At London's EGX Rezzed event last weekend, ID@Xbox brought a colourful and diverse assortment of games to their booth. I managed to get hands-on with a few of them. Some were in their very early stages of development while others are just a few days from release, but all of them brought their own unique flavour to the room, making it one of the most consistently crowded booths for the entire weekend. I've already spoken about Cities Skylines, which we now know is arriving on April 21st. Over the next few articles I'll discuss the other ID@Xbox titles with which I managed to get hands on, starting with two more games that are just a few days away from release.
If you have fond memories of rhythm-action-shooter games like Rez HD, here's one to keep an eye on. Mad Fellows' Aaero is a fast-paced, on-rails rhythm shooter in a similar vein, blending dystopian sci-fi landscapes with thumping beats. Despite some basic similarities, there are some significant differences that make Aaero feel unique.
The graphics are better, for starters. You'd hope so after nearly a decade.
When I jumped onto the game, two songs were unlocked: Flux Pavilion's dubstep track "Bass Cannon" (featured in February's trailer) and Katy B's "Katy on a Mission", both originally released in 2011. I started with "Bass Cannon", which seems to act a little like a tutorial level. I was operating a small spacecraft gliding low over a desolate alien landscape and through a series of tube-like corridors, with on-rails movement meaning that I was controlling the craft's sideways and vertical movements while the game automatically propelled me forward.
The first surprise was that the track kicks in fairly strongly from the get-go, unlike the early stages of Rez in which your actions literally build the track from scratch. This may sound less interactive, but I actually found it considerably easier to get to grips with Aaero because the rhythm was already there for me to follow. I started out shooting a few enemy bots before plunging into a tube. Here I found a bright white laser describing a curving pattern around the edge of the cylinder; I'm a cautious gamer, so I spent a good couple of seconds avoiding it in case it killed me before realising that this was the total opposite of the game's objective.
Head towards the light, it has a multiplier!
Riding the white line as it weaves and wobbles around the cylinder keeps the music at full intensity. In some ways, the rhythm response is similar to something like Rock Band and Guitar Hero, particularly in their earlier incarnations. Rather than the music cutting out altogether if you veer off the pattern, a layer drops off the track instead (like the melody dropping off if you're having a miserable time in Guitar Hero. The rest of the track is still thumping away and this, along with the stark visual palette, helps you to correct course very quickly.
This isn't even normally my kind of music, but I'll admit that I was really getting into the rhythm as the level played out and the audio cues were guiding me just as much as the visual ones. The rhythmic gameplay of following the guide line was broken up by short sequences of shooting robots out in the open, again timed to make the most of lulls in the track. Sadly there was no epic boss battle at the end as has been hinted at in previous trailers, but even by the end of this simple level I was getting a buzz. It's the only game in the booth that I immediately wanted to restart in order to get a higher score.
Katy B's track had a similar structure, although the guideline was noticeably more complex as it flexed back and forth in time with the vocals. You can see more of this level below courtesy of the developers, Mad Fellows.
The achievement list is already up for Aaero, and the game is due to release on April 11th.
After Aaero, I thought I'd check out what else was happening at the event. The next thing I knew, I was regaining consciousness in a strange hotel room, with a weird mask on my face. No, I hadn't skipped straight to the after-party; I'd switched over to The Sexy Brutale, developed by Cavalier Game Studios and Tequila Works. As one might expect from an eerie mystery title, I spent the next ten minutes utterly baffled as to what was happening.
If you find yourself in a game, don't attend the masked ball. It won't end well.
The hotel room is displayed in an isometric view, ornate and slightly foreboding as old English mansions tend to be. It also appears to be floating in perpetual shadow, as I was unable to see any corridors or rooms beyond it. The protagonist, Lafcadio Boone, is an elderly priest. While the character is still unconscious he is visited by an exceptionally creepy looking lady, dripping in what I can only assume is blood. She informs us that the mask on the unfortunate priest's face, touched with her bloody handprint, is for his own protection. The masked ball has turned bloody: the staff are allegedly killing the guests. What's more, the guest's masks seem to be sinister themselves, as I soon found out. The visitor needs your help to save the guests and solve the mystery.
This is primarily an adventure puzzle game, so there is much to explore and much to click on as you would expect. It's important not to get too click-happy, though, because things might not end well if you enter a room while a masked person is inside. The beginning of the game is fairly linear to introduce you to the controls and concepts, as well as set up the story. I head out into the corridor (which only appears on screen as I open the door to it) and eventually come to a closed door with a hole I can peep through.
Ignoring my better judgement, as one must, I took a peek and saw a huge ornate stained glass window, and a curious red-headed man in a helmet – Reginald Sixpence, described by the developers as "The Clockwork Baron". The view from the keyhole was wedge-shaped, and I found I could shift my view to the left and right a certain amount to see other details of the room. I couldn't shift my view enough to see the other man in the room, although I could hear him and I certainly bore witness to his actions. He shot poor Reginald straight in the chest, before muttering about cleaning up the blood.
We've all had a similarly unfortunate morning-after experience, right?
Suddenly, I was back in the first room, waking up again. The Sexy Brutale is a game of looping time and over the course of the game you will see (and hopefully prevent) a series of horrible murders. On my second jaunt I was able to see Reginald's killer, picking up his gun from one room and arriving at the far end of Reginald's bloody resting place. I witnessed the murder through the keyhole of a different door, allowing me a full view of the murderer's actions.
I continued to play a little longer, acquiring a broken watch that allowed me to reset the events of the last few hours at will. How to prevent the murders, though? Direct intervention with the characters isn't the way to go — if you enter a room with a masked character, everything gets hellishly creepy as the character disappears and their mask, floating in a wreath of red mist, heads straight to you and attacks you. If you lose all of your health, you don't die — you just start back in the first room.
It's an interesting concept, allowing for tension and fright without actually punishing you or resetting your progress too far. It's a stern reminder that our elderly priest can only observe the human drama from a distance. If he wants to prevent an action, he must do so in classic adventure game style: muck around with various items while unseen in order to change the course of a sequence. It was the kind of mystery that sucked me in from the start, and I left the stand eager to find out what happens next.
The room in which dear Reginald expired...
You can enter the mysterious halls of The Sexy Brutale yourself very shortly, as the game releases on April 12th. The developers have been releasing a series of character profiles in the run-up to release, including our unfortunate acquaintance Sixpence. The latest of these arrived just in time for the weekend. Introduce yourself to Willow Blue, "The Flame in the Dark" – preferably from a safe distance, behind a door, where she can't actually hear or see you.
We'll have more hands-on previews to share from EGX Rezzed in the next few days.
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