We might not have had the celebrities that E3 attracted this year, but EGX was another chance for companies to showcase the new and upcoming releases we might be getting our hands on. But do they live up to the hype?
I went down to the UK's biggest gaming convention last Friday to see what gaming has to offer. From AAA titles with the budgets of movies to indie games made by three guys in their spare time, here's the best of EGX 2019.
Final Fantasy VII Remake (March 2020)
Fans queued for up to three hours to have a chance to try out this highly anticipated remake, and it's easy to see why. We got to play the E3 demo, where you tackle the first part of the game and blow up a reactor core, controlling Cloud and Barret. The demo may have been 20 minutes, but it breezed by; one guy even refused to leave. (It took three Sony staff to convince him to put the controller down...)
Fans of the original can breathe a sigh of relief: The combined real-time and tactical combat works perfectly. When you encounter an enemy, you aren't taken to the turn-based fight screen like in the original, but you immediately start fighting. You have the choice to use a generic attack or pull up a menu with abilities and spells. This can all be done in real-time, but also in a tactical mode which pauses time, allowing for classic RPG action. That's definitely my preferred way to play. This combat will definitely be of the "easy to do, hard to master" variety.
And of course, we can't talk about Final Fantasy VII Remake without talking about how bloody gorgeous it is. The visuals are stunning, with the fusion core area using color and lighting to make it really atmospheric. The original PlayStation game did a great job with the music, and it still stands up today, but the new orchestral score is even more beautiful, adding to the melancholic feel of the game.
But most importantly: Sephiroth has no business looking that attractive. Blimey...
Change: A Homeless Survival Experience (September 2018)
Change: A Homeless Survival Experience was undoubtedly the shining star of the indie area at EGX. As the name suggests, this is a game where you play as a homeless person with the objective of finding a way off the streets for good. This involves, raising money, getting a job, and finding a permanent residence, all while the world does everything it can to stop you from surviving that long.
It really opened my eyes to how often those that live on the streets hear the same thing over and over again when they ask for a change: "leave me alone", "what do you need it for?", "I'm in a rush I can't stop", or even just silence. The attention to detail of feeling like the whole world is against you is apparently quite authentic. The three-person team behind the game, Delve Interactive, did their homework, telling me they went out and spoke to homeless people for their experiences.
When you start the game you choose from five different backgrounds (the most common that came up in their research): poverty, veteran, addict, mental illness, or abandoned. These influence how you react to things in-game. For example, with the mental illness background, your happiness meter drops significantly when you have a bad interaction on the street.
Gameplay-wise, you spend your time fighting off hunger, trying to make money, studying in the library, and finding a place to rest for the night. As simple as this seems at first, there's always something trying to stop you. For example, you can't get a job without studying, and you can't focus on studying while you're hungry, and they won't even let you in the library if your hygiene is too low. Another day, I was on the way to the hostel for the night, but I got caught begging by the police which made me miss my curfew. This forced me to sleep on the sidewalk that night, only to get mugged and lose all my money. It's domino effects like these which really raise awareness of the dire situation these people are in.
Having been on Steam Early Access since 2018, Delve Interactive hopes to have the full release out soon.
Death Stranding (November 2019)
Unfortunately, this wasn't a playable demo, but a 20-minute gameplay trailer showcasing the survival and combat mechanics of Kojima Production's upcoming project. My thoughts are best summed up by the guy who sat next to me as the demo ended: "Well, that clears it up, now I know exactly what the game is about."
Look, I know "Death Stranding confuses me" jokes are getting old, but what else do you want from me? Due to how crowded the Sony area was, we got in two minutes after the video had started, but it was like walking into Avengers: Endgame when the last superhero movie you saw was Spider-Man 3. I was instantly lost.
Hideo Kojima himself played through the game in this demo (not in person, sadly), and narrated us through what we were seeing. Playing as the lead character, Sam (Norman Reedus), Kojima took us through Death Stranding's open-world wasteland, showing off the combat and semi-multiplayer aspects of the game. The most interesting thing is the "likes" system. "Likes" seem to be a sort of currency, which you award another player for helping you out. While you don't see these other players directly, they can set up recovery points and "cheer you on" during battles to give you a stat boost.
So how do you get "likes"? Bear with us, it's going to get a little weird. So in all the promo material, we've seen a lot of babies, or 'BBs' as we now know they're called. Well, Sam carries one around with him in a pouch. Keeping the BB happy is important, as they give you these "likes." They also detect "BTs," the enemies in the game. Getting your butt handed to you in combat will make the BB sad, but interacting with the BB, which Kojima did by playing the harmonica, makes them happy.
Alright, with that over, what else did we see? Kojima also showed off the attention to detail, with the item degradation system. Sam's shoes were of such poor quality, that he had to stop and apply bandages to his feet to stop the blood loss. This detail is also in the combat, with one enemy detecting the player through sound, bringing in stealth elements.
As for the plot, Kojima Productions is keeping that firmly under wraps. We'll have to wait November to find out more about Norman Reedus's mission to reconnect a fractured society, and why he needs a baby in a sci-fi papoose to get this done.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair (October 2019)
Rather than be a lesser version of Banjo-Kazooie, Playtonic Games instead decided to make a superior version of Donkey Kong Country, and it's a good fit. While not groundbreaking, it is certainly one of the better games in the platforming genre and is infinitely better than the first one.
You start out in a 3D hub-world, but this time you enter 2D levels heavily inspired by Yoshi's Island. As you'd expect from this sort of game, you fight enemies, pick up some collectibles, and explore secret areas. But what makes this a whole lot of fun is the controls of Yooka and Laylee. Laylee the bat will disappear if you take a hit, but as long as you have her, you can perform higher jumps to get to otherwise inaccessible areas and defeat enemies easier. Even when you do lose her, the game gets harder but not impossible, just making you take things a little slower.
A feature I do love is that you can take on the final level, the titular impossible lair, whenever you're up for it. You can jump in right after the first level if you're up for a challenge. Playtonic has also done a great job with the hub world, filling it with secret areas to explore, where you can find power-ups to help you breeze through the lair when you take it on. If there is one problem I had with the gameplay however, it is that I'd like to move a little quicker, perhaps with an option to run.
As for the non-gameplay elements, those too have improved tenfold. A lot of criticism to the original was about its barren open worlds, but the switch to 2D means the levels aren't just filled with content, but also charm. You could really tell the designers put a lot of love in to the visuals, even if it meant putting eyeballs on everything they could, and cram in a million different bee puns (the baddie, Capital B, has an evil weapon called the "hive mind", so you team up with Phoebee to- you get the idea).
There isn't a whole lot more to say about Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, other than it's a solid little game to dip into. Even if the first one wasn't for you, I'd still recommend picking this up if you're a fan of platformers. For those of you who have happy memories for games like Yoshi's Island DS, then Playtonic will not disappoint you at all with this second entry in the series.
EGX 2019 had much more good than it did bad, but that's not to say it was all great. There were no disappointments from the big titles this year, but tucked away in the corners of the ExCel Center were some real stinkers. Here are parts of EGX that left me disappointed and confused.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on Switch (October 2019)
That line from Jurassic Park comes to mind: "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should." Sure, it's impressive that this massive open-world RPG could be fit into the Nintendo Switch, but why would you?
On a technical level, it is a good port, there is no denying that. Even on the Switch Lite I played it on, there were no frame-rate drops or other performance issues to speak of, but it really doesn't feel right on the console, at least in handheld mode. I found it hard to focus on such a content-heavy game on the tiny screen, which was a big problem when fighting multiple enemies. Breath of the Wild worked on the Switch because of its cartoony aesthetic with fewer details in the environments, but the attempt at hyper-realism was wasted on the Switch Lite.
If you have your heart set on this, I'm sure it's much better in docked mode, and perhaps after getting used to the world it would be easier to take it with you on the go. And if you just have the Switch, then it's worth picking up. But this is a lot of concessions to make for a game that's been available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC for over four years.
Overwatch on Switch (October 2019)
For all I just said about The Witcher 3 port, it at least didn't hurt to play. The same cannot be said for Overwatch on Switch.
Funnily enough, this sounds like a good fit for the console. While the popularity of the game is falling slightly, there is a mostly untapped market of children who Overwatch should appeal to, thanks to its colorful visuals and easily accessible gameplay. I say mostly untapped because a lot of these kids have been busy playing Fortnite on the Switch, so this port was a no-brainer.
However, this definitely needed more time in the oven. The frame rate is constantly dropping, making accurate shots incredibly difficult. As you can imagine, a fast-paced multiplayer game that almost never runs smoothly will not only get frustrating as you miss all your shots, but will also give you a headache in no time. My brother actually had to stop playing after a few minutes claiming his eyes hurt too much.
If you already own Overwatch, then there is absolutely no way I can recommend this to you, even to be able to play it on the go. If you're looking to get this for your kid or younger sibling, maybe keep half an eye on it to see if updates improve the performance issues. If not, Paladins is free on the eShop.
Big Company's Organizational Skills at Conventions
For some ungodly reason, it can feel like companies want to make it as hard as possible for us to play their games at conventions. It can be forgiven when an indie dev underestimates how popular their game will be, meaning you never get a chance to check it out, but for industry veterans, you'd think they'd have this on lock by now.
Nintendo, buddy, you have a main-series Pokémon game coming out next month, you know that's what the fans are here for. For some reason I can't even begin to fathom, most of Nintendo's EGX section was full of games already released: Smash Ultimate, Mario Maker 2, Overwatch and even Splatoon 2—which came out over two years ago. New releases, Pokémon Sword and Shield, Luigi's Mansion 3 and Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 were left fighting for the remaining space, with the Pokémon line still being an estimated two hours wait in the evening when most attendees had left. While Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games is an upcoming release, it didn't need all the space it got. When I tried that out, I walked right in. Nintendo should have realized what would be more popular.
Then we get to Marvel's Avengers, hoo boy. I'd say this game was only the fifth most hyped at the convention this year, so I was expecting a wait of no more than an hour. I popped down in the evening when the crowds were thinning out, and the line was, again, two hours long. I took a look and they had about as many screens as Nintendo had for Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games with more than twice the demand... so I played that instead.
Sony and CD Projekt Red were the winners here, allowing you to skip the queue and book in a time slot. And, most importantly, they weren't showcasing a two-year-old game. Please Nintendo, I just wanted to see chubby Pikachu.