Exhaustion has begun to set in, I'm sure as much for all of you inundated with E3 news as for us at the show. Actually, that's a lie. We're much more tired of it than you are. I offer that not as a possibility, but a fact. Unfortunately - for us, at least - there are still enough games out there that we simply must see to persuade us away from spending the day in our hotel room playing Mario Party, which, as it turns out, I am certain to win in devastating fashion. We have confirmation on at least one fact this E3: I am not a graceful winner.
We should talk about some games, no?
Updated with info on: Imperator, Saint's Row, Call of Cthulu, Rome Total War: Barbarian Invasion, Vanguard, The Outfit, Tabula Rasa, more Allan Wake and the eMAGIN Z800 3D Visor.
Imperator - I'm starting to check out the games I really know nothing about. I came into my Imperator showing knowing that this was _another_ MMO and that it somehow had to do with Romans in space. The temptation to walk into Mythic's booth and shout in my best 1940's pulp movie voice "Romans In Spaaaaaace!" was nearly irresistible. Nearly.
I'm absolutely running out of patience with the MMO genre, and I think it's fair to say that so far I've seen absolutely no offering that sparked my interest. Now, that said, we are visiting NC Soft today and perhaps something they've got cooking will be better. I'm not saying Imperator looks like a bad game - like, say, D&D Online which really does look like a bad game - but that it's just another MMO where you go around killing environmental enemies, form parties, go into instances, and so on, and so on, and so on. The combat system? Seen it before. The advancement system? Seen it. The interface itself looked like it might have accidentally been left at the side of the road by any other MMO and picked up by a passing Mythic designer.
The problem is not that it doesn't look like at least passing fun. It's just that it seems to offer nothing new.
Saint's Row - Where to begin with this junk? Hang on, let me sum it up for you:
It's GTA, only not as good, on the Xbox360 with a different name.
I could pretty much leave it at that, but it may still be giving too much credit to this title. You see, there's a reason GTA is a good game, and it has less to do with being openly offensive and cliche and more to do with an original design. Saint's Row tries to steal every conceivable gameplay element from GTA, with only moderate success, but instead of bringing it into a cohesive game they've decided that what sold GTA was employing every gangsta cliche available. The missions we saw included gunning down a pimp to steal his Hos - it actually said hos, as in plural of a ho, on the screen - beating homeless people with baseball bats, and (I swear I'm not joking) calling your homies to help you on missions. I'm not sure what was more embarrassing, the game or the painfully un-gangsta developer talking about hos and homies.
The visuals had moments of impressiveness, but this was clearly an early build working on unfinished hardware. The cars all had dynamic morphing damage modeling, and the radio stations - yes, radio stations plus two talk stations on every dial ... why is that familiar? - can employ your MP3s off the hard drive.
I think the best example of how this game is different than GTA is this. In GTA you pull the old lady out of her car when you steal it. In Saint's Row, you punch her in the face first, and then pull her out.
Pyro here, gonna run through some surprises I ran into this morning and yesterday late.
Call of Cthulu - To say this was underwhelming would be ... well that'd pretty much explain it. The demo started out in a church where the background of your character was explained in great detail. Part of this background involved a stay in a mental institution because as a police officer he witnessed a series of grisly murders. Now, as a private detective, he's trying to unravel the mysteries behind another set of similarly vicious murders and it's explained that he can still have bouts of insanity when viewing particularly gruesome events. As an example, they have this guy nailed up on a cross, looking very bloody and nasty. So at this point, with such an elaborate backstory, I'm expecting some serious character development here. When he sees the murdered man nailed to the cross, what happens? The screen goes white. That's it. It wasn't explained as a placeholder effect, it was as intended. Then instead of investigating the body, you ring 3 bells in "a certain order" to open a trapdoor and proceed to the next room. In the next area, you pull out a tommy gun and proceed to mow down random guys. As we were going along the guy also explained a few "features" such as items you're required to pick up that have no immediate purpose to solve puzzles several levels later. So far, I'm not impressed.
Elysium here one more time. Probably my last set of impressions direct from the show floor.
Rome: Total War: Barbarian Invasion Ã¢â‚¬" Rome was the first Total War title that I could manage to solidly invest time in. It was grand in scale, beautiful to watch, fun to play, and a solid strategy title, so an expansion to this game is welcome news.
If youÃ¢â‚¬™re looking for a dramatic departure from the basic Rome formula, then youÃ¢â‚¬™re likely to be disappointed. The basic gameplay has been virtually untouched. Barbarian Invasion is centered offering a new faction to play, 83 new units, and 21 new buildings. It is, basically, more of the same game, but with new toys to throw in the sandbox.
These new units and buildings are not only barbarian, but with the expansion taking place in the years following the core game, at the dawn of Rome's fall, it represents advancements in technology for all factions. Whether you choose to play the Romans defending against the invading forces, or Germanic invaders you will find new units to play with, the most interesting being the varying priest units. Designed around supporting the morale of your troops, particularly those outside your leaderÃ¢â‚¬™s sphere of morale influence, the priest is primarily used in a support capacity to strengthen your armyÃ¢â‚¬™s resolve and resistance against being routed.
The graphic engine has been polished, and Barbarian Invasion gives Rome some visually impressive tweaks. The polygon count for all units has been upped slightly, and many textures have been cleaned and tweaked. With the addition of night battles, lighting effects have been implemented. In the demo I was shown the Roman Army moved at night against a barbarian encampment. In the distance the barbarians could be seen on the hills with torches blazing. From the far side of a stream the Romans began a flaming barrage of arrows and catapults. It was an impressive display of the new graphical features.
If you need more Rome: Total War in your life, then keep an eye for this expansion in the early fall.
Vanguard Ã¢â‚¬" You might think with my relatively negative comments about Imperator and D&D Online, I might not be the most optimistic person to talk about an MMO, but finally IÃ¢â‚¬™ve found something on the show floor that tickled my interest. VanguardÃ¢â‚¬™s setting is certainly nothing unique with 15 playable races made up of pretty much every Everquest stereotype including the tiger/man race and the ever ubiquitous dark elves, and the setting is just another anonymous fantasy world, but what sets Vanguard apart is its interesting and at times absolutely inventive combat system.
LetÃ¢â‚¬™s lay this out there from the start: while it will be possible to play this game solo, it is heavily geared toward a party experience. Developer SigilÃ¢â‚¬™s President, Brad McQuaid, formerly of Verant and Everquest, is on the record as saying that EverquestÃ¢â‚¬™s success can be attributed to its social interdependence, so expect Vanguard to virtually require party combat for advancement.
The combat features seem relatively unique in the genre. In short, the greater awareness you have about the monster you are fighting, the better you are in dealing with that monster and ultimately in countering its offense. In other words, as you learn a monsterÃ¢â‚¬™s fighting styles and special abilities you can grow to turn those abilities back against the creature. As you make awareness checks new options open up within combat. For example, if you are familiar enough with a particular special attack you may have the opportunity quickly defend against it and suffer less or no damage. If youÃ¢â‚¬™re even more experienced or aware then a successful defense may open up special counter-attack moves. So, instead of queuing up a traditional series of attacks, you are interactively involved in whatÃ¢â‚¬™s happening.
This opens further in group settings. For example, a Rogue does not simply position himself behind a creature and backstab until he pulls too much aggro. Instead his awareness makes constant checks to find opportunities for attack. Knowing the right chinks in the armor, knowing just where to stick a certain monster, all lead to positioning for the strike and delivering. And if that fighter is tackling the creature while the Rogue takes his strike, it may open up new offensive options for the entire party.
There is also an interesting dual-target system where a character may have an offensive and defensive target. For example a fighter may have his offensive target set to the main monster, with his defensive target set to a vulnerable spell caster. Depending on how Ã¢â‚¬ËœawareÃ¢â‚¬™ the fighter is of the battle, he may have special opportunities not just to inflict damage, but to also protect vulnerable party members from taking damage. Should the creature turn, for example, on an overzealous spell caster, then thereÃ¢â‚¬™s a varying chance that the fighter will leap in at the last second and take the damage, or regain the creatures attention, or even find a new opportunity to lay a devastating blow. Similarly a healer may pick a primary defense target, and special defensive, protective, or healing spells may appear at a crucial moment.
Spell casting also has some unique implementations with counter-spells. Counter-spells are broken into three areas, dispersion, reflection, and divergence. Opportunities to cast these counter-spells is again based on your awareness of what an enemy spell-caster is doing. In other words, the more often you see a spell, the more likely your character will be to know how to counter it. Take a classic fireball spell for example. As you gain awareness of how enemies use a fireball against you or your party you develop greater opportunities to cast these counter-spells against it. With dispersion you may simply eliminate the fireball before it reaches the party. With reflection you may send the fireball back on the caster. And, most interestingly, with divergence spells you may be able to alter the fireball into a positive effect. For example a divergent fireball may actually heal whomever it hits instead of damaging them.
Additionally, this awareness system can actually teach your character new skills. If you go into a dungeon and find a spell-caster that casts an unfamiliar spell in your casterÃ¢â‚¬™s line of spells then you may, over time, actually learn how to cast that spell by watching and defending against him. Similarly, if you encounter a melee creature that uses an unfamiliar special attack, your fighter may eventually learn the same maneuver himself.
Even with a somewhat tired setting, Vanguard is the most interesting MMO IÃ¢â‚¬™ve seen on the show floor. ItÃ¢â‚¬™s blending the original formula that made Everquest so successful with some interactive combat that the genre sorely needs. If youÃ¢â‚¬™ve got the right group of guys to party with, this may be one to watch for next year.
Thanks for being with us here from the E3 show floor! I hope you've enjoyed our coverage. The rest of the guys will certainly have a few final impressions for you throughout the day.
Certis here, I'll probably be taking all of our impressions and compiling them later but here are some games I wanted to mention today.
Condemned: Criminal Origins (Xbox 360)
This Xbox 360 title was represented byt a short 5 minute playable demo. You play a cop of some sort trying to solve a crime in an abandoned building. As you make your way into it you're attacked by crazed hobos, some who have guns and some who bandy about pipes and other blunt objects. You have a blunt object too so a fair bit of time is spent beating bad guys about the head and blocking their attacks. It gives me a real Riddick feel which is generally a good way to hand first-person melee combat. The game showed some neat features like using a blue light to uncover evidence in a room (finger prints and the like) and the fact that when you pick up a gun all the ammo you have is what's loaded. Makes for an interesting choice knowing you can only carry one weapon to go along with your taser.
Not a lot to go on with the demo but it might turn into something gritty and fun. We'll see how it shapes up.
Spartan: Total Warrior(PS2, GC, Xbox)
The makers of Rome: Total War have decided to console it up and see what they can do. Turns out they can do pretty good! Spartan is your standard wade-into-mass-of-enemies and start killing kind of game but it throws some wrinkles into the mix to keep it fresh. Fighting alongside your allies you get recognition for saving a friendly from death and you also get a pretty fun shield-bash that sends enemies flying. It's fairly simple but the game plays pretty fun and there might just be enough plot in the offing to keep you interested.
Gothic 3 (Pre-Alpha)
They should have kept this off the floor. I'm really looking forward to Gothic 3 but this demo was really, really rough with only rudimentary combat in place and VERY limited area to explore. It felt like a proof of concept rather than an actual game.
Gears of War (Xbox 369)
Cliffy B is soooooo dreamy. I got into the closed doors viewing of Gears of War and I like what I see so far. The Unreal engine is running very smoothly with surprisingly few hitches considering it's months away from shipping yet. The game itself is a pretty straight-forward action shooter that relies heavily on creating and finding cover in this world under siege by evil, underground forces. Like Cliffy says, the game is all about stop and pop rather than run and gun. Coop play will be fully supported to the extent that if you're playing single player you'll have an AI squad mate or three with you. If someone on Live wants to join you they can pop right in and take control of one of the squad mates. Currently coop only supports two but they want to handle up to four by release.
Kameo Elements of Power (Xbox, Xbox 360)
Possibly the biggest surprise of the show for me, Kameo looks fantastic. After fours years of platform jumping it finally looks like it's going to be a complete game. At the presentation they were actually showing the Xbox version next to the Xbox 360 version side by side and the difference is astounding. They added graphical power and and processes makes for a very dramatic demonstration of what the 360 can do. The colors pop, the environments are fuller and busier with added NPC's, the day-to-night cycles are outstanding and Kameo herself looks much more fully realized. The Xbox version will still be released but a lot of time was simply spent pointing out all the different ways the 360 version will be better. This is more than just a simple texture upgrade and some anti-aliasing.
One of the coolest examples was a special Xbox 360 only level that has you fighting a horde of trolls. In the Xbox version they tried to do this but found that only 20 or so enemies could be on screen before it slowed down too much. On the 360, there were well over 2000 enemies on screen BEFORE the 1000+ elves came in to help Kameo fight them. Kameo was on a horse and could plow through the enemies at will. To show it wasn't some elaborate trick the presenter hopped off the horse in the middle of the battle and fought a bunch of bad guys normally in a few animal forms. Very impressive and most importantly the game itself is packed with Rare's personal touches and gameplay that make them so popular. Kameo is scheduled for a "launch release" (which means anytime before Christmas) and it will be well worth considering. I'm sold!
Perfect Dark Zero (Xbox 360)
Oh discordia. I walked in hoping to see some single player modes and all I got were a couple of underwhelming multiplayer maps that hardly looked next-gen and suffered from some general frame-rate problems. That's the bad news. The good news is all those fun Perfect-Dark moves, weapons and abilities are still intact. Wall-mines, turrets, Xray vision, stealing weapons from other players with your bare hands and more cool stuff. I've never played the original but I got the impression that the weapons and moves available were in line with what fans will want to see.
I want to be more enthusiastic about the game but we really didn't get to see enough. This was the only time at the end of a presentation the guy asked "Any questions?" and got absolutely no response. I asked one because I kind of felt bad for them, they told me 64 people is what they're hoping for and fell silent again. We all shuffled out of the room quickly in case they wanted to have a good cry.
Pyro here for some late updates. Just trying to get the last of these games out of my head and onto some virtual parchment.
The Outfit (XBox 360) - This game was showing in a WWII style bunker, which was enough to make me pass by several times without even glancing at it. What finally sparked my interest was the shirts the devs wore had the familiar Relic logo on the sleeve. This game is a 3rd person action/strategy game where you play some stylized WWII heroes that go about the map blowing sh*t up. It's not a Call of Duty ripoff, think more WWII A-Team. You can call down equipment and reinforcements at any time to be airdropped right to your location, and you have squadmates to help you out. The graphics were great but for an XBox 360 title it looked pretty average. Reaper noted it looked alot like Mercenaries. The main thing, is that coop is fully supported, which turned the game from mediocre to rather interesting as far as I was concerned.
Tabula Rasa - Three words. Totally. Different. Game. I'm not even sure it's the same engine. This was a combat demo, so there were several details left out but I got a very fun "Planetside" feel from the combat. A huge battlefield was the main focus of the demo, with the various players going around fighting enemies with rocket launchers and flamethrowers. They've simplified the combat system to a more FPS/RPG centric system, with automatic targeting if your crosshair is in the general area of the target. After the enemy is targeted, it's pretty much RPG, but the combination feels pretty intuitive and easy to use. There's still magic in the game, but I used very little of it. The voice chat was working really well, like last year, and it was how the demonstration was carried out. Beyond the basic introduction though, there was very little said as it was mainly a combat demo. Overall, what impressed me about Tabula Rasa was the feeling of being on a battlefield filled with chaotic battles. You walked through the battlefield picking off enemies while at least 5-6 other people did the same, but everyone going their seperate ways. It was a great feeling, and the game was pretty fun as is. They're still a ways from release though, and there's already been a complete revamp of the game once, but this time it feels like a winner.
Allan Wake - Holy sh*t. The demo revolved around the lighting and how it was going to be used in the final game, and the light, weather and shadows are the most brilliant I'd ever seen in a game before. Not the 'id' type of brilliant where you can appreciate a tech demo, but the kind of brilliant that made sunsets breathtaking. Any change in weather or time of day set up an entirely different scene as far as atmosphere and simple "feel" goes. The setting was a small American town and frankly what was there had my jaw gaping open the entire time. Like I said, it's not a "oh such a powerful engine" feeling, it's the feeling you get from a beautiful piece of art. Breathtaking.
eMAGIN Z800 3D Visor - This piece of hardware was tucked away in Kenita hall, and I wouldn't have given it a second glance if not for forum user griffon. I want to thank griffon for asking, because these things blew me away. Remember all that "Virtual Reality" bullsh*t that went about in the mid-ninties? Yeah the 20 pound headsets that displayed 300x100 and had maybea 5hz refresh rate, that hurt you eyes just thinking about it? This is not that. The headset was so light and comfortable I didn't even notice it until I was thinking about it later. I had it on for 10 minutes or so and it felt entirely natural and put no strain on my neck at all, like a pair of normal glasses. The motion tracking of the head was also very impressive, after maybe 30 seconds or so I was moving my head to look around corners. Standing on top of a catwalk in Half-Life 2 and looking around with the headset was one of the most immersive experiences I've had with a game in a very long time. The display inside the headset was flicker free and I noticed no eye strain whatsoever while playing. It's OLED, so the response time is measured in nanoseconds.
The headset is powered by your USB port, and we were told that if you use it with a laptop, you actually save about 20%-40% battery life because you're no longer using your LCD screen. It's about the equivalent of a 150" TV 12' away. You can watch movies or just do normal typing on it, which seems like a win-win for laptop users, a private large screen that saves battery power. It doesn't really look that dorky either, which you can see at their site. I'll put some pictures up when I can get to my email.
The three real main drawbacks are that you can't go to the store and try them out just yet, the resolution in the headset is 800x600 (which isn't a big deal as it sounds) and it's $899. Still, if you have the cash from what demo I got to see it's worth it. Let me put it this way, I played for 10 minutes, and I didn't want to give the headset to somebody else. It was fun.