E3 Day Two
I have two minutes before I need to run off to my next appointment. We're all just utterly swampped with games we need to write about, but getting a spare 30 minutes is a lot tougher this year with all of the appointment we have. Yesterday I saw one game on the show floor, the rest were behind closed doors. Insane! So, welcome to day two! Lots more to come.
Even More Late Night Updates: Saint's Row, Madden 2007, Crackdown, Too Human, Guild Wars (new campaign), Tabula Rasa, Dungeon Runners, ExSteel, Soccer Fury, Viva Pinata, Paraworld, Mercenaries 2, Gears of War, Mass Effect, Dead Rising, Neverwinter Nights 2, World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade, NHL 2K7, Gothic 3, Age of Conan, Table Tennis, Ninety-Nine Nights, Genji, and Resistance.
Guild Wars: New Campaign Sneak Peek [PC] - Fly
NCSoft and ArenaNet gave a brief rundown of the statistics for Guild Wars: Factions, noting that it's currently Europe's most successful MMO title. Most of their presentation focused on new Guild Wars campaign content. They say they're committed to releasing two new campaigns per year, each of which will offer new skills, new professions, and an entirely new world to explore. They also say that, like Factions's alliances and shifting battlelines, each new campaign will introduce new gameplay mechanics. They'll continue to take advantage of ongoing tech advancements, like those offered by new DirectX versions, and each new campaign will apply those advancements recursively to earlier releases.
Although they didn't announce any specific details for the next campaign, they did show a short teaser video which depicted a world reminiscent of North Africa, the Middle East, and ancient Ottoman civilizations. The outdoor environments definitely had a safari-type feel, with some impressively animated elephant, rhino, and monkey-like creatures. They also showed a ruined seaport, a huge fortress of stone, and some Taj-Majal style palace buildings. One of the most impressive images was of a huge, ornate palace full of waterfalls and hanging gardens.
ArenaNet didn't announce specific skills or professions for the new campaign, but they did show a couple of brief concept shots of two characters. Both were female, with one decked out in elegant white armor, and the other in a hooded robe and carrying some sort of staff. Overall the concept art was very impressive, but it remains to be seen exactly what new gameplay the upcoming content will offer.
Tabula Rasa [PC] – Fly
After showing up last year as a completely different game than the idyllic fairy-tale title seen at previous E3 showings, Tabula Rasa seems to have settled into its sci-fi theme. Here's the setting, in a nutshell: Earth has been taken over by the hostile Bane, and humans are now interstellar refugees fighting for their survival. The game offers a lot of large, persistent spaces but it appears that its mission-based story structure's going to be pretty instance-heavy. It's got a very military theme that carries over from the on-screen sci-fi battles to the character development system. NCSoft says they're making the classes less specialized than in other MMORPGs, so although there will be various soldier classes which can be gradually refined as the player levels up, all characters will be combat-effective and the game will remain very solo-friendly. They'll also allow the player to "clone" their character at various intervals and revert to the previous clone if they don't like the changes they've made along the way.
The combat I saw was pretty frenetic. NCsoft wants to discourage the time-honored technique of "pulling" enemies in favor of a more realistic, chaotic battlefield, so they're spawning enemies in groups, and coding their AI to keep the battlefield busy. They also give XP bonuses for groups of enemies killed in a row. The interface is uncluttered, and the screen looks much more like that of a typical shooter than your average RPG. The default view is 3rd person, but it's fully zoomable, all the way to 1st person. I didn't hear much about weapons or abilities, but it looks like the game will have a solid focus on shooting, but also give the player a decent set of magic-like skills. It definitely plays like a fast-paced action title.
The most striking thing about Tabula Rasa is probably its art design. It's looking very atmospheric and intense, with all kinds of interesting and impressive enemies. In the instanced level I saw, the character and numerous NPCs were fighting along a linear path, and enemies were continually being shuttled to the area via some very intimidating dropships. There was also a dramatic encounter with a large, tripod-like creature.
NCSoft didn't talk much about Tabula Rasa's community aspects, but they did indicate it will offer a full-featured clan system and include PVP options between warring clans. They also say they're integrating voice chat technology into the game. There still seems to be quite a bit up in the air: they haven't worked out the details of their death penalties or announced whether the game's going to require a monthly fee, for example. Still, it looks like it has potential at this point. They're sticking to a "It'll be done when it's done" approach, but they hinted that they're getting close.
PlayNC Overview: Dungeon Runners, ExSteel, and Soccer Fury [PC] - Fly
Through their PlayNC website, NCSoft plans to offer a number of free to play, free to download online multiplayer titles. They haven't worked out the revenue model for the U.S. releases of their games yet, but it looks like some games will be ad-supported and others will charge small fees for additional or advanced content. They're claiming, at this point, that all of their PlayNC titles will all offer full-featured gameplay at some level without any cost commitment from the player. Probably the most impressive aspect of the PlayNC titles I saw was their level of polish. For free titles, they look very good.
Dungeon Runners aims to offer a World of Warcraft-style experience, geared toward the casual or occasional user. There's no death penalty, health and magic regenerate very quickly, and you can fast travel from location to location. You're not bound to a particular server, so you can hook up with friends at any time. There are common hub-level areas, but it looks like most of the combat will occur within instances. One of the most interesting aspects of the game is that each instance will be procedurally generated, in terms of terrain and and NPC placement, so it'll be different every time. In addition, the instances will always scale to player level and party size. Combat is action-heavy, with a focus on larger numbers of enemies. Graphically, Dungeon Runners looked very good for a free title, and although it was a bit generic in style, the overall tone was very vibrant and colorful.
ExSteel is a multiplayer mech battle game that allows the player to customize every aspect of their mechs. These are gun and sword-wielding, humanoid, Gundam-type mechs, rather than the Mechwarrior or Chromehounds variety. From what I could tell, as your mech gains experience and wins battles, you'll be able to customize it more heavily and learn new combo moves. I didn't get a feel for how players will be ranked or how combat will be balanced, and as far as I can tell it looks like a fairly basic jump-in-and-play twitch multiplayer title. Still, the fighting and shooting seems pretty solid and satisfying.
NCSoft showed a realtime video, but no actual gameplay, of Soccer Fury, a street-style soccer title that has its players in smaller courts, attempting to take the ball from one another using martial arts, street-fighting, and other combat moves. It plays more like a fighting game than a sports title, with players often facing off one-on-one to gain control of the ball and score. NCSoft says they're integrating a full weather system that will actually affect gameplay, but they didn't have anything to show in that area. The characters have a slight anime-themed appearance, and avatars will be highly customizable in terms of clothing, hairstyle, accessories, etc. Graphically, it looked pretty good. It's due for a 2007 release, so there's a lot that's still in the conceptual stage, but it still looked interesting.
Viva PiÃ±ata [Xbox 360] – Fly
Viva PiÃ±ata starts you out on a crummy, weed-infested little island full of piles of junk. You're given a shovel, a watering can, and a packet of seeds to beautify the place, and as you do, you'll begin to attract various piÃ±ata species. As they enter the garden and become tame, they'll change from black-and-white to color. Although they're asexual, you can introduce them to each other and they'll shack up in little houses, conduct silly little courtship dances, and magically produce piÃ±ata offsprings.
There's a actually a piÃ±ata food chain, with lowly species like worms attracting birds, which then attract larger creatures, and so on. The goal is to continually attract, tame, and maintain new piÃ±atas by making sure garden conditions are right. You can collect chocolate coins and use them to upgrade your tools and add ponds, fences, flowers, trees, etc. to your garden. You can also smack your piÃ±atas around with a shovel and even bust them open if you're into that sort of thing. Occasionally a surly "sour" piÃ±ata will show up and start screwing up your piÃ±ata ecosystem, and you'll have to tame or otherwise placate them by making certain conditions ideal. If you do, they'll join your little garden. The garden is also host to occasional quirky human characters, some of whom offer helpful advice.
One of the cooler aspects of Viva PiÃ±ata is an online component that allows players to send any garden asset--piÃ±atas, flowers, trees, whatever, to approved individuals on their friends list. PiÃ±atas all come with little tags that show their history--where they're from, who sent them, etc. The game has full voice for all text, making it playable for kids too young to read, and a very robust set of parental protections via Xbox Live.
Graphically, Viva PiÃ±ata looks good, and it's got fun animations, a richly detained environment, and a whimsical, appealing visual style. It's due to release late this year, in tandem with a children's television series that will purportedly have some direct tie-ins to the actual gameplay. It looks like a simple, fun title that will offer plenty of fun for kids, and could even have the same crossover mass appeal as games like Animal Crossing.
Saints Row  - Certis
I didn't exactly play Saints Row, I just watched someone else on the controller in case I got infected with gansta'itis. It looks like a serviceable GTA clone, not bad but I didn't see anything to really get me excited.
Madden 2007 [360, PS3, Wii] - Certis
It's always a game of spot the differences when it comes to seeing Madden at the show every year. This year the field surface looks nice, there are more animations in place which give tackles a bit more variety. They say all the features that were cut in the original 360 version will be back in place, including the training modes. The run game has those new moves and abilities as promised, but he underlying game is still fundamentally madden. It's like the first 3D Madden was a rubber ball and every new version is a fresh strip of duct tape over top of it. Surface changes, but the core remains the same.
I did like that they didn't force the up-close face shots for every snap and pulled the presentation back a bit. I also had a stunning last second come-back against Elysium and beat him 7 - 6 as the final second ticked by. The streak continues.
Crackdown  - Certis
I didn't like Crackdown for the first five minutes of our presentation. It looked like a directionless GTA clone with a cartoon sheen. As they talked, it all started to click into place and I came out a lot more positive about the game than I expected. You play a mercenary cop kind of guy and your job is to take down over twenty well-protected king pins throughout a large, sprawling city. That's it. No big story line, no linear mission structure. Just get to killing.
It's a sandbox game in the truest sense of the word. How you get to these king pins, whether or not you destroy their supply chains to make your job easier or if you want to avoid them and throw cars around is completely up to you. The cop you play has different skills that improve as you use them. Shoot a lot and better weapons become available, drive a lot and better cars can be had. The coolest to me is if you jump around buildings and stuff all the time you'll eventually be able to max your ability out and make some really big three story leaps. I don't like how they physically represent the skill acquisition in-game with little orbs flying off enemy bodies and into you, but it does give you a nice visual pay-off if you blow up twenty bad guys at once.
This is a graphic novel sort of world, if your car skill is high and you climb into an agency vehicle, it actually morphs into a more powerful model if your skill is impressive enough. It doesn't really make sense, but in the context of the game it works pretty well. Overall, the inclusion of Live capable coop makes this a near must-have for me. I might get bored after ten hours or so, but those of you who like free-form games to mess around, this should fit the bill nicely.
Too Human  - Certis
I've always wanted to enjoy 3rd person action games that mix guns and swords but titles like Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden always found me fighting the camera as much as the bad guys. Too Human takes the gameplay style, puts their own stamp on it and gives you a dynamic camera system that requires no input and actually seems to work for both gameplay and atmosphere. On the surface, the combat is actually pretty easy to learn and it doesn't take more than a minute before you're swinging and shooting without much trouble. Once you get that down, you'll find yourself doing jump attacks, special moves and generally feeling pretty god-like as you plow through dozens of enemies at a time. I have some concerns that the combat will be a bit too automatic and heavy on blind button mashing but with such a small sample, it's hard to speak to the variety of the final product. What I saw looked about ten hours fun, but they say the final game will take around twenty so I hope the variety of weapons and moves we didn't see is more robust. All signs point to yes.
There will be hundreds of items and weapons in the game to collect as you progres, rather than find them in random crates you will actually get blueprints so that you can create new weapons, which makes a lot more sense and should allow for a more unique experience for each person who plays. During the demo we were shown staff fighting, sword fighting and some gun play.
Typical for Silicon Knights, they're mum on plot details but they did say that the script for Too Human is longer than any game they have done before, including Eternal Darkness. They've shown themselves highly capable at delivering games with style, substance and cinematic flair in the past and Too Human is looking to take their design sensibilities to the next level. I'll be pre-ordering when I get home.
Paraworld [PC] - Elysium
One of the quieter, yet more promising titles of E3. There's a lot going on here to refine the RTS experience, and improve many of my issues with the genre from micro-management to army control. Not to mention a setting which is immediately compelling. An attractive and detailed engine brings the dinosaurs and armies of Paraworld to life, and while I have a number of thoughts about the game, let me pop this image in your cranium: you send an armored and foul-tempered T-Rex into your enemy's camp, your troops riding and directing its murderous rage as it crushes, whips, and eats the fleeing masses. If you're not at least a little intrigued then your dead and should probably make certain your will is up to date.
While the dinosaurs are suitably cool - an understatement - the best thing offered here is the Army Controller, a bar that runs along the side of the screen where you can monitor the status of and manipulate every unit under your control quickly and easily. You can promote units, give them commands, group them, see where they are in battle, check their stats, and even give them support commands on one another all from the Army Controller, and all without ever actually having to see them on the screen.
For RTS fans the ability to manage an army quickly and have constant information about their status available as you try and manage the base building, resource management, or scouting part of the game is an outstanding and long overdue feature. Additionally, with the focus on better, more streamlined control, Paraworld gives you immediate access to all of your heroes' special abilities without having to track them down and click on them in the middle of a pitched battle.
There are 3 playable tribes in the game: Norsemen, Dustriders, and Dragonclan. Each has their own unique style both visually and strategically. In the model of a game like Starcraft, Paraworld seeks to try and make the strategies you employ with your race of choice unique instead of just introducing the same race over and over with different skins and name, for example while one race relies on the ability to be Nomadic, another relies on strong and permanent defense. How you establish, defend, and attack will alter very much between the tribes. And, of course, one of them relies heavily on dinosaurs. Lots and lots of dinosaurs.
There's a lot I could and want to say about Paraworld, like, for example, how the fog of war is actually a fog that lets you see the map outline if not what's lurking there instead of black wasteland that only reminds you your playing a videogame. A title you might not hear about, or miss otherwise in the noise, Paraworld is shaping up to be a unique and streamlined take on the RTS genre.
Mercenaries 2 [PS3] - Elysium
Good news Mercs fans (I'm looking at you, Fletcher), the sequel as shown to us behind closed doors with Pandemic looks to be coming together nicely. It should go without saying that what we saw was early, and while the visuals were sharp and the framerate solid, there were a number of graphical issues in this early look, but we were being demoed directly from a PS3 dev kit in realtime, and judging by the graphical hiccups I'm inclined to believe them.
The story revolves around Oil and Venezuela and taking jobs for the highest bidder, but, honestly, the game is about blowing up as many things up as possible, and with Havoc 3.0 and the poly-pushing power of the next-gen system, Mercs 2 is seeking to deliver. Let me give you the highlight, an oil rig the size of a city block is destroyed in real-time, unscripted, Havoc glory. Watching from the co-op perspective of one player hovering above in a copter and another on the lurching and crumbling deck as pipes and towers fell, crashed, collided, and rolled within the engine was the kind of destruction ratched up by an order of magnitude that you should expect.
Did you catch that? I just tossed co-op in that last paragraph like it was no big deal. Which, or course, it is. Not only co-op, but co-op on the fly. As you're sitting there playing your single player destructionfest, your buddy, or brother, or mom, or whatever, can just jump in at any point and assist. No word on multiplayer co-op, but there was definitely a wink and a nod.
As always, creative decisions about how to achieve your goals in the most inventive and destructive methods possible is key. Flammability of objects plays a key and intriguing part of the process. In one scene we were shown, your character shoots some holes in an oil tanker, and then lights the spilled oil on fire as it flows past, leading to explosions both grand and lethal. Burning ensues.
Water is no longer a barrier, and boats of varying speeds and destructive variety are included. There is also a grappling gun that allows you to hook on to aircraft that pass overhead, and hijack them in midair.
The formula is the same, but the level of destructive feedback is what Pandemic seems focussed on. The PS3 in realtime is graphically advanced, but as with several PS3 titles I've seen this year it is far from the level of detail and complexity that was hinted at not so long ago.
Gears of War  - Elysium
Dystopian, alien war, gray and dusty future. Okay, it's well explored territory, and I can certainly understand being sick of the concept, but let's talk about fun for a moment, because along with Prey, Gears of War may be the other game that puts me back in a multiplayer frame of mind.
I chopped a guy in half with a chainsaw, for chrissake!
It is a meaty game, in every conceivable way, a game where cover is key and blood flows like a river. The weapons we got a chance to play with all had a thick and heavy feel to them, and the brutality of the game is unapologetic. It's one thing to shoot a guy hiding behind cover as he pops up, but it's another to have your buddy keep the guy pinned with fire as you sneak behind and chop him in half with a chainsaw.
In half! I predict an M rating. And fun.
Mass Effect  - Pyroman[FO]
I have to say that while I enjoyed KOTOR, I am not a Bioware fan. They're generally good as far as RPGs go, but I could never stand the combat in their games. And since combat is about half of any given RPG, I have to throw my hands up in the air in frustration. Mass Effect though, looks like an entirely different ballgame. It's a Bioware RPG, with real-time FPS combat! And that combat looks wonderful. The smattering of standard FPS weapons was there, sniper rifle, assault rifle, pistol, ect. But in the Mass Effect case, all of the weapons, armor and items in the game are moddable, which increases the weapon variety to extrodinary proportions.
Which is one of the hallmarks of Mass Effect, huge proportions. You play as one of the first humans to arrive on the intergalactic scene, and our actions will largely determine how the rest of the galaxy looks at the human race as a whole. Also, the story has you traveling across the huge galaxy trying to save literally billions. There are hundreds of worlds in the game, and you can travel to any of them at any time and plop down your rover to explore, fight, whatever (you can customize the rover too). It's not just a pre-defined hallway or two that you can explore either, the entire planet is laid wide open for you to explore.
Once you find something interesting, there's plenty to do as well. Besides the already mentioned combat, the game features a very interesting conversation system. When talking to characters, their expressions, voice and body language will all change based on how they feel about your behavior in the conversation. You can converse to them using a wheel that lists your possible responses. Each response on the wheel represents a general emotion (i.e. hostile response, friendly response, ect.), and these eight locations on the wheel stay consistent. Meaning the hostile response will always be in the lower right, the friendly in the upper left. Furthermore, you can dynamically talk to people with no restriction on timing. You can choose a response and interrupt people, which may annoy them and possibly insult them. No more waiting for people to finish talking before responding. The demonstration of the dialogue system leaves the impression of a very fluid conversation.
Your choices aren't a moral black and white either, they have many more shades of grey. In fact, even when your choices are the "evil" choice, there's a justification or reason to do it that way. Bioware promises an end to the KOTOR style conversations where good always hugged puppies and evil always killed everyone. Bioware also promised lots of post-release support and content through XBox Live, though no word on whether or not it'll be for pay (here's a hint, it's going to be).
I am definitely all about this RPG, with it's dynamic conversations, moral grey areas and real time FPS combat, it takes all the stale boring hangups of the genre and throws them away. About time.
Dead Rising  - Pyroman[FO]
I took a quick look at this zombie killing fest and walked away with a big stupid grin on my face. Just watching people pummel zombies in this game is fun, which is good because there's tons of them to kill. This is basically a big sandbox game, you start out in a mall that has suddenly filled with zombies. You can then use anything you can find that's not nailed down to beat, smash, fry, shoot and cut up zombies to your heart's content. The weapons range from baseball bats to shotguns to cardboard boxes, tons and tons of them. You can even pick up items and wear them, at one point the character picked up a goofy looking football helmet and started wearing it around. There are pretty funny missions and a general feeling of humor about the game, at one point the character picked up a giant shelf and started hitting people with it. The game is supposed to only last 72 hours, and you can play it over and over again. The appeal seems to be the various weapons, clothing and missions you can do. Whatever it is, it looks like alot of zombie smashing fun.
Neverwinter Nights 2 [PC] - Pyroman[FO]
This is the Obsidian developed sequel to the D&D sandbox game Neverwinter Nights, and it looks to be following in the original's footsteps in almost every way. The toolset looks very powerful, the NWN scripting language is back, the level editor looks very easy to use and extensible, and it even has the ability to upgrade NWN scripts to NWN2. The level editor supports plugins, and there's already a host of them Obsidian has added to the editor. The graphics are passable, though the human faces and characters look a little odd. Obsidian is promising to focus on the single player story this time to beef it up compared to the original NWN, which given their track record as long as they don't get it rushed out the door it seems likely. The main strength of the game will be the after-release support in the form of community mods, which seems like it'll be a powerhouse in that area given the popularity of NWN1 modding and the excellent tools they already have for NWN2.
Gears of War  - Pyroman[FO]
I went into this one skeptical. It's a game from Cliffy B of Epic fame, and it's a graphical powerhouse. Of course Microsoft is going to say it's the greatest thing ever, a system selling monster that's the most fun you've ever had. So all the hype had me turned off.
All I know is within the first minute of gameplay everyone was cheering and clapping when someone would die!
It's a brutal, bloody and excellent game. I only got to play for 20 minutes or so and I know I'm not only buying it on release day, but buying an X360 as well.
It's a 3rd person shooter where you constantly have to search for cover. When you run the camera zooms closer to the ground so it's harder to see where you're going, and it's harder to turn. Which means if you want to be combat ready, you have to be slowly jumping, rolling and dodging from cover to cover. You always want cover or you will be shot. There were only 3 weapons in our play session, an assault rifle/chainsaw, a grenade launcher and a sniper rifle. I only used the first two weapons, and I loved them both. Sneaking up behind someone for a chainsaw kill was one of the most satisfying multiplayer gameplay moments I've had in a while.
In fact, the 20 minutes I played Gears of War had so many of those excellent multiplayer moments that I can't help but love it. It has that magical elixir of tension and satisfaction that makes multiplayer games so worthwhile. It's really hard to describe, other than the fact that it's really really good.
World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade [PC] - Elysium
Not that Blizzard needs the press, because heaven knows that the multitude of WOW addicts out there would sell their clothes and offspring for this expansion, but we got some comfy behind-closed-doors access to the new Blizzard expansion today, and, yes, it looks awesome. Our very own Gameguru joined me for the tour (and, asked most of the questions, and probably had some idea of what the hell all that backstory was about), as we got the opportunity to see the new races, the new starting Draenei area, the Outland through the Dark Portal, a glimpse of Hellfire Citadel, flying mounts, jewelcrafting, tier 3 equipment, and a deep look at Karazhan (Medivh's Tower) in Deadwind Pass. That's just the expansion; I haven't even mentioned patch 1.11, the Naxxramas raid (the floating necropolis above the Plaguelands), and the dragon Sapphiron that literally constructs itself from its own bones in the Frostwyrm Room. When you go, be warned of the stacking cold attack from Sapphiron that freezes you in place at full stack.
For those of you who don't play World of Warcraft, the preceding paragraph was a list of gibberish. For those of you who do play, it's probably enough to send you into fits of rapturous joy. There's a lot to look forward to here and talk about, which is tragic because I'm only going to spend a few paragraphs.
The backstory on the expansion explored tens of thousands of years across several worlds, but ultimately comes to a deep conflict between the Blood Elves and the Draenei. I'd need two wikis, and a translator to explain to you the interconnection and progression that forged the conflict, but it explores and expands upon the story from Warcraft 3, and the War of the Ancients novels.
While there will be a ton of new content for both races, as well as new areas to explore, much of what we saw had to do with the high level content. The flying mount looked amazing, and offered full control in three dimensions as we toured the exterior of Hellfire Citadel which will offer at least 5, 10, and 20 man raids.
We were shown Karazhan in detail, a level 70 raid (20 or 40-man probably) which revolves around the story of how Medivh broke with the High Elves to explore the forbidden Necromantic arts. An exhausting and intimidating place populated by great hordes of level 70 elite undead. One highlight was a room with a massive chessboard on the floor and what appeared to be high-level elites in the places of the pieces, as well as 2 named bosses in the king square, King Llane on the alliance side and Warchief Blackhand on the Horde. Plan to fight them both. The specifics of what is happening were left ambiguous. The environment of Karazhan changes the further you proceed until it become more Outland with great floating rocks, and a massive wandering Demon Prince boss.
New races, new areas across the level spectrum, jewelcrafting and socketed items, flying mounts, and raids raids raids (2 announced, but I'm told there will be more). I don't know whether to tell you to be excited or afraid.
Warhawk [PS3] – Fly
Warhawk's the only PS3 title at the show that utilizes the new controller's tilt sensor, which is probably the only reason they're demoing it. There wasn't much to the level I played, which had the player piloting a relatively slow aircraft around an island and taking out other slow aircraft, turrets, etc, with machine guns and missiles. The overall feel was very arcadelike but very slow-paced. The PS3 controller's tilt sensor is sensitive and precise, and controlling the aircraft was very easy. The plane had a boost function and a hover mode but otherwise couldn't do anything fancy (no loop-de-loops allowed). The Sony guy who sat me down at the game couldn't answer any of my questions about multiplayer options or game design, but he did say they're pushing it as a launch title.
NHL 2K7  – Certis
After the let-down of 2K6 hockey on the 360 being a rough port of the Xbox version, it was nice to see a real evolution of the series on the show floor. The control scheme is almost identical but how your players move on the ice has been overhauled in this new version. In 2K6 you can almost turn on a dime, not so any more. The players have a real sense of weight and momentum, it actually took me about five minutes to get used to planning my turns ahead of time and modifying how I approached hits and placing myself to take a shot. You can't stop on a dime and shoot all the time and things like skating sideways work closer to what you'd see in a real game of hockey.
Skating mechanics aside, some presentation cinematics have been added and little touches like the face offs being full screen without any additional interface is nice. It plays different than 2K6 and I like it quite a bit better. Can't wait for it to come out!
Gothic 3 [PC] – Certis
I was frantic to see Gothic 3 in action after last year's poor showing and I wasn't disappointed. As a fan of Gothic 2, my questions mainly centered around making sure all of the annoying things were out and the good aspects were enhanced. The inventory is now mouse driven with different sections for item types, even in placeholder form it's vastly improved. Combat is handled with the mouse while the keyboard handles movement and spell selection, I'm not sure if people who liked the pure keyboard approach will be accommodated. Currently the left mouse button is one type of swing and right mouse button is another, you can combine them to do different moves and combos. Timing is still a factor when in combat, which is good.
Everything you expect in a Gothic game is here, only with better graphics, an even bigger world and a completely different continent to explore. You play as the same guy as the last two games and you will start from scratch once again. No word on how they're going to explain how he lost all his skills this time. Maybe he gets hit in the head with a rock or something. Gothic fans should be pleased if performance is good and the final release isn't too buggy.
Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures [PC] – Certis
It was nice to see Conan in action after reading so much about it over the past year. If you've been following the game at all you know that your first 20 levels are spent in a single player campaign, which can be played without needing to pay a subscription fee. This allows you to learn about how to play, get involved in the world and generally offer a storyline before you head online to play with other players. The story goes that you're a slave on a galley that becomes shipwrecked, after you wash ashore, the single player game begins. Almost right away you encounter some slavers and go to work beating them with a big stick. Combat looks more involved than what you would expect to see in a traditional MMORPG. You can attack with essentially six different swings and combine them to pull off some brutal combos. For example, I could press 4, 6, 3 on my keyboard and three simple attacks will combine to ultimately behead my enemy.
If multiple enemies are standing in front of you, you'll typically damage them all to some extent. There is a lock-on system but I didn't get the sense that it was really necessary, I'd say the combat is closer to 3rd person action game than MMORPG. The horse combat was also solid, you could use a spear and charge or pull out your sword and fight from horseback. The horse actually moves a little more like an actual animal and less like a beast on wheels. You can't make sharp turns and there is momentum to consider as you line enemies up for a charging attack. It looks fun and adds even more flavor to an already interesting combat system.
The graphics are more than solid, although the screen shots I saw from various press sources before the show looked better than the game did in motion. Not vastly different, but like most games that have carefully framed shots, seeing it in person shows you its not quite leaps and bounds above everything else.
We didn't get into the MMORPG aspect of the game too much, but the story will continue to progress, this time with your friends. The vaunted city building was shown and it sounds like a guild of around twenty could probably afford to create a nice guild town. Each area that contains player and A.I towns will accommodate about eight guilds before a new instanced area is made. Even if you're not into PVP, there will be enemy A.I towns to lay siege to and defend against. A lot of the details around this are still nebulous, but it holds a good deal of promise.
At this point they're looking to hit beta in the summer, not sure when the press will get on or the public, but I'll be watching for it with interest.
Mercenaries 2 [PS3] – Certis
Did you like Mercenaries? You're going to love this. The land mass is even larger than the first game and completely free of load times. Graphically it looks very sharp, even in this early form. One big feature they're pushing is fire, everything that looks like it should be flammable in the game can catch fire. They even gave us a lighter as we left the presentation, in case we didn't get the point.
One of the most exciting features is the ability for a second player to jump into the game at any time and play coop. At the moment it's only split-screen, with the usual "We haven't announced anything at this time" answer when online coop and a 360 version of the game was asked about. Some fun things to do now are firing a grappling hook up at an enemy chopper and zip-lining to the top to fight your way into the cockpit. In coop, one player can fly while the other just grapples onto the plane for fast and easy transport.
Excellent graphics, more explosions, more missions and more fun. This is shaping up to be an excellent next step in the series.
Table Tennis [Xbox 360] - Fly
Once the novelty that Rockstar is making such a title wears off, Table Tennis isn't going to command nearly the attention it's received since its announcement. It is fun, and the claim that it's an easy game to learn but a difficult game to master just might be true, but really--it's table tennis, and it's no more or less exciting or interesting on the Xbox 360 than it is in real life. The controls are very basic--the left stick moves the player left or right, and the right stick controls the paddle swing. You basically just pull the paddle in any direction, and then release it to hit the ball. The longer you hold it, the stronger your swing. The direction you pull the left stick controls the type of spin you put on the ball. Different spin types cause the ball to glow different colors, so if you're returning a volley and want to take that into account, you can. It's just about as beautifully rendered as every other next-gen sports title, but it's blissfully free of burger king characters and other obnoxious advertising, so I've got to give them credit for that. I didn't take time to look at all the multiplayer features it offered, but I'm sure it'll take full advantage of Live. The big question on this one is price. I can't see anyone paying full price for Table Tennis unless full price is $15 or something. It seems much more suited for Live Arcade than actual retail.
Ninety-Nine Nights [Xbox 360] - Fly
I had about 20 minutes on the show floor with Ninety-Nine Nights. The first five had me convinced that it was an almost worthless hack-and slash, but once I got past the bland tutorial level and onto an actual battlefield, I saw some things I really liked. N3 is typical Japanese swordfighting fare, all combos and giant swords and dramatic haircuts and mobs of dumb enemies, but the 360's processing might allows some spectacular things to happen on screen. The level I played had human and troll armies clashing head-on in huge numbers, with probably close to a hundred NPCs on screen at once, all independently animated and fighting somewhat believably. And for every group of enemies that fell, more came streaming onscreen. Meanwhile, the main character could slice through dozens of enemies at a time while zipping all over the battlefield and vaulting off other NPC's heads. The combos were varied, simple to learn and execute, and impressive. Even more impressive were some special combat moves that were enabled when the player filled a meter by stringing together regular attacks. Some of the effects were really quite spectacular.
There were a few interesting strategy elements. It looks like the game offers the ability to choose what types of units (archers, swordsmen, etc.) flank your character's position at the beginning of a battle, and even though they generally follow the main character's lead, it looks like you can also control whether they attack or hold ground to a limited degree. In the intro level I played, the battlefield had several objectives that you had to accomplish, like taking out certain bosses or groups of enemies, and they were represented on a small map in the screen's upper corner. I'm not sure how well these elements will be integrated into the rest of the game, but if they're handled well, they could go a fair way towards keeping the combat interesting long-term. I can't speak at all to the game's story or premise, except to say the few cutscenes I saw were lovely but tainted by terrible dialogue. I think it's got some potential, and should go over well as an impressive button-mashing melee combat title, at very least.
Genji II [PS3] - Fly
Remember Genji for the PS2? This is that game, but in higher resolution and with just slightly more sophisticated animations and visual effects. I didn't see anything in the brief floor demo that looked even remotely different in terms of gameplay, and I didn't see anything that even came close to Genji's gorgeous backdrops, either. What I saw was entirely unimpressive as a next-generation title, or even a sequel. I liked the first Genji game, but you'd think that Game Republic could squeeze something a little more interesting out of the PS3.
Resistance: Fall of Man [PS3] - Fly
Resistance looks to be on track as the PS3's premier (read: only) launch shooter, and at this point it looks like it'll be a decent, albeit extremely conventional FPS. They've nailed the basics. The enemy and friendly AI is good, the weapons seem well-balanced and look and feel powerful, the controls are intuitive, and overall the underlying mechanics all come together nicely. The post-apocalyptic/World War II-type setting offers nothing particularly unique, but it does provide a nice excuse for shooting down droves of creepy and nicely animated monsters in colorless, burnt-over cityscapes and underground corridors. Graphically, it looks pretty good, but for a next-gen title, it's nothing spectacular.
In the two levels I played, I didn't see anything remotely terrifying, but one of the lead artists I spoke to said they're looking to make a game withy a heavy horror emphasis. He couldn't divulge anything on the final game's length, but he did tell me that it's linear, very story driven, will feature multiple vehicle sequences, and will have at very least standard FPS multiplayer options.