I breezed in to the Olympia's Grand Hall at about 12.30 and like most exhibitions I go to, I ended up just strolling around for the first half hour wondering where to start. The ECTS magazine stated that Sega were located in the Clubroom. But, if eventually you found it on the deserted side of the upper gallery you'd discover nothing but an empty room occupied by a few tables with some teacups on. You see, Sega didn't actually have a stand in the main exhibition, instead they chose to rent out a function room in the Hilton Hotel round the corner. Quite a few people have visited the show and been disappointed that Sega didn't have a presence there and it's not exactly easy to find out where in they actually are.
First, I thought I'd check out the other exhibitors though, most of whom seemed to be showing off 3DFX PC titles, some of which I have to admit looked pretty astonishing. (eg. Forsaken) Hi-res, loads-of-frames per second and bundles of lighting effects, Sega's hardware for their next system better be something special to outdo this stuff. I managed to infiltrate Sony's area at the far end of the hall which was chock full of Playstations running the likes of Crash Bandicoot 2 and Rapid Racers. As usual most of the Sony stuff looked like 'graphical showcases' with little gameplay, but admittedly the Playstation is churning out some impressive visuals with it's third generation stuff. Pysgnosis's F1 '97 had the words 'mediocre cash-in sequel' written all over it though.
Anyway, on to the Hilton. The Sega room was fairly small and rather a low key affair with the usual 'suits' talking business while around the edge of the room were about ten Saturns running most of the forthcoming titles. First up, Sega Touring Car Championship. A very nice conversion of the arcade game (right down to the annoying handling), but I really can't see this game wresting the crown of best racer from Sega Rally. This wasn't the finished version though, so hopefully the new track(s) will be more inspiring. Last Bronx looks great as most of you will already know so I'll move on to Sonic R. Now this does look nice. Very smooth hi-res visuals and nice lighting all round. There were two playable tracks including the City one which I hadn't seen pictures of before, and which looks really superb. The control is pretty difficult with the standard pad at present and the Gloria Estefan sound-alike who accompanies the music gets annoying. This is definitely the sort of game that needs to be played against human opponents and it looks like Travellers Tales have a big hit on their hands. "The best thing I've ever seen on the Saturn" was one gamers opinion as he watched me play.
Duke Nukem 3D looks to be a great conversion, on a par with Exhumed for smoothness. Those of you who were upset about the non-appearance of Death Tank in the PAL version of Exhumed will be pleased to know that it will make it's way in to Duke Nukem. You will only be able to access it if you have a saved game from Exhumed or Quake though. Talking of Quake, the version on display looked a little ropey to me. It wasn't a particularly early version as it included the enemies but there was still some bad slowdown and grainy textures. I'm sure the optimised final version will be fine but I think Duke will prove more popular. Fighting Force was available as a short demo and looked as good as the Playstation version (rumous of the cancellation of the Saturn version are officially referred to as 'bollocks'). Croc was there, and seemed like the finished version. It looked nice but the fairly slow paced 'jump about and collect things' gameplay may not endear too many people. If you're aching for a Mario64 style affair then it's probably your thing though.
I was disappointed not to see anything of Burning Rangers (you needed to be there when the 'in crowd' arrived - Virtual On meets Panzer Dragoon and NiGHTS in a burning building, with solid polygons and great lighting - Gary) but there were a couple of other interesting things being displayed on video. Winter Heat, the follow-up to Decathlete (Athlete Kings) looks like being a lot of fun, with events like Ski-Jumping, downhill Ski-ing, speed skating and slalom. Most of the comedy characters from the original are returning for the sequel as well, minus Jeff Jansens though!? I had a brief look at Panzer Dragoon Saga which also looks cool.
That pretty much wrapped it up as far as Sega were concerned, so I made my way back to the main hall for a last look round, and I had to decide which exhibitor would win the 'Top PR Totty' award. After much deliberation it fell jointly to Akklaim and Eidos. Akklaim for the quantity and Eidos for the quality. The Eidos stand was actually the busiest at the show, due mainly to the two young ladies wearing costumes that bordered on the illegal and the eventual appearance of the Lara Croft model.
The overall impression for me of ECTS though, was the total lack of anything whatsoever Saturn related. I didn't see a single Saturn game on display in the main building. Third party support is really non-existent so it looks like us Saturn owners are on our own for the next year or so, with just about enough to keep us happy from Sega until the new system arrives.