For me, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) is a giant, growling contradiction in terms.
Every year I attend the behemoth celebration of digital entertainment and culture, and I just can't process the massive, public scale of this thing. The towering screens and throngs of people tell me that this is a business like any other—one that's loved by millions of people, and one that makes millions of dollars. Games are more popular and more prevalent than ever—without question. If that's the case, and it is, then it's ironic that it's always felt like such a solo endeavor for me over the years.
Yes, gaming is social and I've spent countless hours playing and discussing it with my friends and colleagues, but at the end of the day, games remain a lovely pastime that's processed by yours truly as the quest of a man alone. It's time spent by myself. If you rearrange the letters of "Quality Time" (and delete a few) you get "Quiet"... So, the loud, flashy marketing blitz that is the Electronics Entertainment Expo stands in the face of my lifetime of experience.
So, with these overwhelming feelings running through my head as a counterpoint to the throbbing crowds and masses of fans eager for their electrons, I submerge into the depths of E3 to bring you my news and impressions; the halting, limited coverage of a solo gamer set adrift on the convention center floor.
The most hands-on fun I had all day was with Platinum's Vanquish, no question. From the team headed by Shinji Mikami, this one has suddenly become highly anticipated by yours truly.
Upon first glance of the title in action, I said to myself "This is what Gears of War ought to be." Vanqiush positions itself as a third-person actioner in the Gears vein, replete with the cover mechanics that have become so commonplace lately. What Vanqish does, however, is take the conventions of that game and speed up the whole proceedings ten-fold.
Aside from the B-movie voice acting of the cut-scenes on display, this title had so much going right for it, I was immensely satisfied. The lumbering heroes of Epic's projects were replaced by a swift moving avatar who could boost in and out of cover with jets that propel him along his knees. It was sweet, sweet run-and-gun action that compelled, for sure.
As you zip in and out of cover, you can also slow down time as well. This is not a new concept, but it feels implemented so well, it made me giddy.
Finally, the boss character on display at the end of the demo portends very well for the types of intense multi-tiered battles that we might be able to expect from the finished game.
Overall, this was a truly kinetic effort that seemed like a real refinement of some modern tropes. It's great to see a Japanese developer take entrenched ideas about American gaming and show them how attention to mechanics and production value can take a game from a solid time-killer and elevate it to slick entertainment.
Next stop was a meeting with the fine folks of Southpeak Games. They had a couple of titles on display look like a lot of fun.
First up, I was taken through a demo of Nail'd, a motocross game that was in an early build stage, but still looked like a great time for racing enthusiasts.
Essentially, the game is bypassing any sort of realistic ATV and dirt bike racing action that's going around out there, and throwing it all out the window in favor of insane speed, ridiculous obstacles, and massive, massive jumps. I had a good time banging around with the title, and I think that it will fill a nice niche when it's released.
Next up, I got my hands on a build of 2 Worlds Too, er, I mean Two Worlds II—a role-playing game (RPG) of epic scale.
I'm not familiar with the first iteration of the series (and the rep assured me that knowledge of the first wasn't necessary) but I couldn't help but recall seeing some pretty mediocre reactions to the title. That said, this one looks to be a deeply customizable action-RPG that might really draw in the patient RPG fanatic.
The beta build I saw wasn't the prettiest belle at the ball, but she did have some nice dynamic lighting and textures. The rep was sure to point out that none of the textures are stock—they're all "handmade," which is pretty amazing.
Aside from the graphics, the game offers up a pretty cool assortment of really customizable attributes and attire. For example, the game's magic spells aren't all canned. You can modify each spell to your liking when you get the appropriate items that allows for changes to be made. For example, you can make a fireball spell that ricochets off walls, explodes, then summons a herd of giant scorpions. It's an idea that I hadn't seen before, and it was impressive.
Another cool feature of the game is the ability to not just create items, but to break them down into their various components which can then be used to upgrade other equipment. Pretty nifty.
The combat side of the game was a little less impressive at the moment. A bit of work needs to be done to get some good feeling out of the hit detection and the responsiveness.
Overall, due to its wealth of customizable spells, weapons, and armor, Two Worlds II will probably be right up many RPG fans' alley, especially those who enjoyed Oblivion.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow looked pretty good. It's coming along nicely, and though it smacks of God of War, it looks like it will hold the attention of Joe Gamer. Action in the demo was fast and furious, where the player is able to fight hordes of wolf creatures. It feels fine. It looks fine. It's all fine. What's not fine is the fact that it's called Castlevania. Will 3D forever be a curse to the name?
The eponymous whip is now replaced by a "chain-blade" sorta thingee which is acceptable and yes, the game stars a Belmont. Hmmm.... This game brings to light the serious question of what it takes to update a franchise—or if it's better to simply focus on the new. Jury's out on this one, but maybe it's only a matter of taste...
A few more highlights were on display at the Capcom booth.
Dead Rising 2 looks to be every bit as enjoyable as the first one. The near-final build I played had me hooked in but a moment.
Fans will be interested to know that the game's tight time limits returned in full force, which is pretty great. Feeling pressure from the get-go is an excellent way to compel the player. The ten minutes I spent with the game gave me the option of three different side quests to accomplish which was all well and good since I appreciate choice, and I was strongly compelled to accomplish all of them.
The game's focus on mowing down hordes of undead hasn't lost its appeal one bit. Sorting through the goofy weapons was a blast, and the ability to construct new ones in this version is a welcome addition. To answer the popular question, it seems as if the photography angle of the first has been dropped in favor of the weapon customization, which doesn't bother this gamer.
Another cool addition was the family aspect of the main character. Apparently, the main character's daughter needs a daily dose of a zombie prevention tincture, so there's added pressure besides the returning time limit to search Las Vegas for the drug. Exciting stuff indeed. I was very reluctant to put down the controller with this one.
Also at the Capcom booth was one I was very much looking forward to—Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective for the Nintendo DS; the new game from the man behind the Ace Attorney series, Shu Takumi.
Personally, the adventures of Phoenix Wright have yielded diminishing returns, so I was thrilled to know that the man was thinking in a different direction. This one did not disappoint, as the demo was pure delight from start to finish.
Explaining the game will prove a little difficult without showing it to an interested party, but it basically involves a man killed unjustly and now stuck in the spirit realm. He's wrapped up in the mystery of his own death, but absent his memories, he's forced to discover and prevent his own death by preventing the deaths of others.
The game requires switching back and forth between the ‘real' world and the spirit realm, but interactions with objects are limited to "tricks" you perform by possessing inanimate objects. When chained together, these objects affect the living participants of each scene.
If it sounds goofy, that's because it is. The same lighthearted take that has made certain Ace Attorney characters so memorable is in full effect here. I was smiling the entire time, and I strongly feel that this is a game that should please any puzzle fan looking for something different and delightful.
That about does it for the solo gamer's Day One. What about the Kinect you say? The Move? The 3DS? Patience, patience. I will say that the hours melt, melt, melt away when you're on the show floor, but two more deafening days remain. Check back tomorrow for the best that one man can do!