Hands on with 4 upcoming games at EGX

First impressions are important

EGX is the UK’s biggest gaming event, offering attendees the chance to play PC and console games weeks or months before their official release dates. We went along and got the chance to play Rise of the Tomb Raider, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, and Ratchet and Clank. With games being so expensive and choice being extensive, first impressions can mean everything, and these are ours.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Image: © Square Enix

I felt more than a bit trepidatious as I picked up the controller to start playing this demo; it’s my first taste of the Tomb Raider reboot’s sequel and I had some expectations. 2013’s Tomb Raider was an explosive and gritty reboot of an admittedly aging franchise, but somewhere along the way in development I felt it had lost one of the things I loved about Tomb Raider: the joy of exploration. Locations that felt aged, ancient and foreboding but made for exploration were replaced dilapidated and dangerous environments that were not somewhere I ever wanted to be, even in-game. Part of the joy of Tomb Raider was walking into a lush, stunning location, taking a moment to look around, and then rolling up your figurative sleeves to solve some puzzles, find some artefacts, perform some excellent acrobatics, and maybe take down some enemies on the way.

The 2013 reboot, however, was more exhausting than this; I never wanted to stay in one location for long, and I felt like I was fighting enemies more than I was exploring. Basically, I felt more like Nathan Drake with long hair than I did Lara Croft. So you can understand why I wanted some sign from this demo that this time a balance had been struck. By all means keep the action, but offset it with some of the classic Tomb Raider locales and exploration puzzles.

Thankfully, from what I saw in this short demo I can actually look forward to playing Rise of the Tomb Raider. For one thing, I got my wish immediately: a lush and ancient tomb to explore. Then, even better, environment-based puzzles, even water puzzles! There wasn’t the same sense of constant mortal peril either which made the gameplay and puzzle solving more enjoyable. The game looks wonderful (I think this is the closest we’ve gotten to real-looking female hair), the environments were large and their colour palettes were rich and vibrant. All in all, the demo left me much more excited for Rise of the Tomb Raider than I was.

Shame about that timed exclusivity meaning that although the game will come out November 10 2015, non-XBox owners won’t get their hands on it for another year. I suppose I’ll have to wait.

Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate

Image: © Ubisoft

Assassin’s Creed Unity left a lot of people feeling pretty cold towards the series, launched full of glitches and suffering from a less-than-stellar story. The Assassin’s Creed series has always won my custom by consistently picking historical periods I adore and will take any opportunity to explore, but I’ve been feeling less and less excited for each release since the third instalment. Ubisoft certainly went all out with their stand for Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, as you can see below, but my initial reaction to all of this was “please don’t be compensating.”

The demo I got to play was, thankfully, starring Evie Frye, the game’s female protagonist; I’ve been looking forward to trying some Evie gameplay since her announcement. Evie is supposed to be the stealth-centric Frye twin and you can see elements of this in her gameplay, such as her turning transparent when she stays still for more than a few seconds. More new features include the grappling hook, which is an excellent idea and really easy to use. Buildings are set slightly wider apart in Victorian London and it seems the hook has been added in an effort to make this fun rather than frustrating. It’s worked. Evie’s stealth wasn’t all about sneaking, either; there are plenty of options for infiltrating the building to get to your Templar target but a fun new one was Evie pretending to be escorted by a guard inside. It was almost too easy, but it was great fun and it felt like a neat and, yes, stealthy solution to the problem of a lot of guards. Assassin’s Creed Unity left me feeling too often like I was fighting off hordes of guards so more simple infiltration features like this are a pleasure to see.

Combat felt a little different. With Evie everything was so fast and efficient; for a character who is supposed to be mostly used for stealth it was incredibly fun using her in direct combat. I found I really enjoyed the use of the sword cane as well, it felt very Holmesian.

The demo was enjoyable, and no doubt I’ll buy Assassin’s Creed Syndicate on the back of it but I’m not overly excited. It’s another Assassin’s Creed game. That’s it. I want to find out more about Evie and Jacob’s relationship because that’s a new dynamic, I want to see more of Victorian London, but I know I won’t be getting any groundbreaking gameplay. As long as there are no horrible glitches I don’t really have a problem with that.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate will be available on PS4, Xbox One, and Windows on October 23 2015.

Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer

Image: © Nintendo

I had to have a look at Animal Crossing Happy Homes, just to confirm that it is indeed Animal Crossing but with all the bits I found tiresome taken out. If you’re the kind of person that loved playing The Sims, but mostly for the building and decorating, then this game is probably for you. The Animal Crossing games have always been about self expression, but it seems that Happy Home Designer is taking a more focussed route than the general life simulation of the other games, dropping the gardening, shopping, and exploration for designing the dream homes of villagers. I never imagined myself working for Tom Nook and feeling good about it, but the characters that populate Nook Homes are the cheerful without being grating figures we’re used to seeing in Animal Crossing, making them a pleasure to work with.

You’ll find yourself designing interiors and exteriors for everything from shops to homes, following briefs that are very general. After going completely off track from what one villager asked me to do, I found that it didn’t much matter; they’re pleased with whatever you give them which is good for not limiting creativity, but it does kind of make you feel like any efforts to abide by the brief are ultimately pointless. Happy Home Designer was more generous than I expected it to be, with a wide range of furnishings and customisation options, not holding you back with financial concerns. I guess those only exist in the Animal Crossing universe when Tom Nook’s out to break your legs for mortgage repayments.

I had fun with Happy Home Designer in the time I had it, but I imagine like other games in the series the novelty will wear off and it’ll become repetitive quite quickly. However, it does provide a leisurely kind of fun that you’ll always want to return to eventually.

Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer will be available in Europe October 2 2015.

Ratchet and Clank

Image: © Insomniac

Some of my fondest Playstation 2 memories are from playing Ratchet and Clank, so I was incredibly excited to get my hands on the PS4 version, based on the upcoming movie, which is based on the original game. I could definitely feel the spirit of the original in my short play of this version; Metropolis is just as bright and colourful, but it feels even bigger, more bustling, and more alive. Insomniac have not failed to bring back their trademark insane weapons to this game, making the masses of enemies determined to destroy you an absolute joy to take down. The Pixelizer, a weapon that turns enemies into explosive 8-bit pixels, was a personal highlight of the few weapons I got to see.

Ratchet and Clank is promising new enemies, new weapons, and a deeper look at the characters’ origins, showing that Insomniac aren’t just cashing in on the nostalgia of fans of the original; they’re bringing something new and exciting to the table. From what I played yesterday, I can’t wait to play some more of this thoroughly modern Ratchet and Clank that’s clearly utilising the improved capabilities of the PS4 to do something more than just a remake.

Main Image:© EGX