E3 2013

23 06 2013

I was able to attend the show on Wednesday the 12th to get a preview of some of the exciting things on the horizon of the gamesphere. This is a particularly important E3 since it is the first look at the newly revealed 8th generation consoles from Sony and Microsoft, in the form of the PS4 and Xbox One respectively. Here are some of the things I had the opportunity to look at during the show:

Mario Kart 8 (Wii U): A new generation of Nintendo consoles brings with it many guarantees: one of those things is a new Mario Kart game. The biggest addition and gimmick of this new entry is karts that morph to different terrain to take advantage of a greater variety of terrain. For example, racers might speed down a long and narrow canyon straightaway but at certain junctures, be able to transition to driving on the wall while others continue down the traditional route, then morph into hang-gliders to descend from an air. The utilization of different terrain in the courses and also divergent paths is an interesting idea. Optional motion control makes a return along with different vehicle types, but there was a noticeable lack of crazy items and power weapons flying around compared to the previous console entry, even with 12 drivers per race. Throughout 3 race courses I never saw a blue shell or lightning bolt, so this aspect of the game may have been toned down which is both good and bad; on one hand the game is much less random and frustrating without the constant barrage of “kill the leader” items but at the same time some of the personality and wackiness of the game is lost.

Bayonetta 2 (Wii U): One of my floor-playable favorites of the year, Bayonetta 2 feels and plays nearly identical to its predecessor which is an all-around good thing. The ante has been upped in terms of the ridiculous spectacle of the game, featuring new features such as “Umbran Climax” that temporarily powers-up every normal attack to a massively destructive weave-enhanced move as well as even crazier action sequences and set-pieces, such as a fight that takes place on top of a fighter jet soaring through an urban cityscape. I remain mystified on why this title became a Wii U console exclusive but I can’t deny that it is a tempting draw.

The Wonderful 101 (Wii U): A 5-player party brawler where players control superheroes that rally hordes of civilians to fight heroically, reminiscent of Pikmin. The main mechanic of the game is that the player is able to form various weapons from his mass of followers such as a gigantic fist, hand cannon, or hammer by drawing its corresponding shape. It had a quaint aesthetic but the gameplay itself seems like it would thrive with a full complement of players but would be somewhat underwhelming as a solo experience.

2012 Wii U Pro controller: I made a point of getting some hands-on time with the Wii U Pro controller since it will likely be many players’ go-to for the upcoming Smash Bros. title on the Wii U. Aesthetically and ergonomically, the Pro controller emulates the 360 controller, but the baffling positioning of the face buttons–where the right analog stick would be on a 360 controller–makes for an awkward configuration. Hopefully it will be a simple matter of acclimation to get over this difference but right now it has me worried about the usability.

Dragon’s Crown (PS3): I was only marginally interested in this downloadable title until I was actually able to try it and see it up close. It retains Vanillaware’s visual pedigree; every screen is stunning and mesmerizing to look at, even the world map/level select has more effort put into it than some games have in a full level of the game. Aside from the gorgeous art direction, the gameplay itself is also a satisfying dungeon-brawler derivative with a few interesting twists on the conventional character classes and side-scrolling beat-em-up gameplay. The game became a buy when we encountered a black sabretooth tiger and a velociraptor in one dungeon and made both into rideable player mounts.

Ray’s the Dead (PS4): One of the featured indie games that will be coming to the PS4 as an incentive for the PS+ subscription, in this game you play as Ray, a bumbling zombie with the ability to resurrect and control a swarm of followers as you roam about the outskirts of a dim suburban town. The gameplay takes ques from Pikmin and Katamari Damacy, in that you have certain specialized zombies that you can control and direct, and that the main goal of each section is to uncover and recruit as many zombies as possible to meet a certain threshold to continue past a barrier. The build I played had a few bugs here and there but looks to be a quirky and fun experience when it is available along with various other indie games on the PS4 this fall.

PS4 Dualshock 4 controller: One of the important things for me at the show that I made a point of was to be able to try the controllers of the next-generation consoles. The PS4 felt different from a simple perspective of shape, the handles are thinner and the palm of the hand wraps around them more fully, and the weight of the controller is comparable to that of the current-gen Dualshock 3. The face buttons are about where you would expect them to be. The one thing that threw me off the most was the shoulder buttons: the L1/R1 buttons are more ellipse shaped and have less give, felt like clicking a mouse instead of depressing a button. The triggers are also of an unusual recurve shape that will prevent fingers from slipping off and have about the same springiness and depression depth as the Dualshock 3. I can see myself getting used to the new design after some time but after 3 long generations of predecessor controllers sharing the same basic design, holding this new shape just somehow felt “wrong.”

Beyond: Two Souls (PS3): Quantic Dream’s greatly anticipated new offering looks and plays much like its acclaimed predecessor Heavy Rain. For the demo players assumed control of Ellen Page’s character, who’s name I can’t remember. We are dropped in to the middle of the action in an urban warzone in Africa with Page’s character assuming the role of some special forces badass, that she unfortunately isn’t entirely convincing in. The gameplay consists mostly of QTEs and “think fast” button presses with some embellishments from what we have seen in previous entries. The most prevalent addition are action sequences which have no prompt but feature a time-dilation effect indicating the player must press the right analog stick in the correct direction following the character’s path of movement in order to execute the dodge/attack/lunge successfully. Alas these interactions can be very ambiguous, as sometimes the character is moving their body away, other times they are moving one of their limbs for a parry/intercept, and sometimes they appear to be doing both and it is very difficult to read. I don’t believe this demo did much of a service for this upcoming title, but then again I do not think Quantic Dreams games in general owe themselves to demo playthroughs since they are driven by the intrigue of the story rather than segments of action gameplay.

Killer Instinct (XOne): One of the surprises of the show was the resurrection of the Killer Instinct franchise as an Xbox One exclusive. The build playable at the show featured only two classic characters, Jago and Sabrewulf, with updated looks and gameplay. I personally didn’t particularly like either character’s next-gen makeover but the game itself looks quite gorgeous with a crisp frame rate and absolutely absurd particle effects and cascading sparkstorms when the combatants strike each other. The fighting system itself has received an overhaul but retains some of the recognizable flavors of the games of old, namely extensive multi-hit combos and combo breakers. In the new combo system, the normal attacks chain from light to heavy as one might expect from a conventional fighting system, however at the end of the normal string a character can perform a “linker” special move to reset the string of normal attacks and continue the combo repeatedly. The opponent receiving the pummeling can try to utilize the new combo breaker system to stop the assault by pressing both light, medium, or heavy attack buttons at the same time in anticipation of the offender’s move that is hitting you at the time, but if you guess wrong, your breakers are disabled for about 2 seconds while the opponent shreds you with their attacks. Several other conventional fighting game mechanics have surfaced in KI including meter management, EX moves, and an “Ultra” comeback mechanic. But what may be the most interesting is KI’s pursuit of a free-to-play model in which players can use Jago online for free but additional characters can be purchased individually.

Lost Planet 3 (PS3): It’s unfortunate but every show has it’s stinker and this year it was Capcom’s latest entry into their Lost Planet shooter series. Almost everything that could be wrong was wrong with the demo I played on the Playstation 3, from clunky controls, blocky graphics, uninspired run-and-gun, encounters that last a tad too long, and mediocre sound design. It was the only game that I walked away from before I finished, and there was no line behind me. Disappointing.

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z (PS3): An unexpected new entry into the Ninja Gaiden series was revealed in the form of Yaiba. The twist is that this time you play as a resurrected half-cyborg ninja on a quest for vengeance against Ryu Hayabusa, the protagonist of the main line of games. Although the game takes place in the Ninja Gaiden world, there are some obvious differences to the casual observer. The game features a vibrant cel-shaded visual style with a more comic-booky feel to it. The game also adheres to a much more unapologetically raunchy and juvenile tone, with fuckwords, not-so-subtle innuendos and violent dismemberments spread throughout. Despite all this Yaiba manages to be appealing and likable in his over-the-top crudeness, and the overall aesthetic and spirit of the game is reminiscent of Madworld. The gameplay itself is similar to conventional current-gen Ninja Gaiden games, featuring oversized bosses, and hordes of swarming zombie mooks that Yaiba flattens by the dozen. Yaiba has most of the basic ninja moves but also has some surpises like a rocket-powered punching arm, a detachable chain hand for grappling, and the ability to use the severed limbs of his victims as improvised weapons to wreak carnage and destruction on those that remain. This game has some kinks but has potential to be a cult-classic or sleeper hit which I think is precisely the territory that it is trying to carve for itself.

Batman: Arkham Origins (PS3): I endured a two-hour line to get a glimpse of this upcoming entry into the Arkham series. I was apprehensive about this game because for this entry the esteemed Rocksteady Studios was ditched in favor of Warner Bros.’ 1st party Montreal studio. Fortunately, after seeing this 10-minute gameplay walkthrough, my fears were dissuaded; the game looks great. At it’s core Arkham Origins looks mostly to be Arkham City 2. The demo began featuring Batman grappling and gliding his way through a snowy Gotham cityscape, notably less distressed and dystopian as the one we saw in Arkham City; Arkham Origins is a prequel to the first two games featuring a slightly younger Batman encountering some of his most dangerous adversaries for the first time, the main contenders this time around being the likes of Bane, Black Mask, Deadshot, and Deathstroke. The parts of the game shown were very reminiscent of the gameplay of Arkham City which is not at all a bad thing, but with expansions on certain features and concepts. For instance, there are a few new enemy types such as the “martial artist” that figure into a little more back-and-forth flow of combat pertaining to Batman’s combat counter system. But perhaps the most interesting feature they showcased was Batman’s enhancements to his detective mode. The new system features a virtual re-enactment of the scene of investigation interpolated from the various pieces of evidence that Batman scans in through his cowl sensor that is projected onto the scene of the crime and can be played forwards and backwards in real time to piece together what actually occurred at the site. Overall Arkham Origins was one of the most exciting new games showcased at the show and the best part is that it will be out in just about 4 months.

These were the titles that I was able to look at up close during the show. I only had but a single day, so I couldn’t cover everything, but some other highlights of the show were Bungie’s Destiny, Respawn Entertainment’s Titanfall, and Nintendo’s new Super Smash Bros. entry.

E3 2012 Impressions

6 06 2012

Dead or Alive 5 (PS3): Plays like Dead or Alive. Not sure what else to say. Pretty ladies that get sweaty and dirty.

DmC (PS3): I was pretty curious about giving this a spin to see if it was up to snuff and I think Ninja Theory is beginning to mold this game into something worth paying attention to. The combat controls were a jarring adjustment for me because of some key differences that we’ve come to expect from the standard Devil May Cry series: There is no lock-on button and evasive rolls are scripted to L1 and R1, which took a lot of getting used to. Dante defaults to his good ol’ handguns on square and sword on triangle but some of the conventions have changed, like using the circle button for launcher attacks. The most intriguing part of the new combat system is Angel and Demon mode, which are essentially modifiers that transmogrify Dante’s moveset on the fly by holding down L2 or R2 respectively. Angel and Demon mode cause Dante’s weapon to physically change from the normal sword to either an oversized sickle or a heavy battleaxe. Additionally, it changes the square button as well from standard gunfire to a vertebrae-esque grappling weapon which strongly reminds me of Nero’s devil bringer. These facets require a fair amount of finger acrobatics but there seems like depth and complexity buried beneath. There are combat elements and puzzle elements that are color coded to clue the player in as to which moveset will be effective in certain situations. The visuals were surreal and a departure from what one would expect of typical DMC style…but DmC is carving its own niche and is beginning to grow more comfortable in its own skin it seems. Dante himself seems to have more of the attitude and swagger that one would expect in this showing, as though he himself is settling in to his own shoes.

God of War Ascension multiplayer (PS3): Yeah, I’m going to talk about my own game, wanna fight about it? We had a really good showing today and I think the reception was overwhelmingly positive. As a quick overview you enter the battlefield as either a Spartan or Trojan warrior, champions of the gods all and on a blood quest to gain favor with their aligned deity. There is a small taste of the character customization system, where players can choose different armor, weapons, and magic abilities which grant unique attributes or techniques. The match itself is set in a forsaken desert temple in the shadow of the cyclopean titan Polyphemus straining against his bindings like a mad animal. Scattered across the level are various subweapons, power ups, capture points and sinister traps all of which the cunning opportunist can use to his advantage. The basic combat itself has a healthy depth while being true to GoW gameplay, players must mix light attacks, heavy attacks, grapples, blocks, parries and evasive dodges to counter opponents’ tactics and prevail over the enemy. The gore that one would expect is duly delivered; one can scarcely throw a stone without hitting someone being disemboweled, dismembered, bisected, or getting their skull shattered. At the very end of the match, if you are true champion of the gods, you slice the face of a titan in half with a spear infused with the very might of Olympus. It’s good stuff if I say so myself.

Persona 4 Arena (PS3): It’s a purdy 4 button fighter from Arc System Works. In true Arc System Works fashion, you must internalize and master various eclectic button combinations for moves and system mechanics that you’ve never heard of or seen in any other fighting game and the screen is smothered with icons, gauges, and symbology that must be deciphered like a foreign language. All I know about this game is the grab character fights with a folding chair and his instakill move is called “Brofist.” Tempting.

NintendoLand (Wii U): Being an exhibitor at a trade show has its perks, like not having to beat the crowd to stand in a 2-hour-long line. So I figured it would be a good time to scrutinize Nintendo’s new piece of bastard tech the Wii U. Their centerpiece for the show as a compilation game called NintendoLand which will likely be a launch window offering for the system, featuring 12 minigames drawn from various IP that will showcase some of the potential for the new system’s unique control offerings, 5 of which were on display. First let’s look at the controller:

Controller: I wanted to hate this thing for being fat, unweildy, and grotesque, but it ended up impressing me. The unit is surprisingly light for its size, and the screen is actually very very nice. The motion control capabilities on the device were also fairly impressive, I’d say a notch above the sensitivity and fidelity of the Wii MotionPlus. What is perhaps a concern is that the thing has no wriststrap or other safety device to speak of…one couldn’t help but notice how gingerly the apparatus was handed over by the booth workers. This seems like you could make some expensive mistakes with this thing, especially after playing with buttered snails and astroglide.

Console: Looks like it has a small, compact footprint and the graphics are up to snuff…which is to say it is now simply comparable to the other competing systems. Saw Ninja Gaiden 3 running on it and it looked pretty damn good.

Animal Crossing Sweet Day: Sounds emasculating, looks emasculating, is hilariously fun. This little gem handily demonstrates the Wii U’s potential for asymmetric play and diverse player experiences. In this game, 4 players use sideways Wii remotes on a team while the 5th mans the tablet and uses his own screen. The 4 players have to work together and navigate a small maze area and gather 50 candy pieces in total while trying to outmaneuver the two guard pawns used by the tablet player, who controls both simultaneously with both analog sticks. Obscenely simple fun, but I can see good things in store for this game especially if they bundle the system with a handle of Johnnie Walker Black Label (you can have that one on me, Nintendo).

Takamaru’s Ninja Castle: Showcases the motion control and sensitivity of the tablet well. Plays like an arcade gun game, except you hold the tablet ipad style using motion control to aim and use flicking motions on the touch screen to jettison shuriken into a posse of incompetent ninjas who allow themselves to be seen. I also really dig the aesthetic in this and other NintendoLand entries, kind of a papercraft/origami look that is quaint yet servicable.

Legend of Zelda Battle Quest: Basically a coop rail shooter where some players control swords to hack through the front lines and one player uses the motion control tablet to snipe with arrows. Pretty cool but looks like it would be exhausted quickly.

Donkey Kong Crash Course: The only solo game of the bunch and a real tough mother. In this game you control the most fragile rolling cart on earth and use tilt controls to (very) carefully navigate through a multitiered roller coaster fun house of fiendish design. Compellingly challenging and relentlessly demanding; you go too fast you die, you go too slow you die, you go too hard you die, you go too soft you die, you die, you die, you die. Not recommended for people with Parkinsons or ADHD.

Luigi’s Ghost Mansion: A fairly simple little party game with a brilliant concept: 4 players control ghost hunters in a labyrinthine top-down view and the 5th player with the tablet and his own screen stalks them relentlessly looking for openings to murder them. Of course, the ghost is invisible to the 4 main players. The humans have flashlights which reveal the ghost and deplete his hit points, and also can be used to revive fallen players. However, the flashlights have diminishing power and require battery pickups that drop randomly. The game is on a timer which gives incentive for the humans to split up which the ghost can then exploit.

Batman Arkham City Armored Edition: Same game but with gimmicky new cool stuff intergrated with the tablet controller: Motion control batarangs, real-time map screen that’s always open, and bat computer all at the fingertips…might be cool but according to the Rocksteady guy there it’s basically the same game…May be well worth it for Wiii U adopters who haven’t yet played Arkham City (btw, you should be slapped if this is the case).

Aliens Colonial Marines: Floor playable, but I didn’t get a chance to try…dammit. What I did see was that there is a team deatmatch type mode where one side controls the swarming xenomorphs. Saw that there was a merciful 3rd-person camera for the bugs which will hopefully help mitigate the throwing-up-between-matches dizziness problem of previous games. I am just really really hoping this doesn’t turn out to be Aliens vs. Predator -Predator.

Street Fighter x Tekken (Vita): Exactly what you’d expect. Tried it out, didn’t make me want to buy a Vita. I got too spoiled on having 2 shoulder buttons on one side and the dpad/analog still don’t feel right for a fighting game.

Playstation All Stars Battle Royale (PS3): Didn’t play, but noticed the inclusion of Big Daddy of Bioshock fame which has very interesting implications…namely that this game is not at all limited to PS exclusive franchises and now the door has been blown wide open and literally anyone could show up in this game. The imagination wanders far when considering what exactly the roster will look like when the game rolls out in Q4. Could be legendary.

Last of Us, Assassin’s Creed III, Beyond, Black Ops 2, Tomb Raider, Ni no Kuni: Trailers look hot.

That’s all I had time for and I’ll likely be working for the rest of the show…let me know caught your guys’ fancy