5 Games that Sort of Slipped Under the Radar at E3

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E3 has come and gone and now that the dust has settled it’s time to look back at some of the games that for one reason or another, weren’t really given the coverage they deserved.

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E3: Borderlands

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When I saw this game for the first time at last year’s E3, I came out slightly underwhelmed. To me, the only thing worth mentioning was the fact that you could have 500,000 weapons at your disposal. Tons-o-guns are great, but what else is there?

Turns out, there’s plenty, and now this game’s near the top of my must-have list. What grabbed me in Gearbox’s presentation this year was their artistic direction … this is NOT the game I checked out last time.

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E3: Heavy Rain

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I’ve seen a lot more than this game, but it had a high spot on my mental checklist. I loved Indigo Prophecy, so I felt the need to see how this game was coming together.

If you’re not familiar with Heavy Rain, here’s a general story rundown. It’s about the perspectives of hour people looking into the phenomenon of the Origami Killer, a murderer who leaves a little origami piece at the bodies of his victims. There was a playable demo on the show floor featuring Norman Jayden, an FBI profiler, but Sony’s breakout session about the game revealed a new female character named Madison, an insomniac photojournalist who likes to rest in motels. The scene we saw was at a nightclub called the Blue Lagoon, where she had to find a way to talk to the sleazy club owner for information. The direct approach doesn’t work, so she had to doll herself up and dance on a small platform to get invited to this guy’s private room.

I found the placement of the QTE icons interesting … they work within the flow of the scenes rather than being layered on top of the actual visuals. You’ve got button icons near heads, elbows, feet. Thought processes and decisions orbit the head of the player and get harder to read the more stressed out the player becomes. This was wild to see in a non-combat situation, where we saw how one can control everything from how Madison put on her makeup to having to strip off some of her clothes for the odious, gun-toting club owner, who orders her to strip or die. We saw her strip, nervously, try to figure out how to buy time while stripping (her thoughts are very hard to read at this point), work her way into position to grab a lamp (by shaking her booty in his face), and then smack him with the lamp to knock him out. My favorite part, but also the most painful to watch, was how she extracted information by taping him to a chair and then squeezing his … well, the things on guys that aren’t supposed to be squeezed. This is all player controlled of course, so you have to mash on a button and use whatever controller motions are available to you.

It was made very clear to us that Heavy Rain is going to be more grounded than Indigo Prophecy, so you’re not going to see aliens or any other extreme weirdness. Also, there’s no such thing as a game over screen. If one character dies, his or her death becomes part of the story, and you move on. If all four characters perish, it’s simply how the story ends. This is essentially the game’s way of making sure you play it over and over again, looking for stuff you missed and seeing how the story evolves. I also think it’ll be a challenge to my own gaming sensibilities, which run hot and cold on the concepts of QTEs.

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.

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.

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E3: Xbox press briefing decompression

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In case you haven’t seen Al’s previous posts, a few of us at Tech-Out are actually attending the sea of gaming madness called E3. Today was press-con day: Xbox, Electronic Arts (which I almost forgot I registered for), and Ubisoft. Instead of inundating you with reams of text about stuff you’ve probably already heard about (see links on the right side for actual news), me and Reggie will share our thoughts about some of the things that really clawed at our eyeballs and collective gaming psyches. No tears of joy were shed in the viewing of these conferences … except perhaps the from the Final Fantasy crowd. Oh yeah, and Steven Spielberg, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney showed up. That sets the tone for the discussion, which comes after the jump.

I start it off after the jump. And no, we haven’t forgotten the fact that Hideo Kojima was there.
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