On the 27th and the 28th of September 2013, Callie Petch attended the Eurogamer Expo with the intention of playing as many games and attending as many panels as they could stand standing in lines for. The following posts chronicle their adventures…
I thought I’d close my coverage of the 2013 Eurogamer Expo by talking relatively in-depth about two games that I loved playing at the Expo almost unconditionally. In fact, along with Octodad: Dadliest Catch you could pretty much put these down as my Games Of The Show, for whatever my seal of Expo-based approval is worth (compare and contrast my Expo experience with Beyond: Two Souls and that of the finished product, for example).
British developer Media Molecule are, in my opinion, great at two things: creating fantastic and unique visual aesthetics for their games that perfectly evoke that kind of childlike imagination and wonder that all but the most sh*tty of childhoods imprinted upon all of us, and creating a great set of crafting tools for the player to be able to go off and easily create levels that surpass those that Media Molecule themselves create. And therein lies the rub; MM are great are making designs and crafting tools, but they’re still yet to get this whole game-play thing down. I have always said that LittleBigPlanet is only worth it due to the community levels because the main levels suffer from overly floaty controls, a lack of fun and a lack of imagination in the actual design of the levels. Playing the main game of either LittleBigPlanet, to me, has always felt like a chore.
Which may explain my complete surprise at just how good Tearaway is, because this game is more than just a pretty face that teaches arts and crafts for Primary School kids. Fun, tight controls, great usage of the console’s unique control scheme; these are all words and phrases that I would never apply to LittleBigPlanet’s single-player yet I can more than confidently tie them to Tearaway. Levels are rather simple in design, from what I played (which seemed to be the first level, admittedly), but the tighter controls make platforming less of a chore. I didn’t even unlock the ability to jump until about 3/4 of my way through the demo, but it felt weighty and I could accurately judge distances thanks to jump strength without having to worry about the controls forcibly overshooting me from my intended platform. But even if I did fall, for whatever reason, the game’s extremely generous checkpoints (which appear at almost every single jump, regardless of its difficulty) and lack of an arbitrary “lives” system would set me straight back on the path again, minimising frustration.
Making the act of traversing around the world slightly more complex are the integration of the Vita’s various touch controls. However, the mechanics are both very simple and fun to use and built into the world itself. The back touchpad, when tapped, can be used to springboard you up to higher locations if you’re standing on certain djembe-sounding platforms. Hidden presents containing more collectable items are opened by you physically unwrapping the bow from the present with the touch-screen. At one point, a character in the environment asked me to craft him a new paper crown and I think I wasted about 10 minutes using my fingers to cut, fold and shape a nice little crown to fit on his cute little head. I have had limited time with the Vita, it has to be said (I may end up redressing that mistake at Christmas if I get one), but this game is by far the best I have played when it comes to utilising the handheld’s touch controls. After the game taught me the mechanics, not once did tapping the touchpad to time jumps or switching to the touchscreen to open a present feel weird or unnatural. It felt right.
Then, complimenting the gameplay, we have the wondrous art-style. The arts and crafts, almost paper-machè aesthetic, occasionally borrowing from stop-motion animation as well, is endlessly charming. It’s both simple, in terms that there are rough edges and a lot of the world looks like it’s hanging on purely by a big dollop of glue in the right place, and complex, in just how detailed the world is. It’s full, full of life, and it looks absolutely gorgeous! There’s charm coming out of every single section of the game’s world, the oft-glimpsed sun is actually your face (you know, like in Teletubbies) as the Vita’s front-camera is recording your every moment with the game, and it helps paper over any possible issues. There may be frame-rate drops or stiff animations, sometimes. I wouldn’t know, because those platforms are retracting and unfurling in such a ramshackle stop-motion manner that I’m honestly completely unsure as to where the game’s deliberate design choices end and performance issues begin! That’s how well this game’s aesthetic works!
So it seems that finally, finally, Media Molecule have managed to create a stellar game to go with their stellar aesthetic and customisation tools. From my relatively extended hands-on time with it, I can already tell that Tearaway is something very special. A 3D platformer that, though simple, manages to leave its mark by having rock solid mechanics and enough charm to make up for a 100% lack of Stephen Fry. I feel that, along with Persona 4 Golden, Tearaway should most definitely be one of the very first games I buy when I pick up a Vita. For once, my love of a Media Molecule world doesn’t have to be shared with my dislike of its subpar gameplay.
Time to close out my Expo coverage with, coincidentally, the last game I played at the Expo, Ubisoft’s recently delayed next-gen driving game The Crew. When the game was revealed at E3, I frequently kept referencing it as “Fast & Furious: The Game” (no, there was not a real Fast & Furious game released about six months back, shut up); as it turns out, that’s really not far from the truth. The demo was split into two chunks, a five-minute pre-job segment where each of us four drivers were dropped off in separate ends of the United States of America and basically given the lay of the land to complete challenges and get used to driving for a while, and a second segment where we were all teleported together to Miami to perform a job that involved taking down a drug cartel’s 4×4.
Co-op is so smooth and natural that I didn’t even notice it was going on until the end of the first game I watched (the booth was pretty busy, as it turned out) and the results screen flashed up. I had just assumed that the other crewmates I saw were AI drivers, considering how stupid they were, but nope! The game didn’t make a big fuss of the whole co-op aspect until the job was finished; it leaves it up to you as to whether you want to work with your teammates or attempt to hog the glory for yourself. Some games had two or three players constantly hounding the target and working together to box him in effectively, others had crewmates battling each other just as much as they were battling their target. Though you’re a crew, the game ranks you individually, almost as if it’s trying to foster a competitive spirit amongst a supposedly harmonious crew. It worked, alright; that sense of camaraderie combined with the unpredictable “winner takes all” tweak made the job huge amounts of fun and watching others play the game was almost as much fun, too!
In fact, that rather unique feel (far more so than in other team-based games) helped counter out some of my various issues with The Crew elsewhere. Handling was less floaty than in Driver: San Francisco (developer Ubisoft Reflections’ last game) but felt worse, somehow. There was something about the driving that I didn’t like, yet I can’t quite put my finger on what that was; more play time was definitely needed on that front. Crashes, of which there were many (both friendly and from accidentally veering into a tree due to my target turning at the last possible moment), lacked any kind of visual oomph and it was too easy to regain lost ground to my target by spamming the appears-more-frequently-than-you’d-expect “back on track” button, which took some of the challenge out of things. The game does look superb, though, with Miami looking especially radiant and postcard quality and cars rarely looking more… er… car-like, in a good way. But before you hear me finally jumping aboard the “next-gen games look amazing” train, I should mention that the demo stalls were running on high-end PCs, so I get the feeling that graphical quality of this kind is quite common nowadays.
But in any case, The Crew, despite the relative lack of time I got with it (although 10 minutes turned out to be longer than average for a demo at the Expo, this year), was very good fun and is already living up to my expectations (really, it just needed to feel like a Fast & Furious game and not be sh*t for me to be sold). The recent delay to Q3 2014 (which I wasn’t in the slightest bit surprised by, seeing as that’s when I thought it was coming out anyway) should give the game the polishing time that it needs to iron out those kinks that are holding it back from being an unreservedly great drive-em-up. The co-op is rather unique yet unobtrusive, the map is filled to the brim with little challenges and stuff to do, all it needs is to hold its own when it comes to the act of driving and The Crew could become quite the little time-sink if it hits your wavelength like it does mine.
And so ends my coverage of the Eurogamer Expo for 2013. Hopefully, if everything doesn’t go arse-ways up in the next 11 months, I’ll be back here next year to do it all over again. Thanks for reading along, folks!
Callie Petch has got a lot to not do, can they do it with you?