While the big, annual X’0 event that takes place in Europe about this time every year was canceled, the smaller, more intimate Toronto event still happened, and man was it ever great! I know it seems like every year is the biggest year for gaming, but this year it really is. Looking back on last year’s event, there really weren’t that many huge titles being released for the holidays. Where as, this year the abundance of awesomeness has already started to trickle down the pipe. BioShock, Metroid Prime 3 and Warhawk all being released within the past week. That’s one big title per platform, and that’s just the start.
Right off the bat, I knew this year’s event was bigger and was going to better than anything I’ve attended in previous years. The venue was significantly bigger and parked out front was a Ferrari, Porsche and two Ariel Atoms – all decked out with PGR4 logos. Anyone attending the event was able to jump in the passenger seat for a spin around the block. I may look back on this day and regret not having gone or a ride in any of them (especially the Atom as I’ll likely never get that chance again), but I just couldn’t get enough time in with Skate as it was! So, let’s get right down to it…
Yes, Halo 3 was there. But, I didn’t play it. There was a multiplayer area setup where people were playing some visually refreshed Halo 2 maps and playing around with Forge (live map editor, Garry’s Mod type thing), but I decided to pass it up. Instead, I immediately made my way downstairs where private showings were taking place for some of the biggest titles being released this year – Halo 3 (single player campaign), Mass Effect, Assassin’s Creed and Lost Odyssey. I’ve seen quite a bit on everything but Halo 3’s campaign, so I put my name on the list and whisked off behind the magic curtain for a 20 minute demo with a developer from Bungie.
We were shown two levels from the campaign, the first of which being a few chapters in where Master Chief finds himself in a bunker with a handful of marines, a Warthog and the new personnel carrier Warthog – basically a Warthog with a basket on the back in place of the turret. It was obvious that something significant had just happened and once venturing outside, evidence of events from Halo 2 were present, but that’s all I’m going to say about that. After venturing through a few canyons, a pretty large Covenant stronghold was found. It was a massive area, with three or four small structures placed strategically. Once the fighting broke out, it was immediately apparent that gameplay has changed significantly. The use of various types of deployable shields was huge – suddenly, being in an open field isn’t so scary/stupid when you can drop a shield in front or around you at any given moment.
The second chapter we were shown was the first in the game, which the Bungie dude referred to as “Jungle”. I was hoping we’d see this level as I had just read about it in a recent Wired article. Needless to say, it was absolutely gorgeous! The amount of foliage was unreal and the level of detail was truly amazing. But the cool stuff was yet to come.
After a brief, yet awesome battle by what appeared to be a loading/landing dock used by the humans, the dev quit the game and went to the “Theatre”, off the main menu. The video recording feature we caught a glimpse of in the Halo 3 multiplayer beta was merely that – a glimpse. While you’re playing back a recorded video, you’re able to detach the camera and freely move it around the battlefield in real time – or paused, or in slow-motion – whatever you prefer. This could really come in handy in tough areas if you repeatedly get your ass handed to you. Fire up a video of you getting slayed and watch how the enemy is maneuvering and what tactics they’re using. Or, as we were shown today – it’s great for getting a closer look at a well planted grenade and a get a close-up as bodies are thrown into the air. The ability to capture screenshots is also present, which can be upload to Bungie.net and accessed via your account. Love it!
Just after E3, I wrote about all the games I’m keeping an eye on this year. I had two lists – one was for games I will definitely buy, the other being games I’m still not sure about. Skate was on the second list, but with the release of a playable demo last week via Xbox Live Marketplace and getting my hands on the full game today, it’s rocketed to the top of my must buy list. That game fucking rules, hands down, holy shit!
I’m not sure how many times I’ve played until the timer runs out (which I believe is half an hour), but it’s probably reaching close to a dozen now. It’s absolutely refreshing to see a skateboarding game coming out that is actually about skateboarding. Not ridiculous combos that could never be accomplished by a human being. Not stupid, jackass stunts ala Bam Margera. Not pushing a button and tapping a direction to perform what is a very hard trick in the real world. A game that takes practice to get good at. A game where you’re going to fall on your face if you try and hit a rail at high speeds from a 90 degree angle. A game where doing a nose manual across a platform to a nollie kickflip out is enough to make you yell “yes!” every single time. Skate is everything I just mentioned and so much more. I never would have thought using the analog sticks alone for tricks would work. Not only does it work, it brings a level of realism to the game that couldn’t be achieved any other way. Kudos to EA for taking on a genre that has been dominated by a single title for nearly 10 years and showing the competition how it should have been done all along. Tony who?
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
For the first couple hours we were there, the rep wasn’t letting anyone actually get their hands on COD4, which was massively disappointing so I said to hell with them and moved on. In years past, I’ve seen this kind of thing only from Activision – previous versions of the Tony… oh, what’s his name again? Hawk, Tony Hawk. Previous versions of the Tony Hawk games had been on the floor but you weren’t able to play them. Pissed me off to no end. Why bring it to a hands on event if you’re not going to let people… get their hands on it?
Anyway, later in the day the rep finally let people play it and I stuck around to watch for a bit. Since no one was able to play all day, there was quite a line in no time and I couldn’t be bothered waiting. What I saw looked great, though. Not anything like a Call of Duty game, mind you. But great none the less. Infinity Ward have never been a studio to disappoint, so I’m sure COD4 is going to be as good as it’s looking.
Gears of War (PC)
There were a few PCs on hands with some of the latest Games for Windows titles being showcased. Gears of War being one of them. I jumped on hoping to catch a peek at the new chapter that’s exclusive to the PC version, but no dice. I started out playing with the mouse and keyboard, but quickly switched to the controller. GOW was made for the controller and it plays much better with it. It looked good – not noticeably better than the Xbox 360 version or anything, though. I did see some significant and frequent slow-downs, though.
Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock
The first game I played of the day, and Sabotage by the Beastie Boys was the track. The new controllers are super nice. still smaller than I’d like them to be. but much better than the cheap-o looking explorer controller from GHII. It plays just like GHII, but the style and characters are quite a bit more exageratted than its predecessor. Seeing how the direction the Neversoft guys took the Tony Hawk franchise, I guess this should come as no surprise. I’m sure it’s going to be a great game and lots of fun – multiplayer over live will be rad if there’s no lag issues. But I doubt I’ll pick it up until there’s a bit of a dry spell. I’m just not excited about it, and that’s probably due to the fact that GHII only came out for the Xbox 360 four and a half months ago.
Half-Life 2: Episode 2
I didn’t get to play Episode 2 much as the dev console fully crashed and rebooted to a debug screen about two minutes in. I basically walked from one end of a mountainous valley with a river running through it to the other. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous – I think the translation from PC to Xbox 360 is going to be a great one! When I finished my long walk, Alex was waiting for me in the buggy. I got in, reversed and it crashed. That’s when I quickly put the controller down and backed away ever-so-slowly.
Sadly, no Team Fortress 2 or Portal on hand.
Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga
I loved Lego Star Wars 2 and have been looking forward to The Complete Saga since it was first announced. Having missed out on the first game, I’m stoked to have the chance to play through it with upgraded visuals and Achievements. Speaking of which, when I asked the Lucas Arts rep what they had planned for Achievements, he told me to open the guide and take a look. As I scrolled through the list, he chuckled and told me to check out the description for “Crowd Pleaser” – Kill JarJar Binks 20 times. Yes! This time around, they did a much better job of making the Achievements accessible to younger players with lots of fun ones like Crowd Pleaser which will be acquired simply by playing through the game.
Need for Speed: ProStreet
What is this, the eighteenth NFS game? As much as I couldn’t care less about this franchise at this very moment in time, I know I’ll end up buying ProStreet. After my love/hate relationship with NFS: Carbon, I’ve been feeling like this franchise needs to do something different. And not just a change or scenery – the formula is old and has always been somewhat broken. I’m happy to report that ProStreet is just that. Something entirely new. I did a timed race across a lone stretch of highway in the middle of a desert. At one point, when I wasn’t able to stick a slight turn at 230kmph (that’s new for a NFS game!), I slid off the track and smashed sideways into a pole on the shoulder. My car was nearly totally and all sorts of red warning text lit up the screen. As I struggled to get back on the pavement, another racer slammed into me, sending me doing at least a dozen barrel rolls down the track as pieces of my far flew off in every direction. With the words, “That was fucking awesome!” coming out of the EA rep’s mouth, I was totally sold.
Project Gotham Racing 4
I haven’t been super excited about PGR4, and I believe that Forza 2 is mostly to blame for that. Not only because it’s a great game, but it actually kind of ruined the more realistic racing genre for me. After being totally obsessed with Forza 2 for the first couple weeks, I’ve completely dropped it and haven’t played it since. The formula that I praised for making the player have to constantly switch to certain vehicles based on class restrictions seems to be the very feature that did Forza 2 in for me. I simply have no interest in racing the stock C & D class cars, which unfortunately makes up a huge portion of the game.
Anyway, PGR4 has ultimately taken a hit due to my Forza 2 experience, even though the single player campaign is nothing that of Forza 2. Who knows, maybe I’ll be more excited when it’s actually released? But even after doing a few events today, it basically just felt like PGR3 with a new HUD and some rain.
So, apparently I have a bit of a hate on for Rock Band. I didn’t realize it until I was confronted about my lack of enthusiasm for it. I think I can attribute that to the vocals end of the game – I absolutely cannot stand karaoke. And also the fact that I’m a drummer. I now know why a lot of guitarist hate Guitar Hero. From what I’ve seen, the drumming is nowhere near what actually playing drums is like. But this could also be due to the game being played on lower difficulty levels. In any case, although it’s developed by the same dudes that created Guitar Hero, I’m still having a hard time getting excited about something that is based on the exact formula of another extremely successful game. Unless someone I know picks up the drumkit, I probably won’t bother with this game.
Spider-Man: Friend or Foe
This game was pretty disappointing. At first glance, it looks really fun and cute. Wait, Spider-Man cute? Yeah, it’s a very cartoony Spider-Man and the characters are very small on screen – therefore, they’re cute. The character animations and combat sequences are great. Very smooth and full of personality. But it’s a beat-em-up game and it got boring really fast. As I was playing co-op with the rep, I asked if it had co-op over Live – to which he replied with a stern, “No.” That’s when I walked away.
While I didn’t get to play Turok, I stood in-front of it catching up with an old colleague for about half an hour. Let me tell you – that game looks incredible! The environments are gorgeous and do the dinosaurs ever look good! It’s crazy violent with lots of cut-away action sequences where you slice up dinosaurs with a giant blade. This game looks surprisingly good and I’m definitely going to have to consider it now.
So Much For “a Quick Overview”
I told my wife I would only be about an hour writing this – while it’s only been about an hour and a half, I’ve written far more than I planned to. And unfortunately, I didn’t get to everything I wanted to. There was so much to see and take in today, I couldn’t possibly touch on them all. But let me tell you, we are in for a treat! From here on out until the end of the year, and even into Q1 of 2008, we’re going to see some absolutely killer games. Be excited and start saving your pennies.