Is it a brave and creative step forward for gaming or typical gaming industry trash? Read on to find out!
In a bold move, I’ll answer the question at the start of the article instead of hiding it at the end like a real writer: The answer is a clear and resounding YES.
Are you confused right now?
Good. That means I’m not alone.
Why Devolverland Expo exists
Oh come, I don’t really have to explain why it exists, do I? We all know everything I’m going to say, don’t we?
(Yes Liam, you do have to explain it because people might be reading this article in the future – The Editor)
If you future people could just put down your actual hoverboards and safe-and-affordable jetpacks for a moment, I’ll explain what’s going on here.
In the year 2020, there was a worldwide event called ‘The COVID-19 Pandemic’. Because we all took it very seriously and certainly didn’t do something idiotic like ‘turn a medical issue into a political issue’, that meant that we couldn’t gather in large groups for many months.
Many large public events, such as games exhibitions, were cancelled. As a past person, let me say how nice it was to see something cancelled for a valid reason and not just because of a problematic twitter history or something like that.
One company, Devolver Digital, put out a gamified version of their intended Expo for free on Steam.
Okay, future people, I’ve explained it now. Feel free to go back to your holo-simulator or post-apocalyptic bunker or whatever. Well, finish reading the article first. OBVIOUSLY.
The Devolverland Expo Experience – Creative, Funny, and Meta!
The player begins, unsurprisingly, at the title screen.
The player then hears the Stranger Things theme for some reason, but then the player Alt-Tabs out to YouTube to double-check that, and then the player realises that it’s not actually, in fact, the Stranger Things theme.
The player then clicks on New Game. The player will also do this the second time they play, because the game/expo doesn’t have a save slot, because apparently this game is set in both 2020 and 1980. Maybe that’s what the title music was all about, to clue you in?
I don’t sound like I actually enjoyed this, do I? We’ll circle back around to that, but for the moment just try to enjoy the experience.
The player then walks forward and is told to enter the Devolverland Expo.
But how? The doors are jammed shut!
The player looks around the area for clues. They look to the left and see a sign that says ‘SOME RANDOM STUPID TEXT’. Literally – that’s exactly what it says.
The player then looks to their right and sees another sign much further away.
‘A-ha!’ the player thinks to themselves, and now the song ‘Take On Me’ is stuck in their head.
No matter, the player continues on. Perhaps the sign to the right contains a clue? The player strains their eyesight and leans forward, actually looking closer at their screen from beyond the fourth wall.
They can barely make out the writing, but it clearly says ‘If you can read this, you have good eyesight’.
Chuckling to themselves, the player notices some sparks coming from an electrical box near the door. Upon closer inspection, the player notices that the word ‘Use’ appears, hovering above the electrical box as if superimposed via augmented reality. All you Pokemon Go players, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
The players uses the electrical box once, then twice.
The doors to the dimly-lit Devolverland Expo blast open, seemingly inviting the player inside. The appearance of inert security drones caution the player against wandering freely, but – for now at least – the player is able to roam the halls unhindered.
Devolverland Expo: Gamified marketing done right?
Devolverland Expo reminds me a lot of The Stanley Parable: It’s a game about playing games.
The player is soon armed with a scene-appropriate weapon and is tasked with going through the various halls of the Expo. Equipping the weapon activates the drones (assuming the player hasn’t already gotten to close to them). Their mission objectives are things like ‘Examine the Carrion exhibit’ and ‘Watch the trailer for Weird West’.
This is where the brilliance of Devolverland Expo really hit me.
I was trying to figure out which particular computer on the map I was supposed to use in order to watch the trailers. I eventually gave up on it and just settled for watching the trailer on the giant screens provided ingame.
As I settled my view onto the screen, the screen embiggened itself (and yes that is actually a real word) and played the trailer in fullscreen for me.
That was what I was supposed to do all along, you see.
The different areas I played used similar art-styles to the games on display. The Carrion area features an active – uh – blob hanging from the ceiling, just like the player character from Carrion does. Well, I guess it does – judging by the trailer. It also interacts with the security drones, which is exactly the kind of thing I like to see in a game – unexpected interactivity.
Conversely, the Weird West area looked for all the world as though it was cel-shaded, just like the game itself (according to the trailer).
I’d really love to discuss some of the other games, but I didn’t play any further. In fact, playing this far had been a chore and I was genuinely beginning to get a headache.
What Devolverland Expo Got Wrong
The idea for Devolverland Expo is exactly the kind of creative thinking that we, as gamers, miss from modern AAA-games. That might be because Devolver Digital is an indie company (they only had 20 employees at the start of 2020). Devolverland Expo is an amazing idea – but wow that execution.
This game performs worse than Ewan McGregor in Disney’s live-action Beauty And The Beast remake. Don’t get me wrong, old matey Ewan (I know him in real life) is a great actor but that accent – *shudder*.
(STOP TELLING PEOPLE YOU KNOW EWAN MCGREGOR, EVERYONE KNOWS IT’S A LIE! – The Editor)
For most of my time with game, my screen literally slowed down to ‘this is a pretty slideshow’ levels of chunkiness. According to the Steam forums, it’s not just me who had performance issues with the game/Expo. Gamexpo? Gamexpo.
I’m not a professional game developer or anything like that, so that might be why I don’t understand why Wild Flying Hog (the makers of the under-rated Hard Reset and also Devolverland Expo, obviously) used Unreal Engine 4 instead of their vastly superior Road Hog engine. Time constraints, perhaps? Like I said, I don’t know these things.
Devolverland Expo is a fresh and creative usage of the gaming medium, but it’s also typical gaming industry trash because it’s poorly optimized and assumes that all PC owners own top-end machines, which is a pretty elitist attitude.
Also why couldn’t I rebind the keys?
E isn’t ‘Use’, F is ‘Use’.
E is for ‘special attack 2’, or maybe ‘lean right’. The lack of save games I can forgive. Not being able to rebind keys on ANYTHING in 2020 is just – NO.
What Devolverland Expo Got Right
LITERALLY EVERYTHING ELSE. I AM COMPLETELY IN LOVE WITH THIS NEW MARKETING FORMAT. PLEASE DO THIS MORE, GAME DEVS!
Hey, I’m getting sick of ending articles negatively. Sue me.
(Liam, you’re fired – The Editor)
Also I don’t actually have an editor, I was just being meta because it suited the topic. So maybe sue me for that too.
Please don’t actually sue me! You could sound off in the comments instead though if you wanted to. Just like Devolverland Expo (which can be found here on Steam), it’s free.