. Exactly (and very naively in retrospect) what I didn’t want.

As you can imagine, when I realised that I was going to be paired up with this guy pictured below, I almost lost control of my bladder, Otacon style. I’m sure you can understand.

CC14 - Ninja

Thankfully, I managed to retain control of my bodily functions, and not scuttle out in fear or shame, and instead allowed myself to be ushered to my virtual guillotine of sorts. Actually, despite my opponent’s intimidating attire, he was actually quite the gentlemanly fighter. I picked my favourite character Sub-Zero, he picked Scorpion; in other words, we could almost perfectly recreate the game’s teaser cinematic:

In other words, I lost, but I had an awful lot of fun losing – exactly what I look for in a fighting game.

Enough of my whinging, let’s talk about the game itself. The gameplay in Mortal Combat X is fast, brutal and gorgeous looking…even when you’re getting your virtual head kicked in. The game feels very satisfying and very fun to play, even though the 60fps framerate can feel eyeball-meltingly fast; for example, there were times, particularly when my opponent was using Scorpion’s teleport moves, that my mind couldn’t process what was happening onscreen fast enough for me to respond. It felt deliciously exciting, similar to how my brain functions felt too slow to comprehend what was going on when I first started playing Killer Instinct back in November 2013.

I couldn’t really get the hang of the controls in the short five to ten-minute session we had, but that’s probably largely because, as you might remember from my thoughts on Killer Instinct, I’m a real fighting games noob. I did play Mortal Combat: Deadly Alliance for the Gamecube, but it was only ever in a button-mashing capacity against very easy CPU opponents, but I never really got to a stage where I could pull off strings of elegant combos. As a result, I struggled to pull off any decent combo chains; I found that Killer Instinct muscle memory led me to keep trying to pull off quarter-circle moves, rather than the two-directional inputs (usually down-left/right and one of the PS4 face buttons) Mortal Combat seems to go for.

Nevertheless I managed to turn the tide of my beatdown somewhat towards the end of the match; once I’d managed to get a few moves under my rudimentary belt, I was able to dish out a few tasty ice sword anti-airs here and there and occasionally punish my opponent’s over-reliance on mix-up teleport moves, but it was too little too late. I still got pulped. However, it didn’t really matter, as just watching my newfound ninja friend’s Scorpion batter my stoic and ever-suffering Sub-Zero senseless was, nonetheless, very entertaining.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

CC14 - Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

Next up was Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. The hands-on here was pretty generous, allowing me and a fellow gamer to blast our way through several small missions on Pandora’s moon. I got to play as Athena, the badass shield-wielding NPC from The Secret Armory of General Knoxx DLC of the original Borderlands, whilst my queue partner got to play as everyone’s favourite robot and the Borderlands series mascot, Claptrap.

I don’t really have an awful lot to say on this one – it’s essentially just more Borderlands for the last-generation consoles. Don’t get me wrong though, despite the fact that it’s solely last-gen for now, it’s still very good fun . It’s that familiar lootin’ tootin’ shootin’ Borderlands gameplay that you know and love, only with a few lunar-based tweaks to freshen up the gameplay.

The oxygen mechanic in this game is an interesting gameplay resource to play around with, allowing you to pull off some damaging ground stomp moves because…REASONS! Mr. Torgue jokes aside, jumping, running or doing the new ground stomp move uses up some of your oxygen meter; it’s essentially another gameplay element that you need to keep an eye on, alongside your usual health and shields. However, the oxygen meter does bring with it some concerns that I feel could potentially have some slightly counter-productive side effects on the usual Borderlands shenanigans that I love.

As a great deal of the fun I had with Borderlands and Borderlands 2 was being able to just go wandering off into the lovely cel-shaded environments of Pandora in search of hidden treasure, I could see that, in my case, having a rapidly decreasing oxygen meter to watch could somewhat hamper and curb that desire to explore.

I think a large part of the reason I’m so sensitive to the whole running out of oxygen thing is that it’s something that I’ve had drilled into me as a primal fear from my youth – namely playing the Sonic the Hedgehog games back on the Mega Drive in the ’90s. Hearing that increasingly louder and faster drowning music pumping through the speakers whilst you were desperately trying to navigate your spiny blue protagonist through an underwater labyrinth was the stressful stuff of nightmares back then, and as a result, any game that features the possibility of running out of oxygen can often still get me right on edge. There’s points in the Dead Space series where I’m  worried about the very unlikely possibility of asphyxiating due to lack of oxygen, rather than the very likely and much more gruesome death of being torn apart by the bloodthirsty Necromorphs scuttling after me.

Even just playing a short section of gameplay at an event like this, it triggered off in me a mini panic, complete with sweaty palms (lovely). Having said that, you do pick up blue oxygen canisters from killing enemies, and I’m sure that as you level up, you’ll be able to carry larger and larger oxygen reserves for your character. Me and my co-op buddy were playing with level 4/5 characters, so I suppose it’s reasonable that I couldn’t go for all that long without air at such an early point in the game. Having said that, if you’re as anxious about oxygen supplies as me, then Claptrap, everyone’s favourite annoying little robot, might be the ideal character to play as, because he doesn’t need to watch his 02 levels as…well, he doesn’t have lungs.

From a character perspective, Athena felt like a fun character to use; she has an awesome Captain America style shield that she can use to soak up enemy damage and projectiles before being able to fling the shield as a deadly whizzing disc. Everything else, from the guns, action and, of course, the gags, is still intact, and still very much Borderlands. Wub Wub indeed.

Evolve

CC14 - Evolve

Okay, here we go, the big kahuna. It was over a two hour-long queue I had to wait just to be able to play this game, but it was worth every minute of queueing. Evolve felt absolutely fantastic. I got to play a full match, lasting a generous twenty five minutes or so, and really dig into the game’s mechanics from the perspective of Val, the team Medic.

Even with just a single match under my belt, the game feels like everything I was hoping for; it’s tense, tactical, exciting and, at times, there’s an electrifying jolt of horror to the proceedings as well. It’s pretty much everything I hoped the game would be; a mix between Turtle Rock Studio’s previous Left 4 Dead games mixed with Godzilla, Predator, Aliens and a big smattering of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos to top things off.

Upon entering the booth, we were shown a quick tutorial video – the same video that had been playing constantly outside the booth for the last two hours in the queue, but hey, nevermind – before being split into two teams of five; four hunters, one monster per game. Our human team quickly picked our roles – I volunteered for Medic out of choice, contrary to what you might think, as I like to play the support characters in class-based multiplayer games. I’ll get into the details in a minute, but Val absolutely did not disappoint, and I’ll likely be spending a lot of time as the Medic class in the final game.

Once our team had picked our classes, there was a nervous pause at our booth as we waited for our monster player to pick his desired Kaiju of choice. Obviously, both the Goliath and the Kraken look horribly formidable in their own unique ways – The Goliath being your muscle-bound meleé based, fire-breathing Godzilla-esuqe brute, whilst the Kraken is essentially a giant flying tentacled Cthulhu monster with long-range lightning powers. For me personally, despite the immediacy and earth-shattering bulk of the Goliath, I find that the Kraken (probably entirely due to its Cthulhu appearance) looks far more frightening a creature to face off against, so I was slightly relieved when our monster went with the Goliath. I say only slightly, as the Goliath is still an overwhelmingly unpleasant thing to have to face off against.

Once all the players were ready, the match loaded up. The opening pre-game moments of a match are suitably moody and tense. As one of the human players, the starting scene shows our intrepid team of monster hunters loading up inside a dropship of sorts, before waiting poised and alert to drop into the dark and dense jungle canopy below.

Dropping into the level from the ship feels suitably cinematic. Imagine the start of the film Predator, only with no ’80s boombox blaring loud music and fewer sexual tyrannosaurus references, and with much more grim tension and ominous atmosphere in their place. There’s a keen sense of dread at all times when playing Evolve as a human hunter, and that mood starts right from your dropship entry onto the map.

The dark jungle level environment that we got to play in was absolutely stunning. I’m pretty certain that the game was running at 60fps, but even if it’s less than this holy grail of a figure, everything feels very smooth and elegant; even when the action all kicks off and it’s all guns-a-blazing from the humans and the Goliath is flambéing players and other animals left right and centre. Everything is consistently fast and snappy.

One of the first things you learn pretty early on is that teamwork between the hunters is absolutely essential – if you’re playing as a human character, then using your mic to communicate effectively is of utmost importance. It’s hard to imagine playing this game passively when it launches in February of next year; there’s no room for chit chat here, it’s all hands on deck. You need to be calling out updates to your teammates and constantly scanning the sky, the jungle canopy and the ground for your big scaly friend, and noting anything that you catch out of the corner of your eye  from the moment you hit the ground. The player using the Tracker class is of utmost importance here, as they are the best equipped to find the monster’s footprints and spot where it’s most likely to have gone faster than the other team members. Thankfully, we had a good Tracker, so we were usually hot on the monster’s heels for the majority of the game.

Good clear voice communication between our team members had the additional benefit of making the onscreen action feel that much more exciting and cool. Whether the people you’re playing with in the final game speak in as productive and concise a manner come release, we’ll have to see, but from this session, our team was quickly calling out targets, rallying around each other in combat, and barking out updates to specific team members when necessary.

You’ll also learn that it’s very easy as a human player to get distracted with the other native wildlife that’s trying to eat you in the area. This can give the monster some precious moments with which to evade capture and briefly put a bit of distance between themselves and the hunters. This happened to us early on and cost us dearly, when one of our team sighted and started shooting at a large beast which, to be fair, looked an awful lot like the Goliath from afar. Naturally, we all came to help out our free-firing compadre, only to discover what we were shooting at wasn’t the Goliath. Whoops. Back to the hunt.

By this point, the monster had managed to evolve to stage 2, so we really needed to find him and cause some damage fast, or we’d be in trouble. Sure enough, after finding some burning animal corpses, we had our first encounter with our monstrous Moby Dick. A brief scuffle ensued, but unfortunately, despite the best efforts of our Tracker to trap the Goliath in a temporary arena forcefield, the beast escaped – a little worse for wear thanks to our combined sharpshooting, but still very much a deadly threat.

Playing as Val, the Medic, was incredibly good fun. I found myself filling out the role as a good mix of traditional healer/support character, plus a long-range sniper/specialist class. What’s great is that they’ve made the Medic class a serious part of the team’s firepower output, and you’re not just relegated to some passive healer role in the background. Your participation is very much needed to help bring the monster down as well as patching up your stronger teammates.

When your team finds the monster, one of the first things you’ll want to do as the Medic (providing that your team hasn’t been brutally ambushed and are now lying motionless and bleeding out in a pool of their own entrails) is to hit the monster with your tranquilliser gun. A successful hit slows the monster’s movement speed, making it much easier for the Trapper to get a solid harpoon shot off and hopefully trap your gargantuan opponent for a small window of time.

Additionally, when taking a more offensive approach to proceedings, I believe that when I scored a direct hit with my sniper rifle on the Goliath, it subsequently highlighted targets on the rest of its body for my teammates to shoot at and temporarily cause more damage than normal. That’s what’s great about the Medic; one minute you might be desperately trying to heal a battered teammate with your medgun, the next you might be laying down some long-range punishment with your brutally satisfying sniper rifle – your immediate responsibilities can change in a flash, perhaps making the Medic one of the more flexible classes to play as, depending on the current scenario and pace of the match.

A series of brief battles followed, where we managed to slowly whittle down the beast’s health a tad. However, despite our efforts and some diligent work from our Tracker and her cute pet alien dog/thing, Daisy, the monster ultimately managed to evade us long enough to evolve to it’s final stage 3 form. At this point, the Goliath is an absolute powerhouse – it’s essentially a fully-armoured Godzilla at this point, exactly what you don’t want. The balance of power shifts dramatically into the monster’s favour as a result, and instead of hunting the beast, our team now needs to fall back and defend a power generator. As a human player, this is what you dread, and this is where a great deal of the horror aspect of the game gets laid on thick.

Taking up positions round the generator inside a remote warehouse deep in the alien jungle, we nervously wait it out and plan our next move. The rain is chucking it down, it’s dark, and we can just hear the loud thudding footsteps of the Goliath as it stalks us inside the building. This felt absolutely terrifying, and all we could do was risk the occasional very brief peep outside to try and catch a glimpse of it. Hearing the Goliath rumbling and stomping around in the environment and not being able to see it was agonisingly tense and scary, calling to mind the T-Rex scenes from Jurassic Park.

Suddenly, Daisy started clambering the walls. Daisy will automatically move towards the monster to give you a sense of it’s direction, so with dread, we collectively look up, only to see our giant nemesis grinning down at us from one of the upper walkways. It slams down , scattering our team, and we enter a last desperate fight for survival.

Unfortunately, our monster player was pretty smart at singling out me as it’s favourite plaything. As the name implies, the Medic is the only character that has the ability to heal the other players – meaning that once I’d been wiped out, the Goliath could then just rip apart everyone else without having to worry about them being healed up and continuing to blast him.

As a result, in the final minutes of the match, I spent a great deal of it just waiting to respawn back in, and then once finally back in the action, I was promptly pummelled back to an early death by the astute Goliath to prevent me from healing my battered, bruised and broken teammates.

The match was a very close-run thing. Although we had a really good Support player on our team, who managed to buy us precious time in the last desperate minutes by stealthing around the rampaging Goliath, and generally being the star of the show, but ultimately, victory went to the monster in the end. However, our merry band of hunters put up a valiant effort, and I believe we lasted longer than the other groups in our session. Not bad for our first go I think.

The one niggle that I picked up on whilst playing Evolve was that I found it to be very easy as a human player to quickly run out of jetpack juice. When navigating the environment as a team to track your massive quarry, you’ll be constantly firing up your jetpack to boost up cliffsides and to cross gaping chasms. The frequency with which I needed to jump, glide and zip about the large, vertically-layered environments meant that I would often find myself sat at the bottom of a tall cliff, backed up into a corner and nervously scanning the surrounding dark jungle foliage for the slightest movement. Whilst these moments were satisfyingly tense, the frequency with which I basically found myself at the base of an unclimbable wall just waiting around for my jetpack meter to refill with nothing else to do felt a bit tedious after the first few times this happened.

Overall, the Evolve demo was incredibly enjoyable and has reinforced in my mind exactly why I was originally interested in the game in the first place. If the other creatures prove to be as entertaining to fight as the Goliath, and the other unrevealed team members bring more unique traits to the table, then I can potentially see myself playing this game for a long, long time once it’s finally released into the wild.

In fact, at the time of writing, the Evolve Big Alpha should be live on Xbox Live, and will be rolling out for PS4 and PC over the Halloween weekend, so if you’re a lucky Alpha code owner, I highly recommend you get online and get playing. Hunter or hunted, predator or prey,  if you’re a fan of asymetrical team-based co-op with a big helping of horror, then I’m almost certain you’ll have as much fun as I did.

 Assassin’s Creed Unity

CC14 - Assassins Guillotine

I kicked off day 2 of Comic Con by trying out Assassin’s Creed Unity. Whilst waiting in line and talking to the Ubisoft booth staff and fellow gamers, it was great to just watch the game in motion in the hands of other players. Graphically, the game looks great – I know there’s been a lot of controversy (and I think rightly so in this case given the ‘excuse’) about the PS4/Xbox One graphics comparison – it’s running at 900p on both consoles – but the game looks particularly beautiful, however many ps are rattling around in there. The lighting effects in particular come across really well, and gives the game a painting-like aesthetic. There’s the strange decision to give all the characters English accents, which feels slightly weird, but not unusual I suppose for period drama (plus I’d be struggling without decent subtitling otherwise, being an ignorant monolinguist), but it definitely feels a bit jarring when you first hear it. It’s a small thing however, and watching the opening little cinematic to the mission I’m about to do has got me suitably fired up and ready to go.

Arno is shown on a rooftop, scanning out over a crowd of Parisians, and talking to a serious-looking head assassin guy. Using his eagle vision (essentially detective mode from the Batman Arkham Asylum series) to scan various people and the environment, we learn that my mission is to sneak into Notre Dame cathedral, like a limber and hoody-clad Quasimodo and take out a rather nasty and gruff looking bearded chap who’s no doubt been causing a bit of a ruckus on France’s streets. No problemo, consider it done. Unlike Quasimodo however, I’ve got all my usual Assassin’s accoutrements to help me bump off my mark, along with any other swashbuckling guards who care to get in my way. Excited and eager to get stalking my victim, I place my hands on the Xbox One controller.

I’ve not played any of the Assassin’s Creed series to date, so I’m not in a position to compare or contrast how Unity holds up to previous entries with regard to mission structure I’m afraid. However, I also can’t really give you a decent impression on the controls either, but that’s due to an entirely different reason – there was no invert look setting.

I’ve had this problem before with a Ubisoft game actually – namely Beyond Good and Evil – and it’s without a doubt one of the most annoying things that can influence your time with a game. It was so annoying in fact, that like a painful repressed memory, it leapt straight to mind when I saw that there was no invert look control in Assassin’s Creed Unity‘s options screen.

When the remastered HD version of Beyond Good and Evil was on sale earlier this year on the Xbox 360, I eagerly slapped my virtual money down for it the first chance I got. I’d heard so many good things about this quirky game with a photographer and her anthropomorphic pig friend that I thought it was right up my street, and well worth a try at a bargain price.

However, my feeling of excitement quickly turned to one of extreme horror when I realised that the camera controls were beyond sense and reason (ba-dum-tish!). You could only either have entirely normal or inverted camera controls; unlike most games, which treat vertical camera control independently from horizontal camera control, Beyond Good and Evil‘s camera system was designed in such a way that it meant that you either had to suffer with a camera you could control horizontally, but not vertically, or likewise vertically, but not horizontally. In short, it was a fucking nightmare, something so horrific and unplayable that I’ve never come across before or (thankfully) since. After about twenty minutes of trying to navigate out of the basic tutorial mission, I just gave up and haven’t gone back to the game since. Which is a real shame, as it’s supposed to be an incredibly underrated gem.

Anyway, frustrated rant about Beyond Good and Evil over, like I say, I couldn’t help but be reminded of that prior frustration within seconds of getting my hands on the controller here. Whilst my current predicament with the lack of an invert look in Unity was no way near as bad as that experience I’d had with Beyond Good and Evil‘s unintuitive control scheme, it still managed to really prevent me from getting into the gameplay, especially as a total newcomer to the softly-softly-stabby-monkey series.

I’m guessing that this is just a feature cut from this particular demo for time/money reasons, and I’m also guessing that the ability to invert your look controls will SURELY be in the final game. Having to fight the camera controls every laboured step of the way actually made the experience rather amusing. Instead of feeling like the master assassin that Arno Dorian is clearly meant to be, my hooded protagonist stumbled about the beautiful Parisian streets like a drunken fool. Instead of slipping through dense crowds like a stealthy serpentine revolutionary, my Arno careened and shambled about like a clumsy spinning top, bashing into bystanders, wooden carts, doorways, scenery and enemy guards with alarming frequency; I like to imagine each collision was complete with a dopey Frank Spencer-like smile of embarrassment from my character as way of an apology.

I was told whilst in line that enemies (presumably ones that you attack and manage to escape from you in more or less one piece) will remember you in future. Well, they might not remember me for being a lethal assassin, but the guards in my playthrough will undoubtedly remember me for the buffeting fool I was whilst banging into them time and time again in my desperate struggle to fight the camera controls.

Annoyingly, just when I was getting up to the juicy assassination, I’d unfortunately reached the end of my allotted time, and it was time to move on. From what I did get to play, the game does feel fun and smooth once you get into the motion of it. Sneaking around and clambering up the ancient Parisian buildings felt very satisfying and cool once I’d learnt to fight my muscle memory, and small graphical touches like powdery clouds of dust rising into the air as you adjust your handholds on buildings lend intricate and nicely detailed touches to the overall beautifully lit atmosphere.

The demo did a good job of highlighting the various different ways of tackling the overall mission objective. I ultimately proceeded to infiltrate the cathedral through a wide open window high up in between the flying buttresses and ornate stained glass windows, but various other ways were presented to me via the opening cinematic. Watching others playing the demo, I saw that one such method was to steal an already stolen set of Priest’s keys (two wrongs making a right perhaps?) from a room full of enemy soldiers, allowing you to enter a secret underground passageway underneath Notre Damme which probably might have been a better and sneakier option to have gone for in retrospect.

Ideally, I would have liked to have been able to have sampled the multiplayer element in some capacity in the demo, as to me, that’s the hook I could see pulling me into the franchise, but nonetheless, the game looks set to be another great pleasure for fans of the series.

Far Cry 4

CC14 - Elephant Head

I didn’t have to go far to get to the next game from Assassin’s Creed Unity, as Far Cry 4 was handily just next door to it’s Ubisoft brother in arms so to speak. The latest game in the series takes the much loved outdoor survival first person shooter experience to the fictional Himalayan region of Kryat. Expect plenty of gunfights, rampaging elephants and buzzing gyrocopters, but sadly no sharks this time, unless there’s some kind of freak mountainous sharknado that magically happens in these alpine mountains (well, we live in hope).

Upon getting my hands on the controller, you’re given an option to pick from three different variations on storming one of the game’s enemy forts . These operations were a stealth approach, an aerial attack from above using the nifty gyrocopter I believe, and an all out assault with atop an Elephant. Guess which one I picked – don’t worry I’ll wait (pauses). Correct – an all out guns blazing bareback Dumbo assault it was.

Climbing aboard my loyal pachyderm, I rammed through the fort’s gates, wielding what looked to be a .50 calibre heavy machine gun in my lap. Needless to say, this was an incredibly fun combination of tools to have at your disposal. The elephant could be manually ‘driven’ into footsoldiers, picking them up and hilariously bashing them about with its trunk when they got within range, and likewise, you can dismount your elephant and it will automatically charge at enemies for you, creating a useful distraction for you to attack from another angle. Naturally, your big grey friend can’t take too many bullets, so you’ll have to keep an eye out for it in the heat of battle, or risk it being felled, and then presumably turned into piano keys. Sad face.

Disappointingly, there were no headphones provided at the Far Cry 4 booth, so instead I had to provide all the gunshots, explosions and the loud trumpeting sounds I imagined my elephantine companion was making myself. This drew plenty of what I’m certain were very approving looks from the other players.

Looking around at others playing the game around me, it looked like the three different approaches to capturing the fort were all significantly different, which is great. The stealthy approach requires some patient sniping for example, and far more patience, cunning and self-restraint than I currently was feeling.

There looks to be some interesting vehicle interactions you could perform as well – approaching a vehicle from different angles will give you different options; you can get in the drivers side to get behind the wheel, climb onto the mounted gun position to attack, or alternatively, you can (when approaching directly from the front I believe) cut the brake cables to send the vehicle slowly rolling back down a hill. In a game that’s set in a fictional region in the Himalayas, the ability to send enemy cars hurtling uncontrollably down hills and slopes will only give you more freeform and hideously creative ways of entertainingly dispatching your enemies.

Personally, I find it hard to get excited for a new Far Cry game these days – I burnt myself out playing the original PC game and the early original Xbox ports over and over again.  Although these early entries in the series were very fun games to play, I’ve not really had the desire to go back and try that brand of action/adventure FPS since those early Xbox days, and as a result I’ve subsequently bailed on playing Far Cry 2 and Far Cry 3, which I hear are supposed to be particular highlights of the series and very strong games in their own right.

Having said that, Far Cry 4 was a great deal of fun from what I’ve played so far, and I can only imagine that  if the rest of the game is as open and flexible to a variety of approaches and playstyles as this demo was, then it will surely be a delight for fans of the series. Again, like with Assassin’s Creed Unity, it would have been nice to sample the co-op mode, as that’s a first for the series, and the sort of thing that might prove to be a tempting way back into the series for me. However, if the singleplayer is anything to go by, I’m sure that when the final game and the multiplayer modes are available, it’ll be extremely good fun to go stomping around the mountainous landscape of Kryat with a buddy and their own personal pachyderm in tow.

As a finishing note, I don’t want to jump the gun here, but I absolutely loved the non-canonical and nonsensical standalone DLC/game Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. The second a follow-up to that game starring Rex Colt gets announced as part of Far Cry 4, then you can be sure that I’ll be totally onboard to cause some cybernetic Michael Biehn-flavoured havoc in the Himalayas.

MCM London Comic Con – October 2014 – Photos

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CC14 - Foxy (Title Picture)

I’ve been to some pretty big gigs, events and festivals before, but nothing could quite prepare me for the wonderfully chaotic geeky exuberance that is London Comic Con.

Riding the Docklands Light Railway to the ExCeL stop and walking out into the main outdoor square was a delightfully insane experience. It was a fascinating and, quite frankly heartwarming sight to see such a large scale outpouring of love and enthusiasm for nerd culture. People had come from far and wide, representing their favourite characters from films, TV, video games, comics, manga – you name it, someone was probably cosplaying as it.

I was in London for the weekend, and snapping away with my camera on both Saturday 25th and Sunday 26th. The whole event was absolutely massive, and although I tried to get around everything on offer, I decided pretty early on to prioritise whatever games related stuff I could realistically get round to.

The amount of new and upcoming games on offer to play was really good, and in fact, I was able to play a great deal of the titles that I didn’t have time to check out at this year’s EGX – Evolve and Mortal Combat X in particular were two titles I particularly enjoyed getting hands-on with.

So, you can expect a separate written impressions piece on all the games I got to play to go up on here shortly, but in the meantime, check out the sights and cosplayers from London Comic Con October 2014 in the gallery below.

Speaking of which, all these cosplayers and costumes have defintiely got me inspired to maybe give the ol’ dressing up thing a try myself. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a Sabrewulf costume to make…where oh where exactly did I put that blue spandex?

Titanfall – Frontier Defense Mode – First Impressions

Titanfall - Title Shot
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Respawn Entertainment announced earlier this week that a free new co-operative defence game type has been added to Titanfall‘s online multiplayer modes.

I’ve had a quick hands-on with this new mode, called ‘Frontier Defense’, and from the brief time I’ve played so far, I have to say that this new mode is actually really good, and a welcome, refreshing addition to the Titanfall package as a whole.

It’s essentially a four-player Gears of War horde mode clone, only with robots and giant mechs as your enemies instead of the subterranean gun-wielding Locust.

Your task as a Militia pilot is to defend a giant ‘Harvester’ contraption in one of the game’s standard maps, along with three other players; you can all call in Titans like you normally can in the game’s competitive multiplayer modes, only the goal here is to work together to repel the invading CPU-controlled IMC forces.

Frontier Defense is pretty difficult. You and your teammates have got to fight off six waves of robotic and human enemies, all the while defending the rather fragile Harvester, which has regenerating shields, but limited health, much like the games’ Titans. By about wave four or five, you’re going to be absolutely overwhelmed by enemies pouring in from all angles.

The action here is desperate, and surprisingly, quite tense too; on your first Frontier Defense match, you won’t know what to expect at all, and a lot of the normal enemies have cloaking devices which let them sneak up close to your team’s Harvester, which makes the Grunts and Spectres in particular feel much more significant and dangerous than they’ve ever felt in the game’s competitive multiplayer modes.

In addition to the ground troops, enemy Titans also often deploy with floating companion cloaking devices, which you need to shoot down in order to reveal their bulky, lumbering frames. You have an enlarged map in the top left of your HUD, placing a greater emphasis on tracking enemy and friendly movement around the level.

There’s some interesting new twists on the regular enemy types too; you have to keep an eye out for the new Suicide Spectres, fast moving Spectres, strapped up with plenty of C4, who like nothing more than to run at your team’s Harvester, as well as Nuclear Suicide Ogre Titans. These operate just like the Suicide Spectres, only they are much slower, but much more deadly.

You’ve got to balance between taking out the bigger Titan threats, while also not ignoring the Grunts and Spectres, as in numbers they can quickly whittle down the Harvester’s shields and health. Teamwork and communication are needed to keep that precious Harvester in one still-functioning piece. You’re periodically given a defence turret at the end of each round, which you can then put in a strategic spot of your choosing as a means of picking off some of the smaller Grunts and Spectres weaving their way throughout the map. But ultimately, success in Frontier Defense comes from effective co-ordination with your human buddies; playing with random uncommunicative matchmade players when I’ve been online has so far led to disastrous results.

This new mode feels refreshingly chaotic and intense. It’s still the same wall-jumping, action-packed Titan stomping shenanigans that you know and love, only with a co-operative focus instead of a competitive one. It feels so different and entertaining to play in comparison to the usual Titanfall modes that I’m surprised that a mode like this didn’t make it into the main game in the first place. Anyway, I’m glad it’s here and that we’ve got it now in the form of this free DLC.

Everything feels pretty cinematic, exciting and different – much like the main game felt upon its arrival in March. When you die, you don’t just respawn, you’re dropped in by a dropship, which gives you chance to briefly survey the battlefield from above. It really adds to the sense that you’re dropping into an on-going warzone. At times, these cool little things make Frontier Defence feel like the sort of thing that would have been a perfect fit as part of a more traditional singleplayer mode, the sort of gameplay that a lot of Titanfall fans undoubtedly felt was missing from the rather underwhelming multiplayer ‘campaign’.

There’s some annoying achievements that have been released with this new free DLC update, which I’ll grumble about in an upcoming post, but in the meantime, if you’ve kind of forgotten about Titanfall recently, what with all these shiny new games dropping out of the sky left right and centre (much like a Titan), then I highly recommend that you fire your copy up, and try out Frontier Defense. After all, it’s free and, like me, you might just be rather pleasantly surprised by it.

Killer Instinct Season 2 – Maya First Impressions

Killer Instinct - Maya Worthy Prey
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Iron Galaxy’s Season 2 of Killer Instinct is at long last live and (literally) kicking, so there’s no better time to punch, claw and, now with the release of Maya, knife your way to virtual glory on the KI leaderboards.

Disclaimer; as you might remember from my TJ Combo first impressions piece, I’m no fighting game expert. Rather, I’m a masochistic and plucky noob who really enjoys playing Killer Instinct, even when getting absolutely destroyed match after match. Just picture that scene in Fight Club where Brad Pitt’s character, Tyler Durden, is beaten senseless by the angry building owner, yet he’s still grinning maniacally and spluttering mouthfuls of blood into his attackers face – yeah that’s pretty much me when I play Killer Instinct online.

Hopefully though, my online bludgeoning has knocked me into shape enough to put together some layman’s tips and pointers which might just help you keep your head above water in the suspiciously yellowy-green baby pool end of the Killer Instinct’s online multiplayer.

Adding to the ever-growing roster this month then is the knife-wielding Maya, a returning fan favourite from Killer Instinct 2. Let’s take a look at what she brings to the table…before she slices it up into splintery pieces.

Maya have this dance?

Killer Instinct - Maya Versus

To start with, Maya looks totally badass; the character has been completely redesigned to bring her up to date with the rest of the 2013 cast (although you can be sure that famous highly combat-suitable leopard print bikini from Killer Instinct 2 will make an appearance in the classic costumes at a later date).

She’s now a Latin-American monster hunter, complete with cool golden Aztec/Incan body armour, long golden braids, gnarly leg scar, and two vicious throwing daggers as weapons. I wonder who gave her that gnarly leg scar? Season 2’s Arcade mode may eventually have the answers I’m guessing.

From her brief snippets of dialogue, Maya’s voice sounds awfully similar to Paz Ortega Andrade’s from Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker/Ground Zeroes, which was provided by the talented Tara Strong; I’m betting that it’s the one and the same actor voicing Killer Instinct‘s deadly new demon destroyer as well.

Knife to meet you, to meet you, Knife

Killer Instinct - Maya Temperance and Vengeance

Maya’s daggers, Temperance and Vengeance

Maya instantly feels different to the rest of the roster with her unique dagger meter. It’s located above your normal shadow meter, and it’s something you need to be keeping a close eye on whilst playing as her. This Amazonian warrior is a ranged/zoning projectile character, who uses her throwing daggers to dominate her opponents. In the right hands, she’s absolutely lethal; the daggers allow you to control the pace and spacing of the match, as well as introduce yet another level of meta mind games to the chaos. In my unskilled hands however…well, not so much.

What’s really cool about the way the dagger throws work is that it’s pretty much a win-win situation for you as the Maya player. If you throw a dagger and it hits an enemy, it causes damage – great. If you throw a dagger and your enemy blocks it, then it pings off their block, and levels up a notch on the dagger meter. Each dagger has two charge notches, and each levelling up of the daggers grants Maya’s damage ender, the Spirit Strike (a sort of special Darth Maul-esque double dagger throw), some unique buffs.

One charge on Temperance let’s Spirit Strike ricochet, while two makes it home in toward your opponent. One charge on Vengeance gives the Spirit Strike extra durability, allowing it to punch through your opponent’s projectiles, and two Vengeance charges makes the fearsome thing unblockable.

Put all these charges and buffs together, perform a quarter-circle-forward + heavy punch attack and what do you get? Pain. Lots and lots of pain…and presumably a great deal of blood loss too. This performs the normal Spirit Strike damage ender payout, plus additional damage for each charge of dagger experience you’ve acquired. Performing a high-level damage ender with both daggers at full experience causes some serious pain to your opponent, and if performed as the coup de grace at the end of a particularly long combo chain, it can easily get into the brutal realms of “GODLIKE COMBO!” territory – like I say, a whole world of pain for your writhing and punctured opponent.

This process of levelling up the daggers makes your opponent have to really think lightning fast as to whether it’s better to actually take a dagger hit rather than let you level those daggers up and suffer much greater damage later on.

Finders Weepers

Killer Instinct - Maya Double Dagger

You ideally want to keep constant pressure on your opponent by raining down knives on them, but make sure you keep an eye on where they ping off to; you’ll need to get them both back in your hands if you want to perform Maya’s damage ender.

Maya is very much a risk and reward character. The daggers give her the ability to really pressure your opponent, and to cause some serious pain. But once you’ve lost one, your gameplan and a great deal of your fighting capabilities go flying out of bounds along with that missing dagger. Lose both, and you can quickly find yourself struggling, and unable to dominate the ground and air spaces like you could before.

Performing what would normally be a dagger throw – quarter-circle-forward + either light punch (Temperance) or medium punch (Vengeance) – without daggers will instead perform a kick attack corresponding to that punch’s power. While these kick attacks and special moves are still formidable, without your daggers you lose your ranged capabilities and most importantly, your damage ender. You’ll find yourself having to work very hard to keep the pressure up on your opponent, generally having to go for longer combos with less damage payoff.

When you get to a dropped dagger on the screen, there’s a good deal of strategy to actually picking up the knives that you’ll also have to learn. The daggers can be retrieved manually by pressing all three punch buttons, but although it’s a fast recovery move, you still have to judge when it’s safe to drop to the floor and collect, or when you should remain blocking/fighting. You can also collect them by dashing over them on the floor or performing some of Maya’ special moves on the spot; I found that using the tumble kick or axe kick special moves were the most effective ways of picking up daggers in a hurry, and these allow you to pick up daggers whilst still in combo.

Additionally, you’ll soon learn when you first go online with Maya that clever opponents will try and prevent you from going to retrieve your daggers, either by blocking your way or remaining at the opposite screen boundary and refusing to move towards you, probably spamming you with their own projectiles as well in the process.

Whilst it’s not the end of the world if you do lose a dagger or two, you’ve really got to make sure that you’re holding onto both the daggers if you’re wanting to cash out some serious damage to your opponent. Both daggers are required to perform the precious damage ender; without it, you’ll quickly find yourself struggling. Many times when I was playing ranked matches, I’d find that I could pull off some spectacular combo chains that I was really chuffed with; only to find that when I needed to end the combo and cash out the damage, I’d forgotten to collect a knife or sent one flying across to the other end of the screen, meaning that I had only the launcher or knock-down enders to choose from. Always be aware of your daggers when playing as Maya, and try and keep track of where they are, whether that’s in your hand, or trapped at the far side of the screen.

Never fear though, as if you’re like me and tend to send the daggers flying all over the place, Maya’s instinct mode allows her to instantly recall her daggers upon activation, and then have them boomerang back to her rapidly fast for the duration of the instinct meter.

Killer Instinct - Maya Spirit Strike

The fully levelled up Spirit Strike – effective and painful, even against giant cyborgs.

Slice ‘n’ Dice

Maya’s got a great deal of in-air options to play with; knives can be thrown and collected mid-air, allowing you to pull off some ridiculously cool looking and hard to anticipate combos. I’ve noticed that if you perform a double-tap sprint move, you can follow it up with an immediate jump to perform a ridiculously long leap across the screen. It’s almost a full-screen leap from the looks of things, which is incredible, as it allows you to throw a dagger, launch into the air, throw your other dagger, and continue your combo upon landing, hopefully picking up your thrown daggers in the process. Mind-boggling, but very impressive and tactical, allowing you to pull off some clever cross-ups on your physical interlocutor.

You also have some nifty command normals to throw into your combos as Maya, including an overhead barrel roll kick which also comes with a very useful feint version, so your opponent has to guess if you’re bluffing the move or not. You can also perform a brutal-looking overhead Mantis Strike which pins your opponent to the ground with a double stab. Although it looks brutal, it’s not a move to completely rely on, as it doesn’t cause a lot of damage, and can be countered pretty easily if you’re opponent catches onto you spamming it, though it is good at forcing your opponent off you and buying you some precious distance when going up against a rushdown character such as TJ Combo or Sabrewulf.

Well, that’s about as much as I’ve been able to get to grips with Maya for the time being. I’m not sure who or what Season 2 character is up next; in the trailer video at the beginning of this piece, there’s the trademark teaser for the next upcoming combatant at the end of the Maya stuff. Here we see what looks like a brand new character, often rumoured online in fan circles to be a sorcerer/mummified villain character. Whatever/whoever he is, he looks pretty damn unpleasant and lethal, but I’m only too happy to peel back the rotting, mummified wrappings of this character’s command list when he’s due to come out in November next month.

Killer Instinct - Maya Walk Off

Battle over, Maya victorious; cue Guile’s theme walk off.

Play Expo Photos – Manchester 2014

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Play Expo - Master Chief

“Do you feel lucky…well, do ya, Grunt?”

I spent a good chunk of this last weekend inside a box. But not just any box…

Play Expo took place this weekend in Manchester, at EventCity. As the venue’s official description itself reads:

‘EventCity is a box. A very large box. But it’s the magic that happens inside that really counts.’

I’m happy to say that both these facts are true. Yes it is essentially just a very large box, but yes, it did have that exciting magical atmosphere; the sort that you can only find at cool games conventions like Play Expo.

To move aside from all this talk of large magical boxes for one moment though, Play Expo was really good. The event was, as you might guess, about games, games, games; in all their glorious shapes and sizes, bits and bytes and bleeps and bloops.

The catalogue of games available to play was exhaustively comprehensive; going from the earliest pinball and arcade machines at the birth of gaming, right up to cutting edge PS4 games in all their shiny 1080p glory. It’s not often you can say this, but there really was something for every gamer here – even the cardboard varieties – no matter what your preferred gaming style and era.

Speaking of cardboard, I personally knew that once I saw the giant Abe and Alf cardboard cutouts and crates packed full of classic Sega Mega Drive cartridge cases, I was certainly in for a good time.

In addition, there was an immense number of Cosplayers happily wandering around, all dressed up in some painstakingly made and intricate costumes. The variety and detail of their outfits was pretty staggeringly awesome to be honest.

I managed to get some choice shots of these most ardent of fans, but there were so many that, unfortunately, unlike a true Pokémon hunter, I couldn’t catch them all. Oh snap…Pokémon Snap that is…

Anyway, whilst I mull over whichever cheesily-awful Pokémon gag to use next, let me recap; I was there at Play Expo snapping away with the camera on Saturday 11th October, so I thought I’d share my visual depictions on here. So, once again, feel free to click on the following thumbnails to see what I got up to, and the various games characters who pointed their guns/swords at me.

 

EGX 2014 – Hands-On Game Impressions

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Two weeks ago, Earls Court was home to EGX, also known as the Eurogamer Expo; a four-day gaming extravaganza of game booths, lights, merch stands and devs strutting their stuff on the show floor in all their glory.

I was there for a single action-packed day, so I tried to cram in as much as humanly possible within the limited time I had. Note to self, must buy a four-day ticket next year…

In between making my way round the huge event, taking pictures, queuing up to play games, and of course, buying plenty of Bowser-related merch, I managed to get decent hands-on impressions with four upcoming games – Halo: the Master Chief Collection, The Evil Within, Dying Light, and Alien: Isolation.

These were four of the key titles that I’ve had my eye on for a good long while, so I thought I’d share my initial impressions with y’all as they’re no doubt going to be popular choices amongst those with a taste for sci-fi and horror, like myself.

Next year, however, I’m making a beeline straight for that Oculus Rift tent! In the meantime, here are my personal thoughts on what I managed to get my greasy mitts on at this year’s event.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection

#HaloNation.

Almost as soon as I got my wristband and infiltrated the EGX perimeter so to speak, I found myself in the queue for one of the biggest guns in the Microsoft arsenal; Halo: the Master Chief Collection.

Time for a bit of a background; I’m the only Xbox One/Halo fan I know who isn’t excited for this game, or planning to get it come November…which probably makes me some kind of freak. Nonetheless, I was keen to get my hands-on an Xbone controller and get a firsthand taste of this year’s Halo offering to see whether I’m just being a cynical old fool, or whether I’ve just totally missed the point of this collection.

It’s not that I think the game’s bad or naff – far from it, it looks fantastic. The Master Chief Collection looks like an exceptional package for those new to the Halo series to jump straight into the action with, and a must-buy for those who need that sugary Halo multiplayer fix to keep them going until the release of Halo 5 next year.

Unfortunately, I don’t fall into either of those two groups. I’ve played, dearly loved, and in fact, still own all the Xbox entries in the Halo series to date, along with their respective Xboxes (not to mention a whole pile of the lore-filled books and comics – but hey, that’s for another post). It’s just that, as someone who’s always been more a singleplayer gamer by nature, I’m finding it hard to justify coughing up another £50-£60 in order to play the same campaign missions that I’ve spent a staggering number of hours of the last decade shooting my way through time and time again…when I already have these old games and consoles sitting right there on my shelf. First world problems, I know.

Developer 343’s #HaloNation booths at EGX weren’t there to extoll the virtues of Halo‘s Master Chief campaigns today though; no, today was all about the multiplayer, specifically multiplayer on the fan-favourite Halo 2 map, Lockout.

Upon getting in the queue for The Master Chief Collection however, I almost changed my mind from naysayer to absolute belieber…I mean, believer, instantly; the game looks really good graphically. I’m not much of a polygon-counting aficionado, but I was really impressed by how the game looks in its shiny new 1080p and 60fps presentation. It’s fast, smooth and gorgeous; everything you’d want a seven-foot tall, alien-fighting, bio-mechanically enhanced super soldier to be.

Getting my hands-on with the controller…was another matter though. Things just felt clunky and awkward right from the off. Before you go thinking I’m just sulking because I got destroyed by the other players, I managed to come in a respectable 3rd place in the free-for-all Rumble Pit game I’ll have you know. But never mind scores and jovial teabagging, overall, the gameplay just didn’t really do it for me. That’s not to say it’s bad – it’s Halo, but it’s vintage Halo, warts and all.

Again, that’s not to knock the game itself; what I mean by vintage is that the controls are designed to work exactly how they functioned back when Halo 2 was live back in the good ol’ days of the original Xbox. It’s just that for me, personally, the gameplay felt very old-hat and sluggish.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved playing Halo 2 multiplayer back in the day, but ten years on, I’m eager to get something new. Having sunk an awful lot of time away from precious sunlight playing all the Halo multiplayers over the years, my vitamin D deprived body is looking forwards, not backwards, for my next Halo hit.

Despite The Master Chief Collection shipping with every Halo multiplayer map in existence, I can’t shake the feeling that when fans fire up their copies come November, where they’ll have this vast smorgasbord of maps to choose from, it’ll be nothing but votes for some variation of Blood Gulch/Valhalla over and over again. Even though lots of Titanfall players (probably Halo players come to mention it) bemoaned the lack of map voting systems in that game, I for one really welcomed the lack of user voting. Having the matchmaking system pick the maps and systematically cycle through all the choices felt incredibly refreshing – it meant that you actually got to regularly play on all the game’s maps, including the DLC maps you’d bought. Try firing up Halo 4 today and see how many times you get anything other than Valhalla. It’s a great map, but seriously, way too much of a good thing you know? Variety really is the spice of life, be it real or virtual.

The main thing that stuck with me from my hands-on was not being able to sprint. Since the introduction of the Sprint armour ability in Halo Reach, later becoming a separate universal Spartan function in Halo 4, not having the ability to quickly run across the map made the gameplay feel unnaturally slow. It feels strange, and something I couldn’t get my muscle memory to accept. It felt like the equivalent of having learnt to walk as a toddler, and then being forced to go back to crawling; in other words, questionable…not to mention cruel.

In addition, having sunk a lot of time into games like Titanfall and Destiny between playing Halo 4 and The Master Chief Collection, this made the game’s movement feel even more laboured and pedestrian. Specifically when it comes to Titanfall, an intrinsic part of what makes that game enjoyable is the effortless grace and skill you have as a Pilot to navigate and parkour around your environment to your heart’s content. I know that I’m comparing apples to oranges here with Titanfall and The Master Chief Collection (to see Master Chief parkour would be amazing, but wrong), but my taste of next-gen FPS experiences have all brought some nice movement tweaks to the standard gameplay shenanigans. Having to devolve back to a time ten years ago when we casually walked around our virtual battlefields like true gentlemen and women, (much like the poor soldiers of World War 1, only with plenty more power armour and much less trench foot) doesn’t feel quite so exciting and engaging to this old Halo nut anymore.

But hey, that’s not the point – The Master Chief Collection meant to be the most accurate HD next-gen port of the main Halo multiplayers, and so for the majority of them, sprinting didn’t exist. It’s just not a game for me that’s all, so if old-school Halo multiplayer is your thing, I highly recommend playing it. For me though, I think for the time being I’m going to sit this one out, and finish/resume the fight once we’re in Master Chief/Agent Locke’s bulky MJOLNIR shoes in 2015.

The Evil Within

A very Resident Evil 4-esque piece of booth art for The Evil Within…

If you weren’t aware of The Evil Within before turning up at EGX, you absolutely were by the time you left, due to the abundance of Evil Within cardboard boxes being carted around by the excited attendees; me myself eventually also becoming one of the gleeful cardboard-carrying zombie masses as the day progressed.

By the end of the day, every man woman and child at EGX had one of these Evil Within ‘Boxhead’ boxes to ferry around their loot with – me included.

If you didn’t know, the box is the rather nasty helmet/container/all-round receptacle of whatever makes up one of the game’s antagonists, Boxhead’s…well, head. Luckily for me, the formidable Boxhead didn’t appear in my demo, but nonetheless, there were some intense scary moments to be had in The Evil Within.

After some light playground trash talk directed at the other major survival horror game at the event (clue: it rhymes with Bailen Bisolation) from one of the booth attendants, me and the other queue-ees in my group had a controller and a set of painfully loud headphones thrust upon us.

The demo for Tango Gameworks’ horror game started off with protagonist and Leon Kennedy doppelgänger extraordinaire, Sebastian Castellanos, making his way towards a very familiar looking George Spencer-esque mansion in the middle of a creepy wood. Upon entering the mansion, you see a dubious-looking doctor and a rather frail-looking ‘patient’ heading down a corridor, before a giant safe door slams shut in front of you, blocking you off from them.

You’re totally on your own, which makes a nice change from the co-op trend the more recent entries in the Resident Evil series have gone for. The demo was very hands-off as well; from here, you can explore the mansion as you please. It feels, you guessed it, very Resident Evil-like, which is fantastic. The gameplay definitely feels like it’s positioned at the deep-end of the gaming difficulty pool – in other words, it’s pretty difficult. Enemies can quickly dispatch you with ease if you’re surrounded, and you only need to take a few hits from them to be snuffed out. I couldn’t make much progress with the ten minutes of gameplay I had (I was cocky and went for ‘standard’ difficulty – I can only imagine what ‘hard’ is like), but what I managed to play was great.

Items and resources were in very short supply, even in this demo, so I’m presuming this will be the case in the main game as well. Bodies of enemies need to be burnt with your ever-dwindling pack of matches to prevent them from getting back up – again, another great Resident Evil throwback, which will make for some stressful resource management tactics. I unfortunately couldn’t get my inner pyromaniac on in the demo because I was absolutely destroyed by the zombies I came across, rather than the other way around.

I struggled a bit with the 3rd person camera during my hands-on. Sometimes I couldn’t get it to swing around my environment fast enough during general combat (probably just a sensitivity issue) and at others I couldn’t get it in close enough when needing to aim in extremely close-combat, as in when things are biting great big chunks out of your neck (probably not just a sensitivity issue). Overall though, with the exception of Sebastian having a really visually annoying ‘running’ animation, things felt good, controller and gameplay wise.

The sound design, as you might imagine, is spot on – headshots make that perfect Resident Evil popping noise, things are thudding and creaking all around you, and when the music kicks in, it really ratchets up the tension.

As well as whatever foul horrors are lurking around in The Evil Within‘s dark nooks and crannies, you’ll also have to keep your eyes peeled (hopefully not literally) for environmental and rigged-up traps. These bring a tense SAW-like vibe to the proceedings, emphasising a very present and uncomfortable ‘body horror’ motif. Disarming them is nerve-wracking, and if unsuccessful, very costly. Expect to get caught out by plenty of these fiendish traps along the way…I know I did.

One of the best things about the game was that the enemies will appear in different places each time you die. I encountered two shuffling zombie-like creatures that were ever so keen to make my acquaintance; the first time they were skulking around in the dark recesses of a dank bedroom, and then after being promptly killed by the two mouldy miscreants, I found them nonchalantly eating a corpse lying around in a hallway. Whether the enemies had been randomly reset in a different location upon my death, or whether this was intended to be part of some psychological Eternal Darkness style mind-games (the munched-on corpse was already there on my first playthrough, although funnily enough, I did die pretty close to it), I couldn’t quite tell. Either way, it really sent a shiver up my hunched up spine, which is great. Definitely worth keeping a dismembered finger on the pulse of this game I reckon.

Dying Light

Dying Light.

Speaking of dismembered fingers, that brings us gruesomely to the next game I got to try – Dying Light; one of the big upcoming games to come from developer Techland (alongside its other major zombie game counterpart, Dead Island 2, of course).

Unfortunately, after my time in the demo, I left feeling rather disappointed by Dying Light. I’d been keeping my eye on it for quite some time as a big zombie fan as a potential buy for next year, but I’m a little worried about it from the stuff I got to play. The game just felt too much like Dead Island to me, with not enough meaningful differentiating features to distinguish it from its predecessor.

The first niggle I had was that the jump button is mapped to the right bumper on the Xbox One/DualShock 4. It just feels unnatural, although I can see exactly why it has been positioned there. Parkour is the key feature of the game of course; the whole game is designed to be like Mirror’s Edge with zombies, so as the jump/parkour button is going to be used a hell of a lot, it’s moved up to your other highly frequently pressed button, the right trigger of course. In practice though, it felt ungainly and uncomfortable, although there will most likely be a way of configuring your controls in the final game.

The parkour elements are cool, but perhaps due to my brief time in the demo and my lack of skill, I struggled to pull off anything significantly cool or athletically impressive; the best thing I managed to pull off was to hoist myself over a waist high wall…something that, with months and months of physical training and cardio, I could probably do myself in real life…maybe.

Graphically, the game really didn’t do much for me either. There seemed to be a really grainy filter to everything; I wasn’t sure if that was just due to the demo screen I was playing on or whether that was part of the engine. Either way, it didn’t exactly look great, nor did it look particularly next-gen – again, I’m not a tech person, but I could imagine with a bit of luck and gentle encouragement that my 360 could probably push out those graphics. Combine those grainy graphics with 30fps framerate, and it really doesn’t look too good in the visuals department.

To top it off, the combat gameplay feels exactly like Dead Island. It’s not bad, but just more of the same from that game. The melee weapons felt really clunky and underwhelming, making it easier to just dodge past the most withered and weak looking of zombies, rather than bothering to fight them. The bigger special zombies just take forever to wear down and kill. They don’t feel particularly scary, just frustrating bullet/knife sponges that need to be tediously picked away at to clear out an area or complete an objective.

I didn’t get hold of a gun in my own playthrough, but from looking at other players using them, they seemed really solid, and a massive step up from how the firearms handled in Dead Island. Perhaps sharp shooting is the way to go if you too find that the melee weapons and bladed weapons aren’t really cutting it.

I’m keen to see how the night time PVP scavengers vs. über zombie gameplay works (sadly this wasn’t playable at the event), as that genuinely does look unique and different compared to other zombie games of its ilk. I’m still very interested in Dying Light, but I’ll be looking at it with eyes of cautious optimism rather than unbridled excitement from now on.

Alien: Isolation

Alien Isolation – very scary!

Okay, so I’ve got a bit of a confession to make with this one. By the time I managed to get into the Alien: Isolation booth, a funny…competitive streak in me took hold. Perhaps it was because it was getting towards the end of the day, or perhaps there were some sinister mood-altering pheromones being pumped into the Isolation booth via the fancy smoke machines; whatever the reason, I wasn’t quite myself when I got to the front of the queue.

During an excitedly moody (is that even possible?) pre-game pep-talk from the Isolation team, in which they told the gathered crowd eager scare-junkies about how to best survive our brief tenure on the Sevastopol station, my ears pricked up at the words ‘leaderboard’, ‘competition’, and most importantly, ‘prize’.

It turns out that a competition had been running all day at the booth, to see who could survive longest in the brief demo. Whoever could survive longest would receive goodies…precious, ambiguous goodies. That was all I needed to hear. Suddenly that stimulus triggered off in the dark recesses of my brain a fierce and highly unusual desire to win.

I may be pretty average when it comes to shooters, hopeless at fighting games and shockingly bad at stealth games (sorry Kojima), but when it comes to survival horror games, I think I’m pretty good at screaming and panicking. They’re my virtual bread and butter so to speak.

The gauntlet had been thrown down by the booth team, and I was fool enough to stoop down and retrieve it. I was going to throw away my hands-on at the chance of winning…well, let’s face it, probably not much.

I’m pleased to say that I lasted about eight and a half minutes, which was above the current leaderboard score. However, I spent a great deal of my time just hiding in the lockers, scarpering about in the opening area, trying to set a high score time, and not really playing the game. I’ve been intending to buy Isolation from almost the minute it was announced, and it was the one game that I knew I just had to try above all else that day, but despite that excitement, I somehow let myself wastefully play extremely over-cautiously to get a stupid number on a whiteboard. Rather than actually just, you know, enjoy and experience the demo I’d just spent the best part of half an hour queuing up for. Like any normal person would.

Perhaps due to my cowardliness (read: almost certainly due to my cowardliness), my score wasn’t even remarked upon. Dejectedly, me and the rest of the gaming herd were ushered out of the dark booth and back out into the crowded EGX halls with nary a glance at our times. No prize for my excellent internal locker observations for me then.

From what I did get to play however, I can say that the game is incredibly tense and scary. The atmosphere is both deathly quiet and electrifying; every overhead clunk, metallic rattle or hissing vent opening sets you on edge. You’re never quite sure if what you’re hearing is indeed the Alien creeping up on you, or just some dying mechanical detritus rasping its last breath. The Alien is incredibly smart and sensitive too; although I didn’t get to say hello to it face to perpetually grinning double jaws so to speak, every slight movement I made would cue the Alien in to my position, and the motion tracker would ping like crazy as I swapped from locker to locker.

Oh well, even though my out of character competitiveness cost me the chance to write a decent hands-on piece for Isolation, I’ve actually got the final game in my hands (literally) as I tap this out (yes, really) with one hand. In other words expect plenty more from me on Isolation in the near future; only with more exploration and less – no, actually there probably will still be plenty of hiding and whimpering to come as well.

TB321 wants YOU for his Destiny clan! (Xbox One)

Destiny - Red Titan
Standard

Atten-tion! (Salutes, and begins marching up and down the assembled line of readers).

Okay you filthy maggots! Drop and give me twenty!

This is a call to arms for fellow Xbox One Destiny players who want to, in contrast to that rather aggressive opening line, casually tackle Destiny’s raid content together.

I thought it would be cool to create a friendly group for my regular Xbox-based Twitch viewers, MyIGN friends, blog readers, Twitter chums and anyone else with a great big raid-shaped hole in their hearts to have the chance to pick up their controllers and join in with the Destiny action first-hand.

Destiny - Cabal Combat

“Everyone fights. No one quits…”

We’ll play it by virtual ear at first, but depending on what would work best for people, how many want to raid and, crucially, what time zones everyone’s in, we can try and work out a specific weekly/fortnightly/monthly time slot to tackle raids and generally get up to all sorts of multiplayer shenanigans together. Whatever’s best for you guys.

I can happily organise multiple runs of raids if we can’t get everyone into a single group as well, so don’t worry – we won’t leave any troops behind. Not on my watch.

Being an undeniable achievement whore myself, I’d also be up for bashing out those pesky raid achievements and helping everyone in the group get them as well. You have my word.

Make no mistake; these raids are going to be tough. Some of us…might not make it back. But together, through much blood, sweat and beers, we will prevail. I believe the great Admiral Adama once said it best:

So, to recap, do you own an Xbone? Do you like killing aliens? Do you like the idea of killing aliens on a somewhat organised and semi-regular basis? If your answer to the last three questions was a big fat yes, then feel free to hit me up on Bungie.net to join my Destiny clan, ‘TB321s Troopers’:

http://www.bungie.net/en/Clan/Detail/448168

If you’re interested in getting your raid on with me so to speak, please feel free to drop me a message; I’m TB321 on both Xbox Live and Bungie.net. I’m friendly, and I only bite a little.

Now then, if there’s no more questions (pumps shotgun over-enthusiastically), let’s do this!

Move out soldier! Go, go, go!

Sgt. TB321