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.)

EGX 2017: AKA The Time I Actually DID Meet My Favourite YouTubers

The story of sleep deprivation, great games and how I almost fled when faced with my faves.

Quick PSA to start off with: regardless of whether the distance is less than a mile, under no circumstances decide it’s a good idea to move house unassisted the day before a taxing, four-day event.

Perhaps if I hadn’t been a total idiot to do just that I wouldn’t have struggled so much, having closed my new front door a mere two hours before I needed to leave for Birmingham on Thursday. A chronic sufferer of insomnia, I am accustomed to completing a variety of activities without sleep from simply popping to the supermarket to snowboard lessons, but I was dead on my feet by lunchtime.

It’s a real shame my first day was something of a write-off; this was my first experience of EGX, with me being either unavailable or simply unable to spare the funds in the years prior. Being only a fraction of the size of gamescom, even at its busiest EGX still felt like navigating St Pancras during the off-peak hours, as opposed to facing the stampede that killed Mufasa. Regardless, trying to find a place to sit that wasn’t the floor could be a challenge, and one could face a long wait for the games with as few as a single monitor.

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Mario Rabbid from the Kingdom Battle booth

The last time I was at the NEC was 2011 when I attended Girlguiding UK’s Big Gig with my unit (ironically also one day before a house move, although this was my parents moving me to university halls, rather than me moving alone into a one-bed flat). This, however, took place in the arena rather than the exhibition centre, so the place was utterly foreign to me – a challenge for anyone, let alone the visually impaired. EGX didn’t appear to be signposted either, you really do need to know where you are going (fortunately I ran into a group of lads who were also looking at the nearest hall directory in bewilderment, so it wasn’t just me).

Despite its relatively small size, it’s an event that would still be difficult to experience in one day, and I’m feeling a bit sad that I had decided to leave a day early and miss the Sunday. With a plethora of video games – this includes a large retro gaming zone – and board games on offer, there is plenty of choice in what to play (some might argue a bit too much choice). I only managed a fraction of the games on my list.

I’m still trying to work out my comfortable number of demo slots and interviews, so this time I only had four – I will point out that a fair few devs I approached simply said ‘oh cool, just come along and play, and we’ll have a chat’ rather than offering me an actual slot, which is absolutely fine. Typically I had the two trickiest on day one, the day where I had almost zero brain function. QUBE 2, which I demoed at Rezzed, was first on my list, although being a newer build, showcasing the very start of the game rather than a much later stage with far trickier puzzles, I found myself having much more success with it than last time.

Shift Quantum was the other appointment for that day, and hands down one of my highlights of the event. A side-scrolling platformer, players must use the ‘shift’ mechanic to get to the level’s exit by reversing the level’s colours: to put it simply, black-on-white become white-on-black, although this also flips the level map. It’s this shift mechanic that allows the player to traverse across ledges that were previously just free space, or drop down a gap that was previously a wall. It’s a game that truly requires some outside-of-the-box thinking, and is an excellent stimulator for those brains that enjoy being bent into an intricate pretzel.

I checked out as soon as I had roughly typed some notes into Word on my iPad, promptly taking a cab to my hotel and passing out within minutes of being shown to my room; the fifteen minute journey from the station to the hotel was a battle to remain conscious – I sort of wished I bought my roll of duct tape with me so I could tape my eyelids open.

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Liv experiencing life as a house mouse

Feeling much more refreshed on Wednesday morning, I made a beeline for the Assassin’s Creed Origins booth where I took my place in the queue (where I met two awesome new friends!), wondering if I was going to be chivvied away at the same point I was at gamescom. Happily, I can report that definitely wasn’t the case: after the end of the mission we played in Germany we were allowed to play for a while longer, giving me the chance to test the mechanics of the game a bit more and explore the new skill tree, which is extensive and fully aimed at tailoring Bayek’s abilities to the playstyle of the individual.

Wednesday also saw my best friend come up for the day, partly to hang out with me but also partly to support a mutual friend and his game My Last Son, showcased with the National Film and Television School. With Liv not really being a gamer, I was somewhat worried she would find the day a drag, but fortunately this wasn’t the case, with her finding enjoyment in a few games, including fellow NFTS title House Mouse VR, wherein she played a house mouse attempting to bring food back to his home, whilst avoiding the family cat.

Her primary objective, however, was to meet Outside Xbox/Xtra, which she did manage to do whilst I was away playing Lake Ridden, an unsettling and mysterious first-person puzzler involving a thirteen-year-old girl attempting to find her sister in an eerie garden. It’s a game I’m sure I could spend hours on; it does very little in the way of hand-holding, requiring you to search every nook and cranny for clues or components to solve puzzles. Whilst the puzzles featured in the demo – noth the press-only level and the public demo – weren’t overly fiendish, they did require a fair amount of exploration. Thus, the sense of achievement upon completion is significant.

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The stage is set for an epic battle of the channels

Much like gamescom, Saturday was my proper ‘hardcore gaming’ day so I did just that, playing as much as I could in the limited time I had. Whilst I did play a bit of Metroid: Samus Returns, and my final game of EGX 2017 was a crack at the levels of Ni No Kuni II I hadn’t played at Bandai Namco’s press junket in July – read my colleague’s write-up of that here – I focused primarily on the indie and NFTS titles, which ranged from the more standard to the downright bizarre. Purrfect Date, a game where you effectively date a cat, springs to mind. (My ‘date’ ended in irritation on my part, but seeing as I ‘dated’ a cat named Snooty Booty, I’m not shocked).

My penultimate stop was (predictably) the inaugural Showdown of the Week at the EGX Theatre, which involved Ellen failing to correctly guess Luke’s favourite dinosaur, Andy gradually becoming more evil the longer he wore his top hat, plenty of gratuitous violence and terrible charades (sorry Mike), with Outside Xtra ultimately securing the coveted trophy with a landslide win via the cheer-o-meter.

My one appointment for Saturday was with the Square Enix Collective where I demoed puzzler The Turing Test – a game that’s effectively a cross between Portal and The Talos Principle, both of which I love – eerie point-and-click adventure Goetia and cartoony brawler Deadbeat Heroes. Deadbeat Heroes would be my pick for ‘game that I enjoyed more than I expected to’. Brawlers aren’t usually my cup of tea but the action is just so zany and addictive that it’s hard not to try and try and try again if you fail (which is easy, because the later levels in the demo were HARD).

However, all of the above pales in comparison with my true highlight of EGX 2017 as a whole. Six months after being only five people from the front of the queue at their meet & greet, I finally got to meet Outside Xbox/Xtra.

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Note Luke’s split legs to reduce his height

Having failed to drum up the courage to join the meet & greet queues alone, the conflict about attending the session with Liv by my side was real. Being an incredibly anxious person and not having any chewing gum on me – my staple for fighting anxiety attacks – I did feel secretly glad that I would’ve had to duck out of the queue for my 3pm appointment, seeing as it took Liv until gone 3:30pm to reach the front.

Skip forward an hour or so, when we’re collecting Liv’s suitcase from the cloakroom. Call it a moment of pure serendipity, but just as we were starting to make our way back towards the entrance to the hall, I go to nudge my way past a stationary group and almost walk straight into Andy.

I’m going to throw up my hands and admit that, as pure panic gripped me, I actually turned on my heel to sprint as fast as I could in the opposite direction (complete with arms flailing behind me like noodles). I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a strong instinct to flee, not even as I was wheeled to theatre for my radiotherapy. Liv, ever the excellent wingman, promptly cornered them and did the introductions as I tried not to collapse. (Kudos to Mike for using my snowboarding as a conversation starter because otherwise I can’t guarantee that I would’ve been enough at ease to speak in coherent sentences).

I suppose all there is left to do now is say a million thanks. Thanks to EGX for having me once again, and thanks for being such an awesome experience for my first venture representing my own website. Thanks to all the devs for your incredible talent and dedication to this industry. Thanks to Liv for being a Top Wingman (and just generally Top Friend). Thanks to Outside Xbox/Xtra for a bunch of stuff I’ve already thanked you profusely for, but not least for being awesome, kind and hugely entertaining.

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Appropriate attire for the Gratuitous Violence phase

Now to while away the time before Rezzed, very impatiently. It’s only seven months, I’m sure that’ll be enough time to finish a game or two…