I spent the week at the video game industry’s yearly confab, E3. My days were pretty packed with appointments and activities, so I mostly recapped what I saw at the end of each day. (Here are posts for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.) I’ve also been engaging in a ton of E3-related discussion on Twitter. More detailed recaps devoted to individual titles will likely follow starting Monday. If you’d like to engage in a little back-and-forth about the show, or look at the occasional photo I take on my phone, I’ve recently set up a Facebook group, which you can find by clicking here.
My last day at E3, Thursday, was packed with appointments, and when it was all done, I headed off to Los Angeles International Airport to catch at 9:30 p.m. flight home. After my flight was delayed a couple of times, I finally arrived back in Petaluma at 1:30 a.m., tired and cranky. So please excuse my not immediately writing up everything I saw earlier in the day. That’s why this is a little later than I’d like. Without further delay, here are some quick thoughts on games I saw Thursday.
Double dose of Caped Crusader: I went into an appointment with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment knowing I’d be playing the hotly anticipated “Batman: Arkham City.” But I was surprised when the first game I played was something called “Gotham City Imposters,” a downloadable multiplayer game that I hadn’t even heard about prior to the show.
“Imposters,” from Monolith Productions, has a cute premise. Rather than make a multiplayer game starring Batman and the Joker, they’ve created a game about ordinary people of limited means (well, limited compared to Bruce Wayne, anyway) putting on low-budget costumes and trying to save or take over the city. The game mode I played tasked each team with stealing a battery placed in the middle of the map, and using that battery to power a brain-washing machine. It’s a goofball, slapstick multiplayer shooter that looks to have a ton of character customization options.
The main event: I did, of course, also play “Arkham City.” The portion of the game I got to try was the same part of the game I saw in a hands-off demo during the Game Developers Conference, so I knew what to do. I used Batman’s gadgets to decode a transmission, then swooped in and fought off a bunch of thugs as I tried to rescue Catwoman from Two-Face, aka Harvey Dent. The combat was similar to what was featured in 2009′s “Arkham Asylum” and so easy to get the hang of. New this time out is a similar combo system meant to be used to navigate the skyline. Developer Rocksteady wants players to use a combination of gliding, grappling and momentum-building dives to traverse the city like a true creature of the night. I didn’t quite get the hang of it in the demo, but I’m looking forward to trying it out when the game launches this fall.
A narrated beat-’em up: While at the Warner booth, I also got my hands on “Bastion,” a downloadable brawler with some light role-playing elements that reminded me a little bit of “Castle Crashers” or “DeathSpank.” “Bastion’s” unique twist is that a gruff voiceover accompanies the bulk of its action. It’ll be coming to Xbox Live this summer as part of the Summer of Arcade promotion.
Pale Wing comes to EDF, hands-on with “White Knight Chronicles II”: After my Warner appointment, I saw a pair of upcoming titles from D3 Publisher. My interest in “Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon” perked up a bit when I saw a new character class, Pale Wing, being shown off in the single-player demo. Unlike the plodding, vanilla Trooper class I saw in an earlier multiplayer demo during the Game Developers Conference, Pale Wing looked like a blast to play as he nimbly flew around the battlefield using a jet pack, blasting enemies with energy weapons. D3′s other game, “White Knight Chronicles II,” is one of the summer’s best values, as its PS3 game disc includes both the sequel and a retooled version of the first game. I went hands-on with “WKC II” for a bit and while it’s hard to get the hang of a role-playing game’s battle system in a few minutes, what I saw looked appealing.
“Dark Souls” plays just like “Demon’s Souls”: Namco Bandai’s sequel to 2009 cult hit “Demon’s Souls” looks to be just as challenging, but veterans of the first game should feel right at home. As in “Demon’s Souls,” you’ll click the right stick to lock onto an enemy and use the same general buttons to block and attack. As someone who only dabbled in the 2009 game, I struggled a bit but managed to take down some armored boar that served as a miniboss. Reveling in my triumph, my confidence was totally dashed when I tried to invade the game of a demo player who was obviously experienced with the combat system. He rolled right out of my lock-on and made quick work of me.
“Ace Combat: Assault Horizon”: “Ace Combat” is one of those gaming franchises I’ve always wanted to try but have never gotten around to. I came away a little disappointed in what I played. I started off in a helicopter mission, a new addition to “Assault Horizon.” I quite capably escorted some ground units and helped turn the tide of battle from the skies. But the jet-to-jet dogfighting, what should be the series’ signature feature, wasn’t as fast-paced or intense as I thought it was going to be, as I spent most of my time just trying to close gaps between myself and my opponents.
“Inversion” has a cool gimmick, but how will the game hold up?: The third and last Namco game I tried, “Inversion,” was a third-person shooter centered around the idea of a character who uses alien technology to command gravity. You can either raise or lower the gravity level within an area as you shoot. I spent the bulk of the demo lowering gravity, as it allowed me to pick up gobs of lava or objects from the environment to hurl at my enemies. (A Namco rep told me it was possible to complete the demo without firing a shot.) Late in the demo, I saw a cavernous area in which each wall and the ceiling served as “down,” allowing for some cool grenade tosses.
Hands on with PlayStation Vita: I spent 15 minutes or so messing around with Sony’s new handheld gaming system and tried out a number of games. My gut reaction is that Sony’s own developers must be under strict orders to incorporate all of the handheld’s different control schemes into their games. The only game I thought that did this effectively was “ModNation Racers,” which used the Vita’s two touch screens to great effect in the service of building tracks. Taking my thumbs off of the thumbsticks in a twin-stick shooter like “Super Stardust Delta” felt antithetical to the idea of what a twin-stick shooter is supposed to be about. “LittleBigPlanet” had a lot of stuff going on, with puzzles that required you to use the touch screen or tilt the handheld. It was a little tricky, but I started to get the hang of it by the end. “Little Deviants” was a cute minigame compilation. Other stuff I saw and played at the Sony booth included “StarHawk” (hands-off) and “Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception’s” multiplayer (hands-on).
Gangsters, mutants and space marines: After that, it was off to see THQ. I got a look at “Saints Row: The Third.” The game’s presenter used the phrase “over the top” at least four times, and with all the profane, ridiculous violence taking place, it seemed fitting. My favorite device was Professor Genki’s Super Ballistic Manpult, which hoovered up civilians and flung them through the air at ridiculous velocities. Of THQ’s games, I’m probably most excited for “Metro: Last Light,” but the presentation’s emphasis of a train shootout was a bit disappointing. The heart and soul of “Metro 2033″ were its unrelenting grim tone and masterful storytelling, so it was a bummer to see an action sequence that I swear ends up in literally 50 percent of all first-person shooters being put out there as being representative of the game. I’m not fearful for the end product, however. I just wanted to see more. I got some hands on with “Warhammer 40000: Space Marine,” and while it seemed competently executed, it didn’t really stand out for me.
“Dead Island” hands-on: Deep Silver’s upcoming zombies-in-paradise action game caused quite a stir when its first trailer hit the Web several months ago. When I went hands on with the game, there was nothing as stunning or as emotionally engaging as that trailer suggested, but it was still a good time. The setup of the demo had you trying to help out some people in a safe room, much like the “Dead Rising” games. But the open-world action was fast-paced, unrelenting and ridiculously bleak. I’m a sucker for zombies, so I’m eager to try this one out.
“Final Fantasy XIII-2″ fixes some problems, adds a new one?: A half-hour presentation for the next game in the “Final Fantasy” universe convinced me the sequel will probably be a better game than the original “Final Fantasy XIII.” The development team seems to have taken a lot of criticism of last year’s blockbuster role-playing game to heart and is giving players more involved levels to explore. Returning are “XIII’s” excellent battle system, but I’m worried they’re going to get bogged down by the timed button presses the developers have added to try to keep players engaged during long battles. There was a lot I liked about “Final Fantasy XIII,” but I’m not convinced I need to spend another 50 or 60 hours grinding through a similar game using a similar battle system and similar leveling system, no matter how good it is.
Closing the show with “XCOM”: The last game I saw before shuffling off to Sonoma County was 2K Marin’s upcoming tactical shooter “XCOM.” I remarked after last year’s E3 that this game was looking a lot like the studio’s last game, “BioShock 2.” Apparently I wasn’t the only one who noticed. After a number of people, including, apparently, some higher ups at publisher Take-Two Interactive, that the game was too much like “BioShock” and not enough like the old “X-COM” strategy games, 2K Marin has given the game a pretty thorough overhaul. I liked what I saw at E3 this year quite a bit, but I’ll be turning around a preview that includes some comments from creative director Jonathan Pelling.
Since you made it all the way to the end, I’ll give you an air travel protip. If a flight you’re on is overbooked, and the airline starts asking for volunteers to be bumped from the flight in exchange for some kind of compensation, don’t volunteer to be bumped, and then board the flight, anyway. Two people on my flight home from LAX did this, and the people working the gate didn’t realize the error until the plane was almost full. This meant that, while we were boarding, the airline workers had to come onto the plane to find out what the heck happened, and then when the two volunteers refused to give up their seats, find two new volunteers. The whole episode delayed everyone’s flight a good 10 minutes because no one wanted to come forward to be the new Volunteer No. 2. Lame.