Quick Hits: Dance Central, XCOM
There aren't enough hours in the day for E3. The expo floors are packed with video screens, play booths and makeshift meeting rooms. Some of the bigger news outlets here have upwards of 18 people attending, a small army setting out each day to invade and conquer the Staples center. GWJ is just a tight-knit squad of news solders, like Gears of War with significantly more neck.
What I'm trying and failing to say here is that there's no way we'll get to see it all. But we've seen a lot. Here's a couple of games that stood out to me on E3 Day Two.
Harmonix Lead Designer Dean Tate sneaks up behind me as I watch the professional dancers shake. "Are you ready to try?"
I tell him I'd like to ask him a few design questions first. You know, for journalistic integrity. Totally. He nods. I think he knows I'm stalling.
The hardest part of a dance game, from my own nerdy perspective, is getting past the initial embarrassment of dancing. No one wants to be that guy or girl, awkwardly doing the Carlton in the middle of the dance floor. Adding controllers or floorpads to the experience runs the risk of reminding you that you're dancing in your apartment instead of up on the stage.
Microsoft's Kinect solves the problem of the peripherals, tracking the moves you make without making you hold a Wiimote or stomp on the ground. But the real secret sauce to Dance Central is just how cool Harmonix makes you feel in the game.
After stalling as long as I could, I stepped up on the stage with a professional dancer and waved my arms around to start selecting a song. Unlike our experiences with Move, Kinect didn't ask me for any crazy calibration techniques. I put my arms up and I was done. Finally I picked an M.I.A. track and waited for the cues.
Shawn shot video of the event, mostly for blackmail purposes, but I've got a feeling the footage will show just how much of a blast I had. Did I dance well? I got 4 stars, but more importantly I felt like I was learning a dance routine and being given positive feedback when I did well. When the Freestyle section kicked in and I quickly reverted to my established White Boy Booty Shakin' moves, I had completely bought into the groove of the song. I never thought I'd enjoy a dance game, but this was a blast and Kinect performed extremely well.
2K has a lot to prove with their reboot of the X-Com franchise, especially with the transition from a tactical strategy game to a first-person experience. They've convinced me XCOM will be a great game, but I'm not sure it'll be an X-Com game.
Our demo started in XCOM headquarters, an old airplane hanger in the 1950's that contains alien tech research labs and a War Room where players select missions. 2K stressed that the mission selection requires strategy, as there are consequences to saving a family from an alien threat instead of harvesting fallen alien wreckage. We got a feel for the NPCs we'd be interacting with and picked up some new alien weaponry, then headed out to stop Blob invaders from slaughtering a neighborhood.
The first-person mission sequences are easily the strongest part of the experience. With a couple of AI-controlled teammates, we watched as the player moved slowly through the neighborhood, searching for signs of the disturbance. Once we found the extraterrestrials, the action got chaotic. The Blob creatures from the first trailer played out in full form here, attacking and attempting to take over characters in a frightening, forceful manner. Our retaliation came in the form of Blobitovs, explosive fire grenades made from research on the creatures themselves.
As you can imagine, the house was a wreck when we finished off the last blob. Without control over the squadmates, one of our team had perished in the fight but a civilian had been saved. That must have angered the Blobs, because suddenly the whole house was attacked by the Obelisk shown in the trailer. It was an epic battle, with cars and fences disintegrating as we tried to flee. The demo ended on a fade to white just as the Obelisk was about to finish us off.
Like I said, epic firefights. But is it X-Com? 2K is going for their own spin on the game, and the world they've laid out looks pretty amazing. XCOM might not be the reboot fans were looking for, but I left the demo eager to explore 2K's version of a 1950s alien invasion. Count me in.