E3: A look back on Day Two

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Day Two started off earlier, mainly due to the first day starting at noon. A few appointments were penciled in including another one with Activision who had given us a chance to check out the new True Crime. My brother was ready to hit most of those leaving me to wander the floor to take a look at what else was being shown. The first day was a brief tour in the West Hall. Now it was time to hit the South Hall where the third parties, and Microsoft, was lurking.

Lucasarts set up a huge screen flanked by stormtroopers at South Hall to show off the trailer for the upcoming sequel to Force Unleashed. If you had played that game, you’re probably wondering how the main character, Starkiller, had survived if you went “good”. Simple answer: he’s a clone and Vader’s got a lot of these stashed away in a special place on Camino. More complicated answer: Jedi can’t be cloned. At least according to a twist in the story that makes Starkiller wonder just what Vader isn’t telling him.

Hopefully we won’t have to slam dunk another Star Destroyer.

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The hall was also home to even more banners. One for Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIV MMO and a more macabre one for F3AR, the third title in Warner Brothers’ F.E.A.R. series.

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It has almost been three decades since Disney’s stylishly cyberpunkish TRON had made stars out of programs by pitting them against their human creators who were digitized into zeroes and ones by a malicious AI. But the excitement surrounding TRON Legacy due out at the end of this year has only proven how enduring its story has been since then and just like its predecessor, a game is coming out to help celebrate it.

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Only this time, it’s a prequel that sets up the groundwork for what will actually happen in the film. The developers have actually seen the script, based on what I was told, and have built the game on the characters and events that audiences will get to see in theaters. I suspect you won’t need to play the game to get the entire experience, but it’s going to be out there for TRON fans to take a bite of if they need more to go on.

From the demo, the gameplay appears to have gotten off to a good start with experience points awarded for kills for upgrades and the artists have obviously done their homework with the visuals. Fighting on foot was pretty easy as I took on the role of a protector program charged with chasing down a rogue named Quorra.

As for the lightcycles, a racing sequence that involves escaping from a digital city falling apart showed a bit of where they were heading, though it’s not quite as polished as I had hoped after getting stuck in one or two places. But it’s a work in progress and so far, there’s a lot of promise here that I hope breaks the curse of the movie tie-in. Outside the demo area, there were also a few displays featuring props from the film including TRON themed controllers. Nice.

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Ninja Theory’s (Heavenly Sword) new title, Enslaved, was also shown off on the floor featuring a demo filled with action and a chance to play with commanding your partner to overcome challenges and puzzles during its post-apocalyptic take on the classic Chinese tale, “Journey to the West”.

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OnLive also had a booth at the show to demonstrate their take on cloud computing with streamed games. If you don’t have the PC hardware, they do making their service sound like a win-win scenario for gamers tired of keeping up with the latest build (or with Crysis). They’ve even shown off the ability to play their games on an iPad. So far, they’ve already started taking subscriptions although they’re US only at the moment, though about 20 of the latest titles (such as Assassin’s Creed 2 and Splinter Cell: Conviction) are available. Other territories will presumably follow later.

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Among the games being resurrected for the next generation, Splatterhouse is getting a remake with updated gore.

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But as much as it was about the games, some of the booths went all out to try and mix things up with a few other fun bits ranging from Helghast walking the floor to models hoping to survive to the end of three days of photo ops and pick up lines.

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A few really got into their parts, swinging their blades and throwing shirts at anyone with a pulse, while others were understandably less enthused at having only a twenty minute break during eleven hours of work.

Alienware, that fine purveyor of high-end monster PCs, was also back…

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…and G4 had their piece of South Hall staked out.

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MMOs were also front and center including a few introduced last year, such as Global Agenda. One or two new ones were also around to try and wean players from Activision/Blizzard’s juggernaut, World of Warcraft, such as Rift.

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Rift, on the surface, seemed like any other typical fantasy MMO. But a decent skill tree and spontaneous invasions by an otherworldly rift that can transform parts of the game world unless players fight it off might be enough to bring in a few interested adventurers eager to try something else. It certainly looked good and that giant thing hanging over the booth was one of those things that could invade Rift’s world of Telara.

It was being published by Trion who is also working with Petroglyph (Universe at War) on their own MMO called End of Nations.

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Bringing together thousands of players in battles big enough to accommodate them, would-be commanders have classes that they can pick to represent their strengths on the battlefield and can level them up by smashing the enemy…or each other.

Of course, you can also solo it if that’s more your style, but enemy commanders won’t be alone, either. There’s even a crafting system in place along with the experience system to help build up new units, allowing for trade between players or by drawing those resources from territories…hopefully under your control.

Ubisoft also hit this year’s show in as big a way as they did last year featuring titles such as the new Ghost Recon and allowing players to sample the new multiplayer build for the upcoming Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood. It’s a first for the series and among the gametypes offered with it, players can go head to head and assassinate each other while trying to maintain their own cover.

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Different classes are available for players to try their skills with such as the Doctor who injects his victims with a fatal cocktail of medieval guesswork, quietly disposing of them. Unless they’re seen by another assassin – even worse if that assassin has been looking for them in the first place.

Microsoft also hit South Hall with its own humongous display, showing off games demo’ed new, slim Xbox 360′s. Kinect was the big theme there, though for those of us that wanted to sample more traditional venues, demos for Crackdown 2 and Fable III were on hand along with a few others.

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And there was also this for Forza.

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One big surprise at the show was Disney, not only because of TRON, but for its huge push for Warren Spector’s new game for them, Epic Mickey.

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Spector himself was on hand to talk up his new game and his approach to the design of its gameplay. I suspect, though, that quite a few in the crowd were there just to see him, the guy that helped to bring us the classics such as Thief and Deus Ex. I know I was psyched to see him onstage, but I was also more interested to know just how his expertise would be leveraged into Mickey’s newest adventure.

I didn’t have to wait long. From watching the demo and in hearing him talk about the game, it sounds like Epic Mickey will be a huge win on the Wii when it finally comes out. Think about it: Mickey is drawn into a world made up of all of the rejected concept art that had given birth to the classic villains and heroes throughout Disney’s animated history. Leading them all is a ‘toon named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit who Disney himself had created before Mickey Mouse.

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But there’s more. Mickey will have a magic brush that he can use to either erase parts of this world (think “the Dip” from the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit) to reveal treasures and other hidden items, or paint enemies into friendly submission as well as create new solutions to certain puzzles. Spector didn’t leave it simply at that, however. Erase too much, and the denizens of this mixed-up world teetering on destruction at the hands of Oswald will be less inclined to help out someone that seems to be doing the same thing. Paint up friends and help others by taking care of what you use the brush on and you might get the help you need. Actions have consequences.

At the end of his talk, performance artist David Garibaldi showed off his own skills in painting up a portrait of the master Mousketeer himself before moving on to Oswald and a few other pieces. Paint flew, audience members slowly crept back from the stage to avoid potential splatter, and a picture emerged from the seeming chaos of music and movement as Garibaldi did what he does best to the music spun for him by DJ Joseph One. Awesome.

Mortal Kombat was also on display. Ed Boon’s reboot of the franchise looks and sounds like it’s getting a much needed makeover and will be sporting a host of everything that made the first one so controversial. Now that the industry has some idea of where it can push the ratings button, I’m guessing that Boon and his team did what they could to shove the game as far they could take it. X-ray combos showing busted ribs and jaws, new fatalities packed with humiliating carnage, animated backdrops…it’s a rebirth of the series that, from what I could tell from the expressions of everyone that had gone to see a recorded demo for it, will be the most awesome MK yet.

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At the 2K booth, I stopped by to check out Mafia II after passing a familiar couple standing guard at the entrance.

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I loved the first Mafia game…except for the racing section, the cops that pursued only you despite anyone else breaking a traffic law, and the occasional glitch. The new one looks to be more open ended with a sandbox driving area, stores, wardrobe, detailed interiors, and missions.

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Most everyone from what I could see were busy wandering around town and trying to break things to see what would happen. I did that for awhile, stole a few cars, and tinkered with the house that I apparently started in. I could fiddle with the radio, change my clothes, or check out the centerfold of the Playboy magazine lying on the kitchen counter.

After snagging a sandwich and a drink from the fridge, I headed out into the garage where I had a pick of vintage 1950′s autos. Driving felt a lot better in this game than the last one and running intersection stops and crashing into cars didn’t immediately call in the cops unless they were around. Stopping in a gun store, I loaded up a shotty, ammo, and headed to where I was supposed to meet the rest of the family for a little assassination.

We hid in an upstairs apartment whose second story window looked down on the street with an MG42 and soon enough, our mark showed up with his own gang. Mowing down most of them and setting off each car with a few perforations to the gas tank, I headed downstairs with the other goodfellas to clean up the road and head inside the distillery to find the guy we were supposed to whack.

After a firefight inside that set the place on fire, we managed to escape though one of us got shot in the leg by the mark. Still, we got our message across and I was convinced that this had to be one of the titles I would have to play this year when it finally arrives.

Square Enix also had a huge booth set up in what I think is the same spot they had last year complete with a sit-down theater showing off trailers of their games as well as those that they were publishing for other developers.

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One game that I had never heard of but which was shown with its own demo was Mindjack, a futuristic action game that sounds like a cross between the body swapping of Quantic Dream’s Omikron and cyberpunk. In it, you can apparently hack into other bodies and temporarily take control of them, inheriting their abilities, in order to stop a conspiracy that reaches into the worldwide network tying everything together.

If you’re also thinking Ghost in the Shell, you’re not the only one.

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Kane and Lynch 2 was also being shown off with a playable demo. I wasn’t a big fan of the first game, so I’ll wait a bit before I see what this does differently. I didn’t as much hate the game as it so much fell apart somewhere after the awesome bank heist mission. If the rest of the game had kept up that kind of intensity, I wouldn’t be as lukewarm over the sequel as I am. Maybe it will be different this next time out.

There was also a stand-up arcade cabinet featuring the new downloadable game, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. I’d rather have a full blown Tomb Raider adventure as I liked Underworld, but this also looks like it could sate that appetite if only until Lara returns in another major chapter.

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Capcom was also bringing its own collection of must-have titles to the show including Dead Rising 2. The sequel’s got a lot of interesting changes and after as much fun as I had with the first one, even with the time limit, this one looks to be even better. For one thing, you can now craft special weapons with the right ingredients, such as combining a buzzsaw with a kayak paddle to create a double buzzsaw bo staff. Or merging a machine gun with a teddy bear for a fluffy drone that can help watch your back when you need it.

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It’s also packed with survivors and being in Vegas, you’ve got slots, prizes that can be used as weapons, shops everywhere, and returning restrooms where you can save your progress. Clothes make a comeback, wielding benches is still in vogue, and the zombies have a few new tricks to make life a little more interesting such as being a little more responsive. With an arsenal of custom weapons and new ones, such as MMA gloves and vacuum cleaners armed with saw blades, clearing your name from the blame over this outbreak should be as exciting as the first one.

Capcom was also showing off the new Marvel vs. Capcom 3 as playable demos on the floor or as a last man standing demo where everyone stood in line to try and knock each other off of the machine.

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And what day wouldn’t be complete without a little live Lucha Libre by the Insane Clown Posse to help promote Slang’s new Lucha Libre title?

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And as for our meeting with Activision for True Crime, I’m definitely looking forward to more sandbox city action. Taking place in Hong Kong and playing as Wei Chen, an undercover cop on the trail of the triads, expect fast chases through marketplaces, through buildings, and over rooftops with a healthy amount of fists and fury to make your point with. So far, it looks great, it’s on my list of must-play games, and with that, Day Two has finally come to an end.