Being an independent website that has no advertisers to pander to and few affiliations with game developers we have a unique opportunity when we turn our attention to any given game. With most of the popular sites essentially regurgitating press releases and high-resolution booth babe videos it's no wonder we feel the need to pack our bags and hit E3 to actually play the games and give some real opinions on them. It goes without saying that any opinions or judgments you will encounter within are based on unfinished products and many of the games have a chance to improve (or slide off the deep end) before release. We hope you enjoy the coverage! Look for a final wrap-up of the show and our general experience there soon.
Age of Empires III (PC) - 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.
Age of Empires III (PC) 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 Im 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. Its time to talk about those baffling features. Chief amongst them was a card collecting system. Thats 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 dont know. I really have no idea. The guy Pyro and I spoke didnt really seem to say why this was a good idea. Logically, a person with a fully techd out capitol would have to play against a similarly equipped opponent otherwise the opponent would be annihilated relatively quickly.
Alan Wake (PC) 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, dont bother upgrading now. Wait for Alan Wake.
Alan Wake (PC) - 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.
Alan Wake (PC) - 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.
Battlefield 2 (PC) Battlefield 2 can be described in two words. sh*t. Hot. Ive 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. Im planning on getting all four of us to play on the same server at some point during the Expo and Ill take more detailed notes then. But sufficed to say, come June, Fileplanet better have the demo right away or Im dropping them in favor of the first site to get it.
Battlefield 2 (PC) - A lot of the stuff Reaper likes about BF2 is essentially whats always been good about the series. Hes never played it before so Im 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 youre 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 Im feeling a lot better about BF2 and Ill be eagerly awaiting the demo in June.
Black and White 2 (PC) 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 preferably nothing animate and just cleanse. Done? Good, because its 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 its 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. Lets 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 though, its 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 opponents 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.
Call of Cthulu (Xbox, PC)- 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.
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.
Destroy All Humans (PS2, Xbox) - 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.
Dreamfall (PC, Xbox) - I got to spend a good 10 minutes talking to a developer about Dreamfall and I'm pleased with its progress. Despite phrases like "console friendly" and "combat system" it's still very plot and puzzle orientated which is a relief. You can usually talk your way out of fights although with some characters (the mysterious assassin for one) it will be inevitable at times. The combat itself was only shown in the form of some pretty simple punch, kick, block stuff with the lead female character. Nothing too exciting so far in that respect but he acknowledged that and said it was very much a work in progress. Another mention was that the puzzles will be much less about "trying to combine everything in your inventory" and more related to the level, story and situation. That's good news for losers like me who just suck at the out of place puzzles you find in most old-school adventure games. Dreamfall is making strides to be more casual friendly while maintaining the focus that made the first game so good. I'm hopeful.
Also worth noting that the Xbox version will be roughly the same game with a different and more varied combat system. That could mean it will be more focused on fighting. He definitely made it sound like they'll be changing the console port in a few ways.
Dungeons and Dragons Online (PC) - 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 role playing 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.
Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (PC, Xbox360) - 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.
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 dont 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 dialog 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, NPCs, 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 cant optimize the game, expect only the best systems to even have a prayer at approaching a decent frame rate.
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars (PC) All the expo has is a beautiful trailer of what looks like it could be a kick-ass multiplayer game. But then again, thats what trailers are for.
eMAGIN Z800 3D Visor (PC) - 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-nineties? Yeah the 20 pound headsets that displayed 300x100 and had maybe a 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.
eXsteel - This was a nice little surprise 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.
Farcry Instincts (Xbox) 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 didnt just stop with that, however. Theyve 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. Ill see how well this actually works tomorrow or Friday.
Gears of War (Xbox 360) - 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.
Ghost Recon 2 Expansion Pack (Xbox) 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? Theyve 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.
Gothic 3 (Pre-Alpha PC) - 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.
Gunstar Super Heroes (GBA) 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.
Ghost Recon 3 (PC, Xbox 360) - Youre 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 Im not feeling like I saw enough to say for sure.
Hellgate: London (PC) This could a multimillion unit seller. Its a 3d first or third person Action RPG ala Diablo. In fact, its being developed by the team that developed Diablo 1 and 2. It has a basic four stat system but as in Diablo, its 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!
Hellgate: London (PC) - 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.
Heroes of Might and Magic V (PC) - 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.
Imperator (PC)- 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.
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!
Killer 7 (GC) - 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 static, 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.
Madden 2006 (Xbox, PS2, GC, PC, PSP, DS) - 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.
Metal Slug 4 & 5 (Xbox, PS2) Its more, wonderful Metal Slug! You can still shank until your hearts content, however you now have unlimited continues to do it with! Huzzah!
Need for Speed Something or Other (Xbox 360) - As one (if not the) only Xbox 360 game outside of Microsofts area I was surprised that while the graphics were good they werent mind-blowing. I didnt play much (since it crashed) but what I saw seemed like standard NFS gameplay. It looked good but it's still fairly rough.
NHL 2K6 (Xbox, PS2) - 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. Im happy with the games direction so far and I totally kicked Reapers ass.
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.
Prey (PC) Huh. Its actually coming out and it looks like it could be pretty damn good. Certis may write a bit more on it but I dont have much to say.
Prey (PC) - It exists. Not only that, its 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 Im 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.
Prince of Persia 3 (Xbox, PS2, GC, PC) Pyro and I had a clever plan to incessantly harass the Ubi dev working the PoP3 booth until he admitted that theyd 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.
Its 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 its pretty damn pointless.
Quake IV (PC) - 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 soldiers life. Ok, so its 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, its 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. Its what Raven does and does well so I cant blame them.
Quake IV (PC) 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.
Rainbow Six: Lockdown (Xbox, PS2, GC) It sucks. Its everything I feared it would be. But with really sh*tty textures.
Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends (PC) - Look, Ill 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. Im not even sure Im 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 or faked it really well 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 RoNs 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 change of direction 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 aint broke, they didnt 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 with a much more cohesive story to direct it of expanding within a world leading to the individual battles.
So, hopefully Ive 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.
Dont 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 Rises 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 Im 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.
Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War (PC) - 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.
Rome: Total War: Barbarian Invasion (PC) 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 youre looking for a dramatic departure from the basic Rome formula, then youre 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 leaders sphere of morale influence, the priest is primarily used in a support capacity to strengthen your armys 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.
Saint's Row (Xbox 360) - 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.
Serious Sam 2 (PC) - 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.
Shadow the Hedgehog (Who Cares) - 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?
Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves (PS2) - 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.
SOCOM 3 (PS2) I wasnt 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 didnt 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. Its 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 SEALs of the future have decided to adopt the US Armys 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, Oh crap! Ghost Recon 2 looks cool! Lets look like them! feel that I didnt approve. SOCOM has always been a strong title on the PS2 and I dont feel that Zipper should need to emulate another title.
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.
Starcraft Ghost (Xbox) - 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 (Xbox)- 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.
Stubbs the Zombie (Xbox) - 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 its 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. Its 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 games 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!
Tabula Rasa (PC) - 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.
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.
The Movies (PC) - 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.
WH40k: Winter Assault (PC) I cant 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 didnt 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, Ive turned into a BF2 whore. The systems running BF2 at this expo are Athlon 64s with PCI-x 6800GTs and 2GB of RAM. They run the game ultra smooth and it looks beautiful. Swampy will be pleased to hear that SwampAirs 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, its 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 G3s.
Vanguard (PC) 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 Ive found something on the show floor that tickled my interest. Vanguards 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.
Lets 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 Sigils President, Brad McQuaid, formerly of Verant and Everquest, is on the record as saying that Everquests 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 monsters 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 youre 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 whats 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 aware 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 theres 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 casters 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 Ive seen on the show floor. Its blending the original formula that made Everquest so successful with some interactive combat that the genre sorely needs. If youve got the right group of guys to party with, this may be one to watch for next year.