This year, I went to Manchester’s EventCity to experience Play Expo 2015. An annual event that brings together game lovers from all around the country, Play Expo lived up to the hype of previous years whilst still bringing something different this time around.
Play Expo 2015 was all about the indie-gaming experience. Although there were many games on display from the established markets, the indie games were the ones that really stood out from the crowd. That’s not to say some of the mainstream titles weren’t good. I dabbled briefly in playing Dark Souls 3 for the PlayStation 4. The game itself was beautiful, the graphics were crisp and the gameplay was definitely both engaging and lived up to the difficulty of its predecessors.
However, as someone who has never personally been a die-hard fan of the series, having only really played the first one, the game seemed to play almost identically to the first. There was nothing unique that I could pick from it that made it stand out from my previous experience of the series.
Dark Souls was the only non-indie game that I played before the indie games quickly took over. The first of these was a third person shooter called Beyond Flesh and Blood. The game is available on PC, however it will also soon be available for Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Those who were at last year’s Play Expo may recognise the title as it also made an appearance there. However, for 2015, the game made a comeback with a far more polished design.
For those who are less familiar, the game is set in a post-apocalyptic recreation of Manchester. This for me became quite entertaining as I quickly began to notice landmarks from the demo area that were familiar to me. However, as far as third person shooters go the game is quite generic.
Its appeal lay mostly in the familiar setting and the fact that it also supports the Oculus Rift. Being able to engage with a virtual reality headset and play the game with a new dimension is always a bonus for any gamer, however it did not necessarily make the game itself any better. In any case, I was only able to play for about five minutes with Oculus Rift before I began to feel slightly light-headed and had to move on!Photo: The Mancunion
The next game that caught my attention was a Mario Kart style game called Coffin Dodgers, in which players play as elderly characters who are on the run from death. Yes, it was just as funny as it sounds, however the AI did not do it any justice.
It was disappointing that the demo itself had so many flaws, such as being impossible to beat on later courses. Certain promised aspects of the game, such as items, were also not working. However, hopefully we can assume that whatever feedback is taken for the game will be implemented as this quirky racing game has a lot of potential. Personally, I think this will be the case as game representatives were on hand to provide an insight into the game’s features that were not part of the demo, such as the upgrading and customisation of your scooters.
The last game I played was a Minecraft-style, free-to-play MMO title called SkySaga, although categorising the game with the other Minecraft clones would be greatly devaluing the game as a whole. From the very start, it is quite evident that a lot of passion had been put into the game with no assets being taken from Minecraft itself. The game is completely unique in all regards, from the models, the textures and the objectives.
Within the gameplay there are three pathways that can be undertaken: exploring and questing a procedurally generated world which requires the use of gem keys to access; house management through which you can decorate and expand your own personal island; and the coliseum which makes up the PvP section of the game that is crucial to traditional MMOs.
However, as is the case with any free-to-play MMO, micro-transactions will most definitely play a major part in the game. Although this was not too evident in the demo, there were instances that I noted in which the gaming experience could be sped up or made better through the use of real-world money, such as farming for gem keys, and I’m sure these instances will become more embedded as the game develops further.
Besides these three ‘major’ indie titles, I would like to briefly write about two smaller titles that I believe are worth mentioning: City of the Shroud, and Sokos. The former is a strategy RPG much like the Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem series but with real-time action and even a stamina meter thrown in. The game seems to require a lot of micro-management and quick thinking skills, however it has the potential to be a fun and successful strategy RPG once finished, especially as it also offers a nice multiplayer touch.
The second game, Sokos, is essentially a cross between Portal and Lemmings. You play as a creature called Soko who has the ability to create portals – you enter the green ones and exit the purple ones. Once these portals have been set, Soko runs freely through them without the player’s control, therefore adding a dimension of difficulty to the game as the portals must be laid out for Soko to run through them successfully. The overall gameplay was enjoyable and the level designs were good for the most part.
The introductory world was great and engaging as it taught the in game mechanics without the need for text boxes. Both of these games are available on mobile platforms as well as PC, with Soko looking to be green-lighted for release on Steam.Photo: The Mancunion
Besides the gaming experience, there was much more to be seen and enjoyed. Browsing around the stalls I came across a lot of retro and arcade type games such as pinball machines and lines of cabinets and consoles. On the Saturday this area was far too busy to enjoy however on Sunday it was less packed and I tried my hand at some classic games such as Donkey Kong, Popeye and Pac-Land.
There were also card games being played including Magic and Yu-Gi-Oh! as well as a merchandise and memorabilia section. There was plenty to buy as there was something for everyone. I found myself spending a lot of time just window shopping as well as buying the odd game here and there. And, of course, no gaming convention would be complete without cosplay and Play Expo was no exception. There were contests held on both days for the best cosplays and there were a lot of participants!
The overall experience at Play Expo 2015 was definitely one to remember and I am confident that I will be back again for 2016!