On Saturday morning I braved the weekend alarm, braced myself for the first local gaming convention since Moses, and began the relatively short journey from Walsall to the NEC in Birmingham to join the masses at GAMEfest. After all the recent gaming expos in London, Manchester and… well… Germany, it was nice to have a fairly short train journey and arrive at the front door having barely stepped foot outside since leaving the house.
I made a promise to myself. I wanted to make sure I used the time wisely, to see things that not everyone would see. Modern Warfare would get a bucket load of coverage, as would the likes of Battlefield and Mass Effect, but I wanted to get to those titles that are staying under the radar, just bubbling away out of the public eye.
And with that in mind, what you’re about to see is my impressions of a few of these sleeping giants. Some are hands on, some are based on demonstrations I watched, but they’re the games that seemed to be getting far less attention on the day. First up? Bethesda.
During a fascinating and lengthy discussion with one of the top bods at Bethesda, I had the chance to get hands on with Rage, the first game to be released by id for 5 years. While people queued for over two hours to get a few minutes with Modern Warfare 3, I took advantage of my press pass by spending a decent chunk of time with Bethesda playing through a couple of game modes and getting to grips with one of the finest shotguns I’ve seen in any FPS. Rage is, as it stands, looks absolutely gorgeous. With some polishing still to be done, I was playing a game so visually impressive it would make most finished products looks a little ill by comparison. Not only that, but the weapons felt amazing. Being able to choose from all of the weapons you’ve found means you’re never short of firepower and with the selection of weapons being backed up by a nice range of alternative bullets, rockets or whatever to fill them up with an exploding head is never far away. There’s some utterly brilliant little gadgets too, like the sentry bot that waits for an enemy to approach then leaps on them and attacks them. I liked that a lot.
Rage Excitement Level: Pant Wetting
I spoke to a few random people throughout the day, and although the queues to play it were always quite chunky, not many people sounded like the upcoming Ghost Recon title was high on their agenda. But having had a demonstration from Ubisoft on a TV that was pretty much the size of Westminster Abbey it’s sitting very high on my wish list. It was the co-op that grabbed my attention, how the new mechanics make you feel like a real squad and let you set up some awesome set pieces. The breach scene we saw was especially impressive, with live action and cutscene slipping together seamlessly and each player seeing the whole affair from their own perspective, no matter where they were at the time. None of this sudden teleporting to suit the cutscene, no sir. The Gunsmith mode was pretty epic too, offering millions of combinations of gun setups with every last part of the gun customisable.
Ghost Recon Future Soldier Excitement Level: Feeling Faint
Over at Sony, the queues were growing for Resistance 3 and Uncharted 3. Meanwhile, outside these enclosed areas were a few individual TVs with a few of their seemingly less popular games. Like Starhawk. Really. What’s wrong with people? I stood and looked in disbelief as people lined up for an hour or more for some games, and all the time there was a free station running Starhawk. Well, it was free until I sat down anyway. Being a huge lover of Warhawk (not that sort of lover) I’ve been desperate to get my hands on Starhawk, and I didn’t feel let down. The ground combat in the single player session I tried was meaty and solid, and despite the extra lick of paint still felt like Warhawk. In the 30 seconds I spent in a Hawk the flying was limited, but it was clearly set up in the same way as Warhawk’s basic controls, and after spending a few years with the advanced flight settings it just felt restricted. I’m not making any assumptions about that though because it was kind of my fault; I did pause the game to try and change the settings but had a moment of being an arse and chose “quit” instead of “options”, which sent me back to the beginning of the demo. Bugger. Even with this slight faux pas, I played and watched enough for my internal hype-o-meter to creep into the “obsessed” section. By the way, I know that’s a Warhawk image. Starhawk stuff is thin on the ground at the moment.
Starhawk Excitement Level: Intergalactic
Shortly after this, a Canadian bloke from Radical Entertainment got myself and a crowd of others gathered into a huge inflatable room and got everyone quite worked up with a live demo of Prototype 2, complete with a dig at Birmingham City which as a Villa fan was great, even if it sailed over the heads of 97% of the audience. Prototype 2 is looking really interesting, a bit like Infamous if Cole had turned into an absolute bastard and wanted to blow everything up. Some of the available options were brilliant; leap on a helicopter and you can hijack it or delivery an epic uppercut which smashes it into a few flightless pieces. Want to creep up on someone and envelop them into your own body? Scan the area and you’ll see who’s being watched and who’s safe to kill. The dynamics and environments on show looked brilliant, and this could be one to keep an eye on.
Prototype 2 Excitement Level: Intrigued and Impressed
World Rally Championship 2 was another of those smaller stands, with only a couple of single TVs available to play it on. It was still easy enough to get a game, and after we reviewed the first WRC title last year I was keen to see what had changed. Visually there’s been a significant step-up which was the biggest criticism from last year, and the racing itself was beautifully handled with changes in surfaces obvious and realistic. I crashed into a tunnel in front of a watching crowd, which was a little embarrassing considering it wasn’t even on a corner, but other than that there was a great feeling of speed and danger. It won’t beat GT5 in the visuals, but for the rallying itself it could quite easily take the fight to DiRT3. I’ll be watching this one very carefully.
WRC2 Excitement Factor: Rally Excited (sorry…)
Now, it’s useful to note that these aren’t the only games I saw, but these titles all have two things in common: firstly, nobody I spoke to mentioned a single one of them in their top games of GAMEfest, and secondly they’re all games I’m very very impressed by for various reasons. I’d put money on every single one of these games taking people by surprise and ending up being amongst the best games of the coming months. And you know, when you’re talking to your mates about the amazing experience you’ve had with Rage, or forming close bonds with your co-op partners in Ghost Recon, spare a thought for the Modern Warfare players who are getting sworn at by 12 year old kids for not managing to get a 25-kill streak while making a cake with one hand. They clearly didn’t keep their eyes on the competition.
Loving the look of Rage, think that ones takes priority over COD!