Monday, June 8, 2009

Monday MUpdate: The Offical BestGamepadEver E3 Hands-On Report

With a bigger site design comes bigger pictures, apparently

Oh man. What a past week. I've been kind of dreading doing this write-up considering I've already done three write-ups and have another one to do after this one, but such is life in the high profile world of blogging. I am going to go as in depth as my memory allows me to be with this one since all other write-ups have been on a single game or subject of E3, and this one clearly operates as an official recount of all I did to those who weren't there.

For those who do not know, the reason I went to E3 is because I won an contest on to be a guest editor for the day. This came with all sorts of swanky privilages and passes to almost all the cool things shown at E3, along with transport and a place to stay. Essentially, I was pampered and spoiled for three days straight, and I'm pretty sure I came back more fat and lazy than I was before. Me and my travel companion were put up in a Sheraton in Downtown LA and given gift baskets full of candy, an IGN water bottle, and a t-shirt, as well as special Batman: Arkham Asylum themed key cards which we also got to keep. It was all pretty fancy-shmancy except for the fact that we had no internet in our room unless we paid $12.95 for 24 hours of use, but that's a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things.

So, as for E3, it's pretty massive. I know everybody "knows" it's big and all, but you don't really know until you're there. It's so big that I forgot all that I wanted to do while there and ended up making it up as I go along. There is always something to see or look at or do, and it can be pretty claustrophoic at times. I got to go as an exhibitor, meaning I was basically better than 90% of the people there, and I was allowed to go in early as well as receive priority treatment from booths that had long lines. None of this would have been possible without the guys from IGN and specifically my handlers Scott and Aki. Aki spent the entire day opening closed doors for me, and it was pretty amazing. We also had this guy Pete follow us as a camera man, and he got us behind a couple closed doors due to his camera and the interviews he needed to conduct. What I'm getting at is - no matter how big E3 looks, it's even bigger than that and it was even bigger for me because I had little to no restrictions.

E3 is split into two halves, west and east. I'd heard that in previous years it was smaller, but there were so many publishers going all out this year that they used up the whole of the convention center. I went into the west side first, and the first thing I was treated to, in big bright and bold colors, was Nostalgia for the Nintendo DS. I had been looking forward to this because it toted itself as being a steampunk RPG a la Final Fantasy III. There wasn't much to the demo, as it was just a presentation of the airship combat and the normal combat, as well as traveling. While playing that, I got the feeling that it would be, but the demo they presented was really really slow moving. Granted, this demo was essentially just a tutorial, and the set up was "Here's how you do this! Try it now!" I found that element of it kind of boring, but that's to be expected. One thing I thought was a great touch was the airship combat. It operates just as normal RPG combat but it's on all sides, and you have to choose in which direction you are looking which leaves you vulnerable to attacks from the other directions. While normal combat is like any RPG, I thought this added a nice element of danger and strategy to the gameplay, even if I was walked through the fight sequence painfully slow. The graphics in it are very basic, calling back to early RPGs like Final Fantasy VII, but less smooth. It seems like a good call back idea, and the title of the game is very apropos. Nostalgia is a game I still want to pick up when it comes out.

The next thing I saw, right at the doors open, was the Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 presentation from Activision, including a fifteen minute playable demo. Since this is a top priority game for me, I decided to be first in line for it, and sat right in the front row. I have already written up a VERY extensive recap of everything in the presentation over at the other blog I write for, Multiversity Comics, and you can find that write up right here. I'm not really in the mood to write another full length article about this demo, but suffice it to say, I'm pre-ordering this game on my way home from work. It looks absolutely incredible and I really can not wait. I got to briefly talk to one of the developers as well, and that was downright awesome. Plus, later in the day, I got to meet Stan "The Man" Lee. God bless Marvel and E3.

Another game I saw very early on was Ghostbusters. I gotta say, I'm really unimpressed by the game. I am going to go ahead and assume that I'm not the target audience because while I adore the Ghostbuster films (I own both and watch them on a regular basis), this game just looks kind of boring to me. It's incredibly cartoony and seems very repetitive. Essentially, you run around and you collect ghosts. Big shock, right? I just don't think this can hold up as a full game. I'm trying hard to not be negative about it, but nothing about it looked all that interesting. The only good factor about it is it's supposed to be connected to the films, though in what capacity I can't tell. This is a game I'll probably end up skipping though.

The next game I played was Halo 3: ODST, but just the new multiplayer aspect called Firefight. This is the game IGN had me review for them, and you can read my full write-up on that right here. I got very in depth with the game review, and it actually comes highly recommended from me. I'm not a big fan of the Halo series, the only game I really liked was Halo Wars. All the others just seemed very passable to me. ODST, on the other hand, seems much more up my alley. They made it much more challenging, and the multiplayer is insanely fun, not to mention I kicked so much ass (if you can't really read it, I "beat" the other players by about 6,000 points and only died once when I ran out of ammo). I'm debating if this is a pre-order as the special edition is really disappointing (it's just a controller and the Reach beta essentially), but I'll definitely pick up ODST at some point. Check out my write-up, though. I worked really hard on that one considering that was one of the few I was obligated to do.

Following my work, I was on my way to see the new Batman game when I paused to see a presentation on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles In Time Re-Shelled. Fans of the old TMNT side-scrolling arcade games, pay attention: it looks awesome. It's essentially just like the old game but in three dimensions. I'm 100% aware that the majority of the charm of the old game is that it's in two dimensions and is a basic side scroller. However, that doesn't make this look any less awesome. In fact, I think it looks down right amazing. The graphics are really great for an Xbox Live! Arcade game, pretty much on the same level as that Watchmen game was. It's essentially a re-done trip down memory lane, and granted, while a lot of that stuff is getting tired, for what it's worth the game does look really good.

On to Batman: Arkham Asylum. Some of you might remember my previous rant about how unimpressed I generally was with the idea of this Batman game and how I figured it would ultimately be a dissapointment. Well, I'm here to tell you that I'm not unconvinced of that, but it does look much better in person than it does in videos. First off, the voice acting? Holy wow. It's incredible. Mark Hammil does so much better as the Joker than I remember from my childhood. The "free flowing combat" also works really well. I thought of the fight system in Too Human, and how that was supposed to be sort of free flowing and easier to manage due to the massive hordes you were fighting, but Batman really nails it. Here's the thing about Batman, though - as much as I want to like this game, I just can't seem to. It looks like it's trying to combine too many elements from other games (the stealth of Splinter Cell, the fear of Bioshock), and it's just doing it in a very cliche way. As much as I am a fan of the character, the game looks like it would get dull. The fun of free flow wears off and the way the villains look... well, to be a fan of the comics and then to see them is a little disheartening. I definitely will give this game more of a shot when I can play the full thing from beginning to end upon release, but I have very low hopes for it, even after E3.

One funny thing - there is actually two full booths for Arkham Asylum. It had a small caged area with a big ARKHAM ASYLUM sign over it and a table in the center which you could strap yourself down on, and then it had a smaller booth not even 20 feet away shaped like a tunnel with pictures of all the villains and a display of the special edition. Needless to say, I'm still not buying it. And those two booths don't count all the other stations that had Batman on display. It was probably the most over displayed game of E3!

I walked over to one of the two Valve stations to try out Left 4 Dead 2. I had heard before it was announced that it would be at E3 at a secret booth, and this is very true. Next to the IGN office at E3 was a Valve office, and L4D2 was the only thing on display as well as free posters (that are really nothing to write home about). Play Left 4 Dead 2 there was much nicer than on the floor, but that's a small price to pay. Here's the thing about Left 4 Dead 2: it essentially is exactly the old game wrapped in a bright new package. There are new weapons (which I noted on my Twitter are like Half Life weapons), there are new zombie models, there are new special zombies (such as the Charger, which I mistyped "Croucher" on Twitter for some reason), and that's all very well and good. But after about five minutes of playing this demo, I realized I'm just playing Left 4 Dead in a new locale. To be quite honest, there was nothing special about this demo. That really upsets me. It would appear that Valve is trying to pull a fast one on us and give us old wine in a new skin, to borrow a phrase somewhat. Sure, there are some new zombie classes yet to be announced, but the weapons aren't all that new. They act just like the old ones but with different models. The melee weapons are fun, but the problem is that you'll be using an axe while everyone is using high powered rifles and shotguns, picking off the zombies from a distance and leaving you with two or three to actually kill. Valve said that there would be an interwoven narrative with the campaigns, so that's all well and good, but is it $60 good? I'm not convinced it is. The problem with this game is that if I get it, there is no need to play the first anymore since this game offers all the same multiplayer modes, and it all boils down to the fact that I'll be losing money on this purchase. I don't fully understand why they didn't just release an expansion pack, and of course I forgot to ask, but we'll see. Right now, I can't really say that Left 4 Dead 2 is an exciting proposition, as much as it hurts me to say.

While I was waiting for Left 4 Dead 2, though, I saw a live presentation of Splinter Cell: Conviction, a game that we could only watch and not play. I gotta say, I loved the original Splinter Cell and never played the sequels, but this one looks quite amazing. Stealth games are a lot of fun, but I think what really works about this game is the way the material is presented. The story happens in real time, and the guy presenting the game explained what all of the little flashes and background things mean. While the gameplay looks to be similar to the old game (if not flashier and better articulated), it definitely gives a brand new way to experience the story of the game. This definitely was a surprise of E3. I like Old Shephard and the cinematic take on the Splinter Cell mythos a lot, and I might actually have to go back and play the sequels I never bothered to play (in my defense, I skipped them because I was playing Splinter Cell on my PC and didn't want to switch over to the console for the game).

On to Brutal Legend. Big surprise here, but I loved it. The game is SO much better when you get to play it. You get to ride around on dragon car things, beat people up with giant axes, and best of all? You actually play the guitar. To an extent, anyway. Remember in Zelda when you would play your Ocarina for certain things to happen? It's just like that with Brutal Legend, except you're playing a guitar. It's positively hilarious. Jack Black's voice acting is really spot on as well. The game in person pretty much looks like the type of thing Jack Black was born to do, or at the very least the reason why he and Kyle Gass made Tenacious D. The only thing I really noted outside of how much I enjoyed it was the enemies. They're really hard! I don't know if the demo was set that way, but normally in this type of game where you're swinging around giant axes at hooded demon monks, they go flying, but not these guys. They took a lot of smacks to fall down. This is not a negative thing by any regards. Your weapons all have various combos, and when you pick up the weapon the combo is explained to you. But good golly, I was not expecting the game to look so tough. It's definitely a buy though, no doubts in my mind. I had high hopes for it, and it looked even better in person.

Next was the mother of all appointments: Assasins Creed 2. Holy wow. I don't know if I should write extensively or leave everyone in bewilderment. I got to talk a lot with one of the chief designers about everything and anything involved in the game and it looks so amazing. I'll give you all as much info as I can remember in hopes that if you had any doubts in the game before, they'll be gone now. In talking with the designer, he told us that everyone behind the game was fully aware of complaints. They took everything anyone said into consideration and used that feed back in order to make a better game. And it shows! First off, the "white room" as they call it (the time in between you going into the Animus, in 2012) is now more intricate, and you will be able to do and interact with more. Kristen Bell is back, and will once again play a big part, as well as the mysterious characters we saw at the end of the first game. The gameplay inside the Animus is going to be much more complex now as well. The demo opened with Altair Ezio sitting on a bench with two thieves. A guard approached and Ezio quickly dispatched of him. However, instead of taking the body and hoping no one notices, Ezio put the body on the bench and the two thieves held it up. In the game, you will be able to form allegiances in order to do your kills more efficiently. Next to Ezio was a large crowd, all interacting with one another much more than they would in the first game. Instead of everyone walking slowly somewhere, people were standing, chatting, dancing, having a good time. Ezio ran up to the roofs using the same intricate hopping and climbing system of the first game and was treated to Da Vinci's flying apparatus on the top. In the game, you will actually meet and become friends with Da Vinci as well as others who will build you devices to get you through the world. Using the apparatus, you then fly through the entire map, showing off the intense depths as well as scenery. In the background fireworks are going off, people are celebrating, and there is not even the smallest moment of stall time. It's absolutely incredible how much is happening at once. As soon as you start flying, the guards freak out and assume you are a demon and start shooting fire arrows at you. The flying system works by building up momentum and using that to gain height, as in you dive and then pull up and glide. It seems and sounds more complicated than it really is.

In the second half of the Assasins Creed 2 demo, we were shown an actual assassination. There are now new moves to take down guards, including one move that will allow you to sneak up and pounce upon two guards at once. Also, before you'd be able to use a leap of faith to hide in a bale of hay, but no more. If a guard hears you, he'll come after you. But don't worry. You can actually grab a guard and pull him in when he comes after you, much as a cat will sneak attack a mouse from the shadows. From here, we saw the actual assassination. In this instance, Ezio was able to steal an enemies weapon and use it against him. Upon killing all the guards, the target was then demoralized and too scared to fight Ezio, making the assassination process easier. The time spent in dialogue as Ezio lowered him to the kill was also much smaller, and the get away was made more easy than having to run around for ten minutes trying to lose guards. It's all very well done. We were also insured that many of the twists and turns were yet to come, and the best way to enjoy this game is to steer clear of spoilers. When you see the action in person, it's a much better game.

All in all, if you aren't getting Assassin's Creed 2, all I can say is: what's wrong with you? Seriously? Do you just not like good gaming? Or is there too much thought into this game for you? I hear there's a new Katamari Damacy coming out. Hope you have fun with that.

At this time, I was treated to lunch and sat down to write my ODST article. The next game on the menu, however, was DJ Hero. As odd as it is, I'm really excited for this game. It looks very fun, and much more interesting than Guitar Hero or Rock Band, to be honest. You get a little turn table and operate both the "vinyl record" (i.e. buttons) and the various knobs and switches on the rest of the turntable. You have to do this in synch in order to pull off the various scratch sound effects. It seems like it could be a lot of fun, especially when at a party or intoxicated. I'm not sure how well the game would hold in the long run, as Rock Band and Guitar Hero are games you can forget about and then randomly play again and love, especially with some of the crazy hard guitar parts. DJ Hero? I'm not so sure. I can say that this will definitely be a lot of fun for a good month. After that it might just collect dust. Either way, it's at least worth a play or two if you can get your hands on it.

From here I made my way over to Bethesda. Bethesda had four games on display, only two of which I paid any attention to. The first game I saw was the new Fallout 3 expansion, Point Lookout. This expansion does not look any more interesting from the previous ones based on the one building I got to see, but I talked with one of the actual Fallout 3 developers and it sounds much better than it looks. Point Lookout is an expansion in order to show the world of Fallout 3 that wasn't directly effected by nuclear attack but rather indirectly effected by the fall of man, and is a decidedly darker chapter in the over all Fallout storyline because of that. It is set in "the most haunted city in the US", but don't expect to fight any ghosts. What you will see, however, are cultists. Lots and lots of cultists. So if you've ever wanted to pop one in the head of a Scientologist, now is your chance. You'll also be getting a brand new special rifle similar to Lincoln's Repeater, as well as other fancy new guns. What I took away from the conversation is that this will pretty much be a game for die hard Fallout 3 fans like myself. With every expansion to Fallout, they make the world a little bit bigger and expansive to expand the mythos of the disaster, but it's the sort of thing that you have to want to play to enjoy. There is no way to casually play it.

The other game I saw at Bethesda was Wet, and the only reason I saw it because, unbeknownst to me, Eliza Dushku was there promoting it. She does the main voice of it and was signing posters as well as being interviewed. When they put on the display of the game, I gotta say - totally unimpressed. It doesn't look like anything I'd enjoy at all. Essentially, you play another overly hot woman who is overly obsessed with murdering people for vengeance and money. Nothing new here. I don't really have a lot to report on it, but I will say it looks entirely passable. They were also showing off a game with Mickey Rourke as the main character called Rogue Warrior. It was a first person shooter, though, similar to a Call of Duty type game. Except with Mickey Rourke.

From here on out, we began to see less presentations and just general gaming going on. I tried desperately to find Mass Effect 2, Borderlands, and Bioshock 2, but to no avail. Gearbox later contacted me and told me they were in a private booth, so that explains that one, but it's unfortunate as I really would have liked to report back on those. We did see some games and talk with a few people and I'll run down a few of those:

1. LEGO Rock Band looks like a waste of money, unless you absolutely love Europe's "The Final Countdown." You could not walk by the LEGO stage without hearing this song being sung poorly by someone.

2. Where The Wild Things Are, the movie tie-in game, looks adorable.

3. Square Enix knows how to bring the presentations. They had a huge TV that is probably equivalent to the height of my house playing highly rendered Final Fantasy trailers, including one for a game that I believe was called Final Fantasy: Dissidea. Basically, the point is that you can use any character from any of the Final Fantasy series to fight any other Final Fantasy character. You wanted to beat up Sephiroth with Squall instead of Cloud? Here's your chance! They are also releasing a whole batch of new statues, and they all look amazing.

4. Monkey Island is officially back in Tales Of Monkey Island, "exclusively for your Wii and PC!" Thanks a lot, pirate who gave me a button. You both made my dreams come true and then shattered all hope in the span of two seconds.

5. Guitar Hero 5 is just like every other Guitar Hero. Surprised? Well, ok, to be fair, now there is a new mode called "Expert Plus," and anyone can play the same instruments at any given time. If you and your bff both want to play the drums, you can. There's no more arguing over who makes the better Lars Ulrich.

6. Why is there really a Saw game? There was this one booth made up of a giant Saw-themed wall and one TV on it. No lines, no nothing. Apparently, people who played it enjoyed it, but it looked pretty awful.

7. The new Tony Hawk game, Ride, seems like a bad idea. Most of the people who actually tried the demo looked bored or confused. I stayed away from it. If I'm going to skateboard, I'll get that broken board out of my closet, not buy a game controller to stand on and break in my living room.

8. My handler tried the new Forza 3 game hands-on, as I'm not a big racing game guy, and he described it as the highlight of his E3. Take that for what you will, racing fans.

The last two games I really got to sit down and play as well as get a presentation on was DC Universe Online and Darksiders. I plan to cover DCU for the comic blog more than this one since no one who reads this is an avid comic reader or a PS3 fan, but suffice it to say, this is a MMO that only comic fans will really enjoy. Sure, others can play it, but it is clearly designed for people who hear the name Marv Wolfman and know why that's important. Darksiders, on the other hand, looks like a ton of fun. I'll be the first to admit that the game doesn't look overly special. You play War and are on some kind of quest (unknown in the demo) to get revenge for something against someone in a world positively torn apart. The game plays like every other game you've played where you run around and kill a lot of things with big weapons, except this is decidely much more bad ass. A woman at the booth told us she considered it "a bad ass Zelda," and I can easily see that. With the way you collect power ups and fight, it's easy to compare it to a more brutal type of Zelda game. I must really stress that as much as I really enjoyed the demo and plan to pick up the full game, this game doesn't strike me as anything special. It's just something that's incredibly fun. I really do recommend it, but I can see a lot of people disliking it.

That about wraps it up for all I got to see and do and play at E3. I didn't get to play Project Natal or meet Milo, but I talked to people who had done both and they said it was surprisingly fun. I'm not sure how fun it would be beyond the initial week of purchase, and everyone describes Milo as either creepy or by just saying "Skynet." There was no presentation on the new Metal Gear Solid game for the 360, but I have to admit that I find it hilarious Kojima would think it's a good idea to make a new game based on a character so universally despised by MGS fans everywhere. I'm also really disappointed I didn't get to try out Mass Effect 2, Borderlands, or Bioshock 2, but se la vie. I think I saw enough cool stuff/exclusive behind the scenes treatment to make up for it.

I can't really think of what else I did or played in regards to E3, or at least nothing that relates to this gaming blog. I got to meet the president and founder of IGN as well as other big wigs, and that was pretty sweet for me. I also got to go to IHOP after drinking 8 to 10 Stella Artois' which a) is the best beer I've ever had and b) is a rough estimate of how many I drank since no one in my entourage is sure. If there are any questions whatsoever in regards to what I discussed or if you are wondering if I saw something and forgot about it, please a comment. I'd be more than happy to discuss it. I see my E3 trip as a way to help all people who don't get to go to E3 experience it vicariously. I updated my twitter non-stop (which must have been both cool and annoying to my followers) and I took extensive mental notes on things I felt were important and share worthy. So please leave any comments. E3 is awesome, and I can only hope to go again one day.

One last thing that I think is very important to write: going to E3 as I did is a lot of fun because I was a contest winner, an exhibitor, and an all around VIP. However, going to E3 because you have to and it's your job? No matter how much you love video games, it's not as of an enjoyable experience. I'll explain why: since I was the big IGN contest winner, I spent a lot of time meeting many different employees and seeing what they had to do. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that I got to see more of E3 than people who do this for a living did. A lot of people working in the industry spend all day in meetings seeing only specific games or things, or in their companies particular "war room." E3 is best attended as a casual on-goer, but when you do that you don't get to see things like Assassin's Creed 2 because that's for special appointments only. So as much as I loved writing write-ups on ODST, M:UA2, and this, I feel bad for all the people who worked hard to do this for a living and get to see less than I did. But that's just me, considering I'm a bleeding heart activist and all that. Just some food for thought.

Oh. And for the record? That is me in that top picture. I'm the one walking up on the left with the huge bag filled with goodies.

No comments: