EGX Rezzed 2014 Roundup

EGX Rezzed may be the little sister to the full-blown Eurogamer event, but it’s a haven for those looking to explore the indie scene. Jammed full of top home-grown talent as well as some big name titles, we took a stroll around the exhibitors and were impressed with the diversity and innovation on offer. Whilst a mere sampling of the upcoming goodies on offer, here are our thoughts on a few titles which caught our eye.

Alien Isolation

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Creative Assembly’s claustrophobic stealth horror took centre stage at Rezzed, demoing on PS4, Xbox One and PC. You take control of Ripley’s daughter Amanda, desperately trying to stay alive as she explores the station in search of the Nostromo’s flight recorder. Much has been made of Alien: Isolation’s atmospheric environments, and it doesn’t disappoint. Despite its emptiness, the space station feels like a second character as it buzzes, clicks and hisses; it makes the Dead Space franchise setting feel almost archaic. Then there’s the initial apprehension, cranking up as power fails and you realise that you may not be the only occupant aboard. When the alien does make an entrance (and what an entrance!) you’ll feel yourself squirming along with Amanda beneath the console she’s using for cover, taking shallow breaths and trying not to attract its attention. It’s a masterclass in fear and tension. But then something odd happened on our playthrough: the game turned from a breathless survival horror to a pedestrian fetch quest.

Using your handheld radar you can tell from what direction the alien is approaching, and once it’s in the room, we found that crouching behind crates and moving in the opposite direction for a few circuits was enough to make it wander off to another location and let us get to our goal. Whether that goal was turning on power, obtaining a tool or getting to an airlock, the process was always the same: enter location, avoid the alien by crouching, moving slowly and peeking from behind an obstacle, complete objective, leave location. We were expecting to get caught out; much has been made of the alien’s adaptive AI, and we thought on a couple of occasions that it may have worked out what we were doing and leaped over the crates we were hiding behind to confront us – it didn’t happen. It is supposed to have the ability to track you down, even when hiding in lockers, but this wasn’t evident. In fact, we got through the entire twenty-five minute demo without dying once, a feat that was described as “unusual” by the promo team.

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Maybe we got lucky, but the lack of a perceived challenge wasn’t the only concern we had about the game. A gamepad button ominously labelled “reload” was unavailable during play - it’s been well-documented that the alien is the only enemy on board and is unkillable (at least, in normal gameplay) – so what would this suggest? Furthermore, it’s unclear how long the game will be, and what challenges will be thrown the player’s way. With such a richly detailed environment it would be concerning if Alien: Isolation turned into a mundane item hunt with added stealth elements, and we’re desperately hoping that we are ultimately proven wrong about our misgivings, but a lack of other enemies means that Creative Assembly have put all of their eggs into one acid-spewing basket, and at this stage – pretty as it is – we’re not sure if it can bear the weight of gamer expectation.

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number

Controversial for its scene of staged sexual assault which was cut from the demo after last year’s Rezzed appearance, Wrong Number is touting a more focused story as the differentiator to the last game. Whilst a satirical streak does permeate proceedings between episodic bloodbaths, the gameplay is almost identical to its predecessor. More worryingly, the enemy AI appears to have regressed - on several occasions we were able to enter a room and shoot up the occupants unimpeded, despite an enemy (which we’d missed) watching us from the sidelines. Foes getting stuck in doors was also a common occurrence, and there are clearly a few kinks to iron out before its Q3 release. Whether the story improvements make a difference or not, the frenetic core experience remains the draw and this, thankfully, remains intact.

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One Spear Arena

A Ludum Dare competitor which initially hit the iPad, One Spear Arena is now heading to the PC in April. The concept is simple: within a procedurally generated arena, you control a coloured block which is armed with a spear, and have to throw said spear at other coloured blocks controlled by up to three other players. Retrieve the spear and repeat until one player who hits the win condition. A fun short burst party game, but we’d question whether there’s enough content to justify a full-price release.

Murdered: Soul Suspect

Airtight Games’ take on the detective genre sees you taking on the role of Ronan O’Connor (sadly, no twee Irish accent here), recently gunned down and - now in spirit form - determined to find out who murdered him. The Quantum Conundrum developer has crafted an interesting premise, allowing Ronan to possess people to find out what they know or to quiz others around them. Equal parts LA Noire and Ghost Trick, the game could succeed or fail on its narrative and combat mechanics. Instead of up-front fights, you are plagued by restless souls. These will sap your energy and can only be killed via slightly awkward QTEs, or avoided entirely by hiding in and moving between pockets of spirit energy until the soul wanders off. The latter option felt much simpler, which doesn’t bode well for more aggressive players, but in truth neither choice felt particularly enjoyable during our playthrough. Still, the storyline seemed strong enough to support the game, at least from the outset, and the ability to walk through walls and objects meant the game world environments you visited felt satisfyingly open compared to Rockstar’s detective title.

Enola

Enola is a horror game without monsters, putting you in the shoes of a girl looking for her girlfriend in a mysterious environment, and relying on a nerve-wrecking score and the player’s own psyche to inflict its terrors. If it feels like a kindred spirit to the excellent Gone Home, we’re assured that the initial similarities end there, and the emotional impact of what lies ahead could make this a game to keep a close eye on.



Overruled!

Overruled! is an interesting mix of Super Smash Bros.-style brawling and the uncertainty of Uno. Every thirty seconds the game target changes - King of the Hill, Swag Bag, Capture the Flag - and rule-changing cards are also thrown into the pot which let you shake things up if the battle isn’t going your way. Want to speed up your respawn time or double the points you’re earning? Lay down the appropriate card, but beware: your opponents may overrule you with cards of their own. The divergent genres worked surprisingly well – this could be a neat shake-up for the formula.

Broforce

If you can imagine almost every 80s action icon appearing in pixelated form, smashing and blasting their way around a completely destructible platform environment in a two-player co-op, you’d be halfway to understanding Broforce. A game so ludicrously over-the-top that you can’t help but admire its audacity, Broforce could best be described as The Expendables meets Metal Slug with a smattering of Terraria, and we’re very much looking forward to its release in Q2.

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Mega Coin Squad

Nintendo's lawyers are no doubt casting a suspicious eye on this game, especially in the wake of Flappy Birds, but they have nothing to fear. Mega Coin Squad may share similar art themes with the fat moustachioed one, but that's where the comparison ends as this party title throws gamers into an arena with weapons, frantic collect-em-up action, and coins. Lots and lots of coins. Judging by the clamour at Rezzed, it was proving popular with hardcore and casual gamers alike, and with an assortment of different battle modes, upgradeable weapons and a range of characters, Mega Coin Squad could end up being a surprise 2014 hit.

Dex

Kickstarted by Czech developer Dreadlocks, Dex is a cyberpunk RPG which certainly looks the part. From the blue-haired protagonist through to the grimy neon-studded streets, the game has the feel of an updated Amiga title; no bad thing in itself, as the graphical style and impressive score combine to offer a compelling atmosphere. However, significant work needs to be done on the script in order to maintain that intoxicating undercurrent - a serious number of typos and jarring turns of phrase served to undermine the mood and pull the player out of the game. A June release seems optimistic, but if Dreadlocks can deliver in time then Dex could be one to watch.



Monstrum

Horror fans were well catered for this year, with Monstrum offering up “Alien on a boat”-style thrills courtesy of Oculus Rift. The VR headgear made great use of the environment, thrusting you onto a ship with one goal: escape. The claustrophobic nature of the creaky, rusting metal corridors was amplified both by the procedurally generated levels housing a stalking, unkillable menace, and by Oculus which offers a level of immersion that could prove to be a watershed for the horror genre. It’s early days for the game and the technology - which certainly lends itself better to a gamepad than a keyboard - but the potential for both is thrilling. With similar premises, could this indie survival horror steal Alien: Isolation’s thunder? We wouldn’t like to bet against it…



Other highlights included:

The Arc, a strong showing in the Sega Leftfield section of Rezzed, sees you navigating a ball of light around platforms in a multitude of planets, avoiding enemies and traps, and solving puzzles. Early days yet for this indie title, but the art style was captivating.

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Unrest, an RPG set in India which eschews normal adventure mechanics for conversation-driven gameplay. Fear, friendship and respect are the core measurements of your character’s (or rather, characters’, since there are four intertwining narratives) interaction with others, and the designers are promising echoes of Planescape Torment in terms of the depth of story and the repercussions of your choices. Bold words indeed.

Gang Beasts, a hilarious multiplayer brawler which mixes the mechanics of Streets of Rage with the aesthetic of Morph.

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There were plenty of other interesting titles on display - far too many to cover here - but we’ll no doubt be reviewing many of these at The Digital Fix in the future, so keep checking back!

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