Devolverland Expo: Playing around in a virtual E3.

2020 has been quite the year. A roller coaster ride that sees no signs of stopping, and there’s no way to get off the ride. COVID-19 has really sidelined a lot of projects, such as E3, the famous video games expo usually to show off the hot new games. The ESA actually canceled this year’s E3, after going for a good 24 years straight before that. As a result, many publishers have been live streaming their events from the safety of their homes. That includes the rather infamous Devolver Digital.

Devolver Digital’s been around the video game landscape since 2009, taking up the mantle of B-tier publisher releasing out there, off-the-beaten path games like Hotline Miami, mostly to critical acclaim. They’re also the absolute masters of the advergame, releasing a free game to promote a movie or a holiday event.

Since E3 was canceled, Devolver Digital opted to follow its peers by doing a livestream of their conference instead, complete with the oddball sketch comedy that’s rather goofy and ridiculous. After doing the usual announcements of their upcoming games like Shadow Warrior 3, Serious Sam 4, and Fall Guys, they advertised one more game. This one was different, and was free to play right that moment.

At least Devolver Digital doesn’t have to share space with the big publishers or controller companies.

Devolverland Expo is a bit more self-indulgent than the previous efforts. Developed by Flying Wild Hog – the Shadow Warrior reboot developers – it’s a first-person game that gives you the experience of being at a convention without risking yourself getting sick.

This isn’t the first time they’ve done this kind of promotional game. I’ve written about them doing this twice before: The Expendabros, a standalone expansion to Broforce that was based on the then-recent The Expendables 3, and Fork Parker’s Holiday Profit Hike, a pixel-style difficult platformer made by the same people who made Enter the Gungeon. I’m not surprised they decided to go back to that well once again, this time with something fairly relevant, considering current events.

I mean, this looks less tacky than seeing an ad for Medal of Honor: Warfighter

The plot is simple: The Devolverland Expo was going to be this big event to show of the hot new games, but due to unexpected events, the expo was canceled. Despite that, the player decides to head to the convention hall anyway – which is a loose representation of the Los Angeles Convention Center, where E3 is usually held – and after doing some quick hacking on a power box near the entrance, access to the Devolverland Expo is granted.

COME TO THE ROBOT ZONE, HUMAN

Since Flying Wild Hog are known for their first-person prowess like Hard Reset and the Shadow Warrior reboot, the game is also a first-person game. Though, it’s more of a first-person exploration game than an FPS. After entering the expo hall proper, there’s robots roaming around that’ll capture the player if they’re in line of sight for too long. But you’re not defenseless, as there is a convenient weapon that’ll give you a bit of an upper hand.

Those red neon lights makes me think that’s a prize for a game show, rather that a promotional item at a booth.

You’re given a “weapon” that is merely a T-shirt launcher, which can be used to stun enemies and clothe naked mannequins. The enemies are simple sentry robots that will bust you if you get caught in their sights for too long. You can’t get hurt, you don’t really die, and it’s not even that violent outside of the content for the games in question. It’s less like Shadow Warrior and more like The Talos Principle. It’s fairly tame, mostly.

So. much. green.

Once you’re in South Hall, there’s booths featuring various things, just like the real E3. With the exception of Devolver’s stuff and an NVIDIA GeForce booth, everything else is based on fictitious brands, which is a mild bummer but they probably couldn’t rope in a bunch of companies in for a brief ad like this. I could’ve honestly done without the NVIDIA ads though, and I’ve been buying NVIDIA cards most of my life!

Eventually you visit each booth, learning about games like Weird West and Olija, where a giant projector is showing the trailer, and looking at said projector for a few seconds will instantly view the trailer that you can watch. Each booth is styled very much like the game, with a nice amount of cool little touches that you couldn’t easily do in a real expo booth.

In a sense, this reminds me of the time PlayStation Home used to have a room dedicated to E3 every year, with a digital recreation of the E3 booth. I thought was pretty neat, even in spite of how mediocre PlayStation Home itself was.

“hi five, bro. come on don’t leave me hanging”

Completing these will get you closer to finishing the game, and eventually getting a giant glove that works like Half-Life 2’s gravity gun. It reminded me a bit of stuff like Singularity, which had a similar “fancy glove” weapon. The rest I’ll refrain from spoiling, even for a game this short I’d rather you give you some surprise.

In addition to the standard trailers and booths, there’s also some collectables to be had. Strewn around each of the booths is a collectable item: Either a book, a teacup and saucer, or a plastic bag. These will give you achievements and a hidden easter egg for finding them all at the end. They’re teased as “Unannounced games,” so we’ll probably know what the book and plastic bag mean sometime later in 2020.

At least these mannequins won’t get too cold, thanks to my T-shirt cannon. And my heavy motion blur.

Devolverland Expo is fairly short and takes roughly 20-30 minutes to beat. There is some light replay value in getting some of the achievements as well as finding hidden collectables to give a sneak peek to upcoming games from Devolver Digital, but that’s about it. To be fair, for a free game I’m amazed they even went through all this effort.

It’s free on Steam right now, and I recommend giving it a try. It’s a silly little promotional game that Devolver Digital and Flying Wild Hog didn’t have to do, but I’m glad it exists regardless. Here’s hoping the T-shirt cannon makes it into Shadow Warrior 3 as a bonus weapon. It would be a shame for that weapon to go to waste and only be in this silly little advergame.

B.J. Brown

B.J. Brown is the creator and sole writer on You Found a Secret Area. Casually writing since 2010, Fascinated by dumb things like game shows, music, and of course, video games. Also on Twitter. You can support their work on Ko-Fi or Patreon.

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