October brings as it has for the last couple of years the Manchester PLAY Expo, one of the last big gaming events of the year for me. As usual I made the trip down to see the sights and play the games.
We were a few hours later than usual this year, which meant less time playing games sadly but also no waiting in the queue outside which was a significant improvement.
The exhibition seemed to make much better use of the hall than in previous years, with the only wide gap that was largely unfilled being the space between the market stalls and the retro section at the top of the hall, I remember some quite large empty spaces in past years so it’s nice to see it continue to expand.
The arcade section felt a fair bit smaller than last year’s show and sadly Thunder Cross 2 was still missing – just as well though, as Dave and I ended up going on different days this time so we’d still not have managed to beat it even if it had been. Many were cabinets I’ve played on over the last couple of years that I skipped, though I did spend quite a while on Silent Scope which I don’t think I’ve placed since the early 2000’s.
I was quite surprised at just how many pinball machines there were this time, though a sign in the area proudly proclaimed that pinball was back so that could certainly be the case. As well as the usual selection of machines from the 90’s and before there were a selection of machines based on newer properties like the Walking Dead that seemed to gather quite a crowd.
The retro games section was quite well organised this time around, with many themed selections highlighting the history of franchises like Sonic and Street Fighter with games playable from the oldest to latest titles as well as a wide selection of other random games and machines.
At one end of the gap between the games and shopping was a fairly sizable selection of card and board games that seemed quite popular and while neither are really my cup of tea it’s good to see the event branching out more and more with each show to bring in wider audiences.
As with last year, there was quite a large market area. There seemed to be more merchandise sellers than games this time around which was a bit of a shame to me as I’m much more interested in adding more and more games to my collection that I’ll never have time to play than say t-shirts, but there was more than enough of everything that there was probably something for everyone.
Next up was the indie games area. These were mostly games still in development though there were a few this time that have been out for a while such as Devolver Digital’s Broforce to promote the latest update taking the game out of early access and Oddworld: New and Tasty which had the original PlayStation game running alongside it for a nice comparison. The most popular game based on the number of people playing it seemed to be Coffin Dodgers, a Mario Kart style game with old age pensioners, and the Double Fine published Gang Beasts had a fair crowd around it as usual too. The highlight for me each time I see it though is Raging Justice, a classic side scrolling beat ‘em up with stop motion style character models. I’ve played it several times now as they’ve shown it off at Insomnia events and the latest build felt even more polished than before and release can’t come soon enough.
Off to the side of the indie games was a reasonably sized LAN games section with a few different games running. I played a few matches of the original Unreal Tournament and while I’m not quite as good as I used to be I was happy enough to at least be near the top of the leaderboard. I quite fancied a few rounds of Jedi Knight II as that used to be a good laugh in multiplayer, but none of the machines running it were vacant at any point while I was around there.
Also near the indie section was the meet and greet area for the various guests of the day, most notably being David Prowse who played Darth Vader (and if you’re old enough to remember, the Green Cross Code man) and the sixth Doctor Colin Baker.
On the big business side of things, Sony were in attendance with a number of PlayStation 4 titles. There were a mix of some titles that have been out for a little while, some new releases such as the utterly mental Earth Defense Force 4.1 and a demo version of Dark Souls III. As is to be expected with a Dark Souls game, regular horrible death is a regular event but it’s never looked shinier.
All in all, this year’s Play was a fun show with plenty to be played and seen and a fun day out as always.