This past weekend, Power Up Gaming had the chance to attend Replay Events’ Play Expo in Manchester, one of the largest video game conventions in the UK.
A couple of weeks removed from the glitz, glamour and horrendous queues of EGX, Play Expo provided us with a little bit more of an intimate atmosphere compared to its flashier peer (its 2014 iteration drew 19,000 attendees compared to EGX’s 75,000). As we were still very much recovering from four manic days at EGX, this was by no means an unwelcome sight.
Now in its fourth year, Play Expo started out primarily as a retro-themed affair. And while just about every classic console you’ve ever heard of (and plenty you haven’t) lined the walls of the retro zone, the event now also plays host to a plethora of up-and-coming indie games, competitions, vendors – and even a few triple-A behemoths.
While we only had a chance to attend the second of the expo’s two days at EventCity, we still had plenty of time to get to grips with the vast majority of playable demos on offer. Today, we’ve compiled a few of our personal highlights from Play Expo for your entertainment; we also conducted a number of interviews with developers, which should be appearing on the site in the coming days.
Dark Souls III
In what was quite a coup for Play Expo, the event managed to secure the first-ever UK demo for FromSoftware’s upcoming action RPG Dark Souls III. Directed by series creator Hidetaka Miyazaki, who returns to Souls after taking a step back to create Bloodborne, Dark Souls III is as punishingly difficult as you’d imagine. During our extended playthrough of the demo, which appeared to be identical to the build shown off at the Tokyo Game Show last month, we must have died at least 20 times at the hands of some delightfully grotesque beasties and skeletons.
That being said, the game seems to have a punchier, quicker pace; back-stepping and heavy weapon attack animations in particular have been sped up significantly, allowing for much more enjoyable – and slightly less punishing – battles. Another notable addition is the inclusion of much more expansive, interconnecting levels. This map allows for much greater exploration and strategic combat engagement; we were able to pick and choose our fights based on our health and current weapons much more effectively than before.
The signs for Dark Souls III, therefore, are very positive ahead of its expected April 2016 launch. To read more on how the game compares to its predecessors, check out our full hands-on preview.
For some time now, we’ve been bemoaning the lack of quality kart racing games for non-Nintendo users. After having our faith restored somewhat by indie entry Bears Can’t Drift?! at EGX, we were thrilled to come across a similarly awesome karter at Play Expo, in the form of Milky Tea Studios’ Coffin Dodgers.
As its name would suggest, the game is a darkly comedic racer in which players face-off as the titular cartoony OAPs in their mobility scooters. Not only was Coffin Dodgers a blast to play, but we were delighted to find out, during our interview with studio owner Jon Holmes, that it’s more than simply a game to pick up and play for a couple of minutes with your friends; it actually includes a fully realised story mode and online play as well.
Jon described the game better than we ever could when he said, “Coffin Dodgers can be best summed up as Mario Kart meets Wacky Races meets Pixar’s Up. It’s about seven old age pensioners who get paid a visit by the Grim Reaper one night, who says ‘I’m here to take your souls.’ So they all group together and challenge him to a mobility scooter race. It’s all about pimping up your scooter and battling it out in a 3D open world against the Grim Reaper and his army of zombies.”
Look out for our full review of Coffin Dodgers in the coming weeks.
Beyond Flesh and Blood
Beyond Flesh and Blood, a gory mech shooter developed by Manchester’s own Pixelbomb Games and set in a dystopian version of the city, is a title we’ve been following keenly since its initial announcement in mid-2014.
While we got hands-on with the title at last year’s Play Expo, an awful lot has changed in the meantime. Over the past eight months, the team have been porting the entire code base for the game over from Unreal Engine 3 to UE4, which was a move prompted by their enrolment in Microsoft’s ID@Xbox program.
After spending some time playing a much more polished version of the game, and taking on wave after wave of enemies, we checked in with BFaB’s project lead, Phil Muwanga, to get his thoughts on how the title has progressed over the past year, as well as how he’s handled the recent introduction of VR support.
If you’re not already familiar with the game, Beyond Flesh and Blood is a gritty third-person shooter set in a post-apocalyptic 2281. Players assume the role of protagonist Ethan, as he sets out on a mission to provide support to Earth’s peacekeeping organisation, the UGR. Ethan pilots a variety of combat-equipped mech suits in a reimagined, ramshackle version of Manchester, with his assignment soon disintegrating into a bloody battle for survival against the fearsome mutants and scavengers who roam the city.
The game is expected to launch in Early Access by the end of the year, with an Xbox One, PS4 and full PC release planned for Q1 2016.
Raging Justice was a game that first came to our attention at EGX. As huge fans of early-1990s 2D beat ’em ups such as Streets of Rage and Double Dragon, the side-scrolling brawler stood out a mile away in the rather crowded Rezzed zone at the NEC.
Don’t be fooled into thinking Raging Justice is simply the case of a nostalgia cash-in, however. Having played the game’s single-player mode at EGX and being impressed with the way it looked, played and the level of depth on offer, we were keen to experience some co-op action at Play Expo.
Raging Justice, developed by Rare veteran Nick Makin, captures the essence of what made those 16-bit-era games so great, while also offering a little bit of a modern twist. The game is very much inspired by that era, featuring pre-rendered sprites and many of the gameplay mechanics players associate with many classic series from the 90s. But at the same time, it’s also very much tailored for the current generation: it features HD graphics and audio, runs at 60 frames per second, and will also include a number of online gameplay modes.
Our three-level demo featured plenty of nostalgia-filled thrills and spills, as we fought our way through the stages on offer, which played out in increasing difficulty. While Raging Justice largely played how we remember Streets of Rage, with interactive environments and thugs of differing fighting styles, it also offered a whole lot more: unlockable combos; the ability to arrest rather than knock out enemies and a drivable tractor were all welcome innovations that we experienced.
We had the chance to chat with Nick at Play Expo after checking out the game, so look out for our full interview in the days ahead.
Massive Monster’s 88 Heroes was a game that came completely out of left field for us at Play Expo, but we’re more than happy that it did. Built on the engine that powered the critically acclaimed Super House of Dead Ninjas, 88 Heroes is a platformer that’s even more frenetic, outrageous, and bloody addictive than its predecessor.
Featuring 88 playable characters, many of which are hilarious parodies of some of your favourite gaming characters (we came across a malting Flappy Bird imitator and an overweight, balding plumber who may or may not be named Mario), you’re given 88 lives and must make your way through the game’s 88 rooms – do we detect a pattern here?
Each hero comes with their unique play style and abilities, which may seem a little daunting at first, but we soon found out that the game’s control scheme is kept deliberately simple and intuitive (we only had to use two face buttons throughout the half-hour we spent playing the title). This allows for both hilarious and frustrating trial-and-error attempts at making your way through each level. Make no mistake: You’ll die. A lot. With an instant respawn as a different zany character and the game’s upbeat chip-tune soundtrack, however, we were kept laughing throughout our time with 88 Heroes.
The game is currently in the middle of a Steam Greenlight campaign, and we hope to see it receive approval soon.
While we’ve kept a close eye on Boneleaf and Double Fine Productions’ party brawler Gang Beasts since well before its Early Access launch in August, nothing could prepare us for the hilarity and energy that surrounded the title at this year’s Play Expo.
The title sees up to eight players assume the role of the titular beasts in question, who are much more vibrant and adorable than the game’s name would suggest. The aim of the game is a simple one: you must eliminate your opponents from the current stage – all of which contain their own hazards and pitfalls – through hand-to-hand melee combat to become the last player standing; think Super Smash Bros. meets WWE Royal Rumble, and you’re probably halfway there.
The real fun comes from the way the characters handle, however. Resembling both plasticine and gelatinous figures, Gang Beasts’ combat mechanics are hilariously, and deliberately, unrefined. With your fighter wobbling all over the place as they struggle to get a grip on their similarly shaky opponent, contests soon come to resemble two punch-drunk boxers slugging it out for the final time.
With eight players duking it out on the two setups on offer at Play Expo, all the while an exuberant crowd willed their friends on, Gang Beasts is one of the funniest – and most fun – games we’ve experienced in quite some time.
Much like Raging Justice, Michael Heald’s Wulverblade is a nostalgia-inspired side-scrolling beat ’em up. That’s about where the similarity ends, however. As opposed to Raging Justice’s pre-rendered sprites, Wulverblade utilises a cartoony, cel-animated artwork, prompted by Heald’s background as a 2D animator.
The game’s story is built around a genuine history of ancient Britain, with players taking on the role of some of Britannia’s northern tribe in 120AD as they defend the country against the advancing Romans.
At Play Expo, we played the game on co-op on a two-player arcade cabinet, to which Wulverblade is perfectly suited. With a simple control scheme, which comprises a number of different combos to master, it is a game that is easy to dive right into – though button-bashers had better learn how to play Wulverblade properly if they wish to progress through some of its later levels.
While it is drenched in a rather bloody and visceral violence (one scenario saw our character decapitate his opponent and proceed to use the head as a weapon), Wulverblade’s art style helps to soften some of this brutality, and indeed, actually make it darkly funny in places.
We only got the opportunity to take on the game’s horde mode, which is an offshoot of its main campaign, so we’re looking forward to trying out all of the different options on offer when Wulverblade releases on Xbox One and Steam. Our full interview with Michael Heald is also available to read now.
Pan-Dimensional Conga Combat
Developed by Exeter-based studio RGCD.Dev, who specialise in creating retro-inspired games for PC, Pan-Dimensional Conga Combat is another game that caught us unaware at Play Expo.
The game is essentially a psychedelic shmup that manages to combine the vibe of arena shooters such as Geometry Wars with the gameplay of classic Snake mobile game – if the latter was on acid, that is. While it isn’t the deepest game in the world, PDCC provided us with some genuinely enjoyable moments as we competed against one another in its hectic multiplayer mode.
Super Adventure Pals 2
Super Adventure Pals 2 (the original debuted as a 2012 flash game) is an imaginative platformer that sees you travelling to save your papa from being turned into a hotdog. With a wooden sword to guide you and a giraffe in your backpack, the game evokes a childhood innocence that meshes well with the goofy, creative world the team at Massive Monster have conjured up. Super Adventure Pals feels like an antithesis of games such as Super Meat Boy in that it is a much more forgiving affair, but nevertheless seems engaging in a totally different fashion.
The game has recently been Greenlit on Steam, and will be available on PC, Mac and Linux in the near future.
Ultimately, Play Expo 2015 cemented the event’s position as a staple of the UK gaming calendar. Hopefully, by the time 2016’s convention comes around, Replay Events will have found even more independent and triple-A developers to participate.