EGX 2017: Lake Ridden

As I written before, I’m bad at horror games because I’m a wimp. I really enjoy a spine-tingling storyline and love books by Stephen King or Dean Koontz for example; but when I’m responsible for taking the actions, I fall to pieces and start acting like a terrified idiot.

It may therefore come as a bit of a surprise to hear that first-person horror Lake Ridden was the second title to be added to my EGX to-play list, straight after Detroit: Become Human. But it actually makes a lot of sense: developer Midnight Hub say their aim is to create a different kind of experience, ‘something that evokes a creepy atmosphere without relying on the usual use of blood and gore’, and want to offer ‘an intriguing story woven together with interesting gameplay’.

A supernatural adventure with puzzles and an atmospheric plot? Sign me up right away.

Set in a twisted Scandinavian forest, your younger sister Sofia suddenly vanishes while on a hike with her friends. You encounter an abandoned house while searching for her and to survive, and ultimately save your sibling, you must piece together the dark secret of the nearby town by finding clues and interacting with former residents. But there are shadows lurking out in the darkness; and you’ll uncover an old conflict driven by envy, madness and hate.

Lake Ridden seems to be attracting quite a bit of attention from the gaming press and much is being made of the fact it’s being created by former Mojang and Paradox developers. This does the title a disservice though and there’s a lot more to focus on. Yes, it’s so far removed from Minecraft and Stellaris that it makes good news; but it’s shaping up to be an excellent game in its own right and I can’t wait for its release!

I had the opportunity to play the demo at EGX and found myself in a dark but incredibly beautiful-looking forest at night. A twisting and overgrown path led to a swamp-like area that almost reminded me of the Channelwood age in Myst; and after traversing the wooden walkways, I came to a large dial with a mysterious glowing rune next to an overgrown gazebo. The trail branched off into various directions, each with lanterns that lit up when I clicked on them, and the impression of secrets being hidden in the shadows was heavy in the air.

I got the feeling that if you liked The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, you’ll enjoy this title. There were no jump-scares or any of the other tricks usually relied on by horror games, simply an eerie atmosphere which pulled me deeper into the forest. It was hard to believe that an environment so gorgeous could be sheltering anything dark and sinister; but there was definitely something there making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up on end…

Lake Ridden will be available on PC through Steam in spring 2018. In the meantime, Midnight Hub are sharing regular photos and videos on their blog and providing updates via Twitter and Facebook – go follow them!

EGX 2017: Detroit: Become Human

Not everyone is a fan of the Quantic Dream games. Many criticise them for incoherent storylines and bad characters, along with limited interactivity and too many quick-time events (QTEs); and founder David Cage is often called out for being a poor writer who’d rather make a move than a video game.

Personally though, I love their games and have eagerly awaited their releases ever since playing Fahrenheit in 2005. Heavy Rain was an interactive drama that turned out to be an exhilarating experience and I was immediately sucked into Jodie and Aiden’s world in Beyond: Two Souls. I’ve not yet played Quantic Dream’s first title, Omikron: The Nomad Soul, but it’s on my wishlist and I’ll hopefully tick it off very soon.

That’s why Detroit: Become Human was the initial game added to my to-play list when I found out what was going to be exhibited at this year’s EGX event. After dragging my other-half through the doors of the Birmingham NEC and telling him we could do whatever he wanted afterwards, we made our way through the hall and joined an hour-long queue of people eager to get their hands on the title.

I’d thought that perhaps the Detroit stand would simply consist of a presentation behind a screen – as seemed to be favoured by the bigger developers at last year’s show – but I needn’t have worried. Attendees were able to get their hands on the demo displayed at E3 back in June and it was ABSOLUTELY AWESOME. Sorry about the capitals but yes, I was that excited about it.

Set in the near future where androids have been invented and are changing the fabric of society, the plot centres around three characters. Kara escapes the factory where she was made to explore her newfound sentience; Connor is responsible for hunting down deviant androids like her; and Markus devotes himself to releasing other machines from servitude. Quantic Dream’s website explains that the game focuses on what it means to be human, and what it would be like to ‘be in the shoes of a machine discovering our world and their own emotions’.

The demo gave us the opportunity to play as Connor as he enters a hostage negotiation scene where young Emma has been taken by a deviant android named Daniel. He now has hold of her on the ledge of her family’s apartment building and has already caused several casualties; and it’s up to you to prevent the situation from escalating and save the girl’s life. However, her mother isn’t too pleased that a machine was sent instead of a human.

As with the developer’s releases, every choice counts. If you choose to try and understand what happened by examining the apartment, a number representing your chance of success increases. For example, looking at a saucepan boiling over in the kitchen reveals that the family were just about to sit down to dinner; and investigating music coming from headphones in Emma’s bedroom shows that she didn’t hear her kidnapper’s gunfire.

You can also examine certain clues more closely to create reconstructions. If you take a look at the android’s victims, you’ll sadly come across Emma’s father John who appears to have been shot. Analysing his body enables you to rewind time and discover that he was holding something when he was attacked – and the nearby tablet he dropped displays an advert for a new android, possibly Daniel’s replacement.

EGX, expo, event, video games, Detroit: Become Human

I’m pleased to say I managed to save Emma during my playthrough of the demo but unfortunately the android wasn’t so lucky. I made Connor rush forward to pull her to safety as Daniel’s prepared to jump – although this also saw me hurtling over side of the building with him. The player next to me reached a different ending whereby the kidnapper released the girl but was then shot by a sniper, causing him to accuse Connor of being a liar.

There’s no official release date for Detroit: Become Human although it’s looking as though the game will be published next year. I really hope so, because I can’t want to get my hands on this one.

EGX 2017: a round-up

2017’s EGX event took place from 21 to 24 September 2017 and I swear I’m still recovering. That’s partly my own fault for thinking that two days at an expo with a seven-hour round-trip, while hosting a blog party at the same time, followed by a family trip with my dad and mother-in-law the next day would be a good idea. But hey, we survived!

This time it felt different for several reasons and part of me came away slightly disappointed. It felt smaller somehow, although I can’t say whether that was due to fewer games being exhibited or more space being given to the same number; and a lot of the games displayed had either appeared in previous years or are already on sale to the public. I understand that events like this are a form of marketing and publishers want to get their wares out there. But it’s hard to believe a lot of the attendees didn’t already have Destiny 2 or Minecraft waiting for them at home.

That being said though, I came away having played a number of upcoming titles I’ve now got my eye on. I made a run to try out Detroit: Become Human on our first day at EGX and it didn’t let me down: I need this game in my life once it’s released in 2018. Lake Ridden was an atmospheric ‘supernatural adventure’ that reminded me a little of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter; and Falling Sky is seriously impressive when you consider it’s the work of an NFTS student. Figment was a lovely-looking title which was released while at the event and has found itself a customer.

The biggest disappointment of the weekend was that I didn’t get a chance to buy Luke from Hundstrasse that coffee I owe him! But hopefully I’ve managed to persuade him to join us at Rezzed in April so we may see him in the not too distant future. In the meantime, take a look at the photo gallery below to see what we got up to – and keep your eyes peeled for a few more posts about the EGX event over the coming week.

EGX 2017 photo gallery

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Gamers blog party: autumn 2017 invitation

Autumn officially starts today so that means colder days, longer nights and preparations for Halloween and Christmas! But before we get wrapped up in cosy blankets, it’s time for our latest blog party here at Later Levels. There’s no better way to celebrate the start of the weekend as well as meet some new blogging friends and read their awesome posts.

The rules are simple:

🎉   Arrive at the party: don’t be shy – say hello and introduce yourself in the comments below! Give an introduction to your blog to welcome new readers and let us know what you’re all about.

🎉   Present your gift: think about the posts you’ve written during the past three months and choose your favourite or one which was fun to write. Leave a link to it in your comment and explain why you’ve picked it.

🎉   Show off your costume: Halloween may be a little way off yet but who doesn’t love dressing up? That’s why we’re going with a fancy-dress theme for this party. Tell us who or what you’ve come dressed as and why.

🎉   Mingle: grab yourself a drink and cocktail sausage or two, and get to know your fellow guests! Check back on the comments throughout the day to discover excellent sites and meet new bloggers.

🎉   Party all day: the comments below will be open until 06:00 GMT on Saturday, 22 September 2017 so you’ve got plenty of time to meet and greet. Plus we’ll be sharing your posts on our social media channels!

These blog party events are our way of giving something back to the amazing WordPress community and showing our appreciation for all of your support. We’ve met some lovely people and talented writers over the past nine months; here’s a little thank you and a way of finding some great blogs you may not have come across already.

Have fun – and excuse me while I grab some more ice for the drinks and turn the music up louder!

EGX 2017: the fun starts tomorrow

Tomorrow sees the start of EGX 2017 at the NEC in Birmingam. It claims to be the ‘UK’s biggest video games event’, and attendees will have the opportunity to play a whole range of both console and PC games months before they’re released.

This will be my fifth year at EGX and so it’s kind of a milestone for me. The event has changed during that period and I like it more each time I go: it used to be brash and primarily dedicated to big-budget AAA titles, with publishers shouting about their latest releases from the rootftops and over the loudspeakers. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still brash and incredibly noisy – but additional space has been made for indie developers and the size of the Leftfield Collection has increased. Both sides offer a different perspective of gaming and mean there’s something that will to appeal to everyone.

I’ll be at the event for two days from tomorrow and I’ve already added a few games to my to-do list. I know many people don’t enjoy the Quantic Dream titles for their lack of action but I absolutely love them, and so Detroit: Become Human is likely to be one of the first I try out. Falling Sky by Jonathan Neilssen, which ‘takes its inspiration from games like Heavy Rain but feels like an episode of Twin Peaks‘ looks as if it’ll be right up my street; as does Lake Ridden by Midnight Hub, a ‘thrilling supernatural adventure’. I might even get a chance to try The Occupation by White Paper Games this time too, after my stepson decided to take over while I was playing when we were at Rezzed earlier this year.

One area of EGX that hasn’t appealed to me so much in recent years is the developer sessions. In the past I’ve had the opportunity to watch presentations by David Cage on Beyond: Two Souls and by Bethesda on The Evil Within; but more recent lineups just haven’t interested me. I much prefer the Rezzed sessions which are more ‘intimate’ and offer an insight into the games industry. At the time of writing, the schedule for tomorrow and Friday haven’t yet been announced but last year I got to see Charles Cecil talk about the adventure genre and the team from Small Impact Games discuss survival releases.

Events like EGX are such a great experience so if you ever have the opportunity to go, do it. And please don’t think a press pass is a requirement for shows like this – I no longer apply for them because you can get just as much out of a regular ticket, as I’ve shared previously! Come and say hello if you bump into me in the crowd this year – and watch out for some EGX-related content next week.

Comfort gaming: for when you need a digital hug

Life is Strange has been on my radar ever since it was revealed at the EGX event in September 2013. It was exactly the kind of game that would usually appeal to me: a graphic adventure with a heavy focus on narrative and choices that actually matter, with a female protagonist who has the ability to rewind time at any moment.

It’s taken me several years to pick up the title though. Its episodic nature convinced me to wait until the final part was published in October 2015 (something I tend to do with all games released in this way). Then gearing up for a move took over my time before house renovations were the priority. Work, family and the usual adult commitments – along with Horizon Zero Dawn – meant Life is Strange was put on the back-burner, although not forgotten.

That was until three things happened. James from QTX published a post which suggested the title should be added to the school curriculum. Second, James from Excalibur Games pointed out a connection when I posted an image of Aloy on Twitter using Horizon’s excellent photo mode. And finally, the adventure formed part of the freebies that come with the PlayStation Plus subscription in June 2017. How could I withhold any longer?

So far I’ve made it halfway through the second episode. I’ve not entirely warmed to Max as a character just yet but as pointed out to me by Chris from OverThinker Y: “I don’t think she’s supposed to be totally likeable, to be honest. She makes choices that aren’t always great, she screws up and says stuff from time to time… but then, don’t we all?” He has a good point; maybe the reason why Max grates on me is because I was a teenage girl once and I can remember all the angst, uncertainty and insecurity that went along with it. It could be a little too close to home, if you ignore all the time-travelling stuff.

But that’s part of the problem, you see. I last played Life is Strange over four weeks ago and have had no desire to go back to it since. It’s not because I’ve been too busy for video games lately or because I think it isn’t a good title; it just isn’t calling to me right now. I can’t face having to step back into Max’s world, deal with all that teenage anxiety, and make decisions that will have long-lasting effects on other people.

As mentioned in an editorial earlier this month, I have a lot going on at work at the moment. I have the pleasure of managing a small team of great people who make me laugh every day; but recent business decisions have left me demotivated and anxious that I can’t give my group the opportunities they deserve. If I’m feeling like that during the day, why would I want to put myself through a similar experience during my free time at night?

This feeling was summed up perfectly in a recent comment by Athena from AmbiGaming: “I hear you about not playing a game because it doesn’t fit with what you need at that moment in time. Recently I had a similar experience with Andromeda… I’m always up for Mass Effect games, but I kept avoiding it in favor of games that weren’t open-world. As it turns out, I had a lot of ‘stuff’ going on where I really had to micromanage a lot of things with very little help. Who wants to do that in a video game after a full day of real-life side-quests, really?”

Rather than continuing with Life is Strange, I’ve been playing through the Blackwell series – short pixelated adventures by Wadjet Eye Games. They’re kind of what I need at a moment; something familiar which allows me to be in control of the situation, as described in this post by Teri Mae from Sheikah Plate. Luke from Hundstrasse came up with a great term for this situation: “Comfort gaming is totally a thing… like comfort film watching, or rewatching TV series that you’ve seen a hundred times already.”

I’m sure I’ll go back to Life is Strange at some point in the future but right now, I need something which is going to give me a warm digital hug. That’s the great thing about video games: there’s something out there to suit everyone at every point in their life. They can give us the ability to step into another’s shoes and experience life from their point of view; but they can also let us escape from our own for a few hours, until we’re ready to face the world again.