Last weekend saw Eurogamer Expo 2010 at Earl's Court in London, part of the London Games Festival 2010. Despite being booked onto a non-existent bus, tube strikes, tube maintenance, roadworks and the bus company not stopping where they said they would, I actually managed to get there and back alive on the final day of the event, Sunday.
Overall I was impressed by the organisation and range of games on display but there was a sense that we were seeing the left-overs from the previous two days. Some of the booths in the careers fair were empty and there were very few staff from developers and publishers to be seen. I still had a good time but in future I'll make sure not to go on the last day. The hot dogs sucked.
Those who know me will probably also know that I'm not easily impressed by games and my opinions are usually against what everyone else thinks. Plus I'm very good at changing my mind. With that said, here are my thoughts on some of the games I played at Eurogamer Expo 2010...
Gran Turismo 5
After having played GT3 A-Spec and GT4 on the PS2, it's an improvement. Not a big one, but an improvement nonetheless. The handling of the cars feels new and more realistic, doing what you'd actually expect them to instead of just sliding into the nearest tyre wall. Graphically, it looks amazing - the textures on the cars and circuits are much higher resolution and the models much more detailed than in previous installments, and the series is now heading firmly towards proper photo-realism.
The 3D - I'm not sure if it's my brain or the game, but I couldn't see much difference between the 3D and 2D versions of the game on show (except of course that if you didn't wear the glasses, the 3D version was all fuzzy). You could tell that the HUD was supposedly in front of everything else, but the actual track and car still looked pretty flat to me which was somewhat disappointing for my first experience with a 3D TV.
If you're a total racing fan, I'd say go for it. There's a vastly improved line-up in the garage (a notable addition being Ferrari) now housing over 1000 cars, and over 70 tracks including the 13-mile Nürburgring Nordschleife, my personal favourite from GT4. It's certainly not a bad game and if I already had a PS3 I'd probably buy GT5 without a though.
Definitely one for hardcore racing and F1 fans, not the occassional arcade boy-racer. The graphics are amazing, the gameplay is polished to a mirror shine and the tracks reproduced pretty much faultlessly. You can pick out every piece of gravel stuck in your tyres after your inevitable first-corner trip off-road. Barge someone out of the way deliberately and you'll get a black flag penalty. Brake while going around a corner and you'll just slide, as it should be (I'm looking at you, Gran Turismo 4).
Unfortunately, I'm not a devout F1 fan and I think that's the one problem. Some people will be driving the lives of their favourite racing drivers in their favourite racing teams; I'm driving one of a handful of very similar cars on one of 19 similar tracks, which personally I can see getting repetitive rather quickly.
Rule number one for presenting your game at an expo intended to make people want to buy it: Make the demo fun.
Mafia II instead had me walking across town to my mum's house, manually opening the front door, manually closing the front door, *cutscene*, opening another door, closing the other door, getting into bed, *cutscene*, waking up, going back through the door, talking to "mum" (in a *cutscene* on a console display stand with no speakers or subtitles), opening and closing the front door again, walking to a friend's house several blocks away... several doors and numerous cutscenes later (no hurry, nobody was queuing to play it), I had finally been allowed to drive a car, albeit fairly slowly and with terrible handling, but had yet to be given anything else to do and finally gave up to find something less mind-numbingly tedious to waste my brain cells on.
The worst thing (if you hadn't already noticed from the weird emphasis in the above paragraph)? Cutscenes! Too. Many. Cutscenes. Break. Flow. Like. Putting. Full. Stops. In. Between. Every. Word. In. A. Sentence. Except where I was wandering off the predetermined path looking for something to destroy in the name of anarchy, there was at least a cutscene every 20-30 seconds! If you've gone to the trouble of making an interactive game rather than a movie, stop taking control away whenever something interesting happens, leaving me simply walking as some kind of underpaid camera-courier in between.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit
Criterion Games' last release was Burnout Paradise back in 2008, and they haven't deserted the crash-and-bash style racing in their new offering, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit.
The Expo setup consisted of eight Xbox 360 stations linked together for consecutive multiplayer races throughout the day. The controls will be familiar to veteran Burnout players - left trigger to brake, right trigger for throttle, A for boost - but this time you also have the D-pad with various articles of weaponry at your disposal, including spike traps, jammers and road blocks. Of course, you can always resort to ramming your opponents if all else fails! The particular game mode we were playing was a rolling start, with the cops several metres behind the "racers". The player who finished the race in front won, meaning you weren't just up against the other team but against your own kind as well, which seemed to negate the need for two different teams in the first place.
This time round there are real licensed cars in the game, a change from the made-up brands starring in previous Criterion games. Models mentioned on their website include the Koenigsegg CCX, McLaren MP4-12C and Pagani Zonda Cinque for the racers, and the Ford Shelby GT500, Bugatti Veyron 16.4 and Lamborghini Reventón for the officers among us.
There was a lot of fun to be had, and though I've had bad experiences with the Need for Speed series in the past (and a complete lack of any real updates for Burnout Paradise on the PC), this will be one game I know I'll be buying some time soon.
I must admit, I was skeptical about the PS Move. Yes, it looks, feels and even smells like a blatant copy of the Wii with a glowing ball on the end. I didn't really want to like it... but I do. It's more responsive, more accurate, has much better graphics, and the rounded controller just feels better than the squared-off and chunky Wii one. They've done a better job of it, but they have taken nearly 4 extra years to do it.
The game I played was the table tennis from Sports Champions (not "Move Sports"?) and personally I couldn't fault it*. There were complaints from other people that perhaps it was too accurate and lacked the forgiveness of the Wii, but I'm not entirely sure that's the market they're going for. Unlike the Wii and Kinect's generally cute-and-cuddly and family-friendly graphic style we've seen so far, PS Move looks to have made no attempt to dilute (or dare I say it, "dumb down"?) what they've already got. Plus their advert (shown to the left) is slightly less nauseating than the Kinect one.
*Ok, one fault - the player on the left of the stand (using the pink controller) always seemed to win, though I'm not entirely sure if this was player error, game error or a specific controller failure.
Kinect for Xbox 360
On the flipside, actually owning an Xbox 360 myself, I was looking forward to finally getting to try Kinect out for myself before it hits the shelves in November.
There's no one thing wrong with it, just a few little things that eat away at the experience. Expo-side I played a brief 2-player game of Kinect Joyride (and felt a bit of a prat in front of all the people watching, but considering the fact my living room doesn't have a viewing gallery, I'll overlook that for now).
The first of the niggles? The time delay. While not immediately obvious in Joy Ride (though it does account for how hard it is to stay in control), the stand next door was playing table tennis from Kinect Sports and there was an obvious half-second delay between the player's movements and any action on-screen. Without playing it myself I can't say whether it affected gameplay or not, but it looked awkward. Back to Joy Ride, the motion detection was also a bit shaky - not once did I nor my opponent manage to activate any power-ups we'd collected, no matter how much we attempted to punch the people to the left and right of us like it showed on the screen. Again, I'm not sure if it was the game's fault, or the small crowd that had gathered behind us confusing the sensor.
On the stand to the left of us, they were playing the duck, dodge and jump-type minigame from Kinect Adventures, which actually looked quite challenging and possibly fun until one 7-year-old boy beat his big sister just by jumping up and down hyperactively all the way to the end of the track, bagging a massive time bonus and winning the game with no skill required other than a jumbo-size bag of blue Smarties and something fizzy.
All-in-all, Kinect seems to be confused easily and needs a lot of space but ultimately it will sell. Why? The kids were jumping around and having the time of their lives (and in some cases, so were the adults). It's still an amazing bit of kit and provided Microsoft continue to update it once it's released it has potential, but with the current delay, occassional glitches and sheer self-consciousness of waving around with nothing in your hands I'm not entirely sure it's a Wii-killer in it's current form.
End of the Day
I would've liked to have tried Medal of Honor, Rock Band 3 and Fable III at well but didn't fancy each of their fairly sizable queues. Either way, the Medal of Honor beta is now free on Steam, so I'll be playing that when I get a chance.
If you were at Eurogamer Expo 2010 or have played any of these games anywhere else, what did you think of them? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.