On Location: GAMEFest 2011

Games are big business worldwide, and this time of year heralds some of the big consumer shows of the games industry calendar. With PAX come and gone and the Tokyo Game Show too far away, UK gamers had Eurogamer Expo in London to look forward to as their chance to get hands-on with some of the big upcoming releases for the next year.

But for those of us (like myself) who don’t have the time or money to travel to London for Eurogamer, there is GAMEFest. Located in Birmingham and with tickets just as cheap as Eurogamer (£10 each, a bargain), there is only one catch- you have to have a GAME Reward Card to buy tickets.

(For non-UK readers, GAME is one of the market leaders in games sales. They are part of the same company as other major player Gamestation, but still like to keep separate identities as much as possible)

If you’re reading this and think ‘Sounds good!’, then you’re too late for this year’s show. I headed down to the show on its opening day to see what it had to offer; and I was far from disappointed.

The ‘Big Three’
Of course they were there- Battlefield 3, Modern Warfare 3 and Gears of War 3. And, as you might expect, there were at least hour-long queues for all of them. The most hotly anticipated games of the year drew mass attention, but there was still plenty else to take in.

Prototype 2
It’s been 2 years since Radical Entertainment introduced us to Alex Mercer and his Blacklight virus-fuelled shapeshifting abilities; and next April, Mercer has a new contender to deal with in the shape of Sgt. James Heller.

The game is still in pre-alpha stages, but that didn’t make the footage we were shown any less impressive. Radical have wisely kept in the elements of the first game that players enjoyed, but have improved them thanks to overhauls in their game engine. Combat and movement are both fluid and soul-warmingly destructive. Who doesn’t want to rip the gun turret off a tank and use it to smash the rest of the vehicle into the ground?

As you might expect, improvements have been made- you can now ‘equip’ two powers and switch between them with ease. Like Mercer, Heller can consume his enemies in order to take on their forms and memories- but now he needs to make sure they’re not being watched too closely or his attempts could be thwarted by nearby Blackwatch soldiers.

The open-world environment is now a lot more open, and even in pre-alpha it looked nothing short of brilliant. Heller can choose his own missions as he moves around the city, and can hack into Blacknet in order to find missions that will help him to his ultimate goal- destroying Alex Mercer.

With a release date set of April 24th 2012, this is definitely one to keep your eye on.

Saints Row: The Third
The only information and footage I had seen of this game came courtesy of an article on IGN. After reading that, more investigate into the truly bizarre nature of the latest game from Volition, Inc. was needed.
The game is everything IGN said and more. The same sandbox-style environment is there, there are still plenty of vehicles to steal and citizens to beat up- but there is a more than slight emphasis on the more….out there ways of setting a name for yourself in the city of Steelport.

For a start, there is now an Awesome Button (No joke- Volition have actually named it that). It acts as a way to turn normal actions into ones that are more…well, awesome. Want to steal that sweet truck that’s heading down the highway? You can still just run up to it and throw the hapless driver out of his seat before taking off. But why do that when, by pressing the Awesome button first, you can take a flying jump through the truck’s windscreen and aerial kick the guy out of the way.

The player, once again taking the role as leader of the Third Street Saints, is now given choices on how they want to end certain missions- total destruction of the enemy’s hidden cache, or the appropriation of these certain ‘resources’ to improve the morale of the Saints back at base?

There is still the array of weaponry to choose from; fists, handguns, automatic guns etc. But how about calling down an airstrike to get the cops off your tail? And what about a car that sucks up pedestrians you’ve run down- complete with a cannon that you can fire the hapless civilians back out of should you wish to cause a little more wanton destruction.

You can get your hands on a copy of this madcap game in two months time- so dust off your fur coats and spats…

The 3D revolution
Nintendo’s 3DS had a big stand to itself and showed off no less than 6 3D games that covered a good range of genres. I had a short hands-on with Mario Kart 7 and Kid Icarus: Uprising – unsurprisingly, the stand was attracting a lot of attention from all ages.

Mario Kart 7 has changed little from its previous incarnations- but if the IP’s not broken, why fix it! Mario Kart has been popular for years for its simplicity and bright gameplay, and the transition to 3D has just made it more visually interesting. It was great fun to have Yoshi tearing round a track, laying down banana skins as traps and zooming over every boost pad going- and an interesting sight to watch a handglider unfurl from the top of his kart and help him float through a ring of coins before landing back on the track. Add in extra kart customisation, and I think Nintendo have done well in keeping the series alive and kicking.

Kid Icarus: Uprising comes 19 years after the last Kid Icarus game- and appears to have been transferred fantastically to 3D. Playing much like a Zelda title, the player controls Pit in order to defeat Medusa. Armed with an impressive array of weapons (and of course the ability to fly), the game plays smoothly and is easy to pick up and get on with. The multiplayer modes were unavailable, but with options for both 6-player Deathmatch or Free-For-All play, this should round the game off nicely and keep it in the 3DS slot for a while.

The Dance Sensation
Dance games are big across all platforms; Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft all had their latest dance games on show at GAMEFest. As I’m not afraid to strut my stuff on the dance floor in public, I took to the stage for both Dance Central 2 and Just Dance 3.

Dance Central 2 has got everything the first installment missed- 2 player cooperative and competitive modes, voice interaction (thanks to an update in Kinect functionality) and even a campaign mode. 40 new songs have been added to the line-up, covering every decade from the 60’s up to now. And in much the same way as the Rock Band series, players will be able to import the tracks from Dance Central for use in Dance Central 2.
I had a go of Daft Punk’s ‘Technologic’ and geeky classic ‘Dragostea Din Tei’ by O-Zone – the Kinect has definitely been given a boost to its tracking sensitivity, as the more fluid dance moves in both songs were translated almost flawlessly into the game.

Just Dance 3 has one huge difference to its predecessors- it is multi-platform. I was initially confused as to why I couldn’t see a single Wiimote on any of the spandex-clad dancers on Ubisoft’s stage- until I spied a Kinect poking out from a stand. With support for all three consoles, everyone will be able to dance along to classics by Britney Spears, ABBA and the Scissor Sisters (amongst others).
Like it’s rival, Just Dance 3 has a multiplayer mode (4 players instead of 2), and the Kinect version comes with a mode called “Just Create”, allowing players to do just that- create their own dance routines that they can save and share with friends to play like any of the other routines. The Wii version has “Flash Mob” mode that allows 8 Wiimotes to be shared between players for a mass rotuine, and both the Wii and PlayStation Move versions have “Smart Shuffle” and “Dance Mashup” modes- the first is a challenge and unlocking mode, the second smashes two different dance styles together into one.

A favourite with girls and their mums, there is plenty to keep the family entertained (well, laughing at least) over the festive season. Both titles are released in North America on October 7th, with Dance Central 2‘s European release coming 4 days later.

Hedgehogs vs Plumbers
Sega had both Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games and Sonic Generations on offer, handily covering every platform and age group. The latest sporty outing for the Sega big names was surprisingly interesting, especially in it’s 3DS incarnation; in the space of one demo game, it utilised the gyros, touchscreen and thumbstick elements for different sports. I wouldn’t be surprised if it required you to puff into the microphone at some point too- they’ve taken on board every function of the newest handheld system and made it work sensibly with the various Olympic sports.

Sonic Generations lived up to the previews- being able to play the same level in classic 2D or modern 3D satisfies Sonic fans both old and young, with the 2D levels playing almost exactly as I remember from the Mega Drive days. Classic stages are reborn for this 20th anniversary of the original Sonic game.

The best of the rest
With over 80 games on show, there simply wasn’t enough time to enjoy them all. Finally, here are my top 5 games of GAMEFest 2011 that there just isn’t time to write about:

Batman: Arkham City – Beautifully dark and with an absolutely massive environment, being the caped crusader has never been so swift and sleek.
Driver San Francisco – Amazingly responsive gameplay and stunning cutscenes, this game is definitely worth a second look.
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception – As graphically stunning as we’ve come to expect, with the fluid gameplay to go along with it.
Disney Universe – Not just for kids! Bright and colourful and great for multiplayer, if you liked LittleBigPlanet then this is one for you.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Future Soldier – A great-looking shooter that requires teamwork and quick thinking- as well as some great tech you can use to your advantage.

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~ by Tegan on October 12, 2011.

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