On the 13th and 14th of October 2012, Play Expo took place for the first time in Event City, Manchester, moving from Blackpool Taking place over two days, there was plenty to see and do and the event was split into four sections; Now.play, Re.play, Pro.play and Cos.play. It is the first two sections I will be focusing on here, although the Pro.play was interesting to look at and evidence of the Cos.play arena could be seen throughout the day and was definitely worth a look.
This arena was one of the most intriguing areas to explore. There were some big stands to look at, including Nintendo with the Wii-U, EA with Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Konami with Metal Gear Uprising: Revengeance and more.
The Wii-U was one of the biggest stand there and it is obvious as to why. The Wii was a great system when first launched and the innovative controls took gaming in a completely new direction. Personally, I don’t think the system lived up to its expectations. There was a lot they could have done to further that but that’s a story for another day. While the Motion Plus controllers will be compatible with the Wii-U, it’s the table I was interested in seeing. When the Xbox was first released, the controllers were bulky, heavy and not comfortable to use. I had concerns about the tablet too.
The tablet controller is very light and the screen of a very high quality. In Rayman: Legends, it is the multiplayer aspect which grabbed my attention. One player would use a controller to control one character and the tablet would be used to aid that character by attacking enemies and interacting with the game in ways the controller could not. It was fun and took some getting used to but I enjoyed the cooperative element of the game. The Wii-U version of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 was less successful, in my opinion. The touch screen holds a list of combos and skills to use but selecting them would be hard and could cost you the battle. The new Mario game acts in much the same way as Rayman: Legends. The more adventure based RPG’s used the touch screen to primarily to show the inventory, removing the need to pause and go through menus to find what you want as it right there. It still means you must divert your attention from the main screen and this could be costly. Other functions involve using the screen as a device in the game for various functions.
It’s a clever idea but seems more suited to multiple player games and party games at the moment. It is very light and easy to hold, even for younger gamers or people with smaller hands but with time and practise, it will be very playable. I still haven’t decided whether it’s a system I would enjoy playing much, however.
The Konami stand had demos of Metal Gear Uprising: Revengeance. I’ve always enjoyed the Metal Gear games and this one looks stunning. How it would play was the more important part. The key combat feature was the Blade mode. By holding down the L1 button (PS3 controls), you could move the right analog stick slice your blade in every direction in that rotation. I was unsure about this and whether it was a full 360 degree control but was surprised to find they had cut no corners on this element. The game itsel was actually fairly easily. As long as you could move and continue to press the two primary attack buttons, you could beat almost every opponent and this disappointed me. In the demo there was little tactical skill involved and I hope this is added later. Otherwise, it’s not a game I’ll buy as it will be too easy to complete. It was only the second time the demo had been available to play so I’m hopeful for a bit more to come from this game yet.
There was a stand for Halo 4 as well. I enjoy the Halo games but it has never been able to make me buy an Xbox (or the 360). The stand let you play a 12-person game for five minutes so you don’t get a complete overview of the game and as I’m not an expert on Halo, it didn’t feel overly different to the others. It was a smooth trial and a game I would thoroughly enjoy playing it if I had an Xbox 360.
The EA stand had two games to play. Medal of Honor: Warfighter continued the series of games but did nothing to impress me over the previous instalments. Honestly, I haven’t enjoyed that series as much as other FPS games and this is one that I will avoid too. The other game was a bit more fun.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted has the option of both single and multiple player modes. The idea is to become the most wanted driver while beating the opposition and this involves crashing into other cars and taking them out. An intriguing idea but more often than not at this stage, take downs of other cars also take out your own car. This wastes time and gives you no points. The details are realistic, including the speeds and damage done but the only take downs I could manage in the demo were luck and no amount of effort spent recreating the events worked out. Very enjoyable but I don’t see men enjoying it in a long session, with or without others, if every take down, as they emphasised as important in most modes, could not be done successfully. It could just take more time to get used to but I’m not convinced on this year either. It is one to watch out for, though.
One of the biggest things that appealed to me about this event was the Re.play arena. Here, you would come across row upon row of retro game consoles with a variety of games to play. There was no charge for this, just find a seat and play a game that some people will have grown up with and others will be experiencing for the first time. The nostalgia in this arena was enormous. It doesn’t matter if the graphics aren’t as good, or the controls aren’t as sensitive as the modern gamer is used to. This is a trip down memory lane to see how we have arrived at the current level of gaming technology.
To one side of this arena were the multiplayer stations, featuring the original Halo on the Xbox and Super Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). There were free competitions of these games on both days that sparked an intense and fierce level of competition. The prize; pride. There might have been a few goodies thrown in their too, but it was pride that drove these guys forward. I can’t say I blame them; it was great to watch these guys show us that there is still a place for retro gaming and anyone who says otherwise should not be trusted! Other stations had Mario Kart on the N64, Unreal Tournament on Xbox, and many others.
The highlight for me, and many others, was GoldenEye on the N64. This game sparked a huge interested in multiplayer First Person Shooters and it is impossible not to figure out why. The station was hugely popular all weekend and the difficult controls took nothing away from the experience. If anything, it added to it. It became a testament to who could adapt to the luxurious controls of today’s games and seeing who would triumph as at times impossible to tell. I loved every minute of it.
Beyond the retro gaming stations was something that caught my attention and had me hooked for a lot of the weekend; Pinball machines. I have always been a big fan of these and it is no surprise why they are so popular. These addictive games could be found throughout the country (and probably still can in places) but here they were stacked in rows for you to play to your heart’s desire! An even bigger bonus was they were all free – otherwise it would have turned into a very expensive weekend for everyone unable to resist the lure to go back to a very popular pastime. I, for one, definitely could not have resisted.
To refresh myself after a stand or watching a competition, I would come here to relax and unwind for a few minutes, trying the different machines available. I could easily have spent the whole weekend in this small area but I would have missed out on so much more!
If I thought the free tournaments were competitive, then I was in for a surprise when I had a look at the pro gamers! The tension created by the various games and competitions was incredible. I think of myself as a gamer, but I am under no illusions that I could keep up with these guys without serious practise. That was just on the Saturday – it got a whole lot tougher on the Sunday. I never could have imagined that, and I pride myself on an active imagination! I think it was much safer for me to observe and enjoy watching the precision with which these professional gamers performed.
On the other side of the Re.play arena was the Cos.play arena. Smaller in size but there was a lot of people who had come in the guise of their favourite game or anime characters and they had no fear of showing it to everyone at the event! Nor should they, some of the outfits were fantastic in their detail. It was clear that a lot of time and effort had gone into them and whenever I saw them, they were always happy to have pictures taken with anyone at the event. I have to admit, it’s not something I had considered doing but it was an interesting experience and the courage to do it, especially going to and from the event, is something I lack compared to these guys!
I have to say it was a great weekend. The atmosphere was incredible and the location easy to find. There was so much to see and do that it was impossible to get bored at any particular part. Queuing is unavoidable at an event like this, especially in the Now.play arena but not once did I hear any complaints about it and that just shows how keen gamers are to make the most of every opportunity they have.
The one thing that was a bit of a shame was on the Saturday. There was a delay in opening the event and no information was given to those waiting outside. It was a particularly chilly day and the queue structure wasn’t very organised. It would help if people were around to make sure things were organised and people were informed but that is the same of any large scale event and once inside, it quickly fell into the background as the wonders of Play Expo 2012 came to life.
It’s an event I would wholeheartedly recommend to any game fan of any level. Even for one day, the atmosphere you will find is incredible and I am already looking forward to next year!