gamescom 2009 - Eau de Cologne
After having said good-bye to Leipzig last year, I packed my bag to head to what was now known as 'gamescom'. Would I be able to survive an expo that has not a single capital letter? Would I be able to feel home without knowing how to find the best non-public toilets? Would I be able to explain to my friends from North-America why people from Cologne consider the yellow liquid known as 'Kölsch' beer, and why it's not representative of what Germany actually has to offer?
Neither did I die, nor did I explode. Kölsch, however, remains unexplainable. I did manage to check out number of games such as Rage, Brütal Legend, R.U.S.E., and New Super Mario Bros. We also got some information on CCP's Dust 514 and World of Darkness.
Gearbox showed the cooperative aspect of the game, which works quite seamlessly—up to three of your friends can join anytime, and the difficulty of the game will be adjusted dynamically. You pick whatever quest you want to face, and it usually won't take too much time to get to your target destination.
I was shown two boss fights and a subquest, in which the group attacked an enemy outpost. While Borderlands essentially is a shooter with vehicle combat, it does offer a number of RPG elements. Initially you can pick out of four classes that could be quickly described as heavy, soldier, support, and stealth, each of them offering a skill tree with three branches. Character level progression is persistent, so you will be building your character over time by earning experience through kills and quests. Another element reminiscent of RPGs: When you shoot an enemy, numbers will pop up to show how much damage you're actually doing. Another nod the genre: The weapons have colour labels to indicate how rare they are.
Borderlands feels like a decent co-op title, which, by the way, offers both LAN/system link, online, and splitscreen (two players) support. I'm not sure yet though whether it'll be equally entertaining if you're just playing on your own. The graphics look fine, but if you've had the chance to see id Software's Rage, you probably know which of the two might win the Miss Post-Apocalypse title. On a small side note: Steve Gibson mentioned that the success of BioShock played a major role in 2K Games green-lighting the new art direction of the game.
Rather than producing a PGR-alike for Activision, Bizarre Creations opted for what can be described as Mario Kart without karts (and, well, Mario). The game is set in various locations like London or Barcelona—but don't expect to see a realistic 'we've mapped out every street' approach as the tracks are more based on "the idea of the city".
Items like nitro boosts, shields, repair kits, and weapons are placed on the courses and can be collected by simply driving through them. Initially you can hold and switch between two extras at a time, but a few more slots can be purchased later as you're playing the game, earning fans. If you thought 'fans' might work the same way Kudos does in PGR, you'd be right. You can visually tweak the car, but there's no upgrading of internal part of the vehicle as Bizarre wasn't keen on having tuning elements in[i] Blur./
The game is all about arcade action, and it showed during the 4-player splitscreen match I got to participate in. Wish they had not picked a nighttime track, since I got no real impression of the graphics, but the frame rate seemed smooth all through the match. Enabling up to four players to race on one system, Blur is likely to lend itself for a nice multiplayer party. In the online mode you'll face up to 19 other players. That could be really superb, overly hectic because stuff just keeps exploding around you, or a bit of both. However, you should be able to tweak the MP part to just your liking: In addition to extensive communities features, the developers also promised that you'll be able to completely customize the match conditions.
I laughed. A lot. Tim Schafer and Jack Black apparently are a great team—they just deliver.
And as I was grinning, I was also admiring the superb art direction Brütal Legend seems blessed with—props to the graphics department. The world and creature design is enjoyably bizarre, dare I say Burton-esque, one of my favourites being a baby that jumps out of its baby stroller and starts gnawing away at you. And when I jumped into some weird robot thing to walk down a stair made of bones, bones and skulls kept crumbling off. It was a small visual trick, but a very convincing one to convey the structural nature of the object.
I hacked and slashed my way through the enemies and a mid-boss battle, occasionally pulled out the e-guitar to stun them with an electric charge, and jumped around to perform an attack that caused area damage. I also could toss my AI sidekick, a girl, towards the evil creatures, which is what Double Fine calls "double-team action." The combat mechanic is fun. It's not perfect though, and feels a bit 'last-gen', or 'pre-Kratos' if you will. It's fluid, but doesn't quite match the combo flow and rhythm God of War has. Eddie Riggs seems to pause a few milliseconds before his next action, whereas Kratos enters a trance-like state that doesn't end until he has violently danced his way through every single enemy nearby. If you catch my drift. I'm talking about this because it was pretty much the only 'flaw' I noticed during the time I spent with the SP demo, and it certainly is more of a nitpick, but I wasn't the only one to notice it. Definitely looking forward to play the full game to see if it still feels the same once you get more used to the controls.
What followed was a part where Eddie built a hot rod after playing a short guitar riff through a rhythm mini-game. After driving down a path and running over dozens of enemies while I was at it, I reached the next boss—a huge worm. Using the nitro boost and doing quick u-turns helped dodge its attacks and go in for a counter. It didn't take too long until he was done, and another cutscene ensued. You get to see cutscenes fairly often, but it doesn't feel annoying since they're well written. But there also are pieces to laugh about as you're playing, since Riggs is frequently dropping comments or one-liners. As for the soundtrack: It absolutely fits.
This is where the impressions would end—if Brütal Legend was your standard hack'n'slay title, or if it had a tiny, token multiplayer mode that was added just to have another bullet point on the box. Brütal Legend is actually the opposite of that; Its MP part, with a bit more content, could have been easily forged into a separate game.
Schafer and two of his Double Fineians demoed the MP mode in the non-public area of the show, and what I saw there brought immediatly one game to my mind: Sacrifice. (Note: If you just heavily salivated all over your keyboard, or had a quasi-orgasmic experience upon reading that name—chances are you've played Sacrifice.) Before you jump into the match, you need to decide which of three factions you'll be siding with.
The game is about two competing rock festivals. Your stage is your headquarters, and, obviously, the other stage is what you'd love to see burn down. There are points on the map that will generate resources (i.e., fans) once you capture them. Fans can be invested to build new structures, produce units, and upgrade your stage. Just like in Sacrifice, you're walking or flying around with your character (e.g., Eddie Riggs, or other protagonists you meet in the SP part). You can jump into a battle on your own to get rid of enemies with your weapons and powers, or you can command other units. I had to follow two screens at once, which did not make it too easy to follow what was going on, but I think spawn points are set, and structures are built by playing quick solos. Or something.
Your units have the same double-team potential your sidekicks have in the singleplayer part, though I'm not sure though if every single unit type lets you do that. There was one guy that would dig a grave for you to jump in, enabling you to move beneath the surface. Or a creature with a huge belly that was home to a huge swam of rats, ready to be unleashed on enemy contact. If you 'team up' with that unit, you'll be able to control said rat swarm directly. Or how about jumping onto that motorcycle that the character played by Rob Halford has? It can leave a trace of fire, and if you make it to encircle a group of enemies that way, it will result in a nice area-damage effect. If the enemies reach your festival, you can jump onto the stage and grab the microphone. By directing the speakers at them, you might be able to fight the troops off for a bit.
Brütal Legend comes along with 7 multiplayer maps, but I wouldn't be overly surprised if more content follows through DLC. The 2-player experience already looked quite entertaining, but altogether up to 8 players can participate in what then, I assume, must be a fast-paced clash of awesome. (Regardless of how many players join, it's always about two teams/stages fighting each other.) It's hard to make guesses about the longterm aspect of it since I've seen (not played) only 20 minutes of Brütal Legends multiplayer, but I left with the impression that it very well might be great enough to justify the purchase of the game, even if you have no intention of playing the singleplayer part.
Dante's Inferno is following God of War's game mechanics so closely, you'd think SCEA Santa Monica should ask for some royalties. Or at least a nod in the credits. You'll be familiar with the controls instantly, and QTEs for bigger beasts and bosses won't get you awards for innovation either. (Yes, God of War did not invent the QTE concept either, but the team incorporated it in a specific way.)
That said, I was actually surprised by the quality of the visuals because the very first batch of screenshots had been rather underwhelming. I don't mind them copying Kratos that much, since we don't get such games that often to begin with, and if you only have an Xbox 360 and no plans for getting a PS3, Kratos will be out of reach anyway. The setting looks interesting as well: The circles of hell and the creatures inhabiting them undoubtedly are more bizarre than harpies, minotaurs, and skeleton warriors. I'm talking sicko-bizarre rather than Burton-bizarre (Brütal Legend) here. The levels are set to have varying, distinct designs and enemies depending on the 'theme' ( = sin) of a circle. I'm sure it must have been fun for the concept artists.
The bottom line: It's a copy. Probably a good one.
I only saw a short demo of Dementium 2 due to time constraints. The game seems a classic case of "if you liked the prequel, you'll probably enjoy this one as well", but might also appeal to those who found Dementium frustrating. Monsters won't respawn anymore, and there will be save points in the levels. In the first game you could only hold one weapon in addition to the flashlight, now you're able to equip two of them. The protagonist can jump and crouch and will travel between the real world and hell, comparable to the concept in Silent Hill. Dementium 2 is set for a release in early 2010.
CCP, the studio behind EVE Online, had promised to unveil a new project at GDC Europe. Pretty much everyone thought they were referring to World of Darkness, which they had confirmed a few days before the conference. Pretty much everyone was wrong. Dust 514 is a multiplayer-oriented shooter that is currently in the development at CCP Shanghai. And boy, it surely is ambitious. When companies usually talk about expanding a universe, they're talking about sequels or spin-offs. Dust isn't just a spin-off of EVE—it's actually connected to the MMOG. I later had the chance to ask Hilmur Petursson (CEO of the company) a few questions about the projects they're working on.
Dust players are mercenaries who fight planetary battles in the EVE universe. Missions are initiated through contracts EVE players issue if they want to gain control over a planet. There, however, also will be contracts offered by NPC entities so that Dust players are not completely dependent on what the other community delivers, especially early in the game.
Rewards for contracts don't necessarily have to be about money (ISK). One of the aspects to actually make the whole plan possible to begin with is the fact that EVE is just one world. "It would be way more difficult to do this if EVE was split into shards", Petursson noted. Management of contracts would be tricky, and the actions of the players wouldn't be "meaningful".
He wouldn't confirm the number of players that can participate in a Dust match as they're still in the process of balancing the game both in terms of technology and gameplay, but it "definitely will be more than 16." Obviously, there also will be a persistent character progression system, which is what Petursson considers the MMO aspect of Dust. Thanks to EVE, CCP has learned about how to support player grouping—the ultimate goal for Dust is it mirroring structures that can already be found in EVE: Players teaming up with other players, creating clans, and, in the long run, bigger corporations that manage a vast number of mercenary/marine teams.
Dust 514 has only been announced for "console platforms" so far. It, however, wouldn't be too farfetched to assume that PC players will also get covered. When I asked Petursson about this directly, he slightly smiled and said: "Right now all I can say is that there will be console versions of the game."
The latest EyeToy spin-off, EyePet, turns out to be pretty much the casual experience you'd expect it to be. A small plastic card has to be placed in the area tracked by the EyeCam to help the system get a sense of the orientation of the surface, thus enabling the software to project the little creature into the picture. It also spawns a menu, which can be navigated through hand gestures.
It's entertaining to try out the ways you have to interact with the EyePet, e.g. trying to tickle it with your hand. You can create objects such as a trampoline to play with it, or go for some mini-games such as a Pong-style title. None of these seem to emit vibes of longterm motivation. Your willingness to keep on visiting the EyePet past the experimental phase will depend on your willingness to bond with a virtual creature, a sometimes freaky-looking mix of monkey and dog with a design that might have been driven by the marketing department rather than, well, artists. It's safe to say that we'll be seeing a lot more of these concepts now that Sony and Microsoft are putting more emphasis on camera-based approaches.
So colourful it can make your eyes bleed. And speaking of blood: The red juice is flowing a lot in Fairytale Fights, a game that might appeal to fans of hectic brawlers like Castle Crashers. While American McGee was trying to darken what was already dark with Grimm or Alice, Playlogic is working on something that could be considered a parody, laden with tons of comic gore. You control the movement of your protagonist with the left stick, the right stick is being used to attack in whatever direction you want to. You can pick up (or toss) objects—hammers, saws, axes, fish, cute animals—with the right shoulder button and use them to club your enemies or any of the three human players that can join the action.
Once your special meter is full, your character is able to dish out a special attack which lets you zoom in and break particular bones, x-ray view inclusive. If you have a sharp weapon, Fairytale Fights will let you do what they call "dynamic slicing"—which indeed is 'dynamic' and uh... 'slice-ish'. With four players, things are getting pretty wild and you'll probably slay your friends as much as enemies, intentionally or not.
Whether the game is still entertaining beyond the two-hour mark remains to be seen, but you might want to check out the demo whenever Fairytale Fights shows up on PC, PSN, and XBLA if you're looking for some 4-player hack'n'slay action.
God of War III
Sony had the same level on the show floor that was already shown and extensively covered at E3, so I'll refrain from describing what was going on. (Well, except that the guy next to me missed Helios at least ten times with the ballista before someone helped him out. Haha! Loser.) It had been quite a while since I played the previous instalments in the series, but before I knew it I was was ripping apart creatures again like it was yesterday. Instead of then-gorgeous PS2 graphics, you now get the same experience with way more polygons, textures, and a higher resolution—it's looking delicious.
The game wasn't playable, but 2K Games did a live demo to show what 2K Czech (formerly: Illusion Softworks) has been working on so far. Mafia II won't be available before early 2010, so I assume that the occasional framerate issues might be addressed by then. Overall the setting feels atmospheric, and the cut-scenes—especially the decent facial animations—and the soundtrack really add to it. According to the publisher, about 100 songs from the late 40s and early 50s were licensed. More details will be announced later this year.
The game is supposed to be a bit more open than its predecessor. In the mission 2K played, you got offered a side quest that could be accepted or ignored. There's also a 'Wanted' system comparable to the approach inherent to the GTA series. If the police saw your car, you're better off visiting a spray shop with that vehicle. If they spotted you directly, you might want to look out for stores to buy new clothes. Ultimately, Mafia II is still designed to be a more linear, more crafted experience than GTA. I'm a fan of the original game, and am curious about how much they tweaked or retained its concept beyond what was shown. After all: Mafia was released more than seven years ago. 2K also kept pointing out that there is usually a stealth-based alternative to running around with guns blazing. Consequently enough, the three well-guarded cars that had to be destroyed as part of the mission got taken care of without anyone getting killed in the demo. The cover system 2K Czech implemented helps you stay hidden behind objects—not only during firefights. The in-door settings looked really detailed and are rife with destructible objects.
It's hard to judge the story, having seen only pieces so far. Both, the writing and the atmosphere would be where Mafia II could set itself apart from other titles, because, in terms of gameplay, I haven't seen a lot that wasn't already done in numerous other games in the past years. We've infiltrated lots of places, we've destroyed a given number of [insert object] often enough, we've driven an abundance of cars into spray shops to get rid of cops, and we're no strangers to cover systems anymore. If 2K Czech delivers on all that, it'll be a 'good' game. In order to get beyond that, level, story, setting, and pacing are what counts.
Mount & Blade: Warband
Last year, weeks before the official release of the game, Armagan Yavuz presented Mount & Blade at a press conference Paradox held at the Games Convention in Leipzig. It was truly charming because he got so immersed in his game as he was playing it that he stopped talking and focused on what was happening on the screen instead. A slightly nervous PR person then whispered, reminding him on why he was there. I approached him afterwards to congratulate him on a title I had been playing the hell out during the testing phase (which lasted almost four years), and you could see he really didn't expect to run into someone who knew the game; and he almost seemed to feel uncomfortable as I was praising what he and his small team had been crafting.
I met him again this year at gamescom and chatted a bit about the upcoming M&B: Warband. Others might have only shown a video or set up a specific test server. Armagan did the unthinkable: launched the game, joined a random server, and showed how the game actually plays right now. The action seemed quite smooth and lag-free, despite the server being in the US, where the first phase of the beta test is being done. Currently, there are about 200 players participating, according to Yavuz.
The first thing I noted was that the max number of players has increased to 64 (it was 32 when Warband was announced). 64 certainly sounds a lot better for big battles. If you don't have enough human players around, you can fill empty slots with bots. AI comrades are given orders the same way you do it in the singleplayer game. For the multiplayer mode you'll have to create a separate character—importing your campaign protagonist is not possible due to balancing reasons. Warband also adds to the campaign part, as you will be able to become the ruler of the faction and command other lords.
Before (and during) a match, you get to buy equipment for your character. There's a basic amount of gold every player starts with, if you want to purchase better helmets, armor, weapons, shields, or horses, you need to earn more gold by killing people or fulfilling objectives set in a particular mode. Speaking of modes: There's deathmatch, team-deathmatch, CTF, Siege, and Battle—the latter one being DM/TDM with you not being able to rejoin until the next round if you die.
Warband itself plays pretty much like the battles you know from the single-player campaign. Although they're not working on that right now, Taleworlds would love to see the overworld map aspect of M&B incorporated into the multiplayer part some day.)It's not decided yet whether the final version will require the main game or ships as a stand-alone expansion. Taleworlds, who are now employing no less than 10 developers, are currently aiming for a release in early 2010, but Yavuz also noted that he doesn't want to see it shipped until they think it's polished enough.
MySims Agents is the latest instalment in the spin-off series. Instead of cleaning up your city or setting up your house, you're now in charge of a group of agents that is trying to unveil a sinister plot conceived by, whaddayaknow, an evil villain. MySims Agents is about your character travelling to places across the world to solve puzzles, gather new information, and earn new equipment for his or her headquarter. The challenges include a variety of puzzle types such shuffle puzzles, tasks where you have to rearrange specific blocks, or redirect a beam of light with mirrors, or use gadgets to find traces. At the same time you can also send teams of agents to other missions—depending on the skill set of its members, they're succeed or fail.
Who needs this casual stuff?! (Just kidding. My Farmville dude just reached level 17.)
The game was demoed by the producer of the game, a certain Jeff Green—a person who became somewhat famous among gamers after having been on the GWJ Conference Call once or twice. (At least that's what the crew keeps telling me.) I asked him about the one big lesson they learned during the course of the production, and he did mention something I've also heard from other people working on titles for younger gamers: The team originally made the game too easy. The difficulty had to be upped after the first test sessions, which are done frequently at the studio.
It's unlikely to be a game I personally will rush out for on the day it comes out, but you might keep an eye on MySims Agents if you're looking for a title for your kids—especially since this seems to be the most humorous Sims game so far.
New Super Mario Bros.
It's fascinating how announcements can shape the perception of a game, but NSMB seems to be such a case. Had it been sold at E3 as a fresh Mario game with added multiplayer functionality, my take on it probably would have been overwhelmingly positive. However, with Nintendo making such a big fuzz about what a revolution a multiplayer mode in a Mario jump'n'run would be, it was that part I paid more attention to, and it wasn't completely mind-blowing.
In singleplayer, NSMB is undoubtedly enjoyable; in multiplayer it can be as hilarious as it can be annoying. It certainly is easier because you will respawn directly into the action, as long as there's still at least one other player alive—assuming you haven't used up the five lives each participant has. In SP you have to restart a level if you fail, just like it always was. Characters do collide, e.g. you can push another player off an edge if he doesn't move. This can be fun, but it can also happen when you didn't really intend to do it. And based on the levels we tried out, the cooperative aspect can be mostly described of there being more players on the screen at once. Rarely do there seem to be moments that could not be achieved by a solo player. (What makes co-op in shooters or RPGs worthwhile to me is that they also might enable you to try out new tactics, for instance: flanking enemies or combining different classes.) Still, I do think that most people will enjoy the option to play a Mario game together simultaneously.
And yet I'll be frank: The technical implementation of the oh-so revolutionary multiplayer aspect is—excuse my French—retarded.
1) Whenever one of the players dies, the action will get frozen for a second. This is being done intentionally. And you know what? It'll frustrate any other player that was in the middle of a jump or any other action that requires timing or precision. I have it on good account that timing and precision come in handy in Mario games here and there.
2) This is the year 2009. There's no online option. Really, Nintendo? Really?
3) Let's say you already started playing the game on your own, or with a friend or two, and then another friend stops by. Surely he or she will be able to pick up a Wiimote and join the session on the fly? The geniuses in Nintendo's usability department apparently have not considered that aspect a priority. You'll have to leave and go back to the offline multiplayer lobby (or whatever you want to call that menu) and then start all over again. Everyone knows that the company has yet to embrace online play, but this seems just a bit ridiculous and half-baked for someone that claims to be all about seamless and accessible experiences.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2010
I've preferred Konami's soccer simulations ever since the first International Superstar Soccer got released for SNES. Last year, however, FIFA clearly kicked Pro Evo's butt. Competition is a good thing after all, no? Having played the latest iteration in the series, I can say I don't see Konami knocking EA off the throne. Pro Evo, in my opinion, needs a reboot instead of refinements. Minor exception: If you only own a Wii, Pro Evo still is the way to go, since it is a different beast on Nintendo's system.
Matt Hooper did a live demo of the game and, while he was playing the PC version of the title, used an Xbox 360 controller. The bottom line: The game looks gorgeous. Remember all the techno-babble about the Megatexture concept? Turns out they were onto something. The world looks just beautiful, and the 'wasteful' use of textures plays a big role in that. The wind is blowing sand around; when you enter a building, the dust in the air will remind you of what a deserted place the world became after it got hit by a strange meteor.
Unlike previous id titles, Rage does incorporate RPG elements. You run and drive around in a huge world, pick quests, purchase plans to build equipment, buy and sell items, and the like. There will be an economy system which can be manipulated by the player. (It was not made clear, though, if the economy's manipulated dynamically by trading, or by solving specific quests that change some of the circumstances in a fixed way.)
Hooper showed a mission in which he had to infiltrate and blow up a weapon factory. He demonstrated how you try to make your way to the target destination through raw firepower, or go for a rather sneaky approach where he got some quick kills with a crossbow, placed some turrets á la BioShock, or even used little spiderbots with mounted guns to let them do the hard work.
While the developers said that you will get to keep and upgrade one specific vehicle all through the game—it's supposed to be an extension of the character—it should be noted that there are several vehicle classes available. Early in the game you get a small ATV. It cannot be equipped with weapons, but helps you get from one location to another quickly instead of having to walk around. You get to tune/upgrade four aspects of a car (acceleration, traction, suspension, and armor, I think) and add weapons or other extras to it. New upgrades can be earned in racing events—a part of the game I didn't care too much about. It did seem solid, but I also guess not everyone's going to be a fan of it. Side note: In the standard vehicle battles, you'll benefit from the equipment you bought for your car. In the racing events you'll have to take advantage of the items that are placed on the track and can be collected.
So far, Rage seems rather promising and atmospheric. It'll be interesting to see how well it creates an immersive game world. Not having day/night cycles is a bummer, but one I'm willing to accept. I do hope though that NPCs will have some sort of routine instead of just standing around at the same place, just waiting for you to stop by and have them say their dialogue. Either way—even in its current state, Rage is already looking notably more interesting than Doom 3, which bored me to tears.
Hot damn! If you thought the whole 'zoom from a strategic map view down to a battleground close-up' approach of R.U.S.E. seemed impressive, let it be known that it looks truly spectacular when you see it in action. SupCom got it first, but Eugen Systems nails it down.
Thankfully, beneath this solid shell of eye candy, there is a quite engaging RTS game that made me stay at the booth longer than I originally intended. R.U.S.E., while being a real-time game, feels like Risk. Each map consists of several sectors that can be conquered. The full map view, the way unit movement is visualized, and the symbolic portrayal of them in said view create the impression of you playing a board game or being a general planning his next steps. If you want to see some nice action, filled with explosions and tanks, airplanes or soldiers going at it, all it takes is rolling the mouse wheel.
You start the game with one headquarters and a few bucks to spend. In order to get the economy going, capturing a resource depot or two at the beginning is usually the first step. Once you're done, trucks will frequently bring new cash to your base. I had not read too much about R.U.S.E., and did not get to play the tutorial, but I knew my way around it within minutes. I'm not kidding. The game isn't about offering hundreds and hundreds of options and structures. There's a well defined set of buildings—barracks for infantry, tank factories, airports, and a factory for jeeps and vehicles with AA guns—and a well defined set of usually three or four units you build in each of them. The units are pretty much all designed with a straight rock-paper-scissors approach in mind. A three-star rating guide quickly shows how a unit will fare against infantry, tanks, and aircraft. There's no tech-tree to memorize, as you can build all that right from the get-go as long as you have money. New units can be ordered either by directly selecting a specific building (and picking the unit there) or through a simple central menu. Did I mention that the game is accessible yet?
I have no idea what the acronym stands for, but R.U.S.E. has a central strategic element: the—tada!—ruses. And who doesn't enjoy deceiving one's enemies? Each participant, including the A.I., has special cards that can be played and have an effect that lasts a minute or two. Five were available in the build they had, but overall Ubisoft is aiming for ten ruses in the final version. I could cloak or uncloak a sector of my choice, for instance. You can fool your enemy into thinking there's no threat, or do the opposite by launching a decoy attack with fake units to distract him or just get him into panic mode. The guy at booth tried to be helpful, but had trouble understanding the English descriptions well, couldn't answer some in-depth questions I had, and also kept babbling about how R.U.S.E. compares to Command & Conquer in general. From what I could make out, it seems like you can play several cards at once, but there's only a limited number of times a card can be used per match. All the ruses I saw had effects tied to the sector you picked, none of them worked globally.
The bottom line is: While I do enjoy a session of Company of Heroes, and will pick up StarCraft II on day one, I see R.U.S.E. as a very welcome change in a genre that has been all about a heavy amount of units, upgrades, and micromanagement in the past years. It's not about constantly cycling through your units, triggering a specific skill or spell at the right second, and having a rate of 300 mouse clicks per minute. It's not about setting 10 waypoints to get your troops to some place. (I'm not sure that there even are waypoints in R.U.S.E.—I think you just send your units directly to a specific location, just like you would do it in a board game.) R.U.S.E. is about the bigger picture.
I'm sure there are a few RTS cracks out there who may mumble something about the game being simple based on what they heard—but if the number of units or upgrades was an indicator of complexity and challenge, checkers, go, or chess would be the most lightweight games imaginable. I had a great time with the game at the show, and am convinced that Eugen made some really promising choices. The foundation for a really neat multiplayer experience is already there. The one thing they developers now need to get right—the one thing the long-term value of R.U.S.E. will depend on—is the balancing.
In case you're wondering, Ubisoft was showing the PC version of the game. You could choose between mouse/keyboard or Xbox 360 controller, and being the PC goon I am, I picked the former. I assume R.U.S.E. will work fine on consoles as well, though, since it's not as fast-paced as the other titles I mentioned. I also took a brief look at the version they had made for Microsoft's Surface table—a nice gimmick. If a colleague or neighbor you don't like is bragging about how he's the top dog for buying all instruments for The Beatles: Rock Band, you know what to empty your account for.
Lots of previews have already been written on this game. I only could spend a few minutes with it, but for those you who have been living under a rock in the past months: Scribblenauts is a 2D puzzle/adventure game in which you have to solve a number of tasks by using objects. Said objects can be created by simply typing in the word. If it's not in the database, the game will automatically offer a bunch of other phrases that are syntactically close to your input. Once an object is spawned, it can be dragged around to have it interact with the environment or other objects you put into a level. I typed in "weasel", and thus a weasel was created. I typed in "ninja", and thus a ninja was created. Tossing the weasel at him resulted in the rather unspectacular action of him picking it up and carrying it around.
Often enough the consequences of your deeds will be predictable—a pot of honey will attract a bee—, but it gets way more entertaining once you start exploring all kinds of options by trying to find 'out-of-box thinking' solutions, or just being curious about how some elements work with each other. Scribblenauts is a sandbox designed by 5th Cell, the team responsible for the Drawn to Life titles, and to me it seems that this sandbox is going to entertain both adults and kids. Thumbs up.
The level I played looked really impressive, as did the animations. When he's jumping, crawling, and climbing, Nathan seems to out-Tomb Raider Tomb Raider. The firefights are pretty intense; I probably would have enjoyed them more if it wasn't for my awesome skill of being able to miss even a huge dinosaur when having to aim at something with a gamepad. (Yes, guilty of playing most shooters on PC. And no, there are no dinosaurs in Uncharted 2.)
World of Darkness
While I was sitting down with CCP's Hilmur Petursson to talk about Dust 514, I also wanted to know a bit more about World of Darkness, a project the studio had confirmed only a few days prior to GDC Europe and gamescom. Petursson was coy with details but provided some basic hints. I asked him which lessons they had learned through EVE that they can apply to the project that is being done by CCP Atlanta. "The more we allow people to control their own world, the better", Petursson replies. It was something they had gradually done with EVE, and for them it had paid off. In his GDC Europe keynote, Petursson had made the distinction between "themepark MMOGs" and "playground MMOGs"; the former being titles where you can have a quick and entertaining experience within an environment that is very well defined (and restricted) by the developers, e.g. World of WarCraft, and the latter being your typical sandbox experience like EVE or Ultima Online—it's up to the player to shape the experience, to create meaning. CCP consider themselves "playground specialists." "We should be maximizing meaningful interaction between human beings." While he wouldn't say whether all players will be on one server like they are in EVE or placed on shard-like structures, Petursson did say: "The main element is that everyone can feel that they are a part of the same community."