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Leviathyn’s EGX Rezzed Game Of The Show (And Other Awards)
A week ago, EGX Rezzed 2014 wrapped up. Packed it in. Called it a day. Kicked the bucket.
But what a show it was! AAA-budget games made their predictable appearance- Titanfall was present for multiplayer action, DayZ‘s Dean Hall was everywhere, Minecraft had a competitive corner, and Alien: Isolation got a release date and a hands-on opportunity– but the real star of Rezzed was the independent games.
On PC, PS4 and PSVita, indie games were everywhere. Many of them showed more innovation than the high-budget published games in terms of basic mechanics- and from what I played, most of them were genuinely funner.
I’m not making a point of ignoring high-budget publisher-owned games in the awards here; my top choices were simply games made by small teams.
Without further ado, may I present Leviathyn’s pick of EGX Rezzed’s cream of the crop:
Game Of The Show – Light
Light doesn’t look like much at first glance. The gameplay screen is layered in what looks like a rudimentary pastel blue-and-green wireframe with little squares moving around. It’s very much like a stripped-down Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine, or seeing Metal Gear Solid‘s Soliton Radar system rendered at 1920×1080.
I was directed to play Light after Mike Bithel (developer of Thomas Was Alone and up-coming stealth title Volume) cited Light as the other great stealth game on show at Rezzed. I took note immediately to check it out.
The game was developed by a small two-person team under the legendary British publisher Team 17 (Worms, etc.). The team are obviously playing intelligently to their strengths: considering that your character is just a two-dimensional cube and the levels are simply blue print maps populated by two-dimensional cubes, Light is a deceptively deep and compelling game.
My previous analogy of an upscaled Soliton Radar system captures the game perfectly in concept: this is some of the purest and best stealth gameplay I’ve experienced, simply because it is so visually economical. No plethora of gadgets complicate your movements or plans, no flashy interface drags your attention; there is just the player, the walls, the objectives and hostiles, with their sweat-inducing red vision cones.
Light is all about the vision cones. When cameras and guards walk past desks or windows, their cone of vision is blocked by said desk or window, leaving natural shadows in gameplay which make hiding places totally unambiguous. Other 2D stealth games have had dynamic light, too, but rarely to this effect. For example, Monaco’s world only rendered in colour wherever your character could see- but this led to a rather confusing interface, especially when one had to sprint around to make time limits or escape guards. Light‘s visual system is far more simple and clear.
Light is like the Super Meat Boy of stealth games: small and tight levels, with instant resets if you get caught. Somehow, it never gets frustrating. The quality of the modern office level design perfectly ties to the elegant and addictive blend of stealth mechanics- WASD moves you, E reads or hacks things, and mouse clicks peek or hack things.
My favourite touch is that being detected ends the level. Very few games nail the “running away is fun” stealth mechanic, so it’s incredibly refreshing to have a game where being caught isn’t frustrating, but leads to an addictive “one more try” moment.
I’m not convinced of Light‘s story, which seems like it might slip into generic “sinister secret project” plot, and we don’t know how the game’s mechanics will develop, as it’s still relatively early in development. But out of all the games I played at Rezzed, Light was the one which grabbed me the quickest, and lingered in my thoughts the most (being that I’m a massive stealth fan, perhaps this isn’t surprising).
Ingenious Design Of The Show – Salvaged
If you’re a fan of XCOM and Aliens, Salvaged is the game for you.
Well, it will be in the next year or two when it releases. The game is very early in development, but showed some of the greatest innovation I saw on the show floor at EGX Rezzed.
In Salvaged, you’re basically playing Gorman in Aliens. For those who haven’t seen James Cameron’s classic movie: you are the one hiding back at base (a space ship, in this case), while your soldiers explore a hostile-infected location. You tell them where to go and what to do, trying to make sure they are covering each others’ backs- meanwhile, on a set of screens, you get a live, first-person perspective feed from their helmets as they do the gruntwork.
This might sound complicated (see image above for clarity), but really it’s not. And somehow, it’s insanely fun. I found telling my guys what to do then watching them do it more enjoyable than actually controlling them, ala your typical FPS. I think Opposable Games, the innovative development team based in Bristol, have really caught on to something here.
Telling your guys where to go (tapping a screen to organise them around a doorway in SWAT fashion) somehow becomes immeasurably more exciting when you then sit back, look up at a PC screen, and see them scuttle around organising themselves into formation. In a way it feels more real and more immersive, especially when four aliens come at your team at once and there’s nothing in particular you can do. All you can do is try and handle the threat – their camera feeds spinning around and firing their huge guns, then reloading their guns, then dying- with a dull sense of panic building in your chest.
Opposable Games are boasting randomly generated campaigns, levels and soldiers (with permanent death) for the game’s full release. However, really, it’s the mix between interfaces which affects the gameplay in a stunning and unique way. Reminiscent of inter-device games like Artemis or SpaceTeam, but with an intelligent single-player action focus, Salvaged is positively the most intuitive and clever interface design I saw at Rezzed 2014.
Simulation Game Of The Show: Kenshi
Kenshi is a funny one. When you zoom the game’s camera out to its fullest extent, it looks like you’re playing Mount & Blade or Rome: Total War. Tiny men- bandits, soldiers, and settlers- roam across the giant desert world which looks straight out of Dune or Mad Max. Examine a settlement, and you find building design like Tatooine’s. Everything looks cobbled together and built from salvaged bits of various machinery.
Indeed, you can play Kenshi as a real-time strategy game. You can tell your settlers where to build buildings, where to build generators, and where make defenses so that they can protect themselves from bandit attacks. There’s a fairly large tech tree I only got the most superficial of adventures into.
But there’s another side to Kenshi. Zoomed out, the game looks like a strategic RTS set in Mos Eisley- but zoom in, and Kenshi becomes more like a sand-dune dystopian Neverwinter Nights. You can control any of your characters at a macro level, telling them where to walk, what to wear, who to talk to, who to fight. In my first go with the game I played a lone monk-like traveller on the game’s “Kinda Hard” difficulty setting.
I travelled to a nearby town and spoke to some mercenaries in a bar (truly Mount & Blade), but couldn’t afford any of them. I bought a newer sword from a shop. Then something happened at the town gates- a group of roaming bandits happened by, and the vanguard of town sentries ran off to engage them. I joined in. The combat was surprisingly well animated- swords swished to strike and raised to block, individuals staggering from hard blows, upwards of twenty of them onscreen at once.
Ultimately, I died when a stray swing struck a town guard and they all piled on my poor little dude. In light of my second go at the game where I went for the contrastive RTS playthrough, the depth and breadth of Kenshi‘s gameplay was pretty staggering. As I crept down from the tip of the iceberg, it was clear how many tens of hours of gameplay you could get out of this. You just need to get past the game’s slight lack of tutorial and guidance.
At the very least you can watch the wonderful shadow effects stretch over the beautiful land with the world-time set to fast forward.
Containment Protocol – an incredibly well designed puzzle experience where you play a small quadcopter. There was only one level on show here, but it was excellent. Very slow, very atmospheric, and very tense, the game was made in all but six weeks by the obviously prodigal Byron Atkinson-Jones.
Tri – Tri is beautiful. Expect a full preview on Leviathyn soon. It needs its own article. Environmental puzzling on par with Portal with an aesthetic similar to Jon Blow’s The Witness, and it looks great.
Space Engineers – this has potential to be a great game; it just needs a little more support on the front-end. Frankly, it was my contender for Simulation Game of the Show, but it’s at an earlier development stage than Kenshi. Space Engineers is kinda like Minecraft in space, but with a far more realistic, deep simulation than Minecraft. Often, it felt like we were playing Gravity: The Videogame; spinning around our ship to do repairs, floating between small celestial objects. It has a great space atmosphere. The best thing about it was voxel damage- crashing a ship into an asteroid actually blasts a hole in it and realistically warps the front of your ship. Unfortunately, the complete lack of a tutorial and lack of direction as a singleplayer game meant you could only mess about meaninglessly so much.
Hohokum– Hohokum is essentially like a 2D, elegant adaptation of Noby Noby Boy. Obviously, it doesn’t have Keita Takahashi’s surreal meta-game stylings, but as a sidescrolling game where we play a benevolent stretchy worm flying about helping people in a crazy, trippy cartoon world, it feels like it might succeed more at being a game with objectives than Noby Noby Boy.
Overruled – Overruled does something I love: it takes a traditional, well trodden style of game and adds a rule-bending twist. Four players duke it out in arenas with cycling point-based objectives, a level scattered with cards which allow the players to change the rules at their whim. On show at Rezzed was an early Alpha demo, so it wasn’t a particularly deep experience to be had, but the nice blend of Super Smash Bros-style battleground mixed with card games like FLUX was still fun for a four player romp. I just hope they add a ton more card variants, like messed up sideways/anti- gravity or deadly level alterations.