The Average Gamer Live 2008 Aftermath

As our regular readers will know, this weekend we went out to Wembley for Live, the first consumer games show in the UK since 2004.

It was… packed. Absolutely bloody rammed with people and not really designed to cope with such a high level of interest. Check out the queue for people with standard tickets, as of 10:30 am.

Hundreds of Standard Ticket-Holders Outside Live

And the VIP queue.

30-odd VIP Ticket Holders Queuing for

We were in this queue :)

The Games

Once inside, we discovered quite how poorly-laid-out the venue was:

Inside Live - Crowded Floor

Guitar Hero III and Lego Indiana Jones were probably two of the most-anticipated family-friendly games at the show. What did the organisers do? They put Lego Indiana Jones in a tiny, enclosed booth so that you could neither spectate, nor queue properly to have a go. I couldn’t even get near Guitar Hero III which, as you can see above, was squashed into the corner behind Kung Fu Panda. On the left is the green and white competition stage which is, again, enclosed so you can’t really see what’s going on.

Upstairs was slightly more spacious but didn’t have a whole lot of playable games. The Square Enix section was four TVs showing the same video montage loop. The Mac stand was nice but didn’t garner much interest. Haze and Gran Turismo 5 were popular, the latter having a very nice set of Recaro chairs hooked up to PS3s. Rock Band had a good following. I can only assume that playing it is a lot more fun than spectating. The contrast between a real band and Rock Band was just too obvious in that public setting. It was very much like watching a bunch of school kids playing an unknown piece of music for the first time – all furrowed brows and fervent reading, yet no sense of passion or enjoyment.

The other thing we noticed (and Xino pointed out) was that a lot of the games weren’t exactly new. The 18-only section had such gems as Kane and Lynch (demo already available on Xbox Live), Gears of War (ditto), Oblivion (on PS3, okay) and Halo 3 (being monopolised by people who have clearly played it before). We were amused to find a 360 proudly displaying the Red Ring of Death. ButtonBandits also had a good giggle. Live Square Enix Booth Mac Stand with very few people Live Rock Band Live Xbox 360 Red Ring of Death

There was some new stuff like Far Cry 2 Condemned 2 and Dynasty Warriors 6 (released in early March) but the most exciting games were barely represented. Here’s everything I could find for Star Wars: Force Unleashed. Live Star Wars Force Unleashed Poster

Yup, it’s a poster. A large poster. A well-designed poster in 5 parts. But ultimately, a poster. Ghostbusters fared marginally better with a video. Very disappointing.

I did like the look of PDC World Championship Darts on the Wii but it was right up against the tables for the eating area. I’ve played a review copy of the PS2 version but so far have held back from reviewing it on grounds of “If you have nothing nice to say…” I really wanted to try the Wii version for comparison but it was far too much trouble to join the queue without constantly being jostled by people carrying ketchup-laden hot dogs. Speaking of which… a cheeseburger, chips and coke set me back £7.50! A beer was £4.30! I was expecting the prices to be high, but holy crap! On top of the £16 VIP tickets for a show that wasn’t big enough to justify visiting on both days, it was an expensive weekend.

Outside the stadium was a giant Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man and one of those moving pod ride things that you get for simulating roller-coasters and the like. The queue was short so we hopped inside for a wobbly preview of the Iron Man game. Don’t buy it! It looks shabby and plays like the cheap movie tie-in that it is. I hope the film is better, because the trailer looks very promising. Live Inflatable Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and Ecto 1

There were some good things about the show. The Bourne Conspiracy demo was fun. Combat was a bit simplistic – block, punch, alternate until the finishing move icon appears, then hit B to (hopefully) finish off the assailant on a handy bit of scenery – but it worked for a ten minute trial. The Quick-Time-Events were even appropriate. They appeared mainly at points where you’d have to react very quickly, like being spotted by a sniper, and the reaction time was very, very short. I would have preferred more direct control, being given the choice of where to run, for example, but I suppose if you’re designing for morons who just want to twitch on buttons and not have to think, then at least they had a good premise for QTEs.

(Yes, I am being uncharitable. Quick Time Events are godawful, lazy game design and anyone who enjoys them should be thrown in a stinking pit with a continuous loop of Uwe Boll films for company.)

The other enjoyable game was Army of Two. This had its own small-yet-roomy booth with two PS3 and two Xbox 360 versions. Even though the game is already out and I was already interested (I really enjoyed co-op Gears of War), I’m not about to drop £40 on a game without having played a demo first. It’s a good co-operative shooter with a not-really-necessary USP, known as the aggrometer. Whenever you shoot or otherwise cause mayhem, you raise the aggro level of the bad guys. If one of you keeps the aggro for a while, they tend to focus entirely on you and forget about your partner, who then turns “invisible” and can run around the behind them and do his murderous thing. As far as I could see, having this visually represented on the HUD was entirely redundant. The ubiquitous tracer rounds used by the enemy do a perfectly good job of indicating who has their attention. Army of Two would be a much more immersive game if aggro was simply a hidden property and TBH, I don’t see how it makes the gameplay significantly different from the enemies’ behaviour in Gears of War. Sure, there are a couple of visual effects and “Overkill” mode but this sort of teamworking and distraction technique has been a staple of shooters for years, no? No matter, there were other fun features that made it enjoyable, despite the overwhelmingly white male cast (with token hot radio female). Co-op parachuting is a nice change from driving+shooting sequences and the back-to-back slow-motion fighting technique is a laugh.

The Shows

I was there for the games. I didn’t care about the shows, which is just as well because there wasn’t a whole lot of space to watch them. I suppose other people might have enjoyed the bands or the obnoxious MC who kept shouting “Xbox 360 is better than PS3 yeah?” despite getting no response, but to me they were oppresive noise. We got a good view of the dancing Vegas showgirls by virtue of being upstairs at the time. Their shows seemed rather pointless to me, having very little to do with Rainbow 6 Vegas, but in a 95% male crowd, there was probably enough of an audience to convince some marketing exec that it was a worthwhile idea.

In summary:

The show was disappointing for those of us who remember the spaciousness of PlayStation Experience or Game Stars Live. It was awkward to queue for the few games we wanted to try. In swag terms, it was dreadful. The great thing about Game Stars Live (2004) and PlayStation Experience (2003) was coming home with a bunch of extra demo discs to play at my leisure from the comfort of my bed. At Live we got a bunch of flyers, DVDs of Ice Age and Knocked Up (WTF? truly awful film), a fake Stuntman Ignition license plate, some keychains and lanyards, a cheaply printed Fifa Street baseball cap, a pen that lights up and an EA drawstring bag. TheFluffyFist managed to bag himself a 4GB MicroSD card from the SanDisk lucky dip and we breathed the same air as Tom Baker, for those of you who might be impressed by such things.

We thought that having VIP tickets would mean that we could get some time on the more popular games during the “shift-change”, when they booted out the 10am-2pm ticket holders and let the 2pm-6pm ticket holders in. Nope, they kicked everyone out and then let us back in after ten minutes of standing around in the rain. Really crappy treatment and just served to underline how much of a rip-off the “VIP” tickets were.

OTOH, we bought Army of Two from HMV on the way home so we could spend Sunday playing it. Score 1 for the EA booth.