EB Games Expo 2012 (or “There’s Nothing Wrong With a Big Lara Croft”)

I don’t go to a lot of gaming conventions. I can’t help but feel a little bit cynical about the ones that are hosted here in Australia. Let’s face it: we’re nicely tucked away from the rest of the world, out of sight and mind. Game reveals and debuts are held in the USA, Europe, or Japan, and we’re left standing here while the rest of the world asks us if we’re allowed to buy R18+ games yet.

With that in mind, what is there to actually see at this year’s EB Games Expo?

I decided to tag along with a friend of mine who was heavily involved in the local LAN and eSports scene. We were ushered in through the back door, passes jammed into our hands, and I entered the pavilion.

Crowds were manageable for the unfortunately named “Twilight” session. It was a young crowd. Parents were there with their kids, and they blindly allowed them to run amok and jump onto demo stations that were rated MA15+. Attendees either brandished Minecraft swords or replica Gears of War Lancers. Bro gamers queued for hours at the Black Ops 2 booth, and others equally patient lingered in line for Far Cry 3, Crysis 3, and Assassin’s Creed 3. (Someone hold these publishers back before we break the seal on this envelope we’re pushing so hard.)

Attendees experienced similar waits for the Wii U, which drew attention with giant displays of Mario. Sony had Wonderbook on display and plenty of PS Vitas, although half of the units I tried weren’t functioning. Ubisoft had a team of dancers on an illuminated stage showing off the next Just Dance game, with awkward volunteers from the public shuffling next to them.

Fifa and PES were also getting some screen time. Borderlands 2 has already been out for more than a week, but demo booths were up by 2K. Aliens: Colonial Marines was showing off its multiplayer, pitting Marine plebs against a professional gamer team of Aliens. It was a bloodbath.

A nearby hall was dedicated to local indie offerings, which was a nice touch. Attendees here were working through organised League of Legends ladders, Counter-Strike matches, MvC3 tourneys, and the like. Overclockers from Gigabyte were busy pouring liquid nitrogen onto CPUs as they crunched complex equations.

“Damn it, man, get to the games!” I hear you mutter. Alright, fine. Let’s just say I’m not looking forward to the future.

Medal of Honour: Warfighter was showing off some very sports-like multiplayer gameplay in its stand. With all the noise about honouring the fallen dead and acknowledging soldiers making the ultimate sacrifice, the multiplayer component seems to trivialise all of that with some tacky background commentary and short, sharp, meat-grinder matches. I guess it’ll always be hard to give the military its due respect when you have young gamers controlling these avatars spewing insults on public servers.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted looked amazing, but the demo was left wanting. The idea was for everyone to meet at a central location so that the individual race events could begin, but everyone was so focused on either finding the meeting spot, exploring the city, or taking down other cars, so it was well into the closing minutes of the demo before we actually started a race. Free Driving comes at a cost, I suppose.
I was also stuck with some kind of modified 2-door Fiat or something, and trying to outrun a Porche 911 was a challenge but, just so you know, it’s possible. The experience wasn’t made any better when the PS3s couldn’t connect to each other or even start the game properly. Ouch.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance isn’t even a word; it’s a weird mash of two words, like pasokonpurikura, or “crisitunity“. At least the game is looking great. Lots of combat, lots of sword swinging, plenty of slow-motion, and some cheesy Russian accents to boot. Again, I’m not sure how a game like this manages to get the nod from the Classification board if you can systematically determine how to slice a humanoid enemy into several different pieces in slow-motion, but hey, it’s totally okay because THEY’RE CYBORGS NOT HUMANS SO IT’S FINE NOW JUST KEEP SLASHING.

Hitman: Absolution looked and felt pretty amazing for a pre-beta build. Pushing through crowds and scoping out targets was done very nicely. Purists will hate on being able to identify enemies and objects in the environment with the pull of a trigger, but that should be remedied with its hardcore mode. Even with the help of Instinct, I still ended up getting spotted by a civilian when I was taking down a cop for his uniform. This resulted in a police chase through the main square, which ended in me grabbing a knife, stabbing the target in the stomach by sheer luck, and then getting gunned down in broad daylight. All in all, a good day’s work.

Far Cry 3, on the other hand, was far less impressive. Being the lowly newsie that I am, I waited in line with the rest of the cattle, and over an hour later a handful of us were ushered into an enclosed space with giant TV screens and either a controller or keyboard / mouse to use. The game world is certainly big, and looks to promise plenty of places to explore, but I was yet to determine if the game had any depth. The only indicator I was given was to activate a radio tower, so I climbed into a jeep and made my way there. Trucks filled with masked bandits spawned randomly on the road as I drove, and so I jumped out and dished out some lead justice, throwing a grenade at my feet instead of crouching on more than one occasion. Gun fights reminded me of Far Cry 2, running into the undergrowth to lose my pursuers, circling around and flanking from a different spot altogether. It certainly wasn’t boring, but it didn’t felt engaging. Again, maybe it was just a pre-beta demo and I was only experiencing a very select slice of what they wanted me to see, but there was very little that caught my attention.

So, should you start pre-booking for the next event? If you’re looking to experience a handful of new titles, ogle some girls dressed in gold short shorts who are trying to sign you up for a Final Fantasy (sorry, Rebecca, nothing personal), and do a bit of impulse buying while you’re there, then you could probably do those things elsewhere instead of having to pay for the privilege. The execution left a lot to be desired, and while I can understand that these things rarely go without a hitch, there was something lacking. Energy? Enthusiasm? Recreational drugs? I’ve yet to figure out what it is.

However, if you want to go for the spectacle, the lights, the presentation, and be around plenty of other people who actually give a damn about games, you could do a lot worse until PAX arrives.

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