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GameFest 2011 Convention

Rik McCloud

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Today I went with a friend to the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham for a show called GameFest. For those people in the US, Game is a chain of retail game stores in the UK similar to GameStop. Usually, this event is only held for the managers of Game and Gamestation stores but for the first time this year, they opened it up to the public and what a show it was.

The big headliner was the chance to play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 but queues for that were incredibly long (the longest on Saturday being 4 hours!) and other big titles such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Battlefield 3 took not quite as long but still a while. My friend and I decided we would make the most of our time there and we were not disappointed. I wanted to give a run down the games I played today and my thoughts on them.

So we got into the halls where the stands were and right in front of us was a Sonic stand with Generations playing. My friend and I wrestled for some controllers and we were both pleasantly surprised. Generations is a wonderful mix of both old and new Sonic styles and game play and it works really, really well! There was nothing weirder and cool than to play Green Hill Zone in the style of Sonic Adventure or the "Escape from the City" stage of Sonic Adventure 2 in a 2D side scrolling style. Some of the details in the background were particularly good fun (such as missing posters for older Sonic characters like Mighty Armadillo among others). Altogether, I can put my hand on my heart and say there will be something for everyone in this game and it will put the series firmly back on track.

Next, we had a go on Need for Speed: The Run and despite the fact it was being launched in a couple of months, the people on the stand asked me not to photograph the game. It was weird because I never got asked to not record anything else around the show. Strange. Anyway, the demo we played was very similar to Hot Pursuit and I don't think it's fair to base an opinion on it just yet as it was a very, very small taster. The demo lasted around three minutes with none of the core mechanics shown in the trailers for The Run in action. As a racer, it holds up very well indeed and will be one on my list of games to get before the year is out.

As we walked through the hall, a small, quite bland stand caught my eye. It's simple title: Retro Games. Oh yes, we had to go and look there and boy, we weren't disappointed! First console we saw was a Dreamcast running Dead or Alive 2. Then we had a go on a Mega Drive (playing Micro Machines multiplayer) and a Master System and there was also a Japanese Saturn running as well. But tucked away in the corner was a gem. A Vectrex running Minestorm. Imagine a CRT monitor turned so it's in portrait, then stick the games console in the box with it and tuck the controller in the front. It also uses vector graphics, not pixels, so the images it produced were incredibly smooth for it's time. However, the images were only in black and white so coloured overlays were needed. I fell in love with it's simplicity and quirkiness. But there was more!

I also went on an Atari 2600 for the first time and found it to be a bunch of fun as well. And, there was a working Atari Jaguar with Wolfenstein 3D! I have to admit, as bulky as the controllers are, they are pretty comfortable to use! There was also an Amiga CD32 but the rarest console there had to be an NEC PC Engine (or as we knew it, a Turbo Grafx 16) with Bomberman multiplayer! What an amazing little stand it was!

So after that, we found a booth for World Rally Championship 2 and it was as I expected. A few graphical, car and track updates but still a solid game. We then headed over to the Nintendo stand where there was a lot going on.

Numerous demos of Zelda: Skyward Sword which we had a go on and to be honest, it seems pretty similar to Twilight Princess on the Wii. Not bad but I could live without it. However one game that did change my opinion was Mario 3D. I'm not usually a Mario fan but this 3DS game might change that. It's like Sonic Generations in terms of taking previous power-ups like the Tanuki suit, and rolling them into one game with levels that really utilise the 3D aspect. Another one I really enjoyed was Mario Kart 3DS or Mario Kart 7 as it's being called. The hand gliding karts are really fun and driving underwater feels right. The car goes light on the insides of the corners, meaning it's inner wheels lift. I have to say that I expect the full version to be a lot harder however as the demos were very quick and very easy.

Kid Icarus is another title that surprised me. It's flying sections are really responsive and a lot of fun and the ground combat looks to be top notch as well. The game utilises the 3D just as well as Mario 3D so that one surprised me. Resident Evil Revelations is as good as I expected it to be. I actually jumped whilst playing the demo and felt like an idiot, only to be made to feel better when someone else a few minutes later did the same thing! Definitely worth buying though when it is released.

I wish I could say the same for Driver: Renegade. After the glorious San Francisco on the PS360, Renegade can't really compete. It's arcade looks and physics just don't work after I'd fallen in love with how San Francisco plays and I know it's unfair comparing the handheld version to the PS360 version but there are some things the 3DS is good at. Sadly, open world driving isn't one of them. I will probably get it when it gets cheaper. A lot cheaper.

Another mild disappointment was Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater 3D. This suffered from severe slow down in the cutscenes and whilst the detail on everything was amazing, you could tell it was really pushing the 3DS' hardware. Gameplay wise, it doesn't play too badly but the camera is controlled with the A, B, X and Y buttons. I can tell that this is calling out for the extra circle pad that Nintendo will release next year.

One game I did enjoy and can see being a great local multiplayer game is Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One. In the demo my friend and I played, you all work together to get to the objective and rather than it being over competitive as I found New Super Mario Bros Wii to be, it was a lot of fun and very satisfying to blast enemies together.

A similar game but one that I see more of a money spinner for Activision is Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure. You know it's trouble when a once major game character's name gets sidelined in the title. So here's how this one works. You get a stand that plugs into the console. You put a model of the character you want to play as on it. The console recognises the chip in the model and then you are able to play as them in the game. Add multiplayer with friends and you are left with a peripheral heavy, not very challenging game that will sell a fair bit just because it has Spyro in it who seems a shadow of his former self. In the demo I was playing, he was wearing a bucket on his head. Perhaps he should have kicked it?

One of the final games we played was PixelJunk's Sidescroller. This is definitely one I recommend for all PS3 owners. It's a simple to understand, pleasant to look at, fun and challenging to play game and I bet it will be super affordable too.

But the biggest surprise of the show for me had to be Ridge Racer Unbounded. You all know Ridge Racer right? Drift around corners at 200mph with seriously corny voice overs and tracks that have been used since 1993. Well, seems someone at Namco was thinking of me when I was lamenting the loss of Split/Second 2 as Ridge Racer has suddenly gone very heavily in that direction. Everything from game play to presentation makes it feel like a spiritual successor to Split/Second than just another Ridge Racer game and there's a bit of Burnout thrown in there for good measure. It looks and sounds utterly amazing. Purists will probably gasp and faint when they see it but what I liked is that whilst it feels like Split/Second, it is not a second rate clone of it. It is still very individual and a quite amazing direction for the series to take. The demo I played makes me want it tomorrow. I utterly adored it!

Phew, so there you go! My day at GameFest. Sure beat waiting in a line for one game for several hours. If I had, I would have never had my eyes opened to the exciting new games coming out very, very soon, Ridge Racer especially. But also, my appetite for older stuff has been wetted even more!

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Sounds like a fun time indeed! I'm actually quite glad to hear that Sonic Generations and R&C- All for One were fairly alright, and that there was a presence of retro gaming as well. As for Driver: Renegade, I expected as much; a portable title wouldn't be able to hold its own against the excellent San Francisco.

This makes me feel the need to bug the gaming industry over here in the US for something like this, :lol:

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Sounds like a fun time indeed! I'm actually quite glad to hear that Sonic Generations and R&C- All for One were fairly alright, and that there was a presence of retro gaming as well. As for Driver: Renegade, I expected as much; a portable title wouldn't be able to hold its own against the excellent San Francisco.

This makes me feel the need to bug the gaming industry over here in the US for something like this, :lol:

I hope that with the success of this event here, it might pave the way for more shows in the future as everywhere seemed bustling and it was nice to see such a wide variety of publishers and developers with stands there. Sonic Generations should be a hell of a lot of fun when it comes out and Ratchet & Clank is just as crazy as the series has always been with hordes of enemies facing you down but the new angle of co-op play works really well.

Renegade isn't bad but it feels average. When GTA came onto the DS with Chinatown Wars, it played to the console's strengths whilst still feeling like GTA. And it worked.

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