Another sweltering Summer bank holiday weekend, another Insomnia down. Insomnia 65 again set up shop at the NEC in Birmingham this summer to thousands of gamers, showcasing pre-release titles, upcoming indie games, old retro games and more. As always, KeenGamer was there covering all the events on the convention floor, so let’s take a look at what Insomnia 65 brought to the table
As always, Insomnia 65 offered very fair pricing on its tickets across all days, with standard day tickets for the most popular days (Saturday and Sunday) being about £26. These tickets allow access to the convention floor from 10:30am until 6pm, which is a good chunk of time to explore and see what’s on offer, though the queues may take up a good portion of that time.
With Insomnia’s constantly growing popularity with gamers, cosplayers and the like, the Saturday and Sundays are particularly busy, and thus if you’re hoping to play any of the pre-release titles such as Borderlands 3 or Ghost Recon, you may unfortunately be waiting a while in a queue. However, if you’re only hoping to have some fun playing games and experiencing the atmosphere and offerings of Insomnia, you’ll be fine. You can also purchase Priority Entrance tickets for any of the days, which allow half an hour of early entrance to the convention, allowing you to skip some of the queues for the more popular titles by getting in first.
Of course, with Insomnia’s history being rooted so deeply in the LAN experience, you can also purchase BYOC (Bring Your Own Computer) and Camping tickets. These tickets are reasonably expensive, though offer an unparalleled experience for the more hardcore gamers, allowing you to meet new people and play games with your teammates sat right next to you, rather than just hearing them over Discord. BYOC & Camping tickets are Insomnia’s trademark, and offer a unique experience that many other gaming conventions just can’t offer. If that’s something that appeals to you, then you may find those ticket options to be a great experience for the next convention.
I attended as press, which meant I got general admission access on all four days of the convention. This gave me plenty of time to see everything I wanted to see, though I did wait until Monday when the queues were much shorter to play some of the pre-release titles. So with all this talk about getting around everything on the convention floor, what exactly was there on offer this time around? Let’s take a look.
Convention Size & Variety of Attractions
It’s all great having a huge convention, but what good is that if you don’t fill it with a good variety of attractions? With Insomnia always drawing such a wide variety of people, often from all sorts of different fan bases, it is critical that the convention floor has a good variety of games and attractions to satisfy the massive amount of visitors the convention sees. As to be expected, Insomnia usually manages to nail the variety perfectly, with Insomnia 65 offering perhaps the best variety I’ve seen so far on the convention floor. With that being said, let’s take a look at exactly what was on offer across the different areas of the convention floor.
Of course, when it comes to a gaming convention, you expect games. Insomnia is never a disappointment in this department. There are plenty of games available to play, from Overwatch 1v1’s in the Player Tournament area, 100-person games of Fortnite in the Battle Royale Zone, Goldeneye and Halo 2 in the Retro Zone, and plenty more games, both digital and the more traditional physical board games. Insomnia 65 had a really good balance of which games were available. Whereas Fortnite had previously seemed to permeate every area the convention, it seems that Fortnite’s plateau in what was a meteoric rise to popularity has allowed for some much welcomed diversity in the convention space. It was very easy to find something that would suit almost anyone at i65, and the great balance of variety is what really makes Insomnia appeal to the masses.
So, seeing as there was such a good variety, which games took some of the more premiere positions amongst the sea of entertainment? Well, outside of, of course, the aforementioned Battle Royale Zone and Player Tournaments Area that offered Overwatch, Fifa, Rocket League and more, there were a good variety of the big Triple-A titles available to play. Playstation hosted Fifa 20 game-stations which seemed to draw quite a lot of players over the four days, with their PSVR zone spending most of that time fully booked up, showcasing titles like Five Nights at Freddy’s VR, Iron Man VR and more. The ROG (Republic of Gamers) booth had a massive screen available to play Mortal Kombat 11 on, which also drew people over to their very impressive, yet understandably pricey stand.
The usual suspects also showed up, with Minecraft, Rocket League, a variety of Nintendo Switch titles and more being available to play. Older Call of Duty titles were also available to play in the 18+ Retro Zone, which was a nice throwback to a simpler time in the series, but also gives me a worrying sense of my own age, as it is somewhat scary to think that Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is regarded as Retro.
Also available on the convention floor was The Ubisoft Experience. Whilst there was not too much information on what this event actually entailed, it seemed to be an event enjoyed by those that attended. The Ubisoft Experience required an extra ticket for the price of around £15 each, regardless of which level of ticket or access you had to the event. It seems that The Ubisoft Experience offered some insight into the development of various popular Ubisoft titles, such as Rainbow Six Siege, the Assassin’s Creed titles and more. The curtained-off area also held a small stage, where Ubisoft employees and developers could talk to attendees about upcoming games, such as the next Trials title and more. Whilst the lack of information on the actual details of the event may have put some people off buying a separate ticket just for that, it seems that those that took the plunge and bought a ticket really enjoyed the experience of talking to the Ubisoft devs and seeing some of the creative processes behind the games millions of people love.
The allure of playing pre-release titles is fascinating. Even if the games in question are only a month or so away from release, it feels like you’re getting a sneaky little look at something nobody should be seeing yet. Of course this isn’t actually the case, as most of the pre-release titles available to play are close to completion, if not release, but it’s undeniably fun and can sell you on a game that you might not have actually thought that much about beforehand.
Let’s first talk about the first and most popular pre-release title, Borderlands 3. As someone with plenty of time on Borderlands 2, I’m very excited for Borderlands 3, so having the chance to play it before it releases was something I was hyped to do. After a short queue outside the impressive church-style enclosure, I finally got into the booth to play the game. The actual inside design of the booth was impressive, mirroring the style of the exterior with steel tables holding monitors displaying the next Borderlands title. On those screens, we got to play through a short section of the game, about 15 minutes of overall game time. This is the same section that was shown in a gameplay demo, playing in the Path of Sacrifice area in the Cult Following mission. This mission involved fighting through the psycho defences of a radio broadcast station, eventually meeting the boss Mouthpiece. This area offered a good variety of enemies and weapons to try out, with Mouthpiece being a challenging yet fun encounter as a first-time player.
Borderlands 3 feels like much of the same as Borderlands 2, just further refined and improved. There’s nothing wrong with sticking to a winning format, and clearly Gearbox Studios understand that well. Borderlands 3 is, in my opinion, set to improve on and really nail what made Borderlands 2 such a hit, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see this game topping the charts and picking up awards in the near future. You can also read our hands-on preview.
Next pre-release title: Ghost Recon: Breakpoint. This title is set to release on October 4th of this year. Held within a booth near the Ubisoft area, the booth was fairly standard fare, garnered with large scale graphics from the game. Within the booth was much of the same, with the focus being on the game itself. We played on PC with a controller, and were told by one of the Ubisoft employees that we were playing an Alpha build, and thus Keyboard & Mouse would not function properly. Seeing as this game releases in just over a month at the time of writing, it seems to me that this is probably quite an old build of the game, as I would expect the game to be well into its Beta stage by now, if not receiving the finishing touches. Playing the game itself, however, was quite enjoyable. The graphics were stellar, and gameplay was fluid and satisfying.
Now I’m not the biggest Ghost Recon fan, but I did enjoy this playtest. The only complaint would be that I don’t think the game was able to fully shine in the environment it was presented in, as Ghost Recon: Breakpoint seems to be a very teamwork and communication-oriented game. Nevertheless, the actual in-game mechanics seemed very deep and interesting, and definitely focused on each member of your squad carrying out specific roles to fully capture a picture of the mission, gather intel, and execute the mission in the best way possible.
Honestly, I was pretty impressed with Ghost Recon: Breakpoint. It definitely changed my mind regarding potentially picking the game up in the future, and I can see the game being great fun with some friends that are dedicated to working as a unit.
Finally, MediEvil. This classic PS1 title has been fully remastered for PS4, and this is one of the games that really intrigued me. I know of the original MediEvil, however I somehow managed to miss it on PS1 and never really went back looking for it. However, with the impressive Gothic design of the booth and the iconic skeletal head of the protagonist looming on the screens, I knew I had to try it out, and boy was I impressed.
If you’re not familiar, MediEvil is a platformer and hack & slash game, where you play as a resurrected skeleton knight who fell in battle. Fighting through a Gothic landscape with your trusty sword and shield, MediEvil was the quintessential PS1 title for many young gamers. After queueing for a short while, we were guided upstairs to a floor above the booth which held a variety of screens that displayed the game. Playing the game itself was quite wonderful for someone who has never played MediEvil, and will prove to be a very familiar pleasure to those who have. The platforming within the game is wonderfully done, with some classic level design elements that don’t hold your hand too much, but rather make you think, “Hey, I wonder what’s up there?” Combat is fairly bare-bones and straightforward, but the one boss fight within the demo was very much within a tried and tested format. A slow boss with damaging attacks that encourages dodging, then attacking of a weak point during a moment of rest. I hate to make the almost meme-like comparison, but MediEvil feels like a lighter version of Dark Souls, with a comedic and nostalgic tilt to it that so many modern games struggle to capture.
MediEvil was a pleasure to play, and with the game releasing October 25th of this year, and with a modest price tag of what seems to be £24.99, MediEvil may be a steal for any nostalgic Playstation gamer out there.
Insomnia’s main stage holds a variety of attractions across the four days the convention spans. This year, the main stage held many different shows, including a Just Dance special show, a variety of gaming shows both amateur and professional, a Cosplay masquerade and more. The main stage is also where the night events are held, with the Pub Quiz and the hit text-game re-imagining The Dark Room being the main attractions for late-night attendees. The main stage can be a nice change of pace from the hectic times on the rest of the convention floor, with the pre-organized shows providing an opportunity to just sit back with a drink and enjoy what is on show. The main stage won’t be a must-attend attraction for most people. Myself, I spent most of my time on the convention floor and didn’t visit the main stage that often. However it’s definitely worth looking at the show itinerary, as there are often many different shows on in a given day, and at least one of those shows is guaranteed to interest you in some way. It’s far from the hype level of pre-release titles and meeting Youtube stars, but it can be a very nice change of pace if you’re at Insomnia for the long run.
The Indie Zone is arguably one of the most unique places on the Insomnia 65 convention floor. Whilst the Retro Zone is fun, and of course there’s always a clamour around the popular titles, there’s a lot to be said for the laid back style of the Indie Zone. This is the place where independent game developers can set up their game for the public to play, and receive extremely valuable feedback on their title. This area can also really open people up to trying new games, as was the case with myself.
I spent a lot of time around the Indie Zone, chatting to independent developers and playing their titles. I was pleasantly surprised by a few turn-based strategy games available there. I usually would never even look twice at this genre of games, excluding the occasional game of Civilization VI, but the ability to chat to the developers face to face and to have them explain the games that they’ve poured so much time and passion into is something unique that you won’t get anywhere else. At the Indie Zone, I spoke to quite a few game developers, including the devs behind the COD Zombies inspired Stuffed, The steampunk turn-based strategy Steamhounds, hilarious party game Must Dash Amigos and plenty more. If you’re a fan of talking to devs and trying out games that don’t fit the usual Triple-A formula, and are instead meticulously crafted with passion by a small team, the Indie Zone is the perfect place to go. All of the devs are so passionate about their projects, and it’s a breath of fresh air to see in what is the often cold, clinical and money-driven gaming industry.
Meet & Greets
One of the big appeals of Insomnia 65, aside from of course all the games, is the appearance of popular Youtube and Twitch creators. Whilst previous conventions have played host to names such as Ali-A, DanTDM, Tom Syndicate and more, the Meet & Greet opportunities of this Insomnia didn’t seem to be pushed as hard in the marketing this year as opposed to previous years.
Despite this, there were still plenty of guests attending Insomnia 65, both with designated booths and roaming the convention floor. This included large names within the Youtube Commentary community such as ImAllexx, Pyrocynical, and WillNE, who have become regulars at the meet & greet stands. Other Youtube and Twitch creators attended as Creators, meeting fans and vlogging/streaming the convention. This included smaller Youtubers such as Arthur TV, and some well-known streamers such as B0aty and Knightenator, along with a massive variety of smaller creators of all sizes across various platforms, from cosplayers to gamers and more.
Whilst Insomnia 65 didn’t seem to host as many massive names this year, there were still plenty of popular creators attending the event and ready to meet fans. If you have a content creator you really enjoy, especially if they’re based in the UK, keep an eye out next Insomnia to see if they’re attending, and you might just be able to meet them.
As with every recent year, Insomnia’s push of the eSports scene onto both the casual and hardcore gamers continued with great success. The main eSports arena stage saw many different eSports tournaments on the big screen, including Overwatch, Rainbow Six Siege, League of Legends and more. The massive arena-setting that the eSports competitions are held in is a great environment to watch pro-level gaming, regardless of if you’re a casual gamer or an avid fan of the ever-growing eSports scene.
Outside of the arena battle zone, smaller tournaments were being held at various different areas in and around the BYOC section of the convention. This included a variety of skill levels and games, from amateur-level tournaments for fun to the yearly Team Fortress 2 tournament, the only international tournament for the now 12 year old game that managed to inspire the game developers and content creators of the future for many years. For a title that was truly ahead of its time, its great to see Team Fortress 2’s community is still avidly following the competitive scene, and it’s even better to see people who have never played Team Fortress 2 sitting down and enjoying the experience of watching the timeless title being played at the highest level.
Insomnia’s marketplace is really a sight to behold. Within what is relatively a small section of the convention are plenty of stalls with a huge variety of items on offer to suit any customer. Whether you’re a fan of anime, video games, memes, hand-painted artwork, clothing or anything else, the Insomnia Marketplace is always a great place to shop around. Whilst of course there are stalls littered all around the convention selling the usual high-end gear, such as Razer, Logitech, ROG, HyperX and more, the stalls in the marketplace really are a place of fascination, with plenty of vendors selling all sorts of trinkets, accessories and merchandise. If you think you’re hard to please, I’d say the Insomnia Marketplace should be the perfect place to go. The massive variety of wares on offer really do appeal to a huge numbers of different tastes, and even as someone who doesn’t really put shopping high on my Insomnia to-do list, I always find something I like in the marketplace.
Now that we know exactly what was on offer at Insomnia 65, the namesake question of this article still remains: How was it?
Well, predictably, it was another great Insomnia event. Aside from the massive queues on the Saturday and Sunday, which aren’t a massive problem but could become one in the future should the popularity of the convention continue to grow at the rate it currently is, Insomnia 65 delivered another stellar experience that catered to a wide variety of interests amongst the attendees. Insomnia has always seemed to be built on the foundations of gaming and one big community, and those core tenants shine through every time when they craft a convention that can satisfy so many different people at once, especially at such a reasonable price point.
Insomnia 65 was another great Insomnia experience. Insomnia 66 will be taking place between the 10th and 13th of April 2020, again at the NEC in Birmingham. I’m already excited for the next event, and if you’ve never been to an Insomnia convention before, you should definitely consider heading to the next one.