E3: A look back on Day One

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Another E3 has come and gone leaving behind clouds, motion controls, and a bevy of sequels. So what does it all mean? I’ve had a few days to gather my thoughts on what we’ve seen on the show floor and behind closed doors, so here are a few ideas on the message left by waggling hands and brutal teddy bears.

Within the Los Angeles Convention center, most had gathered in front of the doors leading into the two main halls where most of the fun would take place. Some snuck into the press area rooms stocked with courtesy snacks which were never replenished fast enough. Though the juiciest stuff would be by appointment only, there would be plenty to see amongst the exhibits on the main floor.

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This year, we pretty much skipped the pre-show press events. Everything said in each one would be seen and heard about on the floor that day, though Microsoft wouldn’t be giving out anymore new Xbox slims as they did when they held theirs.

From what we had heard, Nintendo had a few surprises with the return of Kid Icarus on portables and a revamped version of Goldeneye for the Wii as well as the 3DS. As for the motion stuff, Microsoft renamed their “Project Natal” to “Kinect” with a somewhat underwhelming collection of games that seemed to have escaped from the Wii. That includes a motion controlled sports title.

PS3′s magic wands with their “Move” system seemed to be getting a bit more of a positive vibe from a few others overheard on the floor if only because the launch games targeted at it didn’t appear to be knock-offs of what is already on the Wii. But Microsoft had also delivered a slimmer, sleeker version of the Xbox which they had promised would no longer “red ring”. We’ll see how that goes.

A fan-made War Machine from Iron Man 2 appeared on the floor before the show started to help warm up cameras. And I thought I’d have to go to Comic Con to see that.

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Once the doors were officially open, everyone poured into the halls and all of the exhibitors, models, developers, and PR people braced themselves for three days of absolute mayhem.

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Goldeneye
Activision was our first appointment. While waiting upstairs for the guards to let us through, Naughty Bear walked the floor looking for fedora-wearing journalists to beat on.

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After surviving this brush with stuffed death, we left the guard to deal with the bear and took a look at the new Goldeneye. Completely revamped for the Wii, it looks great and is sporting Craig’s face instead of Brosnan’s if only because they wanted to keep the game timely. In the same spirit, the game will also be a bit grittier action-wise (sans parkour) with some destructible obstacles such as cover, though there are options to be stealthy enough to avoid setting off alarms if lead rain isn’t your favorite thing.

Goldeneye’s multiplayer will support split screen, online play, and over 40 unlockable characters to fight with. Mining the rogue’s gallery of villains from the Bond universe, players will get a chance to slip into Jaws’ steel plated dentures or even as KGB/SPECTRE turncoat, Rosa Kleb.

They’re also thinking of adding special attacks for each character, though the only one we saw was the spinning edge of Oddjob’s hat in our faces during our four-way split screen battle to the death as Scaramanga, Oddjob, Trevelyan, and Jaws fought for supremacy. At one point, one of the other players decided to skip the fireplay and just throw Oddjob’s hat. Fun stuff, even if you don’t remember the classic on the N64.

Call of Duty: Black Ops
The next demo we witnessed was the one for the next Call of Duty by Treyarch. We were shown the scene where we stepped into an SR-71 and used its surveillance capabilities to guide a team on the ground behind enemies lines in Soviet Russia. The team was heading into a heavily guarded Soviet base and after guiding them to a ridge in safety, the game transitioned us into their parkas hidden beneath the bushes only a few feet away from a curious patrol that walked right past them.

We were also shown a firefight inside the base after rappelling down through a window to take control of it and then afterwards, treated to a little mass destruction via stolen Soviet Hind. The differences in design philosophy between Infinity Ward and Treyarch may be slight, but Treyarch loves empowering the player with vehicle driven mayhem and destruction wherever it can such as with World at War. Laying waste to an enemy camp with choppers lighting up the sky with orange fire and black smoke looked fantastic onscreen. Being able to play through that sequence should be even more exciting.

The setting is also great cannon fodder for anything that might have happened behind the scenes. Fighting these secret battles during the Cold War? Why not? Bond had been doing it for over thirty years until Goldeneye. And there’s so much that can be made out of anywhere in the world where Soviet Communism brushes up against the arsenal of Democracy.

Can’t wait for more.

DJ Hero 2
I also took a look at DJ Hero 2. Though it’s not really something I’m into, I’ll have to admit that after stepping up to try it out towards the end of the demo, I could see myself picking up one of these for myself. The controls were the most intimidating part of the experience from what I thought I could see, but once Freestyle Games’ creative director, Jamie Jackson, taught me the ropes, I was having a lot of fun dueling the other guy only a few feet away.

Freestyle Games decided to go social with their updates to DJ Hero. Singing is now an important part of the gameplay along with dueling with a friend, and anyone can drop in and out during a song for whenever you or your friends want to start up their own beat. A number of other gameplay changes were also added in including new DJs that are represented in the thumping backdrop. DJ Mouse was shown off for our tour of the game, though more are promised yet kept under wraps for now.

At the end, even though I might not have a turntable sitting in my living room anytime soon, DJ Hero’s sequel promises to be an exciting title. Freestyle has also included a wide selection of tracks from popular artists such as Lady Gaga and Metallica. If a newcomer like me can scratch a few tracks together and keep up with the beat, anyone can.


Spider Man: Shattered Dimensions

Activision showed this one next and it takes place across four different versions of Spider Man as he tries to find the pieces of an artifact lost in each dimension. With visual aesthetics based off of the comics and alongside a close collaboration with Marvel, seeing Noir Spider Man’s steampunkish outfit complete with goggled helmet and short leather jacket set the tone of the kind of creativity that was being leveraged to make it stand out. It also looks like a lot of fun.

There’s the Amazing Spider Man which is the classic red and blue webslinger we know, and then the future Spider Man in 2099 where falling isn’t so much as dangerous as it might be crashing through the streaming cars. For those of us without our Marvel encyclopedia within easy reach, the game will have a small version of its own to describe who the characters are and where the story is headed.

The game is also divided into “acts” and the order in which players pursue Spidey’s missions in each one is up to them. There may be cameos of other Marvel villains in the game, but the developers were tight lipped about what they could say. So far, though, I liked what I saw. It could make me a true believer yet.

Sony: Killzone 3
After Activision, I had time to wander the floor and found myself at Sony’s gigantic booth sitting opposite Nintendo’s. Small rooms holding Move units were set up within its huge walls along with a few stand up units showing off the 3D effects that the PS3 and a capable television were also bringing to living rooms everywhere.

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But the game that stuck out as a huge Sony flag of FPS fury in the middle of all of this was Killzone 3. Two rows of Sony Bravias held everyone spellbound with an cool introduction to more Helghan depopulation amidst crashing ice bergs and the colossal rigs built into them. Two lines were also set up: one for those that wanted to just play the game (the “HD line”) and another for those that wanted to try out the 3D glasses.

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That was the line I jumped into and the one that moved the slowest since out of all of the TVs there, only three were set up with 3D. I’m not sure why that was the case, but the Helghan soldiers patrolling the floor seemed to indicate that complaints would not be heard. Where was Rico when you needed him?

I finally got to my own turn at 3D but the effect onscreen was worth the wait as I fiddled with the title graphic by moving the controller around. The glasses were a comfortable fit, even over my own specs, and reminded me of the ones handed out to theaters. Just fancier.

I had a choice of either choosing between the “new” control scheme or sticking with the Killzone 2 controls. Two missions were also made available. One that introduced a new weapon and put you on a run ‘n gun sequence in the air and on foot to show off a new melee kill move (knife between the glowing eyes). The other mission involved the jet pack. To keep things moving, they only had time for players to try one mission, so I opted for the one that launched me into the air.

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Flying with the pack took some getting used to, but watching the snow flakes dance onscreen, the waves crashing against the ice after coming too close to the caps as I desperately hit the jets, and hurtling at the next rusted platform dangling a few yards away in 3D made me a believer…if only by making me think that if I had the right TV and the cash to burn on an upgrade, it would be worth it.

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Bethesda
Bethesda went appointment only this year, a change from last where they had an open floor on the bottom of a two floor booth for everyone to sample their titles, but they pulled out the stops to show their love for id’s Rage, inXile’s Hunted, and especially for Obsidian’s work on New Vegas.

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Ignition Entertainment – El Shaddai
Ignition Entertainment pulled out the stops in promoting El Shaddai, an action game designed by Clover alum, Takeyasu Sawaki. It’s loosely based on the Book of Enoch, a non-canonical work not included in the Torah or the Bible, and spins it the only way that a game can by casting the player as a priest named Enoch who must avert a flood that will destroy all humanity. To do so, he must find seven fallen angels with the help of Lucifer (presumably before the Fall) along with a few others.

The artistic style of the main character reminds me partly of Out of This World while the rest of the game shares the kind of flirtation with color and movement that Okami (which Takeyasu had worked on) is known for. If the story’s premise hasn’t grabbed you yet, the visuals might.

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Konami – Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Hitting up Konami had its own surprises, including a remake of Rush ‘n Attack into a 3D side-scroller similar to Shadow Complex and Bionic Commando: Rearmed (which is also getting a sequel). But it was hard not to spend time at Castlevania to see just what the combined talents of MercurySteam (Scrapland) and Kojima Productions can do with Dracula’s stomping grounds without Igarashi at the helm.

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It’s basically God of War meets Castlevania, but in a good way. After all, why re-invent the wheel? FPS titles had to pretty much live being compared to Doom after its release for a few years before people finally got tired of making the comparison as the titles stood ever more firmly on their own. While it might feel like God of War on the surface, it’s really a fantastic match for the kind of mechanics that they’re looking for. Lament of Innocence did a decent job with its own stab at 3D along with Curse of Darkness, and the demo helped to brush away some of that fear with easy – if not familiar – controls.

Sitting off to the side were a few other titles, such as Saw II.

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…and another game called Hard Corps: Uprising by Arc System Works (Guilty Gear fighting series). This one looks like a new side-scrolling shooter in the vein of Contra, but with energy bars and anime-inspired artwork.

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Sega – Vanquish by Platinum Games
Gears of War meets lightning greased, rocket powered DARPA armor in this crazy third-person actioner from the house that brought us Bayonetta, Mad World, and Infinite Space. The setting: an energy crisis grips the world in the future and America has built a solar satellite station in orbit to beam clean energy to help power all of the 3D televisions that everyone presumably have by now. The Russians apparently stage an orbital attack to seize the station and have come armed to the teeth with giant, transforming robots.

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A response is quickly sent up to intercept the Russians and free the station and as the man in the advanced armor suit, you’ll be leading the charge as you blow through weak points, find upgrades on the field to make your weapons even deadlier, and slide from cover to cover with the help of mini-jets to avoid being turned into Robotech-missiled souffle.

Controls take a little getting used to, but the visual chaos and over-the-top action along with production values pitching the US and Russia into a hyper-tech war of attrition made this one of my most favorite games of the show. Can’t wait for it to arrive, and it was a great way to end a day at E3.