The Iris’ EB Games Expo 2016 Awards

PlayStation’s VR is almost ready to be unleashed on a public that largely has very little idea of what awaits them. That idea became a little clearer after EB Expo though, one of the general public’s first real chances to go hands-on with this beautiful piece of immersive tech, with a handful of demos designed to show off PSVR’s many different uses. One moment you’re in a cockpit desperately trying to fly in formation while enemies shoot at you, the next minute you’re in a shark cage descending to the sea bed, frantically looking around to make sure that massive great white stays the fuck away from you (it doesn’t, it’s scary as hell). The possibilities of this are so very exciting, and they overshadowed almost everything at the expo this year.

Aside from that, EB Expo was very much what we’ve come to expect year after year, giving punters hands on time with some of the most exciting games exhibited by some of the top publishers in the industry. For the hardcore gamers there were exciting talks, not just about the future of gaming, but the history of it – particularly in Australia as the team from ABC’s long-running Good Game were on hand to take fans on a little nostalgia trip. For the casual gamers there was enough going around to bring you up to speed on just how deep and vast this world is, a process helped along by the excellent team at Weird and Retro who brought out some of their best consoles and let the public engage in a little free-play.

The various attractions – including an odd shoot-the-drone-with-this-laster-glove activation by Mountain Dew – food trucks, stages (Just Dance and Rock Band rule the show), retail stalls (buy everything from Madman Entertainment), and more really sharpen the edges of the expo, but for most it’s all about those upcoming games. People waited hours in queues to get their hands on the likes of For Honor (Ubisoft) and Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (Capcom), and while all brought their own slice of excitement, some game previews were superior throughout the weekend.

Without further words, we present to you The Iris’ EB Expo 2016 Awards.

Game of Show

Winner: Horizon: Zero Dawn

Guerrilla Games are onto something special here. This PS4 exclusive is an ambitious action RPG that has the sense of scale that no other game – bar Zelda – had at the expo this year. You control Aloy, a young hunter that looks like she was sketched from Avatar, hunting mechanised creatures that resemble Jurassic-esque dinosaurs.

It’s a strange, surreal game that’s a big step away from Guerrilla’s Killzone series. The gameplay is fluid and responsive, Aloy moves like the wind, a nimble warrior that’s necessary given that you’re going to be doing a lot of traversing and running from fantastical robot beasts. The beasts themselves – at least the hostile ones – are aggressive and fast, challenging and far from weak, meaning that the bigger ones will call for layered, methodical battles and there are a number of ways with which you can approach (stealth, hack, fight, as far as the demo goes).

Watchers are some of the first creatures encountered in the demo and it’s not long before a clear comparison is made: these are velociraptors. They jump like velociraptors, they hunt in packs – usually threes – like velociraptors, and they are just as fast and daunting – when one comes after you, you can easily imagine Jeff Goldblum screaming in your ear: “Run”. Taking them out via stealth was the best way to deal with them, there’s an indicator so you know if they are aware of your presence or not, but sometimes it’s just fun to go head on and run around with these mechasaurs, allowing you to truly get a feel of just how incredibly detailed this world is.

Runner Up: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Okay, so Nintendo were playing this card very close to their chests. The Zelda showcase wasn’t open to everyone – only competition winners through the weekend and select media. Those lucky enough to get inside were able both watch an extended preview of the game, and get hands-on time with two demos in a dark, room lit only by bright Wii U remotes and mid-size screens. As a Zelda fan, there was very little that could top that feeling of using link to explore this expansive world that has been created for Breath of the Wild.

Nintendo are taking a big risk with this one. Zelda games have always stuck to the tried and true formula – one of the best in the gaming world – that really works, every single damn time. They are breaking that formula here, it seems they have finally opened this iconic franchise up to outside influences so while playing this I got the feeling that there were shades of Monster Hunter, maybe even some – and this is a stretch – Far Cry. Adventure is more open than ever before, it feels like actual exploration rather than the game pushing you in one direction with a limited degree of freedom. Enemies are tougher if you don’t have the right weapons or shield, and you can use different items to take foes down, after which you can pick up and use their weapons like a goblin’s club or bow.

Degradation mechanics have also been worked into the game, a godsend for Zelda fans who want more challenge, more strategy in the universe they all know and love. This one will be a big step, a game that not only sells copies but also consoles, let’s just hope Nintendo don’t rely on it and it alone to move the NX into a position from which to truly contend with the XBONE and PS4.

Best Experience

Winner: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

After all is said and done, nostalgia is one of the best feelings about video games, it’s the reason so many iterations of the same game are made every single year. Familiarity with the Zelda series plays a big part when you get on that Wii U controller and remind yourself just how far the franchise has come, that wide-eyed joy coming out as the melody of visuals, gameplay, and sound – Zelda still has the best damn soundtrack around – are enough to illicit tears. For Nintendo fans – even the ones who pretend not to be – getting hands-on time with Breathe of the Wild was second to none.

Runner Up: PlayStation VR (Resident Evil, The Deep, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood)

If there was anything that defined EB Expo this year it was PSVR. The technology is finally beginning to take shape, and this means that PlayStation are ready to show off (and they’d have every right to be boastful) the various angles this can bring to the gaming world. The forthcoming Resident Evil 7 proved just how immersive and frightening horror games can be with this tech, even those who tried not to jump at certain moments couldn’t help themselves – like myself. The Deep (often referred to as “the shark game”) furthered that point while you were descending into this gorgeous watery abyss, in a shark cage. Until Dawn: Rush of Blood was probably the highlight of all the PSVR games though – there were about 10 in total, including Drive Club – an atmospheric, deliciously dark on-rails shooter that has you on a rollercoaster slowly working your way through a slaughterhouse-like horror circus shooting up killer clowns and flying pottery. The clever use of sound and light in Rush of Blood move this away from the cliches of rail-shooters and really play on the VR tech to absolutely scare the shit out of you. It was awesome holding the two Move controllers and helplessly trying to shoot my way out of this horror story.

Biggest Surprise

Winner: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The surprise being how much Nintendo are breaking away from that formula, they aren’t playing it safe. All those Zelda conventions you know and love, like the linear dungeons, have been scrapped and the world has been stretched to show off an inspired landscape that’s vast and feels unpredictable. This isn’t Zelda as we know it, not at all, this is a huge evolution for Nintendo and a giant step for the brand. Need proof? You can press a button (X) and make Link jump; I’m not being facetious, that big change represents how “outside of the Zelda box” Nintendo are thinking right now.

Runner Up: Watch Dogs 2

Watch Dogs 2 unfortunately wasn’t playable at the expo, but that didn’t stop the extended video preview of the game from being any less impressive. Watch Dogs was a hugely anticipated game for years, but when Ubisoft Montreal finally released their work gamers were left wanting – it was a good game, but nothing compared to the previews. It seems like Ubisoft are switching things up dramatically for Watch Dogs, the character is younger and arguably more relatable, the art direction takes you to saturated, sunny San Francisco with an almost cartoonish look, a bit like Sunset Overdrive meets GTA. From the preview it looks like there is endless fun to be had, a playful move away from the seriousness that held the first one down.

Most Popular

Winner: For Honor

Sighing at the ‘hour wait’ sign that was slapped on the general queue was a regular occurrence when it came to For Honor, Ubisoft’s majestic hack-and-slash, a brutal medieval fusion game that was all about high-tension sword fights when it came to the playable demo. This is some muscly, in-your-face action and it was a challenge to even develop a level of competency during a short hands-on session. The visuals are striking, as grand as the imposing steel-on-steel action, and the movements feel like a nice balance between loose, fluid, and fast motion and something more realistic. No wonder this had queues so large that finding out where they start was as confusing as South Park‘s fart-smelling VR technology, housed in the booth nearby.

Runner Up: PlayStation VR

This one was a no brainer. Simple, everyone is starting to become really interested in the tech now that PlayStation have developed enough games to show off different sides of this futuristic, immersive experience.

Best Booth: PlayStation

No question here, VR dominated all.

Best Attraction: Weird and Retro

EB Expo have heaped on the attractions in recent years, but this one felt a bit scaled back compared to last year. The awesome retro museum had been replaced by just a bare-bones display from Weird and Retro that consisted of old-school consoles and games available for free play. It’s always going to be the best attraction at EB Expo because getting unlimited time with vintage consoles – many of which are very hard to find for the average casual gamer – is bliss, pure fucking bliss. Shouts to the kid who kicked my ass over and over again in Super Smash Bros until I got angry and ran away.

Runner Up: Tournaments

Tournaments also played a bigger part this year than at previous EB Expos, various games from various platforms were playable in short challenges to determine ultimate gamers. Hell, even Pokemon had a go, with a big screen set up so players could bring along their 3DS and battle while others watched, pizza and popcorn in hand. It was better than Suicide Squad.