WP_20130927_015Now in its sixth year, this weekend’s Eurogamer Expo is currently playing host to Sony and Microsoft’s next-gen consoles. With this in mind, myself and a couple of friends decided to book tickets for Friday 27th September, in an attempt to avoid the worst of the crowds. And then all four days sold out.

I guess it was to be expected: The Xbox One and PS4 may only be a couple of months from release, but many are desperate to get their hands on the new machines and their respective controllers . It’s an exciting time to be a gamer. Unfortunately, with the queues being what they were, we didn’t really get a chance to check out much next-gen stuff, but the focus on the incoming consoles did mean that other titles were relatively ignored. So what did I play? Read on to find out.

Upon entering the exhibition hall, the first thing we did was walk the perimeter and try to get a feel for where things were. We spotted a Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII demo section and decided to head over. This was on the other side:
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Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD! I hadn’t expected to see this on the show floor, so it was a nice surprise. I didn’t play it myself, but I did watch as my two friends both sat down to play. There was, sadly, no sign of a Playstation Vita build so we were served up a PS3 version of a short demo beginning, funnily enough, in Zanarkand at the beginning of the game. The short teaser ended just after Tidus’ arrival in Spira, as he evades that weird ribcage sea-monster thing that you can see in the image below.

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I suppose it’s difficult to tell from an off-screen photo, but the game looked glorious; beautifully sharp, clean and colourful. The cutscenes have also been treated to a nice HD clean-up, and though they could look a little sharper, they are now far cleaner than the blocky, low-res videos that were in the original release over a decade ago. My one niggle was that the motion blur used in the original game (that left streaks behind some moving objects) has unfortunately survived into this remaster. I guess we can’t have everything, and it is a minor issue. More worrying, perhaps, is the continued absence of a Vita version of the game. The handheld would be my preferred format for Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD, so I hope it doesn’t get quietly canned.

Now, I may not have played FFX, but I did sit down to enjoy the Lightning Returns demo. The section that these demos were in was fairly light on people thanks to the new platorms, so it was very easy to simply walk up, sit down, and start playing. But first, I decided to video a friend playing the demo. That video is currently uploading to Youtube, so I’ll write a bit more about Lightning Returns in a separate post and embed the video along with it. The short version? I really enjoyed it.

I did manage to get hands-on with one next-gen game, and that game was Xbox One exclusive launch title Killer Instinct. I loved it.

WP_20130927_007The queue for the Double Helix-developed fighter was mercifully short and we only waited about ten minutes or so. Thankfully, the demo took place in a small enclosed area, meaning we didn’t have a queue of people watching us and scrutinising our every combo. After taking a few seconds to get acquainted with the new Xbox One pad (arcade sticks were also available), we got down to the business of kicking the crap out of each other. We had ten minutes with the game, and as there were three of us we decided on a winner stays on system.

I must say I’d been very intrigued by the game since it was announced at E3, having been a massive fan of the arcade original and its SNES port, and I came away from my quick hands-on very impressed indeed. Killer Instinct is fast, incredibly fluid and solidly impactful. It’s been close to twenty years since I last played a Killer Instinct game, so I was effectively going in blind with this demo, but once I got in control of Jago it took only a handful of seconds to get a handle on his specials and start stringing combos together. When you link a few hits together, the camera closes in (almost imperceptibly; I only noticed the effect when watching my two friends fight) and it really showcases the action, nicely framing the bone-crunching hits.

I mentioned that I’ve been following the game on Youtube since its announcement, and thanks to this I knew how to break a combo; getting that first breaker in brought a massive grin to my face and took me right back to my childhood, an instant hit of nostalgia that helped to make this my favourite game of the day. I wanted to play it again, but unfortunately the queue had grown quite considerably since our initial play. Likewise Dead Rising 3, which was in a similar enclosed space right next door. Unfortunately I didn’t get to play that.

A few words about the new XBO controller: I really quite liked it. It just felt right in the hands; the handles seemed a little more rounded than those of the 360 pad, helping it to sit very comfortably in the palms, and I liked the new sculpted triggers – my index fingers just rested perfectly on them. The shoulder buttons seemed like they might be a bit more of a stretch away from the triggers than they are on the 360 pad, but I don’t remember actually touching them much; once I got comfortable with the pad (which was literally a couple of seconds), I was too focussed on the action in Killer Instinct to think any harder about the controller. This is probably a good sign; if you don’t notice the controller, that’s likely a good thing – it didn’t get in my way during gameplay.

I think the analogue sticks will take a little more getting used to, as they feel quite a bit smaller than the sticks on the 360 controller. I think this is mainly because the ridge of the convex top part of the stick protrudes a little, meaning you don’t generally feel the textured outer edge of the stick. They also felt a bit looser, but they were very accurate for inputting specials in KI – I switched to d-pad at one point, which felt massively improved from the current implementation, and actually preferred the sticks. That is very unlike me. Overall, the Xbox One controller feels like a refinement. Whether I’ll prefer it to the 360 pad in the long run? That remains to be seen, and it’s not something I can say with confidence after ten minutes of use. But the signs are good.

Next, we headed to check out Quantic Dream’s latest, Beyond: Two Souls. I have yet to play Heavy Rain, put off as I was by Fahrenheit‘s final third, but Beyond has grabbed my interest because of its supernatural bent. And though there was effectively no queue (you just waited for a spot and sat down to play), the demo was overly long; we stood waiting for a seat for at least forty minutes, and there were also three demos to choose from. You could easily sit and play the game for over an hour if you so wished, and I’m sure some must have.

When a station opened up, my friend jumped at it. I was happy to watch (the game is out in a couple of weeks, after all), and he only played for about fifteen minutes – enough to get a feel for the controls, which were very similar to Heavy Rain, save for when the player is in control of Jodie’s counterpart Aiden. When controlling the spectral companion, you can glide around almost as if you’re in noclip mode, slipping through walls and interacting with objects to freak out NPCs or, as we saw in another part of the demo, throttle special forces soldiers to help Jodie escape their grasp.

Graphically, Beyond seems a bit of a mixed bag: character models looked uniformly excellent, with convincing facial expressions and eyes that just seemed alive. Certain parts of the environment however, such as the room in which Jodie starts out, were very basic looking. Another demo, with Jodie attempting to escape police officers on a train, did look far better, though that section was blanketed in a heavy rainfall that could help to mask other deficiencies. At the very least, I was intrigued enough to keep my pre-order in place, and we’ll see how it fares in the coming weeks.

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Our next port of call was the over-18 area, which this year was upstairs. Our main reason for this was to experience Titanfall, but the queue stretched from the demo station all the way back to the escalator and it was an expected two-and-a-half to three-hour wait. We decided to check out other things and come back later. Also in the over-18 section was a Watch_Dogs theatre (the game was not playable at the show, unfortunately), Battlefield 4 (which was also burdened with large queues), the latest Wolfenstein game, and a bunch of smaller titles like Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z which didn’t require queuing. So we gave Yaiba a bash. It’s certainly got a style of it’s own (though my first thought was ‘cel-shaded Lollipop Chainsaw‘), but it seemed very button-mashy – not what you’d expect from a Ninja Gaiden game, even if it is a spin-off.

After a brief break for beer, food and a look around the stalls, we decided to head back up and join the Titanfall queue again. It was about 5:45 at this point, an hour and a quarter before the end of the show, and we were initially quite positive; the queue was only about half the length it had been earlier. Unfortunately, an EA rep sidled up next to us and told us that, while we were welcome to queue, there was no guarantee we’d get a game as the queue was currently expected to be – you guessed it – an hour and a quarter. Dejected, we decided to stay in the queue long enough to watch a round and it did look fantastically fluid and smooth, and it was great to watch players getting to grips with wall-running, double-jumping and frantically trying to eject from their Titans before they exploded. If only I could have played it for myself.

Any other disappointments? Well, a couple. Firstly, I would have liked to get on Forza 5 (especially as I’ve already pre-paid for it), but it was pretty busy all day. Secondly, Destiny. When we first entered the Expo in the morning, we were all happy to see that Destiny‘s logo was printed on the wristbands. Sadly, the game’s only presence was a model of a Fallen captain flanked by a couple of video screens showing an old demo of the game.
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People were being invited by a couple of staffers to come and have their picture taken with the captain, so I waited until everyone had cleared out before taking my own pics. It’s disappointing that Destiny wasn’t playable, but then I guess it would’ve been another game with a two- or three-hour queue. As much as I’d like to play these games, I’m not willing to spend half a day to get ten minutes on one thing when I could play a handful of other titles in that time. Likewise, I would have loved to get my hands on Bayonetta 2 in the Wii U section, but there looked to be only two demo stations for that game, and the Wii U area was surprisingly busy all day.

I mentioned we abandoned the Titanfall queue after about twenty minutes. So what did we do with our last hour? We hit up the retro section of course! In this area were Gameboys, Game Gears, old Ataris, Super Nintendos, Saturns, PS2s… every machine you could imagine. We made a beeline for a SNES running Street Fighter II Turbo and had a few rounds between us. I of course was undefeated (just like in Killer Instinct earlier in the day), though one fight was incredibly close. Next up, two of us played a 100 CC GP on Super Mario Kart. Neither of us had played the game in close to two decades, so the first race was a comedy of errors, with me coming in sixth place. I managed to get my bearings however and finished the next four races in first, taking the cup in the process. Ok, that’s enough boasting from me! We also grabbed a couple of Dualshock 2’s and jumped into an abandoned Timesplitters MP game, though the Expo came to an end before we could finish the round. I’d forgotten how much fun that series was.

With that, our time at Eurogamer Expo 2013 came to a close. It wasn’t quite the day I had expected before we arrived, but with the benefit of hindsight it was always going to be difficult to get a look at the new consoles. We didn’t even make it into the cordoned-off Playstation area – you had to join a queue just to get in, and then queue for a game separately, which just seemed like a horrible use of time. I still had a lot of fun though, and it certainly got one thing straight in my mind: I’m definitely buying Killer Instinct on launch day.

Until next year, EGX.

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Enjoy a few more shots from the show floor:

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