By – Michael Westgarth (Freelance Video Game Columnist)

Rezzed 2014 Review

The first of Eurogamer’s rebranded EGX Rezzed events has come and gone.  There was much to see, plenty of indie developers to speak with and myriad games waiting to be played.  But who was on form and who should have been quietly escorted off the premises?  Find out as we look at the Best and Worst of EGX Rezzed 2014!

Sony (The Best)

The first in our list of the best EGX Rezzed offerings is a bit of a cheat. Sony wasn’t necessarily showcasing their own products, instead acting as a representative for a large variety of PlayStation 4 and PS Vita indie games.  Nevertheless, these Sony funded displays were the home to many non-Sony exclusive indie titles such as Luftrauser, Hohokum, Hotline Miami 2, Octodad: Dadliest Catch, OllieOllie, and many more that might not have appeared at EGX Rezzed without Sony’s help.

TPG readers are fully aware of the wonderful work that has come from the indie dev scene.  They’re also likely aware of the bright video game future that lies in wait for any publisher willing to handle indie devs properly.  So it’s really encouraging that Sony, despite being a console manufacturer, is so invested in incorporating indie games as a main feature of their current generation of hardware.  Hopefully this’ll result in indie devs receiving increased exposure and funding, which in turns means high quality indie titles on the PC video game market. Nice one, Sony!

FunStock (The Best)

Everyone loves retro games, so that’s why it was such a nice surprise to see the sheer variety within Rezzed’s retro gaming section, organised by British retro game console dealer FunStock.  Not only did it feature the usual classics (Sonic the Hedgehog, Mega Man, Pitfall) but it also had a variety of PC offerings such as the original Half-Life, Counter Strike and a comprehensive range of vintage home computers including the BBC Micro, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and many computers in the Atari XE and XL series.  Speaking of vintage computers, FunStock were also giving out printed crash courses in BBC Micro programming.  The chunky old computer was commonplace in British schools during the mid-to-late eighties and so the FunStock’s instructions offered a particularly British trip down memory lane for the slightly older EGX Rezzed visitors.  Oh, and listening to parents explain to their kids how games used to come on cassette tapes was entertainment in and of itself.

But perhaps the best part, aside from getting rowdy over Street Fighter II matches, was watching younger gamers get a kick out of video games three times as old as they are.  Nostalgia is great for retro gamers, but sometimes it’s nice to let the younger generation have a crack at our favourite hobby, and FunStock’s retro gaming section allowed EGX Rezzed visitors to do just that.

Super Piñata Pro

Super Piñata Pro (The Best)

EGX Rezzed’s Leftfield Collection was a wonderful opportunity to talk with up-and-coming, European indie devs and to play their interesting new games, the vast majority of which were really quite good.  It may seem unfair to pluck just one indie game from Rezzed’s sea of creative underground titles, but if one had to be chosen, it’d have to be Super Piñata Pro, developed by Edd Parris a.k.a Empika.

Just download the game (it’s free), grab a friend, plug in some controllers and let the fun begin.  Super Piñata Pro requires no explanation as the concept is so simple: whoever breaks open the piñata wins.  But as play progresses, additional mechanics and slightly deeper strategies come to light.  For example, the piñata has a “life bar”, meaning that a sneaky player could let their opponent wear down the piñata to low health before swooping in like a candy-gobbling eagle to get the kill.  Unlike conventional piñata smashing gatherings, opponents in Super Piñata Pro are free to beat the living daylights out of each other, filling up their “special bar” in the process – which can enable a super strong special hit.

Super Piñata Pro is a simple game, but when you’ve spent all day on your feet, dodging crowds and wiping the sweat from your brow, it’s nice to sit down and beat your friends with a pixelated baseball bat.  From the extremely retro graphics, to the strangely aggressive poses of the game’s characters, Super Piñata Pro was a very simple idea that was expertly executed – the true hidden gem of EGX Rezzed.

Wasteland 2 (The Worst)

There’s some games that work well in a crowded, noisy, gaming expo environments, and some that do not – Wasteland 2 falls into the second category.  Now before you get your knickers in a twist, the snippet of Wasteland 2 that was available to play was really rather good, but it didn’t suit the environment developer inXile Entertainment was asking EGX Rezzed visitors to play in. Wasteland 2 is a slow, strategic game that takes patience and a logical mind to conquer.  So when you’re trying to position your gang of post-apocalyptic wasteland adventurers in order to attain a tactical advantage over a band of desert punks, having some kids going nuts behind you over Pokémon isn’t helpful.

It’s equally difficult to create a group of original characters and explore their individual traits and attributes while a Divekick tournament can be seen in the corner of your eye.  The full demo wasn’t particularly short either and clocked in at well over 45 minutes.  Under normal circumstances this would only have been a good thing, but playing while sitting on a hard plastic stool, using a worryingly sticky mouse and keyboard, along with a pair of greasy headphones, made the experience all the more uncomfortable.

That’s not to say that other games at EGX Rezzed didn’t suffer from the same problem.  The strategy game Stronghold Crusaders 2 and point-and-click adventure Gods Will Be Watching come to mind as too great demos that were difficult to get into in expo conditions.  But the Wasteland 2 demo, being as lengthy and complex as it was, definitely came off the worst.

Rezzed 2014 Review

Alien Isolation (The Worst)

“Okay, now listen closely. What I have to tell you will make the difference between life or death!” came the overenthusiastic, jarringly British voice over that played while queuing at Sega’s Alien: Isolation booth – or something to that effect.  Although Sega had clearly spent more than any company at EGX Rezzed on setting up and staffing their booth, one couldn’t help but be overcome by the sheer cheesiness of it all.

Remember the waiting rooms for those those ridiculous “4D” rides that populated theme parks in the 90s?  Where a mad scientists would pop up on a television and brief you on the amazing adventure on which you were about to embark? Yeah, waiting for Alien: Isolation was a bit like that, except kids weren’t allowed.  Sega had even set up dry ice machines and green stage lights set up to give the Alien: Isolation booth that authentic… haunted house feel…?

As for the game, it was alright. Developer Creative Assembly have put a lot of effort into recreating the retro-futuristic feel of the original Alien film. Desks are littered with polaroids, old school toys and chunky computer keyboards. It all very nice to look at and appropriately atmospheric until the alien itself appears.  The key thing about tension-building horror is the importance of what can’t be seen, however Alien: Isolation’s lumbering creature makes no effort to hide itself and instead paces around making the same old noises it’s been making for the last 30 years.  But yeah, that booth, geez.

Microsoft (The Worst)

The previous criticisms in our whimsical list of sub-par EGX Rezzed showings say more of the silly environments developers/publishers expect visitors to play in rather than the games themselves. Microsoft on the other hand genuinely dropped the ball with its quite frankly embarrassing offering: Xbox 360s running FIFA 14 and a Titanfall tournament.

An exhibition hall full to the brim of exciting and creative new PC and indie games, many of which were being represented by their direct rival Sony, and all Microsoft could offer in competition were two games, one of which was running on last-gen hardware.  Now that’s not to say that Titanfall and FIFA 14 are bad games, but they’re hardly titles in need of a marketing boost, especially at an indie-focused expo.  It’s no secret that Microsoft have run into some corporate image issues over the last year or so: Windows 8’s disastrous launch and subsequent mouse acceleration issues, last year’s “always online” Xbox One fiasco, Microsoft’s co-operation with the NSA’s controversial Prism program to name a few.

More recently Microsoft have been criticized by gamers and developers for their restrictive policies regarding indie devs and self-publishing on the Xbox One. In fact, the very first indie game to be self-published under Microsoft’s new “ID@Xbox” scheme, Strike Suit Zero: Director’s Cut, was released only a few days ago, so why wasn’t that at EGX Rezzed?  The expo offered Microsoft an opportunity to add a “humanized” angle to their patchy image.  But instead of showing visitors how they intended to cultivate the video game industry via new titles and indie games, Microsoft just used EGX Rezzed to shove Titanfall in our faces some more.

Oh and FIFA 14. On Xbox 360…

Rezzed 2014 Review

Conclusion

As you might have guessed, most of the worst offenders at EGX Rezzed (barring Microsoft) really weren’t that bad.  Conversely, it was very difficult to pick a few showings that stood out from the rest of the show.  In all honesty, EGX Rezzed was a fantastic event and a fitting celebration of all that indie and PC gaming is and all it can be.  There was so many imaginative indie developers with so many interesting and enjoyable games that it’d be practically impossible to summarise it all in one short article.  So all that can be said is, if you happen to be in Birmingham, UK, in March 2015, it’s strongly recommended that you pop into the next EGX Rezzed. They’ll be plenty of indie developers waiting for you!

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