This year, we've decided to cheat. Although we're still happy to crown a Game of the Show, there are so many exciting games at EGX Rezzed 2014 being showcased at all sorts of different stages of development that we've decided to include a few others as well in our new Editors' Picks category. (There is no trophy, but if there were then it would be a little golden pickaxe to reflect the sparkling craftwork on display.)
EGX Rezzed, which is run by Eurogamer.net's publisher Gamer Network and which we contribute to by organising the developer sessions, began life as a PC and indie show, and while it's grown into a larger event with around 15,000 visitors this year and embraced multiple formats, it still retains that independent vibe, and the quality of indie games just continues to rise. As Thomas Was Alone developer Mike Bithell put it on Twitter, "Thoroughly impressed by the calibre of indie games on display at Rezzed. Vibrant, solid work." Bithell himself was on the developer session stage to show off stealth game Volume, which hardly looks shabby either.
After a lot of debate among the Eurogamer.net team at the show, then, we've settled on a short list of excellent-looking games, but don't be too upset if you think things should have turned out differently or something is missing, because the point is you're probably right. If you need a reminder that gaming is in an exciting moment right now, there are plenty to find at the NEC this weekend. Starting with...
Game of the Show: Alien Isolation
We have been sceptical about Creative Assembly's ability - anyone's ability - to pull this off ever since it was announced. Gearbox (or whoever it actually was) screwing up Colonial Marines so spectacularly last year may have helped a little by extending Isolation's gestation so it could avoid association by proximity, but it also didn't help, because it suggested that the xenomorph may be too much of a known quantity to hit home any more (especially while dancing). So how do you make the alien scary again and make sure it stays that way over the course of a whole game?
We won't know for sure until 7th October, but the demo on the show floor is so tense and atmospheric that the real question may be whether or not you can even make it through a whole game without taking a lot of cold showers. Creative Assembly's great success so far is in replicating the film's approach of keeping the alien off-screen the vast majority of the time while offering you constant reminders of its terrifying presence. Other games have used the film's colours, decals and key sounds, but Isolation feels like it's wielding them with the film's hands. Ventilation blades send shadows scattering across mesh floors. Computers are noisy and unintuitive. The ship's engine rumbles inconsistently. The advanced knowledge of your enemy that you thought you were bringing into the game as a shield suddenly becomes your worst nightmare, because everything sets you off, and that's before you even look at your motion tracker.
By the time you reach the end of the demo, you may not even want to look at it. A lot of the time is spent creeping in the shadows trying to face in the same direction as the blip moving on the screen - unable to focus on it and the gloom beyond in the same moment - but as you set up the conditions for your escape you may just want to run for the exit. Betraying your position and rescuing the situation - so often a depressing trudge to reset systems in stealth games - is brilliantly captivating in Alien Isolation as you hold your breath in a locker listening to the blips intensify and watching those famous gritted teeth menace slowly past.
Repeated deaths take a little shine off the tension, but every respawn brings your stress levels right back up, and the wave of relief that washes over you as you finally make your escape is palpable. The questions we have about Alien Isolation are still valid even after the demo, but the best answer to them so far is that it's impossible to think about them at all while you're playing the demo. Because while it lasts, the only thing on your mind is getting the hell out of there.
Gang Beasts - There is no shame in coming second to Alien, but Gang Beasts only did so narrowly anyway, and that speaks to the hilarious spectacle that the game puts on for anyone playing or observing. A four-player brawler starring characters that look like Tony Hart's Morph but act like fighty dickheads on a night out in Croydon, Gang Beasts is about shambling around amusingly dangerous environments, lunging drunkenly at your enemies and celebrating as they tumble over the top rope or disappear beneath the blades of a meat grinder. One to watch in every sense.
Towerfall Ascension - It's already out and already critically acclaimed, but Towerfall Ascension is the perfect event game because it's suddenly so easy to bring a rotating cast of four local players together to embrace it. Its gorgeous Metroid stylings drag you to the screen, its wonderful accessibility hooks you in - jump around 2D single-screen arenas firing arrows at each other - and then its devious subtleties ensure you won't stop playing. Best death of the day? A self-inflicted arrow to the face. Never fire and forget.
Three Body Problem - There's nothing more to Three Body Problem than dancing away from the constantly recalibrating attentions of a pair of homing missiles, but it's quite unlike anything else on the show floor this year. Like having your mind read while trying to stay one step ahead of your own thoughts, it's as uncomfortable to focus on as it is agonisingly moreish.
Monstrum - Already greenlit on Steam, Monstrum puts you beneath the decks of a procedurally generated container ship far out at sea, a labyrinth of terrors that are themselves procedurally generated, and to top it all off death is permanent. Spooky stuff, to say the least, and even more terrifying with Oculus Rift.
And the rest - Well, if we're going to cheat, we might as well go nuts with it. Among the many games we played at the show, we also developed soft spots for The Escapists (a promising prison-escape game of crafting and digging in the margins of your daily routine), OlliOlli (playing this celebrated Vita game on the big screens of PC and PS4 is a fresh treat), FractOSC (a mesmerising, seemingly aimless stroll through a neon crystal world) and Biome (build your own little worlds and share them). But the list could go on. Thanks to all the developers who took the time to show us what they're working on, and if you were at the show and want to point out other highlights, please do so in the comments where we'll + the hell out of them.
EGX Rezzed runs from 28th to 30th March at the NEC in Birmingham. Check out www.egxrezzed.net for more details.