Having missed out on EB Games Expo 2011, I was intent on hitting up this year's event. After all, it's the closest thing Australia has to E3, and the last games expo I went to here was the embarrassingly lacking 'eGames' expo, which is now unsurprisingly defunct with no near future revival on the cards.
The weekend didn't start off so good for me. I had an early-Friday interview booked in with Kristoffer “Hoffe” Bergqvist, the online director for Medal of Honor: Warfighter, only I missed the appointment because my flight to Sydney was cancelled. Thankfully, Ben was able to cover for me and sit down with the acclaimed games designer.
The EB Games Expo is very much like E3: long lines, booth babes, cosplay, massive set pieces, and lots of non-gamers presenting products they know nothing about. There's something especially irritating about playing a game with someone that's supposed to know about the product, only to have them not know how to answer the most basic of queries about the game.
Unfortunately, those sorts of people come part and parcel with these events. The main difference between EB Games Expo and E3 is that the former is basically one big commercial for the publishers and EB Games: gamers line up (sometimes for hours) to play highly anticipated games, before pre-ordering the game at the expo, so you have to expect promotional staff hired exclusively for the event, whether they have much games knowledge or not.
The event essentially makes demos obsolete: it bundles preview gameplay with on-the-spot pre-ordering, something I think benefits both publisher and retailer. I admire EB Games' ability to stay relevant at a time when retail is struggling, and companies like GAME go under. The relationship between retailer and publisher in this case I feel is good for gamers, and the event thankfully did feel like a celebration of mainstream, blockbuster games.
Indie development also got a good look-in with its own area outside the main arena, and it was good to see that room almost always full and rocking with curious gamers and excited young developers.
The Best Of EB Games Expo
MMGN contributor Leigh Harris sums up my thoughts perfectly:
The world really feels alive, which is vital for any game where you’re spending so much time slowly sneaking around and observing things.
This is a game that looks fantastic, plays superbly, and is especially engaging. It's the only demo at the Expo I went back to play a second time.
Aliens: Colonial Marines
The line was ridiculously long at times but the wait was definitely worth it: this is as an authentic Aliens games as we've ever gotten. It sounds and looks exactly as I hoped it would, and the multiplayer experience is tense and highly competitive. The multiplayer campaign in Aliens vs Predator from earlier this generation was solid, although at-times a little unbalanced: the strength and speed of Aliens made the Marines less evenly placed and more hunted, which one might expect in an Aliens game, although it sometimes made for a disjointed multiplayer experience.
Thankfully the multiplayer in Colonial Marines feels more grounded and balanced in that regard, and Marines pack plenty of pace and power to make for an evened and highly enjoyable competitive battlefield.
Assassin's Creed 3: Liberation
Liberation, the Vita version of Assassin's Creed 3, is released at the same time as its console counterpart, and I can't say that gamers will be rushing to pick this up ahead of that version. However, this is certainly the best looking and most enjoyable blockbuster Vita game coming in the near future.
It looks stunning on the Vita screen and plays great, and while I wouldn't recommend it first-hand over the console version, it's definitely something Vita owners should be looking to invest in, considering the obvious lack of blockbuster games on offer.
Splinter Cell: Black List
Wow! While this game wasn't available for hands-on, Ubisoft provided a fantastic live presentation of the game running on Alienware PC hardware, and boy does it look fantastic. Splinter Cell fans will certainly recognise the game's core combat and stealth mechanics: this is a game that incorporates stunningly detailed environments and cutscenes, engaging and tense combat, and fantastic tactical espionage gameplay. This game suddenly went to the top of my most-wanted.
And The Worst...
Call Of Duty Vita No-Show
Call Of Duty: Black Ops Declassified is supposed to be Vita's system-seller, but its no-show appearance, at an event where many beta codes were on display, is especially disheartening. Sony had a large offering of games in its booth, while Activision had Black Ops 2 and Skylanders, but neither had the Vita game.
Factoring in discouraging previews of the game, the fact it's developed by the team that brought us the poor Resistance: Burning Skies, and its EB Games Expo no-show, and it's hard to get excited about this, even as a dedicated CoD gamer.
I have to say that I was disappointed with the demo on show here, because the game looks and plays great, but what was offered wasn't especially inspiring. Gamers got a look at a hunting survival demo, where the game's core mechanics were introduced, albeit in a dull but visually appeasing manner.
While I'm sure this game is going to be a hit -- it controls too well and looks too good not to be -- the demo maybe wasn't the best to persuade curious gamers. I just wasn't convinced personally. I'd much rather have preferred some combat, more platforming and perhaps even some puzzles. We didn't really get that.
Microsoft's (No) Show
As a major platform holder, one might expect more from Microsoft at the biggest games expo in the country. While Halo 4 was certainly one of the more popular games at the show, nothing much else was there: Forza Horizon is a solid arcade racer that feels more Need For Speed than Forza, while the Kinect offering was basically sequels to games like Kinect Sports and Dance Central. That's the best Microsoft has to show for this late in the generation.
The Show Itself
I think the show was well organised. Lines were long, but that's to be expected, and gamers could skip to the front with the Express gamer pass, which I think is a great initiative for an event like this. EB Games knew the event would bring in thousands of gamers, and they informed patrons by offering different levels of ticketing: if you didn't anticipate long lines, then this probably isn't the right sort of event for you.
It's hard to step aside from my media role and look at an event like this as a gamer. Considering how many upcoming games were on display for hands-on time, well ahead of their release, I feel that, big crowds and lines aside, if you had the patience to wait and take on the hoards of excited gamers, then EB Games Expo would certainly be a great event. This is coming from someone that LOVES E3: as much as people complain about the long hours, big nights and limited sleep, I enjoy the blockbuster presentations and excitement of playing highly anticipated games, and EB Games Expo was no exception for me.
I'm definitely looking forward to next year's event. Hopefully it gets bigger and better!
By Gaetano Prestia
Did you enjoy EB Games Expo? Share your thoughts and experiences below!