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 27th October.
ONE of the biggest draws wasn’t even a playable game — it was a sneak peek at how Cyberpunk 2077 is shaping up as the self-proclaimed final swansong for this generation of console. CDProjektRed built a special theatre where fans saw 45 minutes of unseen action played in real time by one of the developers while another outlined what you can expect from the final title. We saw how character builds will affect the game — a hacker build called a Net Runner and a brute force build called a Solo attack the same mission with very different outcomes.
In the demo lead, V was tasked with hacking into a van in an abandoned shopping centre for a gang called the Voodoo Boys who boss the rundown Pacifica area of the city. We were shown how to create your character as well as how you can opt for a male or female version of V. The demo showed Net Runner as a male and the Solo was female.
When things kicked off, we were greeted by Keanu Reeves’ character. He looks to be some sort of ghost in your head that appears to talk to you . . . or rather just insult you. The first half of the demo focused on how you interact with the world and city and the random events that occur. You can also drive around the world because we saw V jump on a bike to head to the mission as well as soaking in the sights of Pacifica. The second half, though, was very combat heavy. It ranged from hacking guns and cameras to making enemies’ arms explode or ripping out a turret. Even in the demo the combat looked a little bit stiff, but there are plenty of ways to get the job done. It is obvious that there is still a lot of work to be done on the finished product, but it is fair to say that Cyberpunk 2077 is shaping up to be rather special.
THE eSport revolution was in full swing — with a host of competitions and qualifying rounds. Logitech held the wildcard McLaren Shadow Project qualifiers, while some lucky Overwatch experts scooped £1,000 each as well as a new OMEN laptop. Even Nintendo got in on the act holding tournaments for Splatoon 2 and Super Smash Bros. But arguably the biggest battle was the European Final of the Capcom Pro Tour. Capcom used their event to announce the UK, France, Russia and the UAE will join the 12 other territory teams in the Intel World Open tournament where the best Street Fighter V players from around the world will battle it out for a share of a $250,000 prize pot. The Intel World Open will also hold a Rocket League tournament along Street Fighter V lines, also with a $250,000 prize pot. The final will be in Tokyo on July 22-24 ahead of the Olympics next year. The tech firm is aiming to build on the success of their first major eSports tournament in PyeongChang before the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. Both tournaments will feature players of all levels with a hope of representing their countries. For more on the event or how to enter, check out intelworldopen.gg.
EGX organisers took a gamble when they moved the show away from Birmingham and back to London. But they eased fan concerns with a blockbuster production that included 250 playable games from AAA giants to indie sensations. Sony and Nintendo were the two biggest names at the show. Both brought a truckload of titles to the party such as Pokémon Sword & Shield, Luigi’s Mansion 3, Medievil and Final Fantasy VII: Remake so there were plenty of AAA thrills. Then there was the excitement caused by two games that CAN’T be played yet. Cyberpunk 2077 and Death Stranding. It’s fair to say that this approach is better than a YouTube video revelation, but it’s still not the same as getting your paws on the controls.
But, fear not, the indie guys stepped up with more than 150 titles to try including Valfaris, Art Of Rally, Inertial Drift and Tood And Topdee. As always the indie section was a great place to meet developers of the games and they were more than happy to chat about their new creations. That cannot be more highly praised — gamers love the chance to get close to the brains behind the titles they play and it is a great opportunity for the younger generation to get a sneak peek into how to build a game. EGX — or Eurogamer Expo to give it its Sunday name — had a healthy mix of stages hosting talks on subjects like game teasers for big titles like Dying Light 2 or community members talking about how to be a better Streamer. Even the Aussie powerhouse John Robertson was in action, hosting the Bethesda Community quiz as well as bringing his Dark Room show to EGX for the first time. He said:
“EGX was outstanding! Huge crowds — Doom Eternal is the brain-exploding blast you think it’s going to be, the folks at the charity Special Effect showcased their disability-friendly controls. Untitled Goose Game is incredible when you control the goose with your chin. And The Dark Room rocked a huge crowd. You don’t know joy until you’ve told someone dressed as Princess Peach they can’t play . . . they’re in another castle. Also, we live-streamed the show and the game crashed in the first 30 seconds, which meant the first word anyone heard online was a hearty scream of “S**T!” from me.”
Away from the games, there was plenty of hardware. You could get hands on with the latest kit from Turtle Beach, Astro and RIG. Or you could just look at some of the stunning custom PC builds that the Overclockers guys had on their stand — although the price tags were eye-watering. You could also try out some of the latest Noblechairs creations like the F1 inspired Mercedes-AMG Petronas chair. There were a few big names missing which was a mystery because EA, Ubisoft and Xbox have new games in the pipeline. That meant no fan thrills with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Need Of Speed Heat or Watch_Dogs: Legion. Watch_Dogs was even more odd because the game is set in London so would have been perfect for the show.
VERDICT: Overall it was a good show but the October date meant a few big-hitters passed it by. We also have to remember we are close to the end of a console generation and the studios are focusing on the next era. EGX spent four happy years in Birmingham. We reckon it is still finding its feet on its return. 2020 will be a huge year for gaming. We have high hopes for next year’s show. Here are a few of my highlights . . .
Marvel’s Avengers (Xbox One, PS4, PC and Stadia)
IF Doom Eternal was the noise at the show then Virgin Media delivered the scale — as Marvel’s Avengers easily had the biggest stand. It was a massive Insta moment as there were hero suits on show. But the big headline was a chance to get hands on with the game for the first time in the UK. We got to play the first level where the Avengers are celebrating the opening of their new west course headquarters . . . then things, not unexpectedly, go a rather large Pete Tong. On the play front we got to play as all five heroes — from Cappy throwing his shield to Iron Man blasting through the clouds. Each one has its own feel and skill-set but we have quickly come to appreciate Thor’s God Of War-style hammer throw and return move as a favourite. The level ends with Black Widow taking on the evil Taskmaster as the Golden Gate Bridge collapses all around you and the other heroes are battling alongside.
It is probably no surprise — and no bad thing — that the first level is very much a tutorial of things to come. The core tale will evolve around Ms Marvel as the Avengers couldn’t stop the attack which caused the event that gave her powers but also cost Cappy his life. It’s a powerful start to the game and really makes it standout out from the MCU side of things. We reckon that is a much-needed and really clever move to allow fans to see this as their telling of a Marvel tale. We’ll have a long wait until May next year to see what happens but the developers, Crystal Dynamics, have promised to reveal a lot more details between now and the launch date. We reckon what we have seen so far is Marvel-lous. We can’t wait for the rest.
Sniper Elite VR (PS4 and PC)
VIRTUAL Reality did not have as big a presence as last year, but Sony did show off a few new PSVR challenges. The biggest crowd-pullers were Iron Man VR and Sniper Elite VR. We got hands-on with both. Sniper was a short demo and the game feels like it’s still a long way off. That said, what we did play looks very promising and Rebellion have shown in the past that they are not afraid of playing around with VR. We played the game using the aim controller which added to the feel of being a crack marksman as you gun down enemies attacking a small Italian town. On top of that, when you land the perfect shot, you have that signature X-ray kill cam. It’s even more in your face than before and pretty gruesome.
Aaero 2 (TBC)
EGX isn’t just about what’s about to land. It also looks at games that are still a mile off. The Aaero 2 demo was just one level. Like the first game, it blended music and gameplay in a perfect balance of shooting and timing though it’s upped the stakes with co-op fun. That adds a few new core mechanics — and this looks seriously good.
Table Manners (PC)
BLEND Tinder and Surgery Simulator and you get Echo Chambers’ latest idea. You must find love by going on a number of dates, but the twist is that you need to complete physics-based puzzles to keep the date going. You’ll have to order drinks even feed them but it’s a lot harder than it seems. Grabbing an item may see you knock everything else over or set fire to the table. It feels like this should be a VR title, but physics is fun! Never thought that at school.
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 (Switch)
THE Olympics in Japan next year means the perfect launchpad for this epic. You’ll being able to challenge your friends in more than 20 Olympic disciplines — all of which have been pushed through the Nintendo filter. This is the sixth time that Mario and Sonic have headed to the Olympics so you can also expect a few new events to be added to the list such as Skating and Surfing. When we got hands-on with the game we gave the 110m hurdles a blast. You have to shake the joy-con frantically to build up speed and, at the same time, you need to time your jumps to clear the hurdles cleanly. We also got to try the archery which again made good use of the joy-cons. You have to hold them as though you are pulling the bowstring back and use tiny movements of your wrist to change your aim. Tough, but great fun.
Nioh 2 (PS4)
THIS had to be one of the best-kept secrets at the show. It was tucked away on the PS stand but we tracked it down. This is a dash of brutal combat in the Souls-like fashion of the first game. You fill the boots of a half-human, half-super-natural Yokai warrior where timing is everything and you must learn how to deflect attacks and to read your enemies’ actions. If you don’t then you will not survive very long — we found that out. The game is set in Sengoku era Japan and has a mesmeric art style. We wandered through a forest battling demons and other nasties. Now we would be lying if we said this was easy. We didn’t even make the end of the demo. We can say the flood of “game over” screens is frustrating but that was not the game. That was all us. This is not the best game to play at an expo, but you still get a taste of the challenge that will await in Nioh 2.
Zombie Army 4: Dead War (Xbox One, PS4 and PC)
REBELLION are back with their Nazi zombie-shooting funfest as you and three mates get to battle against hordes of the fascist undead. But, this time round, everything feels a bit tighter and those tweaks really raise it up above the last game. We got hands on with the Milan train station level where everything starts out well until a train crashes and all hell breaks loose. If you’ve played Rebellion’s last game, Strange Brigade, then you’ll feel at home here. It’s a similar set-up. You pick one of four heroes to play but they have added a new feature that allows you to spec your weapons and characters to your own taste. We like that — a lot. You can add weapon damage like incendiary blasts and electrocution or get health boosts to help the team as you battle ever more deadly enemies. If killing your standard Third Reich zombie officer wasn’t enough, there is also chainsaw welding hulks of monsters and an undead SHARK. Say what!
Darksiders Genesis (Xbox One, PS4, Switch, PC and Stadia)
DARKSIDERS knows how to ring the changes and the new instalment mixes things up again. One minute it’s a Zelda-like vibe then it goes all Dark Souls and now there’s a Diablo-style interest. It looks to have done a good job if our hands-on is a hint of what’s coming from the Airship Syndicate. They have taken the core ideas of the Darksiders world and filtered them in a top-down hack-and-slash action role-playing game filter. You play as Strife and War or you can play in co-op and take one role each. You get different attacks and skills. Strife has a strong attack range with dual guns. War is hot in the melee, welding his sword. We played a dungeon level as well as a boss fight. It was all a bit rough at times, but the gameplay was fun and challenging as it uses a lot of the mechanics from the other Darksiders titles when exploring and solving puzzles.
Predator: Hunting Grounds (PS4)
HUNT or be hunted — that’s how it hangs in Predator: Hunting Grounds. This is very much in the Evolve frame of things in that there is a team of four soldiers who are on a mission to get a job done. However, they have to battle AI enemies in the jungle. One player is the Predator who must stop them at all costs and, as you would expect, the 8ft armour-clad alien brings a few treats to the table. We played as the Predator so we could cloak, use dual blades, plasma cannons and even his mini-nuke. He can also climb trees and move above the battle as he tracks the other players and picks them off. The demo was pre-alpha so it was a bit rough, but the sparkle is there.
Cake Bash (PC)
SOME of the best expo games are ones where you can challenge your mates on the show floor — and this was the sweetest battle zone of the weekend. The four-player arena battler feels a lot like Gang Beasts in that you fight it out as a selection of baked goods from donuts to French fancies. We played a few rounds where we had to collect the most sweets while bashing and slapping other players to knock their sweets off in a tug-of-war brawl. The other was a battle to fill a pie dish with as much fruit as you can but watching out for other players sealing it. Fast, frantic and sickly cute.
Doom Eternal (Xbox One, PS4 , Switch, PC and Stadia)
THERE was no missing Doom Eternal at the show — the siren and blasts every time a new set of players started the demo was a bit of a giveaway. This was one of the must plays at this year’s show which is a sequel to Bethesda’s 2016 Doom reboot and it just ramped everything from 11 up to 20. This is a return for the fast, brutal and so-satisfying combat as the granddaddy of gaming shows the youngsters how it’s done. The demo was a slice of action which featured lots of gunplay as well as platforming. OK, that’s not as much fun as ripping demons in half with your chainsaw, but the moment-to-moment shooting action is so good. It adds to the core gameplay with new weapon like a shoulder-mounted flamethrower and bigger guns, but the real kicker is that the release has been pushed back to next March. We have to wait. Grrrrr.
Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4)
ARGUABLY the biggest title that you could play at the show. This remake easily had the biggest crowd of the weekend and the longest queues even with the PlayStation app booking system. And for good reason — it was a perfect vertical slice of what fans have been waiting for. The taster session had already been revealed, but you could play as Cloud and Barret on a mission inside a huge facility. The demo eased you in with a bit of non-combat fun before it all kicked up a gear and you were quickly battling soldiers before facing the real challenge a big crab tank robot-type thing. The game is stunning but the combat was a bit clunky at times and, in this build, Barret felt really under-powered to the point where you had to be Cloud. That is no bad thing, but it was a bit annoying if you were wanting to try both out because you can switch between them at any time.
Streets of Rage 4 (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC)
THE return of the gaming legend has had fans in a frenzy and it didn’t disappoint. This is huge a new look for the much-loved series — it has taken the core of the Sega cornerstone and gave it a kick up the backside to make it 2019 savvy. You never stop moving from start to finish. That is standard for a side-scrolling beat ’em up, but things get interesting here when you start throwing punches as your powerful attack now drains your energy. That means you really have to fight smart because if you over-use it you’ll leave yourself a few hits from death. However, use it right and dish it out during an epic combo and it turn the tables and dish out serious damage. Throw in a new core character, Cherry Hunter, who brings a guitar to the fight and things are looking as good as the game does. This is a truly stunning action game bursting with cartoon detail and colour. This may be a while away but fans should form a queue and get ready for the return of the side-scrolling beat ’em up king.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…