I recently had the opportunity to attend Insomnia 65 – The UK’s biggest gaming festival in Birmingham, UK. These events are cover an entire exhibition hall and allow attendees to try out unreleased games, recent releases, see cosplayers, attend workshops, meet Twitch streamers and Youtube creators and much more. As a disclaimer, I was allowed to attend for free as press.
Insomnia played host to developers and publishers of all sizes. Nintendo and Playstation made a particularly strong showing, but Microsoft was absent as with the past several events I’ve been to. It wasn’t just big publishers, but there were even a few instances of those as small as students still working on their prototype.
Virtual Reality was dotted throughout the event. For people wanting to try virtual reality for the first time or just to try some of the latest or upcoming games, this is a great chance. HTC Vive was represented with quite a few stands showing off their high-end virtual reality headset. Playstation did the same with its PSVR stands. There were a few smaller virtual reality stands around too.
Some particularly big upcoming titles shown off were Borderlands 3, Medieval, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint and Pokémon Sword and Shield.
I managed to pick up a free Borderlands 3 mask, but I didn’t get to play the game. They had an elaborate and large Borderlands themed church setup which obviously cost quite a lot of money. Unfortunately, I’m told they only had about 5 computers set up inside of it and a line circling it that would have taken a couple of hours to get through. A+ for the marketing, but F for implementation. If you’re reading this before the event is over and want to play this, run straight for it at the start of the day.
Medieval was another one with an elaborate setup. A castle theme this time with large gates and a staff member in cosplay. This one had an upstairs level with about 25 PS4 setups as well as a few downstairs, so the long line only took about 15 minutes to get through.
I don’t have any particular nostalgia for the game as I only ever played the demo back in the PS1 days. The idea and theme I like. I found the graphics, animation, and sound to be brilliant, but I admit I was a bit disappointed by the gameplay. I know it’s a remake, but it didn’t feel much better than a lot of PS1 games. The controls felt clunky and lock-on wasn’t too useful as it just pointed me vaguely in the direction of the enemy. Collision detection felt off at times too. Gameplay as a whole felt slow. I didn’t get as much time as I’d like either, as I ran into a bug and had to restart from the tutorial.
Moving onto Ubisoft’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, I played this with two other players but we could have gone up to four people. Our team did not do brilliantly and even one of the staff members was amazed as he’d never seen a helicopter appear and attack players on that level before. It didn’t feel significantly different from Ghost Recon: Wildlands, but I certainly enjoyed it. One thing of note is that the cover system seems to be progressive rather than snap in and out of cover.
Pokémon Sword and Shield was another one with a line which was far too long. They had plenty of units, but tons of interest in the game. I watched some gameplay and it does look like a standard Pokémon game, just with better graphics from a glance. I wish I had the chance to play myself and I’m excited to play when it comes out.
Nintendo probably had the biggest area. There was a stage show where they invited people up onto the stage to compete in Mario Kart, Mario Party, Smash Bros and more for prizes. They had setups for most of their recent games including Mario Maker, Smash Bros, Labo and tons more.
I tried out Labo VR shooting and Labo steering wheel with Mario Kart, but wasn’t too impressed by either. Very good ideas, but I wasn’t fond of the controls for Mario Kart finding them too sensitive and the drift control being the same as the pedal to accelerate was difficult to control. The cardboard VR just wasn’t comfortable and there wasn’t much to the game.
On the topic of VR, PlayStation VR showed off six existing games and demos for Iron Man VR and Sniper Elite VR.
Iron Man VR was very impressive. It controlled brilliantly and it was easy to get the hang of flying and shooting down the enemies. It was only short, but it was enough to get me excited about playing further.
Sniper Elite VR was quite fun too, but it was another one of those blurry PSVR games. Being a sniper game, it really needs to improve that as you need to see clearly to snipe enemies. As with the other Sniper Elite games, there was an option for an SMG too. It used the Aim controller which worked well.
The existing games they had were Blood and Truth, Beat Saber, Everybody’s Golf VR, Five Nights at Freddy’s: Help wanted, Astro Bot Rescue Mission and Vacation Simulator (which I’ve reviewed here).
Moving away from the big companies, there were too many smaller projects to list. Here are the ones which stood out to me:
Special Effect always has a stand at Insomnia. They are a charity which provides adaptive technology to disabled people to help them play video games. You can find out more here.
They had some examples of this which people could try at their stand. I played a level from Trials Rising where left and right was controlled by an analog stick moved by my chin. Acceleration and braking were mapped to some separate large buttons on the table. People who completed it got a free Trials Rising t-shirt or poster.
They also had a driving game where you could steer based on eye movement. It’s really interesting stuff and a great cause. It used the XBox adaptive controller.
The indie section had quite a few interesting looking games.
I quite enjoyed Paper Pirates. It was made by a group of students entering the Transfuzer contest to try and get funding for their game. It was a number of minigames, but I played one which was a social game.
You had to guess who was a ghost, based on who wasn’t following orders. People then voted who was thrown overboard and if someone innocent was chosen, another ghost would appear. If people worked together and correctly guessed, they got to the end. If they didn’t, treasure ended up back in the sea and more and more ghosts would appear.
Must Dash Amigos was good fun too. You race as a group of up to four people and try not to fall off the screen. There were natural obstacles and also items which could be picked up and used to help or hinder. The variety of items was good and there were some amusing ones like tequila which blurred the whole screen or bombs which blew up the person who picked it up if not thrown quickly enough. It’s for PC and XBox currently, but coming to Switch soon.
Disobedient Sheep was interesting. I played a mode which was about keeping the sheep alive with some other players. Things like anvils kept falling from the sky and players had to make their dog bark to move sheep away. There was another mode where players need to herd sheep into carts quickly instead of away from obstacles.
The Misadventure of Melon had an interesting arcade machine set up at the show. It felt like a fairly standard platformer, to be honest, but it’s a low cost game.
Super Undercover Slime Agent was frustrating but fun. The controls were very simple – just move left and right. Bouncing is automatic and constant. You need to navigate through obstacles by bouncing off walls and avoiding touching things like lava. Levels are very short. I played single player, but it has a multiplayer mode too for up to four players.
The developer told me that they’re working on an android version, but it’s not confirmed as they’re having difficulties. It does seem more suited to being a phone game and I could see myself playing while on the bus.
Outside of the games, there was a ton of merchandise to buy. You could go and find yourself much poorer if you enjoy gaming and anime products. They had everything from board games to wall scrolls to hugging pillows. This is in addition to computers and other related hardware like stream decks and such.
The army and air force had set up stalls too with activities such as a VR experience of various careers, a climbing wall, being able to hold a gun and go into an army vehicle. The army one even made dog tags for people who completed certain activities. The National Crime Agency also had recruitment efforts, as did Staffordshire University and Belong.
Overall, I had a great time attending and recommend the event. It’s quite cheap to get into and a great way to spend a day or longer. You can even bring your computer and camp out in a giant LAN party. Just be warned that priority tickets to get in half an hour earlier sold out early and might be the only way to play some of the bigger games without a long wait.