Read Stuart’s column every week in The Scottish Sun, where he shares his reviews, news and podcasts with the 99.3% of the World’s population not fortunate enough to be able to buy a physical copy of the paper. The following appeared originally in The Scottish Sun on Sunday 30th September 2018.
IT was time for an indie revolution at EGX. The gaming convention in Birmingham saw the best that the smaller firms had to offer — with a string of games from the wild to the wonderful. Now, we love trumpeting some indie magic, but it did rather point the spotlight on the empty space that was normally filled by the AAA boys. The 11th EGX was a four-day fun fest as crowds of gamers got up close and personal with a real mix of titles. The show boasted over 200 playable games — from the likes of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Metro Exodus. But more than half of the offerings were in the Rezzed area, where the indie boys were strutting their stuff.
Games like Disco Elysium and Phogs were big draws, with Dead End Job by Edinburgh-based Ant Workshop also on show. The firm’s Tony Gowland said:
“It’s been a really good show for us. The game has been getting a great reception as well as a lot of footfall on the show floor. Saturday was the craziest day as we had so many people playing the game. It was great to see so many people sitting down playing the game and walking away with a giant smile on their face.”
The Leftfield Collection was also a zone of discovery. It was home to some of the most interesting titles at the show — games like Kine, Tick Tock: A Tale For Two and Tanglewood. The last one is being developed for the Mega Drive using the same tools and systems that were king in the 90s. And it will get a Mega Drive release so dust off the old consoles.
EGX is all about the games — there were a number of dev sessions for games like Hitman 2 and 11-11 Memories Road as well as discussions on the state of VR at the moment and the future of Battle Royale games. Our highlight was the Bethesda Community Quiz — and not just because you could win Fallout swag. No, this one was hosted by Aussie funnyman John Robertson. He said:
“Helluva event. Loved the indie section, I spent time as a flying cat on Mao Mao Castle and a vengeful goose in Untitled Goose Game. On the retro games, I beat a 12 year-old at something you’ve been playing for 25 years. But my highlights of new games had to be Fist Of The North Star: Lost Paradise, and the fact addictive little classics like Stick Fight and Windjammers are heading to the Switch. I was there to host the Fallout quiz for Bethesda, and Fallout’s the best journey to a post-apocalyptic town you can have without actually going to Birmingham.”
But there was no escaping the AAA-sized elephant in the room. Their absence and the non-appearance of firms like Xbox, EA, Razer, Twitch and Turtle Beach was a real downer. It is hard to fathom why Xbox did not show Forza Horizon 4 so close to the UK launch. It says something when two of the biggest stands were Nintendo and Sega. It was almost retro. Even Nintendo boobed. Why have so much exclusive Switch product but so few units to play on? It meant long queues for the likes of Untitled Goose Game and Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes.
Overall, EGX was fun and enjoyable, but the lack of the X factor meant it felt quieter than in the past. Here are my highlights . . .
Hitman 2 (Xbox One, PS4 and PC)
AGENT 47 was back with a bang at this year’s event. We got time with the Miami mission from the new game. The job was to find and take out a father and daughter who would have made a fortune from selling arms on the black market. It was all about supercar racing on the streets, but the details of the hit were up to you. Cue bags of fun as you work out the best way to dispatch the targets. We roamed a huge level filled with options from sabotaging the car to just pushing them out of a window. Hitman 2 promises plenty of what fans of the original game loved — huge areas with lots of fun ways to fulfil your contract. Half the fun is finding them out.
Sticky Cats (PC)
THE Leftfield Collection was one of the most interesting areas at the show. It was where the indie developers went wild. And the winner? Definitely Sticky Cats — a couch multiplayer where four friends battle it out. The idea is simple — you’re a cat and you have to grab a fish and escape through the window with it. But — and it’s a big but — your cat sticks to everything, including other players’ cats. Cue hilarity as you battle to get the fish while not getting stuck. This is a real laugh — a slice of indie purrfection. This is our game of the show.
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown (Xbox One, PS4 and PC)
IF you feel the need for speed then this is a must. Take to the skies in a number of war-proven planes for some good dog-fight action. The Ace Combat series guarantees an over-the- top story of warring nations and personal challenges, but this is slightly different. This is all about your ability to turn and burn and go Mach 2 with your hair on fire — and it is great fun. The demo let us get behind the stick on three fighters armed with an array of missiles and rockets as we set out to destroy a number of enemy forces. It is all very smooth and looks stunning. Some of the mission we tried were a visual treat. And, if that wasn’t enough for armchair Mavericks, then rejoice in the fact that the game also supports flight stick controls and there will be some missions that can be played in PSVR. Oh, be still our beating hearts.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan (Xbox One, PS4 and PC)
SUPERMASSIVE are the masters of horror on the PS4 thanks to the Until Dawn series. Now they have teamed up with Bandai Namco for a real frightfest. This will evolve into an episodic game, with new chapters released throughout next year. The first is Man Of Medan. We tried a short demo and it seems like an atmospheric tale where you must get through an abandoned ship. It has an all-star cast, including Shawn Ashmore, and a choice system. This spook fest is shaping up well.
Starlink: Battle for Atlas (Xbox One, PS4 and Switch)
MANY may think the toys-to-life craze is over, but Ubisoft have other ideas. You build a spaceship that sits on your controller — and it then becomes the game. You pick your pilot and your weapons, but you can swap and switch at any point. And, if you put the gun on the ship backwards, it’ll appear like that meaning you can shoot backwards. This is a sci-fi epic as you are a force for good. The cast of characters would give Star Wars a run for their money, but the toys are the hook. Christmas hit.
Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes (Switch)
THE No More Heroes games became a surprise cult classics on the Wii — so it was only a matter of time before the Suda 51 series got an outing on the Switch. Series hero Travis gets hold of a games console called the Death Drive Mark 2, leading to a Tron-like tale as he wanders into the game world and goes an epic rampage. In truth, the game seems to be a smorgasbord of gaming styles — it jumps from action game to racing to puzzles. There are actually seven different styles in the game as it maximises the Switch’s features. You might want to be on your own as you shake the joy-con to charge up Travis’s signature Beam Katana. The demo at EGX was a special build, with dialogue between you and the enemies about the event. Neat touch.
Team Sonic Racing (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC)
THE blue hedgehog and his pals are back — but this time they are giving their legs a rest and hitting the kart track. Team Sonic Racing picks up where Sonic & All-stars Racing Transformed left off, but there are a few big changes. One: Team Racing is just focused on the Sonic franchise, although there is a touch of the Transformer in it. This lets you race as a three-man team and is a real mash-up on how the game plays. Coming first doesn’t mean you are the winner because it is just as important to get the rest of your team over the line as well. The racing feels good and is fun. You get some classic Sonic tracks from across the series, plus karting staples like speed boost pads and pick-ups. Plenty of replay value. The race is on.
Arca’s Path (PSVR, Oculus, SteamVR and Vive port)
IT wouldn’t be EGX without a bit of VR and the guys at Rebellion had your back with Arca’s Path. It will be on a number of VR systems, but we got handsy on the PSVR. You must move a ball through a maze but, in a devilish twist, you don’t use a controller. No siree, you move your head to guide the ball. It all feels a bit odd at the start, but it soon clicks and then you can start changing the speed and direction with marginal head movements. The game is also wrapped in what the developers, Dream Reality Interactive, call a “future fairytale” where you are a young girl named Arca in a trash world. One day she finds a headset that takes her into a puzzle world. The full game has 25 levels set over the striking crystalline landscapes as well as an experimental electro soundtrack from Ninja Tunes artist Raffertie. Dream Reality Interactive will be well-known to PSVR owners — they are made up of ex-members of Sony London Studios, who worked on PlayStation VR Worlds. If you have a PSVR then this is a title to look out for when it arrives on December 4.
Killer Queen Black (Switch)
FAST, frantic and fun — just some of the words that sum up our time with Killer Queen Black. We got hands on with the Switch build as we took part in a 4v4 battle in a bid to take a glorious victory. We had three options — fill the hive with the most berries, ride the giant snail to victory or get your queen to kill the other teams. The way you work together with your team is vital if you want to win. Each player has a role to play — whether it is grabbing berries or defending the workers. The pace is very quick and it will be a hit when it lands.
Catastronauts (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC)
MIX FTL: Faster Than Light and Overcooked, then add a dash of Star Trek — and you get Catastronauts. The frantic co-op sees you and four friends crew a spaceship that is under attack. You have to work together to survive by manning guns, repairing the ship and putting out fires . . . easy. Maybe to start with, but it soon ramps up a level. You have to deal with new mechanics and situations like solar flares. Teamwork is key to staying alive. Communication is vital. It is an interesting tale.
Check out our Codec Moments interview with Inertia Game Studios at the event here.
Soulcalibur VI (Xbox One, PS4 and PC)
BANDAI Namco let fans battle it out with a number of fighters from their up-and- coming title — with one of the highlights being the Witcher hero, Geralt of Rivia. Soulcalibur has always been about blade combat and the game feels really good with a fluid system that is way above some other fight games. It never felt like we were just button mashing in fights as we tried standard attacks and more powerful special moves. There is a depth that will please more-seasoned fight fans. The characters and arenas look stunning. The game has real Soul . . .
Bee Kind (Mobile)
NOT all games are about saving the world or blasting bad guys. This indie title sees you try to guide a bee through a garden to find seeds to grow flowers and make food. This is more of an educational tool for kids aged between five and seven, teaching them the importance of a healthy ecosystem. This is a mobile game and is best played with a touchscreen device. It has a great charm and was a welcome change of pace on the show floor as well as teaching you all about bees.
Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise (PS4)
THE title is a mouthful, but Fist Of The North Star: Lost Paradise is an action-adventure game based on the long-running manga franchises by Buronson and Tetsuo Hara. You get to play in a post-apocalyptic alternative Earth. There has been a nuclear war and the oceans have dried up. You play as Kenshiro, who is determined to rescue his kidnapped fiancée, Yuria. It all plays out in an epic tale as you travel through the wastelands in the hope of finding her. From the small segments we played, the game is very story heavy and it falls on the very brutal side of the taste-ometer. But that is what it promises — the series is built on over- the-top fighting. It delivers, especially with group battles using devastating attacks.
GRIP (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC)
THIS is a throwback to a classic racer called Rollcage. It takes arcade racing and flips it on its head. You drive a buggy that can run in whatever way it is pointing. That opens the game up to some very wild and challenging tracks as you race at breakneck speeds, flipping from the ground to the roof as you push for the lead. The game also has a healthy arsenal of weapons and power-ups to help you get the upper hand. We tried the Switch version and were impressed by just how well it ran in handheld mode — there was next to no framerate drop.
Soundfall (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC)
SOUNDFALL is a great mix of rhythm magic and hack-and-slash excitement. This was actually one of the surprise successes from the indie section of the show floor. It is a fresh and original idea that offers you a new gaming challenge. You start by running through stages, battling aliens with your blades and guns. But here’s the twist — there is a bar at the bottom of the screen which track the beat of the soundtrack you picked at the start of each mission. If you manage to time your attacks with the beat then you’ll get a damage boost. Clever stuff. It makes an addictive mini-game — not only are you trying to defend yourself from the enemies but you need to do it at the right beat. This challenge was music to our ears.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…