Even more reflections of E3

Time to empty my mental notebook on the week that was E3, in the hopes that what you read will provide some shelter from any boring moments in your day. Here we go again:

Day 1 randomness

— Started off with the Sony press conference, which felt loaded with gimmicks. There was Jack Tretton and Kaz Hirai hanging out in PS3 Home, working the virtual “grill” and then gracing us with their very real presence at Sony’s Culver City studios. Like the Microsoft press conference, there was a lot of focus on their games for the PS2, PS3, PSP. At the end, there was Killzone 2, which was looking pretty solid from where I was sitting. Before the conference, Sony kept us media well-fed and hydrated. Perhaps that was with the hope the ensuing food coma would help us ignore the fact that freakin’ Chewbacca was going to walk onstage and hold an actual conversation with Jack Tretton. Now, this cheese-laced moment wasn’t quite up there with the Jade Raymond “it’s-a-trap”/floating dead body combo platter from the MS conference, but it just felt wrong. I don’t really want the Darth Vader PSP now. Coolest game of the event was Echochrome, though I’m sure there’s absolutely no way I’m going to be good at it. It’s not possible. I feel mentally inferior just looking at it.

— I headed over to Capcom at the Shutters Hotel, mostly for a full dose of Devil May Cry 4. I’ve played the previous DMCs before, so I was able to jump right in and make use of Nero’s (that’s the hero) “demon arm” — I did some Bionic Commando-type stuff with it, swinging from ceiling and balconies, as well as grab onto some opponents for some Scorpion-style “get over heeerrre!” combos. It took a minute to get used to Nero’s single pistol, which you can charge up for some extra powerful single-shot action. As far as Nero’s sword goes, you can actually “rev-it-up” like a motorcycle and swing away for flashier combos. I actually didn’t find myself doing it that much, and it wasn’t that satisfying when it happened. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the saw in Gears. Overall, it was a solid experience. One thing bothered me … some of the PR folks were a little surprised that I was “good” at the game. I died at the Berial boss battle — I thought I sucked. It makes me think … who the hell was on BEFORE me that was allegedly “bad”? Anyway, one of them pwned me in Puzzle Fighter, so my playing mojo was apparently used up for DMC. It happens.

– One game out of the Capcom camp that took me by surprise (and others as well) was Zack and Wiki for the Wii. It’s a really cartoony-looking game, but it has the chance to really take control of the motion-sensing nature of the Wiimote and Nunchuk. Simple shakes and wiggles didn’t seem to do it for this game — you actually had to “turn keys” and “pull” things toward you. And Wiki, the magical monkey sidekick, was just too damn cute. It made me smile … as it stands now, I’d take this over Viva Pinata any day.

– Trucked over to Microsoft at the Viceroy hotel for both Mass Effect and Halo 3, 30-minute appointments each. Mass Effect was visually pleasing, but what attracted me to the title was how the story was into every decision you have to make as the main character. The pick-your-response dialogue was outstanding in one conversation (but it’s a spoiler, so I won’t share), reflecting some of the life-or-death choices players are going to face. We also got to see a bit of the multi-layered galaxy map, where you can visit (or at least examine) a multitude of different worlds for side quests and backstory. Planets that are key to the story are highlighted, so don’t worry about floating around the galaxy for days. Combat looked solid — there are squad commands, different mods for weapons, a cover system, a Gears-like roadie run — it didn’t seem contrived or forced. Casey Hudson, the project director for the game, really stressed the depth of the story and how it could “span the whole galaxy.” It’s part of a trilogy, where you can theoretically take your fully loaded character from one game to the next. Anyone who got to see Mass Effect also got a free Mass Effect novel as a literary appetizer for the game.

-As far as Halo 3, it looked much sharper this time around than in the multiplayer beta, which should surprise no one. The highlight of this meeting was the added functionality of the saved movies. You can now control the camera as if you were checking out instant replay in a sports game — you can pick any angle, any zoom, any player (if you wish). There’s a cool slo-motion feature you can add to your movies, so you can add a little more panache to those times when someone gets blown out of their Warthog. Players on Live can also recommend films from both campaign and multiplayer, and I also noticed a TiVo-style bar that will help you pinpoint certain moments in battle. I also got a look at the Brute Chopper, a motorcycle that features two Brute Shots and a massive, death-dealing front wheel that lays waste to any vehicle (or person) that gets caught in front of it. Ramming speed ftw.

Day 2 random madness

— Kicked off the morning with Ubisoft for some Haze and Assassin’s Creed. I liked Haze in terms of concept — you’re a soldier who ends up fighting on both sides of a war between a massive private military corporation and rebel forces. Much of the fighting centers around the use of battle medications called “nectar,” which is supposed to enhance your abilities — kinda like steroids for war. However, like any drug, there are side effects, the main one being something that screws with your vision to the point where you can’t tell friend or foe. You also lose control of your motor skills, so you run the risk of just blasting everyone in sight. You can actually OD on nectar, so you have to pick and choose what times you want to roid out. There are different sets of abilities depending on what side you play on — the corporate guys have the “nectar boost” and “nectar foresight”, which functions like Spidey sense in terms of detecting danger (like a grenade). The rebels can play dead, steal weapons from enemies, scavenge for ammo and make use of the “nectar grenade” — which causes corporate soldiers to go nuts and shoot each other (or themselves).

— Then there’s Assassin’s Creed, which I needed to see after the debacle at the Microsoft press event. I essentially played through the same demo we saw the other night, but was free to approach my target in another fashion — kinda like Hitman. Instead of tossing some dude off the roof to attract the attention of the guards at the door, I just blended in (there’s a “blend” feature) with a bunch of monks dressed in white and walked right in. The act of actually having to push my way through the crowd felt a little awkward, because if you mess up, you just bump into them — and that attracts attention. Your life meter actually hinges on how stealthy you are. The free-running aspect of the game is cool, especially if you’re chasing down your mark, but the combat system felt very strange. I just sat in a defensive stance, waited for someone to attack me, and then countered them to death. Rinse and repeat, enemies dead.

— I also played Stranglehold today. That’s getting its own entry. It wasn’t the best game at the show or anything … but, my god. What fun.

— After Ubisoft, I essentially spent the rest of the day at the Barker Hangar, which was the closest thing to a old-school E3 show floor you could get to. Some of the games I got to play and/or check out included: Call of Duty 4, Heavenly Sword, God of War: Chains of Olympus, Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction, Madden ’08, Wii Fit, Uncharted, Folklore, Blacksite: Area 51, Stranglehold (again), Contra 4, Silent Hill: Origins, World in Conflict, Timeshift, Hellboy and some others I can’t name right now, since my notebook isn’t in front of me.

Oops. I just looked that the time, and I need to stop. I’ll share my thoughts on the above games as well as Day 3 when the opportunity presents itself. If you’ve made it this far, congratulations — hopefully, it was somewhat worth it. Until then, see you when I see you. I’m also going to slap some pictures up as well.