You may very well have been wondering where we've been all day. I assure you, my thoughts have been for all of you as I journey the madding halls of E3.
Actually, it's been a rocky start for the show, with power outages, a media circus of a kind less usual, and a much more general sense of chaos than I remember from last year. The reason for the late post has much to do with the issues mentioned, specifically that the media center has been shutdown with power problems most of the day. Fortunately the issues on the periphery of the show haven't seemed to tarnish the experience once you get through the door, so we do have some first impressions to sate your game lust.
Updated with content for the following games: Rise & Fall, Madden '06, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Destory All Humans, Dungeons and Dragons Online, Heroes of Might and Magic V, The Movies, Hellgate: London, eXsteel, Serious Sam 2, Ghost Recon 2 expansion, Farcry Instincts, Prince of Persia 3, Rainbow Six: Lockdown, Gunstar Superheroes, Quake 4, Prey, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, Alan Wake and Battlefield 2! Also comedy Shadow the Hedgehog option included.
Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War - Tempted by the mere mention of Civilizations in the title, I was drawn to this upcoming RTS. Of course, this being a Midway title and not in any way attached to the Civ games we are all familiar with proves that I can be drawn by marketing gimmicks. As it turns out, however, I was largely interested with what I saw.
This is an initially familiar looking RTS with a classical setting of Greeks, Romans and Persians. But, the immediate difference between this title and everything else you've seen is a Hero mode, where you actually drop down and take control of your Civ's hero - i.e. Alexander the Greek - and lay personal waste to the throng of heathens. Gameplay at this level is similar to a Dynasty Warriors kind of title where you barrage through hordes of enemies with either your sword or bow. Your time in this mode is, however, limited and strategically speaking it can be both a blessing and a curse as you largely lose direct control over your troops and must trust the AI to wage your battles.
From the top-down view this plays like most RTS titles you've seen with resource gathering, city building, and the like in full implementation. Combat is waged on both very small and very epic scales with legions on par with Rome: Total War scale battles.
Another focus on this title seems to be a much improved Naval combat system. Boats are much larger that you may be familiar with on most titles, as it's built to scale and troops actually appear and battle from the boats. This opens some interesting gameplay options including boat-to-boat combat, and the ability to grapple and overtake enemy vessels. This looks like it could prove to be an interesting title. Keep your eyes open.
Madden 2006 - My first impression is this is Madden 2005 with a new box. It plays much like last year's version with only a very few interesting new directions, but a few of them bear mentioning. First, the passing game has been the focus of tweaking this year with the addition of cone visibility. This means your quarterback has a cone of vision on the field, and setting your receiver within that cone of vision directly affects the accuracy of your pass. There's also a new franchise mode where you develop an all-star from rookie to superstar, including negotiating contracts, hiring an agent, and managing endorsements. The changes from last year have also been slightly expanded with new defensive playmaker controls and a few new zone defenses. Like I said, there's not a ton of changes.
One interesting feature is the compatibility between the PS2 and PSP where you can actually download your franchise from you PS2 and play it on the go with the PSP. The game looks and acts almost identical on Sony's handheld.
Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - So, you think you want this game? You're right. In a word, amazing.
Look, I'm not trying to exaggerate here, or commit to the media hype that I promise will surround this game. I'm just talking about my reaction to what I saw behind closed doors with Bethesda. There was gasping, and oggling, and the occasional shiver. It was more attractive than any damn booth babe, and unlike those lucky ladies of lingerie, I will someday have this game.
The visuals are absolutely breathtaking from the moment you awake in, where else for Elder Scrolls, prison. The environment is painstakingly detailed and takes advantage of every graphical buzz word you can throw at it. I heard something about specular stuff, and mapping, but I didn't process the technical stuff really well as everyone in the room, myself included, was too busy waxing impressed. And, that dank prison cell would have been enough to send us off with warm fuzzies alone, but the forest area and outdoor environments are simply unparalleled. It was, and I don't use this word lightly, beautiful. Absolutely breathtaking.
And more importantly Oblivion was immersive and believable. The game is shaping up to be much more than an eye-candy tech demo. It is put together as a worthy successor to Morrowind with the kind of completely open-ended gameplay you've come to expect. Again your abilities are judged by your actions in game and not some cumbersome stats menu.
A few particulars of note. First, the NPCs in the game seem well handled by a personal goal based system that determines what the characters do as opposed to heavy handed scripting. They live in a twenty-four hour day and night cycle, so you encounter the NPCs in the middle of believable lives. Additionally they will talk to one another - both in general conversation and scripted events - and what you overhear between NPCs can often open new avenues for quests, so listening to conversations of the city streets is more than simply atmosphere, it's actively productive.
One of the best features is a quick travel option which allows you to travel quickly between cities and locations you've visited. No more do you have to spend a half-hour wandering lonely roads to finish up quests. Unless, of course, you want to just wander and explore, which you very well might. And for those who do, a new item has been added to the compass that will point out places of interest and dungeons. So instead of never noticing the elven ruins just over the hill, you'll get an easy graphical note that lets you know when those interesting side-spots are nearby.
I don't want to gush too much over this game, because it's still rough around a few edges and who knows what can happen between now and release, but for now I have very high hopes indeed. Watch for Oblivion this winter on PC and Xbox360.
A few final quick impressions from me to close the night.
Destroy All Humans - This one is very close to release, and shows it. It's a tight, polished, and fun experience in every facet that I could put my hands on. The game takes pleasure in its destructive evil as you fling cows across fields, rip the brains from farmers, and lance destructive beams from your flying saucer. On top of all this we find a solid sense of humor. Certainly worth a look.
Dungeons and Dragons Online - My first impression is simply that this is a cash-in game full of rehashed ideas better implemented elsewhere. It was one of those interviews where I really had no idea what to ask the developer, because nothing stood out as interesting. Worse, he had nothing to show me that you haven't seen before. It was as if neither of us could think of anything to say that stands out except, 'hey! It's D&D, only it's online!' The engine was not particularly impressive, the combat was point and click, the treasure system bland, and the environments shown average. If you simply must have an MMO based on the D&D rollplaying system, then you might be interested in this, but trust me, this game needs a long time to cook before it's even worth a passing glance.
Reaper here. Here are some of my less incoherent thoughts on games I got to check out.
E3 Ã¢â‚¬" Day One. Or Day Two. ItÃ¢â‚¬™s hard to tell because Elysium called it Day Zero.
Well, due to popular demand, IÃ¢â‚¬™ll skip my show favorite and go right to:
BATTLEFIELD 2 (PC) Ã¢â‚¬" Battlefield 2 can be described in two words. sh*t. Hot. IÃ¢â‚¬™ve never played Battlefield in any incarnation until this day but I must tell you that I absolutely love it! Certis and I played for between ten and fifteen minutes but I believe this will be the PC multiplayer game of the summer. The interface is slick, the weapons are beautiful, and the vehicles are exquisitely modeled. IÃ¢â‚¬™m planning on getting all four of us to play on the same server at some point during the Expo and IÃ¢â‚¬™ll take more detailed notes then. But sufficed to say, come June, Fileplanet better have the demo right away or IÃ¢â‚¬™m dropping them in favor of the first site to get it.
Ghost Recon 2 Expansion Pack (XBOX) Ã¢â‚¬" I got about fifteen minutes of play time with this beauty today. Gun lovers, rejoice! Ubi has added in the SCAR weapon systems and they are fantastic! I got plenty of chances to ask questions about the expansion with answers straight from the lead developer. Biggest thing? TheyÃ¢â‚¬™ve designed almost all of their single-player content with Co-Op in mind. The levels are much bigger and less linear. In the snow (!!) level I played, there was a series of three SAM sites that needed to be demolished as your first tier of objectives. I never progressed further than destroying two because there was a BMP patrolling the area. The expansion is due at the end of the summer.
Farcry Instincts (XBOX) Ã¢â‚¬" When I first heard that Farcry was being ported to the Xbox, I silently chuckled to myself. I believed that the Farcry experience flat out could not be replicated on this generation of consoles. I was wrong. Ubi has worked very hard to bring what they consider the key features of Farcry to the Xbox: aggressive and intelligent AI, island paradiseÃ¢â‚¬Â… of terror!, and ridiculously far view distance. And they have done it! They didnÃ¢â‚¬™t just stop with that, however. TheyÃ¢â‚¬™ve added a new Xbox-exclusive feature they call the predator mode. Your character becomes mutated and develops all sorts of nifty feral features. They also have a multiplayer mode based on the predator gameplay mechanic. It sounds similar to Phantom Juggernaut from Halo 2, however, you can apparently never see or hear the predator. Instead, you perceive the predator through the force-feedback in the controller. Your Ã¢â‚¬Å“heartÃ¢â‚¬? will beat Ã¢â‚¬Å“fasterÃ¢â‚¬? as the predator gets closer to you. IÃ¢â‚¬™ll see how well this actually works tomorrow or Friday.
Rainbow Six: Lockdown (Multiple) Ã¢â‚¬" It sucks. ItÃ¢â‚¬™s everything I feared it would be. But with really sh*tty textures.
Prince of Persia 3 (Multiple) Ã¢â‚¬" Pyro and I had a clever plan to incessantly harass the Ubi dev working the PoP3 booth until he admitted that theyÃ¢â‚¬™d butchered a beloved franchise and he promised to immediately kill himself in atonement. Interestingly enough, the two guys in front of us did exactly that. I suppose I should actually talk about this suppository.
ItÃ¢â‚¬™s PoP2:WW but without a subtitle. The Prince can now enter an Ã¢â‚¬Å“x-treme gothÃ¢â‚¬? mode which gives him a whip-chain in his arm that apparently is really only useful for decapitation and being a marketing gimmick. I could talk about how he catches on fire and a bazillion other stupid things, but itÃ¢â‚¬™s pretty damn pointless.
Meeting Bill Harris (Social) Ã¢â‚¬" HeÃ¢â‚¬™s really nice. In an almost sitcom-ish moment, Certis called him to meet him at lunch and they were standing in line right next to each other. You really had to be there but it was a very funny moment.
Gunstar Super Heroes (GBASP) Ã¢â‚¬" Holy sh*t! Treasure, you kick ass and I love you. The game plays in a very similar spirit to the original Gunstar Heroes. I tested as much of the gameplay as I was able to but it was hard to figure out some of the weapon/melee combos because the game was entirely in Japanese.
Prey (PC) Ã¢â‚¬" Huh. ItÃ¢â‚¬™s actually coming out and it looks like it could be pretty damn good. Certis may write a bit more on it but I donÃ¢â‚¬™t have much to say.
Quake 4 (PC) Ã¢â‚¬" Generic, generic, generic! In a scene literally ripped from Starship Troopers the movie, the invading Earth Armada is devastated by Stroggish giant plasma rockets and your Marine leads a squad blah, blah, blah; some stuff happens. Whatever. The vehicle combat looked dull and uninteresting. The weapon mix is the standard fare. The graphics are Doom 3 quality. That about sums up Quake 4.
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars (PC) Ã¢â‚¬" All the expo has is a beautiful trailer of what looks like it could be a kick-ass multiplayer game. But then again, thatÃ¢â‚¬™s what trailers are for.
Alan Wake (PC) Ã¢â‚¬" Remedy could have a video game that truly defines the next generation of PC gaming, both in terms of technology and content. The graphics are truly jaw-dropping realistic and the game design sounds very intriguing. The idea driving this psychological thriller is objective versus subjective reality? Has Alan Wake gone mad? Has Remedy for that matter? The engine was running on a, quote, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Unreleased next generation ATI video card.Ã¢â‚¬? And boy did it look like! Ladies and gentlemen, donÃ¢â‚¬™t bother upgrading now. Wait for Alan WakeÃ¢â‚¬Â… orÃ¢â‚¬Â…
Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (PC & Xbox 360) Ã¢â‚¬Å“Oh my god,Ã¢â‚¬? is all I could keep thinking as I witnessed this beautiful, behind-closed-doors, demo. Even after the graphically phenomenal Alan Wake, Elder Scrolls looked amazing. I donÃ¢â‚¬™t know where to begin. The physics look like they belong to the real world. The sound and voice acting is incredible. Patrick Stewart was featured as one of a myriad of stars signed on to Oblivion. The 50 hours of in-game dialogue is reported by Bethesda to take up entirely half of the DVD. The AI looks to be very interesting. There are no programmed AI scripts, rather, an NPC is given a task and the AI decides the best way to accomplish that task. This is all computer characters including animals, NPCÃ¢â‚¬™s, and monsters. Bethesda is really trying to make this a do-it-all RPG and they could have a real winner on their hands. They want every sort of RPG fantasy play style to have a place in this game. They demonstrated stealth, melee, magic, and ranged combat. It all looked very good. However, the demo we saw was dropping frames left and right. If they canÃ¢â‚¬™t optimize the game, expect only the best systems to even have a prayer at approaching a decent frame rate.
Alright, Pyro here. I'm gonna run through some of the things I ran into today, in the usual fashion. Some good, some great, some not so much.
Heroes of Might and Magic V - While I hate to start off with it, the graphics were there in full and wonderful. All 3D and beautiful. Not just the engine, which seemed fairly competent, but the art direction was simply gorgeous. Not the "shiny megabumps OMG" gorgeous, but the feel of a well painted picture gorgeous. Now the encouraging gameplay news is that they seem pretty committed to not screwing it up. It's still HoMM in almost every gameplay detail, which pleased me greatly. My ears perked up however when I heard the dreaded "easier to play, more appealing" line from the dev. So I pressed him on it and it turns out they intend to make the interface easier to use and simpler to make the game go quicker. They seem pretty dedicated to keeping it HoMM and changing the gameplay as little as possible, and using a good UI to make it easier and faster to play. For instance, in combat you can turn on "dynamic battles" which sets a time limit on your turn. It's still the same turn based combat, but now you have to make decisions in a limited time span, which could speed up multiplayer tremendously. Also the size of the battlefield scales with the armies involved, so two small armies facing off meet on a smaller battlefield, in order to resolve the battles more quickly. The basics were there, it looked gorgeous and it seemed they were committed to keeping the HoMM gameplay intact. So far what I've seen has me satisfied, though it's still at least a year off which leaves plenty of time for things to change.
eXsteel - This was a nice little suprise over at the NCSoft booth, it's a third person shooter where you pilot a mech and use a combination of kung fu and guns to cooperatively blow the sh*t out of your enemies. Like I said, a breath of fresh air. You do login with an account, and you have your roster of mechs that you upgrade with items salvaged from your enemies or items purchased for your mechs. Your mechs become more powerful over time as well, but that's where the MMO similarities end. The E3 demo had a squad of us playing a coop mission defeating some enemy mechs and finally taking down a spaceship. According to the devs it's about 30% complete, but it was very playable and ran well on it's Unreal Engine base. Something to watch out for.
Hellgate: London - I kept an eye out for this game mainly because of the requests on the forums, as I was only mildly interested until I got to play it. Now my interest is definitely peaked. The demo had you fighting through hellspawn in downtown London and finally ending up in the subway, which was a Diablo-esque town. In fact, I had heard it described as a "FPS Diablo with Guns" and I think it's a pretty accurate assessment, in all the good ways. Items are randomized, with random numbers of upgrade slots and the various upgrades, armor and weapons will fall off of enemies as you kill them. The best part about the items was that each item in the game had a quote associated with it, anything from a technical manual description to made-up fiction to Joss Whedon. In the demo you were firing a Zeus Rifle, a "magic enhanced device" that sparked lightning between enemies. Some other weapons were a Fireblaster and some sort of wicked looking knife. Your damage and success rate had more to do with your character than your FPS skills, which is the way most of the game works. It's more RPG than shooter. The main thing though, playing the demo was pretty damn fun, I can imagine the full game where I can actually level up my character and find new equipment for him would take it up a notch.
Serious Sam 2 - This was playable for the XBox and PC and I was pretty pleased to find that it was more Serious Sam, prettier, bigger and better. More weapons, including a parrot bomb, a sawblade, and something with a frowny face that I'm sure wasn't good. Another welcome addition is a grenade that you can throw while your main weapon is still equipped. It's a great way to clear out the mass of enemies that have been piling up behind you as you run around the level. There were some strange gameplay elements, such as one level that had checkpoints with 60 seconds to go between them. But the basic gameplay seemed like Serious Sam, and if you liked the first you'll probably like this one.
The Movies - One word to describe it would be slick. Last year I saw promise and little else. This year it's fully fleshed out, and it's set to release by the fall. The game has three basic areas, managing the studio, managing your people (stars, directors, all those fussy artist types), and making the movies themselves. Each game looks like it'd be enough just by itself, but The Movies manages to tie all three together pretty well. Managing the studio means building sets, researching technologies and deciding what films get made when. As a studio executive, you can keep up with world events and use them to your advantage. One example, a prominent scientist predicts life on Jupiter and shocks the scientific community. If you can get an Action Sci-Fi out in theaters during the peak of this happening, you stand to make alot of bank.
Managing your stars requires sending them to acting school, detox or even liposuction to keep them in the shape to make those movies. Directors, writers and crew have similar problems, a director in the demo was so stressed out she was drinking herself silly to stay sane. A quick drop in the studio detox clinic took care of that. For additional press, you can even drop some Paparazzi outside the detox clinic and get your name in the papers. There's no such thing as bad press, after all. The relationships between your staff can also make or break a movie, a director that has problems dealing with his crew can cause all kinds of stress and poor performances from his actors.
Making the movie itself can be as simple as saying "Action movie, with these actors, writers and directors, go." They'll build the sets, shoot the scenes and give you a finished product. Or, you can go in manually and set it up scene by scene, adjusting things from the level of violence of the fight scenes to the color of the backdrop. Dress your actors, pick the set, and storyboard the scene. Once you shoot your scene or scenes, you can edit the final movie, add effects and export it to a file to share with others.
The main thing that impressed me about The Movies was that it was all so very easy to manage, yet on several of the options you could keep digging deeper and deeper until you were almost making Machinima. There will be some interesting movies made with this game to say the least, I kept imagining a studio that kept making Alien Makeout movies and movies about roving gangs of vampires fighting cowboys. The best part though, is that you can compete against other studios and manage it all, or you can go into sandbox mode and just make movies, or just manage your people, or just manage the studio. You can pick and choose what you want to do and what you want to just let the computer handle. The game felt like Peter Molyneux without the gimmicks, which is a very good thing.
Shadow the Hedgehog - I feared the horrors this game would unleash the day they announced it. Now I've played it. You play Shadow the Hedgehog as he runs through a post-apocalyptic urban landscape and uses guns to kill aliens with bullet time. Will somebody just take SEGA out back and put them out of their misery?
Looks like IÃ¢â‚¬™m up last today! I saw a lot of stuff with Reaper and the rest of the guys so IÃ¢â‚¬™ll try not to repeat too much. Unless their opinions were wrong. - Certis
A lot of the stuff Reaper likes about BF2 is essentially whatÃ¢â‚¬™s always been good about the series. HeÃ¢â‚¬™s never played it before so IÃ¢â‚¬™m not surprised he finds it to be titillating. For myself, I came into the circular E3 staging area not feeling too good about the game based on what I saw before the show. It turns out some of my fears that the game will just be more of the same were unfounded. Tweaks like actually getting visual feedback on the screen so you know where youÃ¢â‚¬™re being shot from to slowing down the infantry combat a little bit make me happy. I also like the new squad system that not only allows you to communicate easily with a small group of friends within a larger match but you can also spawn wherever your squad leader is on the map. Very cool. All in all IÃ¢â‚¬™m feeling a lot better about BF2 and IÃ¢â‚¬™ll be eagerly awaiting the demo in June.
Ghost Recon 3
YouÃ¢â‚¬™re going to hear a lot of glowing praise about the upcoming Xbox 360/PC title. It LOOKS very slick and the animations are top notch. While we did see some game play elements they were very short and heavily scripted. My gut tells me Ubisoft will put together a good overall product IÃ¢â‚¬™m not feeling like I saw enough to say for sure.
Stubbs the Zombie
My first delightful surprise of the show came in the form of a shambling undead fella with a cigarette dangling out of his pallid lips. Stubbs the Zombie is an Xbox exclusive being developed on the Halo engine and itÃ¢â‚¬™s very charmingÃ¢â‚¬Â… in a brain eating sort of way. You open the game attacking a farm full of citizens armed with pitchforks, front-loading rifles, machine gun emplacements and a tractor with sharp things affixed to the front of it. The idea is to smack a few farmers around, eat their brains and turn them into zombies so they can help you along. As your undead army grows they more or less take care of themselves but you can (and need to) help them along with aiding your plans by shoving them in the direction you need them to go.
For example, after hopping on a tractor and wreaking havoc in the farm yard I began shoving my new friend towards the house. As they assaulted the front door I snuck around to the side and bashed my way in to take the poor innocents by surprise. ItÃ¢â‚¬™s not all just undead fisticuffs and brain eating though; you also have some special maneuvers to help you along. You know this is the Halo engine the first time you rip a body part out of your chest and throw it at a hapless farmer, the physics and explosion radius are very reminiscent of a Halo grenade. Another tactic is to tear your hand off and take direct control of it. Your hand is vulnerable to attack but if you can sneak up behind someone with it you leap it onto their hands and take possession of the NPC. This means you get a chance to clear out some rooms with a shotgun which makes for a nice change of shambling.
I can see how the gameÃ¢â‚¬™s strategy element will take it from a fairly straightforward zombie rush to actually making sure you use your undead hordes efficiently as you encounter some pretty devious puzzles and situations. Keep an eye out for this one!
It exists. Not only that, itÃ¢â‚¬™s actually pretty far along! The game was shown in a private room and although it was a pre-recorded demo it was all actual gameplay. It was about 10 minutes long and they showed a lot of stuff. I believe Prey uses the newest Unreal engine and it reflects that with some very solid graphics. The things they do with turning levels on their heads, walking up glowing paths that take you up the wall and onto the ceiling makes for some interesting, if not confusing, gameplay and puzzles. Based on everything I saw IÃ¢â‚¬™m cautiously optimistic that Prey will be a good PC game. They made the right choice sitting on it until it was far enough along to have something to show.
Let me lay out a few of the overly used clichÃƒÂ©s and devices I saw in the demo presentation. To their credit, someone actually played through the available truncated demo levels in real-time.
- Opening shot of marines in a spaceship preparing to land on the Strogg planet. Some swearing, Sergeant guy steps in, yells at you about stuff and cut to shot of ship getting shot down.
- Crash landing on the surface. You come back to consciousness for a second, seeing some of the battle and some people die before you pass out again. You come to again to watch another man die only to pass out once more. You come to one more time and actually get to move on.
- The first friendly you see is a distraught medic trying to save a fellow soldierÃ¢â‚¬™s life. Ok, so itÃ¢â‚¬™s Brothers in Arms and a little bit of Halo so far.
- Enter space base and enjoy Doom III for a while. Included are small amounts of enemies on screen and a four-legged beast breaking through a wall of pipes. Thank you John Carmack!
- Heavily scripted runs through outdoor areas with lots of shouting and explosions while you shoot at your specially selected targets.
And so forth and so on. It LOOKS pretty, itÃ¢â‚¬™s solid in terms of action FPS basics and there is one rather inventive sequence after you get captured but all in all this is pure vanilla. ItÃ¢â‚¬™s what Raven does and does well so I canÃ¢â‚¬™t blame them.
I mainly just want to second what Reaper said. It was amazing and it gave off a real Twin Peaks kind of vibe based on the small amount of actual game we saw. They are only a year into development so I expect it to only get better as they move away from the tech demo aspect and delve further into gameplay.
Need for Speed Something or Other (Xbox 360)
As one (if not the) only Xbox 360 game outside of MicrosoftÃ¢â‚¬™s area I was surprised that while the graphics were good they werenÃ¢â‚¬™t mind-blowing. I didnÃ¢â‚¬™t play much (since it crashed) but what I saw seemed like standard NFS gameplay. It looked good but it's still fairly rough.
Reaper and I managed to get a hockey game in at the Xbox area. It was fun! The goalie animations are even better and the general Ã¢â‚¬Å“feelÃ¢â‚¬? of the game is already very solid. IÃ¢â‚¬™m happy with the gameÃ¢â‚¬™s direction so far and I totally kicked ReaperÃ¢â‚¬™s ass.
ThatÃ¢â‚¬™s all for now, see you tomorrow!