EB Expo 2016 – Winners, Losers and Absentees
This year’s EB Expo has wrapped up again after three days of games, cosplay and pop culture goodness. I was there on Friday, along with many other of our intrepid writing staff, to sample the latest wares from publishers around the world. I personally spent a bunch of time with the likes of Final Fantasy XV, Dishonored 2 & Horizon: Zero Dawn, whilst preferring to look on from a distance at the rest of what was going on. It has to be said that, in terms of the Expo itself, things looked pretty good.
There was plenty for punters to do and look at. I can’t speak for the Saturday and Sunday which invariably are busier than the Friday, but it didn’t seem like people were having to spend too much time lining up to see what they wanted unless they wanted to try out PlayStation VR.
PlayStation’s booth was a big hit with punters, as expected, with PlayStation VR, Horizon: Zero Dawn and Resident Evil 7 Biohazard all with a big presence. VR queues were, by far, the fullest of the day and it was clearly helping hit home what VR is capable of. People of all ages were donning the sleek headset, and most of them seemed to walk away with combined looks of awe, delight and a little confusion.
Horizon: Zero Dawn was a personal highlight; it was a live demonstration on what appeared to be either a PS4 Pro or a similarly-spec’d dev-PC, followed by a short play session of our own which took place in an open section of plain that filled with the sorts of bio-machines we’ve seen in previous trailers. The live demo looked incredible and, if anything, convinced that I’ll be buying a PS4 Pro come November. The difference in fidelity was stark, to the point that when I picked up the controller for my playthrough on the standard hardware, I found myself a little shocked.
In the playable demo, we could interact with the machines by attacking them and attempting to bring them down, or by hooking into them using our staff and ‘hacking; into them. They went from wild to friendly for a short time, letting Aloy — the game’s main character — jump on their back and use them as transport. It was only a small gameplay demo with no real objective and invisible walls everywhere that would reset the demo if you went too far. Nonetheless, it was still enough of an appetiser to convince me that Horizon: Zero Dawn might be the next big IP in PlayStation’s stable.
In stark contrast to Sony’s booth was Xbox which, whilst giving playable demos of both Gears of War 4 and Dead Rising 4 — both new entries in admittedly well-trodden ground — was considerably more understated. Gears of War 4’s horde mode was playable and, as expected, felt like a Gears of War game. That’s not a bad thing, either. You come to Gear of War to expect a good cover shooter with some spectacular enemy design and big guns, and that’s what you get. The ability to set up traps wherever you like feels intuitive, also allowing the freedom to move traps and turrets around as you require. Most of all, it feels good. I hadn’t played a Gears game since 2 before I picked up the controller for this demo, but I had no trouble whatsoever re-acclimatising to what was going on. To me, that’s a sign of something solid for fans to latch on too.
Outside of that though, there wasn’t much for Xbox fans in terms of the games to play as much as there was a look at what’s coming up next for the green side of the fence. The Head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, flew to Australia last week for the Xbox Fanfest and took advantage of his time here to head up a Xbox keynote in the Expo’s main hall on Friday. They brought Joe Nickolls from Capcom Vancouver and Chuck Osieja from The Coalition to town, as well as Mike Brown from Playground Games, to chat about their titles before Spencer himself took the stage to discuss Xbox future plans.
There was nothing new said here, mostly reiterating the company’s new level of transparency regarding projects moving forward; we all heard it before at E3. It was, however, nice to have it reiterated in person. It left me, and most of the room I gathered, with a sense that Microsoft is moving forward with an understanding of the failings from the Mattrick-era, and it’s eagerness to put it behind them shows.
Nintendo’s presence was even more muted with the only new game at their booth being Paper Mario: Colour Splash. The Legend of Zelda: Breathe of the Wild was there, but attendees needed to win a lottery to get in and get some hands-on. I won’t go into it too much here because we talk about it a bunch on our podcast that we recorded live, on the day. I will say that it left me, a lukewarm Zelda fan at best, feeling frustrated. I can only imagine how hardcore fans might’ve felt about being locked out of a small room – that they’d potentially paid hundreds of dollars to gain access to – showing the one thing they wanted to see and all that was separating them was a half inch thick piece of plywood wall and Nintendo’s utter short-sightedness.
Sources within the Expo mentioned that Nintendo wanted nothing shorter than 45-minute demos to show off Zelda. Whilst that’s their prerogative, it’s not helping them win over anyone, least of all people sitting on the fence about Nintendo’s future platform. They clearly aren’t ready to show the NX for whatever reason, and their unwillingness to publicly allow hands-on with the Wii U version tells me that they’ve already left that system in the dust. Outside of creating an almost No Man’s Sky like situation where the expectation starts to outweigh the possibility, it’s not clear to me what Nintendo are expecting to gain from any of this. How sad.
On a similarly baffling note, I have one more thing I want to bring up: the absence of EA. In a year where they have two tentpole releases coming — Titanfall 2 and Battlefield 1 — EA decided that it would be worth their time simply not showing up, which, again, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense on the surface. Activision showed Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare in a big way with their large multiplayer setup, but there was absolutely no sign whatsoever of EA’s two big shooters.
EA Australia confirmed to me, via tweets, that they had a playable version of Titanfall 2 as well as presenting Battlefield 1 at the EB Manager’s Conference, held in the same location as the Expo but earlier in the week. To paint a clearer picture, EA were setup and ready to go at EB Expo before the show started, then promptly left.
You might argue that these games will, or have already had betas, which give people plenty of chance to play the game. That’s true, except that here in Australia, we have notoriously poor internet, to the point that it’s become a political sore point over the last several years. Not everyone has the ability to download large amounts of data simply because their connection has data caps. In the worst cases, it literally won’t allow them. Given both games are positioned as two of the most-anticipated titles still to come in 2016, I was a little shocked to learn that only Fifa 17 made it onto a small corner of the PlayStation booth, and that was it. Disappointing to say the least.
Overall, EB Expo was a good day out, especially if you went there with a full wallet and the purpose of parting with your cash. The mega store was huge, brimming with games and collectors editions piled upon collectors editions. Frustratingly for me, there was a distinct lack of anything in the way of PS Vita accessories – I just want a case, dammit!
Did you go to the EB Expo? What were your highlights, or lowlights, of the show? Shout out to us in the comments below!
James Swinbanks is a Games Critic currently writing for GameSpot, although you’ll still occasionally see him popping up on Player 2, because frankly, he loves the smell of the place.