This weekend saw the conclusion of the London Games Festival with EGX Rezzed, a three-day convention at London’s Tobacco Dock with a major focus on indie games. It’s a more modest event than the main EGX show that takes place in September in Birmingham’s NEC but that’s probably all for the better. Not only is there less time wasted on queueing for ages just to play a 5-minute demo, meaning you can try out more games, there’s also a huge variety that you’d probably not be aware of had it been dominated by the usual AAA faces, though platform holders like Nintendo, Playstation and Xbox do have a presence, but notably showcasing the smaller indie titles. Better still is that many of the game’s creators and developers are also on the showfloor who are more than happy to talk at length about the game.
Besides the games and merch stalls, it’s also a great place to get more insight about the industry and game development from a variety of talks and panel sessions, such as how Friday kicked off with an interview with Double Fine’s Tim Schafer, who had only just collected a BAFTA fellowship at the BAFTA Game Awards the night before (which also saw Ninja Theory’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice sweeping the night with five awards, though the highest accolade went to What Remains Of Edith Finch).
Naturally, I was there mainly for the games, and a few you’ll hopefully find out more about in write-ups for some other outlets. But here’s just a few highlights from the show.
Compelled to visit the Nintendo booth first thing, it was a great chance to try out Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s now vibration-enabled Lumines Remastered as well as Suda51’s long-awaited directorial return Travis Strikes Back: No More Heroes. But the real surprise of the show came from Bad North, a minimalist RTS roguelite in the style of FTL: Faster Than Light, but with Vikings.
I hadn’t expected to enjoy this, mainly because I’m generally very bad at RTS, often finding myself easily overwhelmed by large maps, multiple sources and all the cogs in motion you need to keep an eye on. However, Bad North‘s procedurally-generated maps are of a smaller and simpler design, your units easily readable while time also slows down as you’re deciding where to deploy your units who automatically start attacking when an approaching boat of invading Vikings comes to shore. Unit placement is important, such as having your archers on higher ground to easily dispatch enemies from below, while later acquiring spear units are perfect for waiting at the shoreline to break down shield-carrying enemies.
The simplicity means the hardcore Starcraft types won’t find much here but for people like me who normally hate RTS games, it’s the perfect fit as I try to beat back the Norse forces one island at a time.
Coming to Nintendo Switch, PC, PS4 and Xbox One this summer, while iOS and Android are also planned.
It’s been a long time waiting since it was first revealed in 2013, then delayed multiple times, before going dark in the summer of 2016, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for Capy Games’ Below, which I finally got to try.
To be honest, it’s not a game that demos well at a busy games show. Your character arrives at a mysterious island with a sword and shield and little else, before you venture into a cave that keeps taking you deeper and deeper to dark and dangerous caverns that go seemingly on forever, though chances are you’ll die within a couple minutes, perhaps because of that spike trap you didn’t notice yourself stepping onto, or because the annoying red things pouncing at you have bled you to death, or if you survive any longer you might just not have figured out how to cook anything and starve. And throughout this, the game will tell you absolutely nothing – it’s up to you to figure out its daunting survival systems and challenges, which may conjure up the spirit of Dark Souls, even though it plays nothing like it.
Coming to Xbox One and PC in 2018.
Although I haven’t played the first game, the sequel to this colourful Metroidvania/brawler is a delight, with added couch co-op for up to four players. Playing as a luchador lets you punch, slam and uppercut enemies, while you can also traverse the environment with double-jumps and a new grappling hook mechanic. But perhaps the funniest addition is a power-up that turns you into a chicken, which is useful for navigating smaller spaces as well as an ability to smash-drill through certain blocks. It’s all pretty nonsensical but a bit of a riot to play in between mashing the buttons at incoming enemies or carefully squeezing through some interesting level design.
Coming to PS4 and PC in 2018.
Whenever a game mentions it’s inspired by Souls in some way, I have to be a bit sceptical. As it stands, Dead Cells is nothing like FromSoft’s series – it’s got a faster arcadey feel with no stamina management to worry about – though it also clearly magpies other genres such as Metroidvanias and roguelikes, as well as dealing with random loot, procedurally generated levels and the constant threat of permadeath. It sounds rather bog-standard for what it is then, but the action feels fluid, and trying to figure out new special weapons, which also have their own cool-downs, will probably have you getting more confident as you die and repeat.
Currently out on PC in Early Access, and coming to Nintendo Switch, PS4 and Xbox One later in 2018.
It’s quite difficult to show Blind Drive, mainly because this is very much an audio-driven game. The premise has you directed by a menacing voice on the phone to drive down a highway while blindfolded for reasons unknown, though you’ll probably find out as the story progresses – that is, if you survive long enough. It’s a game that needs to be played with headphones as you need to listen carefully to the sound of traffic or other possible hazards and simply move left or right in the hopes of avoiding a quick death, though you do get three lives.
I’m not sure how long the final game will be and whether it will be punctuated with calmer moments, but even playing just a few minutes and surviving about a kilometre before inevitably crashing and burning, it’s already an experience that’s had my heart racing, perhaps more so than a VR game.
Coming soon to PC, Mac, iOS and Android.