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Narcos: Rise of the Cartels – EGX Hands On

Narcos: Rise of the Cartels – EGX Hands On

I’m a big fan of the indie games that Curve Digital publish, and their area is normally one of my regular haunts at EGX. This year the layout of the Rezzed area was so expansive that Curve’s games were spread out, not in one nice grouping like I’ve come to expect. It all meant that I missed the opportunity to take a look at Autonauts and Table Manners, but I was able to get some time with Narcos: Rise of the Cartels. Yes, this is a fully licenced take on the hit Netflix show which charts the fight between the DEA and Pablo Escobar’s cartel. And you know what? It’s damn good.

The full game, due out later this year across PC and all the consoles, will see two distinct campaigns taking you through the eyes of the DEA and protagonist Steve Murphy, or as the Narcos working to expand El Patrón’s brutal empire. The demo at EGX was played through the eyes of the DEA, probably for the best with the number of kids wandering the halls, with the in-game action cleverly interspersed with clips from the first season of the show and mission briefings from Ambassador Noonan. While Narcos won’t have the base building elements of the recent XCOM titles, the glimpses of “office” work I saw were solid enough to provide you with a sense of meaning to your work, and steeped in clichés like a massive pin-board plotting links between cartel members.

Aside from that you also get to manage your roster of DEA agents, Colombian cops, special forces and other leaders. The leaders, characters from the show like Murphy and Javier Peña have special abilities, but crucially only one leader can be taken into a mission as part of your squad at any one time. Looking after your leaders looks set to be important. While they may have special abilities, I tended to keep Murphy safely tucked away during the demo to avoid losing everything by foolishly getting him shot up.

The action itself takes place in artful surroundings in Colombian towns, cities and the jungle. The basic premise is different enough from XCOM or the turn-based elements of Age of Wonder: Planetfall to provoke interest in fans of the genre, let alone fans of the show. Rather than having control over all your units during a turn, in Narcos only one unit can take any action, but that action can be extensive. For example, I was able to take my demolition expert from the ground up a drainpipe towards a spot where I could fire my grenade launcher to take down a cartel member. Even after taking my shot, I was left with choices of reloading my grenade launcher or hunkering down and healing.

The flipside is that by moving my demolition expert, I’d left a fresh-faced Colombian cop in the open and ready to come under fire. Fortunately, he’d built up his counteract points. Replacing the classic overwatch ability of XCOM, counteract points are earned through limiting the actions you perform with a squad member. Once the ability kicks in when a bad guy approaches, you are thrust into a third-person mode where you can control the aim and timing of the shot, all while the enemy is moving in slow-mo towards you. It’s an innovative feature, although one that I didn’t fully get to grips with during the demo. I kind of glossed over that part during the tutorial level, too busy planning how to get Murphy out of a spot of bother I’d left him in.

There’s more to Narcos than the licence, although it is that name recognition that drew me to the stand in the first place. It does mean that I will need to finish watching season one of the show, so as not to get spoilt by the game. It’s a great marketing tie-in really, and one must expect that another game, or perhaps some DLC, will be released further down the line to cover the events of season two.

I came away from the stand pleased that I’d found a Curve title, especially one as potentially addictive as this.

Doom Eternal – Hands On

Doom Eternal – Hands On

There haven’t been many AAA games at EGX this year that I came into the show keen to check out, but Doom Eternal was one of them, so when I got the chance to get stuck into a twenty-minute demo of action taken from the middle of the game, I was excited.

Before the shooting started, there was a demo specific tutorial to refresh everyone with the basics of this generation of Doom games. It was a welcome refresher, and something that more companies could take note of when showing off big singleplayer games at shows like EGX. When trying to get your game into the hands of a wider audience, you don’t want them feeling put off by not knowing how to make the most of the game. A round of applause to Bethesda and id Software for that. The tutorial made a point of ensuring you knew how to wall climb, jump between walls and traverse the environment. Eternal looks set to be a much more vertical game than 2016’s Doom.

Upon getting into the action, it’s clear from the off that the id Tech 7 engine that is powering Eternal has taken things to another level from the id Tech 6 generation of games. It helps that the demo is being run on a more than capable PC, but the sheer scalability of the id engines should mean that Panic Button make another stunning port of Eternal to the Switch when it lands there later next year.

The levels I played through saw the Doom Slayer working to get back to Mars, fighting through a UAC station orbiting Phobos, a base falling apart under the weight of the demonic onslaught. Being a demo from the mid-part of the full game, you are already loaded with a bevy of weapons along with their respective mods. An early highlight was picking up a Super Shotgun. A classic of the Doom arsenal, this new version comes equipped with the Meat Hook mod which allows you to slingshot yourself towards an enemy. Extremely useful for crossing the many broken parts of the station, and for maintaining the fast-paced action established with the previous game.

Tying in with elements like the Meat Hook are the returning glory kills rewarding you with health, and a mega glory kill which can wipe out a group of demons in a stunning burst of melee inflicted gore. The chainsaw, provided you have fuel, will drop ammo while a new flamethrower will light up enemies who will drop armour once you finish them off. The new ways of keeping the Slayer topped up with his essentials might take a few moments of getting used to, but soon enough I was deep in the rhythm and blasting demons back to hell.

If you find a demon too far away to get an easy melee kill on, a dash move will get you up close and personal to finish the job. Dashing is another crucial element to keeping the action flowing, but fear not as there is always time to explore. Bringing up the automap will highlight objectives and the all-important pickups and secrets that are dotted around the levels. Rushing through head long will get you from A to B, but exploration and finding secrets has always been a key element of the Doom series and I was pleased to find a secret along with a few 1-ups.

These are new for Eternal and are another mechanism designed to keep you fighting, rather than restarting checkpoints when you inevitably die. It’s a great addition that keeps you in the moment.

New for Eternal is an element of destructible parts to the demons. The Aracnotron makes a re-appearance from the Doom 2 days, and you’ll find that a few carefully aimed rockets with destroy the cannon located at the top of the brain. Other bigger demons feature the same destructible elements, some might think they’re gimmicky, but I felt they added another layer to the action.

My one pause for thought came with an extravagant platforming section that reminded me of the worst moments of Xen in Half-Life. Obviously, movement is a thousand times improved upon Valve’s classic, but the sequence of hopping and boosting between floating pillars was a bit tedious. Where these platforms made you think about the game vertically, rather than what’s directly in your line of sight was welcome, but maybe I’m just too clumsy around the keyboard to traverse these sections as seamlessly as would be hoped.

It wasn’t too much of a blemish on what was an otherwise brilliant demo. If 2016’s Doom wasn’t up your street, then I don’t think Eternal will be. If it was though, then Eternal looks to be more of that goodness, just dialled up to 13. I’m on board, and have no issue with the delay until 2020, for a singleplayer focused game, I’d rather id take the time for a bit more spit and polish to tidy it all up.

My slaying was more than enjoyable with the twenty minutes going too fast.

Yes Your Grace – EGX Hands On

Yes Your Grace – EGX Hands On

One of the first games I checked out at EGX this year was Yes Your Grace, the upcoming kingdom sim come father sim from Brave Night with No More Robots handling publishing duties. I wasn’t expecting to see Yes Your Grace having missed the initial announcement a few weeks ago. Rather I was playing Not Tonight: Take Back Control Edition (on which I’ll have more soon) and saw Yes Your Grace elsewhere on the No More Robots stand.

It immediately caught my eye as something that I had to check out, and as soon as a spot opened up I was all over it. The demo started at some point in the future, a point where your kingdom is about to face an onslaught the likes of which you have never seen.

After speaking to some advisors, you take your king to the battlements where you are posed with some choices; you can give your troops a rousing speech, instruct them to open fire…or raise the white flag and surrender.

I of course chose to give an inspirational speech, while the person playing next to me decided to surrender, a decision which promptly ended their game.

My words to the troops didn’t help much, leading to a scripted defeat and flashback a few months to a time before the kingdom found itself at war.

It’s from this point that the game opens up and you get to do kingly and fatherly things. You sit at your throne and receive visits from your friendly tax collector who fills your coffers, peasants who want you to spend money and provisions to keep them safe and happy. Agents, such as a general who featured in the demo, can do some dirty work for you by venturing out into the world via your strategic map.

Perhaps the most important interaction comes with your family. You quickly learn of a threat to the kingdom if you don’t wed your daughter to a rogueish figure, while the squabbles between children also require your attention.

As the weeks progressed, I decided that wedding my eldest to a friendly king’s son could secure a military alliance. A wedding was planned while I arranged for supplies to be stocked up in case of attack.

The demo ended with the wedding, and me ever so keen to see more. Flavours of Game of Thrones and Reigns: Her Majesty ring through, which paired with an enchanting art style make for a very exciting proposition.

There is a rough release date targeted for early 2020, and things are feeling pretty polished already. Definitely one to keep an eye on, and an early contender for my game of the show.

Dry Drowning – Hands On

Dry Drowning – Hands On

The phrase “visual novel” is one that can spark hysterical reactions across the web from those who will argue that they aren’t proper video games. While Dry Drowning is being described on its Steam page as such a thing, after getting some hands on time through the first chapter, I’d argue there are enough “gamey” elements to put any fears to bed.

Dry Drowning, coming this August, puts you in the role of Mordred Foley, a disgraced private detective trying to make ends meet in the futuristic city of Nova Polemos.

Living Nightmare mode. Got to play your cards right!

This is a city built on some pretty nasty politics, with all kinds of elitist ideologies come to light as Mordred works to solve a murder, with a high profile politician the number one suspect.

Investigations are driven through conversations with your assistant-cum-partner Hera, various suspects or witnesses along with careful investigation of the crime scene. Clicking around where your cursor changes will reveal any necessary clues, and shouldn’t be too difficult to find, but it is how you interpret them that is crucial.

As events evolve, Mordred’ special skills become clear. He has a helpful trick of sensing when someone is lying to him, represented by a mask covering their face. With the evidence you have gathered you can reveal the truth, but interpret the evidence wrong and ask the wrong questions three times within a chapter will lead to a failure in the case, and the end of your journey.

It seems set to add some level of tension to your journey through this dystopian, cyber-noir world. Backgrounds to different locations are wonderfully drawn, which combined with the oppressive atmosphere of Nova Polemos and what seems to be, so far at least, some strong character work makes for a world rich in stories to unearth.

Lots of lovely text to read and find clues in.

The stories that you can unearth are multitudinous. Italian developers Studio V promise 150 story branches leading to three completely different endings. This will be possible thanks to a number of crucial moral decisions that you have to make through the game.

From the first chapter, they vary from how involved you allow Hera to become in your investigations, to deciding whether to prove the innocence of a key suspect, or to send them to prison in the hope that it will lead to a better world.

Whether the writing lives up to the high standards of the first chapter remains to be seen. I’ve come across a trans character, and one has to hope that the developers do her story justice. So too, with some of the political messaging going on, there will rightly be some worries that the tone can take a bad turn.

With only a few weeks until release, it won’t be long until I get my teeth truly stuck into Dry Drowning and deliver my Verdict.

Sekiro – First Impressions

Sekiro – First Impressions

From Software are masters of what they do, their Souls games are favourites for many and have been long famed for their brutal difficulty. They didn’t stop with the Souls game though, as Bloodborne landed to critical acclaim (although we never wrote about it here) with a different feel to combat, and a gothic Victorian setting.

Not to rest on their laurels the team are back with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, a game set in the Sengoku period of Japanese history, with From Software’s own unique take. Steam suggests I’ve played 63 minutes of this new adventure, 63 minutes which absolutely flew by.

I never truly got to grips with the Souls games, and while I thoroughly enjoyed Bloodborne, I became unstuck at the Blood-Starved Beast. I’m not going to proclaim that I will finish Sekiro after just an hour of game-time, but it feels more open to newcomers to the series.

A big bad, and potentially key to the story.

It helps that the early moments of the game are very much set out as an introduction to the basic mechanics of being a Shinobi, along with introducing some story elements which aren’t entirely shrouded in mystery.

I don’t doubt that combat, once I get stuck into the heart of the game, will become more challenging as bigger and badder foes appear. But, in the initial phases, combat is clearly explained to you, and enemies aren’t that adept at disguising their intentions.

What helps, from my perspective at least, is the change of approach to exploration and combat that comes with Sekiro. You can readily traverse the environment thanks to your prosthetic arm which comes complete with a grappling hook. Stealth is actively encouraged, and while I imagine many will choose to get stuck into the combat, the mere presence of a stealth mechanic is a godsend to me.

Death is to be expected with Sekiro, and I have suffered a few already. My first was a fools mistake though. While shimmying around a cliff edge, rather than press ‘X’ on the Xbox controller to mantle up safely, I press ‘Y’ and jumped off the cliff, and to my death.

Darwin Award worthy eh?

The interesting thing about death in Sekiro is that there is a respawn mechanic that kicks in under set conditions. I’m too early in to fully appreciate the pros and cons of this, but the ability to instantly resurrect yourself where you died is enticing, especially for those moments where you know you made a stupid mistake that led to your doom.

I might only be an hour into Sekiro, but my first impressions are wildly positive.

Escape From Tarkov: Early-Beta Thoughts

Escape From Tarkov: Early-Beta Thoughts

So I have a new love. We met in Russia (ostensibly) and just fell for each other during some long walks through the forest. I remember it like it was yesterday. Beautiful meadows, mountains in the distance, the occasional wild flower. Oh and Gunfire and death, lots of death. It was a match made in heaven really.

Perhaps some explanation may be warranted here…..

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Space Quest Too – Captain Disaster In: Death Has An Extremely Long Title

Space Quest Too – Captain Disaster In: Death Has An Extremely Long Title

Right. The only people on this planet that speak my language are robots. The robotic doorman won’t let me into the robot club without a membership card. I’ve found a membership card, but it is rather unfortunately floating inside the translucent body of a sentient blob. I could ask for the card, but unfortunately the only people on this planet that speak my language are robots.

If you haven’t already guessed, I appear to have once again stumbled into point and click territory.

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The EGX 2018 Report – Disco Elysium

The EGX 2018 Report – Disco Elysium

One of the most intriguing games I saw at EGX last week was Disco Elysium: A Detective RPG from ZA/UM. The demo opened with one of the most surreal introductions to a game I’ve experienced. Your character, a disgraced detective from Revachol West is having a conversation with his inner-self while you try to figure out whether you are dead, or just suffering a severe case of memory loss. 

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The EGX 2018 Report – Indie Roundup

The EGX 2018 Report – Indie Roundup

There was so much going on at EGX this year, whether I saw more games than previous years or not, I’m none too sure. What I do know is that I saw truckloads of great indies! I’ve already talked about a bunch of games as part of my EGX 2018 Report, and while this is a roundup, there will still be more in-depth pieces to come! I didn’t want to let some of the cracking titles I saw not get a moment of my time though. Hit the jump to get a taste of what else was on offer at the show.

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The EGX 2018 Report – Returning to World War One

The EGX 2018 Report – Returning to World War One

At EGX, I dived back into the mud and horrors of World War One, and no, EA hadn’t shown up with Battlefield 1, rather the combination of Dutch development teams, Blackmill Games and M2H were showing off Verdun and Tannenberg. For those of you unfamiliar with these, they are two parts of the developers World War One game series. Verdun takes players to the Western Front while the Early Access Tannenberg takes you to the Eastern Front. And I took them both for a ride at EGX.

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