Gaming and inane rambling. Not for everyone.

The general perception of gamers is that they aren’t particularly social creatures, that stereotypically they will hole themselves up with a stash of fast food and an overriding sense of fear and disdain for the outside world. While this isn’t a completely invalid view, the Eurogamer Expo proves that at least a significant portion of us don’t mind getting together and having a chat. As long as it’s about games. It seems like a good point to mention that if you’re not really into computer gaming, particularly console based, then these words aren’t really for you. Read them by all means, but it will bore you to tears. I really enjoyed the day, but even I got a bit fed up writing it all down. Also I can’t guarantee your satisfaction, even if you do like games. It’s tricky to get across the scale of the thing, there’s too much to do in one day so the experience is peculiarly distorted. Everything sort of blends into one fuzzy memory. Right, I’ve sold it brilliantly so let us begin…

For four glorious days (September 22nd – 25th) Earls Court played host to the UK’s largest dedicated gaming convention, showcasing a selection of new consoles and a glut of upcoming titles. Effectively it serves as a reminder that summer is pretty much gone and that it has taken the video game drought with it. Soon it will be Christmas, and basically that means in the next twelve weeks there will be more decent releases than you can possibly afford, so why not come and look at them and really get your consumer juices flowing. Which is just what I did. I’d never been to one of these things before so the only thing I knew to expect was queues, and in no way was I disappointed. There was a huge one to join in order to gain entry, there was one for the coatroom and then there was one for every single attraction. Sometimes, if I was really lucky, there was two. Regular readers will have been able to work out that I’m not the sort of man who likes to queue, and they’d be right. Clever them. Even I don’t mind a bit of a wait but it seemed to me that there weren’t enough screens and consoles to go around, there was a lot of unused space that should have been utilised.

Thankfully spirits were high, with practically everyone attending displaying wide, childish grins of excitement, so the long lines and waiting times weren’t too tiresome. If there’s one thing a glimpse of a highly anticipated game can do, it’s regress a large number of traditionally quiet, insular types into a group of infants, all desperate to share their glee. I was part of a group of four: two of us were Xbox 360 owners, two had opted for a Playstation 3. The first thing we happened upon was a multiplayer demo of the new Uncharted (PS3), I used to have the second game in that series, back before I sold my PS3, so we stopped and had a quick go. It was good, very fun to play but a bit too similar to the last game, and I can’t play it when it comes out so wasn’t overly interested. Pointed my phone at it anyway though.

After that, us Xboxers made straight for Batman: Arkham City and joined what was to be a 45 minute queue, while the Playstations went for Battlefield 3. Both were titles I was interested in but let’s be honest here, compared to being Batman, shooting anyone in the head with any weapon in any war torn environment is a poor second. There were several first person shooters doing the rounds, so I knew I’d get a go on some of them, but there is only one Bruce Wayne. Arkham Asylum is still one of the best games ever made and its sequel was a guaranteed improvement, promising a much wider playing area, some A-List villains and a more open world feel. The tight, layered combat mechanic is as solid as ever, with a few tweaks and new tricks thrown in to keep things interesting. For some reason they’ve decided to let you play as Catwoman, Robin and possibly others in this game, a concept I can’t really get behind. It’s a Batman game. I want to be Batman. Come on guys.

Still, it’s pretty much perfect. The city streets are a much more interesting playground than the often claustrophobic corridors of Asylum and allow you to – quite literally – spread your wings. It’s quite a sight to behold, Batman soaring across the sky, leaping from one building to the next before swishing down to street level and kicking in some heads. Majestic and graceful. I quite like Batman. I’m not so keen on controlling periphery characters, but they make me do it anyway. It’s certainly not a deal breaker but it irritates me, however I am in no way a (completely) petty man. I took a video and everything.

Then you get to be Bruce and it’s all good. Swooping about is awesome fun, the world is perfectly stylised, continuing to prove that it’s creators understand the tone of the character it focuses on. And the fighting is still nice and violent, which is important. While we were waiting in the line to play, an awkward looking man engaged us in what I suspect was supposed to be conversation. I’m afraid I didn’t want to talk to him, so I politely, kind of, ignored him, while Xboxer 1 drew his fire until he went away. Just before we got to play they stopped moving the line to ask boring questions and give out tat. Every time they asked a question we were supposed to raise our hand and wait to be asked, so that the answers weren’t given away with chaos ensuing. Awkward man couldn’t grasp the concept of not excitedly shouting out an answer. Eventually he managed to shout out an answer, immediately realise his mistake, raise his hand and shout it out again, but he never got better at it than that. It bears no relevance but it was funny. I got an Arkham City keyring too.R CONTENT MAY ALSO BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT (17 U.S.C. SECTION 1
After the hilariously long wait for Batman we regrouped. The Playstation servers had gone down so our fellow travelers had been forced to play on an Xbox. We mocked them, obviously, and then we had a quick look at Battlefield 3 as well. It’s a very pretty game indeed, even on the consoles it looks fantastic, but on the PC it looks incredible. It’s very much more of the same shooty shooty bang bang, but with a level of detail I’ve not seen before. The environments pop and explode around you, the movements of your squad are more fluid and natural, the sound is impeccable and the immersion is complete. Me want. I tried to get some video of it, but it was at this point I was told that you’re not allowed to video the screens, so what I actually got was a few seconds of very dull gameplay and some blurry footage of the floor, as I sheepishly apologise and fumble to sheath my phone. I have managed to convince myself that I was like some sort of media spy, but at the time it was quite embarrassing. It’s not a very good video, you can’t really see anything and it’s very short.  So I’m not going to show you.

We all ate some hideously expensive, pitifully small pizzas to refuel and try to steady our hangovers, which were threatening to piss on our chips. Thankfully, sustenance and rage were exactly the two things we needed to continue, and that we did. We saw Saints Row: The Third, which looks to be brilliant fun so long as you like vans that suck people up and fire them out of a cannon, puerile base humour and guns. I do, it turns out. We saw the remake of Halo: Combat Evolved, which looked like a remake of Halo: Combat Evolved. We saw Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, or at least we saw a tiny bit of a tiny bit of it, and it looked immense and beautiful. And it looked epic, but so was the wait to play it, so we didn’t bother. We saw the new Mass Effect, the new Driver, the new Zelda, the new Assassins Creed and the new Need for Speed, which was called The Run, and they were all, well, ‘the new’. Each was what you’d expect from the next game in a series, doing what it needs to do to keep a franchise ticking along. Except for The Run, which was basically Burnout.

There were lots of games, too many to see all of them in the time available to us. However, by this point it wasn’t the time that was a problem. It was the queues. The only other things we were interested in were the Playstation Vita, something that I cited as a reason for going at all in a previous post, and the OnLive, cloud based gaming service that allows you to choose from a huge selection of titles, hosting and running the software on a remote server and streaming it to your TV, PC, phone or tablet device. Both of these new toys interested me. That’s right, past tense, because they don’t anymore. Vita, it turns out, uses yet another proprietary memory format from our friends at Sony, and at the moment they’ve quoted $29 for 4 GB, which should equate to a little under £20, but the price of these things usually translates poorly. Even at £25, Sony can sod off. So I probably won’t be getting one of those. OnLive was more intriguing than actually likely to be purchased. I was drawn in by the ‘future of gaming’ possibilities and innovation. Sadly, the minimum Internet connection required is 2mbps and they recommend 5mbps. I don’t have a 5mbps connection and doubt I can get one where I am, and it seems foolish to use the minimum bandwidth required. My fellow Xboxer doesn’t even have 2mbps, so he was less than impressed. So I’m no longer interested in OnLive either, at least not until super high speed cable broadband is the standard.

If we’d queued for two hours we could have had a free OnLive home console, which apparently retails for around £80, but by now we’d all had enough. Everyone had seen brilliant games that made them feel painfully low on funds, everyone had seen powerful new toys from afar that they subsequently realised they didn’t really want and everyone had stood still for a large part of the day. It had been magical. We agreed that drinking heavily the night before had been a bit stupid, we were tired, irritable and over stimulated. The geek part of our collective brain was sick of all the other people. Personally, I was on the edge of sanity, only just swallowing the urge to openly mock the Anakin Skywalker cosplay attendee who had the head of a forty year old Milkybar kid with binge eating and alcohol problems. It would have been so easy. We needed to cool down and rest our bones. Maybe with a drink. In a pub.

I’ve been recovering since then, which is why it’s taken so long to get this on here, where you can look at it. Normal services will now be resumed, so look forward to regular posts about things that make me ramble for a bit, brushing on several points and ideas, in a kind of annoyed tone. Exciting, isn’t it.

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