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I Played Tomorrow's Best Video Games at the Rezzed Festival

It's a showcase for video games both commercial and strange. It's also a joyful place to wander.

There's a wonderful feeling of unity, of togetherness, to Rezzed, the three-day games show organized by EGX and held at London's two-level Tobacco Dock space. In my head, it's a show for the smaller, usually independently made video games—a space where the most out-there ideas coexist with others of a more knowingly commercial slant. But it finds space, too, for mainstream-aimed productions, and sits them beside the madcap creations with no bias as to what's the "bigger deal."

So a once-around-the-block will see the average punter's attention grabbed by a buffet of tempting interactive experiences. There's PlayStation VR over there, with a host of titles being showcased; Dark Souls III and Just Cause 3 have rooms of their own; the SEGA-sponsored Leftfield Collection, where some stunningly singular games have settled for the duration; and an area full from wall to wall of indie video games and cardboard distractions, a melting pot of pixels and paper. It's a rush, walking around the show, absorbing all the colors and sounds, seeing the smiles on faces as a game does something totally unexpected—or, totally delivers on anticipation, in powerfully vivid fashion.

There's no one theme that ties all of these titles together, no overarching narrative to each year's Rezzed. It's just a show, like many others, albeit smaller, more welcoming, and easier on the eardrums on account of not being held inside a gigantic hanger-type space. But if forced to nominate one on account of what I see on a busy Saturday afternoon's prowling, I'd lean toward sharing, specifically with others breathing the same air as you. The biggest draws—Dark Souls III, the various VR setups—might be isolating, single-player pursuits, but head into the middle of the main indie area, and all around are cables twisted with one another, pads divvied out between same-game competitors.

One such title is Super Arcade Football, which looks like the bastard offspring of Sensible and Microprose Soccer, two 16bit kicking simulators that I spent way too much time with. The ball is large, the players bright, and the slide tackles almost always result in at least a booking. It's a little rough at the moment, with lengthy delays between fouls and restarts as one of the tiny outfields runs offscreen to retrieve the ball, and the aftertouch isn't as enjoyably exaggerated as the game's spiritual predecessors. But played beside one of the guys actually making the thing, at London's Outofthebit, Super Arcade Football is a raw thrill of shrieked disbelief at refereeing decisions and hoots of victory when a match-winning golden goal is rifled into the net. That's by me, by the way. I beat one of the game's makers. I probably deserve some sort of prize.

The local co-op glee is infectious, and at every turn, friends are lording it over one another, scoring bragging rights on brand-new games. Stikbold!, by Danish studio Game Swing, is an appealingly aesthetically backward dodgeball "adventure" for up to four players at a time, out now on PC and consoles, where colorful arenas can be invaded by obstacles, animals, and camper vans. Black and White Bushido by Ground Shatter pits rival samurai warriors against each other, either one on one or two on two, across 2D stages bathed in bright whites and pitch blacks. Match the shade of your avatar to the corresponding background to play stealthy, or go on the attack outside of such safety. Ghost Town Games' Overcooked might well be the multiplayer star of the show, though. Cooperative as well as competitive, it puts four players in a (often fantastical) kitchen and asks them to complete as many food orders as possible within a short space of time. It's really one of those "it's better if you see it" kind of games, so do.

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Xbox has a solid presence at Rezzed, and devote much of its allotted space to Quantum Break and Rocket League (the latter is also found on the Special Effect stand, where it can be played using chin controllers and large buttons). On one side of its room, though, are a bunch of smaller-profile titles to tickle the fancy of those already familiar with glitzy shooters and jet-powered football thrills. Raging Justice is a slightly tongue-in-cheek revival of the side-scrolling beat 'em ups of yore—the Final Fights and Streets of Rages of the 16bit world. I'm totally torn over whether it's subconsciously my favorite game of all at the show, or a stinking heap of shit. It's stiff, but deliberately so. It's crude, but, again, that's the point. Not so far from Makin Games' throwback brawler is Mad Fellow Games' Aaero, an initially average-looking into-the-screen shooter, which, on closer inspection, has a great deal of potential for longevity. The path your ship must follow is determined by the music track being played at the time, and a solid licensed soundtrack is promised. There's a definite Rez influence going on, in the lock-on targeting and its splashes of neon, and I know I can totally get on board with a rail shooter backed by Katy B basslines. Have a look at it in motion here.

A very different breed of cooperative game is Mi Clos Studio's Antioch: Scarlett Bay, an interactive fiction affair that's taken on in pairs. Each player assumes the role of a detective working in the strange town of Antioch, and teamwork is essential in unraveling the investigation in question. Your "partner" might be a friend sat right beside you, or a stranger connected to the same case via the internet. It sounds very intriguing, and will be available for tablets, smartphones, and smartwatches, because why not.

Equally fascinating is Brainwash Gang: The Mixtape, pitched as a compilation of game types packaged under a single, decidedly weird banner. I play through a scenario where I'm one of three actual humans making up part of a jury, and the three of us must decide the fate of a... OK, I'll say "deviant walrus," and let your imagination do the rest. This seemingly simple scenario—look, the flippered defendant is a total creep, and obviously "did it"—is complicated by the small matter of one of the three players (me) accepting a bribe to get ol' flappy spanks off the hook. What follows is hilarious, incredibly rude, and completely captivating—and with net-connected collaborators, it'll be even more enthralling (our Rezzed play-through being slightly spoiled by everyone knowing I had the bribe).

There's a great joy to be had in watching people of all ages try out games of all kinds at Rezzed. Sure, the younger attendees gravitate toward the biggest, most shiny experiences, but that's only at first. Later there's a raft of kids lining up to play Gang Beasts in VR, and scattered across the stations for retro-styled zombie shooter Dead Pixels II: Straight to Video, rock 'n' rolling multiplayer crawl 'em up Super Dungeon Bros, and combative platformer Last Fight, which has a hint of Power Stone about it. Nothing's pushed into the corner, or here as a makeweight. Every title has its place, and its space to make an impression, whatever its budget and however sizable its development team.

I can list more titles that jumped out at me: perspective-shifting top-down shooter Tokyo 42, Barbara-Ian (and its venue-roaming cardboard-wearing mascot), the (sincerely) hilarious body simulator (I suppose?) Manual Samuel, the gym ball–controlled The World Is Flat, and puzzle-platformer-racer-thing Unbox. There's more, of course, but really: There's too much good at Rezzed to squeeze into just one article, and it's truly inspiring to see both the variety of video game experiences being crafted by teams both massive and minute right now, and how the public is ready and willing to give all of them a try. Video games: They bring people together, you know.

All photography by Jake Lewis / Follow Jake on Twitter.

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