It's just after 8AM here in sunny LA and I think Reaper is finishing up his 20 minute shower. I don't know what that guy is doing in there but he's going to be damn clean when he gets out. Last night at about 11PM Elysium's luggage showed up intact with the Gamecube nestled amongst his giant's clothing. As expected, the TV could not handle the console and we are once again cursed without any games to play while we rest our weary feet. Instead we chat about the games we saw, mock George Lucas on the television and generally have a good time. Apparently I'm a fairy-boy for ordering a pizza with pineapple on it but have you seen pineapples? Dangerous spiky bits my friends! I'll have a bunch of pictures to put online tonight, I was so busy looking at games yesterday I didn't snap too many.
Seeing as how I forgot to talk about Starcraft Ghost we'll start today's coverage there!
Updated with info about Starcraft: Ghost, Killer 7, Age of Empires 3, Sly Cooper 3, Black and White 2 and Rise of Legends!
After last year's luke-warm reception Blizzard handed Ghost off to another developer to re-tool the game. What appears to have resulted is a game that has less personality and more action than before. Obviously it's hard to say for sure based on a five minute demo but it would appear that shooting bad guys is a more valid strategy at times and the stealth is super-easy to pull off. You can walk around the bad guys with impunity in stealth mode provided you aren't too obvious about it. I did see the occasional camera in place to detect stealth users but you can disable them by pointing your gun a them and disrupting them for a bit. Hello Splinter Cell! If I had to boil it all down to one rough description I'd say it's like a mix of Splinter Cell and Halo. It doesn't look BAD by all accounts and it certainly seems to be a step up from last year but the game mechanics I saw might be a bit long in the tooth by the time we actually get to play. One thing I didn't see much of is the story so that could really help the game shine, we'll see.
Starcraft: Ghost - As the Pineapple Princess pointed out above, the game just seems run of the mill. The multiplayer initially had me excited, as I saw a Terran Barracks being flown by one of the players, but further investigation found it to be part of a "Capture the Base" mode, where you go get the base and fly it back to yours. Ho-hum. There's still time to turn this around with some innovative multiplayer or some additions to the game design, but right now it looks just plain mediocre.
Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves - I initially reeled in horror when I saw the booth as they were passing out what looked like ... cardboard red and blue 3D glasses! Turns out that's what they were. Had Sucker Punch finally gone off the deep end, pulling a Friday the 13th Part 3 on us? "3, as in 3-D, get it? Ho ho, aren't we clever!" Fortunately I got to talk with somebody working on the game and it's an unlockable secret mode that you get after beating the game, you never have to play through it that way. After the pains in my chest subsided, I saw where they had added two playable characters, Carmelita Fox and someone called "The Guru" that looks like a wierd little goat. It also seems they beefed it up with a multiplayer mode, which I didn't get to play. I've got a demo here in my sweaty little palms and I'll give it a good rundown and post some impressions when I get back home.
Killer 7 - I'm still not sure what happened with this game. I walked up to a booth and was facing a TV screen within a TV screen, which had the face of one of the characters on it. From what I've read the game revolves around 7 personalities that the main character can morph into, and this TV seemed to be the way to select which one you wanted to play. Not all of them were unlocked, which were shown as staticy, and some were dead, shown by a paper bag soaked with blood. I went to channel 00, which was the "Blood Room" and turned blood into serum. I don't know what to do with the serum, but I select a dead character and resurrect her, which is done by tapping the A button repeatedly. I resurrect in a dark room with a tribal man crouched in the corner and a maid standing there staring at me. So I leave. I take my character and try to move, it seems I can only turn 180 and move forward along a path. When you get to a doorway it'll show you which way you can go, and you select which one and hit A. At some point, and invisible giggling man made me explode. Later when I tried to shoot him, I died I think. So I take another character, a professional looking hitman with a suitcase and a silenced pistol. I go to where I died before and there's a bloody paper bag that I pick up and put in my suitcase. Then I have to respawn again. At this point I walk away from the kiosk. I don't understand what was going on, and I don't get the impression I was supposed to. I'll probably pick this up as a rental, just to see how messed up it really gets.
Age of Empires III - This one left me rather underwhelmed, especially after the Rise of Legends presentation that I'll let Elysium talk about. The main additions besides the gorgeous graphics and physics engines are the "home cities" and "trading posts". Trading posts are little spots along the trade route you can build next to, and they're built into the map along with the trade route. When you build next to them, you get certain bonuses but everyone can see your building regardless of their explored territory. Sounds okay, but not particularly interesting. The "Home Cities" are a persistent town back in Europe that you can use to draw reinforcements from and buy "cards" from. Yes, there's a card game going on in the background of the RTS game that you can use to give yourself bonuses, extra units, and stat increases. The home city is persistent in that as you play you build experience which you can use to buy reinforcements from your home city, or buy cards with. This also follows you into the online realm, with an online account where your home cities are stored. This not only seems like a useless addition to me, it seems to penalize people who don't play constantly.
The combat does seem somewhat improved, with units flanking and going into formation automatically and otherwise the AoE gameplay seemed to remain intact. But none of the other gameplay changes appeal to me, maybe the final game or a demo will change my mind.
[i]Reaper here with some more random thoughts for yÃ¢â‚¬™all.[/i]
SOCOM 3 (PS2) Ã¢â‚¬" I wasnÃ¢â‚¬™t impressed. The brief demo I played apparently is fairly early on in development. The unit I was on locked up three times, and the game it self appeared fairly buggy at this point. However, what I did see didnÃ¢â‚¬™t give me warm tingles. SOCOM 3 utilizes a third person, over-the-shoulder perspective. The graphics are either really unrefined or the developers are intentionally giving the game a grainy feel. ItÃ¢â‚¬™s hard to tell and the Sony reps in the area were mostly uninterested in any thing I had to ask. The most interesting thing I noted was that for some unknown reason, the Navy SEALÃ¢â‚¬™s of the future have decided to adopt the US ArmyÃ¢â‚¬™s M8 instead of the new SOCom weapon system, the SCAR family. Additionally, they have now donned Kevlar helmets and Interceptor Body Armor. It gave the game a very, Ã¢â‚¬ËœOh crap! Ghost Recon 2 looks cool! LetÃ¢â‚¬™s look like them!Ã¢â‚¬™ feel that I didnÃ¢â‚¬™t approve. SOCOM has always been a strong title on the PS2 and I donÃ¢â‚¬™t feel that Zipper should need to emulate another title.
Age of Empires III (PC) Ã¢â‚¬" Pyro and I took a look at this one. The graphics and physics looked all right but nothing ground-breaking. The devs are working hard to keep the game in a consistent 19th century motif. It incorporates several features that quite frankly baffled me. But IÃ¢â‚¬™m getting ahead of myself. AoEIII is aiming to give the player a consistent playing ability through having a character/player profile that will translate from single to online multiplayer. They want to give you various pre-set options that you can quickly load depending on map type or player. The idea being that if you know the map or the opposing player, you can quickly set up your tech tree. Sounds good, right? Well, not really. ItÃ¢â‚¬™s time to talk about those baffling features. Chief amongst them was a card collecting system. ThatÃ¢â‚¬™s right; card collecting has been introduced to the RTS genre. You can customize decks for certain scenarios as I mentioned earlier. Additionally, you will now have a persistent national capitol. This capitol will be saved to game servers on the internet and can be loaded up and played immediately in a game. You can have multiple capitols across factions and even in a given faction. So, why is this so important? I donÃ¢â‚¬™t know. I really have no idea. The guy Pyro and I spoke didnÃ¢â‚¬™t really seem to say why this was a good idea. Logically, a person with a fully techÃ¢â‚¬™d out capitol would have to play against a similarly equipped opponent otherwise the opponent would be annihilated relatively quickly.
Hellgate: London (PC) Ã¢â‚¬" This could a multimillion unit seller. ItÃ¢â‚¬™s a 3d first or third person Action RPG ala Diablo. In fact, itÃ¢â‚¬™s being developed by the team that developed Diablo 1 and 2. It has a basic four stat system but as in Diablo, itÃ¢â‚¬™s really all about how fast you click. There was something so satisfying about beating a zombie with a cricket bat that no amount of words can explain it. The graphics look decent at this point but nothing really spectacular. The character, a Templar Knight (and the only one playable at this point) seemed extremely wooden. However, the mobs were very well animated but some of the skins seemed a bit dull. I was rapidly addicted and it took Certis calling me to snap me out of my stupor. I was so in to the game, I became rapidly annoyed by the dev suggesting various things to me. Listen, Mr. SpikeyHair, I was slaying the legions of Hell before you knew what the Malleus Malificarum was!
Metal Slug 4 & 5 (Xbox) Ã¢â‚¬" ItÃ¢â‚¬™s more, wonderful Metal Slug! You can still shank until your heartÃ¢â‚¬™s content, however you now have unlimited continues to do it with! Huzzah!
WH40k: Winter Assault (PC) Ã¢â‚¬" I canÃ¢â‚¬™t speak about unit balance because this game still appeared very, very beta, so just let me get that out of the way. However, the Imperial Guard looks and sounds very cool! The tanks and mechs animate beautifully. Additionally, the Imperial Guardsmen have been re-skinned from WH40k:DoW and look much better. However, some units didnÃ¢â‚¬™t even have animation (they just glided from place to place), and there was no enemy to fight. There were some buildings I could blow up and that was about it.
Additionally, IÃ¢â‚¬™ve turned into a BF2 whore. The systems running BF2 at this expo are Athlon 64Ã¢â‚¬™s with PCI-x 6800GTÃ¢â‚¬™s and 2GB of RAM. They run the game ultra smooth and it looks beautiful. Swampy will be pleased to hear that SwampAirÃ¢â‚¬™s reign of terror will become nothing short of legendary with the vehicular control. Any idiot can hop in a LAV or tank but I saw more people crash helicopters than fly them. The weapons look excellent! The animations are just about as authentic as I could want and in a really cool development, the zoomed in animation on iron sights is actually three dimensional, itÃ¢â‚¬™s not simply a perspective or reticule change. The weapon selection is diverse and faction appropriate. However, at this point, the special unlockable kits are faction universal. It was very strange to see Chinese Special Forces using a G36C and Marine Riflemen using G3Ã¢â‚¬™s.
Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends - Look, IÃ¢â‚¬™ll be honest. I could pretty much write an entire article based on what I saw. It would be an article virtually built on hyperbole and unrestrained enthusiasm. IÃ¢â‚¬™m not even sure IÃ¢â‚¬™m the right guy to be telling you about it, because my objectivity on this title is painfully weak. With that caveat in mind, I must tell you that Rise of Legends looks spectacular!
Pyro and I got a chance to talk with Paul Stephanouk, Design Lead for Rise of Legends. Surprisingly enough Paul seemed to both know who we were Ã¢â‚¬" or faked it really well Ã¢â‚¬" and knew of our long passionate love for Rise of Nations. Paul was quick and adamant in reassuring us that they had not sacrificed any of RoNÃ¢â‚¬™s gameplay in adapting it to this new setting, which elicited from me a sigh of grateful relief. In response to my first question wondering about the change of direction, he responded that Ã¢â‚¬Ëœchange of directionÃ¢â‚¬™ implied the wrong idea. The direction from a gameplay standpoint is fundamentally preserved and only improved where it makes sense and adds to the gameplay. If it ainÃ¢â‚¬™t broke, they didnÃ¢â‚¬™t fix it.
The basic rule of design for Rise of Legends seems to be: do no harm. They know they have a solid game they are building from, and there's no reason to redesign what works. The new graphics engine, the new setting are all, in many ways, enhancements to an already solid basic gameplay design philosophy. The tech tree is preserved and slightly enhanced, the city capturing and nation borders are still there, formations are still there, advancement works basically the same, and the single player game retains the top level strategy Ã¢â‚¬" with a much more cohesive story to direct it Ã¢â‚¬" of expanding within a world leading to the individual battles.
So, hopefully IÃ¢â‚¬™ve settled your concern that there was a sacrifice of classic RoN style gaming for a new pretty graphics engine, and can get on with telling you just how fantastic that engine is. We saw two of the four races you play, one technology based, one magic based. The demo opens on the technology based race, a very steampunk inspired design based on Da Vinci design with turning gears and mechanical creatures. Paul showed us how the vastly developed city was game legal by capturing a nearby town and then developing upon the town center in a modular fashion to create a very epic looking base of operations. This modular design to city building is a visually impressive design without altering the gameplay in any measurable fashion; as you attach markets, universities, and the like to your town center the city center itself expands into an ultimately impressive structure. Additionally the units within are beautifully detailed and animated.
Paul went on to show us some impressive combat between the technological race and the Persian inspired magic based race. A variety of Ã¢â‚¬Å“GeneralsÃ¢â‚¬? are also implemented here with familiar bonuses affecting morale, defense, offense, and resource gathering. I was suitably impressed with these Generals and their variety of special attacks and defenses, the combat, and the blend of real-time physics when Paul brought the hammer down and, for me, justified the transfer to a fantasy setting. A massive mechanical spider lumbered into frame laying serious damage to all in its path; I was looking at the nuclear option gone fantasy. The screen-filling creature itself was amazingly detailed and its destructive power was awe-inspiring. It was, however, countered by what was described as the Stealth Bomber of Rise of Legends, a massive glass dragon with transparent wings that took position behind the lumbering beast and focused the power of the sun in a devastating attack. If Paul was trying to impress me, it worked.
DonÃ¢â‚¬™t read too much into the talk of eye candy and epic beasts, this is still a Rise of Nations game. What impressed me most was probably how familiar the game seemed, how well implemented the change of environment was when put into a new context. For all the graphical improvements and unfamiliar creatures, this still felt fundamentally like what I think Rise of Nations should. The idea was simply that the fantasy setting gave them more room to be creative. Each of the four races play in very different ways with completely different strategies, as opposed to the basic similarities between RiseÃ¢â‚¬™s original eighteen races. The difference between how you play each race, how they interact with the environment, how they focus on combat, and how their strategies can vary is drastically different even within the basic framework of the familiar game.
To say IÃ¢â‚¬™m excited about Rise of Legends is an understatement. I get the distinct impression that these guys are passionate about the franchise and committed to improving on their already sound design philosophy instead of screwing it up. Certainly this has been one of the highlights of the show for me.
Black and White 2 Ã¢â‚¬" Ok, so everyone take a moment, shake your fist at the monitor and tell it how much you hated Black and White. Open up like a faucet and let it all flush out of you. Scream obscenities if you have to, kick something Ã¢â‚¬" preferably nothing animate Ã¢â‚¬" and just cleanse. Done? Good, because itÃ¢â‚¬™s time to move on.
I think the real disappointment with Black and White was always that it simply had no direction. It was a sandbox of a sort that never really developed into a game. Yes, there were bugs, too. Bad ones. And, of course, the painfully annoying villagers were simply never satisfied; the urge to hurl them all into the ocean was often too great to bear. By and large, I think itÃ¢â‚¬™s safe to say that Lionhead heard the criticism and is reacting positively to it. Every issue seems solidly addressed, and the advancements and enhancements in place seem to both make sense and push Black and White 2 toward a more cohesive end. Above all else Black and White has taken a notable RTS turn with the addition of resource gathering, greater city construction, and military creation.
The much ballyhooed icon free interface has been, I think rightly, abandoned. LetÃ¢â‚¬™s face it, these are video games, and we need an interface sometimes. The magic gesture system has been retained, but there are lots of logical interface options that can be enabled.
If you think of Black and White 2 primarily as an RTS, it begins to take shape as one of the more inventive of the genre available. Your disembodied God-Hand and your creature still play an active role in the world, and you can play both as primary elements in both resource gathering and combat. Not only do villagers build the construction you desire, but you can actually pick up trees and rocks from the land and drop them onto pending construction that you need done quickly, essentially building new structures at a much accelerate rate by doing it yourself. And, of course, your pet still learns from watching you, which means he can become as much a key gatherer or construction unit as anything else.
There is a lot of focus on drag and drop, which still frees the player from having to rely on the interface Ã¢â‚¬" though, itÃ¢â‚¬™s at least there if you need it. Instead of annoying audio cues suggesting what building your villagers want, the most desired object appears in the city center. If your people want more houses then a house floats above the city center which you can simply drag away and drop into place.
Roads and walls are also dragged and dropped. Need a new stretch of road? Simply pick up some existing road and pull away. The road you draw will match the path you take in drawing it, more like drawing the road with a pencil than having to create discreet segments. Same goes for walls.
Armies are also constructed in a drag and drop manner. Instead of clicking icons for multiple units, you select the unit you want your villagers to become and pull out from a deployment point. The greater the area you pull, the more units of that type you will create, essentially filling the circumference of the desired area with that unit type.
Black and White 2 sports a fancy new graphics engine with deformable terrain. The wars you wage across the land, particularly using some of the strongest God powers will change the shape of the land itself. The carnage from birthing an active volcano on your opponentÃ¢â‚¬™s front door is wonderfully realized. The combinations and variety in traditional RTS combat, with the addition of your creature and the devastating array of God powers makes for a surprisingly solid contribution. Black and White 2 seems to have learned from the mistakes of its predecessor, and potentially developed into a worthwhile title.