On the whole, this year's E3 seemed to contain a lot fewer titles that really stood out, much like last year. The coming year is looking like a lot of sequels, a lot of remakes, and a lot of games that copy existing titles so closely that they may as well have been remakes. On the other hand, I got to play Retro City Rampage. More on that later.
I always like to hit up Atlus' booth because they tend to bring more niche titles over from our good friends in Japan. Sometimes gamers don't really go for them, but sometimes they stumble on a hit like Demon's Souls. This yeay, though, Atlus seems to be playing it safe, falling back on their well-established Persona series, Persona 4 in particular.
The PS Vita is getting a remake of P4, while the PS3 and Xbox 360 are getting Persona 4 Arena, a fighting game based off Persona 4. Turning an RPG into a fighting game is a bit unusual, but this new game comes with a healthy pedigree, being the product of the team behind the Blazblue franchise.
Longtime readers will know that I took a long hiatus from fighting games when I was stripped of my title of Street Fight champion, on the grounds that I was terrible at fighting games and had never played a single online match against anyone ever. Still, that didn't stop me from handing out a serious beating to one Roger Barr, using my time-tested tactic of finding one button that works and hitting it until victory is achieved.
So complete was my victory that I was presented with a T-shirt as a prize:
Of course, Rog will try to tell you that we both got free T-shirts for standing in a T-shirt line, but doesn't that just sound like sour grapes?
Atlus' love for the Persona series continued with their MMO, Persona: Imagine. Though the game has been out for a few years, this year will mark the first time the game servers have been under Atlus' control, and they brought a playable demo to commemorate the occasion. Well, "playable demo" isn't entirely accurate; we tried to play the demo, but the whole thing froze up shortly after picking a character, and none of the booth attendants knew how to fix it.
Oh well. Surely the game must be at least somewhat entertaining, given that it's been active for almost four years now.
The original Zeno Clash was a great game, and I've been waiting for a sequel for years now. Finally, we'll have further opportunities to punch freaks in the face... in 2013. For now, Atlus has a pre-alpha build demo to demonstrate precious little about the new game. Notable additions include an RPG-based system for character development, and a more open world, as opposed to the stage-based level system of the original. The demo also featured a brief look at the refinements made to the combat system, chief among them the ability to target specific points on your opponent at specific times to create openings for further attacks. I believe they're still working the kinks out of it, as the attendant indicated that it is currently much easier to hit said points using a mouse instead of a gamepad.
Over at the Video Game Museum area, I tried out an old arcade game called War: Final Assault. If you can imagine the original Quake with the bright colors and futuristic setting of Unreal Tournament, you've got a pretty good idea of W: FA. We wondered why, in a showcase of older arcade titles, the organizers had opted to bring three of these machines, but it turns out that the three linked together for some local multiplayer action.
Sadly, there was little of said action to be had, thanks to the dearth of interested parties. Who could blame them, however, when you've got NARC just a few machines down. That game let you blow up hobos with a rocket laucher AND drive a car!
There's really no other way to describe Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale than to say it's Sony's take on the Super Smash Brothers series. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but Sony doesn't quite have the same stable of iconic characters that Nintendo has, or at least that's the impression one gets from the demo. Obvious choices like Kratos, Nathan Drake, and Sweet Tooth were available to the player, but then your selection gets a little more... diverse, with the likes of Parappa the Rapper and a Big Daddy from Bioshock. Both good games, but particularly in the case of the Big Daddy, they just don't have that same connection to Sony. And whatever happened to Crash Bandicoot?
Anyway, the main differences between this and SSB seems to be how you beat your opponents (beating them to death instead of just trying to knock them off the level), and the inclusion of super moves you can unleash by filling up a meter at the bottom of the screen. Seems like it could be all right, but I'm guessing interest in the game will drop off once a new SSB is released for the WiiU.
Of all the games at this year's E3, Retro City Rampage has to be my most anticipated. The short demo showed off the basic mechanics of the game, heavily influenced by GTA, as you might imagine. It was hard to glean too much information about the game from it, but I did wind up stealing a time-traveling phone booth, chatting with Doc Brown, and driving past a "Skate n' Buy". What part of the 80s hasn't worked its way into this game?
It seems like I've been waiting for Retro City Rampage longer than I waited for Diablo 3, but it's finally almost here. Unfortunately, we don't know when it will finally be released, and neither did the attendant. Apparently, the game is ready to go on all platforms, but is being held up by its publisher. It seems like with each passing day, there is less and less need to bring big publishers into the mix when selling a game. I only hope they can one day be cut out of the picture completely. And I also hope RCR is released before the end of the month.
The next Devil May Cry game was on display over at Capcom's booth. Personally, I think the idea of stylized combat was brought to its apex in Bayonetta, but that's not to say that DMC can't carry on in its own way.
Taking a page from Lords of Shadow, the newest DMC is set in an alternate universe, so the creative team can play around with new ideas without losing that established fanbase. I'm not too deep into the series, but the demo at least seemed to be in line with past offerings, with difficulty being not as hard as DMC3, but not as easy as DMC2. Stylistically, there have been some... changes. Outside of headline-making fan reactions, the demo featured a sequence wherein you flee down a corridor while words and phrases appear along the walls, a la Splinter Cell: Conviction.
This is another one where it's hard to say how the new gameplay features will play out as a whole, but putting aside the played-out alternate universe angle, and the eerie similarity between Dante's new look and that of the game's new director, it at least seems like it will be an adequate addition to the series.
The Hitman franchise has joined the ever-growing list of game series to worry about. The release of a trailer a few months back made it look like the series is moving away from its stealth assassin angle and more towards where Splinter Cell is right now, with its stealth elements being dumbed down to pressing one button to hide, and one button to execute anyone within arm's reach. Still, I don't want people to think I'm not giving it a fair shake, so here's how the demo went down:
The job was to kill a prominent figure in Chinatown. This task was made all the more difficult by the huge festival taking place in the area. However, multiple avenues existed for taking the target down discretely, including a nearby sniping spot and some perfectly poison-able food. I made my way to the kitchen, hoping to try the latter. A popup told me the kitchen was a restricted area, so I crouched down to avoid attention. Then suddenly, I was looking right at my target. He had decided to leave his guarded gazebo to make his own food, I guess. I pulled out my pistol and shot him in the face. Much to my surprise, the expected avalanche of guards never materialized, in spite of me being pretty visible to a few dozen people through the kitchen doorway. I shrugged, put my gun away, and walked to the exit.
I reached the exit without anyone saying, "hey, how is it that this guy's dead and that bald guy in the suit is walking away from the crime scene?" I realized that it was time to make my own fun: I pulled out my gun, moved slightly behind a stack of crates, and popped the nearest cop. Well, that got the police to finally start paying attention. Cops started pouring in, rushing right to the spot where their friend died before taking a shot at me. I'd pop one, and another would fill his place, until I had two enormous corpse piles. After the thirteenth cop, I got bored and tried to grab one of the rifles a cop had dropped, only to be brought down by a hail of gunfire from the remaining cops that had finally arrived from the far corner of the map. And that's why they call me the Silent Assassin.
There was no actual demo for Halo 4, just a big wall ad and a monitor. I can't say I blame them for not wanting to spend a lot on a booth. For all the preexisting interest in the series, they probably could have stuck a piece of paper to an art easel and written "Halo 4, coming soon" and gotten the same reaction.
Normally, we wouldn't bother mentioning something so insubstantial, but as we passed the wall, I noticed a ribbon had been stuck to it. It seems the trailer for Halo 4 captured some publication's interest enough to earn it an award. I'm not saying it will be a bad game, but surely last year's Dead Island fiasco has taught everyone that you can't judge a game solely on its trailer.
Of all the various areas of game development on display at E3, I have to say that Xbox's Summer of Arcade lineup seems the most promising. Deadlight gives us another look at the zombie apocalypse, this time in a 2.5D platformer with an emphasis on avoiding the pesky brain eaters. It's sort of a mixed message because your character has a sledgehammer, but rest assured, the emphasis is on puzzle solving and avoiding zombies, rather than swinging your hammer around like you're flashing back to your playthrough of Red Faction: Guerilla.
As with so many of these games, it's hard to appreciate the atmosphere being created when you're in a huge hall surrounded by chattering strangers. Still, I'm optimistic about how the full game will play out. I asked when the game would be out, but the attendant could only confirm that it would, indeed, be released sometime this summer. So... anytime within the next 3-4 months.
At first, I thought I was looking at a new release from Vanillaware (the studio behind Odin Sphere, and a number of other vastly-underrated titles), and in fact it is similar to their 2009 release, Muramasa. In Dust: An Elysian Tail, you control some sort of half cat, half samurai bent on revenge, or so I assume based on the hero's relentless brooding and grumbling. Experience is rewarded through kills and combo, and there seemed to be a system in place for backtracking once other powerups are unlocked a la Super Metroid. Rog took a crack at it, falling back on a surprisingly-effect sword spin, complemented by sprays of magic by your accompanying fairy. It definitely has potential, but as with the other Summer of Arcade titles, little is known about when the game will be released.
Closing out our list of Summer of Arcade titles is a new 2D stealth platformer called Mark of the Ninja. This one attempts to go a little farther than most with the stealth concept by including mechanics for measuring the amount of noise you make. Granted, it's not a new idea, but so many stealth games prefer the idea that your character is a silent killer whose only concern is being seen under direct light. One of the attendants also pointed out that it was possible to make it through the entire demo without killing anyone. To that I say, "why?" What could be more antithetical to being a ninja than making your way without an enormously high body count? I'm a stealth assassin, not a shrinking violet!
It's been a while since there was any news about it, but a demo for the long-awaited MMO, Neverwinter, appeared at this year's E3. I'm not entirely certain what role this game will play, given that there's already a Dungeons and Dragons MMO on the market, and this one appears to be a lot like it in terms of gameplay. The setting is different, and they didn't preface the release of the original MMO with a bunch of novels and such. Plus, this one is starting off Free-to-Play, rather than making the inevitable transition once player interest starts to drop off.
I was hoping to get more hands-on time with the demo, particularly since the booth was stocked with D&D steins that were being given away as a reward for beating the demo. Sadly, the allure of free crap meant a line almost all the way around the booth, and I had too many other demos to try.
Mirror of Fate is an odd one. It's set in the Lords of Shadow universe, but on the surface at least, it seems to be made in the Metroidvania style. As a result, the title seems both cynical and desperate. On the one hand, it takes LoS's love of cannibalizing games like God of War and Shadow of the Colossus, and turns it back on the original Castlevania series. On the other hand, we have a game in this new universe that is attempting to emulate the only Castlevania games that have consistently made money. You get the impression that the entire LoS team wants to make a new game, but they don't want to make anything too different for fear that it won't sell.
But enough about my personal hangups: the demo featured controls not unlike those found in LoS, with the exception being that area attacks cover a wide vertical, rather than horizontal, area. Also from LoS is the light and dark magic system, with dark granting increased damage, and light doing something that wasn't disclosed in the demo. As I mentioned earlier, the game at least appears to be like past Metroidvania titles, insomuch as it features a large map with backtracking to areas once certain powers have been unlocked. Where it doesn't copy the Metroidvania format is in the combat, where you have to whale on common enemies for an inordinate amount of time to defeat them, and in the linear progression through each new area of the map. I had to pound on a lot of skeletons and go back and forth hitting a lot of switches. All that wasn't particularly fun, but at least there were long load times in between each scene.
In one of the far corners of the hall, I spotted a giant inflatable Finn and Jake from Adventure Time. Sadly, no matter how many times I circled the booth, I did not see any Adventure Time game on display. A game has been announced for 2012, but no sign of it at E3. Suffice to say, I got the math out of there.
I was curious to try out Sleeping Dogs because it looked like one of only a handful of new IPs on display this year. Then I learned that it was originally supposed to be another installment in the True Crime series, which is best described as a series of middling GTA clones.
In line with the game's Hong Kong setting, most of the enemies and NPCs are overheard speaking Chinese, although they will switch to English long enough to hurl long strings of F-bombs your way. The full game is said to have both driving and shooting elements, but the demo only featured a brief foot chase, followed by a big brawl. The fight started out with me throwing some punches, but very quickly moved onto me grabbing thugs and shoving their heads into conveniently-placed exhaust fans.
I can't say that I have particularly high expectations for this title. Free roaming driving/shooting has been done better in the Saint's Row series, and free roaming brawling in an Asian setting has been done better in the Yakuza series. It's hard to imagine that a game that wants to do all of it will be any better than more focused titles.
Say what you will about Konami as a company, but they aren't afraid to experiment. Granted, they prefer to experiment by taking a new game and slapping on a random established IP to legitimize it, but that's still kind of experimental. How else could you explain Silent Hill: Book of Memories, a dungeon crawler based in the Silent Hill universe?
Here's the thing about game sequels and franchises: they exist because people like what they see in a game, and they want to see more of it. It's possible to have games in a franchise that step outside of the usual genres, so long as you hold onto what it was that made the series popular in the first place. If you can't do that, then you're just using the name as a cynical way to drum up interest in your product. To put it in terms of movies, it's the difference between "[movie] 2", and "from the producers of [movie]".
And the problem with making a game and giving the name of a franchise that it doesn't really belong in is that you wind up drawing the attention of people who are going to be the most critical of your work: fans of the original franchise. Those fans are going to have lofty standards for sequels to games they love, and rightly so. If you can't top past efforts in the series, just don't bother. Make something else, and let it stand on its own merits.
What was I talking about... oh right, the SH dungeon crawler.
It's like any other dungeon crawler, where you find loot and level up your character. Looting chests, as well as picking up/dropping weapons, requires that you hit the touchscreen instead of just hitting one of those buttons your thumbs are hanging over. The weapons you find each have limited durability, not unlike Dead Rising, minus the ability to hold more than two weapons at once. Occassionally, you have to engage in a simple puzzle for loot/xp to break things up a little. It's hard to see how the RPG elements will play out long term. All I know is I had a pipe in one hand and a knife in the other. I was clobbering nurses and dogs like a madman! Woo, Silent Hill! You ain't silent no mo'!!!
You know what? Forget what I was saying about the importance of maintaining gaming franchises. How about a tower defense game based in the Castlevania universe called "Castlevania: Concerto of Desolation", or a rhythm game sent in the town of Silent Hill called "Silent Hill: Pyramid Head is in This One, Too"?
Last year, it seemed like most of the offerings were either sequels or remakes. That seems to be the new trend at E3. Still, it's nice to see that smaller titles still have their place at the expo, even if they don't receive quite as much attention as the latest rendition of the same crap we've seen for years. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to mark my calendar for the release of the sequel to FotNS: Ken's Rage.
Anyway, Rog has captured more of the unusual side of E3, including the costumes, the Video Game Museum area, and a LOT of yelling. I'll let him explain in the following pages...
There's still much more to see from
I-Mockery's coverage of E3 2012!
Click here to continue onward to page 2!
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