EGX 2018 – Highights

A roundup of our favourites from a jam-packed EGX 2018.

This year’s EGX may not have boasted the AAA titles we were all hoping for, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t awesomeness to be found on the show floor. Honestly, the absence of games such as Anthem was probably a good thing. Instead of spending the entire event queueing, we instead got to play some gems, and we’ve highlighted our absolute favourites below.

  1. Soundfall

A beautiful fusion of two of the best things in life, Soundfall matches euphoric bass-heavy tunes to action-packed dungeon crawling in vivid, colourful top-down environments. If ever an entire videogame could be described as ‘catchy’, then this is it.

Created by veterans from Epic Games (the studio responsible for Fortnite), the game sees a young audiophile named Melody transported to the world of Symphonia, where a great darkness, Discord, threatens to destroy the realm. Not only is the aim to reach the exit of the dungeon before the song finishes, a task that’s surprisingly difficult, but players must also time movements precisely to the song’s beat. Doing so ensures attacks are at their strongest or traversal across certain spaces is possible. The challenge can be undertaken solo or with up to three co-op partners, and is highly addictive as the craving for perfection takes hold.

The satisfaction that accompanies achieving that 100% completion of a dungeon is insurmountable, even more so when shared with friends. There’s nothing quite like smashing your way to victory in perfect synchronicity.

  1. GRIP

Having played Rollcage back in the late nineties Tim was especially intrigued by GRIP. Much like Wipeout or F-Zero, its frantic, fast and frenetic races across bombastic circuits were arguably the greatest adrenaline rush available at EGX. We’re pretty sure that this game adversely affected our blood pressure as we each had a go, especially on the ‘wild’ engine power – this moves too fast for me to physically be able to process with only one functional eye, so I sat that out.

No race is unwinnable, with the chance of a monumental change in race position possible at every second. Players can start out in first place, crash and drop to tenth and crawl back to achieve a top three finish in the space of half a lap. This, in part, is one thing that sets GRIP apart from other racing games. Being good at this game isn’t an outright necessity, which gives those of us that love racers but suck terribly at them a chance. The handling is superb with tight and responsive controls, and the cars have definitive weight behind them, even when flipping spectacularly through the air (which happened a lot).

GRIP is due for release early November, and you can bet we’ll be picking up a copy.

  1. Dead End Job

If your dream job as a kid was to be a Ghostbuster then you’re in luck, because this is exactly what you’ll do when taking on this dead end job! (*tacky pun klaxon*).

With an art style heavily inspired by 90s cartoons such as Ren & Stimpy and Spongebob Squarepants, twin-stick shooter Dead End Job brings a good dose of British sarcasm to delightfully smashable environments as Hector Plasm, Ghostbuster extraordinaire, sucks up the spooks from a variety of locations. The trick is to always keep moving: it’s too easy to get hemmed into the corner and ganged up on by ghosts, projectiles and ectoplasm. Hector can earn gear or ability upgrades as he’s promoted through the ranks, such as shoes that allow him to walk through ectoplasm without being slowed or better aim accuracy. Occasionally, Hector will have to fight more powerful (and pun-tastic) spooks such as the ZX Spectre, who have their own movement patterns and attacks to dodge. Much like Ghostbusters, Hector also puts every item he destroys on the invoice, encouraging players to literally destroy everything – sometimes there’s even cash inside boxes or desks!

Undeniably the best part is that finally, after so many years, players finally get the chance to beat up something so aggravating we all tore our hair out: Clippy the Microsoft Office Assistant.

  1. Catastronauts

AKA Overcooked: Space Edition But Without the Food.

What could be worse than being attacked whilst minding your own business as you’re venturing through outer space? Well, try having the enemy’s laser blasts putting cracks into your floors, them teleporting bombs into various rooms and maintaining the shockingly poor battery-life of your guns (whilst everything is probably on fire, including you). Oh, by the way, sometimes you might have to take refuge from massive solar flares (again, probably whilst you’re all on fire).

That’s exactly what we experienced when playing Catastronauts. Clearly inspired by the hectic hilarity of Overcooked, up to four players work cooperatively to maintain the ship while under attack. Much like its inspiration, many levels restrict player movement meaning objects like batteries or fire-extinguishers must be teleported from one side to the other. Presumably not repairing cracks causes decompression, though as our ship was usually destroyed by fire or flares first, we didn’t experience this. This game elicited the biggest laughs of the show for us, and is out now on PC, PS4 and Xbox One, with a Switch release in the near future.

  1. Beyond Blue

Effectively meditation in gaming form, Beyond Blue takes the award for ‘most relaxing game at the show’. Swimming beneath the surface of several different oceanic biomes, marine biologist Mirai documents and observes sea life, namely a pod of sperm whales.

Beyond Blue is developed in partnership with the award-winning BBC documentary Blue Planet II, so the game feels a lot like a playable documentary. Even though there are more heart-pounding moments and encounters, players don’t have to worry about running out of oxygen and therefore suffocating in an underwater cave which takes much of the tension out of the experience. Sea creatures can be scanned to obtain information about them, from size and weight to their behaviour patterns. When it’s impractical for Mirai to reach locations herself, she retreats to her submarine and operates a stealthy drone instead, disguised as a sea creature.

This is a game that’s not a game, it’s a learning experience. It’s a chance to explore the oceans and celebrate the life within it whilst also raising a degree of awareness about how precious this life is. An educational tool that’s useable in schools is potentially in the pipeline, containing more unseen content from Blue Planet. We really hope this will become standard in school, seeing as gaming is such an interactive and immersive media.

  1. The Endless Mission

Without a doubt the most ambitious game at the show, The Endless Mission truly lives up to its name – this unfortunately makes the game unbelievably difficult to quickly summarise.

There is a story mode, where players explore the Terminal, a hub containing portals to different game genres. The demo contained real-time strategy (RTS) where players had to survive invasion by a zombie horde, a futuristic-looking kart racer and a platformer similar in aesthetic to Spyro. However, it’s the creation mode where the game’s ambition truly lies, and boy is it immense.

A barebones version of this creation mode was available in the demo, showing off the potential of the software but also sensibly restricting what was possible. Players could mash together aspects of the three levels available: to give an example, Tim played the kart racer but in the platforming level’s map, driving through the colourful volcanic island instead of the track. The parameters of each level is entirely customisable, so players can also do what Tim did in his RTS mashup and up the health and strength of his own side so as to bulldoze the opposition (it’s not cheating if the game mechanics literally allow it!) The final release will have the opportunity to modify everything. That’s no exaggeration.

Destined to snap at the heels of the Minecraft market, The Endless Mission celebrates total open creativity, with community-created levels to be shared and displayed in the Terminal’s ‘Hall of Celebration’. The Endless Mission truly left us reeling with its staggering potential for community driven creations, and the fostering of an interest in game development to boot.

  1. Kingdom Hearts III

After thirteen years of waiting, it’s finally here.

Beautiful beyond measure, Kingdom Hearts III is a graphical masterpiece, matching and often surpassing the visuals of Pixar movies past. This comes as no surprise, given that both companies have a reputation for exceptional visuals and top quality vocal performances (Final Fantasy X aside). Being able to play in the settings of our favourite Disney movies is inspiring, and running around Andy’s bedroom floor alongside Woody, Buzz, Rex and Hamm delighted our inner kid.

With a plot likely to be so convoluted it would make Hideo Kojima blush, Kingdom Hearts returns triumphantly to PS4 and Xbox One next year to confound and utterly delight us.

  1. Disco Elysium

Nihilistic, darkly hilarious and utterly compelling, Disco Elysium presents an alternative world that is difficult to describe, yet fantastically captivating.

Not-quite cyberpunk, not-quite noir, this RPG thriller has its policeman protagonist waking up from a drunken coma, with no memory at all of who he is, creating the perfect blank slate for the player – blank slate is somewhat literal, as the player can genuinely play through the story without any clothes on (Tim’s detective wore only one shoe, whereas when I played at Rezzed earlier this year, mine had no shirt). However, with a decomposing body hanging from a tree, the detective must team up with an officer from another precinct to solve the case and unravel the mysterious world he’s found himself in. To compound matters, the detective has his own mind and body to contend with as they provide a running commentary of what’s going on inside him.

A point-and-click RPG, Disco Elysium is beautifully presented on luscious pre-rendered backgrounds. Interaction with people and full exploration of environments is simple but incredibly in-depth, with important objects painfully easy to miss. Certain inquiries can also be failed if the relative trait is not high enough, such as empathy. These traits can be upgraded, but players can also choose an archetype to start with dependent on the type of personality they wish to foster.

Suffice it to say that this game is absorbing. After what felt like ten or fifteen minutes I looked at my phone to discover we missed our next appointment by half an hour, because that ‘fifteen minutes’ was actually one-and-a-half hours! The world, its characters and environments are so immersive that we totally lost track of time, and if that’s not the sign of an absolute winner then I don’t know what is.

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EGX 2018 AKA That Time *Tim* Didn’t Meet His Favourite YouTubers

This time it was Tim’s turn for fate to intervene and render him unable to meet his heroes.

On the whole I think I did really well in preparing myself for EGX this year, and by that I mean I didn’t make the mistake of moving house the day before (0/10, would not recommend). Instead, Tim and I made the drive up to Birmingham on Wednesday afternoon and spent a relaxed night watching Stranger Things in our awesome Airbnb. However, thanks to the apparent herd of elephants rearranging furniture above us at all hours of the morning we still spent day one wandering around in a sleep-deprived daze fuelled  nly by caffeine, as any good writer should be.

Tim’s last venture to EGX was several years ago, when the show was still held at Earl’s Court. He felt that whilst the range of games available at the NEC was preferable, Earl’s Court was definitely better in terms of location, lighting and atmosphere. He describes EGX 2018 as less of a celebration of awesome games, but more of a ‘here is the thing to see, so queue for the thing and see it’.

Honestly, I agree with him (as does the consensus of many comments from members of the public on social media). Everything felt a little flat this year, with the only real electrifying buzz present in the Rezzed section. Too much empty space, too much annoyance at what wasn’t on the show floor which, to be fair to the frustrated, was a lot.

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Enjoying some Atari Star Wars nostaliga in the Retro Zone

Despite this, the event was still packed with talks and panels, meet-and-greets, livestreams and shows, a show floor boasting 265 titles to choose from and many a merchandise stand – the hot favourite seemed to be the merch booth devoted entirely to memes, much to Tim’s despair (I’m happy to say that I adore my new coaster emblazoned with the ‘guess I’ll die’ meme, though it would be better if accompanied by a Picard-facepalm mug).

There’s a laundry list of games we didn’t get to play, which is pretty standard. Of that list, the one we’re most bummed about missing is Metro Exodus. This was the title everyone seemed to want to play, as even on Thursday the queue was insane. By the time Sunday rolled around the queues were several rows deep and probably a good four hour wait. Sadly, we’ll have to wait for its February release to play it, and I’ll make do with my copy of Metro Redux to tide me over until then.

We did get to sample plenty of other titles, however, and as usual it was the Rezzed section where we found the true gems of the show. The standout for both Tim and I was Soundfall, a dungeon crawler set to awesomely catchy music where the objective wasn’t just to reach the exit before the song finished, but also to match attacks and other movements to the beat. Playable in single-player as well as co-op (how Tim and I played) it proved an immense challenge but hugely rewarding when we managed to sync up and fight monsters in unison.

Another gem was a game I enjoyed at Rezzed back in April. Dead End Job is a bright and cartoony romp where our hero Hector makes his living busting ghosts. Packed full of witty humour, sarcasm and atrocious puns (which are the best kind of puns) it’s a hugely enjoyable bit of harmless fun to laugh at. As Tim pointed out, it was a joy to play a genuinely funny game in a climate of serious, hard-hitting titles.

Tim’s choice for game-I-must-play-at-this-show was the much-anticipated Kingdom Hearts III. Despite me being as much of a Disney nut as he is I never managed to get on with the franchise, though I am tempted to dig out my PS2 and give the first one another bash. We both played the Toy Story level – the other one available was Hercules – and our resident aficionado reckoned it in some cases surpassed the Pixar original. He regretted spending too much of the allotted time watching the cutscenes, but the gameplay he did experience was “wonderfully fluid” and left him wanting to get right back into the action and immerse himself in the game’s wondrousness.

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It is not the Keyblade which is giant, is it Tim who is tiny

Having sold my soul to the Assassin’s Creed franchise, it was inevitable that we would queue for the demo of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, due for release on 5th October. I was afraid that it would be Origins 2.0, same game but different skins, and in a way… I was right. I did spend far too long on the conquest mission, where I was repeatedly killed in battle, as was Tim. We both came away somewhat frustrated, not just at being unable to beat enough enemies but at our own decision to stick with the one mission for far too long, thus leaving us feeling as though we hadn’t really experienced the demo at all. Much like Metro, the only thing we can do is wait for release and see if it lives up to expectations (especially mine).

From violence to catharsis: Beyond Blue. Developed in partnership with BBC’s Blue Planet, the game sees players controlling marine biologist Mirai as she swims through ocean biomes, studying marine life either first hand or using a small drone piloted from her submarine. It’s therapeutic, it’s relaxing, it’s a wonderful educational tool to teach the world about the marvels of the ocean and what lies beneath its surface.

I’m ashamed to say I didn’t spend as much time as I would’ve liked in the Nintendo area, seeing as how much I love my Switch (and the three games I have been able to afford for it so far!). With Diablo III: The Eternal Collection releasing soon for Switch I was particularly eager to play it, whilst Tim checked out Broken Sword 5 for a few minutes. I have to say that Diablo is a game which requires the Switch to be docked to the TV for the best experience. The world is so detailed, so intricate, and so very, very dark that it’s difficult to both see and appreciate on a six-inch screen; this is worse for me, being visually impaired.

Regardless of us feeling rushed off our feet by the end of day four, EGX this year felt a little empty. I attribute that in part to us not going to any of the talks or stopping by the live stage to watch some gameplay for instance. Deciding whether to sacrifice time on the show floor where one could be gaming – or stocking up on memes – to watch a developer session, or queue for a meet & greet is a hefty tradeoff, especially if there’s something one is itching to see.

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Disabled gamers’ charity SpecialEffect showcasing the EyeMine eye-tracking software

We both would have liked to have gone to see PlayStation Access’s Cyberpunk 2020 livestream on the Saturday evening, but Tim had to work that day and therefore missed the show and the opportunity to meet his favourite YouTubers – it didn’t feel right going without him. We did decide that maybe we’d try to catch them to say hi the following day but sadly, seeing as we had almost twice the amount to do on the Sunday, this didn’t come to pass either. It’s a shame too because I had chosen that day to wear my Outside Xbox t-shirt and I wanted to rock up and be like “hello, I come emblazoned with the merchandise of your frenemies!”

Because I’m the lamest person ever and in all of my twenty-five years I’ve never experienced a proper pinball machine, Tim had me testing my mettle at Iron Maiden pinball. I’m pleased to report that I don’t think I was terrible at it, although the ball did end up getting lost somewhere in the bowels of the machine, which brought my play session to an abrupt end. Considering I’ve only ever played good ol’ Windows space pinball (with its ear-bleeding SFX) I’m chuffed with the result.

Leaving at the end of day four was a relief. Our feet hurt, our legs ached, our eyes were heavy. And yet, as we stood in the mile-long queue for coffee at Starbucks before starting our journey back home, we started the countdown to Rezzed 2019. Indie titles blew us away this year, and we are very much looking forward to a whole event full of crazy creativity and passionate developers this coming April.

And now to sign off with the customary thanks; to EGX, to the devs and the publishers, to Tim who took it upon himself to drive to Birmingham and back, to the baristas at Starbucks who caffeinated us. To the Very Good Doggos who kept us safe and who absolutely need to be employee of the month, for all the months, forever. Thank you, and goodnight. We’ll see you again next year.

(I would like to request more dogs next year. Just, all the dogs. Dogs.)