EGX Rezzed 2018 has come and gone for another year, and as we expect from the UK’s primary indie video game convention, the experiences on offer were intriguing slices of an exciting future. In the first half of this countdown, there is a Lovecraftian conspiracy to unravel, a game that makes an epic journey out of some fantastic ecology, and a brand-new take on the side-scrolling beat-em-up that will get your engines revving.
10 – The Sinking City
There was a heavy dose of cosmic horror at this year’s EGX Rezzed, and in a multitude of unexpected flavours. From the Cuthulian themes of Sunless Skies, to the card drawing dread of Cultist Simulator. But one of the most intriguing examples of a game tainted with the corruption of HP Lovecraft’s most disturbing ideas was Frogware’s The Sinking City. The demo was deliberately made for the convention scene and contains all of the game’s many pillars of gameplay; exploration, combat, conversation and investigation. It sends you through a variety of dingy and inhospitable parts of its intriguing open-world, Oakmont, Massachusetts. The city is a depressing and foreboding location inspired by real turn-of-the-century American architecture and city structure. As is appropriate for a tale inspired by Cthulhu mythos, the city is slowly being consumed by an unstoppable flood the population are powerless to stop. It is this setting and flavour that allows The Sinking City to grasp the last place on this list. The developers still have some working out to do when it comes to gameplay. There were a few glitchy animations and once the player-character engaged in combat, the screen was taken over by psychedelic delusions that obscured your vision as a player and left you disorientated. While it was designed to confuse, it felt more frustrating than harrowing, and more of an inconvenience than a challenge. Hopefully, the team at Frogminds – known for their Sherlock Holmes themed third-person adventures – will have a better grasp of the combat by the game’s releases.
9 – Shift Quantum
Sometime around 2011, I picked up a PlayStation Mini called Shift. I sat down with it, my intention to only play for around ten minutes in order to check it out, but I couldn’t put the controller down. I completed it in one sitting. It was the very definition of simple, yet compelling. Time after time, I reached the level’s exit point but was powerless to exit myself out of the game, until I ran out of fresh content to consume. The game’s environments are comprised of both black and white planes of existence. You can only exist in one plane at a time. While in the white plane you cannot pass through the black plane and vice versa, but you can ‘Shift’ whenever you like from one plane to the other. It’s a straightforward premise, but it ties the concepts of graphics and design together so well, it becomes mesmerising. Shift’s spiritual successor Shift Quantum looks to further these concepts in such a way as to be awe-inspiring. What was once the picture of minimalism, now transplants its game world into a Matrix-esque vision of cyber-noir. The once plain backdrop is replaced with a vibrant Neo-Tokyo cityscape, all neon signs and skyscrapers. The character, once an unassuming silhouette is now a bad-ass with a trench coat and an unmistakable swagger. It’s astonishing how well they’ve nailed the atmosphere and aesthetic of a big-budget Hollywood film in a puzzle game with such a simple concept.
8 – Dead End Job
My, the PR team will have to work overtime to clear the hurdle of having such an unappealing name. Don’t get me wrong, as a game where you play a professional ghost exterminator it’s highly appropriate, it’s just most of us play games to get away from our Dead End Jobs. You play a mercenary ghost hunter for hire, Hector Plasm (hands down, pun of the show), a man who hands his clients an itemised bill at the end of every job. What are the items, you ask? Every ghost caught and every civilian saved. You trawl through varied urban locations to rid the city of the supernatural menace and save your mentor from a hellish afterlife. You knock out ghosts with a zapper and vacuum them up, à la Ghostbusters, all the while desperately trying to avoid the bullet hell projectiles the poltergeists use to litter the levels and take you down. Every location has procedurally generated enemies, allies and pickups, ensuring a fresh challenge with every reset. The best thing about Dead End Job though is the striking art style. Bright, colourful and bombastic, the cartoonish graphics land somewhere between classic 90s cartoons Ren & Stimpy and Angry Beavers.
7 – Lost Embers
Lost Embers was one of the most intriguing setups we saw at EGX Rezzed. In it, you play a spirit caught between the state of the physical and the state of the spiritual. After finding your soul floating loose of its vessel, you negotiate with a wolf to become your Uber driver to the afterlife. To help you navigate your surroundings, you also possess the souls of the living creatures that populate the fields, skies and lakes of the game’s setting. Two main points to make. Firstly, the environments were breathtaking. They were lush, idyllic, picturesque, and they reacted to your presence and the weather, giving them a life that left me slack-jawed. But the real star of this show was the character models. The wolf is noble, proud, but never threatening. This is crucial to allow him to gel with the game’s tranquil and relaxing mood. The animations are also worth a special mention. The wolf bobs his head along with that four-legged gait so familiar to pet owners. The wombat character model was so cute I angled the camera to get the best look at his face and remained there for minutes on end, not just at my insistence but at the insistence of those crowded around my booth.
6 – Steel Rats
Steel Rats is what happens when you combine Trials HD with Streets of Rage. The demo booth itself was constructed within an intimidating looking robot, apparently fashioned after one of the enemies in the game. I saw what was going on through one of the many screens that make up his frightening, imposing eyeballs. Once I picked up my controller, I immediately loved what I was playing. You accelerate with the triggers and the bike picks up speed so quickly it’s startling. Every interaction your bike has with the road is dictated by a robust physics engine, so every time you climb a hill or blast off a ramp you need excellent control to keep a tight grip on your vehicle. Pressing the ‘A’ button on the X-box controller turbo charges your front wheel, giving you a boost of acceleration that would send you flying off elevated surfaces. Even better is that it transforms your front tyre into a molten lava buzz saw, capable of carving objects and enemies in half, ensuring that most obstacles are no match for your twin engine diesel machine. To turn your bike around, you simply tap a button twice to swing your back tyre 180° which can also deflect enemy missiles. The game has this Nes-era Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles system, where one member of your biker gang equals one life. When all are dead, it’s game over. Each comes equipped with a unique weapon that provides a unique way to approach combat. Steel Rats is a dark, dirty, dystopian game that reminded me of the best parts of Mad Max and The Warriors.