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Eurogamer Expo 2010 – part two

10:54. Missed call from @EGVroom. Stuffing what remains of a sausage butty into my mouth I head  back down to the main entrance to meet my expo wing-man. Apparently the queue outside is now stretching so far round Earls Court the powers that be have decided to open the doors 5 minutes early. That time is now! Making my way through the ensuing chaos I find EGVroom, give him his wristband and we make our way inside. Coincidentally he brought along a little friend, @SuperTwario, a rising star in the Twitterverse with a penchant for carrots, we’ll no doubt be hearing more from him in the very near future. After a brief pause for a caffeine pit-stop we launch ourselves into the fray on the hunt for the next hands-on experience.

Need for Speed Hot Pursuit
As a big fan of the Burnout series I never really got into Need for Speed. Burnout was all about the fast, frantic and more importantly fun aspect of racing fast cars around the streets. You can pick up the controller and within minutes be in the midst of a chaotic battle for first place, ‘taking down’ opponents with stylish moves. Need for Speed lacked this immediacy – certainly in latter installments. To this end I hadn’t really given the franchise much consideration. That changed with Hot Pursuit. One word, or rather one name can explain why. Criterion. A cursory glance walking past the stand and you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a new Burnout game on display. Taking up position next to EGVroom we await the start of our first multiplayer race. Going back to it’s roots Hot Pursuit  is all about the high speed police chase. Players get to decide whether to play as a cop or a racer, and choose from a healthy list of licenced supercars. From the moment the race begins it is clear this Need for Speed is all about action packed fun.

Whether cop or racer you have an array of weapons and equipment at your disposal to help you become the top cop in the county, or the most wanted racer. Playing as a cop I get to choose from: a helicopter, to help keep the racers I am pursuing ‘in sight’; an EMP to fire at vehicles, frying their systems and sending them out of control; a spike strip to be dropped ahead of the chase to damage or immobilise the racer/s car; and the ability to call in a roadblock to stop, or at the very least, slow down my prey. As I quickly found out these can also be used against your fellow cops. Only minutes into the game I had caught up with and was in pursuit of a racer. Before I get chance to score my takedown and claim the subsequent bounty I am hit with an EMP and sent careering across the freeway into the path of an oncoming car. As I slam helplessly at full speed into the car I am overtaken by a cop badged Dodge Viper who goes on to bag my intended target. Not only are you out to beat the racers but also your fellow cops – there’s only room for one top cop! All the while I’m playing, part of my mind is telling me not to be fooled, Hot Pursuit is nothing more than Burnout in a new dress. But even if that’s the case, it isn’t a bad thing. Based purely off the multiplayer part of the game I got to play, Hot Pursuit  is promising to be a great, fun, action packed addition to the Need for Speed stable. With talk of the single player portion of the game offering an open-world of over 100 miles of road and freeway to own, 4 times larger than Burnout’s Paradise City, it should keep gamers occupied for a while. I’m curious to see though how it sets itself apart from the Burnout franchise. For those wondering, I can’t remember who won between EGVroom and myself! ;o) Burnout Need for Speed Hot Pursuit is released in the UK on 19th November for Xbox 360, PS3, PC and Wii.

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood
Parting company with EGVroom for a while I make my way to one of the many Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood stands. Having only recently started playing the first Assassin’s Creed (don’t ask) and thoroughly enjoying it I am very keen to get my hands on Brotherhood. Chatting with the Ubisoft rep it’s clear multiplayer is a major focus of the latest installment in the franchise. I try to draw him on the other multiplayer game modes recently announced, Hunted and Alliance, but he is having none of it. Initially skeptical of how they’d manage to add multiplayer without it feeling too contrived and shoe-horned in I was happily surprised. The demo on display consisted of an 8 minute round of Wanted, the only mode to be fully revealed so far. I have 8 character skins available to choose from which include the Priest, the Courtesan, the Executioner and the Doctor, each with their own unique weapon and signature move. On selecting your character, the sinister almost spy vs. spy looking Doctor in my case, you then have to decide on your special abilities. Abilities come paired together and choices include smoke bombs and morph, speed boost and throwing knives, disguise and hidden gun, and poison and decoy. By gaining XP whilst playing you progress through 50 experience levels which at set milestones unlock additional abilities, skins, perks etc.

When the game starts I am dropped into a smallish map, apparently an area within renaissance Rome, populated by NPCs made up of the various playable character skins. Within seconds I am assigned my assassination target, an image of the Priest appears in the top right corner of the HUD. At the same time I acquire a pursuer – another of the player assassins who now has me as their intended target. The aim of Wanted is simple, achieve the highest number of assassinations before time runs out, as stealthily as possible for maximum experience points and more importantly… stay alive! A very simple ‘compass’ at the bottom of the screen gives you a general direction of your target, the larger the ‘cone’ the closer you are. The trick is to find them without giving yourself away to your pursuer. By blending with, and acting like an NPC I move freely and unnoticed through the crowds zeroing in on my prey. Moving towards him the compass is now fully illuminated indicating I am right on top of my target. I am stood next to him at a market stall, the other player completely oblivious to my presence. With the press of a button I perform a perfectly silent assassination, a kid two seats down swearing in unexpected surprise. The key to my success was in acting as much like an NPC as possible, not only does it allow you to get close to your target but it keeps you relatively well hidden from the player pursuing you. Often all this boils down to is simply not running on scaling buildings – the two dead giveaways that that person is not an NPC. Unfortunately for me as I perform my pre-scripted assassination animation I am spotted by my pursuer. The HUD prompts me to “Run away” with a big red warning bar and a small red indicator on the compass showing their position relative to me. Much like the Assassin’s Creed single player mode I need to break the line of sight the other player has on me. When I do the red bar changes to a decreasing yellow ‘evade’ bar and I need to stay out of sight or hide in a haystack. When the bar reaches the end a pop up tells me I successfully escaped my pursuer and awards me 100 bonus XP – the other player has now lost me as his contract and must wait until they are assigned a new one. I am now free to pursue my next target. It is whilst evading and escaping a pursuer that your special abilities come into play. Using the smoke bomb for example I can temporarily incapacitate everyone in the immediate vicinity allowing me extra time to get away. Alternatively I can use disguise to temporarily transform  myself into a different character thereby throwing off my pursuer, just as long as I am out of sight when the effect wears off! Each ability can be used as often as you like, only limited by a cool-down period after each use to prevent continuous use. Had I used up my abilities but still not successful lost my pursuer there is one last resort – “chase breakers”. Ubisoft have cleverly placed these environmental features throughout the map which can be activated to delay my pursuer giving me valuable seconds in which to further distance myself. Identifying these breakers is made easy by way of a shimmering silver animus visual effect around them, and they include gates that slam shut as you run through them blocking the path of your pursuer and pulleys that when activated zip you to the roof of the building in seconds, forcing your pursuer to take the much slower route of climbing up after you. The more of a menace you become by scoring lots of assassinations without dying, the more pursuers have you assigned as their target. If you are running away with the points you can end up with four other players all hunting you down at the same time!

Wanted is just one of the multiplayer modes so far made playable, if the others are half as much fun then it should shape up to be a great addition to the single player campaign. My only niggling doubt is just how long this mode will remain appealing, as fun as it is I suspect once you have played with the different abilities, characters and maps it will get pretty samey. That being said it was probably the highlight of the expo for me, I played it 5 times over the course of the two days I was at the expo, crashing 3 PS3s in the process. Consider it pre-ordered! Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is released in the UK on 19th November for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.

This post forms Part 2 of a series of posts coming over the next few days rounding up my thoughts on Eurogamer Expo 2010. Part 1 can be found here.