With the usual smorgasbord of early access to blockbuster and indie games, developer panels, meet-and-greets, cosplay, eSports tournaments, tabletop areas and retro games, EGX is a veritable temple to all things gamer.
The big highlights for me this year, as you can guess from the title, were Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding and CD Project Red’s Cyberpunk 2077.
Death Stranding was teased at E3 in 2016 and since then we have been drip fed weird, creepy, haunting and beautifully rendered trailers and cinematics that explain literally nothing. Never has there been a game with so much promotion and fanfare and still so little known about it
Despite this, and still nursing wounds from a lack of Silent Hills, I fully boarded the hype train. Choo Choo!
So with one of the key events at EGX being a Death Stranding Experience, I signed up with the hope of uncovering a bit more about this mysterious jar baby epic. The experience was a 25 minute snippet from the Tokyo Game Show where Kojima was explaining the “Strand” aspect of the game and you got to see some actual gameplay including combat.
This experience and the more recent launch trailer has certainly helped me piece together what this game involves and to be honest I’m now edging nervously towards the hype train emergency exit.
Currently I’m hoping that Death Stranding is going to be more than a post-apocalyptic FedEx simulator where you’re nothing more than a Norman Reedus Buckaroo. It does look like resource management and making deliveries are a huge chunk of the game, but it was still good to see some actual combat. The first foes introduced in the demo were antagonists known as MULEs who steal cargo from other Sams in the world.
Other Sams? Well this is the “Strand” aspect of Death Stranding as you are indirectly connected to other players. You can leave messages and items such as cargo or ladders and ropes to create paths to other areas. When it comes to combat this asynchronous multiplayer mechanic also means that other Sams can pitch in and help you take down a boss. However, unlike Soulsborne games, other players do not fight alongside you, instead they literally cheer you on from the side-lines and throw in useful items and resources to help you take the beasties down.
So far early reviews have been very mixed. The art direction and soundtrack has been widely applauded, but in terms of story and gameplay the general consensus is that it suffers from being overly long and complicated. It does seem that plotting and planning deliveries and resource management makes up the bulk of this game which means that Death Stranding, while undoubtedly being an ambitious work of art, will either be tedium or treasure.
Death Stranding will be available on PlayStation 4 and PC on Friday 8 November.
Johnny be good
Moving on to another dystopian future epic, Cyperpunk 2077 tells the story of V. A mercenary roaming the streets of Night City, constantly haunted by Keanu Reeves rocking a Winter Soldier arm. Your mission, to secure a one-of-a-kind implant that is the key to immortality.
Here is another game where I am fully belted in to the hype-o-copter! I don’t know a great deal about the universe having never played the Cyberpunk 2020 RPG, but ever since Keanu Reeves lunged his way onto the stage at this year’s E3 growling CYBERPUNK, I knew this was going be a game in my collection.
The design and visuals for this game are absolutely stunning, part Phillip K Dick wet dream, part Blackpool Illuminations. My only real frame of reference and something to compare this to would be the Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Mankind Divided games. But where brooding Adam “I didn’t ask for this” Jensen lived in a bio-technological and cybernetic disaster area that sat on the grey-gold-brown spectrum, Cyberpunk 2077 is an absolute visual feast for the eyes, and the pounding soundtrack really pumps you up for action.
When it comes to huge RPG epics I expect, nay demand a good character creator. After the Cyberpunk demo I know I’ll be setting aside a good hour playing about with facial feature sliders, scars, tattoos and hair colours. You can also choose from a few backstories where you can pick your childhood hero and key life events along with core attributes around body, intelligence, reflexes, technical and cool which all influence your playstyle and dialogue options.
The 50 minute demo was a live and extended playthrough of the Voodoo Boys mission seen at E3 where V is sent to take out a rival gang who have set up shop in the local and usually deserted mall. This is in exchange for an audience with the leader of the Voodoo Boys, Bridgette who can help you find Alt Cunningham, someone who knows more about the virtual ghost of Johnny Silverhand, currently residing in your brain.
Without spoiling this plot thread, there is more to this mission than meets the eye, and we got to see two very different methods of completing it, as the demo looked at playing with the combat driven Solo character build and the sneaky hacker Netrunner build.
Both builds have got their own methods of solving a situation, but while they are completely different they also look insanely fun. The skill tree or perks system is fluid and gives you more freedom to pick and choose your build so you don’t get railroaded into sticking with certain skills once you’ve picked a branch. This means you can go either full Solo, full Netrunner or mix and match to suit your play style.
I have been hungry for a customisable, open-world RPG with player choice, decision making, and god willing booty calls, since the ultimately forgettable Mass Effect: Andromeda. And while I struggled with earlier Witcher games I bloody loved Wild Hunt.
If I was in any doubt before, I’m certainly not now, and I’m going it as a Netrunning Ninja!
Cyberpunk 2077 will be available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Google Stadia and PC on 16 April 2020
Other notable games
Aside from sitting in darkened rooms watching secret demos I also got to try out the following:
Close to the Sun from Storm in a Teacup and Wired Productions
After seeing a teaser trailer for Close to the Sun some time ago hailing it as the spiritual successor of Bioshock, I was keen to give this game a go. I know that this has been available on Steam since May, but I retired my WASD fingers a while ago for fear that I would get lured back into bloody Azeroth again. So I’ve been itching for a console release.
On first impressions it’s easy to see why there have been comparisons made with Bioshock. The art deco style makes you immediately think of Rapture. You’re trapped aboard The Helios, a gigantic passenger ship offering a “haven for the greatest scientific minds” away from ethics and laws, which again makes you think of Rapture. Then there are the occasional paranoid broadcasts from Nikola Tesla which is reminiscent of Andrew Ryan.
Then the parallels stop. Yes it is a first-person survival horror game with puzzle elements, but in Close to the Sun there is no combat, no genetic enhancements, no powers, and as far as I could tell no mysterious men in diving suits.
There are 10 chapters in this game and I got to play a few. The early chapters are mainly about discovery and you could describe it as walking sim with the occasional door to unlock. Having said that, it is insanely beautiful and there were areas that completely took my breath away. Then an antagonist, a stab-happy dude called Ludwig is introduced and the gameplay ramps up a notch.
As mentioned, there is no combat and your only method of survival is to run away. This is where the game lost some of its shine for me as the controls for running and avoiding obstacles were just dreadful. I don’t know if this is down to it being ported across to consoles and if its more responsive on PC, but if you didn’t line yourself up exactly with an obstacle, you didn’t get the button prompt to climb over it. Especially frustrating when you have a whole other button to press for jump but can’t use that to hurdle over things in a chase scenario.
Close to the Sun is now available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch
Automachef from Hermes Interactive and Team17
When I saw Automachef at the Team17 stand I ran to it, mainly because I saw Team17 and the word chef so I immediately thought it would be another Overcooked style game.
I can tell you now, Overcooked it is not!
After blurting out my love for sushi making and combating small kitchen fires, I was immediately informed that this was a game with more “depth”. No Onion Kings, angry meatballs or zombie bread here. I’ll admit that I might not have fully believed them – a cooking game with depth, come on! Then I realised I’d not paid nearly enough attention to the tutorial and my automated hamburger and hot dog machine was throwing cheese everywhere.
Automachef is not a frantic tomato chopping nightmare where there is nothing worse than seeing the looks of disappointment on the Onion King and Kevin the Dog. Instead you build your own autonomous factory line of cooking by linking up ingredient dispensers, grills, processors and assemblers to get your food to the pass. Sounds simple right?
Well it’s a bit more complicated than that, and it probably shouldn’t be played after 6 hours of roaming the EGX floor, as this is a resource management puzzle game that demands your focus.
Turns out that there’s more to building an automatic kitchen than banging a load of equipment down and linking them up with conveyor belts. You have to get the programming right as well, making sure that correct ingredients go out at the right time and that robotic arms are programmed correctly to keep the kitchen running.
There is a certain sense of delight when you see your production line rolling, only for it to crumble into mild confusion when your hotdogs are rolling somewhere they shouldn’t. On a very basic level you are essentially building an enormous logic programme, but with bacon and cheese. To be fair to Automachef though, I didn’t give it the attention it most likely deserved and there was something in the design and humour of the game which made me consider it as a potential purchase.
Automachef is now available on Nintendo Switch and PC