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Report From EGX 2015

It’s hard to believe it’s been another year already, but the triple-A giants and indies of gaming have spent the last four days showing off their latest creations at the UK’s biggest gaming event, EGX.

Formerly known as Eurogamer expo, EGX has grown exponentially in size over the last few years, attracting a staggering 75,000 attendees in 2014 when it was held in Earl’s Court, London. This year however, the expo has moved to the much more spacious NEC in Birmingham, allowing plenty of room for devs and publishers to show off their upcoming titles. Fuelled by a limitless supply of Tornado energy drink being dished out around the event, the team at Level-Clear were able to get hands-on with a smorgasbord of exciting new releases.

So without further ado, here are some of our EGX 2015 standouts.

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Perhaps top of the triple–A list this year, was Crystal Dynamics’ Rise of the Tomb Raider. 2012’s reboot of the franchise offered a solid yet ultimately forgettable experience, but this second entry in the new-look-Lara series has upped the ante in terms of visuals, gameplay and overall presentation. Looking gorgeous on the Xbox One, RotTR showed off some beautiful lighting and water effects inside an atmospheric, claustrophobic environment typical of the franchise’s early years. Players saw Lara narrowly avoiding instant death with slick, bullet-time gunplay, and there were even a few unexpected jump-scares to really ramp up the tension.

The demo allowed enough time to experience the game’s puzzle-platforming and combat in equal measure, with the former requiring some genuine thought and latter feeling fast-paced and cathartic. Compared to it’s predecessor, the new Tomb Raider looks to be offering a much more cinematic experience, and one which sets the player firmly in control of the Indiana-Jones-style action.

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Similarly, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst showed off a variety of features, affording us a taste of the game’s exploration, combat and speed-running elements. A brief tutorial video explaining the game mechanics to newbies and refreshing series veterans, meant players could hit the ground running (no pun intended) and get stuck straight into Catalyst’s beautiful ‘City of Glass’.

The visual upgrades from ME’s predecessor were obvious, but aesthetically things haven’t changed much. The clean, minimalist visual style continues to define the series, and the gameplay remains more or less the same as ever. The only noticeable additions to faith’s repertoire were some stylish slow-mo takedowns that cut to third-person for a better view of the action, but we didn’t really get to see enough of the new ‘open-world’ aspect of Catalyst to judge how it’ll impact the gameplay. It’s safe to say though that fans of the original will be happy with the polished visuals and same fast-paced, parkour antics that made ME1 so much fun.

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Sticking with the open-world theme, Just Cause 3 generated a substantial buzz in the 18+ area with the help of a daily tournament to win a copy of the game, and a home cinema system for the show’s best performing player overall. Unfortunately the high-score challenge did little to showcase the combat system or the massive map we were promised by Avalanche Studios. The 20-minute demo allowed us multiple attempts at racking up a decent destruction combo, but presented us with zero enemies, a single weapon to use, and a tiny area packed with explosives. Based on what little we saw, all we can say is that the explosions look great and the game handles just like JC2. Other than that, we’re afraid the jury’s out.

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Also in the 18+ area were some new Ubisoft titles including Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, which has adopted the age-old adage of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ The demo’s gameplay was nigh on identical to AC: Unity with only the change of locale differentiating it from its predecessor. Victorian London looked to be a rich and exciting environment to explore, but the lack of evolution in Syndicate’s gameplay will inevitably see fans divided on release. It’s classic Assassin’s Creed, but if you’re looking for something new, you may be disappointed.

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Between beanbag-furnished stations in Sony’s section and Unequalled Media’s ‘Fight-Zone’, Street Fighter V had a massive presence at this year’s show and offered fans a chance to play with beta-build newcomers, R. Mika and Rashid.

Unfortunately the two new fighters were only available on the Fight-Zone stage, and with few attendees happy to fight competitively with an unknown character, we didn’t get to see much of either one. Still, the weekend saw some exciting match-ups on Street Fighter 4 between pros duking it out for a £3,000 prize pot, which made for a great way to take a load off and enjoy a break from the crowds and queues.

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Regular developer sessions offered similarly welcome breaks over the four days, but compared to previous shows, the number of high-profile presentations was a little lacking. Of the standouts though, 47 minutes of next year’s Hitman showed off an MGSV-style ‘freedom of infiltration’ approach to gameplay, alongside a frankly staggering number of possible means to execute the presentation’s target. The demo ended a little anticlimactically however, when after 30 minutes of exploring different modus operandi, the devs never actually got round to fulfilling their objective and 47 was left standing awkwardly in his mark’s backyard.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided made a mini-presentation of its own and did a great job of showing off gameplay and various tools available to the player. The future-dystopian, Blade-Runner-esque aesthetic is stronger than ever and it seems like the team at Edios have learned from the mistakes of Human Revolution, with hacking, sneaking or gunning, all viable solutions to the game’s objectives.

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Moving on from the triple-A’s, let’s talk indies for a moment. This year’s EGX saw the Rezzed and Leftfield areas generating plenty of well-deserved attention from attendees, thanks to some standout new IP’s and a few returning favourites.

We had a huge amount of fun with DoubleDutch Games’ SpeedRunners, with its instantly addictive pick-up-and-play local multiplayer. It’s already available on Steam early access with some tremendously positive reviews, and is well worth a look for anyone interested in an entertainingly silly, 2D-runner experience.

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Similarly addictive was Black & White Bushido from the team at Endemol Shine. The 2D, competitive, multiplayer brawler saw two teams of Edo-period archetypes duelling for control over some beautiful brushstroke-style environments. Bushido had us excitedly shouting at the screen with every kill and flag capture, before reluctantly allowing other attendees to take over. We’ll definitely be picking this one up at launch and can’t wait to get stuck back into the action.

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Of the single-player indies, Aaero took my own personal love of sci-fi shooters and dubstep, and smashed them together in an addictive rhythm-action game reminiscent of Audiosurf and Race the Sun. Rocking the analogue stick in time with the wubs felt especially cathartic, and the last of the three playable levels included a spectacular sand-worm boss fight the likes of which are rarely seen in music-centric titles. Definitely one to watch when it becomes available next year.

The highest profile indie title was easily MDHR’s Cuphead, coming exclusively to Xbox One and Windows 10 next year. The surrealist run ‘n’ gun platformer has been on our radar for a while now, and our hands-on experience didn’t disappoint. The 1930’s toon aesthetic still blows us away, with the animation and world-design sticking faithfully to its source material. Gameplay-wise, Cuphead offers a properly old-school difficulty curve, which is made a little easier in co-op, but harder by the distractingly brilliant world design.

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Between the ever-increasing number of games on show, merch stands, board games, dev sessions and dangerous amounts of free caffeine, EGX is an expo which gets bigger and better with each passing year. Whilst the above titles were just our standouts, there was still plenty more we enjoyed and a depressing amount we never even got around to seeing.

Any UK-based gamers would do well to have a look into next year’s expo, if for no other reason than the electric atmosphere and opportunities to get hands-on with the most exciting new content the industry has to offer. Tickets for EGX 2016 will be on sale soon, but in the meantime, we might catch you at the indie-focused EGX Rezzed in April.

John Hatfield
There are two things in life John enjoys more than anything else: gaming and writing. In 2014 he decided to combine the two, and Level-Clear was born!

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