E3 Day One
I figured a ton of content probably warranted a new intro, so here it is. The first few hours of the show have been a flurry of trying to put our hands on the long awaited games that have entertained and piqued our vulnerable notions for weeks and months. As always there was much to see, and a blitz of attention grabbing sights and sounds ... and yet, this year's E3 seems somehow more subdued. That's a good thing, because there just seems to be a sense of bringing it all back to putting the games in our hands and letting us play. Far fewer booth babes, a lot less of the grandstanding and firing t-shirts out of cannons, and a lot more of people with controllers and mouse in hand. That, my friends, is how it should be.
While we've given you a glimpse at the things we've seen, there's so much more to tell. Microsoft seems to be determined to give the rich PC gaming landscape the respect it deserves and is positioning itself to act as the PC champion. Imagine a world where you walk into a place that sells videogames, and again there is significant space dedicated to PC games. That seems to be Peter Moore's new vision, and we'll ask him all about it tonight. Find our updated list of games covered below, and expect more later on 360 titles like Too Human (awesome), Crackdown (better than I thought), and Madden (Pretty Much The Same).
Updated with: Call of Juarez, Hellgate: London, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, Supreme Commander, Nintendo Wii, Ping Pong Wii, Golf Wii, Red Steel, Mario Galaxies, Excite Truck, Battlefield 2142, Spore, Prey, Lord of the Rings Online, World in Conflict, and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption.
Nintendo Wii - Fly
As Certis noted, the Nintendo booth was packed during media-only hours, and it was in a state of absolute pandemonium once it was opened to the general public. As such, it was far easier to watch others play Wii titles than it was to find actual hands-on time with the games myself. I was determined to see for myself how the controller functioned with a first-person title, so I spend nearly all of my time at the booth in line for a 15-minute demo with Metroid Prime 3: Corruption.
I can say, with few reservations, that the controller, even with the nunchuck attachment, is relatively easy and intuitive to use. I didn't see a bunch of people fishing around awkwardly, bewildered and helpless. Most players seemed to pick it up and within a few minutes adapt comfortably to the particular game they were playing.
The console itself, and the controller configurations, are very small and very slick. The entire Wii design concept has definitely got an ipod cool factor going for it--it's all clean lines and simple shapes. I did get a peek at its power supply, and it looks to be of acceptable size--it's probably 1/4 the size of the 360's behemoth brick. The controllers felt solid and well-crafted, but they were surprisingly light, possibly because they were externally powered for the show and didn't contain batteries. The Nintendo rep I spoke to couldn't tell me anything about battery options or power life except to say that they expect the Wii controllers to be comparable to other wireless controllers on the market in this area.
From my experience with Metroid Prime 3, and from watching other games at the show, I think I can say that the level of aiming precision the Wii offers is similar, and probably better, than what most players can manage from standard analog console controllers. I did see a slight jumpiness to the on-screen reticule in a few titles, but it wasn't clear whether it was the result of the player or the particular controller or game. I didn't experience the effect with Metroid, so I'm inclined to think it won't be a persistent problem.
I didn't see any Wii titles on the floor that were graphically impressive, from a technical standpoint. The Metroid and Zelda titles were beautiful, of course, but they didn't exhibit any special, next-gen graphical flair. The sports titles were all pretty mundane, even bland. Knowing what the Gamecube is capable of, I'm sure we'll see more impressive things from the Wii as time goes on, but at present, there doesn't seem to be much that rises above the graphical quality of what you'd get from a high-end original Xbox game.
Still, it's not about seeing, it's about playing, and so far the controller really seems to deliver the goods. Provided that it releases in its expected $200-$250 range, I think the Wii is going to be a very desirable piece of hardware.
Red Steel[Wii] - Fly
I saw about a half hour of Ubisoft's debut Wii title while standing in line. From what I could tell, if you took away the Wii controller, it would be a standard first-person shooter in most respects. It seemed totally linear and was your typical FPS shooting gallery. The level I saw had the player working his way through mostly interior areas, including a pachinko arcade and what looked like an office building, and taking on handfuls of gun-toting Yakuza bad guys. Occasionally, the player would be faced with a katana-wielding enemy, and some Wii-enabled swordplay would ensue.
One particular boss-type blade fight struck me as particularly impressive, as the enemy animations were really fluid, and the player's actions in slashing and blocking seemed to connect precisely and believably. It looked like a lot of fun. There were also a few cool controller functions: the player could open swinging doors by pushing the nunchuck controller forward, and open doors with knobs by rotating or wiggling the controller. Red Steel looks to be the premier launch FPS title for the Wii, and at this point, it's too early to tell whether its swordplay and other unique attributes will tip the scales and elevate it beyond standard shooter fare, but I think it's got a decent shot.
Metroid Prime 3: Corruption[Wii] - Fly
Corruption looks and plays a lot like the previous Prime titles. In fact, it looked a lot like a slightly more detailed version of what you'd find in Echoes. The standard Metroid formula was definitely in effect here, as Samus explored, scanned, rolled, leapt, and fought her way through an industrial area to activate some sort of power system.
The Wii controller felt awkward for about a minute, but I quickly got the hang of it. As expected, the left nunchuck controller's stick controls movement, and the remote controls aiming and looking. The targeting reticule doesn't stay planted in the middle of the screen, though. Instead, it floats around, but if you keep it in a particular location for a second or two, the screen will re-center on it. If you move it clear to the edge of the screen, the camera will track it accordingly. The remote look/aim was extremely sensitive and responsive, but it still didn't offer quite the same precision as a mouse. It was close, though. I only had difficulty when I moved it too quickly, and didn't recenter my view quick enough. With practice, I learned it was best to keep my movements gentle and precise. Aiming was helped along, but not always required, by a simple lock-on feature similar to the one in the previous titles.
At one point, I had to grab onto a lever and use the nunchuck controller to pull it out, twist it, and push it back in to open a door. On another occasion I jerked the nunchuck forward in a tossing motion to activate Samus's grappling coil to grab onto another door--and then I pulled the control stick back and Samus ripped it from its hinges. Later, I used the same mechanic to grab onto a space pirate's shield and tear it from its grasp to I could take him out. Each of these instances, all accomplished with the nunchuck's motion sensors, was fun and intuitive, and they offered a pretty convincing demonstration of the potential the controller offers for new control mechanics.
The Corruption demo didn't give much by way of plot information, but it did hint that Samus will be enlisting the aid of other, friendly bounty hunters to accomplish her goals. It ended with an extended boss fight with one of the most difficult bosses from the first Prime games, Ridley, which played out as Samus and Ridley fell together through a very long tunnel toward what looked like the molten core of the planet.
It wasn't much of a step forward, graphically, but for the most part everything about Corruption looked and played great. Given the reputation of the Metroid franchise, with the added polish that the next few months will bring it'll probably be another solid addition to the series.
Call of Juarez - Pyroman[FO] - [PC]
I took a look at this Western themed First Person Shooter over at the NVIDIA booth and my interest is piqued, though the fact that it's a Western themed First Person Shooter is enough to do that. The E3 level starts you out in an old-west church, with a Bible equipped in your hands. "Firing" the Bible causes your character to belt out apocalyptic bible verses to an empty room. The demo level has several story elements littered about like this, the Sheriff confronting you about going vigilante, a shootout in the middle of the street and the Sheriff's wife getting roughed up by some miners, though almost all of it is in in-game cutscenes. The action is standard FPS fare, however you can holster your weapons and activate a form of "bullet time" by firing, which causes both your weapons to track slowly over the screen, allowing you to fire either weapon when an enemy comes into your path. The graphics were still pretty rough and I did get stuck in the demo level because I could not figure out what to do next. However, what was there was interesting. It could shape up before launch, or it could not. I'm still ambivalent about it, myself.
Hellgate: London - Pyroman[FO] - [PC]
This is the first game I checked out when I got to the show this morning, and it was well worth it. What was a rough, barely functioning gameplay demo from last year has now fleshed out into a playable game. The basic elements are still there, the armor and loot, the melee/ranged combat, the underground hubs and the randomized combat areas and enemies. This year there are quests available from NPCs and the Cabalist class as playable along with many interface improvements. Along with the familar hotkey slots across the bottom of the screen, there are loadouts you can switch between with the F1-F3 keys. On top of that, there's a "shift skill" feature that's a context sensitive auto-skill popup. Basically, when you're doing something where a skill would apply, that skill pops up on the screen and can be activated with the shift key. So if you're walking down a hallway, "Run" will pop up and you can click shift. If you're fighting with a melee weapon, your best melee special move will pop up when it's available to use which can then be activated with the shift key. It's a very handy way to manage loads of skills.
The multiplayer portion was supposed to be playable, however a server malfunction kept it from being available. I did learn some new info about the multiplayer info, namely that it will have built in voice chat that's channel and group based. Meaning you can chat with your guildmates in voice chat, or your party mates, or people you meet in one of the hubs. The underground hubs will be where you get quests, buy/sell items, and group up with people to go into the instanced "dungeons". When you group or party with someone, they will all exist in the same instanced world. So if you party with 2 other people, and each goes through another portal, you can enter either portal and meet up with your groupmates. All characters will be server side when playing over the internet, like the Diablo 2 realm, though the Direct IP and LAN options will still be available with local characters. All in all I'm definitely excited about this game, it's shaping up and is looking very nice.
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars - Pyroman[FO] - [PC]
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is not only at E3, it's playable! They've got a 16 person setup, 8 GDF vs 8 Strogg, and I got to play a match as the Strogg earlier. I was expecting Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory with some graphical upgrades, but what I got was a bit more than that. There are now classes that can place turrets, radar towers and other support structures throughout the map with a pretty slick and easy to use interface. There's an infiltrator class complete with a Teleporter (think Translocator from UT) and a sniper rifle. The standard Lieutenant, Medic and Soldier classes are still available as well, renamed for their appropriate side. Vehicles are drivable, and can be occupied by multiple people. In what seems like a nice feature to encourage cooperative play, when someone tries to enter your vehcile and start spraying the turret like a hyperactive 2 year old, they have to ask the driver permission first. The Strogg vehicles include a personal Jetpack that drops bombs, a hover Plasma Tank, and a "Hog" (guess what vehcile this is based off of?). I tried the Tank and the jetpack, both of which were fun as hell to drive. The weapons were pretty fun as well, with a pretty standard but great feeling selection. In fact, pretty much everything I tried to do in ET:QW was alot of fun. It's looking really good, and hopefully it comes out soon so I don't have to start foaming at the mouth.
Supreme Commander - Pyroman[FO] - [PC]
THQ had a video of this available that showed off this spirital successor to Total Annihilation. There wasn't much gameplay shown in the movie, but what was there was huge numbers of units fighting with some pretty great graphics. Huge evil mechanical spiders, flying robot transports, air fighters, ground tanks and of course the main unit of the game the Supreme Commander. The combat looked like quite a bit of fun and the environments didn't look too bad either. The graphics weren't really eye-popping but they were definitely competent. The room where they demoed the video had posters depicting three races, a human race, a robot race, and some sort of occult looking religious race. There wasn't much info about it at the show that I've seen but so far, it looks like a pretty kick ass new Total Annihilation. Which is fine with me.
Nintendo Wii - Certis
The first thing I did when the doors were opened was jump into line to see the Wii in action. Even with just media people allowed to enter the show floor, the line stretched well past two hours long. It only took me 30 minutes before I got into the exhibit area. The console itself is small, the lack of "next gen" features makes for a very clean system with very few inputs in the back. I'll post a shot of that later.
The controller feels good, I have average sized hands so it seems to find that size vs. comfort balance for most people. The glossy finish is easy to grip and doesn't feel as light and cheap as you might expect. You'll notice shots of a "normal" controller and a light gun flotting around the net, the whole line-up has an almost retro look to it while remaining very functional. Purely as a system that will be sitting in my living room this fall, the Wii passes muster. Very slick and non-intrusive.
Graphically, you're not going to be incredibly impressed with the games that are meant to look realistic, rather than simple and cartoon-like. I would place it better than the original Xbox, but not by leaps and bounds. This might seem like a deal breaker, but watching someone play vs. actually playing the game is night and day.
Ping Pong Wii - Certis
All of the sport games I'm about to mention are more tech demos than fully functional games. I'm sure they'll all see release in some form but some of them are very simple. First up was Ping Pong, which was just two floating paddles, a table and a couple hands. The girl ahead of me had some trouble with it not tracking her movements but it turns out standing two feet away from the TV is too close.
Standing about six feet away, I was able to move the paddle around and go back and forth with the A.I pretty easily. Forehand, backhand, straight shots all felt natural and what I saw on the screen relative to what I was trying to do was accurate. You couldn't really spin the ball or do any trick shots, but as a simple demo it worked. I really liked that the controller vibrated a bit when I hit the ball, it gave the whole process a more tactile feel, like there was some weight behind my shots.
Golf Wii - Certis
Golf was interesting, I actually watched Gabe and Tycho from Penny Arcade try it first before I had my own turn. It really struck me that although the simple motion of swinging a golf club is required to take your shot, most people settled their feet, got in the stance and played as if they were on a course. That is to say, it felt natural to approach it like you would on a real golf course and it was more fun too. The quality and measure of your swing had an impact on your virtual success, which was apparent after watching Gabe totally botch half his shots. Again, this was tech demo as much as it was game but I like this approach way more than pressing an analog stick or moving a mouse up and down.
Red Steel [Wii] - Certis
Ubisoft's premier Wii title was in full force. I never got hands-on with it but I did watch a few people play to get some idea of how intuitive it was. It's a light gun game by and large, with the ability to move around free form, more interactivity and a sword mini-game. It was mainly the sword fights I was interested in and it looks like a good deal of fun. Parrying attacks, swinging the controller to do different slash attacks. People were getting the hang of it quickly and there was a fair bit of nuance to be found. Keep an eye out for this one as it evolves, just don't expect a graphical power-house.
Mario Galaxies [Wii] - Certis
Another game I couldn't hope to go hands on with and still make my appointments. I did talk to someone as he played the game, and the controls looked very natural. The analog control on the nunchuck handled your movement while the remote pointed a small star on the screen that moved independently of Mario. Controlling the plumber, you jump from small planet to planet, each representing a kind of puzzle you need to solve before you can jump to the next one. Not much more impressive graphically than Mario Sunshine but it had the right look, if nothing else. I can't help but feel this was a small aspect of a much larger game, my main concern seeing the videos was control but it looked very natural and easy to take to. Starting to sense a theme here?
Excite Truck [Wii] - Certis
Ever played Big Red Racing? It felt very similar to that. Tilting the controller horizontally, you turn it left and right like a steering wheel, which actually worked out really well. It was not overly sensitive, but you didn't need to make big movements to turn left and right. It is very much an arcade racer, huge jumps, crashes in mid-air and plenty of water to fall into. When you fall way off course or crash, you tap the A button rapidly to get boosted out and placed back on the road. There are also floating question marks that will alter the land ahead (suddenly a hill appears, causing you to go flying) which is a neat dynamic. It's a simple game, but I had a good time with it.
Battlefield 2142 [PC] - Elysium
My time with Battlefield 2142 and its new Titan mode was brief but engaging. It is, as expected, Battlefield 2 with some beefed up graphical whistles, and plays almost identically to the game you've come to know and love in every appreciable way, but the movement into a futuristic environment seems surprisingly interesting.
In my first moments in-game I spawned at one of the missile sites (which act as Titan Mode's control points) my team controlled, not realizing that the enemy had pinned the location down with significant and lethal firepower. I walked around the corner, and came toe to toe with a hulking Mech that was covering an enemy advance. I had time to recognize my impending doom by a vehicle the towered above me the way that a toddler towers over an unsuspecting kitten, and enjoy the intimidating sense of scale, before, as you might expect, I was mown down in a hail of bullets.
Titan mode is a deep and complex beast, but seems to employ some solid gameplay mechanics. For each missile point your team controls, a timer cycles down. Hold the position long enough and the missile at the location achieves a lock on your enemy's massive floating Titan. Enough missles hit and the shields on the Titan drop. Then, your team must proceed to launch onto the deck of the ship - certain ground vehicles actually fire you onto the ship - as enemies respawn within, and take out four points across the ship before you are finally given access to the main reactor which destroys the Titan and ends the round. Oh, and then you get extra points for escaping the crashing and exploding Titan alive. The need for coordinated attack and defense becomes even more critical as the mission itself changes throughout the phases of the round. Tactics are fluid, and required.
Flight controls for the aerial vehicles have been tweaked to be a bit more forgiving, which did nothing to stop me from plowing into the hangar of my own flight deck and actually lodging the vessel into the Titan geometry itself, so your mileage may vary. There have also been significant tweaks and upgrades to the online Ladder system, and all the classes have been redesigned to fit the new environment and setting.
2142 looks to be a gift for those who love Battlefield 2, but probably won't offer much to players looking for something entirely new.
Spore [PC] - Elysium
I enjoyed a brief demo from the man himself, Will Wright. I won't go into much detail here, as the numerous videos of Wright demoing Spore are a pretty accurate representation of what I saw.
Wright showed two of the six phases of the game, the Creature level and Space level - other levels include Tribal, Civ, City. The game itself remains very much a sandbox of exploration and play, though the way you approach the toy changes as you and your species evolve. As a creature you are doing creature things, protecting territory, eating, procreating, and exploring how to survive in and exploit your world. How you approach those goals is defined by the choices you make in developing your creature, and I suspect the difference between playing, say, an herbivore and a carnivore would be dramatic.
The Character Creation and Development tools are rich and comprehensive. I could see spending hours within that tool testing out new ideas.
As your species evolves you begin taking deeper and deeper control over the species itself, and the game morphs into something more like an RTS, and then even a Civilization style game. Finally, as a space faring race you can declare and fight interstellar wars, become Gods to lesser races, terraform, repopulate barren worlds, trade technologies and resources, abduct other species to add their distinctiveness to your own, or simply explore. Each option as demonstrated seemed not just viable but fun.
The game is free-form to a degree that seems genuinely intimidating, and yet like many of Wright's games, he seems to have put in all the tools for gamers to find ways to be unique and inventive while having fun.
Prey (Multiplayer) [PC] - Elysium
I might have been tempted to simply say that what I saw was just another FPS Deathmatch, but when I stood on the ceiling and killed a confused player who dashed from one end of the room below to the other trying to figure out what was shooting him, mine was an evil laugh.
No single player, but a good look at how the portal system and changing gravity work. I could see this being a multiplayer favorite.
Lord of the Rings Online [PC] - Elysium
I went to this showing not really knowing what to expect or whether to be excited. Lord of the Rings seems like the kind of franchise you could just slap a boring MMO on top of and wait to rake in the dollars (see: Star Wars). With a troubled and troubling history, this has become one of those games that I just never expected to see the sparkling shelves of retail.
And yet ... Turbine's putting their heart and soul into this game. Most striking was the absolute faithfulness to recreating the environments and locations described by Tolkein. Tom Bombadil's house, for example, looks pretty much exactly as it's described in the book, as is its surroundings, and it is in this faithfulness to the source material that LOTR Online may find success.
There is a lot of attention to creating complete and deep stories that run in parallel to the events of Lord of the Rings. The events of LOTR Online take place after Frodo and Sam have left The Shire but before the Fellowship is formed, which gives the player opportunities to meet some rather recognizable characters. But, the framework of the game and the individual quests develop around the secondary and tertiary characters, so that people who may have only a sentence's mention in Tolkein's work become fleshed.
There is also attention being paid to creating complex and engaging quests. Certainly every MMO developer makes this promise, but it's still always nice to have that particular smoke blown into my more feculent places. Here's hoping, guys. Though, what I was shown was quests with multiple and parallel goals, with numerous scripted events, and lots of NPC interaction and even assistance. There is attention being paid to telling the story through and at the same time as the action.
Lord of the Rings seems like a tremendously difficult proposition to pull off, but there's reason here from what I've seen to let the glimmer of hope radiate. The Turbine engine was attractive. The source material is creating the core of the story and acts as the definition of the world. I'll be keeping an eye out as development progresses.
World in Conflict - Pyroman[FO] - [PC]
The one thing most people notice about this game is the great graphics. It's an RTS title from Massive Ent., yet the units are so detailed you can zoom in on individual infantry units without it becoming an exercise in cubism. But if all it had was great graphics, I probably wouldn't be mentioning it here. The game is set as a Cold War scenario gone hot, you're the USSR or the USA fighting each other using tanks, infantry and nukes. There are no buildings, only control points that need to be captured to win the game. Each control point adjusts the "Balance of Power", whicever way the balance tips at the end of the match determines the winner. You can call in reinforcements, but there's no unit building or defensive structures. When you kill units, you get points you can use to call down airstrikes all the way up to nukes. In a multiplayer game, there are only two sides, USSR and USA, but the game can support up to 16 players. Since there are no buildings or resource collection, you control your units for the good of the team, along with anyone else on your team. It's similar to any Team based FPS, and a great solution to cooperation in strategy games. I'm a sucker for any RTS that manages to not have any buildings or resource collection, and the graphics on this are gorgeous. The limited play session I had was quite fun, especially the nuke which is probably the best nuke I've ever seen in an RTS.