What caught my eye at EGX 2019 – Part One

Last week I travelled to London for the premier games event EGX, based at the ExCel exhibition centre in the heart of the Docklands. The event showcased a range of new and exciting AAA and indie games over the course of four days. I couldn’t attend all four days but still managed to fit in a considerable number of games within the two days that I did attend. In the first of a two-part article please read on to find out more on the games I played at the event.

Final Fantasy VII-Remake
First up, my most anticipated game of next year and a remake of an absolute classic – Final Fantasy VII-Remake from Square-Enix. Final Fantasy VII was the first RPG that I ever played and my introduction to the Final Fantasy series. Released way back in 1997 when I was a teenager, I adored this game, it had everything – the iconic characters of Cloud Strife and Sephiroth, the dark and mind-boggling story, and a soundtrack that even now gives me chills when I hear it. It was a visual masterpiece for its time, though now it does look very dated, and the game also helped bring RPG’s into the mass market.

Now, over 20 years later the game has received a much-welcomed, but also slightly apprehensive, remake that is due to be released on the 5th March 2020. Well, part one of the game that is, which centres on the opening events of the game set it Midgar. No one quite knows the full release schedule of this game in its entirety.

The short demo I played is set very early on in the game within one of the Mako reactors where Cloud and Barret have been tasked to place a bomb to blow up the reactor. Instantly, you are hit with the impressive visuals and character models where gone are days of awkward blocks for hands and now both Cloud and Barret look even more gorgeous than they did in the CGI movie sequel to the game – Advent Children. It really goes to show just how far we have come graphically with games in the last 20 years.

Final Fantasy VII-Remake makes a very dramatic change to the original with its combat. The Active Time Battle element still exists but first, you have to build this meter up through real-time attacks. This means you have full control over your character and can now dodge out of the way of attacks and position yourself wherever you see fit. A simple press of the button and you switch between the characters, which is incredibly useful for the boss battle against the giant mechanical scorpion as there are phases of the fight where Barret’s ranged gun attacks work really effectively. Once the ATB meter has filled, you can pause the action to choose whether you unleash a skill, magic attack or use an item. The system works seamlessly and I was very impressed with how well it flows together and breathes new life into the RPG combat formula.

I only wished the demo was longer but it gave you the perfect taster of what is to come in March. Just hearing the battle music again for the first time, sent me on a nostalgia rollercoaster giving me goosebumps all over my arms. I feel incredibly confident that those fans who are a little cautious towards having such a legendary game remade will have their fears erased. Final Fantasy VII-Remake does a superb job of keeping the atmosphere of the original while making it feel very current. Seriously, March can not come soon enough, I need this game in my life!

Hollow Knight: Silksong
If you haven’t played Hollow Knight from developer Team Cherry, you are missing out on one of the greatest modern Metroidvania games of recent years. I’ll even let you stop reading this article for a minute while you go and purchase the game, it’s that special. I hate to think how many hours I put into playing the original; well over 60 and I’ve still plenty more left to do. It was a very pleasant surprise when a sequel was announced earlier this year, featuring one of the games initial antagonists, Hornet, now as the main playable character.

The mechanics and concept of Silksong are all very familiar for those that have played the original game, however, one huge difference is that Hornet plays an awful lot quicker than the Knight. Hornet now collects silk rather than souls, using her knitting needle to attack enemies, however, she can only heal when she has a full meter of silk. In doing so, she heals three points of health in one dose, and this makes battles a little more tactical in ensuring that your health isn’t too low if you are out of silk or you will have to time your attacks perfectly while avoiding every assault that comes your way.

The demo level I played was called Moss Grotto, which is very reminiscent of Green Path from Hollow Knight, with lots of greenery and of course, looked absolutely gorgeous. I can’t get enough of the gothic hand-drawn art style in this series, it’s so beautifully animated. The enemies and characters you meet along the way are just as interesting as in the first game, and the boss of the area was just as tough as expected.

I’m itching to play more and get elated and frustrated all over again with more challenging platforming and boss battles. Hollow Knight: Silksong is coming to PC and Nintendo Switch sometime in 2020.

Death Stranding
Next up, a PlayStation timed-exclusive and a very anticipated title from developer Hideo Kojima of Kojima Productions. Unfortunately, not playable at the event, however, I was able to watch a 15-20 presentation of gameplay footage narrated by Kojima.

Similar to already released footage, the presentation showed the main character, Sam, as he traverses a lush hilly environment on his mission to deliver the bulk of goods he is carrying. From what I could gather from the footage, the mechanics of the game heavily rely on resource management and ensuring you have appropriate items equipped to proceed with the task at hand. A case in point was the importance of having a spare pair of boots for the journey as the footage showed that Sam’s footwear will get worn and broken and will need replacing to prevent him from losing health.

There is a limit to exactly how much Sam can carry but then there is a variety of different aids that can support him on his journey, some of which will be provided by other players. Even though you don’t see these other players in your game world, their impact is shown on your environment, whether that be through ladders that have been constructed or by pathways created by a lot of people using the same route through the grass. Other players can leave you items such as ammo or health for you to collect in lockers and creates. They can also build structures that help to heal you as you sit and rest up while chilling to music or interacting with the BB (baby in the orange jar) attached to your chest. It’s incredibly clever mechanics and I can now start to grasp the ‘strands’ concept that Kojima has been talking about for so long.

I did manage to see how combat works and it definitely looks like it will be a struggle to survive. Sam could use stealth mechanics to sneak up on enemies and take them down by tying them up or alternatively using weapons. An alert soon went out and Sam was swamped with enemies arriving by vehicle, try to stun and capture Sam with electric weapons. Sam even managed to steal this vehicle, but the enemies soon overwhelmed and managed to short circuit the vehicle from moving. Sam then had no choice but to escape and did so by equipping a mechanical aid for his legs which made him sprint faster and outpace the enemies to safety.

The video then skipped to a new area, featuring a heavily destroyed city and looked visually stunning and very creepy. Sam was soon alerted to the presence of invisible demon enemies which he then incapacitated through the use of combining his blood with a weapon which unleashed a blood rope to bind the creatures allowing him to continue to sneak through. However, one wrong move alerts the invisible demons to conjure a pool of sickly black tar creatures to drag Sam down, drowning him which transports him to an epic ‘boss’ battle featuring a large horse-like creature, again covered in tar, and is a sight to behold.

The whole scene was played out with Sam struggling to move in the sludgy water and needing to get to higher ground to avoid the attacks from the beast. Sam, again using his blood, is able to create hematic grenades which when they strike the beast, showering it in blood and causing damage to it. Of course, Sam can’t endlessly use his own blood or he will run out of health. However, white phantom Sam’s can appear, controlled by other players, to offer resources to aid you in taking the beast down. It was a very hectic battle where you felt that only a few hits from the beast would kill Sam. Kojima does point out that these battles can be avoided completely through the use of stealth tactics and not being caught by the invisible demons, or actively avoiding the areas they inhabit.

I left the presentation completely fascinated as to how this game will play out. Knowing the history of Kojima games I’m sure there will be a massive twist somewhere along the lines. I can’t see it being a game for everyone but it is most definitely is incredibly unique. The wait is nearly over as Death Stranding is released next month, on the 8th of November.

Dark Nights with Poe and Munro
Though not playable on the show floor, I was fortunate enough to sit down with Tim Cowles from D’Avekki Studios to discuss and view the ‘never before seen’ trailer (below) for Dark Nights with Poe and Munro, the upcoming spin-off prequel to best-selling Full Motion Video (FMV) game, The Shapeshifting Detective.

Poe and Munro are back again, in an interactive FMV – TV series game featuring an entire season of 6 branching episodes. Set again in the eerie town of August, each episode will take on a different genre ranging from horror to mystery and suspense.

The live-action presentation followers in the footsteps of its predecessors and Tim went on to explain that this is his biggest project yet, with them filming the scenes for the game across a total of 26 days. He stated that he even took feedback from a blind fan who plays along with a friend, to ensure that the QTE’s featured within Poe and Munro would be accessible and allow players the time to make decisions. It was great to hear this feedback was being taken on-board and being implemented into the game.

I was also able to chat with the two lead actors for the game – Klemens Koehring (John ‘Poe’ Pope) and Leah Cunard (Ellis Munro). It was really interesting listening to their experience with filming and appearing within the game series. Both were incredibly positive about the gaming community and the passion shown to them by the fans.

Expect dialogue aplenty and a multitude of branching story elements, Poe and Munro will be available on PC by the end of the year with console releases to hopefully follow in early 2020.

Streets of Rage 4
I spent many a day back in my teenage years with my mate playing Streets of Rage 2. The side-scrolling brawler was so much fun and a great way for us to vent our teenage angst. I remember us playing the third game in the series too but some of the magic was missing that made Streets of Rage 2 such a classic to us.

I was very intrigued to get my hands on Streets of Rage 4 and see if it could rekindle some of the magic of which, I’m happy to report that it most certainly does! Picking up the controller and taking foot on the mean streets, everything felt familiar. The combat was as I expected with a simple standard attack and a special move to take out enemies and of course being able to pick up and use different weapons was a welcome return. Playing as Axel and Blaze from the originals felt good, and there was also a welcome newcomer to the party in the guise of the guitar-wielding Cherry – the daughter of Adam Hunter from the original games. There’s promise of more playable characters to be announced, but that aside the most important thing is that the action was really well-paced and the final boss encounter of the demo was tricky, yet fun.

No longer is the game developed by Sega. Much like they did with Sonic Mania, they have licensed the name and characters to fans with developers – Dotemu, Lizardcube and Guard Crush Game all playing their part in creating the game and you really wouldn’t notice that Sega isn’t involved by how similar it plays to the rest of the series. The only main difference is that the pixelated graphics are gone in favour of a hand-drawn art style that is bold and highly detailed. Thankfully, even with the change in art direction, the animation ran incredibly smoothly and so, this change in style gets a big thumbs up from me.

The side-scrolling beat ‘em-ups are making a positive and very welcome return and Streets of Rage 4 will be punching its way to PC and all consoles in 2020.

Quite simply my favourite game of EGX 2019 is the indie title Röki from Cambridge based developer Polygon Treehouse. Reminiscent of classic point and click adventure games of old, such as the Monkey Island series, Röki is an adventure game inspired by Scandinavian folklore where you join Tove on a journey to save her family and can expect plenty of fantastical creatures and locations to explore.

The snowy environment, in which the demo played out, even in this early build of the game, was very impressive. You could literally feel the crunch of the snow beneath your feet and the forest felt truly alive. I really liked the little touches within the environment such as having the tiny toadstool mushrooms popping back into the ground when you get close to them.

The puzzle-solving aspects of the demo were fairly simple with the developer keen for Röki to be accessible and enjoyable for all, and not have over cumbersome puzzle elements, which distract and frustrate the experience. This is emphasised by a simple button press helping to highlight objects of importance and having a journal that keeps notes and a narrative for the characters and clues.

An example of a puzzle within the demo was when I came across a Troll (under a bridge of course) who had a dagger lodged into his shoulder which needed removing. The hunt for a contraption to help was him on. With a little bit of exploring the beautiful locations I was able to separately find a rope and a bear trap, which combined together, was exactly the right tool for the job.

I was thoroughly intrigued by Röki’s setting and story. There appeared to be something more sinister happening under the surface of it all, which was supported by a really good example of environmental storytelling, where you could locate a stone marker, hidden away in a shed that lists children that have gone missing from the area. Very creepy and definitely enticed me to want to delve deeper into finding out just what is going on.

I was incredibly impressed with the short amount of time I had with Röki. It feels like a very relaxing and compelling experience and I’m most definitely going to keep a very close eye on its progress. Röki is slated for a winter release on PC and Nintendo Switch.

Pokémon Sword and Shield
Who doesn’t love Pokémon, right? After last years re-imagining of the classic Pokémon Red and Blue games with the release of Pokémon Go for the Nintendo Switch, Nintendo is bringing back the series with the new mainline entry to the Switch for the first time, with Pokémon Sword and Shield.

I was really looking forward to spending some time in Galar region – the beautiful United Kingdom inspired setting for Pokémon Sword and Shield. However, the demo unfortunately only took place in the water-themed gym, which was a tad disappointing as the gym’s aesthetics were very plain and sterile.

On your way to fight Nessa, the gym leader, you come across a few of her cronies to test your battle skills against and get a feel for some of the new Pokémon in your arsenal. These included the three new starting Pokemon (Grookey, Scorbunny and Sobble) as well as, an adorable sheep called Wooloo; Yamper the electric corgi dog Pokémon; and lastly, Corviknight – a mean-looking steel-type raven. If you have played a Pokémon game before then the battles play out just as you would come to expect with turn-based combat, featuring normal physical strikes and elemental damage attacks.

It’s been a while since I’ve played a mainline Pokémon game but the gym in Pokémon Sword and Shield featured a puzzle element, which I’m not sure if puzzles have been featured before in gyms within the series. It involved having water blocking your pathway and needing to hit one of three correlating coloured switches to stop the flow of the water to proceed. It was so simplistic that it really didn’t warrant being included in the gym. I’m hoping that if this is a common feature within the gyms then the puzzles do become a little more complex and worthwhile.

When you finally meet Nessa, the battle takes place in a large stadium arena with crowds cheering you on. The combat is just like before, however, you are now able to try out the new mechanic to the game – DynaMax. This allows your chosen Pokémon to become a giant with new special moves that can be used a limited number of times. This added a new strategy to the battle, as you can only use it once and therefore have to choose the most ideal time to use the mechanic. Do you choose to use it straight away and hope you can defeat the trainer’s Pokémon in one hit, or is it best to keep it in reserve for when times get desperate and need a last resort?

I have to admit that Pokemon Sword and Shield is one good looking game. The art style is vibrant and sharp and the animations, both in and out of battles, run so smoothly. I would have just liked to have had the demo set in a much more interesting environment to really show off its true potential.

Thankfully, you won’t have to wait long to begin your adventure with Pokémon Sword and Shield as it will be released on the Nintendo Switch on the 15th November 2019.

Tune in next week for part two of my EGX 2019 article (which you can read HERE) where I’ll be covering the following games: Cyberpunk 2077, Marvel’s Avengers, Eldest Souls, Luigi’s Mansion 3, Murder at Malone Manor, Everspace 2 and Forgotten Sea.

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