Another E3 has come and gone, and this year, luckily was a bit more fun than last. Yep, bigger booths and actual babes go a long way in sprucing up the proceedings. The announcements made were about as fun, while nothing completely revolutionary was revealed. Let’s take a look at what we got.
The flashiest announcement came from Microsoft in the form of their new “controller-free” peripheral, Project Natal. The name will surely change, but it’s essentially a camera that tracks precision motion, as well as patterns, such as facial features. This allows for a lot of speculation about how the camera might be used, but could end up being just a lot of “Imagineering” (as they say over at Disney). While it will surely track motion, we would warn any interested parties that the preview video for the device that’s floating around the ‘net epresents only ideas at this point. Yes, gaming guru, Peter Molyneux has shown the facial recognition to work in his behind-closed-doors demo of his new MILO, the majority of the fine mechanics of the machine have yet to be demonstrated. Take it all with a grain of salt, of course, as with any new gaming peripheral – let’s not forget how gaga we went over the Nintendo Wii’s controls, and that some of its potential has still yet to be realized…
…Which brings us to Nintendo’s keynote. The Wii MotionPlus controller was on the floor at the show, as promised, and it’s certainly going to move units, as it’s a pack-in with the sure-to-sell WII SPORTS RESORT, the sequel to the unrivaled WII SPORTS. The MotionPlus seems to work pretty competently with the new games – among them the new VIRTUA TENNIS 2009. While it certainly seems to add things to games, it’s not entirely noticeable how much the peripheral will really bring to the table. We don’t doubt that it works as promised, but no game yet shows how necessary it will be. In other peripheral news, The Big N announced a new Wii Fit Plus, featuring some new modes, along with the new Wii Vitality Sensor that …. .wait for it….. measures your freaking heartbeat. Finally, on the games front, Nintendo’s announced lineup is nothing truly new; more Mario, in the form of NEW SUPER MARIO BROS WII (hands-on impressions below), a new Wii ZELDA that’s a year or two off (at least), and a new METROID game, which excitingly, is developed by NINJA GAIDEN devs Team Ninja. Nintendo’s still in a great place sales-wise, and it looks like they’ll be holding onto their top spot for at least the next year.
Sony’s keynote revealed their Eyetoy-compatible motion peripheral that will step up to challenge Microsoft’s “Project Natal” (both likely launching next year). The controller is actually a two-part “wand-like” system that afforded some real precision in the demo. Not too much has been announced as of late, but what was shown at the press conference was pretty nice. Sony’s second big announcement was the curious PSP Go!. Eschewing a complete redesign for a streamlined, UMD-dropping device, Sony seems to be anticipating the download-only future some see for the coming days of gaming (handheld or otherwise). Its smaller and slicker package is hoped to get gamers back into the brand that is PSP, but some (like this writer) would rather forgo the merely competent PSP library in exchange for a PSP2 featuring two analog sticks and a new generation of handheld Sony games.
That’s it for the news! Let’s take a look at some of the show’s games!
NEW SUPER MARIO BROS WII
One of Nintendo’s ‘surprises’ this year is the announcement of NEW SUPER MARIO BROS WII, coming soon for the titular system. Attempting to cash in on the recent resurgence of co-op gameplay, Nintendo has taken the classic formula now nearly 25 years old and thrown in co-op featuring up to four players at once. In truth, it’s a modified version of the formula that served them well in NEW SUPER MARIO BROS for the DS. That was an updated version of the original that threw in new sorts of levels and power-ups. Now, with the three additional players, a fun, competitive element is also added where players are ranked every level they play based on power-ups collected and lives lost. One small thing that’s lost with the jump to co-op platforming is the feeling that the player is in control of the movement through the levels; since there is more than one player, the game auto-scrolls the level from left to right. Does that make this the very first on-rails platformer?.. It feels a little strange, but it surely makes for a less jerky experience. Wii functionality has been added, as well, with controller shakes used for picking up other characters in order to throw them around the board. It’s unclear if this mechanic will be used for anything other than a competitive tactic, but we’re hoping to see it used for sections of the game that might require multiple-player puzzle solving, or co-op boss battles (?). The feel of the game is classic for a reason, as side-scrolling action never seems to get old, and now with the updates, it’s sure to please all sorts of gamers, including families and the Nintendo faithful. Older gamers will be displeased at the lack of online multiplayer, but that could change before the game’s release. Overall, it’s nothing really new, but it’ll surely be a fine-tuned nod to classic Mario action when it comes out later this year.
Gaming legend Tim Schafer’s long-awaited metal/action-fest is nearly upon us, and we are eagerly awaiting the full release, based on what we played at the show. Schafer’s games have always focused largely on creating a world that immerses fully the player and the player’s character. While game conventions come and go, you can always count on Schafer’s visions to be full of surprises – be it dialogue, amazing characters, or bizarre-o level designs. The world always feels fleshed-out and inviting. This certainly holds true for his new game, BRÜTAL LEGEND, an epic heavy metal-inspired action/adventure game that sends one lucky roadie on a quest to restore order to a broken world. The game stars Jack Black as roadie Eddie Riggs, and not surprisingly, it’s hilarious. Not often are games actually funny; even ‘funny’ games heavily marketed as so actually elicit any genuine chuckles. BRÜTAL LEGEND is certainly an exception. Throughout the game’s generous E3 demo, I actually laughed three or four times. This is an honest feat for any game, let alone one on the crowded show floor. As far as the gameplay is concerned, the demo featured a few stages from the top of the story’s narrative – essentially introducing Eddie’s arsenal of rock-‘n-roll-based weapons and his hot-rod, “The Deuce.” Attacks are simple and easy to execute, and driving is a blast. It’s great to see Eddie shredding epic guitar solos that rain down lightning, send foes flying, or reveal hidden secrets. There is no jump button, which was an odd feeling for any action game, but the more I thought about it, the more it’s not really needed in this sort of game. It’s about combat and driving – why not leave all that jumpy shit for Mario? It’s actually kinda brave! While combat was simple, and the levels linear, the rep assured us that the segment we were playing was in fact the game’s opening, and it serves as very immersive tutorial. After the first bits, the game reportedly opens up into an open-world / sandbox experience. We’re really pumped about this one, for sure. It’s clear that a lot of love has been pumped in, and it will offer some unique thrills for action fans once October rolls around. Rock, Tim; Rock!
By the time you’re reading this Radical Entertainment’s PROTOTYPE will be just about to hit store shelves. If you’re unfamiliar with the title, Activision is positioning it to become a breakout open-world action hit. While it may be similar to other open-world titles on the market now, like Sony’s INFAMOUS, PROTOTYPE has set itself apart by creating a GTA-style game featuring a super-powered protagonist who’s a super-strong, super-agile, one-man wrecking machine. From the bit we saw, we’re looking forward to spend a little more time with it. After a seriously sublime opening cinema, the chaos-o-meter goes immediately off the charts, as the game begins by dropping the player into the shoes of the hero with many of his powers already activated. He can crush tanks with a single elbow drop. He can run straight up walls. He can glide around New York City in a near approximation of flying, and he can absorb the powers and features of those around him. The fully-powered segment of the game is over after a few minutes, but it was almost too insane. There were so many things flying around the screen, so much attacking our man character that it was a bit overwhelming. Once the game’s story begins, with the hero possessing only a bit of his powers, it’s a little more inviting. Essentially, your character has started to display some freaky powers, due to some freaky experiments, and now the government wants him captured. It’s up to you to plow through waves of antagonists using only your wits and your super-flying fists. From our short play session, the game seems like it will strike a lot of good chords with action gamers. The acrobatics available to you right off the bat imbue you with a wonderful sense of freedom. What we need now is a little more time to see how the game’s powers change as you play. You can absorb enemies and their powers and use their weapons; being so strong, however, makes us wonder if we’ll ever feel the need to pick up said weapons! We’re interested in PROTOTYPE, because it’s certainly trying to play with some big ideas. Now, we wonder how expansive the game will feel, and how fresh the ideas will be after a number of hours of play. Check it out soon on XBOX 360 and Playstation 3.
Another top-tier action game that we were giddy about this year was Sega and Platinum Games’s BAYONETTA. When shown this one last year, we were thrilled at the return of the hardcore monster-basher ala DEVIL MAY CRY. In fact, after exclaiming at how similar the games appeared to be, we were not exactly surprised to find that the creator of this one is, in fact, the creator of DEVIL MAY CRY. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this! While the sequels have provided varying degrees of thrills on-display in the first DMC, there is no doubt that the original was a landmark title when it came to action games. (In fact, mash-up DMC and ICO and you get GOD OF WAR, which itself is being shamelessly aped all over the place…) So, take a landmark title and give it a real next-gen update, and you’re sure to have yourself a winner. We’re not exactly sure what the story of this one’s supposed to be, but it would seem that you, as BAYONETTA, are a hyper-powerful witch who is as sexy (of course) as she is deadly. What’s great here is the flipping around of the traditional gaming good vs. evil archetypes. You’re a witch who’s on her way to The Pearly Gates (?) to kick the shit out of some heavenly hosts. That’s right, it would seem that Bayonetta is going toe-to-toe with angels! That fact alone makes this game worth a look for any action fan. The feel of the game, of course, is classic DEVIL MAY CRY action. You fight through vibrant corridors, stringing together massive combos that pound mercilessly on ghastly cherubim using swords and guns (strapped to your hands and your feet!). Also in your arsenal are deadly magical moves that utilize Bayonetta’s hair (!) in over-the-top attacks. For us, it was all a button-mashing mess that was pretty satisfying, once we really landed the powerful combos. It felt a little hard to get a handle on some of the moves, but when we saw the game being played by it’s creator, it all looked effortless. We’re hoping, then, that after a little practice, we too will be effortlessly gliding around the levels, crushing all in our path. We had to wait a year to get our hands on this one, and it was worth it. Action gamers shouldn’t miss it this Fall.
An interesting surprise from Epic Games, creators of the lauded GEARS OF WAR series is the new downloadable title, SHADOW COMPLEX. What begins as a routine hiking trip for a young couple turns dark as the protagonist’s girlfriend is kidnapped and taken into a mysterious bunker in the mountains. What plays out, then, is our hero’s journey to recover his lady, and uncover the secrets hidden away in said complex – all in a simple 2D throwback style. As you progress through the complex, you begin to make discoveries – weapons, tools, and gadgets that will help you progress further and further. As you acquire more and more of these units, your power increases, and you are able to access more rooms in the building. You could really call this baby a METROID redo, if you really wanted to. Get one thing to be able to get somewhere else. So far, it feels great, and it should lead to some great old-school gaming action. We really liked what we played, and as it’s a download title, it’s sure to seem worth the lowered admission price. SC comes out later this year, and it should be a lot of old-school fun!
Activision and Raven Software’s new FPS title, SINGULARITY, was being shown in a non-playable demo, and we were eager to check it out. Raven’s latest, X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE was a surprising success, so what might they be offering shooter enthusiasts? The game takes place on a decrepit Russian island where fifty years ago horrific experiments took place. After a Chernobyl-like accident, it’s been a radioactive mess for years. The action takes place in the here and now, as well as in the past, which is revealed in ghostly overlays that the character can interact with; it’s as if the past and the present are happening at the same time. On top of the simultaneous past and present, the game’s big hook is “time manipulation,” and the protagonist is outfitted with a glove, appropriately titled the “Time Manipulation Device,” or TMD, which can actually shift the age of physical objects or enemies. You can repair broken items such as staircases or crates by making them younger, which allows you to explore certain areas with greater ease. You can also destroy objects like walls by making them older, which also allows you to continue on in your quest. The glove also features into combat in ways that weren’t entirely clear in the fast-paced demo, but it seems to be able to freeze enemies, or “phase them out of time,” making them extremely vulnerable. While not all of the game’s mechanics were crystal clear to us as we watched the demo, the TMD makes a noteworthy gaming hook. It seems to allow for some intense fast-paced combat that is constantly changing. If there’s one thing we’re wary about, it’s the real-life ideas behind the Time Manipulation Device. It’s one thing that a glove can make a box old or new again, but in one chunk of the game, the hero points his hand at a building and makes a four-story complex brand-new again…. That’s a little bananas, even for serious science-fiction…
LEFT 4 DEAD 2
Alright, back to the well on this one – one final time. So yeah, I HAD to go back and get me some more LEFT 4 DEAD 2. Game of the Year ’08’s sequel would NOT go thoroughly untested by yours truly – no. I gave up waiting to play both GOD OF WAR III and HALO:ODST for this one, folks. I had to have more, so I waited in line again to give it a whirl. Funny thing, I ended up playing the exact segment I played the day before, only with better results. The first time the day before, the group I was playing with got beat-down pretty hard by the legions of the undead. Once I was back in for this second round, any of my feelings of betrayal at looking at new characters in the places of my loved Bill, Francis, and Louis (oh, okay, Zoe too) were pretty much gone. The new characters may be unfamiliar at this time, but I’m sure that once Valve has put in the time and effort, they’ll become just as endearing as the old crew. Valve has a penchant for writing, and I can’t wait to be privy to a whole new slew of character dialogue. I’m sure, too, that any dialogue that was in-place already was drowned out by the noise of the show floor. Anyhow, I noticed again how much smoother the game seems to run. Even with the horde attacks, a dozen zombies bearing down on you at once, the game indeed feels more grounded (it wasn’t just first-sighting rosy glasses…). Also, I noticed for the first time the new main feature of the game, which is the reworking of the “horde-alerting” moments from the previous title. Instead of always alerting the zombie horde and waiting in one location for the flood to die down, now it seems that some of these moments will require you to fight through waves to reach a specific goal – either escaping or shutting down the source of the alarm. It definitely raises the stakes, and is more fun, as you feel the constant pressure to move while frantically trying to clear a path in front of you. I imagine this idea will have more people playing all the way through campaigns, as the scenario endings in L4D are notoriously soul-crushing – their waves of ruthless zombies bearing down in unrelenting waves. While we’re sad that we have to buy a new copy of the game, and give up on the “tons” of previously promised L4D downloadable content, our brief time with the new title has convinced us that this new game is a stronger platform for future upgrades and expansions. November, come!!