ECTS 2003

Gamestyle Archive intro: The European Gaming show marked an opportunity for the team to meet up from all corners of the UK and experience the latest games. From 2003, Writer JJ.

At the end of the summer the video game industry descends on London for the annual ECTS gathering.  The prime European event is this year complimented by the burgeoning consumer Playstation 2 Experience and various developer events in the capital beforehand.  This is a time for old friends to catch up, deals to be offered and a chance to check out the competition.

The consensus was that this year’s event was an improvement on the previous year, and certainly a massive improvement over the lacklustre 2001 Docklands event.  Despite the demise of numerous developers during the last twelve months the general mood was one of hope, excitement and fierce rivalry.     These factors combined with several promising games on show filled attendees (including Gamestyle) with hope that the coming months will provide some much needed excitement and originality.

With a congregation built on a pan-European basis and beyond, it is no surprise that Gamestyle ignored many booths.  Package suppliers, media publishers, recruitment companies, development packages and CD producers may well form the foundations of the industry, but it’s all about the games – excluding PC games of course, as despite criticism it is outside our remit.

Our tour and brief overview begins outside the main entrance to ECTS, where Nintendo had set up camp to promote its forthcoming Gamecube and GameBoy Advance releases.  Rather than taking centre stage amidst the chaotic scenes and deafening volume of Earls Court, Nintendo had decided to make advantage of the concrete area outside.  Here a fenced enclosure was decked out in the style of Mario Kart, with various palm trees and banners in abundance.  Taking centre stage was the truck, which offered booths in and around its structure.

A large video screen dominated the area and allowed Nintendo to continuously run footage of its wares – if only another screen was located at the opposite entrance where the masses queued for the Playstation 2 Experience.  Beneath the screen sat four karts, which came with screens that allowed the LAN ability of Mario Kart Double Dash to be fully exploited and allowed Nintendo to run daily competitions.  The Nintendo stand soon became a favourite escape for Gamestyle as it offered a tranquil, relaxed and crowd free environment – especially when it rained.  The Nintendo girls (dressed in mechanic overalls) were surprisingly knowledgeable about the games on show and eager to help, although on one occasion on Friday they outnumbered the guests!  However on Friday several officials from Nintendo of Japan where evident, Gamestyle hopes that this is the start of equal treatment for Europe.  Luckily on Friday, one Gamestyle staff member was not wearing his Lik Sang tee shirt.

The games on show were of varying quality, excluding Viewtiful Joe and Soul Calibur II, which are already very familiar with most visitors.  Those that disappointed included Rogue Squadron III and Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes, which prompted one staff member to exclaim “Bleemcast!”  The former was perhaps a victim of a disappointing level selection, but there was no hiding from the disappointing lack of evolution.  Mario Kart Double Dash received mixed responses and Gamestyle cannot help but feel that is a release on a hiding to nothing; no matter what it will be judged against the sublime SNES version.  The new version is playable and therefore enjoyable, but the visuals fail to harness the power of the Cube or offer a high frame rate.  The same can be said of the sequels to 1080 Snowboarding and Pikmin.

Despite the negativity there were delights to be found in the Nintendo penitentiary, namely Pac Man, Harry Potter, F-Zero and Billy Hatcher.  Perhaps Pac Man was the biggest surprise – only available on one machine, but immensely playable and satisfying.  Unfortunately the need for a GBA with cart plus three friends (with controllers) and the game disc really limits the appeal and potential market of the release.  Pac Man is wonderful and more modes may add further dimensions but you cannot avoid the niche nature of such expenditure.

Depending on which way you entered ECTS; you were confronted with either the colourful Konami/Vivendi stands or the budget Play It offering – located nicely beside the press side entrance.  The Konami stand featured an original design, which really leant itself toward interaction and participation.  The Pro Evolution Soccer 3 stalls were consistently busy, whilst the official Konami dancers kept showing off their undoubted skills.  Every hour on the hour, a Metal Gear 3 video played and came complete with 007 rip-off credits, backed up with footage of forthcoming releases.  Unfortunately two of the most promising games on show were available on single machines; Castlevania and the ultimate music game.  The latter really showed Codemasters how to create a music game and with the headset provided the most laughs to those watching or the brave soul who attempted to sing.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles failed to impress and Zone Of Enders 2 only seems to have received a cosmetic make over.

Across from Konami lay the Vivendi stand, which lacked any modern visual design – instead relying on the games on show to attract attention.  The centrepiece was the Half-Life 2 presentation booth, which always had a queue – bitterly disappointing if you have already seen the footage.  The rest of the stand featured a varied selection of forthcoming releases.  Glitch in the system offered nothing new, while Buffy Chaos Bleeds is a step backwards after the playable Electronic Arts release.  Crash Bandicoot’s latest kart racing release matched Mario Kart Double Dash in playability terms but may lack the finesse of the Nintendo racer; only time will tell.

Normally any video game based on the Simpson’s license is enough to turn off any interest, and so it was initially with the empty Simpson’s Hit & Run booth.  Those brave enough to pick up the controller were rewarded with a rampant take on Grand Theft Auto, doused in Simpson’s humour and presentation.  Star Wars has turned the corner with Knights of the Old Republic and so it seems has another abused license

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