Day TWO E3
This morning started out with appointments with EA and their action titles. I was so looking forward to seeing how three games in particular were turning out, and I’m happy to report that they definitely look solid.
Mirror’s Edge: I won’t get into stuff you all have already seen in vids and screenshots, but I hope I can share some features about the game you may not necessarily have read about. First off, the red visual queues that point Faith to the appropriate destination can be turned off for players more interested in a more challenging experience. It’s the red paint on the ledge, pipe, or platform however that really gives the game that visual flair.
The controls seem simple and intuitive enough, using the analog sticks and a single button to accomplish 90% of Faith’s acrobatic moves, but fortunately, EA will be including a tutorial level at the beginning of the game to ease players into this new world of first-person acrobatics. Every move is basically context-sensitive – but incredibly natural.
The beauty of the PS3 version of the game lies in the use of the Sixaxis controller. On a balance beam or pipe, keeping Faith’s balance requires the use of the Sixaxis, and gamers can even tilt the controller forward and backward during certain moves (i.e., to soften a landing).
An interesting point to note is that while Faith can wield firearms of various bad guys, Faith’s acrobats may only be performed when she does not have any weapons equipped. And in addition to her physical abilities, Faith has a “reaction time” which is akin to the Matrix Bullet time.
As I was watching the game being demoed, I was concerned as to whether this game would be far too linear for a next-gen game. Fortunately, it was clarified that while there is a single objective per “level,” there are various paths a player can take to get to that objective. Taking those alternate paths will reward the explorers to finding all of the “collectibles” spread through the game’s levels.
Speaking of the levels, the game does not only take place on rooftops. In one level that was shown, the level was inspired by the infamous Tokyo Sewer System – it was dark, grimy, and dangerous.
In any environment, Faith is equipped with her skills. No, she’s not a super-human with mutant abilities, but she is highly athletic. From the start of the game, to the very end, you will have the same set of acrobatic abilities to perform all the leaps, grabs, and melee attack moves to meet your objectives. As it was explained to us, Faith doesn’t “level up” her abilities through the game – but the gamers “unlock themselves” and will grow in their abilities to control Faith.
Unfortunately, EA was mum on any online plans for the game.
The save point system is designed to be very forgiving, and the promise of very quick load times definitely sounds welcoming.
Mirror’s Edge is filled with chases, combat, and puzzles, and brings a unique perspective and natural-feeling controls and definitely is one game to watch out for.
We go to check out EA’s latest offering in the Mercenaries franchise, and there are a LOT of things to be excited about. Let’s clarify a few things first though. Mercs 2 is not a game that will have you playing deathmatches over Xbox Live. Nay, Mercs 2 multiplayer extends to only a 2-player co-op mode over Xbox Live. That said, the game is still a monster – and will take you about 60 hours to complete all 100% of objectives and missions. As for the aforementioned co-op, your buddy can jump in and out of your game at any time.
The world is much huger than the previous Mercs game. The world stands in at four times the size of the first game’s, and there are more weapons, vehicles (water vehicles!), and air strikes for you to bring complete destruction to the visually impressive world. When we played a demo of Fallout 3 here at E3, we were really impressed when we shot at and detonated a “mini-nuke,” causing a nice little mushroom cloud to form. During the Mercs 2 demo, we witnessed a “Holy Crap” moment when a full-sized big-daddy nuke was detonated. A quick note had to be jotted in the notepad – “I saw a NUKE explode – HUGE.”
But the main “theme” of the game, if you will, as iterated by the devs is driven by one simple question: “Can I?” For instance, “Can I blow that up?” “Can I drive that?” Just use your imagination – the answer is a resounding “YES!” Quite a tall order for a game (even Battlefield: Bad Company had limits) to accomplish, but after seeing persistent building damages, hijacking of vehicles (quick time events), and yes, that huge mushroom cloud, we’re thinking – “YES!”
A lot of games this year started to get lost, simply due to the fact that there are a TON of games being developed. The titles start to all sound the same, and they soon start to blend into each other. Finding a unique game that stood out from the crowd seemed like a challenge. Then we walked into Dead Space.
We’ve seen survival horror games. We’ve also seen games set on an alien world, with aliens. But we haven’t seen a game that uses devices so cleverly as to convey such a compelling gaming experience in this genre. There is no HUD. You have no BFG. And when you die, it’s such a visceral and brutal moment, you’ll WANT to see how you end up getting ripped apart.
As previously mentioned, you won’t be getting the Big F-ing Gun. Instead, you’ll get – mining equipment. There’s a cutter originally purposed for cutting through rock and stone, and you’ll be using said cutter to employ “strategic dismemberment” to off the baddies and aliens. This isn’t the type of game where all you do is go for head shots. The uglies that seek your death will play dead, and run away and come back to finish the job. And all you have are quarry cutters (which are upgradeable through the game), your strength (yes, pick up limbs for melee attacks), and your bullet time “stasis” mode to help target enemy weak points. Let’s not forget to mention the suit – which is also upgradeable.
With regards to gameplay, we saw some really frantic scenes, where you’ll have to try to aim when your character, Isaac, is lying on his back (aiming is more challenging when you’re being thrown around the room by your feet – fancy that). And there’s also the ability to walk up certain walls. The devs’ option to limit your access to resources like ammo and health may seem like an artificial way to increase the difficulty of the game, but let’s face it, you’re going to be a lot more careful before turning every corner when you know you’re running low on ammo.
This incredibly graphic game will satisfy you with about 13-20 hours of single-player only gameplay – but more importantly, will scare the devil out of you.
After our appointment with EA, we decided to try our luck with Microsoft. Prior to E3 starting, we had made arrangements with tons of developers and publishers for demo times and appointments. Microsoft unfortunately didn’t have any slots left for us – and even when we went to their room on Day 1, our request to check out their offerings was rejected.
On the morning of Day 2 however, Wiseguy and I were welcomed with open arms. We’re not exactly sure who to thank for the red carpet welcome, but there are a lot of great people working at Microsoft and Edelmen we know helped us in various ways to get us to the games. Suffice it to say, Microsoft blew me away…read on to see why:
You’re in the Movies
So what do you normally do when you get a group of friends over? Right now, the game of choice for us is Rock Band. Scene-It for the Xbox 360 comes a close second, and yes, we’ll quite often bring out some good ol’ board games. This Holiday will bring you the next level of Game Night with a game that combines Mad Libs and Charades, and uses the dust-collecting Xbox 360 video camera peripheral.
Basically, up to four players (don’t worry, there are only four players allowed in the game, but anyone can step up to the camera and go nuts) will perform various tasks (like running in place, acting scared, or riding a scooter) on camera. The game will then compile several of those clips into a trailer for a B-movie. The payoff is so totally worth looking like a dork and pretending to act like you know kung-fu.
The game really is fun – but we were concerned as to whether the Vision Camera was responsive enough for a lot of the fast motion requred by the game. We’re happy to report that even with this “early-ish” build, the game ran without a hitch!
As an added bonus to the game, you can take those campy movie trailers featuring you and your friends (if you only have one friend, there are stand-in, pre-recorded actors to fill in) and upload them to the internet. What is more, you can take over as director in Director Mode to edit and create your own movie trailer. There are TONS of movie themes (like Giant Bug Attack, Zombie, Kung Fu, etc.) for you to play around in.
One of the most highly anticipated games is a total departure for the franchise. Halo Wars takes the FPS game into an RTS. Set 20 years before the events of Halo 1, you will take command of either the entire UNSC, or the alien Covenant race. The bad news is, since the game takes place so long before Halo, there won’t be any appearances (cameo, or otherwise) by Master Chief or Cortana. The good news however, is that this means there were TONS of Spartans running around the galaxy! That’s right – you can build multiple Spartans (they’re considered Special Forces) to bring ruin to the Covenant.
The menu system is radial, and it works. It’s not cluttered by any means, with only eight items in each menu. All buildings and units are upgradeable through researching, and some units are upgradeable multiple times. For example, Spartans can be upgraded a few times, giving Spartans different weapons like a flamethrower, and yes, even the laser cannon (!), and Warthogs get upgraded with additional firepower (more seatable weapons).
Controlling the game was very intuitive. The d-pad acts as your quick look to jump to either your base, your units, the battle, or the Spirit of Fire (see below). Simple button clicks will select units or groups, and will command them to movement or to attack. It really is easy to play.
This game is simplistic in its resource system. There is no “farming” going on – you produce energy via your supply pads, and the number of units you can have is determined by how many power plants you have. There are also supply crates strewn throughout each map. You won’t be spending time scouting for resources, so that means you’ll have more time to decimate your opponent.
We didn’t see anything different about the vehicles and units in Halo Wars from the Halo trilogy, which might annoy some Halo purists. This means that no technology has changed from the events of Halo Wars to Halo 1. But honestly, who wants to play around in a universe without the Warthog, or without the Scorpion Tank? Just know that you have at your disposal virtually every vehicle and unit from the Halo FPS trilogy (including additions, like airborne units). We also learned that there will be “hero” type units in the game, but we couldn’t get any additional info on that.
So about those Spartans, yes, they look and move just like Master Chief. They can jack enemy vehicles, and when they occupy a Scorpion Tank for example (you can never remove a Spartan from a Tank once you put him in it), that tank gets a special attack, but more importantly, becomes much deadlier and tougher.
In addition to your units and base, you also can call upon the power of your planet-orbiting ship – for the UNSC, it’s the “Spirit of Fire.” The ship isn’t seen on the screen, but when you activate its menu, you view the map from a very high top-down perspective (the regular camera view and controls work beautifully, btw). In the ship menu, you can order a carpet bomb, a mega blast, or even a heal/repair blast for your own units. Just keep in mind each of these abilities require time to reset for repeat usage.
Halo Wars has the fog of war deal going on, which is pretty much par for the course. But we were curious as to how there could be a fog of war with the Spirit of Fire hovering above the planet – our answer was refreshing – there’s no big reason for this. A lack of a fog would kill the gameplay. Simple as that.
We were told that the single player campaign will take players all over the galaxy, with multiple environments to battle in. The devs were not allowed to specifically discuss any of said environments, but in the map we got to play, there were animals roaming around called “Thorn Beasts,” which we proceeded to run over with our Scorpion Tanks. Definitely not Earth.
The Covenant apparently acts and plays very differently than the UNSC (no one got to play as Covenant), and when we pressed the issue, the Covenant was described as “religious zealots” with possible suicide attacks. And when we asked about other races in the game, we were told that while there are only two races (UNSC and Covenant) in the game, the devs told us that “there are other elements we’re not allowed to discuss.” Can you just imagine the possibilities?
We simply cannot wait for this game to be released. It places you into the Halo universe, and allows you to play with every unit, as if you were playing around with toy soliders. Multiplayer is clearly going to keep everyone playing this game for months with co-op and competitive gameplay. The visuals are stunning, the explosions rewarding, and the only thing left to consider is a promised “epic” storyline. Next year can’t come soon enough.
The New Xbox Experience
When we heard the rumors of a new dashboard coming, we just didn’t believe them. The “Blades” work just fine, and with updates, we’ve seen organization of content improve upon the navigation of the 360 dashboard. At best, we expected some additional re-arranging of content. Instead, Microsoft did something so daring, and so bold – they gave the dashboard a complete overhaul.
The new look makes the Blades look like they were designed by Playskool. Indeed, the new look looks a heck of a lot like Apple’s Coverflow UI.
Reflections of all the panels and even the theme look gorgeous, and everything moves so elegantly. The one thing about Playstation 3’s UI that is so enjoyable is its elegant movement (despite its overly complex design). The 360’s new dashboard is visually appealing, and intuitive in its practicality. The “channels” load up quickly, despite it still being a work in progress.
One thing that was missing from our demo of the new dashboard were advertisements. We were promised that ads would not be intrusive upon the user experience (i.e., it won’t block your theme), but we can’t see where in the new dashboard ads could fit in. Only time will tell, we suppose.
In addition to the new dashboard, the Fall update will also unclude optional hard drive installation for ALL 360 games. This feature will work for every single 360 title, even games with multiple discs for faster load times, and quieter operation. That 120GB drive is going to start filling up quick.
Another feature we’re looking forward to is the ability to use any internet-capable device (such as a mobile phone or the PS3) to browse and download the latest Xbox Live Marketplace offerings. One caveat however, is that in order to immediately begin downloads, your 360 must be on. Otherwise, your downloads will be queued up for download the next time you power on your console.
The partnership with Netflix is truly a godsend. Yes, you must have an Xbox Live Gold account, as well as a Netflix account, but both services are completely worth the small costs. The library of titles available to watch instantly include recent TV shows (like the Office) and older films. There are some new releases available as well, but hopefully more studios will release newer titles for instant view down the line.
Lastly, the new Avatars look great, but we’re going to have to hold off on our judgment until we see how filled our dashboard gets with all of our friends populating it, and to see whether we can really create good likenesses.
Look for the new dashboard to hit “late Fall.”
Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts
Hopefully, you’ve already read my previous preview of this phenomenally fun game. I got to play around with it a little bit more, and while I don’t have much more to add to my preview, I must say that this game is simply magical.
Star Wars: Force Unleashed
Since covering the game at the Star Wars Convention last year, we have been absolutely amped for this title. And now that we know the plot for this epic episode in the Star Wars canon, we can barely contain ourselves.
Star Wars has capture imaginations since 1977, and just like the cartoon-short series, “Clone Wars” from a few years ago, Force Unleashed will re-invent the Star Wars universe. The Force when used by the Dark Side is a crushing, obliterating, and splintering. The graphics and audio help you really feel huge steel doors being warped and bent by the Force. You can really experience the feel of crushing an AT-ST like a tin can. The “feel” of the game is as compelling as the storyline.
The game’s intro movie sets the tone of an immense drama. Visually breathtaking scenes tell you from the get-go that this game is bigger than any of the Star Wars films themselves.
As for gameplay, using combos of lightsaber and force attacks will is so satisfying, especially since the game conveys the idea of “force unleashed” with every nuanced movement. These combos will result in death and destruction, and in turn, you are rewarded with more points to upgrade your force powers.
Enemies are thrown at you as fodder, but make no mistake, there are some very tough non-boss enemies. Armed to the teeth, and equipped with tough armor, some Stormtroopers in groups, will cause you to employ strategy or face death. Boss battles also require a level of strategy, but mostly, you’ll want to avoid being hit, and damage the boss enough times to engage the quick time event that will result in a finishing move (like the aforementioned crushing of the AT-ST).
There are also puzzle elements to the game where you will have to use the force to pull/push objects to open appropriate doors and steps, or to deactivate energy fields.
Here’s hoping that we get a huge variety of environments (Felucia looks awesome, but will we get a snow level?) and that the supporting cast does not detract from the already compelling storyline. Oh and please let the Bull Rancor fight be awesome!
Day 2 Stories
So in the middle of the day, a group of Xbox MVPs headed to the Marriott to participate in an interview set up by the good folks at Microsoft’s Community Team. Little did we know that we were about to get interviewed for Japan’s version of the New York Times. Fortunately, the journalists and their translator were very cool, and made us feel quite comfortable. We talked about our histories with gaming, what our day jobs are, and what games we were currently playing. These questions we expected. The journalists however threw us some curveball questions, asking us to compare the different platforms – and although I love the 360, I had no qualms in talking about what I liked about the PS3 and the Wii. I said that I love gaming best on the 360, movies on the PS3’s blu-ray player, and exercising on the Wii.
After the interview, we were surprised with an invitation to be interviewed by the Japan Xbox Live team for Japan’s Inside Xbox. The nerves kicked in, and while we were told what questions they were going to be asking us, we had about 10 seconds to think about what our answers were. I was first up to be interviewed – and before the camera started rolling, I asked whether I should speak slowly – “very slowly” was my instructions. Watching the video now, I am afraid I sound like a dumb version of Al Gore. And in hindsight, I should have threw in what little Japanese I know, like, “konichiwa” and “arigato,” and I probably should have thrown up a peace sign too, just to show the Japanese gamers that I’m down with Japanese culture…oh well!
It was an exciting afternoon, and it was really fun hanging with other MVPs as well as the Gamerscoreblog crew, despite me making a dork out of myself.
Oh and here’s a link to the vid, courtesy of Godfree from Gamertagradio