As soon as I awoke this Wednesday to an uncharacteristically cloudy LA day, I had but one priority: to get my hands on the still very oddly named Wii U, as well as the portable powerhouse that is the Playstation Vita. So that’s exactly what I did once the show floor opened to a now very purposeful, hot and busy press.
As you might imagine, there are quite a few people looking to test out the new console, some important, such as company VPs and industry-hopping celebrities, and some not so. This meant a long wait and short play with the device, but I feel I was able to get a good impression, given the lack of software (and any games at all). The controller itself is around the size of an A5 piece of paper and is cast in the signature shiny white plastic of Nintendo.
The screen does feel unnaturally large for the device it is, but it is sharp and clear, despite not quite being able to put out 1080p. The bottom feels fine, with a ridge that houses the triggers and accommodates your fingers relatively comfortably, but the top is where the problems unfortunately arise.
For some inexplicable reason, Nintendo saw fit to throw out many years of tried and tested control layouts and place the directional sticks above the buttons, meaning an awkward manoeuvre every time you need to carry any actions. To add insult to injury (possibly, quite literally!) the analogue sticks, much like the Nintendo 3DS stick, are tough to push, and put up a great deal of resistance without appearing to offer any real precision.
The tech demo I played was one of the more interactive experiences out of the lot where you’re asked to use the controller as a shield to block pirates’ incoming darts that can only be seen on the screen of the controller. In order to do this you need to move around to the beat of music. It certainly served to begin to realise the possibilities of the controller, but the game itself was pretty poor.
Other tech demos (‘experiences’ in marketing speak) only really allowed one to manipulate the camera, but showed stunning visuals for both Zelda and a bird flittering about a Japanese garden, akin to the levels of the best HD titles for the other existing rival consoles. The potential for the Wii U is definitely there, but it’s going to take clarification, and a clearer and more robust launch catalogue to persuade the masses.
The brand new, tech heavy portable gaming console from Sony was in equally high demand by E3 attendees and I was lucky enough to see Uncharted: Golden Abyss in action, which many would consider the most exciting PSV prospect announced so far.
The hardware itself feels very similar to the Sony PSP, though slightly more hefty, and the first thing that struck me was the pure joy in actually feeling the dual analogue sticks, being able to cast aside the dark days of the PSP and the games I wanted to love, but couldn’t bare trying to control.
As was evident form the Sony press conference, Uncharted: Golden Abyss does truly look brilliant, to the point where, when considering the screen size, it looks like the same level of quality of the PS3 Uncharted games. I was presented with a mountainside jungle temple with plenty of the regular Uncharted action, but the extent to which the touch screen swiping and tapping helps you climb and navigate almost made me feel disconnected from actually controlling the game.
Fortunately, you can choose to simply use the regular buttons that are mapped out the same as the PS3 version, and once the melee combat sections and mini-puzzles came up, which used QTE style tap screen attacking and dragging and placing puzzle sections, I began to feel more assured of the suitability of this game for the PSV.
I’m certain there’s much more to see and they haven’t let up on the cinematics that are indicative of the Uncharted franchise. This is a completely original and separate adventure to Uncharted 3 and while there’s no release date yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see it as a launch title.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Deus Ex is a title we can almost touch, due to its scheduled release in August, which only makes it more mouth-watering. The action-RPG has a lot to live up to after the critically acclaimed original, but the team at Eidos, as far as I can see from the demo, appear to have pulled it off, at least in creating a fluid tactical RPG, the like of which we don’t see often these days.
The art direction is distinctive, defined as ‘futuristic baroque’, the buildings and hallways are saturated in deep yellows and browns and the UI shares the palette. The player is a security worker for Serif Industries, a cybernetics company opposed by a group of purists, who witnesses an attack on the company and is injured in the process. The opening sequence then shows you being rebuilt, building the themes of transhumanisn within the game.
The game plays like a crossbreed of Metal Gear Solid and Fallout 3, where you spend plenty of time in 3rd person cover mode, but also in first person, making your way through various missions and hub-worlds by the methods you decide, depending on your preferred tactics and strengths. Thankfully, this is no shoddy run and gun shooter posing as an RPG: take some bullets and you’re going down, but of course, the same applies to the enemies, even the bosses.
Additionally you’re able to upgrade your cybernetics in a plethora of ways from speed, to hacking and stealth abilities. All this, coupled with a bunch of interesting decisions you’re forced to make and solid and strategic shooting mechanic will make Human Revolution a pre-order for many RPG fans, and hopefully a saving grace for a struggling Square Enix.
Saints Row: The Third
As marked break from the comparatively highbrow games I’d been looking, I clambered over to THQ’s booth to check out the new Saints Row. Turns out I was in for pure, unadulterated, guilt-free insanity. The first couple of minutes of the presentation featured giant dildo weapons, a fist that makes people explode, a truck mounted cannon that propels unsuspecting pedestrians and pink space suits – just for starters.
After some explanation of the depths of the character customisation, and the announcement that one can play naked, we went to see one of the story missions. That mission featured the Saints, your gang, robbing a bank, signing autographs for fans of your criminal syndicate and a massive shootout culminating in a battle from the top of a bank vault against about five police helicopters. Needless to say, there isn’t really much point in me pontificating the visuals and gameplay philosophy – all you need to know about the ideology of this game is right in those details!
A little later I sat down with Volition’s Drew Holmes, Lead Writer, to talk about the gangster extravaganza…
The Saints Row series has a clear focus in sandbox play, so how does the story mode fit in alongside that?
It’s part of the entire package but it’s not necessarily the main focus. Obviously we still have this huge, crazy, over-the-top story that fits along with all the stuff we’re trying to do in the open world game. We’re really elevating the level of wackiness and insanity in the story missions as well. Previously in Saints Row the story missions tended to be darker overall and not quite as humorous as the rest of the world. We wanted to change that up and match the overall tone and vibe with the way people really want to play the game so the story is gonna absolutely match that. You’ve got ridiculous crazy missions like the bank job we demoed today. We really wanted to take the missions to a level that you’re not going to see in the overall gameplay: lots of cutscenes, scripted moments and lots of ‘crap I can’t believe this is happening’. It’s constantly one-upping the last mission.
In continuing to bend the rules of realism, what have you been able to do that you couldn’t in Saints Row 2?
We’ve got a whole bunch of brand new weapons: the giant dildo, calling in airstrikes and lots of crazy stupid things, we’re definitely not held back by realism. It’s whatever we want to imagine, we are able to throw into the game. You’ve got an activity called Professor Genki’s Reality Climax, which is essentially Running Man meets a Japanese game show, the tagline is “murder time, fun time”. It really lets us let loose in terms of what we want to do, where we want to go and how we want to play the game.
Is there anything you can tell us about the multiplayer side of things?
We’re not doing any sort of competitive multiplayer, what we’re doing is online drop in/drop out co-op throughout the entire campaign and you can just roam around the city and just smash cars into each other. We’ll be unveiling lots of cool co-op specific stuff later on!
There was plenty of DLC for Saints Row 2, are you going to continue that tradition?
We’re going support the game post-launch, absolutely; there’s going to be lots of different things for people to play around with. We’ve got so many toys that don’t necessarily fit in the first game that we’ll throw in.
Why did the team decided to create a fictional city, as opposed to somewhere everyone knows?
We didn’t want to use a real city because you then you start to break the boundaries of the universe you’re trying to create. You want to create this over-the-top experience where a gang of criminals can be the greatest celebrities in the world as well. If you make a real city then all of sudden people start thinking that doesn’t really fit. We wanted to create a brand new city, a brand new Mecca of sin, where literally everything and every vice that you could imagine is going to be.
The story setup is somewhat different this time, at least compared to most game where you have the small time gangster. What does it involve this time and why did you chose that route?
We have so many cool toys and so many cool weapons that we didn’t want players to have to wait and play through a lot of the game just to get them. We wanted to give them lots of different things to play around with right from the beginning and then escalate it from there. We also wanted to give a different feel from Saints Row 1 and 2 where you were working your way up. This time you own Steelport, you’re the top gang and now it’s about expanding your empire into another city and really trying to take over the world.
Finally, I got a quick look at the zombie game that set the web alight with its debut cinematic trailer. It is, however, clear by now that the character drama that the trailer seemed to suggest is not the direction Dead Island looks to go in. The focus here is more on kicking zombies’ heads in, and although it’s different, there ain’t nothing wrong with that.
There’s an overwhelming feel of arcade-yness. For instance, a well-executed attack will grant exp, and the HUD is bold, much like the tropical island visuals. Attacks will be primarily melee, due to the shortage of heavy weaponry generally held in hotel resorts, and hence considerable depth has been afforded the hand-to-hand combat system as well as melee weapon techniques.
I’m slightly disappointed that the dialogue and characters are all pretty basic, but the combat system is fun and intuitive; although it may be hard to keep the player engaged with this over an 8 hour plus story mode unless other elements are fleshed out.