Tens of thousands of games walked through the doors, but not everything was worth the time of the masses. Here’s some of the more interesting games that were on show at this year’s EB Expo.
Trade shows can be a funny thing. Australia might not see the numbers racked up by a PAX Prime or an E3, but navigating your way through a crowd that would pack most stadiums around the country is still a difficult task.
Last weekend such a crowd descended on Sydney Showground for one thing – games. The annual EB Expo has become a highlight in the gaming public’s calendar ever since it was expanded from its original remit as a vendor trade show for retail buyers and mortar-and-brick stores, to the press and players at large.
There are panels, competitive gaming, Australian developers struggling to make their mark and, as you’d expect, lots and lots of games.
I scoured the booths and presentations over a couple of days to get hands-on with everything I could and here’s my selection of what games you should be following over the coming season.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
November 4, PC/PS4/XB1/360/PS3
Given how poor the critical reception was for Call of Duty: Ghosts, it seems almost suspicious to jump back on the bandwagon of one of the largest franchises in gaming. But after spending the last few years making nothing but minute tweaks to the established formula, Sledgehammer Games and Raven Software have combined forces to deliver something that should re-cement COD’s hegemony on first-person shooters for a while.
The major change is in the use of the Exosuit, a mechanical lifeline that allows allows players to quickly dodge, wall-run, and boost mid-air, while maintaining all of the perks and bonuses fans have come to expect from COD. It’s a movement system that fans of Titanfall will immediately recognise, but the impact on the gameplay cannot be understated.
By allowing players to vault over objects and move more rapidly, the developers have also allowed themselves to design larger and more interesting levels. This helps break the funk of the last few years, where COD’s map design had become obsessed with short to mid-range firefights in a bid to maintain the constant adrenaline rush that makes the series work.
Having been a huge fan of the first two Modern Warfare titles, I have no qualms in saying Advanced Warfare is making COD fun for the masses again. Activision will undoubtedly take umbrage with that – it’s a massive seller, after all – but for people like me, those disillusioned with the lack of change in Black Ops 2 and particularly Ghosts, Advanced Warfare is definitely one shooter to keep an eye on.
One More Line
Gaming isn’t just about the AAA budgets. It’s about the quirky little experiences you can find on your phone, the games designers cobble together from their one-bedroom apartments and the ideas that emerge at the end of a 40-hour programming bender.
One More Line is the latest mobile title from SMG Studio, an Australian team recently famous for OTTTD, which took out the ‘Other’ category at Intel’s Level Up Game Developer Challenge this year.
It’s a simple concept: make the longest line possible without smashing into a series of pegs.
Tapping on the screen hooks to the nearest peg, allowing you to bend your way out of trouble. Getting the timing right, however, is hugely challenging, making for an addictive time-waster perfect for downtime at the office or the daily commute. Having a simple but elegant art style is another huge bonus.
One More Line is the kind of game anyone can pick up and play and there’s no reason it shouldn’t find traction when it launches on the App Store and Google Play later this year (although a specific release date is yet to be announced).
February 10, PC, Xbox One, PS4
Whenever you demo a game at a convention or a trade show, you become wary of certain signs; indications that the developer might not have total faith in their product. Little things like the length of a demo, what parts of the story the team is prepared to show, how much explanation is required, and how smooth the frame rate is.
Evolve had none of those quibbles. After one settles down as the monster (of which you can choose between the Beast and the Kraken) and four others play as the Hunters (split into four classes, each of which have two sub-classes), it’s simple.
The Hunters need to kill the Monster and the Monster needs to respond in kind.
I had a 20-minute session as the Kraken in a back-and-forth match that could have been won by either team. It was intense, ran as smooth as silk, and featured plenty of wonderful moments as both sides used their various abilities to find, trap and kill the other.
There were enough options that every match played out slightly differently. Having that variety is a sign of Turtle Rock’s confidence in Evolve. But given the lines, the largest outside of the Battlefield Hardline and Call of Duty booths, it’s safe to say most of the EB Expo public has a great deal of faith in Evolve’s 4 vs 1 multiplayer as well.
First half 2015, Wii U
The Wii U is much maligned, for good reason: since the launch of Nintendo’s HD console, there has been little reason to invest in the technology, at least until Mario Kart 8 launched earlier this year.
However 2015 is looking like a return to form for Nintendo, with a string of titles to whet the appetite of any gamer.
New versions of Zelda and Star Fox are scheduled for release, as well as Splatoon, an excellent third-person action shooter that forces both teams to cover the map in their colour.
It’s an unusual, family-friendly take on a shooter that reminds me a lot of Nerf Arena Blast, a Nerf-themed version of Unreal Tournament designed for kids.
Being able to traverse through your own ink keeps the action at a pace not too dissimilar from Call of Duty, without promoting any of the ill will that community is famous for. More importantly, Splatoon is an infectious game, something you can enjoy by simply watching.
The only real downside is that Splatoon is only launching on the Wii U.
It’s a beautiful game, in its own way, while doing something completely different. Splatoon is due out in the first half of next year.
November 20, PC, Xbox One, PS4
While the two major racers on the EBX floor were Driveclub and Forza Horizon 2, both are mainstream titles focused more on drifting and accessible racing in scenic locations than hardcore racers.
F1 2014 was playable on the day as well, but the more attractive and more complete article was available in the form of the crowdfunded Project CARS (pCARS).
Developed by British team Slightly Mad Studios with millions of euros straight from gamers, the simulation racer has garnered a cult following thanks to its gorgeous graphics, realistic learning curve, and an immense variety of licensed vehicles and tracks.
Bandai Namco, the Australian distributor for pCARS, gave the racer centre-stage billing next to The Witcher 3, such are their expectations for the game.
It’s pretty enough to sell consoles on its own, particularly when racing through a thunderstorm and multiple AI opponents. Most importantly, pCARS will be launching on PS4 and Xbox One, whereas F1 2014 is strictly limited to PC and the last-gen consoles.
With Forza Horizon 2 and Driveclub targeting themselves as more accessible games, pCARS is ready to absorb all the affection Gran Turismo fans and hardcore racers have to give when it launches on November 20.