Day 2 of E3 2012 has ended, and I can’t help but feel I’ve made it over the hump. Jorge and I started our day the way that most Angelinos do: we sat in freeway traffic for 45 minutes. That proved to be the last slow part of the day, as our schedules were packed with huge publishers and our downtime dedicated to combing the floor for interesting titles. Here are some of the highlights:
Star Wars: 1313: The next big game from LucasArts was pitched to us as a serious action adventure revolving around a bounty hunter. I get the feeling that the recent popular outcry against the cringe-worthy Star Wars Kinect game influenced the way that the game was described to us. The LucasArts team used the word “mature” at least three times. They promised a game with dark stories full of “shades of grey”. They boasted that there are no Jedi and no Force powers in the game’s setting (the depths of Coruscant, the seat of power in the Star Wars universe).
The game itself looked to borrow much from Uncharted: the currently unnamed bounty hunter darted in and out of cover, popping enemies with his blaster and getting in close for melee takedowns. Large action set pieces saw him clinging to the side of crashing spaceships, but the sense of danger was blunted by the clearly marked platforms and an animation that denoted a possible jump. From a visual and technical perspective, Naughty Dog and Uncharted have always been to video games what Industrial Light and Magic has been to film, and it looks like LucasArts is trying to bring its trademark level of artistry to this game.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2: There’s something delightfully morbid about sitting in the LA Convention center and watching a game in which a near-future LA gets levelled. Seeing Pico Boulevard covered in ash and wreckage was cathartic after sitting through all the traffic jams. But I digress…
I’m always impressed with the speed of Call of Duty. Something about seeing a game locked in at 60 frames per second makes the action (scripted though it may be) feel faster and more dangerous. Much of Black Ops 2 is set 25 years into the future, and significant parts of its gameplay seem to have an eye on the future of the series as well. The single player story will have branching paths with multiple outcomes based on success or failure of certain missions. Squad commands are an important part of the game, as are managing the various robotic drone weapons at your disposal. Modern Warfare 3 was seen by some as simply going through the motions, but Black Ops 2 looks to deliver some meaningful changes the series.
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron: I’m not a huge Transformers buff, but the lead creative director for this game definitely is. With original voice work from the 1980s TV show’s actors and clear differentiation between the various Autobots and Decepticons (...and Insecticons…and Dinobots…), Fall of Cybertron seemed to do justice to the source material.
The Elder Scrolls Online: Creative director Paul Sage told us that they had been working on The Elder Scrolls Online for five years, but I don’t think he should have. Unfortunately, the game looks five years old, both in terms of its structure and its art design. In the wake of Star Wars: The Old Republic‘s less-than-stellar showing and the failure of 38 Studios’ huge MMO project, it’s hard to see where The Elder Scrolls will fit in the modern MMO landscape.
Dishonored: More reassuring was Dishonored, a first person stealth/action game with supernatural elements. The game comes from people who worked on both the Thief and BioShock franchises, so it has an impressive pedigree. The game’s many powers allow you to do everything from teleport to command a horde of rats to devour people, but it also lets you sneak your way around the game’s steampunk environments as a cunning pacifist. The person demonstrating the game, Jorge, and I all accomplished the same objective in different ways, which makes me optimistic about the game’s promise for variety.
Tomb Raider: This game is already sparking controversy, and it was easy to see why. This version of Lara Croft is young and vulnerable. We didn’t get a chance to play it, but the demo we were given emphasized the game’s wilderness survival aspects. Lara will spend at least some of her time hunting and upgrading her various items and weapons at makeshift base camps. Like so many games, Tomb Raider takes inspiration from Uncharted, albeit without the latter’s quirky streak.
Quantum Conundrum: The next big project from Kim Swift, the mind that brought us Portal, hits some delightfully familiar beats. It’s a first person puzzle game in which you manipulate the weight and gravitational forces on various parts of the environment. All the while, John de Lancie’s voice is giving you hints and making comments on your performance. For Star Trek fans, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Q is toying with you, but I was just fine with that. The demo levels definitely hint at some mind-bending puzzles later in the game, and I’m very much looking forward to playing the final version.
Hitman: Absolution: The latest Hitman game is already infamous for its misogynistic trailer, so I was happy to get a chance to play the game. It’s hard to get a good sense of a stealth game on the noisy show floor, but what I did see seemed promising. My target was in the center of a crowded Asian market that was also crawling with police. I found multiple ways of dispatching him, some stealthy, some that brought the entire police force down on top of me. I won’t be surprised if some stealth fans prefer this game over Dishonored. The crowd scenes, contextual hiding places, and environmental weapons provide a lot of spontaneity.
Rayman Legacy: Jorge and I took turns passing the Wii Pad and Pro Controller back and forth to get a sense of how the two schemes interacted. The game played a lot better than it showed during the press conferences. The touchpad felt responsive and the ability to lift objects and rotate obstacles for the joystick-based player was clear and intuitive. Platforming was just as clever and challenging as it was in Rayman Origins. The musical sequences in which players worked together to harmonize their movements with notes in the soundtrack combined the satisfaction of hitting jumps with the satisfaction of hitting notes in a rhythm game and felt much more exciting than I expected. So far, it’s the standout WiiU title.
Far Cry 3: Co-Op Mission: We played a single co-op mission in which four players completed a series of objectives. It did little to set itself apart from other shooters. More disappointing was the move away from the procedurally generated action that made Far Cry 2 a cult hit. As Jorge put it, “I just blew up an explosive barrel. Why isn’t everything catching on fire?”
PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royal: It seemed slightly rude to say the name Super Smash Bros. within earshot of this demo, but that didn’t stop anyone. And for good reason: the game is Sony’s answer to Nintendo’s all-star brawler. Instead of knocking people off the stage, you build up special move power with successful hits. Land one of these special moves and dispatch one of your foes. With only four playable characters, the demo was too limited to get a sense of the game’s overall complexity, but I was impressed by the dynamic stages. The backgrounds transitioned between many different classic PlayStation games, each of which featured different pitfalls that affected the battle.
Dust 514: You wouldn’t know it by looking at it, but this game is part of a much larger experiment. The action and outcomes in this PS3 first-person shooter will be connected to EVE Online, one of the most complex MMOs ever created. The demo didn’t have any specific information on this, which gave me the impression that the details of said connection are still being hammered out.
Papo & Yo: Finally, I want to highlight Papo & Yo, an independently developed game for the PS3. It debuted at last year’s E3 and has undergone some revisions in the meantime. At the most basic level, it’s a 3D puzzle/platformer, but its the art style and the story’s themes that set it apart from the crowd. You play as a small boy who is accompanied by a monster that serves as a metaphor for creator Vander Caballero’s father. Growing up, Caballero’s father suffered from alcoholism, and the monster in Papo & Yo is a ludic expression of a force that is both paternalistic and dangerous—at times helpful, but sometimes unpredictable. The visual style borrows from favelas in South America and various runes come to life on the walls in a way that creates a sense of magical realism. In a show dominated by military shooters and party game collections, finding a game so thoroughly personal and unabashedly artistic was refreshing.
I told you Jorge and I were busy! Tomorrow, we’ll try to catch a few of the games that we missed out on, as well as comb the floor for more hidden gems. I’ll be back then with notes from E3 2012’s third and final day.
// Notes from the Road
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