Eurogamer Expo London 2011

So this year a friend bought me a ticket for the Sunday of Eurogamer Expo for my birthday, and since I’ve somehow never been to an expo before, I gratefully took my ticket and made my way to London.

The biggest mistake I made was thinking the queues wouldn’t be bad. Obviously, I was proven wrong in such a way that my feet and legs hated me the day after, but of course I did enjoy the parts where I got to sit down…

Batman Arkham City
I only played 10 minutes of this – after an arduous wait of 40 minutes – but from that small moment where I managed to play the same demo from the gameplay videos that already exist, I managed to fly around the rooftops and knock out a few fools, as well as throw a few batarangs into crotches, and hang from a helicopter with my grappling hook.

First impressions are that the game predictably and perfectly understandably plays and feels exactly like its predecessor (a perfectly viable case of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’). Of course the sequel appears to be crammed with new gadgets and moves, not to mention characters and extra events, and seemingly enormous amounts of collectables, including bright green Riddler pressure pads littered around the city (which personally I felt were a bit of an eyesore, standing out a little too much).

One of the more significant changes, other than the new flying mechanics, is that the combat appears to have been refined to be a little more challenging. For instance, in Arkham Asylum, once you get your combo up, you are knocking guys out left right and center with only one punch, kick, or glorious arm-snap. This time, I was hitting every guy in perfect time with the combo building right up, and I wasn’t knocking anybody out first time. I’m not saying this is a problem, but expect fighting scenes to be fairly more difficult.

With my mere 10 minutes of play-time, I think we’re all going to be very happy with how this one turned out, but it’s absolutely going to be one of those things where you say, whether in a good or bad way, ‘This is just like Arkham Asylum!’. For me, since AA was such a fantastic game, this can only be a good thing.

This was probably the queue I spent longest waiting in, not least because we ditched out of it half-way through to try and get Battlefield 3 beta keys, which ended up being completely gone by the time we got there. We waited almost an hour for this demo, and once again got about 10 minutes to play it – such is apparently the way of events like this.

The first and most important thing I have to say about this game is that dual-handed fire spells are AWESOME. I murdered countless chickens, cows, and travelers with horrific bursts of fire from the palms of my in-game hands, and it was oh-so satisfying. After immediately toasting everything and then being killed by the villagers – who were somehow ten times harder to kill than a bandit with a sword – I attempted to do some sneaking around in the very same village after I re-loaded. I skipped time until the late evening, then skulked around in the shadows with a dagger, hoping to stealthily assassinate an unsuspecting bartender or night-watchman. Unfortunately, even when I was crouching in the pitch black of the shadows, pretty much everybody who walked past could see me. So I broke into someone’s house, thinking I could get them in their sleep, but they were all still awake, and immediately started telling me about their day. In response to this, I attempted to stab them in the face with my dagger, which took roughly 5% of their health away. Worst. Assassin. Ever.

Graphically, the game is pretty gorgeous, but the more I played it, the more similarities to Oblivion I was able to spot, and the AI wasn’t particularly impressive by any stretch of the imagination. Still, the combat was fun, the models are far more visually pleasing, and being able to talk to people without zooming into their face every time was a simple pleasure. Not to mention the map screen was really cool, and the new inventory system is kind of fancy. All in all, despite having such a short turn of the game, I think I confirmed to myself that I would definitely be getting a hold of it. I only hope that this pre-release demo version will be tweaked, to fix problems like the cow that stood and stared at me whilst I fired 10 arrows into it’s skull… at point blank range.

Battlefield 3
To be honest, I didn’t learn anything new about Battlefield 3 in the pathetically short go I had on it, which was roughly 5 minutes. My portion of the queue got to play the very end of an entire round, because our team lost almost immediately after starting to play, which was an absolute joke. However, nothing in my demo – however brief – stood out as bad, and having already played the Alpha of the game (which was also being used at the expo), I didn’t have any new surprises, good or bad. Suffice to say, I will be taking part in copious amounts of beta gameplay starting today, and will happily fork over all my money to get my hands on the full game upon release.

Hitman: Absolution
Now this, this was the ultimate part of the expo for me. Hitman has and always will be one of my favourite video-game series, ever. The news of Hitman: Absolution was the one of the greatest moments of the year, and when I saw there would be a conference about it at the event, there was no way in hell I was going to miss it. HOWEVER, remember when I said I ditched the Skyrim queue first time round, to go get a Battlefield 3 key? Well… it turned out that half way through the Battlefield 3 queue, we realized the Hitman conference had already started. We panicked, spent 5 minutes trying to decide whether to stay and get our beta keys, or to run and catch the rest of the conference. Eventually we ditched out of our second queue, got to the conference in time, and holy smokes, it was awesome.

When we arrived, the guy representing Eidos was already half way through demoing the game on a huge screen, with glorious surround sound. Sneaking through the shadows, using what was essentially the Splinter Cell: Conviction cover mechanics to creep past the police officers, he was making his way through what appeared to be a city library. What stood out for me immediately was the graphics, the lighting, and the utterly superb audio. I mean, seeing the cops argue and bicker with each other, then break off and go bitch about each other to other cops in a really well-acted manner, I was pretty drawn in.

Agent 47 crept up to a fuse box that one cop had only moments earlier been getting grief for it being broken, and ripped all the wires out, turning all the lights in the giant, grand hall off. Queue numerous panicking cops, an angry police chief, and one particularly nervous individual who’s job it had been to fix said lights. After this, he proceeded to skulk around, stalking, choking, strangling, head-smashing, pulling-from-ledges, and in one particularly gruesome instance, snapping a neck backwards with a police baton (this was a point when the booming audio in the room actually took me by surprise, with an enormous and grisly CRACK).

All of this stealthy, murderous action was as entertaining as it was grim, and while the whole thing was rife with more cinematic and scripted events than is to be expected from a Hitman game, I was absolutely blown away. Considering how much action there was in this demo level, I am pretty certain it was only supposed to be the first level of the game. I can not wait for this to come out, and I will again be quite happily handing over my wallet in exchange for it, even if it means I can’t eat for a month.

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