For four days last week London played host to the largest games expo in the UK. Around 70,000 gamers descended on the Earl's Court exhibition centre, the building emblazoned with bright-red Wolfenstein banners that made the event look ever so slightly like a Nuremberg rally. Thankfully, computer games were the topic of discussion rather than Fascism, and for two of those four days we at bit-tech played games until our arms fell off, which has made writing this report up something of a challenge.
The Eurogamer Expo took place at Earls Court, London
Dominating the show floor this year were the two new consoles gearing up for release in a month or so's time. We managed to get some hands on time with both the Xbox One and the PS4, and it provided plenty of food for thought. In terms of direct competition, so far the PS4 has been considered way ahead of the Xbox One in terms of both its popularity with gamers and the general quality of the console. However, when sitting down and playing games on each, the difference becomes a lot less marked. Both consoles have a couple of technologically impressive games. For the PS4 it's the twin-stick shooter Resogun, which shows off the PS4's impressive GPU and compute shader capabilities with its liberal scatterings of cubic debris caused during the game's many and astoundingly colourful explosions. Meanwhile, the Xbox One demonstrated its own technical prowess with its default ridiculously-good-looking-racing-game Forza 5.
In truth though, what was really striking about both consoles is that, in terms of the games on offer, neither offers any particularly compelling reason to buy one or the other at launch. Many of the games demonstrated at the Expo like Assassin's Creed IV and Battlefield 4 will be available on current generation consoles. There are a couple of potentially interesting exclusives like Deep Down on the PS4, which we looked at in more depth recently at the Tokyo Games Show, and Dead Rising 3 on the Xbox One, which looks fun despite the less colourful approach, but it may be a while before either console comes into its own.
What is looking very exciting, on the other hand, is the Oculus Rift. The Virtual Reality headset was one of the most popular attractions at the show, and also the first thing we decided to test. A variety of games were on show using the Rift, and we ended up playing Strike Suit Zero, a first/third person space-mech dog-fighting game. After playing, two things became immediately clear. Firstly, Strike Suit Zero is quite a confusing game that we're rubbish at, and secondly, the Rift combination of head-tracking and stereoscopic 3D is absolutely perfectly matched with flight-simulators, space-sims, and basically any game that involves a cockpit. This is because rather than looking at the cockpit on a screen, the Rift places you IN the cockpit, giving you a powerful sense of both the difference in visual depth between the cockpit and the world outside, and also the scale of objects around you. It works, it's incredible, and it has the potential to change the way we play games forever.
If there was a console that caught our interest at Eurogamer, it was, oddly enough, the PS3. Sony's current generation machine has seen some very strong releases this year, and that trend looks set to continue. Two games in particular caught our eyes. One was the recently released platformer Puppeteer, which is arguably the first game to use cloth physics as a core mechanic of the game. It casts you as a living doll wielding a massive pair of scissors. These are used to traverse the environments and defeat enemies by cutting into curtains, tapestries, carpets and so forth.
Rain - coming out on PS3 soon
The other PS3 game that grabbed our attention at the Expo is Rain, a stealth/adventure game that casts you as a young boy searching for a mysterious girl in a city drenched in a torrential downpour. The twist is that you're invisible, and can only be seen while standing in the rain. In addition, there are also invisible monsters prowling the streets, and to evade them you must move in between cover such as awnings and overhangs that protect you from the rain. It's out fairly soon, and is definitely worth a look.
Dark Souls II
Also being demonstrated on PS3, although it is out for both current generation consoles, was Dark Souls II. The twenty-minute demo challenged players with finding and defeating the Mirror Knight, a poweful Dark Souls II boss who uses his mirrored shield to deflect lightning strikes toward the player. Some Dark Souls fans have voiced concern over From Software's statement that they want to make the sequel more immediately accessible to new players. Given the fact that we didn't even reach the Mirror Knight, let alone fight him, it seems pretty clear that Dark Souls II will challenge players as much as the first one did. In fact, broadly speaking it plays very much the same as the first game, the only major noticeable difference being a powerful execution attack that occurs when you attack an enemy from behind.