Yesterday afternoon I had a chance to check out this year’s Eurogamer Expo at Earl’s Court, which proved to be a lot of fun. I have to say I’m paying for it now though – I had a cold coming on yesterday morning, and half a day of excitedly wandering around buzzing and flashing booths didn’t do it much good – I feel bloody terrible today. Still, I thought I’d share a few thoughts and photos with you from my sick bed.
Once you get past the slightly disturbing Nazi-a-like Wolfenstein banners at the entrance, the first thing you see is the Nintendo stand, which was stacked with Wii Us playing Super Mario 3D World. It looks pretty good, but I’m still finding myself struggling to get excited about it… A Link Between Worlds, on the other hand, has got me all hot under the collar and marks a welcome return to top-down Zelda territory. Mario Kart 8 was in evidence, but the lack of queues for it spoke volumes – perhaps this is a sequel too far? It certainly looks very pretty, but there’s a sense of diminishing returns. There were huge queues for Pokémon X and Y on the other hand: clearly the Pokémon appeal has yet to diminish.
Onto the Xbox One stand. A couple of large, restricted booths made sure that innocent eyes couldn’t witness the gory delights of Ryse, Killer Instinct and Dead Rising 3, but it also meant that I didn’t witness them either – there was no way I was going to join the huge queue (more on queuing in a minute). I have to admit, none of these titles really interested me, and there was little else that caught my eye on the Xbox stand, although it was pleasing to watch people make fools of themselves playing on Kinect.
It was a similar story on the PS4 stand – there was a huge queue to get into the main area so I didn’t get a chance to play much, but what I saw didn’t really set the pulse racing. There are all the usual driving and shooting games (Drive Club, Kill Zone, etc.), and the only thing that really stood out for me were the indie games and slightly more off the wall titles – Octodad in particular looks pretty funny, although those finnicky controls might prove irritating after a while.
When I was leaving the Xbox One stand there was a Forza 5 demonstration going on, and I overheard the announcer blithely contradicting himself in mid-sentence: “Already you can see the difference between Forza 4 and Forza 5, it’s subtle but it’s a huge difference.”
That’s the trouble with the next-gen consoles: we’re told that there’s a huge difference, but up close it’s pretty hard to tell. In fact there were some PS3 games that I thought were actually PS4 games until I saw the PS3 sign (Beyond: Two Souls looks especially incredible), and likewise I’m sure that most of the PS4 indie games could run on a PS3. There IS a subtle difference of course, but it will take more time for developers to squeeze the next-gen systems enough to make them truly mind-blowing.
Still, having said that, it was amazing to see how far we’ve come as well. The retro section offered up consoles and games all the way from the BBC Micro to the PS2, and it was great to relive some gaming memories, but I couldn’t get over how primitive some games looked. Tomb Raider looked positively ancient, as did Banjo Kazooie, although I remember both being pretty cutting edge at the time. Elite, on the other hand, had a timeless charm – if anything its simple, wireframe graphics have aged better than some of its later cousins.
A particular highlight for me was the chance to play on a fully working Vectrex console – I was amazed at how crisp and smooth the vector graphics were, it must have been phenomenal in the early 1980s.
I’ve mentioned queuing a lot already, and that’s because it was pretty much inescapable. I was only there for the afternoon, and it took me most of that time to wander round all of the stands, so I only had time to queue up for one ‘big’ thing. Would it be the Xbox One or PS4? Well, neither actually, it was the Oculus Rift.
I waited in line for an hour to have a go on the famed VR system, and I’m happy to say it wasn’t a disappointment. I remember playing the horrendous old VR machines at the London Trcodero back in the 90s, and it’s astonishing how far the technology has moved on. People wanted VR back then but the hardware simply wasn’t up to scratch – now, finally, the technology has caught up with the dream.
I played a WW2 flight-sim game called WarThunder, which thankfully was a lot better than its terrible name suggests. It was an eerie sensation – looking down in the cockpit revealed my virtual knees, and I found my brain fighting against the sensation of simultaneously being in the air and being sat on a stool at a convention centre. Initially I felt a bit dizzy, but after a few minutes my brain began to accept the illusion, and I found myself looking around in wonderment.
THIS is the future, ladies and gentlemen – not subtly fancier-looking cars and ever bloodier first person shooters. There are rumours that Sony is investing in VR technology, and it would be a shrewd move – it’s the key technology that will really separate the next-gen from the current one.
I’m not convinced about the omni-directional treadmill though – can you really imagine anyone putting one of these in their homes? Still, there’s definitely a gap in the market for them – I could see these being a big hit in arcades, especially if there were a few linked together for multiplayer deathmatches.
Other highlights included Sir, You Are Being Hunted (a brilliantly atmospheric game featuring pipe-smoking Victorian robots – we should adopt it as the official game of A Most Agreeable Pastime), Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z (a new, fantastically violent game from Keiji Inafune), Titanfall, Wolfenstein: The New Order and Destiny (I’m not a huge fan of FPSs, but all three looked amazing).
Finally, it was great to see all of the cosplayers wandering about – I saw a great Akuma from Street Fighter IV and Ezio from Assassin’s Creed, and the Pyramid head costume from Silent Hill was impressive. But the prize for the most up-to-the-minute costume has to go to Wonder-Red from the just-released Wonderful 101 (see pic)… Hold on, where’s Wonder-Blue? And Wonder-Green? And Wonder-Pink? And…