E3 2012: Notes from Day 3

[8 June 2012]

By Scott Juster

The third and final day of E3 2012 has come to a close.  Some highlights include plenty of hands on time with the Wii U, new information about Assassin’s Creed 3, and the balance between creation and destruction on the show floor.  It’ll take a few more days for everything to truly sink in, but until then, here are some more impressions:

Harvest Moon 3DS: A New Beginning: I know I shouldn’t start the show with a show-stopper, but the new 3DS Harvest Moon game can’t be contained!  Sarcasm aside, I was interested to see what (if anything) would be different from the previous dozen or so games in the series.  The major changes seem to be geared towards convenience, as you are able to pick up and drop entire houses and farm plots to rearrange them without having to break down and reconstruct them.  Minimal 3D visuals and thin multiplayer make this game seem like a routine update.

Star Trek: As a not-so-secret fan of everything Star Trek, I felt it my duty to see how Digital Extremes’ upcoming game was coming along.  Set in the J.J. Abrams alternate reality, the game is a co-op focused shooter.  Sadly, the game isn’t looking great by comparison to other cover-based shooters out there.  The developer-lead demo showcased stiff animation, a clunky script, and repetitive shooting sequences.  Strangely, all the HUD elements had been removed, so the way that health and ammunition is managed remains a mystery.  Finally, the game was presented in 3D, which did little besides darken the game’s color palette.

Assassin’s Creed 3: The demo I saw was running on the Wii U, but its utilization of the second screen was minimal.  Aside from a map, all of the action took place on the TV.  Said action was predictably gorgeous: 18th century America looks great, and the detailed character animation is polished as ever.  The game features several new additions to the environment: a dynamic weather system will provide some variety during your travels between New York and Boston.  As the game’s story progresses, the seasons will also change. 

On the gameplay side, Assassin’s Creed 3 continues to refine the series’ many systems.  Blending in with a crowd no longer requires finding a pre-determined group of people. If you are around enough people, a small circle will appear over your head and radiate lines towards the people that you’re using to blend in with.  Horse-drawn haystacks and a variety of takes on the game’s traditional benches also appear.  Enemies are very aggressive in combat, but this is balanced by a simplified way to dispatch multiple enemies with contextual attacks and counters.  This game is shaping up to be Ubisoft’s crowning achievement for this console generation.

New Super Mario Bros. U: If you’ve played New Super Mario Bros. Wii, then you have a pretty good idea what this game holds.  Getting more of the same isn’t so bad when “the same” is sublime.  The Wii U pad shows a zoomed out version of the on screen action and allows whoever is controlling it to create blocks in the environment and attack enemies by tapping the screen.

Nintendo Land: This game did much to sour my impression of the Wii U.  It’s a group of mini-games that are meant to accomplish the same thing that Wii Sports did for the Wii.  The games are short, simple, and geared towards showing off the Wii U GamePad’s screen and motion controls.  Unfortunately, the ones that I played seemed rushed, overly simplistic, and gimmicky.

Luigi’s Ghost Mansion: Haunted Hijinks is a good idea wrapped in poor execution.  The player with the GamePad controls a ghost whose mission it is to hunt down up to four players wandering a haunted house.  The ghost is invisible on the TV unless it dashes, attacks a player, or is caught by one of the player’s flashlight beams.  The beams deplete the ghost’s health, thereby allowing the players to win.  In practice, this usually resulted in the ghost picking off one player (thereby revealing itself to the others) and then being quickly dispatched by the other three players. 

Donkey Kong’s Crash Course is a visually-bland, twitchy motion control game that is a cross between a Rube Goldberg, kart racer, and pachinko machine.  You control a fragile vehicle and navigate it down a descending race track filled with ramps and obstacles that threaten to smash the vehicle.  The motion controls felt sloppy and the GamePad screen totally superfluous.

The Legend of Zelda Battle Quest expanded on the sword fighting game featured in Wii Sports Resort.  The GamePad player used the second screen to aim and fire arrows while the Wii Remote-using sword wielders focused on melee combat.  The game’s action took place on rails and at a very slow pace.  Despite this, the motion controls still carried with them their trademark jitters and calibration problems.  When the booth attendant asked if I liked the game, I said no.  A bit taken aback, he asked why.  I explained my criticisms and also mentioned that a three-player game on a system that should support five players seemed limited.  He hastened to assure me that the game actually can handle five players.  Why not demo it then?

The silver lining in the Wii U storm cloud was Animal Crossing: Sweet Day.  The four players on the TV screen had to work together to collect candy drops, each of which would slow down their movement.  The GamePad player controlled two attackers, which were each assigned to a different analog stick.  This allowed them to move independently and to cover more of the map (which the GamePad player saw from a top-down view).  The game deftly combined the weaknesses and skills of each side.  The GamePad player required dexterity to manipulate the two characters as well as a strategic mind to capture the players collecting the candy.  Candy hunters needed to coordinate with teammates and stay vigilant for unseen attackers coming from off-screen.

ZombiU: Although bloodier and more “mature” than Animal Crossing, ZombiU wasn’t nearly as sophisticated from a gameplay perspective.  Its uninspired name is actually a good metaphor for its shortcomings. It feels like a game that’s riding on the gimmick of the Wii U GamePad rather than on its own unique personality and strengths.  At certain points, you have to rummage through your backpack by looking down at the GamePad or hold it up to scan points of interest.  None of this really necessitated having a second screen.  Games like Far Cry 2 and Dark Souls show that you don’t need extra peripherals to have maps obscure the screen or make item management dangerous.  Plus, a quick glance up to the TV screen easily revealed whether danger is imminent, which effectively negates the tension of the bottom screen.

Songlines: I hate ending on a down note, so I’ll highlight Samantha Vick’s take on the Australian Aboriginal creation myth.  Using the Kinect, the player chooses various plant, water, and rock formations with which to decorate the world.  Raising your hands causes life to spring up while tilting your body moves you throughout the world.  It’s a very relaxed, straightforward concept that manages to sidestep many of the niggling issues that plague the Kinect.  Additionally, at a show so focused on violence and destruction, it is wonderful to see a game about life and creation.

So that’s a brief (if you can believe that!) round up of the final day of E3!  Jorge and I both saw things we haven’t yet had a chance to write about, but we’ll be sure to provide updates as we mull things over.  The next time you hear from us, we’ll be back in our native habitat (the San Francisco Bay Area), fully rested, and ready to jump back into more in-depth topics.  Thanks for reading!

Please visit PopMatters’ Facebook page to check out a larger, high res gallery of images from E3 Day 1 from Daniel Boczarski.

Please visit PopMatters’ Facebook page to check out a larger, high res gallery of images from E3 Day 2 from Daniel Boczarski.

Please visit PopMatters’ Facebook page to check out a larger, high res gallery of images from E3 Day 3 from Daniel Boczarski.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/159557-e3-day3/