Danielle's E3 Day Two wrap-up

No High Scores

Let me tell you a little something about E3. You may be reading about all the awesome, big games. Mass Effect 3. Arkham City. Gears 3. BioShock Infinite. Modern Warfare 3. Uncharted 3. Skyrim. Old Republic. Maybe you’re reading about the hidden treasures – like Bastion or Prey 2. These are the games and the experiences that E3 dreams are made of.

Today, I saw a number of big games. I elbowed my way into the Mass Effect 3 demo, where Casey Hudson featured action and a somewhat contrived emotional moment (I simply can’t get into anything featuring Male Shep, so maybe that’s just me). I checked out the Activision booth and saw Prototype 2, X-Men Destiny, and the very charming new Spyro game. I checked out two of the coolest games of the show at Paramount’s booth (but I can’t tell you anything about them until early next week).

But what I’d really like to tell you about is the surreality of playing Blackwater – a Kinect shooter based on the rather controversial ex-military outfit – in the 505 games booth. Sitting just beside the Top Gun game (which is in itself hilarious), and right by the even more unfortunate Michael Phelps: Push the Limit swimming game, was this curious creation. Demoed by the very nice, enthusiastic producer from Zombie Games and an actual Blackwater officer, I’ve never felt so bizarrely torn whilst watching – and subsequently playing – a game.

On one hand, this is a very simplistic shooter, though, like most Kinect games, it does afford a dumb kind of fun – ducking and shooting and kicking like a spaz is entertaining, and the controls were actually reasonably responsive. Plus, our demo folks were genuinely nice – and nothing feels worse than bagging on someone’s hard work when they so clearly care about it. The producer came off as a knowledgeable guy, and Mr. Blackwater was incredibly polite and earnest.

But holy crap, this is a game about Blackwater. If you don’t know what that means, I’ll say only this – they’re an outfit run without the kind of constraints we ostensibly place on the official US military – and some rather unsavory things have allegedly happened thanks to that arrangement.

If you listen to last night’s Jumping The Shark, you’ll hear all of the weirdo twists and turns that our story took (war in Syria! War in Libya too!), but suffice it to say, this was an odd moment at E3.

The Michael Phelps game, by the way, feels like playing a full-on spaz simulator. I won’t be unkind, but I will say this – that a sport as exciting as the team-based, violent, kinetic lacrosse has not gotten a videogame adaptation while a crappy swimming pool simulator has gotten the full boxed game treatment is just not right, celebrity endorsement or no.

Jumping the Shark Podcast #74

No High Scores
Image: Filomena Scalise / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Our Day Two E3 episode of Jumping the Shark is on the tubes. Last night’s recording featured your usual JTS cast, plus return appearances from Tom Chick and Jason McMaster as well as Gameshark Senior Editor Brian Rowe and one of our newer freelancers, Justin Amirkhani. Among those games featured are the surprising Prey 2, the latest Hitman opus, Sonic Generations, and The Darkness 2.

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Todd's E3 Day Two Wrap-up

No High Scores

Today I spent time with Topware, Bethesda, and Paradox and all brought a little something to the table that is worthy of keeping an eye on. In particular, two of Bethesda’s titles stuck out and one of them was not Rage (which I didn’t get a good look at)…

I was not a huge Oblivion fan, but the freedom to explore its open world environments without even needing to dig into the main story was certainly among its better assets. That Skyrim continues this tradition is a given, but I also appreciated its two-handed equipping system where you could put different spells in each hand, go with a spell and a weapon, sword and shield, etc. It should give players a lot of options. What particularly stood out to me however, wasn’t the gorgeous vistas, impressively rendered dragons,  or the improved character models, but the town the demo took us through. It was a town built around logging. As such the sets matched, with homes all built out of wood. Cut down trees were piled up to be processed. Craftsman were working with wood. Etc. It looked like a place built for a purpose, a notion that was enhanced by the idea that you can mess with its economy by jerking around with their supplies or otherwise interfering with how the town operated. If every notable location throughout the world of Skyrim has that kind of thought put into it, it’ll do wonders for making this giant world a more interesting place to explore.

Prey 2, which aims to place you in the role of hunter instead of hunted this time around, could well be the game of the show and if not that, then certainly the most surprising. I went in expecting a straightforward shooter, but this looks to bring considerably more to the table. There’s an amazing fluidity to your movement through this alien world in which you, a displaced amnesiac US Marshal, collect bounties and try to put your life and past together. Climbing from ledges, leaping gaps, sliding for cover all evoke the kind of smooth mobility that Mirror’s Edge did mostly well. But this game takes it further with solid-looking gunplay, a bunch of interesting and useful gadgets and abilities, and a seemingly broad variety of ways to go about tackling missions. 

I watched the protagonist shove an unsuspecting bystander off a ledge for no other reason than the option was there, spontaneously take a hostage to extort cooperation from a target, choose whether or not to interrogate a bounty at the risk of killing him and failing the mission, and considerably more. Every time during the demo that I thought we’d seen everything the game was going to have to show us, they revealed another layer to the gameplay. This is definitely one to watch.

Over at Topworld I saw a game called Scivelation (pronounced S-eye-velation; think Science Revelation). Well, I didn’t so much see the game as much as I saw a bunch of screens and static content. Not a lot to go on as it’s obviously nowhere near ready for primetime. The fact that I’m no particular fan of their previous game, Two Worlds II, doesn’t help. That said, the idea for a far-future dystopia, rendered using the Unreal 3D engine, in which an ongoing struggle between science and religion has all but destroyed the world has promise. You can play and switch between two different characters, one a run and gun ex-member of the Moscow resistance, the other a scientist defector from the oppressive government known as The Regime. This is a stealth-based character that uses scientific knowledge to overcome obstacles. Topware insists every level of the game will allow you to complete it using either path. They weren’t willing to talk about character development and skills, but did say there would be a variety of ways to build up both characters and that not all skills would be dependent on combat. Look for more on this one at GamesCon.

Finally, there’s Paradox. I never played the original Crusader Kings, but I’m hooked on the prospect of Crusader Kings II, which is due next January. Think Game of Thrones, with all its different houses and lineages, brought to a Crusades-era European setting. You deal with religious conflicts, other lords, family trees, royal councils, court intrigue, and considerably more from the look of it. As someone who was a huge fan of how Medieval: Total War presented royalty, nobles, and political appointments, this is something I’ll have to play.

E3 Quick Day Two Thoughts

No High Scores

Ok, I’m tired. Some quick hitters.

-Crusader Kings II looks tremendously satisfying. Can’t wait to see the preview build.

- I liked the King Arthur II demo as well and I think if they fix the campaign balance issues that it could be a hit.

- Skyrim I saw on the 360. Looked cool. Hey did you play Oblivion? Then you sorta know where this one is going.

- I saw a bunch of dudes shooting other dudes in Rage. Kiosk was too crowded to get in a session.

-I still have XCOM concerns. The action sequences still look…uninspired. It is more rpg than I expected, which is good. There is just something about the game that isn’t clicking with me yet.

-the best game demo I saw at the show today was for Prey 2. Yep. Prey 2. I know! Crazy, right?

E3 Day Two Thoughts

No High Scores

E3 day two, woohoo, a day where I was denied entrance to the Skyrim demo despite being on the schedule, and seats being available and was unable to see SSX despite having an EA VIP pass that meant pretty much nothing.

On the plus side, I saw Snoop Dogg, met Coach Bieste from Glee as well as Andy Bates and a huge chunk of the Penny Arcade crew. For the record, they said they like us here, although they may have been being polite. All in all, I’d say it was a pretty good day, celebrity sightings aside, as I saw some promising games.

To the bullet point-erator!

1. Prey 2 looks pretty damn awesome. They ditched the linear corridor shooter design for an open world, sci-fi noire setting where you play a memory challenged bounty hunter; a federal marshal kidnapped along with the entire plane you were riding on during the original Prey. The game has a cool visual style, lots of neat gadgets like electric bolos and cool ass guns, and a pretty damn good first person parkour system. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Prey 2, but what I saw I really liked.

2. Ditto for Darkness 2. It’s incredibly violent and fast paced, enemies hit you with bullets as well as lots of illumination based weapons that negate your darkness powers, and between your two guns and two tentacles, you have a lot of ways to mess dudes up. Plus, you still get to chomp on bad guy hearts, something that never got old from the original game. I wasn’t too thrilled with the cel shaded visual style at first, but it grew on me as the demo went on, and the tentacles look cooler than ever.

3. I spent a bunch of time with Dragon’s Dogma and wow, that game looks rough. I have no idea when it’s coming out, but it still needs lots of time before it can be considered done. Lots of instances where your support characters clip into you, lots of repeated dialog and there didn’t seem to be a way to tell your support characters what you wanted them to do other than help or attack. That would explain why the magic user kept casting spells that didn’t seem to do anything. The inclusion of a bunch of mythical beasts like griffons and chimera was certainly cool, however they looked rough too and the fights against them felt like long, tedious slogs.

4. Dr. Lautrec and the Forgotten Knights may look like a Professor Layton clone, and to some degree it is, but two things make it stand out. One, you have a monkey, a monkey that hides in your hat and two, when you find treasure, you can battle the spirit within the treasure with spirits found in other pieces of treasure. I whupped up on a statue with two rings, a garnet and some golden idol. It was epic.

5. The less said about Michael Phelps: Push the Limit, the better. It sure is pushing something.

It was a pretty good day, despite the show floor being so packed that I didn’t get to see as much as I had hoped to see. There simply isn’t the time to wait in line for four hours to see something, and without a dedicated tour, I was forced to move on. Last year I could see a bunch of DS games, at the Nintendo booth, but this year, it’s pretty much all 3DS games and the line for them is quite long. As long as I get to see Space Marine and Saints Row: The Third tomorrow, I’ll be happy.

B3 2011- It's board game night with the Hellfire Club!

We’re turning off the consoles for tonight’s B3 activities while those earth-hating electricity wasters out at E3 keep hogging all the power to run those endless Modern Warfare 3 clips. It’s time for the earth-friendly weekly meeting of one of my game groups, the esteemed and highly exclusive Hellfire Club. We meet in an undisclosed location in Atlanta filled with medieval weapons, a huge library of occult texts, and a DJ booth. There’s also a full bar. My good friends the Philosophales (dad and three sons) are gracious hosts and they usually set out a nice cheese tray and sometimes they even get these amazing pastries from this place called Sublime Donuts which, ironically enough, is in the same shopping center where my game store was located. Which is also where I met these guys. Read on for a preview of tonight’s event and a bawdy story.

On the table tonight, it looks like we’re going to be giving the Chaos in the Old World expansion, The Horned Rat, a go. I looked it over last night and it looks mighty fine. If you’ve played the basic game, what you need to know about it is that it adds a fifth ruinous power (The Horned Rat, duh) so it supports five players now, there are new events that increase Skaven activity, and there’s new Chaos power and upgrade cards for each of the original four gods called the “Morrslieb set”. It looks like there’s been some rebalancing, and I’m hearing reports that Khorne can win on VPs now and Nurgle isn’t the defacto winner of the game anymore.

I also just got a package of review copies in from Toy Vault- they’re dipping their toes in the board games market. They sent me their two new Godzilla titles, Godzilla Kaiju World Wars and a small card game called Godzilla Stomp. Kaiju World Wars is designed by Richard Berg, a curmudgenonly designer better known for historical wargames that border on the unplayable than for licensed properties. Early reports are kind of grim, and the production looks and feels sort of chintzy despite four kaiju figures including my favorite, Gigan. I was actually signed on to be a playtester for what would have been the “Alpha” version of the game, but I backed out when I saw the rules. That was two years ago, hopefully it’s improved.

If Kaiju World Wars tanks (or the other Hellfire Club members balk on it), we’ve got the very excellent War of the Roses from Z-Man Games on tap, as well as some of our standby favorites- Cosmic Encounter, Imperial 2030, and Nexus Ops. This is a rowdy bunch. We like to bicker and argue. No po-faced cube-counting here, and no fun murderers allowed.

One of my favorite Hellfire Club anecdotes was when we allowed one of my good friends, Ryan Hobbytown (that’s another story) over. The first time he came to the secret compound where the venue is located, he wandered around and couldn’t find it. He called me and I told him to look for my truck. He turned up about 20 minutes later. “I think I went to the WRONG place”, he said. Apparently, there was another truck like mine in the complex. He went and knocked on the door closest to it, and was greeted by a nude man in a bathrobe who asked him, “Are you here for the men’s Tantric seminar”? This happened like three years ago and we still joke about it every game night. There has also a time when Erekh, the youngest son, was attacked by a monkey in the parking lot, but it appears to be unrelated.

I’m off, time to get the Ikea bag together!

B3 2011- El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron demo impressions

As part of the B3 2011 festivities, I’ve been spending a lot of quality time with the PS3 since the network downtime waylaid Killzone 3 and Demon’s Souls playtime. I downloaded all my free apology junk and paid good money for both the Wizardry game I posted about earlier this week and Under Siege, a combat-focused light RTS that I haven’t really messed with much yet. Last night, while no one was looking, the demo for El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron turned up on PSN. It should also be on XBLA today. Impressions follow.

I’ve been interested in this Japanese title, developed by Ignition and published by Namco, for a while. The combination of Western religious concepts, Enochian mumbo-jumbo and a starkly minimal art style (courtesy of the visual designer of Okami, who also appears to be the lead developer) is irresistible- plus I love a good brawler.

Well, if Rush is what happens when you let the drummer write songs, then El Shaddai must be what happens when you let the character designer design a game.

Visually, the game is definitely interesting but it unfortunately looks more dated than stylized. Polygon counts are intentionally low, and there’s a flat, cel-shaded look to the characters. Characters speaking to Enoch appear as line drawings drifting across the screen. It looks striking and it’s quite psychedelic, which is cool and all but it looks like a PS2 game with better lighting and shading.

Gameplay is suspiciously simple. Like a lot of recent third-person adventure games such as Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom and Enslaved, combat is one-note and fairly undynamic. The square button launches melee attacks, press it a bunch and you’ll do a combo. Hold it and you’ll do a charged attack. When an enemy is staggered, you can steal their weapons, including a thing that looks like a bow but is actually more like some kind of combat saw. There is a neat mechanic wherein the enemies’ “vileness” accumulates on your stolen weapons so you’ve got to find a break in the action to wipe it off. All the battles are in plain arenas with no terrain or environmental elements.

There are parries and blocks, but as a whole combat feels uninteresting when held against the gold standards represented by games like Bayonetta, Madworld, and Devil May Cry. It’s shockingly tough though, and the enemies definitely put up a fight. It seems like, from the demo at least, that you’ll be fighting just a couple of baddies at a time instead of enemies in number. This is probably a good thing given how hard it is to take on two enemies at a time, even on the normal setting. Enoch has this cool set of angelic armor that breaks off as he takes damage, but he doesn’t get down to his briefs like Sir Arthur does. Instead, he’s wearing jeans. So he looks like a shirtless Calvin Klein model, probably because of some cross-marketing thing the game did with a jeans company in Japan. Dumb.

There is also some terrible platforming including a 2D section. The platforms are somewhat vague, and the jumping feels inaccurate leading to cheap deaths and a long march back to the sparse checkpoints. This part of the full game, if extensive, will be problematic.

I want to like this game because it’s got a cool concept and it’s definitely unique. But that doesn’t necessarily make for a good game. Hopefully, the full game reveals more meat on the bone, because as it stands this looks like something that would have been better served as a ten dollar download than a $60 retail title. If it doesn’t pan out, I fully expect to see critics and bloggers trying desperately to convince others that the game is great just because it’s different, regardless of the quality of the gameplay- just like what happened with Majin and Enslaved. Maybe Bill Abner will throw this review assignment to me and I can give it the full treatment when it releases next month. I’d like to see the full version impress me more than this demo did, that’s for sure.

Jumping the Shark Podcast #73

No High Scores
Image: Filomena Scalise / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Our Day One E3 episode of Jumping the Shark is now live. If you downloaded it last night or early this morning (hey, it’s 6am here) and your file only ran for 15 minutes… uh, well we don’t know what was up with that, but it’s fixed now. Sorry! Let’s just blame it on Mitchy D and be done with it, although I should point out Brandon was up at the wee hours shouting obscenities and cursing the maker while taking care of that one. He’s a trooper, that guy.

Anyway, episode one features your regular cast, the aforementioned Mitchell Dyer, as well as Tom Chick and Jason McMaster. Remember, we just record this gathered around a single mic, stick the music on it and throw it up there. We like it raw when we’re kicking it in the City of Angels. Enjoy!

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E3 Day One Thoughts

No High Scores

Day One of E3 is over and my thoughts are um, thoughtful? I don’t know. I’m tired and I have a stomach full of steak and carrot cake.

I saw a bunch of stuff today, most of it was pretty good, surprisingly enough. Some of it was just OK, but some days, that’s downright excellent. To the bullet point treatment!

1. Aliens: Colonial Marines looks like it could be good, but when all you see is a scripted demo, it’s really hard to tell. Randy Pitchford was quite excited, and it was nice to see him excited about something that wasn’t Duke Nukem. The graphics looked a little rough, which is to be expected, but the demo had all of the things you’d expect in an Aliens game: pinging trackers, xenomorphs, Marines being eaten. The problem is that it was too much like what you’d expect and other than a new species of alien, it didn’t too much for me to shake the idea that I could just watch Aliens and save myself 60 bucks. We’ll see. Pitchford said that they’re going to tie up some problems with the fiction that developed over the course of the movies, so I’d like to see that, but at the same time, that would mean I’d have to remember the last two movies, which

2. I am strangely excited by the combat in the Captain America movie game. It’s not quite Arkham Asylum smooth, but it’s not just a button masher either. Still though, it is a movie tie-in game, so I’m wary, but when I played it, I had a great time beating up Hydra thugs and I don’t remember the last time I had a good time beating up thugs in a super hero movie game.

3. Crimson Alliance, an upcoming XBLA co-op dungeon crawler is exactly what I had hoped Daggerdale would be. It looks great, runs smoothly, allows you to pick as many wizards or assassins or mercenaries in a party as you want (up to four people) and best of all, because your stats are derived entirely from your loot, if you bring a new player into your game, they can still be productive.

4. I am terrible at pretty much all of the Namco games, including Dark Souls and the new Ace Combat game. The attending PR person actually made fun of me. Multiple times.

5. Microsoft is kind of douchey about booth appointments. I’m just sayin’.

6. Binary Domain, Sega’s new squad based robot shooter looks interesting, but it also looks like it could devolve into a bit of a mess. It has a very Vanquish-y feel in terms of the robot design, but it’s not nearly as frantic or over the top in the action department. There’s a dynamic trust thing going on there that can affect how well your squad works, which may end up being nothing more than a gimmick. We’ll see. I did like the damage modeling on the robots though. That was cool.

7. Oh, I’m really bad at Anarchy Reigns too. Like, really bad.

8. Serious Sam 3 is just like the Serious Sam you remember, just better looking and with 16 person co-op. Serious Sam: Double D is a pretty bad-ass Contra-esque side scroller with a very cool weapon stacking mechanic and a great sense of humor. Both are PC only right now, but depending on the price, I would play both on the 360.

That’s it for now. I’m tired and I have to get up soon. I have another full day tomorrow, so expect all sorts of wonderful things about swimming games and other such nonsense.

Todd's E3 Day One Wrap-up

No High Scores

So day one is in the books. We’ve recorded a podcast (Brandon’s uploading it as I type) and I’m ready to fall over, but first, here’s a very brief summary of my day one.

I led off the day with Focus Home. I was excited to see the Game of Thrones game. Imagine my disappointment when we were told we could see the trailer on the nearby TV screen while we waited for a slot to open up to get a demo on the next Sherlock Holmes game. I missed out on Colonial Marines for this, for the love of Pete. Sherlock looked interesting, though. This puzzle/adventure game, has a much bigger budget than previous PC-only releases thanks in part to the fact that it’s also being developed for the consoles. The big deal about this game, called The Testament of Sherlock Holmes (or something that effect) is that Holmes supposedly bites the dust about half way into the game, leaving it up to Watson to carry the torch. Spoiler, spoiler, I know, but Frogware’s CEO himself was adamant they wanted that info out there, so there you go. On to EA…

The Mass Effect 3 presentation was, of course, chock full of hyperbole and when executive producer Casey Hudson used modable guns as the first example of the game’s renewed focus on RPG elements I wanted to roll over and die, but at the end of the day it’s clearly more Mass Effect and there’s not that much room to go wrong in doing that. (Plus, it’s gorgeous.) They emphasized the notion that you could now tackle missions using tactical, stealth, or run ‘n gun means, and the stealth did look like a new avenue. The fact, however, that you can pause the action to issue orders didn’t look at all different from what we could already do in ME2. I dunno. It’s Shepherd’s swan song and I’ll be there.

As a big Witcher 2 fan, I was interested in seeing the Xbox 360 version run through its paces. The CDP crew were adamant no compromises were made for this game, and it looks like all its best (and worst) gameplay were firmly intact. I don’t buy into the notion there are no graphical sacrifices. It looks good, but it cannot match the PC version on Ultra detail settings. Regardless, I dug how much time they spent talking about how their intention is to adapt the game for the console and not to port it. If only more console developers put forth the effort adapt their games to the PC rather than just port them over. Over the last year CD Projekt has really become the dev house whose corner I’m in 100%. These are the guys making the games I want to play and I can’t wait to see where they go next.

Finally we’ve got EA Sports. Madden ’12 looked great. As with most of the sports stable, there’s a big emphasis on physics and collisions and it was fully evident in the line blocking and tackling in Madden. This should be a big boon to the gameplay. I get the sense with NHL ’12, given the huge emphasis they placed on the addition of the outdoor Winter Classic, that they’re running out of big improvements to make. The game continues to look fantastic, now with the addition of live goalies that you can bump or can get aggressive with forwards parked in front of the net. Should be another win as long as it doesn’t muck up the balance of goal scoring or go overboard with such nonsense rarities as goalie fights. We also saw FIFA and I’d say it looked good, but all I know about soccer has come from watching six and seven year olds play it.

More to come tomorrow if I don’t pass out too early!