The night before EB Expo kicks off proper, media are given a chance to mill around at a few of the booths to check out games beforehand. There isn't full access to the venue, with most of it locked down due to "still being under construction". But there was a chance to check out the Nintendo and PlayStation booths, where I finally got to check out a few things in the flesh.
The Legend of Zelda
First cab off the rank was the E3 demo of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The gameplay was exactly the same as what had been shown off at E3, and there wasn't really anything that hasn't been captured before. Our session was split into two: 15 minutes with the game about 3 hours in, with no prompts and little direction, and a second sequence from the beginning when Link wakes up from his 100 year slumber.
The starting location was identical to the video below, for reference. I went in a completely different direction, though.
What it really was, and what it'll be for the 333 people who go through the ringer, is an opportunity to see how everything works in concert.
And the first thing you'll notice: holy shit, Zelda needs the NX.
The Wii U manages to hold a playable frame rate for the most part, but there were plenty of performance drops across the board. At points, particularly when explosions or moving water was involved, the jitter was unmistakeable.
And that's to be expected. There's a lot of physics being deployed in Breath of the Wild, from the way fire spreads to bushes and trees, the grass blowing with the wind, the rocks rolling down a hill. That takes a lot of CPU grunt, and the Wii U isn't that powerful.
But if you put that aside, the systems work real well. I started out by just throwing bombs (or runes, really) at enemies, or dropping them on the ground and laying traps of sorts. Bombs also don't degrade, which was a major problem with the clubs and branches I was finding in the early stages.
Also, not that it's related to the demo in any way, shape or form, but Nintendo's booth had a cool sword you could pose with:
There's also a neat trick you can do with the shield. Everyone knows by now that you can shield surf, which you do with the ZL, X and A buttons. And every time you pop that trio, you get a little boost of speed forwards. You can't shield surf up a hill. But what you can do is repeatedly pop the shield surf combo, without holding it down, to boost yourself forwards.
In the end, I came out of the demo the same way I went in. The new Zelda looks like the perfect game to take with you. Something you play for an hour or so at home, but something you can also take with you and grind away at on the train — something the NX increasingly looks likely to leverage.
As has been the case over the last couple of years, PlayStation has the biggest floor space so far. They've also got LEGO Mr T and Harry Potter walking around the convention, which turned out being one of the better photos of the evening.
There's really three major focus points for PlayStation's booth. Horizon: Zero Dawn has a private room to itself in the middle of the booth — but more on that later. A section on the left, which curves around back into the booth, is set aside for PSVR, which Sony is undoubtedly expecting to get a great deal of interest.
There were seven or eight stations set up, each with an outward facing monitor for spectators so they could see what's going on. There was also a special PSVR setup for Driveclub VR, with a few racing chairs, wheels and pedals. That looked genuinely impressive, although given that I'm still scarred by what was comfortably the worst launch for the PS4 my expectations were pretty low.
The VR titles available included Farpoint, EVE: Valkyrie, Street Luge, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, Batman Arkham VR, and an underwater game that I didn't catch the name of. Activision were also showing off the VR experience for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (called the Jackal experience), but not being organised by Sony it wasn't possible for me to play at the time.
First things first: EVE Valkyrie works about as well in PSVR as you'd expect it to. Given that the game has already been released for other VR platforms, it's not much of a surprise that it runs well with PSVR too. The actual demo was about the length of a single wave, although you do get to go through the pre-launch flight procedure which is always fun.
Street Luge was a little more interesting, with a bit of a competitive element to it. You're essentially racing by tilting your head left and right to change directions, as can be seen in this video:
The fan was a neat PR trick to add to the sense of speed; probably not something you'd replicate at home. That said, if you're trying to play VR in the middle of summer it might not be a bad idea.
Luge made a couple of other writers queasy, although I didn't have any after-effects and Tegan (our commercial editor, seen in the video above) was equally unfazed. It's worth noting that I had to hold the headset slightly in place to keep the picture in optimal focus. That's fine for Street Luge, since it only relies on the movement of your head. Other games that require a controller, mind you, could be a little more problematic.
The main takeaway people will have is how comfortable the PSVR headset actually is. It doesn't fit as snugly as the Rift or the Vive, but it's plenty comfortable. It's not badly designed either, although I'd probably recommend shelling out on some wireless or bluetooth headphones to save the trouble of additional cords.
Horizon: Zero Dawn
Welcome to the demo that kind of disappointed me a little. Yes, Horizon: Zero Dawn. The game everyone is going a bit nuts for.
I've still got pretty high hopes for Horizon, but the demo at EB is a bit limiting. You're essentially stuck in a tiny sandbox and given a handful of "objectives", which are really more like achievements from a Ubisoft game. Get a stealth kill on a walker. Snare a few robo-donkeys up with tripwires. Knock a few canisters off the back of a robo-horse. That sort of thing.
It's more or less an open area for you to loot stuff. And it's not a large area either — if you tried to head towards the camp icon located on your HUD, you were presented with a Battlefield-esque "return to the play area" warning. Still, it's a chance for people to see how well the game runs, see how vibrant everything else, and get a better understanding of the looting and crafting. You can see part of that for yourself via the Facebook Live we recorded last night. (Also: there's a bit of bad language in there, although you always run that risk with live video. Apologies.)
Running around and collecting scraps, even in the world of Horizon: Zero Dawn, isn't that thrilling. Fortunately, we've seen plenty so far to know that there are plenty of other hooks. There's dialogue choices. There's a deeper story. There's a world tying everything together; there's a purpose. And there's also a large in-game map and crafting, which the EB Expo demo denies access too.
As for the missions, unlocking achievements? It's a bit Far Cry: Primal, which isn't a bad thing. People might be a little tired of that gameplay loop, however, so it'll be interesting to see how Guerrilla Games mixes it up.
I also got some time in with the multiplayer for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. Curiously, it was on a classic map from Modern Warfare 2: Terminal, the level infamous for letting players lay waste to an airport. IW plays well enough, and there's plenty of elements pulled straight from Black Ops 3 and Advanced Warfare. It's hard to get away from the feeling that people are way more keen on the Modern Warfare remaster than Infinite Warfare itself, which is a bit of a tricky spot for Activision. And it's a rough spot for the world of esports too: will Infinite Warfare be the primary game for leagues, will it be the remaster, or a mix of the two?
Bethesda and 2K are there with Dishonoured 2 and Mafia 3. I heard almost universally good things about both games, the latter of which pleases me the most. I loved the slower pacing and environment of Mafia 2, and hearing that the third looks a treat is a nice surprise. There's a neat use of flashbacks, I'm told, so keep an eye out for that.
The esports arena is basically disconnected from the main show. It's a bit awkward, almost as if there are two separate shows going on at the same time.
There's also a drone-racing game. It's basically an event where "drone hunters" use a glove with a laser to shoot down drones as they fly past. I'll try and capture some video of it later today.
So that's a quick hands-on from EB Expo. I'll be stopping by there later today, and you follow everything that happens through our Facebook and Instagram pages. Is there anything you'd like to see, or any games you want to hear about? Let us know!