E3: Thought bubbles from Electronic Arts

Started off the day getting an eyeful of Mass Effect 2 and Dante’s Inferno in a couple of short demos. I’ve got no pics to dress this up, so you’ll have to settle for words for now. I think you’ll be fine. Here are some small bits on each game:

Mass Effect 2: This is being seen as the “dark second act” of the Mass Effect trilogy, much like “Return of the Jedi” was for the Star Wars movies. Commander Shepard reprises his (or her, depending on how you built Shepard in the first game) role as the central character, but this time must hop around the galaxy and try to recruit only the nastiest, deadliest people for his/her group. You can import your character straight from your original Mass Effect save file (if you have it), abilities, choices and all, and essentially pick up where you left off in the last game.

With every sequel, there’s always the promise of more finely tuned gameplay elements, but it was the conversations that caught my eye. While the last game featured two people standing still and face-to-face for verbal interaction, ME2 now features real-time cinematic conversations. For example, the first conversation of the demo took place in a moving car, with stuff whipping by the windows at high speeds and the characters looking far more refined. It was essentially a talk in the car. There’s also an “interrupt” feature via the left trigger, which lets the player take action in the middle of a conversation if the situation calls for it. An example of this was Shepard pushing someone through the window of a high-rise building because he wasn’t being very helpful. The left trigger icon flashed on the lower left side of the screen, and out went the talker.

Of course, story has been the cornerstone of the ME universe, and the sequel looks like it’s going to stress survival. Shepard is not expected to make it through this latest adventure, and we’re told there out of the multiple endings featured in the game, some of them are actually going to involve Shepard’s death. Not in the game over, load saved game sense … as in, you see Shepard perish (or at least it appears that way). The moral of the story is, build a good team, make sure they like you, and try not to get killed.

Dante’s Inferno: I don’t know what this says about me, but my high school assignment that dealt with reading the Divine Comedy and Dante Aligheri’s verbal road map of Hell has remained one of my strongest and favorite high school memories. It required us to create our own version of Dante’s hell, complete with circles, sinners and punishments. By the way, I was a Catholic high school student. Anyway, I remember thinking to myself that someone should make a game about it … and now it’s here.

This epic third-person action mashup features Dante, an ass-kicking knight who is loosely based on the poet who wrote the Divine Comedy. Beatrice, the love of his life, gets dragged into Hell and it’s up to Dante to go in and get her back. He comes in rocking a holy cross and a giant scythe he stole from Death as his main weapons. The most stunning aspects of the game are its sense of scale and visuals, which feature intriguing interpretations of all of the characters in Dante’s Hell. You actually have to hop on the boat on a living boat to Limbo, eventually having to tear the head off the boatman (whose actually IS the boat instead of the guy driving it). There’s also King Minos, the judge of the Damned; Virgil, the poet Dante encounters who spouts line from the Divine Comedy; the unbaptized children, who are a little ticked about being in Hell; and eventually Lucifer himself.

The circles of Hell based on the seven deadly sins are all individual stages of the game, so each stage has it’s own twisted personality while remaining loyal to the poem. You want to see Anger as a putrid swamp? It’s there. You remember how the city of Dis is described in the poem? You’ll see it on a massive scale. Of course, combat is paramount and as gory as humanly possible … as evidenced by Dante completely disemboweling a fat, gluttonous maiden from the inside. The game comes out in 2010.

All right, time for me to run off to see God of War 3 and even more third-person gore. It’s third-person action day, apparently. Maybe I’ll get to play something for once.