From the 5th to the 7th and, for only the second time in recorded history, gamers were able to step into a crowded exhibition hall and wait in lines for up to two and a half hours to play or buy a bunch of video games. It doesn’t sound like the most super fun time on the surface, but if you were part of the gaming hordes in Sydney for the EB Expo, you’d surely be telling a different story.
The atmosphere in the Expo was one of community – you could find yourself watching a presentation or standing in line to see a game and find kindred spirits all around you willing to chat about games, pop culture and life in general. There was always something going on – whether it was a presentation in the ‘Arena’, a new game to check out on the floor, or a tournament happening in the home-grown gaming tent outside the main showground hall. You could play a round of Injustice: Gods Among Us before swinging around the Ubisoft booth to see which cosplayers were tearing up the multi-coloured dance floor and then heading outside for some fresh air and to check out upcoming indie hits like Blast Point by Pub Games.
The expo was opened by a spectacular stage show, consisting of a great montage of popular games over the last twenty years, followed by a more tenuously-related dance routine and motorcross display, which were both actually very impressive. An awesome Assassin’s Creed III inspired stunt closed out the spectacular, as a hooded stunt figure took to a high platform and performed a graceful leap of faith into (I’m hoping) a safe stunt mat below.
Of course, the main reason many gamers were there was to check out some of the hottest upcoming games, including an early peek at the Wii U console, set for Australian release this November. We checked out a bunch of the coolest titles on display, and here are our thoughts:
Halo 4 (Adam)
The demo on show at EB Expo was a range of multiplayer modes, as players took up stations in a large room lined with Xboxes, taking part in different matches. The game I was placed in was a standard Capture the Flag match, although it did give me the opportunity to check out some of the new Forerunner weapons included in the game. They primarily seem to be light-based, including a light rifle that brings precision fire to mid-to-long range, as well as the beam rifle, for even longer distances. A new handgun was also available in the form of the suppressor, once again using ‘hardlight’ as ammunition, with an auto-fire feature that makes it very useful in close range situations. Other than the new weapons, it was classic Halo multiplayer action, with all of the gameplay improvements carried over from the last few games (although there was a noticeable absence of jetpacks in the map we played). Even though there was never any danger it wouldn’t be, the game is still great fun in multiplayer.
Rayman Legends (Adam)
I was really disappointed to hear that this game has been pushed back to 2013, because it was one of the most fun games on show (that wasn’t attracting huge queues, as well). The demo at the Ubisoft booth was three player – two players controlled Rayman and Globox on-screen using the Wii U’s Classic Controller, while a third player controlled Murphy using the Wii U GamePad’s screen. While Rayman and Globox had the normal platforming duties of navigating the environment and beating up enemies, Murphy was able to see special lums to collect on the Wii U Controller, and highlight them using the touchscreen. Murphy can also twist platforms and interact with obstacles, making a great deal of co-operation required between all three players. Perhaps the most exciting part of the demo was a fast-paced level, somewhat in the style of the treasure chest chases from Rayman Origins. As Rayman and Globox sprinted to the end of the level, their jumps coincided with the wonderfully exciting music, making timing every move much easier and much more enjoyable. There’s a lot of creative ideas at work in Rayman Legends, so definitely check it out once it’s finally polished to its full potential in 2013.
PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale (Bev)
I wish I had more time with the highly-anticipated PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. Firstly, I spent most of my turn mashing buttons and hoping for the best, as doing a button check wasn’t really an option unless I wanted to piss the three other people playing with me. Secondly, I feel as though I picked a bad character – poor Parappa had no chance against characters with weapons such as Raiden and Nariko and was nowhere near as fast as I thought he might be. Perhaps a single round isn’t enough and it takes two or three to really get a feel for it, but it’s a tough game to figure out with intuition alone. Well, at least there’s a hint of deeper mechanics in there to begin with.
Again, my time with Injustice was limited due to the massive waiting line and the fact that we spent most of the match checking out the cool things we could do without actually dealing any damage. I played as Harley Quinn, who boasts a moveset and weapons suited to her crazy personality such as swinging a giant mallet, throwing sticks of dynamite and kissing a photo of the Joker. Rocket Chainsaw guest Jordaan played as Nightwing, a lithe character with a decent variety of short and long range abilities and made use of his Bo staff. The staff can be changed to dual-wielding Eskrima sticks with the use of a single face button. Talking to Jordaan afterwards, he commented on how this use breaks the flow of Nightwing’s combos when trying to experiment with his moves. Overall, the moves have a satisfying impact but Netherrealm’s signature sudden visual ending to moves doesn’t suit the game entirely.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (Bev)
First thing’s first: why does Sonic need to be in a racing game? He’s obviously fast enough to beat everybody else. Regardless, Sega is publishing another Sonic racing game, titled Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. The ‘Transformed’ in the title refers to the fact that your vehicle can now turn into a boat or a plane during certain parts of the stage, although I only got to play through a level featuring water segments. The physics do change significantly during these segments and initially feel sluggish, although elements such as water current and waves can be manipulated. Oh well, I didn’t come last. Key characters from Sonic the Hedgehog aside, I spotted AiAi from Super Monkey Ball, and Ralph from the upcoming film Wreck-It Ralph is playable too.
The Unfinished Swan (Bev)
I was surprised to see The Unfinished Swan at the EB Expo, having deemed it too ‘artsy’ to be present at an event where the big name, triple-A titles seem to live. You start off in a room of pure white and use the trigger on the Move controller to splash black paint around which in turn helps you get your bearings. The only visual hints in the game were in the form of yellow duck feet prints. As you explore, it becomes clear that the use of colour in the world is very well done – for example, firing a glob of paint into the invisible/white lake created a water splash outlined in black. Can’t wait to see what the final game will be like and whether the game builds on these mechanics further.
WWE ’13 (Cody)
In the latest iteration of this enduring wrestling series, there is a mix of both good and bad qualities brought to the table. For the first time ever, players are able to do mid-air counters. If an enemy goes off the top rope and you’re in a standing position, a well-timed counter can make you grab them while they attempt to execute a move, allowing you to execute a rib-breaker or any other convenient crushing move. It seems to be slightly easier for your opponents to pull them off, but all the more satisfying when you pluck someone out of the air yourself. Another key difference in this year’s game is also related to counters. During those big sets of chain wrestling the more technically-minded grapplers end up getting themselves into, indicators will flash on screen as usual to let you know when to press a button. However, this time around you will also be told if your button press is too fast or too slow. In this way, you’re able to train yourself to adopt a much better rhythm and in time become a countering machine like never before. It has to be said though that there isn’t all good news for WWE 13. Playing it, there seems to be something slightly off about the pacing of the game, perhaps a bit too fast. It can throw people off a bit as last year’s edition seemed to have much more naturalistic movements. But the biggest backward step would have to be the lack of polish when it comes to ironing out glitches. During a match pitting John Cena and Brock Lesnar against one another, Brock smashed Cena with a set of steel stairs. Cena then somehow became stuck in mid-air, floating just above the ground without being able to move at all. In this time Brock couldn’t hit him and bring him down at all, but could only push Cena along as he levitated. Brock pushed Cena all the way to the entrance ramp before he finally rejoined the ground. At this late stage of development it’s a bit concerning that such glitches are so easily present. Hopefully something is able to be done about these hit detection and glitch issues.
Assassin’s Creed: Liberation (Cody)
Assassin’s Creed: Liberation is very different to its predecessors, not just because it’s on the Vita and you take control of a female character. The player character for Liberation is equipped with a different set of weapons. In the level we got a chance to play, we were in a bayou and examining a shipwreck, in order to take down the leader of a group of criminals. Rather than the usually expected hidden blades, swords and other miscellaney, we were treated to being able to wield a pistol and a tomahawk, much like Connor in the main Assassin’s Creed III game. What we did get to play was truly a delight, and an example of how moving from console to handheld can actually work, if enough care and polish is applied. Running on the engine of its console cousin, controlling your female assassin is a breeze in normal play and especially in combat. Wielding the tomahawk against gang members as you fight your way aboard the shipwreck has a wondrous flow and a rhythm that is easy to pick up, but will take a while to truly master. It’s definitely worth it though – not only does it feel right but it also looks great onscreen, free of a lot of jerky movements and stilted action that could easily spoil playing it on the small screen.
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask (Cody)
Rather than being treated to the full version of the game, the Nintendo booth at the EB Games Expo gave us a mere taste of just one puzzle. While the puzzle itself was simple enough to comment on, it’s the presentation of Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask that is most worthy of discussion. Being the first Layton game on the 3DS, it was inevitable that the series would try to do something with more visual differentiation. While the same basic art style has been retained, the 3D element has been brought to the series for the first time. And it works. The usual animated mini-movies were still present, but there are also greater sequences containing voice and movement than ever before done in something of a cel-shaded style. It all works wonderfully for the carnival setting in which Miracle Mask takes place. The one and only puzzle we got a chance to do involved untangling some balloons for an unfortunate fellow who was caught up in the air. Not only did this guy have a freedom of movement while suspended above the ground, he also was given some audio to accompany the text as he bemoaned his situation. Likewise, both Layton and Luke were given greater range of movement and speech as they conversed. The demo ended with the antagonist of Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva crashing the party, wearing the titular Miracle Mask. While there wasn’t much on offer in terms of gameplay in the demo, it did manage to sell itself well in terms of the series’ 3DS debut, and we can’t wait until it arrives on our shores.