E3: Day 1 thought bubbles

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Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was one of the few things I kept thinking about after the Sony pre-E3 press conference. Of course, it had sales figures, new hardware (the PSP Go) and some innovative stuff on their own (a wand-like super-controller that impeccably senses motion), but my attention was all on the games. With Microsoft whipping out Project Natal and Nintendo tossing out a vitality monitor, more Mario and a new Metroid, I wanted to see how Sony’s stuff was going to stack up.


Redmond: The Uncharted 2 demo reminded me of all the things I loved about the first title. You had a brilliantly crafted everyman hero in Nathan Drake, who was supplemented by other characters that always seemed to bring something to the table. The female character wasn’t a stick-in-the-mud, the grizzled partner wasn’t a dope or inept, and the bad guys were truly bad without completely lacking in personality. Add this to some truly stunning visual work, and you’ve got the pieces for a classic.

All that stuff was evident in the demo, where you got to see a beautiful establishing shot of a third-world city after Drake manages to exhibit some of his trademark climbing skills. There was a chuckle in the crowd when Drake’s female companion asks him, “Do you have you climb up that?” in reference to some piping he needed to grab. His response: “Yeah … that’s … usually what happens.” It’s said with an earnest weariness only shared by adventurers the likes of Indiana Jones, and it’s one of Drake’s best qualities.

The highlight of the demo was a riveting confrontation with a gunship that approaches Drake while he’s shimmying from one end of a building to another. The bullets fly, stuff gets blasted apart, and we also got to see Drake handle bad guys with his usual flair, knocking over tables and other obstacles to give himself cover. The demo ended with the gunship shooting up the building that Drake occupies to the point where the building starts to crumble, with Drake still inside. The floor he and his female friend are on actually started tipping, shifting and breaking until Drake was forced to leap out of the window before the building turned into rubble. He punctuated to end of the demo breathlessly saying “We … we were almost IN that!”

On the PSP front, Hideo Kojima further cemented the notion that he is, indeed, NOT donw with the Metal Gear saga with MGS: Peace Walker, which is set 10 years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. This essentially means guiding Big Boss into his eventual role as the leader of Outer Heaven. Some of you who just read that will have absolutely no idea what I just said, so go here. I thought it was interesting that Kojima made it clear that he’s writing and producing the game while working with the same team that assembled MGS 4: Guns of the Patriots. I’m guessing my hope for some new Zone of the Enders action is going to have to go unrealized for another few years. Fine.

Assassin’s Creed 2 from Ubisoft showed some more promise, mostly because this particular demo involved weapons and machines, two things I like seeing in practically any era. This being the Renaissance in Italy, we were told that you get to use stuff like Leonardo Da Vinci’s flying machine. Yes, THAT Leonardo Da Vinci. As in, the guy with his own Code. The inventor of the ages. That’s your boy … he even makes weapons for you, so in my mind, he’s like the original Q before some British dude took the title for himself and aided secret agents.

The flying machine mechanics melded some science (this IS the Renaissance, after all) and some standard flight controls. In order to gain height, you had to fly above some of the burning fires littering the landscape of Venice. Ezio (the assassin), is also sporting two wrist blades, one on each hand, making of capable of taking out two people at the same time. There are about 30 weapons in the game, and we also saw the ever-familar drop into a haystack. However, instead of people simply walking by the haystack like nothing happened (like in the last game), now you have the occasional skeptic willing to jab the haystack with pointy weaponry. This can be remedied by pulling the nosy pest into the haystack and ending him.

We also saw the Project Trico trailer again, except now it has the official name of The Last Guardian. I have the scary notion (and I’m not alone), that I’m going to see this creature die at some point. I’m not ready for that. I felt bad enough taking down some of the colossi, and now I have this thing to poke at my heartstrings. Dammit.

I usually use Day 1 as a time to scope out the convention center and see if there’s anything that jumps in my face. The following are small, digestible thoughts on stuff I got to play for a short time before heading home.

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Batman Arkham Asylum: Of the few games I actually got to sit down and play, this was my favorite. It’s got all of the voice actors from Batman: The Animated Series, and seeing this vibrant Batman move around in this creepy interpretation of Arkham Asylum gave me something to add to my mental must-play-more checklist. It’s an action stealth game at heart, as I had to do a lot of sneaking around for silent takedowns when the bad guys I encountered were armed. Hand-to-hand combat felt a little button-mashy, but it was till fun to watch Batman’s hybrid blend of martial arts in action. You’ll get some slo-mo kicks and punches as well as some easy one-button counters. I made some use of the Batarang, but I made a LOT of use with the grappling hook to zipline to good spots so I could get a decent look at the enemies before me. It still came back to the characters and voices for me, especially Mark Hamill as The Joker. They made the characters grittier and more contemporary (as evidenced by Harley Quinn being turned into a little more of a twisted hottie than a slightly goofy evil sidekick). Overall, so far, so good.

Scribblenauts: If Batman was my No. 1 of the day, then this is 1B. I wasn’t expecting to put a DSi title this high on my list, but any game that lets me randomly type in the word “Cthulhu” on my DS notepad and then conjure the mythical demon onscreen, it has my vote. This is a word game at heart, as players get confronted with various puzzles that involve typing words into a keypad and having them appear for use on the screen. What makes the game special is that you can practically conjure up ANYTHING, as long as it’s not vulgar, offensive or copyrighted. At the center of the action is a cute little guy on the touch screen who you can move with the stylus. An example of the game’s awesomeness: In the game’s ‘sandbox’ mode, where you can just play with words and see what happens, we typed in the aforementioned Cthulhu, who quickly started attacking the main character on the screen (you can’t die in this sandbox mode). Then, we keyed in “hydra,” and then out came a hydra to fight Cthulhu. For the hell of it, we also typed in “knight” to see how he would fare in this battle … he died quickly. So did the hydra. We then typed in “laser,” and then out popped a laser pistol. We used the stylus to drag it to the main character, who then picked it up and blew Cthulhu away. Shot him dead. I don’t think I need to say anymore.

Darksiders: Uh … I have concerns. I had a really hard time truly immersing myself in this game without thinking of a certain god-killing Spartan, especially considering that said Spartan was on the same floor. In terms of visuals and characters, the world of the horseman War is an interesting one. He certainly heeds the call of the demons who have power over him, and the character design of both hero and demon are comparable to all of the other top-notch mythic heroes out there. The problem is the gameplay — War may have the weakest big-ass sword in the history of gigantic melee weapons. Here he is, swinging a blade the size of Rhode Island with one hand, and he’s barely knocking down some zombie-like creature half his size. It’s not for lack of effort … you can see via the animations that he’s really stepping into his swings. But there’s little or no feeling of power. Instead, it seems like he’d be better off slapping people with those massive steel mitts of his. Ugh. I know it’s early, but I have got to see a little more than this.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Tomorrow is a heavy day. We’re checking out Bethesda, EA, God of War 3, Heavy Rain and Bioshock 2. We’ll catch up as soon as we can, but there’s also a chance we’ll be heading out to our first E3 parties as well. We’ll see what happens.

Reggie: There’s not much more to add to what my brother had already talked about above with what we had seen at Sony’s presser. Uncharted 2…definitely want this game. Assassin’s Creed 2…again, an adventure in Renaissance Italy involving a new quest, weapons, and an even deadlier assassin than Altair had apparently been. God of War III…the last chapter in the series as Kratos takes down Mount Olympus with gruesomely brutal efficiency.

After the presser, I had a chance to try out The Conduit, the new shooter that’s been making waves ever since its developer, High Voltage Software, had stated that it was built from the ground up as an FPS for the Wii. Using the chucks the move and the Wii-mote to aim and shoot, the sensitivity took some getting used to and felt loose and slippery at first, leading to an early death. My second attempt was a bit better, especially once I had a better idea of what the controls were like from experimentation.

Once I was in my groove for the game, blasting aliens and fighting through the ruin-littered streets of a city under siege became second nature. Visually, it’s no Gears of War, but the graphics did a fantastic job in making the action feel as atmospheric as its conspiracy laden plot wants it to be. There’s definitely something of a learning curve to the game, but once it’s overcome, The Conduit felt as if it had plenty more action to deliver.

I had also managed to spend some time with Muramasa: The Demon Blade from Vanillaware, the makers of Odin Sphere, and had a lot of fun with this, too. The cartoonish look that Vanillaware is so good at painting the screen with comes to life in their new game for the Wii. You can go through a tutorial describing the mechanics and in how not to die early and often and once that is done, pick from either an amnesiac ninja, Kisuke, or a princess on a mission, Momohime, who I ended up playing the demo with. The variety of attack moves and the way that the Wii manages to handle them via the wireless remote took some getting used to, but before long, I was slashing evil ninjas by the boatload. Odin Sphere and Princess Crown fans are going to find a lot to like in this stylish action adventure game. I know I did.

My brother had already touched on Batman: Arkham Asylum above and I have to agree with every word. The game is exciting stuff allowing anyone to pick up a controller and live the life of Gotham City’s dark detective vicariously through his abilities and the association with the animated series, especially with some of the character redesigns such as the re-imagined Harley Quinn. I also tried the Challenge Mode with the Joker and having Mark Hamill in his corner for the voice work only added to the bizarre weirdness in seeing the Clown Prince of Crime deck guard after guard in silly, psychotic fashion with plenty of clown-fu to go around.

I also checked in some time to see Darksiders, the Heaven and Hell war epic featuring one of the Four Horsemen, War, on the PS3. It looks like it could be extremely deep with power enhancements and trait improvements available for development throughout the game, but the demo felt too short to really start feeling the story or the depth that War’s talents could be explored to get a sense of how it could distinguish itself further from the inevitable comparisons it has been under with God of War.

At the end of the day, I finally spent some time with Left 4 Dead 2 which was set up on PCs and the Xbox 360. Visually, both games looked exactly alike, but I’m a mouse and keyboard man myself and played it on the PC with three other fellow survivors. If you liked the first one, you’ll find that the gameplay is the same, familiar, trip down south in the Big Easy where the demo took place in.

And that was it until Wednesday. Need sleep now.