The beautiful and political games under the surface of EGX 2015
Leant against a wall in the NEC Arena, I glimpse the sun through a small porthole. It’s a nice day in Birmingham. A bird flies across the sky. A man pushes a shopping trolley full of empty energy drinks. I pull myself away from the light, back into the thick air as a camera crew follows a twelve-year-old boy with slicked back hair and a microphone.
“HELLO MY FRIENDS. WELCOME TO EGX. THIS PLACE IS CRAZY. LET’S TALK TO SOME DEVELOPERS AND PLAY SOME GAMES. WOO.”
The camera cuts and the twelve-year-old boy drops his microphone, pulls out a packet of cigarettes and walks into the crowd.
(Above: Line Wobbler by Robin Baumgarten)
EGX is the UK’s biggest games expo, and there are certainly a lot of games here. There are also a lot of queues, snaking craftily behind set pieces to rows of monitors where you can play Star Wars Battlefront, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, Just Cause 3, Wartits Retribution, Tom Clancy’s The Division and many more.
On the evidence of the queues, the big games don’t need anyone telling people to go and play them. So I’m not going to. As for the looming presence of virtual reality, my colleague Vaughn Highfield will be focussing on that specifically. Instead, here are the most interesting indie(ish) games I saw and played at EGX.
If you are planning to visit the show before it closes on 27 September, I highly recommend you take some time to try out these titles and support the developers. If you can’t make it, these games are still worth keeping an eye on.
Political ’em ups
One of the most intriguing themes that I saw across a handful of games was the focus on politics and civil unrest. The Wall Shall Stand by Pixel Tailors sees you playing a blocky member of the proletariat tasked with starting a revolution. During my time on the game I put up some posters and managed to convince one other person to join my cause, who dutifully followed me around until the police beat me to death. Equal parts Lego and Papers, Please, the minimalist art design is charming, while the droney sound design prevents it from coming across as cutesy.
(Above: The Wall Shall Stand)
Another game that looks at the theme of urban unrest from a totally different angle is Riot: Civil Unrest, published by Merge Games. Framed as a “riot simulator”, the game lets you play as either the rioters or police in a number of real-life riot scenarios, including Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring. Incredibly violent, the gameplay doesn’t hold back when it comes to throwing Molotov cocktails or cracking protester’s skulls. The team at the booth told me it was intended to portray social violence from two different perspectives, but I didn’t play the game long enough to decide whether or not it manages to pull this off. Whatever the case, it’s an interesting, if highly problematic, game to keep an eye on.
(Above: Riot: Civil Unrest)
Eugenics by La Belle is described as a “hyper-cute dystopia where you play the sorcerer’s apprentice of genetics”, and involves selecting recessive and dominant genes for various generations of offspring. While it’s still in the early stages of development, the game mixes dark humour with serious questions about genetic manipulation. Crossing over to the AAA side of things, some of these ideas are echoed in Eidos’ upcoming stealth actioner Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. While it was only on show via a closed presentation – the same shown earlier in the year at E3 – it looks like the game will follow in the footsteps of its predecessors in asking questions about the ethics of augmentation and the political repercussions of genetic research.
Although it wasn’t on show, a developer session on Ninja Theory‘s Hellblade drew attention to how the mental health of the protagonist, Senua, will factor as a major aspect of the game. The developers are working with the support of the Wellcome Trust and have conducted extensive interviews with psychosis sufferers. It’s too soon to tell if Hellblade handles this subject with the care it deserves, but the developers certainly seem to be doing their research.
The beautiful and the fun
Even if overtly political games aren’t your thing, EGX is full of indie titles that are beautiful to explore or fun to tap away at with friends. One of the most unique looking games I found is Southbank Portrait by Ian MacLarty. The game consists of jittery landscapes that vibrate like sound waves as you traverse their hills and valleys. All of the settings were generated from photos taken by MacLarty in the Southbank area of Melbourne, with the game’s audio taken from the same location.
(Above: Southbank Portrait)
Another game with an emphasis on exploration, albeit in less abstract environments, is Forager by Nate Gallardo and Cat Burton, in which you play a squirrel-like creature that has to prepare for hibernation. Also worth checking out if you’re looking for bright colours are Californium by Darjeeling, in which you play a sci-fi writer trapped between shifting realities (read, tripping out in a flat), and Loot Rascals by Hollow Ponds – a rogue-like adventure that takes its direction from tabletop board and card games.
EGX is running from 24 – 27 September.