Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Devolverland Expo - The Future's Future Has Been Canceled

Founded in 2009, Devolver Digital is an indie games publisher that has made a name for itself with the unique off-beat type of games that it publishes, and are the ones to finally bring the cult Japanese Xbox game Metal Wolf Chaos to the west as Metal Wolf Chaos XD. More recently, the publisher had an increased presence at E3 with their surprisingly well-crafted and funny pre-recorded press conferences that poke fun at the nature of press conferences (with some actual announcements thrown in), including a full-on parody of Nintendo Direct as Devolver Direct. Their last conference, also a Devolver Direct, ties up a four-year storyline and is a masterful satire of video game marketing in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the handful of actual video game announcements was one for the immediately-released Devolverland Expo, billed as a “first-person marketing simulator”, which features some additional video game announcements under the guise of a game in which you explore an abandoned convention hall. Since the game is free on Steam, I decided to give it a try and got a lot more than what I bargained for.

The Devolverland Expo has been canceled, leaving an abandoned convention hall. However that doesn’t stop you as you head inside anyway to see what Devolver Digital has in store. There really isn’t much of a story, not that there needs to be for a game like this one, however it more than makes up for that in atmosphere, to the point where it initially feels like a horror game before quickly revealing its true nature as more of a stealth game with some minor platforming elements.

The stealth involves dodging lasers and security robots in order to access various Devolverland Expo booths to view trailers for upcoming Devolver Digital titles. You can get past these robots by learning their patterns and running past them, though if needed you are equipped with a T-shirt cannon early on that can be used to temporarily stun enemies. The T-shirt cannon can also be used to solve some puzzles and knock down the mascots populating the Fall Guys booth, in addition to simply walking into them, for which knocking down all of them grants you an achievement. Should you get caught by the security robots, however, you respawn back at the last booth you were in, though early on you will be booted back to the start of the convention hall.

Watching trailers is important, both for marketing purposes and for advancing the convention hall. Watching the trailers also nets you achievements, however you must watch them in full before they will count. Some sections also require solving a handful of hacking minigames to advance, though they are simple enough to figure out on your own. There’s also hidden collectibles throughout the convention hall, collecting all of which unlocks teasers for unannounced titles that are viewable once you defeat the boss using the Glove of Power (mkII). As you make your way through, you are also occasionally taunted by said boss in a way that’s both funny and disturbing.

Having been inside a number of convention halls, I can say a lot of effort was put into making Devolverland Expo’s convention hall look like one that would actually exist, if a little fantastical for the purposes of the gameplay. Each booth, including one promoting Nvidia GeForce, feels like a real booth, with the game-specific areas designed to be highly immersive based on each game, including a translation of their unique art styles. It’s probably no coincidence that developer Flying Wild Hog put more effort into the booth for their own game, Shadow Warrior 3, as it is easily the most elaborate, though a lot of effort went into the designs of the other booths nonetheless. One small detail that really sold it for me was the inclusion of small areas with computers on which one could demo the games, helping ground the fantasy convention hall somewhat in reality.

Minus the presence of security robots, it feels like a real convention hall.

While the experience is overall great, there were still some minor issues I encountered along the way. Aside from some visible texture loading, the aiming with the T-shirt cannon occasionally sticks and restricts movement, requiring some additional clicking and/or firing off a shot in order to regain full control, though I did not have the same experience with the Glove of Power (mkII). Additionally, as our wired Xbox 360 controller is currently in the shop (as of this writing), we experienced some awkwardness when trying to use a Steam Controller, mainly in regards to aiming, requiring the use of a mouse anyway for more precision. I should also mention that there is no way to save your progress, meaning you have to complete the whole thing in one sitting, though fortunately the experience is only about an hour long.

Though short, Devolverland Expo is a very clever and unique way for Devolver Digital to advertise some of their currently-upcoming titles, while also delivering an enjoyable gameplay experience in its own right. In short, much like their recent press conferences, the game is better than it has any right to be and is something I’d recommend for fans of the indie publisher. If you’re not interested in any of their games, the short length and sheer amount of effort put into this unique form of marketing is enough to give it a try.

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