John Robertson: The Dark Room 20:00 Underbelly, White Belly (Venue 61) until Aug 26th
Bunbury Rating – ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
I have waited for three years to see this show. The Dark Room is without a doubt one of the best things I’ve ever seen. It’s everything it promises and more besides. As the game is played by audience members, it becomes increasingly funny and slightly frustrating, just like the real text based video games of consoles past.
The writing, the stage presence and presentation for me was completely perfect. The feeling of spontaneity and crowd work sets this show apart. The democracy round is another stroke of genius where people practically tear out their vocal chords to be heard and make a difference…
It is a highly odd experience to be made to feel like you’re working with and against those around you to try and beat the game.
The only down side is that every now and again, the memory of this marvellous show will pop into my head and for no apparent reason, I find myself whispering ‘You awake to find yourself in a dark room’. This I’m told is slightly unnerving for the rest of my colleagues but who cares?
There are so many reasons to see this dark humoured show from the exceptional writing to the character work of Mr John Robertson, this is really some top draw stuff that’s worth every penny and more.
Gamescon is currently happening in Cologne Germany as of writing and so far there have been three press conferences from Microsoft, Sony and EA with a forth from Konami Scheduled later this evening. After watching the life streams I have decided to recap the announcements made and offer opinions on what I saw.
However there is something that we need to discuss. First off I don’t yet own any new gen consoles, however I will attempt to write this either as if I owned them or as a perspective buyer. Secondly be weary of the term exclusive, too many times we’ve heard the word exclusive bandied around when the words timed exclusive or console exclusive might have been more applicable. Finally I will be writing about the games as I see them but remember publishers lie. As we have discovered in the past with Killzone 2, Colonial Marines and more recently Watch Dogs, what is shown might not be what we get. We have been misled before and it is important to keep expectations in check. Be excited but don’t be fooled.
With that said let us start with the Xbox Conference.
Microsoft has had a rough start this generation. While the Xbox One is by no means doing badly it is definitely lagging behind the competition at the moment. A lot of back pedalling on unwanted and poorly explained features and a decent showing at this year’s E3 has put them back on track but there’s still a lot to make up for.
We open with a trailer for Ubisofts Assassins Creed Unity. The setting is interesting although this trailer doesn’t show much about the game. While it wasn’t presented in this trailer I can’t say I’m happy with the focus on co-op. It feels unnecessary to what was once a great single player experience and I hope this new focus doesn’t interfere with the ability to play on your own if you so choose.
Enter Phil Spencer, the new head of the Xbox division and the man tasked with getting the Xbox One back on course, who then proceeds to talk about Fifa 15 and EA access. EA access is EAs subscription service and on the surface appears to be a good deal. A few dollars a month to access some free games from EAs back catalogue, discounts for future games and dlc, and brief access to new games a few days early. However forgive me for being a little bit distrusting of EA in this situation, if anyone can find a way to use this to screw over the consumer it’s them. Phil Spencer also took this opportunity to announce a Fifa 15 Xbox One bundle available in Europe the day the game comes out. We then had David Rutter, general manager of EA sports, and former footballer Peter Schmeichel to talk about creating teams in ultimate team mode using Fifa legends. To be honest I failed to see the point in this segment as all they essentially did was tell you what ultimate team mode was which I’m sure fans of the series already knew and people who didn’t could’ve been informed with the words “You can make a team using famous footballers.” After this we got a montage of the Fifa legends that would be exclusive to Xbox including but not limited to Alan Shearer and Sir Bobby Moore.
Indie game time. Chris Charla from ID@Xbox came on stage to talk about Xbox’s indie timed exclusives. We were presented with a montage of the many indie games making console debuts on Xbox One and It has to be said many of them look great (and some not so much.) The games in this montage were (deep breath);
“Blues and Bullets” by A Crowd Of Monsters,
“Cuphead” by Studio MDHR,
“Dungeon of the Endless” by Amplitude Studios,
“Fruit Ninja Kinect 2” by Halfbrick/ Hibernum Creations (Yeah, Kinect is pretty much dead),
“Funk of Titans” by A Crowd of Monsters,
“Ghost of a Tale” by SeithCG,
F****** “Goat Simulator” by Coffee Stain Studios/ Double II (God Damn Goat Simulator),
“Gunscape” by Blowfish Studios,
“Massive Chalice” by Doublefine,
“Inside” by Playdead,
“Knight Squad” by Chainsawesome Games,
“Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime” by Asteroid Base,
“#IDARB” by Other Ocean,
“No Time to Explain” by tinyBuild,
“Plague Inc: Evolved” by Ndemic Creations,
“Rivals of Aether” by Dan Fornace,
“Smite” by Hi-Rez Studios,
“Slashdash” by Nevernaut Games,
“Space Engineers” by Keen Software House,
“Spectra” by Gateway Interactive,
“Pneuma: Breath of Life” by Deco Digital/ Bevel Studios,
“Threes!” by Sirvo/ Hidden Variable (really guys, Threes!),
“The Escapists” by Team17,
“Volgarr the Viking” by Crazy Viking Studios,
“SpeedRunners” by tinyBuild/ Double Dutch Games,
and “Superhot” by Superhot.
A couple of the games on this list got extra attention from Microsoft after this however I’d like to give special mention to two games that caught my eye and one that should be burnt to the ground. I am loving Cuphead’s old timey cartoon visuals, no idea what you actually do in the game but it looks great, and I really liked the look of Ghost of a Tale, come on, you play a cgi mouse in a RPG fantasy setting, what’s not to love.
Dishonourable mention to Goat Simulator, the joke was barely funny to begin with, why is this being ported to consoles, are we actually stupid enough to buy an April fools joke. I despair for humanity I really do.
During this indie segment Microsoft spend time taking a closer look at a few select games, some of which are already available on Steam. We got a bit of footage of space engineers (available on Steam early access, eeeeww.) showing off some of the gameplay, “Space Engineers is a sandbox game about engineering, construction and maintenance of space works. Players build space ships and space stations of various sizes and utilization (civil and military), pilot ships and perform asteroid mining.” (Quote taken from the space engineers’ website.) Next up we have a trailer for Superhot. While the trailer was bloody stupid (do we really need a narrator just saying the words super hot over and over again, your flashing them up on the screen as well.) the game itself is interesting, on the surface it’s just another first person shooter, the twist is that time only flows when you’re moving and you need to use this to strategise your attacks. We then had “The Escapists” by Worms developer Team17. This 2d top down game appears to be an RPG set in a prison. It looks neat and I look forward to playing this one day. Finally we have “Smite,” a third person fantasy MOBA. To be honest that’s about all I can say about it, I didn’t see anything that seperates this from other, already established, MOBAs. The indie section ended with a brief trailer a game called “below,” a trailer that simultaneously showed me gameplay and told me nothing about it.
So back to Spencer for a look at Activision’s “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare,” Sledgehammer games first attempt at a full Call of Duty game. Co-founders of Sledghammer Games Glenn Schofield and Michael Condry presented this segment and started off by talking about the innovation and great story in this instalment of COD. No offense to fans of the series but I remain sceptical of that claim. We are then shown a level called “collapse” which takes place on the golden gate bridge (guess what happens.) If this is truely gameplay then there is no denying that this is a damn good looking game, the visuals were very impressive. We had some basic shooting shown off and a few interesting weapons like homing/hovering/flying grenades, although I was under the impression they were supposed to be showing off this exo-suit the characters are all wearing and all the cool things it can do, all I saw was some Titanfall style boost jumping. I’m actually cautiously optimistic about this game, while I doubt it will innovate as much as Sledgehammer claims I do think this might be the game this franchise needs to get it out of its rut, and having Kevin Spacey in your game is always a plus. This footage came with the par for the course announcement that Xbox would have exclusive add on content (probably timed). Following this was the announcement a COD:AW Xbox One bundle with a terabyte hard drive, don’t look at the price, you won’t be happy.
Phil Robb from Turtle Rock on stage now to talk about “Evolve.” The Xbox One is getting an exclusive beta in January and at this conference they showed off gameplay footage from a new map. I’ve got to say I am really interested in this game. Four players face off against one other player controlling a monster that evolves in different ways during the battle, with the many different ways it can adapt changing each match. I only wish there was a single player mode for this game, this industry needs to stop forgetting about the single player experience. The footage of the match being played looks fun but the two guys they’ve got doing a sports style commentary is grating, also one of the guys on stage is calling the other “j-Party.” No hope for the human race.
We briefly get Phil Harrison out on stage to introduce Darell Gallagher from Crystal Dynamics to talk about the new Tomb Raider game “Rise of the Tomb Raider.” With this comes perhaps the biggest announcement of the night, Rise of the Tomb Raider will be and Xbox exclusive. While they are being vague with the meaning of the word exclusive (“Exclusive to Xbox in holiday 2015, what does that mean guys,) this is a huge deal, on Microsoft’s side well done for nabbing one of the biggest franchises the industry as an exclusive, on Square Enix’s side what the hell were they thinking. To quote Escapist Magazines Jim Sterling “So Tomb Raider sells under expectations and Square Enix makes Rise of the Tomb Raider an XBO exclusive. This industry.” As I was grabbing this quote for this article I found a news story revealing that this is indeed a TIMED exclusive, I’m thinking that Microsoft and Crystal Dynamics should be banned from using the word exclusive again, in fact they should be banned from using words.
Next we have Sam Lake from Remedy to finally show gameplay from their Xbox exclusive title “Quantum Break.” They’ve been talking about this game since the Xbox One reveal in 2013 while only showing cgi and live action trailers and something about a TV. show tie in (is that still happening with Microsoft shutting down their Xbox TV division.) Finally we get to see this much anticipated game in action. Turns out it’s a cover shooter, well that was worth it. To be fair it does have an interesting mechanic in form of time manipulation, you freeze or run through time to confuse and ambush enemies, adding a new tactical edge to combat and powerful ways to attack foes such as stopping time, firing a barrage of bullets and then un-stopping time so they all fire at once. It’s a good looking game and if they can keep the time manipulation mechanic fresh and interesting it might be good fun, I just hope that cover shooting with some time powers isn’t all this game has going for it.
We then got another look at the latest entry in the Fable series “Fable Legends.”I wasn’t particularly blown away by this co-op fantasy game when it was announced at E3 this year and this trailer has done nothing to change that, the characters seem annoying and it looks like another third person generic fantasy MOBA, however I do like the idea of a fifth player taking control of the villain and setting up the traps and enemies Dungeons and Dragons style.
We then got a CGI trailer for new IP “Scream Ride,” which appears to be a futuristic “Theme Park” or “Rollercoaster Tycoon.” Nothing particularly special but when we see more I’m sure there will be people who will be all over this, it’s been a while since I last played a ”Theme Park” style game.
The next several minutes were dedicated to two Forza games. Forza 5 will be receiving new cars including a Rolls Royce Wraith, the first Rolls Royce to appear in a videogame apparently. We were then subjected to a talk about Forza Horizon 2. I will say what everyone has been saying for the past year, “Drivetar” is a stupid bloody word. The buzzword here is social, apparently we all want to be social and the developers want us to be social so social features are being implemented in this social game for social people and if this guy says social one more time I’m going to go to Redmond and hit someone.
Time for “Ori and the Blind Forest” from moon studios. I have high hopes for this Xbox and PC exclusive, it’s a 2D platformer and it looks gorgeous and while I don’t think this new gameplay trailer showed enough to get me excited previous trailers have shown a very promising game.
Next up we have Ted Price from Insomniac studios, creators of the popular “Ratchet and Clank” and “Resistance” franchises. Time for another “Sunset Overdrive” trailer and while it didn’t really show us anything new other than another insufferable character, this bright, colourful, insane, free-roaming, stylish zombie monster shooter looks like a lot of fun and a welcome change from all the realistic browns and greys we’ve put up with the past few years. We also got the announcement of another Xbox One bundle to coincide with this game.
Last gaming related segment of the night which will make a lot of Xbox fans happy. The end of the show was dedicated to Microsoft’s heavy hitter “Halo.” Bonnie Ross from 343 came on to talk about the “Masterchief Collection.” The collection originally contained updated HD versions of the first four Halo games but will now also include the new live action “Halo Nightfall” TV show and a beta for Halo 5’s multiplayer. They also announced a Halo channel, an interactive network on Xbox and Windows with Halo content and a partnership with Twitch. I honestly have no idea what they were on about but there were lots of images on the screen. Dan Ayoub came on stage to show a demo of the collection. During a very brief playthrough of Halo 2 they showed that you had the ability to change the games graphics from the classic setting to the new upgraded ones at the touch of a button. He then goes on to talk about the multiplayer and how they will be using Halo 2’s levelling system. We were then shown a multiplayer match from the collection with what I believe was some cheesy scripted e-sports style commentary before heading back to Bonnie for a quick video about the Halo 5 beta. This collection sounds pretty amazing if you don’t already own the games and unless there’s a catch it’s hard not to recommend it.
We are at the end of the show with one final small announcement from Phil Spencer that pre-downloads (downloading a game before release date ready to be played on day one) would be coming soon. Had to laugh slightly at the final “thank you for your constant feedback” line. You were getting that feedback ages ago but still went ahead with stupid decisions anyway until it bit you in the arse.
Overall a pretty decent showing barring a few irritations and lack lustre reveals. For the most part though Microsoft seems to be getting back on course but need to show they can deliver on the promises of great content and show that they can be trusted, not an easy task after the stupid mistakes and lies but maybe things will change for the better and finished this show feeling mostly positive about what they’ve got in store. Just please stop with the drivetars and pre-order bullshit.
Check in in the near future when I will recap the other three press conferences.