Now we’re done celebrating those who can squeeze their budget like a parent refinding their lost child, it’s onwards to those unrestrained by petty things like money. I got to try a fair collection of big-name titles this year, each one pushing the limits in their own way. The same rules apply as the Indie Games of EGX 2016 list. I’ll talk about each high-production experience I got to have, give my thoughts, give a grade and then crown the best AAA/AA title of EGX 2016. Now we have that introduction song and dance out the way, let’s launch into familiar territory.
Game: Sonic Mania
Platform: PC, PS4 and Xbox One
Release Date: Spring 2017
Sonic the Hedgehog is a troubled soul. He started out so promising, but like most things born in the 90s he became twisted and corrupted. Now, poor Sonic is begging for rings on the side of the motorway, as though anyone outside the police force would pull over for him. There’s just no getting away from how Sega has been trying to keep him alive. If it wasn’t for the incredible being behind the Sonic Twitter account, he would have been written off as being in a coma. So now we’re back to what Sonic once was with Sonic Mania.
Verdict: If I told you that Sonic The Hedgehog was being wrapped up in slightly flashier graphics and new levels, what would your reaction be? Now, hold it. Mull over the thoughts you used, taste the words picked and the areas you’re focusing on. Embrace it like a wine. That there is Sonic Mania to you. Not necessarily a bad thing mind, except the god damn awful Robotnik TVs. Those can be fired out of a cannon into the sun. The grade for what amounts for “what you see is what you get” is a D.
Game: Dishonored 2
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platform: PC, PS4 and Xbox One
Release Date: 11th November 2016
It’s a sequel to everyone’s favorite spiritually-inclined throat-cutting game. In case you’re crawling from a cellar and need to custom yourself to current trends so you can blend into society again, Dishonored is a first-person stealth title. After swearing vengeance upon those who wronged you, you slink around the shadows assassinating each and every one of them. Meanwhile, there is the supernatural element where as well as gadgetry and swords, you can cast spells that have a variety of effects.
Verdict: There were two problems that always bothered me about Dishonored: Most of the tools you earn are geared towards going loud, and you get the bad ending if you kill too many people. Combined together, rather than playing in a style that you enjoy, it punishes you for playing it your way if it isn’t “the right way”. After speaking with those at the booth, I can confirm absolutely none of that has been fixed.
“But what is different? There’s that new character, right?”. Apparently so. Although I admit her primary areas of difference lie on her powers, which I never used much. Beyond that, to the glee of those who gave Dishonored 10/10, it remains mostly the same performance done before. For me, who had hoped the game would finally unlock the choke-chain around my throat, it’s getting a D+.
Game: Dawn of War 3
Developer: Relic Entertainment
Release Date: 2017
We’ve left behind two games in our wake that appear to dwell on past successes. It feels apt to now leap to a game that has tried to reinvent itself. Wanting to recapture the joy of Dawn of War‘s base-building while not alienating those who fell in love with Dawn of War 2‘s hero-centric gamplay (e.g. me), it is trying to capture both. Base building is back, but you also have heroes designed to lead the charge or hold the line with troops meant to compliment and aid alongside. The extent of environment cover has been decreased from DoW 2, but not removed to be akin to DoW. The demo I tried had me desperately trying to close Elder warp gates as they kept piling reinforcements in.
Verdict: I admit I wanted to like this. I love Dawn of War 2 and did enjoy Dawn of War back in the day. I also dig how much Warhammer 40k chews on the scenery as though it’s made of pizza. Yet, sadly, every step Dawn of War 3 makes feels like a fumble.
The heroes felt less of the spine of the army and instead pretty much every limb except the army’s toes and knee-caps. The environmental cover felt way too basic, asking you to run to domes for cover rather than pay attention to your surroundings. Tactics boiled down to “fling everything you have.” That is, even putting aside, I thought Elder was more about tactics and each individual unit being important than Ork-esque swarming. The aesthetic also felt muted and lowered in quality compared to Dawn of War 2, a 2009 game.
I really wanted to believe this was another era for a series I have a lot of love for, but I’m not so sure. Instead, everything feels designed ready for a tablet port with a tweak-or-two. As well as this, it seems as though it’s trying to meet the middle-ground of the prior two game’s fanbases rather than proposing something new. In that respect, I can’t help but give Dawn of War 3 a D-.
Game: Yooka Laylee
Developer: Playtonic Games
Platform: PC, Xbox One, PS4 and WiiU
Release Date: Unknown
To say that Banjo Kazooie and Banjo Tooie are cult games is perhaps to undersell how much of an intense following the titles have. So when the follow-up was revealed to be vehicle-building titles akin to Lego, people were predictably frustrated and disappointed. Over the next few years, the stars aligned in just the right ways and a spiritual sequel was announced to be in development by some of the ex-staff of Rare.
In it, you play as the chameleon and bat duo Yooka and Laylee as you collect. “What do you collect?” You collect it all in this, what is dubbed as a, collect-’em-up. You explore each level, hoovering up Pages so you can unlock more playgrounds to explore with your collection of abilities. These methods of conquering your environment include rollin’, shootin’ and glidin’ across the landscape.
Verdict: There’s no doubt it’ll fill in the gap in people’s hearts that was left hollow by Banjo Kazooie: Nuts ‘n Bolts. Although that was obvious since the Kickstarter campaign showed off its delicious screenshots and revealed the team behind it. “What does it offer the every-man?!” is the issue at hand, and it does offer a decent chunky amount. The environments are gorgeous, the gameplay solid and there is a sense of humor so tongue-in-cheek it looks like its trying to give itself a cheek-piercing.
Although there is the obvious warning label on the box: If collecting things doesn’t float your boat, then don’t get angry when your boat-insurance doesn’t accept Yooka Laylee on the claim form. Yooka Laylee’s grade is a B-.
Game: Final Fantasy XV
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PS4 and Xbox One
Release Date: 29th November 2016
Speaking of old favourites of the past coming back after a rocky time, remember this little series? Final Fantasy VII and VIII were games I technically enjoyed (VII significantly more than VIII), but IX was when the series became a special wonder for me. Then came X and X-2 which was somewhat awkward; XII felt generally sloppy personally and the XIII series I’ve heard to be akin to being made to run over your cherished pet with a lawn-mower.
Final Fantasy XV is a real-time strategy title where you take down beasties with your Japanese Backstreet Boys tribute band, with a demo set in a desert seemingly based on Arizona considering the American-styled NPCs. Yes, it is roughly as jarring as it sounds. Combat has you attacking creatures with one button, flitting/dodging with another and your cast activating their specials on command.
Verdict: As the first paragraph may suggest, I walked in with very low expectations. I had tried Lightning Returns‘s demo and was incredibly unimpressed. So I was actually very surprised by how well the free-flowing dynamic combat felt. Even though it felt a bit simple and basic tactics-wise compared to the classics, I had a lot of fun leaping around. My main grumble lies in how limiting the levelling up felt, as well as your choice in weapon, but these are things that could change by release.
Final Fantasy XV’s grade is a cautiously-optimistic C+.
Game: Gears of War 4
Developer: The Coalition
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platform: PC (Windows 10 only) and Xbox One
Release Date: 11th of October
Never afraid to let the developer’s refusal get in the way of a sequel, Microsoft managed to coax The Coalition to give a crack at a new addition to the series. As I lined up to give multiplayer a go (paying notice of the interestingly-empty line for a campaign demo), I considered how they probably would be walking a difficult tightrope. Not only they’d need to cater to the fans who love big muscular men chainsawing aliens in half, but also leave enough of a personal impact so it isn’t “new developer, same old story.”
The multiplayer is a wave-based survival title. Kill beasties, steal the change they drop and then build things at the moveable fabricator. These things can be guns (which have a lot of variety), but you can also erect turrets, spikes and other defense structures. After so many waves, a boss comes and if you survive you start again with every monster who wants to stomp on your throat now having more health.
Verdict: I am honestly a fan of last-stand modes. Done well, they not only allow for co-operative gameplay (since I suck at competitive) but also a suspenseful sensation of knowing this wave could be your last.
Sadly, Gears of War 4 just misses out. Maybe it is that after a relatively short while the fabricator hits a ceiling of what could be made. Maybe it is the somewhat imbalance of classes that give an exclusive ability, with Scouts and Engineers allowing for a lot to be made on the cheap. Maybe it is having a card system that rather than encourages tactics, instead pushes you into a niche you have no reason to escape. Then again, I guess it might have not helped my teammates at EGX reminded me why I used my Xbox 360 headset once online and never again.
The grade Gears of War 4 gets for its wave-based multiplayer is a C. It is simply okay, and those looking for an inoffensive time will enjoy themselves. That spice I hunted for that could lure in new audiences though? I guess I’d better shuffle on as there’s none here.
Game: Titanfall 2
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: PC, Xbox One and PS4
Release Date: 28th October 2016
I never jumped onto the original parkour FPS Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots simulator title. Although, in my defense, chaining me to the competitive online multiplayer radiator is a fast way to upset me. So I was new to this Titanfall dealio malarkey when I was exposed to the Bounty Mode.
Verdict: One reason why that introduction above is rather short is because I can’t compare with prior games. Another is simply if you held a pen to my jugular and demanded me to explain Bounty Mode, I’d probably weep and say, “I DON’T KNOW!”
There were killing players, sure, but also sometimes killing NPCs. Both gave you money which you hand in, for reasons that may exist beyond the primary objective but I couldn’t answer. You gun people as a class with a normal weapon and a strange anti-Titan weapon, until you can call in a Titan and gun other people down. There lies the only grievance I had, which was it quickly led to a situation where everyone and their dog was slapping each other around with Titans in a robotized clumsy playground fight in the school sandpit.
That isn’t to say the game was bad: it was good. Just that kind of awkward inoffensive good where you technically had a good time but you can’t put your finger on why. All the enjoyable parts blur together into a pleasing mush, only diminished by how insubstantial it all is. So, for a good unmemorable time, Titanfall 2 gets a C+.
Ah yes, now we get to our best game of AAA/AA. After eliminating the dregs that kept themselves handcuffed to the past, doomed to repeat it, I had a rather short list to pick from. This was especially troubling as I had two games sharing the same grade. Unfortunately, we can’t have two winners as Trevor (the urban legend rumored to have created BagoGames with cardboard, blood of an unknown source and magnetic tape) only has enough money to pay the graphic artist once for the printable Bago AAA/AA Game of EGX 2016 Award.
So, after much pondering later, I went with the game I’d be most comfortable pre-ordering if I wasn’t so constantly poor.
Game: Sniper Elite 4
Platform: PC, PS4 and Xbox One
Release Date: 14th of February 2017
Comparing Sniper Elite 1 and 4 is like watching a developer grow from a fledgling rough-around-the-edges spirit into a large towering force. Sniper Elite 4 is a mission-centric World War 2 title set in Italy where you’re given a sniper rifle, a large playground and an objective. How you do it, if you do the side-objectives and how many Nazis fall is entirely up to you. You can attempt to run-and-gun, sneak around everyone or just pick off your targets from far away.
Verdict: Perhaps one of the strangest things to praise a game for is just how brutal it is. The others I tried seemed to hold my hand. Even Dishonoured 2, whose difficulty apparently got lowered, felt like a breeze if I wanted to go violent. Sniper Elite 4 gives you the option to go at the Nazi force with the SMG on your back, and if you can do it, fair game. Although chances are instead you’ll have your teeth put on the curb and Mussolini jumping on your head.
There is also just how open the game is. I was given half an hour, but I could see myself needing a good hour to explore the map doing all the side-objectives. Especially as environment is key. If you want to snipe someone with your rifle, you’ll want to find a large noise to shoot on top of to disguise the racket your sniper rifle makes. How you shoot people, if you do, can also lead to upgrades on your weapon if you do it enough times. So you’re rewarded for, what is essentially, trickshots.
My only two gripes lie with what I cannot see: upgrades and narrative. If I am using the same tactics in mission 1 as in mission 20, as things like equipment stay the same, I’m likely going to be grumpy about the pacing. I was also curious if the narrative was going to go with the monotone straight-faced “time to kill Nazis” idea, or take a risk. Maybe take a leaf from Wolfenstein: The New Order‘s book and have the sniper self-reflect on his position in the cog of war? Just something a bit more complex and dramatic than “kill all the big-bads, because they are big and bad, okay?”.
Sniper Elite 4‘s grade is a B- overall, and seems definitely worth checking out.
This, as well as the Indie Games of EGX 2016, are all the games I got to check out. Although that’s not all. There’s a few games sneakily left off the lists because I got to interview the developers. So keep an eye out over the next few days as there will be video interviews with the developers by me or Chris Newton.