At least 16% more reliable than IGN!
For those that don't know (which is probably about 90% of you, because it was criminally under-advertised), EuroGamer Expo is an important English gaming event which has been running every year since 2008 - and this time round, I was fortunate enough to go with a couple of my friends. It was a great place with an awesome atmosphere, and I'd recommend visiting it to anyone who is even remotely interested in games - but that's not what this review is really about. I'm here to talk to you about the previews I got to experience - not just gameplay videos, but actual demos.
That's right, people, I have played Skyrim.
Mass Effect 3
I only recently got into the Mass Effect series, and after playing half-heartedly through the first game, I wandered into the second and was gripped right from the start. So I was looking forward to seeing how Mass Effect 3 shook things up, and I have to admit I was more than a little disappointed.
I started up the game as generic John Shepard, who, for those unfamiliar with the series, is the male version of the protagonist. I picked Soldier as the class, like my own ME1/2 character, and was shown a levelling screen. This part looked a lot like Mass Effect 1's version, but with Mass Effect 2's skill lists, which is quite a cool method - unfortunately, due to time constraints, I couldn't do anything interesting, so I just whacked some points into random skills for me and my two team-mates (Garrus and Liara). Next, I got to watch a cutscene, where Mordin Solus told me something about the Genophage and Cerberus Operatives who were attacking us. Then, finally, I got into the action.
After a short test to work out the controls, I equipped the weapon that seemed most like an SMG and started fighting, plowing through hordes of Guardians, Cerberus Operatives and finally a Mech, who was probably the easiest enemy of the whole demo, just walking slowly around and generally getting in the way of my bullets. And there really isn't much more to say about this segment, because it was almost exactly the same as Mass Effect 2. Cover based shooting with standard guns, standard enemies, and standard skills. The graphics were pretty much unchanged, the controls to cover/jump over cover/run/make coffee/open door are still bound to the same key, and even the UI is almost completely intact. While I wouldn't necessarily say this is a bad thing, since I loved Mass Effect 2's gameplay, the fact is that it is unchanged, and the negative aspects are returning as well. So if you didn't like the combat in ME2 to the point where it ruined the game for you... it might be worth giving this one a miss.
The Bottom Line: It's almost exactly the same as Mass Effect 2, apart from a couple of nice additions to the RPG elements. Even so, it should prove to be a thrilling conclusion to the trilogy - but if you weren't a huge fan of the second game, at least be cautious.
Ever since I noticed the first trailer, I have been highly anticipating this release. I've been a fan of Rayman since I was a kid, and was, like many, sent into a comatose state of depression when those rabbits showed up and somehow stole the spotlight. But I was also slightly worried about it - will the new gameplay system work? Will the new art style fit in? And, most importantly, will it still feel like Rayman?
And, since EuroGamer, I can safely say that the answer to all of those questions is a resounding 'yes'.
I decided to play the game with my friend Reece, as it had the option of co-op. We started up the first level, entitled 'Jungle', and started to come to terms with what was going on. I was playing as the limbless, eponymous protagonist Rayman, and he dropped in as Globox, the mentally challenged blue sidekick. The artistic direction was immediately apparent, and perfectly captured the strange and comic world of the original. The gameplay feels very different from the classic 2D games - while the originals only gave you one attack (the fist-launch), Origins gives you a variety of different punches and kicks in addition to that Rayman staple. Jumping on enemies Mario-style also works, and the mixture of these two combat systems feels very natural.
The gameplay is also given a massive boost by how refreshingly challenging it is - a couple of areas required near pixel-perfect jumps and timing to advance, particularly in the second level, 'Desert'. This part involved hitting 'medallions' that were locked into the stage to get circular light shields, which blocked bats from attacking you. This shield ran out very quickly, giving you just enough time to get to the next medallion. Getting hit once by almost anything made you turn into a balloon, which the other player had to hit to revive you. There didn't seem to be an alternative version of this for single-player mode, which could get quite irritating, as we both died quite a lot - that might have been doubled if I'd been playing alone.
The third and final level was called 'Cave', and was pretty much a boss fight where we had to run away from a giant, creepy and surreal monster. This proved again to be tough, especially as when you died, you went all the way back to the start. However, this really reflected classic Rayman's speed-platforming segments, which made for fun and frantic gameplay. It was a mercifully short level as well, so we only lost a couple of times before completing it.
The Bottom Line: Rayman Origins is an immensely fun game that really captures the spirit of the originals. It's best played in co-op mode, and is suitable for players of all skills, provided they have some patience with it. Well worth checking out.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
OK, it's time to admit it - I am a total Elder Scrolls fanboy. When I was just 7 years old, my dad bought Morrowind from the local video game store, and I've been hooked ever since. However, Oblivion, while being a really good game, just didn't captivate me in the same way that TES III did - the combat was too clunky, the faces were disturbing, and the world was generally uninteresting. So I was a little worried about Skyrim, despite all of the reports of it being a massive improvement - so I was anxious to see how it held up at EuroGamer. And, like a Spriggan in the middle of an ash storm, I was blown away.
When I started it up, I wanted to create an Argonian called 'AWESOMSAUR' - but I couldn't work the keyboard, and was aware that I was low on time to play (I only had 15 minutes total), so I mashed a few buttons and came out with 'Prisonyyyer'. After whacking a couple of items onto him through the well-formatted inventory screen, I darted out of the starting cave and into the intimidatingly beautiful world of Skyrim. Then, I ran across to the edge of the ravine that I was situated next to, and found a waterfall, which I thought it would be a great idea to jump down.
One loading screen later, and I spawned back at the starting cave's door. Being increasingly aware of the time constraints, I rushed off to the right, towards a hamlet that showed up on my compass. When I got there, I felt the urge to slaughter the highland cow that was just standing in the middle of the town. Soon after, a woman yelled at me for 'killing valuable animals', which was quite a nice change from the AI in previous games, where NPCs would either flip out and have a nervous breakdown or randomly attack you for committing even the slightest of crimes. She didn't even look like a monster out an old zombie flick - not hyper realistic either, but very far from the uncanny valley. However, I'm not the sort to just leave conflicts at that, so I used my battle axe to dispatch of her, the finishing move causing the weapon to plunge into her flesh - and even though it was just a small battle that lasted only 2 seconds, it felt awesome. Further along, I got to a small tower, which was defended by three bandits - finally, I could try out some real combat. And again, I really felt like I was in the game - the brutal, fast-paced combat making every battle an involving and exciting experience. Then, after looting their bodies to leave them naked on the stairways (because, after all, this is still an Elder Scrolls game), I wandered to the edge of a snow-covered cliff and couldn't help but just stand there stare down at the breathtaking landscape beyond. And it was at that moment that I was tapped on the shoulder and brought back to reality - my time was up.
The Bottom Line: 15 minutes really wasn't enough to experience The Elder Scrolls 5. Even after watching at least 45 minutes of gameplay on around 10 different screens while queueing, seeing Giants, Cities, dungeons and all sorts of different gameplay styles, I felt that I hadn't even come close to scratching the surface of the tip of the iceberg of what Skyrim really is. It's a game that you need to take slowly, allowing yourself to get completely immersed in the moment. It's a game that will take the classic TES tropes and make them 19 times more unique and interesting than ever before.
But most importantly, it's a game that you need to Pre-order. Right. The Hell. Now.