Callum Petch Goes to Eurogamer 2013, Part 1: PlayStation 4 & Xbox One

On the 27th and the 28th of September 2013, Callum Petch attended the Eurogamer Expo with the intention of playing as many games and attending as many panels as he could stand standing in lines for.  The following posts chronicle his adventures…

Like seemingly most people, seeing as how even with the Early Access advantage it still took about an hour to get into the damn area, I began my adventures at the Expo each day with the express intention of getting my hands on a PlayStation 4 and an Xbox One as soon as humanly possible.  If I learnt anything by the time I left the Expo on the Saturday, it’s that playing two random games for each console for an unceremonious five minutes each at an Expo is not a very scientific way of judging a new console’s worth.  So, instead, I’m going to focus on the games for each, which is how one determines a winner in the bewilderingly important console wars, anyway.

So, let’s uncharacteristically begin with some positivity with the one game for both consoles that I managed to play that I have nothing but positive thoughts on: Octodad: Dadliest Catch.  Of my two allotted games that I was allowed to test out on the PS4 (not kidding, Sony reps came around with a ticketing system and everything) this was my “Indie” choice and one I took a chance on thanks to the enthusiastic promotion of it by a friend of mine.  It took about 40 seconds for me to see why.  Octodad has charm and personality coming out of every single pore.  No, I could not do better than that and you know it.

The premise for the demo: you play as an ordinary man who is going about making the final preparations for his wedding by putting on his tux, finding the ring and walking down the aisle.  The catch: your ordinary man is actually an octopus-man and you navigate your way around your environment and towards your objectives by controlling his individual limbs with the triggers and sticks, switching between the arms and legs with a press of the square button and interacting with objects with the X button.  For example; in order to open a door, you need to hold the R2 button to indicate control of Octodad’s right arm, then use the right stick to adjust the height of the arm and the left stick to adjust the reach of the arm before pressing X to grab the door-handle and pushing it open with the sticks.

Octodad: Dadliest CatchThis sounds like an incredibly and unnecessarily complex control scheme that it would be impossible to ever get the hang of; but that is actually so far from the truth it’s amazing.  It’s actually quite natural and works almost perfectly.  There’s challenge in here, but it all comes from the level design and not from a needlessly difficult control scheme.  Trying to make it down the incredibly narrow wedding aisle without making a scene (read: slipping over inconveniently placed banana peels and knocking over expensive pottery), for example.

As you’ve probably guessed by the title (and the fact that I alluded to it two paragraphs back), Octodad has charm and personality to spare, too, which is really what sells the game.  The wordless antics, combined with the Disney art-style (with Octodad’s bride being a dead ringer for the girl from the Paperman short), create a very old-school cartoon feel, one that relies a lot on physical humour for effect.  Banana peel slips are all but accompanied by a slide whistle, messing up slipping the ring on the bride’s finger results in a mini-tantrum in gibberish and cute facial expressions, and dragging Octodad himself through the levels without a care in the world never stops being hilarious due to his forever unchanging expression at being pulled about by the elements.

My only wish with the Octodad demo is that it were longer.  A lot longer.  Like, preferably, 8 to 10 hours longer.  Five minutes with this game was not enough for me, I needed so much longer because, in those five minutes, the game managed to make more of an impression with me than a lot of AAA games do over 5 hours.  I am really happy that Sony are pushing this one hard because the PS4 has something really special here.

DriveClubWhilst I can’t say enough nice things about Octodad, I can’t say enough things about DriveClub.  No, really, I can’t say enough things because I didn’t really manage to get any real impressions from DriveClub based on the one two lap drive around an incredibly short course that I was allotted.  The most I can really say is that it’s quite pretty, really.  Not mind-blowingly gorgeous, as was likely the intention, but clearly next-generation quality (in that it’s just about prettier in terms of graphical heft than the better looking games on the current generation).  During my demo, meanwhile, I never actually raced anyone.  Instead, as I drove, mini-challenges would pop up tasking me with beating the drift score or cornering ability or average speed of another person, allegedly from a rival club of mine.  How I did in each of them at the end of the session was added up through an arbitrary system and then affected how my club was doing in competition with our rivals.  Or, as I so eloquently scribbled in my notes, “it’s a full game version of Heart Attack mode from Outrun 2”.  Which is nice, I guess.

Eh, what can I say, really?  One single, solitary two lap sojourn around a very short track session is nowhere near enough time to form a strong and cohesive opinion on a racing game.  I could say that the handling was quite stiff and punishing, or that maybe the game isn’t actually that pretty up close, with some noticeably lower-res grass and background assets compared to the cars, or I could voice my personal reservations about manufacturing competition between personality-less clubs seems to be putting a lot of faith in players just wanting to be the best, reasons be damned; but I can’t.  Because I got so little hands-on time with DriveClub that I’m not sure whether my middling thoughts on it are my full feelings on the game or whether further playtime would have adjusted to me to DriveClub’s wavelength.  I guess we’ll never know, will we?

Similar sentiments can be shared with the first of the two Xbox One games I play-tested, Ryse: Son Of Rome although these can also be attributed to the fact that, in addition to the strict 5 minute time-limit I got to play the game for, I had to play the game outside of its ideal conditions.  Or, to be specific, we were forced to play its co-op wave-based survival mode without being given time to read the controls and we were going to like it, dammit!  And yeah, it was alright, I guess.  It was a hack-and-slasher in 2013 and it fulfilled being a 2013 hack-and-slasher, I’m really not sure what else I was expecting.

Ryse: Son of RomeSorry, I’m burying the lead here; combat in Ryse is not all Quick Time Events.  In fact, whilst playing, I did not once encounter a Quick Time Event personally.  You’ll notice the disclaimer that I added to the end of that prior sentence and it’s because I looked over at my co-op partner’s screen at one point and saw him engaged in one, although we were both bewildered as to how it happened.  My guess (and I strengthen this because, once again, at no point we were told or given the chance to read what the controls were, it was play the game or get the hell out) is that a successful parry of an enemy attack leads into an execution QTE but, quite frankly, who knows.  I spent my time running about the coliseum and mashing the two attack buttons I had managed to stumble into repeatedly, an action that eventually led to enemies falling down dead in a pool of their own blood.  There is some degree of challenge in the combat, but that was mainly down to my lack of knowledge of the controls.  What I will say is that, even when I was massacring hordes of Rome’s finest with little effort, it wasn’t particularly fun, rather bog-standard and dull, actually.

Graphically, the game… didn’t look too great?  I think?  See, I don’t really want to pass judgement on the raw power of a next-generation console’s graphics because, quite honestly, I wouldn’t really be able to tell the difference between that and a high-end current-gen game.  Ryse was often blurry and the 60FPS added and detracted absolutely nothing noticeable to the experience; but, again, I may be wrong.  Mayhaps more time would have alleviated these possible negatives or, at the very least, enabled me to form a concrete opinion on the demo.  Instead, it was a rather long wait, followed by a disappointingly short demo that may or may not be representative of how future experiences of it will go, followed by being kicked out of the booth as soon as it was done.  Just like my first time will likely end up being.  (I am so, so sorry for that last sentence.)

With the lines for Forza Motorsport 6 a bit too long for my liking, Killer Instinct not interesting me in the slightest since it switched to free-to-play and my completely forgetting about Titanfall’s existence until 20 minutes after leaving the show (Over-18 games were primarily on a separate floor, this year, out of sight, cut me some slack), that left Kinect Sports Rivals to be the second and final Xbox One game for me to get some hands-on time with and… eeeeeeeeeehhhhhhhh.  Look, it’s basically a Kinect 2.0 tech demo than an actual game, per se, a walking “no, look!  It works properly now!  Honest!” advertisement.

Kinect Sports RivalsAnd it does work, admittedly, mostly.  As someone who is permanently unlucky with getting motion controls of any kind to ever work for him (for example, for some bewildering reason I will never understand, I never managed to get my Eyepet out of its egg with the ‘magic card’), I can testify that Kinect Sports Rivals was the one that finally worked without a hitch for me.  If there were cock-ups during my game of skidoo-racing, they were my fault for forgetting how navigation works, not the fault of the Kinect failing to turn me out of the way of the incoming sea mine.  So, yeah, the Kinect works now.  Everybody go nuts.  Outside of that news, Kinect Sports Rivals did nothing for me.  The rivals system, in my instance, because I didn’t play the multiplayer demo (because I went to the convention alone because I’m a loser), merely singled out one random AI opponent to beat which, funnily enough, did not provide me extra motivation to do well at the game.  I didn’t get to try the body scanning avatar feature because the demo stalls weren’t set up to do so.

However, I can say that the game did not look in the slightest bit visually stunning.  In fact, it even looked quite ugly; I’ve been racking my brains about this since I got home from the Expo, and I think I’ve determined the reason why I have full-on opinions about the quality of graphics in this and Octodad but I’m completely stumped in regards to Ryse and DriveClub: the art styles.  The earlier two have very distinct art styles – which does not work at all in Kinect Sports’ favour, making it seem like I’ve entered a nightmarish hell of evil, perpetually grinning mannequins, but that’s beside the point – whilst the latter two are going for nothing more than “ALL THE GRAPHICS, PHOTO-REALISM, MAKE ME FEEL THAT DISMEMBERMENT” which makes it harder to tell if they’re actually an improvement over last-gen or not.  I get the feeling, going forward and even more so than now, that it’ll be the highly stylised games that will end up being the most visually stunning, and the ones that take advantage of the new hardware best, than those that are instead looking for the shiniest guns and cars and back sweat.

Then again, what do I know?  I only got about 10 minutes with each console, total.  That’s nowhere near enough time to discern the differences in them between this and last gen’s equivalents.  So, yeah, I can say that I got to play the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One before 95% of the gaming masses, but it doesn’t mean jack.  However, I know that that is not the conclusion that a lot of you came here to hear.  So, based on the games I played (1 great, 2 undecided and 1 eeeeeehhhh), I guess I have to say that the PS4 is currently better.  There, can we stop with the console war bullsh*t now?


The Expo adventures will continue in further blog posts every weekday between Monday and Thursday until Callum Petch has ran out of articles here on GameSparked!

Callum Petch doesn’t want to be responsible for your fractured heart.  Read his weekly gaming column Petchulant every Friday here on GameSparked!

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