Eurogamer Expo 2010 Roundup – Part One

On the first three days of October this year, I went to the Eurogamer Expo on behalf of Wired Radio, PlusXP and Gaminglives, and naturally, got a very, very large fill of videogames across the weekend. So much so that thanks to starting my second year of university straight afterwards it’s been a lot more difficult than I gave it credit for trying to type everything up. Rather than wait to post it all as one enormous post or wait until December to post it all like I did last year, I thought it’d be easier to just post up the summaries and hands-on experiences with all the games I had in multiple posts with a few games selected everytime. This means you get variety every time and keeps you guessing as to which ones I’ll post next.
So for the first part of my extensive Eurogamer Expo 2010 roundup, I’ll be dealing with five games: Bulletstorm, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Gears of War 3’s Beast Mode, Mario Sports Mix and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Let’s-a-go!

Bulletstorm

Looks more like a Bullet-Spiral to me…

Everybody call off the search, somebody’s finally managed to find the fun in First Person Shooters. After a few years of stiff, stony faced shooters with balding and grisly protagonists with naff stories you’re meant to take seriously and a bog standard weaponry of sub-machine guns, pistols and machine guns, I’ve started to tire of the genre. So I was probably more thankful than anyone that People Can Fly came to the Eurogamer Expo with their next title, ‘Bulletstorm’. After a hands-on with the game, it’s become the shooter I’m most looking out for in 2011 for the time being, as well as Duke Nukem Forever. Why? Because neither game takes itself seriously, something gaming in general desperately needs to do more right now.

When sitting down with the game, one of the first things you notice is that the style seamlessly mixes both trademarks of retro and modern shooters. While there are no health bars or health packs strewn around, making regenerating health the way to go, the game gives out points as you progress, is refreshingly colourful and distinctive and looks to give you fun in the way that most shooters refuse to any more – creativity.

Despite only being given two weapons in the demo, I still felt like I had a lot of variety to the proceedings thanks to a whip assigned to a separate button and the ability to give anyone around a massive boot to their vital organs as alternative methods of tearing the enemy a new one. Doesn’t sound so special? Both work a lot better in practice, as the whip can grab enemies and pull them towards you from a great distance and send them flying through the air towards you while the boot can potentially send enemies flying. Upon executing either, the enemy will float in mid-air for a few seconds, allowing you to do whatever you want and get creative to rack up some points. You could shoot the enemy to death while they’re unable to fight back and even kick and whip them around the environment for bigger points. In the demo, big rewards were given out for impaling enemies on giant plant thorns or tricking enemies into being eaten by the mutant fly-traps, so the environment can even be called on for saving yourself some ammo and racking up big points in the process. It’s a shooter that finally rewards players for trying out different methods of killing people and messing around and should be more evident later on in the game with bigger, crazier environments, weapons and enemies. The score will obviously be a big part of the re-playability as you’ll soon be desperate to rack up the biggest scores with a “One more go” feeling pulling you in time after time.

Even in the short demo provided, there was still a lot of visual eye candyy and stimulaeon-handd to keep the player interested. The game looks fantastic, and in the time played, I witnessed a helicopter battle, a mutant plant maze, mutant fly-traps eating people, crazy humanoid humans, and a giant monster that the demo faded out on. That’s not even including everything I shot, kicked and whipped and the non-stop action on display. If you want realism and standard dialogue, you won’t get it here. Not only did the demo end on a giant mutant plant about to attack me, but thirty seconds before someone remarked to the protagonist that they’d seen “Shit that’d turn your asshole purple”.

Modern Warfare this isn’t, this is a pure shooter with dialogue that doesn’t care if it doesn’t make sense and wants to put a massive smile on your face. The game wants to put the fun back into the genre, and from my experiences with it, I could tell that the game achieved it. It didn’t take itself seriously and was lost in its own ridiculousness; Bulletstorm knew it didn’t have to be serious and gritty to be a blast to play, it evokes enough of the old over-the-top shooters that in this current gaming climate it comes across as an utterly refreshing experience rather than an original one. And that’s the beauty of it. Bulletstorm doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel, it’s perfectly fine just trying to make us realise why we loved the wheel in the first place. It whips seriousness and kicks realism with its massive boot before annihilating the corpse and spouting a cheesy one-liner. If People Can Fly can keep the momentum up, you may be looking at a surprise smash hit on your hand come 2011.

Donkey Kong Country Returns

Donkey Kong Returns to find the house in a complete state and none of the dishes washed…

Despite being one of Nintendo’s oldest creations, Donkey Kong doesn’t really get much of a chance to shine as the hero of as many games as other Nintendo mainstays. The Gamecube generation bought him a few games which you played with that weird and ultimately pointless Bongo peripheral, and so far the Wii has bought him… a Wiimake of one of those Gamecube games. Great. You’d have to look back to the days when Rare was tasked with Donkey Kong for one of the last real times he achieved true greatness in a game. Donkey Kong 64 is an obvious one for many gamers, but for most it’s the old Donkey Kong Country games which had that perfect blend of platforming and fun and stole the limelight with their technically amazing looks for the time, collectables worth collecting, level design that’s clever and intuitive and games that were all about the fun. At E3, fans of those good old nostalgic days were satisfied when it was announced that Retro Studios would be taking on the mantle and reviving the classic franchise. So how did it play at Eurogamer’s Expo?

With the ability to play solo or co-op, we were then given a choice of four different stages to choose from. Each one was taken from a different area of the game, with the fourth one being a boss battle which admittedly I was terrible at and lost all of my lives quicker than I was getting them back. Whoops. The platforming actually feels pretty tight, with plenty of collectables throughout the stage even though they were demo stages with extra areas to unlock throughout play and subtle differences between both Donkey and Diddy Kong, especially thanks to Diddy’s probably-trademark-by-now-Jetpack. Each character is only allowed to be hit twice before losing a life, and then has a limited number of balloons or extra lives, and characters can be bought back into play much like New Super Mario Bros last year, except replace the bubble floating towards your friend with a screaming ape in a barrel. At least one doesn’t require cleaning, eh?

The game also looks great, but lacks a ‘wow’ factor to them more than anything else, with nothing really popping out at you and really impressing you, unfortunately. Of course, your mileage may vary on that assumption but it could always be worse, and there’s no overriding need to have amazing, incredible graphics anyway as they wouldn’t really do anything to enhance the game overall but putting more energy into the thing couldn’t hurt.

If anything, that’s probably the single criticism I can make against what looks and plays like a faithful revival of an amazing old series: it doesn’t have the soul of the old games. It’s not that it feels like a cynical attempt to revive something old and amazing to make money (I’m glaring at you, Activision with your Goldeneye remake), because its clear Retro Studios have put a lot of effort into making the game as good as it is even off a simple demo build. It’s just that, as Iain from Gaminglives put it to me, that it feels like it lacks the soul of the original games, and that’s what’s potentially holding it back.
Regardless of that though, it looks like an amazing return to form for one of Nintendo’s oldest characters, and come November 2010, we’ll all going ape for Donkey Kong…
I’ll leave now.

Gears 3 – Beast Mode

Fuck the official logo, Markuz’s one for the Gears of War 3 Future Review at Gaminglives.com is so much better…

Having recently been delayed until the Christmas season in 2011, I’ll have to wait even longer to find out whether my time machine experiment was a complete bust or not. Nevertheless, Epic Games showed off a brand new addition to the proceedings at the Eurogamer Expo – Beast Mode.

In Gears of War 2, Horde mode was introduced. You and several friends would have to use the environments and teamwork to your advantage in order to dispel 50 increasingly difficult waves of enemies. The reason I’m explaining this is because Beast mode is for all intents and purposes Horde mode with you as the locust dispatching waves of human survivors. However, there are of course a few key differences when playing as the Locust. Firstly, when you spawn you’re able to pick what locust you get to be, with various types being locked until later waves, which thankfully encourages you to learn different strategies to take out your opponents and also means that dying no longer means you having to repeat the wave. Early waves have you using tickers and wretches and the ability to be as annoying as the creatures are when you’re fighting against them. Later waves let you take control of berserkers, grinders and any of the new locust appearing in Gears 3 as well, and all control differently enough that different methods of play are encouraged in play. Well, at least they should be.

Don’t get me wrong here, because the mode works excellently and I had a lot of fun with it during my hands on with it, but it felt like some of the locust were either overpowered or didn’t feel like they worked as well as they should have. The grenadier class of locust only bothers to carry one grenade then relies on a shotgun, one class is nearly impervious to bullets and damages enemies when he rolls into them and the berserker is nearly useless in tight areas as its slow as heck and takes a few seconds to wind up before sprinting. Granted, you do have a very large variety of different locust to use and they’re mostly fun to play if a bit overpowered, but the whole mode just kind of felt too easy. There didn’t seem like anything stopping everyone playing to just use the best locust all at once and bum-rush the enemy, and with there being little to no visible penalty for dying, it feels like there’s something missing from the mode.

Of course, I could be entirely wrong as the demo didn’t really give much indication of the grand scheme of the mode, so I can’t tell all of the workings of it. The impressions I’ve given here are from playing through five or six waves of Beast Mode at the demo stands provided, and with another year now until release, I’m sure the mode will be more than polished and balanced when its eventually released as part of Gears of War 3 in the Christmas season in 2011.

Mario Sports Mix

Mario was really serious about tenderising the giant meatballs before adding them to the pasta…

There are several things gamers are allowed to take for granted nowadays; fanboys will never agree to disagree and will continue to ruin gaming for everyone, anything remotely innovative will proceed to be done to death, people who have no idea what videogames are will misrepresent and blame them for society’s ills without ever playing them, and a short, dumpy Italian plumber can do anything. If there is a sport, it’s only a matter of time until Mario will appear to make a game of it. Not satisfied with successful golf, football, racing, tennis and fighting games on top of everything else, in 2011 Mario will take on four sports in one game in Mario Sports Mix. Hilariously wacky and over the top versions of Volleyball, Basketball, Hockey and Dodgeball will feature in a game that’ll hopefully put the fun back into them in the same way Mario’s been able to infect his other sports games with that cheery goofball fun we’ve come to know and love.

Being the third Mario game to be developed by Square (the first two being Super Mario RPG and Mario Hoops 3 on 3), the demo version given to us at the Eurogamer Expo provided the Basketball and Volleyball sports only. Having a shot at the Basketball mode, I went in expecting it to be like all Mario Sports games – unrealistic and colourful with various characters from the Mario universe filling in roles from all rounders to speed or power specialists, random items and a version of the sport that can only be done in videogames with huge points-scoring opportunities that’s easy to get into and hard to effectively master.

So how did it play? Well, as to be expected, more or less exactly how I described it in the above paragraph. But does that work to its detriment or to its advantage? Controlling Mario and his cohorts is done by the analogue on the nunchuck, and then tackling and swapping character control is served by buttons while throws and saves are handled by flicking the wiimote. It actually works pretty well in practice and once you’re used to the controls then it’s pretty easy to ease yourself into the experience. Your partner is handled by the capable AI partner, which’ll do its best to try to swipe the ball from your opponents, move into space and score. What actually comes out as initially confusing is the fact that unlike other sports titles, if the AI catches the ball and is in control of it, it won’t necessarily pass the control onto you. There were a few moments when I expected the game to put me in charge of the character with the ball and ended up floundering around the court in confusion. It’s not a problem as the AI is more than capable, but it’s a confusing thing to get used to in any case.

The main twist on the proceedings is the ability to score multiple times the amount of points you’d normally get for scoring the baskets by performing special shots or by initiating a throw on a multiplier that’ll randomly appear on the court. Pull it off and you’ll be reaping the benefits, and it can also be the difference between dominance or vitally catching up on your opponent and making the proceedings much closer and tense in the final stages.

So as I asked earlier, does the fact that what was shown of Mario Sports Mix came off as standard Mario Sports fare act as a detriment or does it make it work? Well the answer is both. If you’re used to previous Mario Sports games, you’ll probably know what to expect here. If you’re not a fan of them, Mario Sports Mix doesn’t appear so far to do much to convert you. If you’ve not played them before, it’d potentially be an odd title to start with, but nonetheless, with four sports on one disc, there should be more than enough content come release and plenty for you to find fun with come its release in early 2011.

The Legend Of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Holy crap this image is completely awesome

It appeared randomly halfway during the Friday. A small curtained-off stand in the Nintendo Unleashed area of the Expo. Word of mouth and murmurs spread across the Expo: “Zelda’s here”. Sure enough, unannounced, Nintendo was showing off the E3 demo of the Legend of Zelda – Skyward Sword, canonically the first in the Zelda games timeline. I’ve already written an introduction of the game shortly after E3 which should provide a lot of background information and leave me more room to just talk about what I experienced in the demo and what it was like. So how was it then? The Nintendo fanboy in me wants to just say it’s the Game of the Year 2011 and be prepared to whittle you down in lengthy, lengthy debate if you even so much as think about disagreeing. What do I actually think after queuing up for two hours for it and having some time to think about it? Well…

As previously said, the demo was the same one shown at the E3 conference, so if you’ve seen that, you know what to expect – a beautiful forest portrayed in an amazing graphical style which makes the game look beautiful without having to be in high-definition or as technically proficient graphics as non-Wii games. Also on the side of the screen was the HUD displaying all of the controls to save you from a tutorial or anything like that, and helps to ease you simply into the game. The item selection is sorted by holding onto the necessary button and releasing on the relevant weapon or item you want to use. The demo is kind of a playing ground with enemies and items you may not necessarily have at that point (more on this later), and so the Link in the demo had bombs, a slingshot, the bow and arrow, the awesome retriever Beetle and the whip as well as his standard sword and shield, which are controlled respectively by the Wiimote (with Wiimotion Plus) and Nunchuck.

The items all control differently from each other and use different motion control methods for you to master. With the whip, players control it just by swinging the Wiimote around like you would the sword, except it reached longer and felt a bit floaty and lacking the impact of a real whip, sadly. The Beetle, once it’s released is used by flying it around with the wiimote, and the bombs can cleverly show you how they’ll travel when you throw them, allowing you to get a better idea of where they’ll land and how they react, a godsend feature that’ll make bombs much more useful outside and inside of battle, especially as you can now roll them, too. The items that work the same as each other are of course the slingshot and bow and arrow, which work in the same way; by pressing the item button, aiming with the wiimote, pressing and holding a button on the nunchuck and slowly pulling it back then releasing it and the button. It actually works incredibly intuitively, or so I felt as I was shooting spiders off a series of climbable vines.

Something new added to the series is a stamina meter, which allows Link to sprint or climb surfaces for a limited amount of time before it runs out. Climbing the vines, it slowly ticked away as Link traversed the vines. It was easy enough here and the sprinting unnecessary in this area, but later on in the game this could lead to some potentially amazing new puzzles and new ways to think about how to traverse though the areas. Or at least stop you rolling everywhere all the time because its marginally faster than just running.


We’re all going to be so surprised when it turns out this whip becomes the fishing rod in Ocarina of Time…

Combat’s also been given an overhaul with swordplay due to the addition of the Motionplus add-on, with the emphasis on thinking about how you approach the battles rather than just swinging your sword everywhere. The plants can only be killed by horizontal or vertical strikes of the sword depending on how their mouths open and some enemies will only be vulnerable on the area where they aren’t shielded, for example. It works very well, but it almost felt the tiniest bit forced, weirdly, and extended battles may give your arm a bit of a cramp much like Twilight Princess was capable of doing if you weren’t prepared. Otherwise, the swordplay actually works perfectly when you’re used to it, and it’s clear a lot of work was put into the swordplay in order to make sure it worked effectively, as they wouldn’t have gone back to the Motionplus controls if they weren’t confident it’d work.

I mentioned earlier on that the demo works as a playing ground with enemies and items you may not have necessarily had at that point or enemies you won’t necessarily face by that point, and the best example of that was the giant Scorpion I had to face at the top of those vines. As a long time Zelda fan, normally the weak point takes about a second to figure out and its attack patterns are quick enough to figure out and counter, but it actually took a bit to figure out how to defeat it, and it felt very satisfying when I’d defeated it, too. I then set about finding more to do and found a Stalfos to battle as another mini-boss confrontation in the demo. I raised my sword, and… the demo timed out after ten minutes.

From what I played though, I actually felt that Nintendo have somehow managed to make Zelda better. It looked gorgeous, played gorgeously and there were so many subtle improvements and nothing for me to worry about. It feels like they’re committed to providing one of the greatest experiences imaginable, and it was well worth the wait, at the expense of making the wait for its eventual release even harder. Game of the Year 2011? Most likely. Best Zelda game? The wait is killing me to find out.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed! :D

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