PAX Prime 2010 – Day 2: What about the games?
Yesterday I spent most of my time talking to developers and marketing people to find out about the games. Today, my focus was spent getting some hands on time with them so I could give you my impressions. I started my day with a little title called Duke Nukem Forever.
Duke Nukem Forever:
The whole charm of the Duke Nukem series is that overt badass characterization of Duke. The phrase “I’m here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I’m all out of gum” is in the trailer itself, and the game delivers in presenting the player with a lovably badass character. I’m not going to spoil the specifics for you because you’ve been waiting long enough for this, I’m sure you want to see it for yourself. All I have to say is that the setup of the tutorial level is self referential and absolutely hilarious. I didn’t get to use it in any of the levels I played, but there’s a freakin “Beer” button on the D Pad. I think you’re getting an idea of what this game is like.
The sections I played were the tutorial, a bit of gunplay in a desert canyon, and a driving sequence. All of it works and looks great. The controls are intuitive, the enemies look like great updates of the old models and the weapons feel powerful and fun. One of my favorite weapons was the Shrink Ray. As you’d expect, the enemies would become miniaturized. Thinking about what Duke would do in that situation, I naturally ran up to each enemy I shrunk and melee killed them. I was hoping to stomp on them, but I’m ok with not asking them for new features. We all know what happens when you do that.
The driving section worked rather well too, though the path was very linear. There were jumps and random enemies running out of the way, who if you know anything about Duke, you will obviously try to run them over. There was no simultaneous gunplay in the truck, but who knows what they have planned.
There’s a long story on how the game finally got a release window with Gearbox Software which I will post separately. I’ll probably post the audio of Randy Pitchford telling the story himself, so stay tuned to the site for that.
Kung Fu Live:
This is a downloadable game for the Playstation that utilizes the Eye Toy. You stand in front of the camera and it cuts you out of the background behind you and places you as a live character in the game. It’s a side scrolling beat ‘em up and you use real punches and kicks left and right to hit the enemies who can be controlled by the computer, or by players. This works better than any of the Kinect titles I’ve seen so far.
The player only needs to make small deliberate movements left and right to dodge. There’s no platforming or stage progression, so there’s no need to have moves or controls for walking left and right. There’s a dash punch move that allows you to close the distance very quickly and that’s all the more you really need. I got a really great workout playing that game. Torgo from PSNation has some video of me playing the game which I will try to get to you guys as soon as I can.
I don’t actually know how the game progresses or what the over arcing objective is, all I know is that it’s a blast to play. I was doing punches, kicks, weird katas, jump kicks, spin moves, all of which were registering in the game as the attacks I intended them to be. When I jumped, the character jumped exaggeratedly, and I got a bonus for aerial strikes. It was purely fun to feel like a bad dude who has to save the president (or whatever this game has you doing).
There were a few ground pounds that didn’t register, but I was later told I wasn’t punching the ground fast enough. There are a couple of special move “poses” that range from the dash attack to a lightning throw. When you build up enough chi energy, strike the pose and the on screen you will perform it. I highly recommend this one to anyone who needs help finding the motivation to exercise.
Whenever newer 3-D Sonic games came out, they always seem to be more complicated than they should be. Sonic is about speed, and that’s it. Make him fast and give me enough time to reasonably react to changing terrain and we’ll have a good time. That’s basically what Sonic Colors tries to do.
Sonic Colors locks down the camera and player movement to a single plane, rotating the camera and the plane as the level makes turns and drops. For the majority of what I played this was a side scroller very similar to Sonic 4, though not as obviously nostalgic. There are some moments when the camera turns to follow Sonic. Still, for most of these sections Sonic runs the straight path of the level, the player needing only worrying about jumping or sliding.
In a few instances, the player needs to hold a button and “brake” so that Sonic can make a turn, but these sections are deliberately having you do just that turn, not trying to shift the camera, or do platforming all at the same time. The game feels a lot like the daylight Sonic sections from Sonic Unleashed (I only played the demo for the game) where you’re just running, platforming and doing grind rails on a very linear path.
This game also has a lot of various heights to the level, so deciding to go up or down will provide the player with new obstacles and places to explore. There’s a good balance of straight platforming, blazing speed and follow camera that really makes the game work the way you’d want a modern Sonic game to work. There are also special power ups along the stage that are temporary for the obstacle just ahead. The two I saw were a rocket jump where Sonic turns into a rocket, shooting straight up into the air, and a mid air Spin dash move which Sonic can use to ricochet off walls, getting to new areas.
It felt like classic Sonic with a twist, so I approve. It seems to be only on the Wii though.
Slam Bolt Scrappers:
Torgo from PSNation clued me into this game. It’s a combination of Tetris, Smash Brothers and Tower Defense, three genres that I can’t imagine could go together. It was interesting to play and by the end of the game I felt like I was catching on, but there’s definitely a learning curve at play here.
You start off with a Tetris grid. Enemies appear at the top of the screen and when you beat them up (you are on a jet pack by the way), you collect the block which you can drop when and where you want it at your leisure. When you form a square, it creates a cannon that fires at the other players and their blocks. Your character can also attack the other players, but a fisticuffs in a fast way to lose your health, so when possible you want to resort to cannons. Different colors make different cannons that do different things, like clutter up the opposing player’s board, or rearrange pieces.
Got all that? Once you do, then you can start figuring out the strategy of the game. I figured it out late in my playthrough and I’m sure I would have enjoyed the game more if I had the time to sit down with it longer. Still, it’s hard to tell how a game like that stands up in a single player setting versus the multiplayer local setting at PAX. I imagine the online multiplayer would be a lot of fun. The only mode I saw pitted the four of us into two teams locally. I don’t know what other modes there are, but it’s definitely worth taking a look at when and if a demo comes around.
I’ll admit, I haven’t played part 1 or 2. Fortunately I don’t think I’d have to to say I’m excited about part 3. The game looks great, moody in the way Fear 2 does, but there’s a new twist. There’s a supernatural coop character that enhances the game for everyone involved. I got to play the coop mode with Torgo and it was fun. The main player is the usual gun toting character with a move set you’d expect to see. The interesting part comes from the addition of the support coop partner.
Most coop games I’ve seen like Resident Evil 5 or Left 4 Dead have all the coop characters fairly balanced in their abilities. Fear 3 takes a departure from that by having the coop partner be catered to support, but still being fun to play. He can throw a stun blast which will knock down an enemy, you can lift an enemy into the air so that the other player can shoot him, or you can possess the character in the air, fighting as him until you decide to rip his body apart from the inside out. The support character can also see things in the environment the main character cannot see. Doors, railings and other environmental features highlighted in red can be broken open, but only by the support character.
To really get the full experience from the game, you really need to get two people playing. It was surprisingly a lot of fun for me to play this horror game without a gun. I didn’t feel powerless, I felt helpful to my teammate, which is the point of a team. I really should go back and give the Fear series a run through.
Kinect Sports – Boxing Mode:
While I was standing in line for this game, I was very skeptical that it would feel right, especially after having played Kung Fu Live. I wanted to give it a chance though and go in with an open mind. After playing it, my mind quickly shut again.
There’s a delay on the movements which is too noticeable to ignore. I thought to myself that I’d try to play the first round and strategic as possible, blocking a lot and looking for openings to attack with hooks, jabs or uppercuts. I got owned, badly. The next round I decided to flail like a seizure patient. I won. I can’t help but feel like the Kinect in this instance behaved more like the Sega Activator sensor ring than a camera device. I understand that this comparison isn’t fair because the Kinect does read your position and movement well, just not fast enough for what it’s trying to do here.
I waved my hands around for a while longer, crushing my 10 year old opponent (I’m kidding, she was older than that, probably). I didn’t really feel like I had won though, just gotten more lucky than the other person. When I saw openings in the character animations, I took them. I don’t really feel like that behavior really benefited me in the outcome of the match though. I did feel that way in Wii Boxing though which behaves much better and more cleanly than Kinect Sports (which has a Mii look to it anyway).
It’s really unfortunate there couldn’t be more hope for the Kinect right now. I hope they are able to figure out how to sharpen the Kinect’s abilities to register function. I’d love to see some great games for it. Kinect Sports Boxing did not make me hopeful that they will.
There were a surprising amount of top notch downloadable titles that would have normally always been retail. Hydrophobia was the first of these games, coming out for 1200 Microsoft Points, that feels like it could have done marginally well as a full release title. There is a subtle lack of effects on the textures and environments, I’m sure to cut the size of the game, but the water effects all but make up for it. The game looks stunning when it’s doing what it does best.
The game is a basic third person game. Your character ends up on a sinking ship and must figure out what’s happening. I did the usual jumping, ledge climbing and so on. The game does those elements well. I have to tell you though, when you’re standing at a door that bursts open to a drowning quantity of water, it’s really freakin scary.
I felt like there was a lot of jerking around when it came to my personal objectives though. In the tutorial section I was playing, all my objectives consisted of get to place X so you can do thing Y. Oh, thing Y is blocked. Go to lever Z to release thing Y. I’m not sure how much of that trend is consistent throughout the game, but regardless, if the rest of the game is able to deliver thrills like this tutorial section, then it’s far and above worth the 1200 points. The game is a full 8 hour experience, set to come out on September 29th. I’m working on getting a review copy so that we can give you a better idea of what the game is really like in the entirety.
Bionic Commando 2:
I didn’t actually play this one and I’ll tell you why. It’s basically the same as Bionic Commando Rearmed. The main difference is that the main character has a mustache, can customize arm attacks to a greater degree with uppercuts and so on, and for the first time in the Bionic Commando side scrollers, the player can jump.
If you like Rearmed, this looks like a solid expansion and addition of new ideas to keep it feeling fresh and classic at the same time.
This was one I didn’t expect to see, and I talked about it a bit yesterday, but I was able to get some hands on time today and learn more about the nuance of the game.
The basic side scrolling gameplay has you tilting a book (not a full 360 degrees like I thought originally) to guide water through a maze, with physics based puzzles blocking your path. There are a number of things that water can do, and the game works to utilize each in different puzzles. I assume there’s some play with ice in the game because the title screen lists frost as one of the symbols of the water drop (it also lists arrows which I’m confused about though), as well as steam for the cloud symbol. The only new ability I saw aside from tilting left, right and jerking the controller up for a jump, was a pressurizing the water.
When you hold the “gather” button, the water balls up, but it creates pressure that if left too long will explode and send the water flying everywhere. Sometimes you need this to get through a puzzle, sometimes it’s detrimental. It’s much easier to do the platforming gathered because you lose less water, but you need to time the jumps much more carefully doing it this way.
The objective is to collect Rainbow Water Drops which will unlock the doors to different chapters of the book. The levels seem to be generally connected, so you may find a door that requires 7 rainbow drops during your play through at 4 rainbow drops. Think of it like the Stars in Super Mario. The more you get, the more places you can go.
Overall, it’s fun to watch the water take on the shape of the world around it, squeezing through pipes, separating over forks in the path, and submerging your enemies. If you like Pixel Junk’s Shooter, you’ll like Fluidity. It’s all about playing with water.
Force Unleashed 2:
For anyone that heard me talk about this game on the podcast, you’ll know I wasn’t really a fan. I liked the story well enough, but the platforming was annoying to me and the combat felt underpowered. In the level they provided at PAX, the underpowered part of the question has been removed. I can safely say that Star Killer feels like a badass now. I don’t know if this is an early “ultrapowered” version that will be stripped down within the first few minutes of the next scene, but as it stands, the force felt powerful again.
The platforming controls are basically the same, but the level design caters to it much better than it did in part one. The game looks and feels more polished which seems to be making the difference in this iteration of the game. A lot of the HUD elements have been removed which cleans up the screen nicely as well.
You have the basic force powers with a few new ones. There’s the mind trick that can make enemies turn on each other, or kill themselves. You can project force lightning with the force push in this version. Also, you have dual light sabers and the ability to dismember storm troopers.
As I said, I complained that Star Killer felt too underpowered, but now that he feels over powered, I hope they find a good way to balance the difficulty. I like being able to take out groups of enemies at a time with a single force grab, or force push off the edge, but there didn’t seem to be much challenge in the game as I played. It could also be because of the nature of the demo.
Either way, this game is really looking good and I’m genuinely excited about it, which is really saying a lot for me. I really just hope it doesn’t disappoint me.
I really enjoyed Infamous. There was good variety to the missions, the movement and combat was fun and the story was good. The moral choices didn’t always feel organic, but it worked for what it was trying to do.
Infamous 2 I can say, now that I’ve played it, retains all the ease of control as it did in the last game, but still adding to the arsenal of moves and destruction. The game looks far superior to the first game in the visual quality. The textures are deep and sharp, even in the night scene I was playing. There is a new melee function that feels really powerful and does some fun camera work during your attacks, making pulling off a melee chain even more fun.
There’s the old grind rail system in the city with a new twist. Now there are wires horizontally and vertically placed on the sides of buildings to help the player get even more mobility and a greater variety of grind rail paths. The parkour didn’t feel as sticky this time around either, making jumping around near objects easier to perform.
The grand spectacle of the demo was the Ion Vortex. Cole can eject a tornado of destruction from his hands which rips up cars and pedestrians alike. I thought the lightning attack in the first game was pretty badass. The vortex knocks it out of the park. It was incredibly satisfying to perform the move and watch it rip through town.
I think it’s safe to say this game is going to turn out great.
The first game release using the Crytek 3 engine will be a downloadable title called Nexuiz. It’s an arena style FPS with emphasis on fast paced, twitch style gaming. I grew up with Unreal Tournament and I have to say, this feels right on board with the classics.
The game looks great and it’s going to run for about $15. There are only going to be a few maps at launch with some content coming by DLC later on, but I did an interview with the creative director Kedhrin Gonzalez and he told me about the robust clan creation and managing functions that go into the game. I won’t get into the details of that right now. I will say that if you like arena style FPS gaming. Keep your attention to Nexuiz, cause it’s a good one.
The level he was showing off reminded me of an old Unreal map I used to play all the time, except where that used skyscrapers, Nexuiz used Aztec Ruins (not necessarily a game theme, just this map). There were bounce plates to get around the map quickly and there are apparently an obscene number of augmentation pickups you can find around the various levels. It sounds like fun. Now I just need to get my friend to agree on what platform to buy it on.
For anyone who has played Ikaruga, you know the idea of polarized bullets. In Ikaruga, a top down flight/bullet dodging game, they player could freely change the light and dark polarity of the ship. The bullets being fired at you would either damage you or be absorbed depending on your polarity. Your polarity would also affect the effectiveness of your shots. Outland takes that gameplay and puts it into a platforming context.
The game looks great. The level I saw was in a forest area that was dense with foliage in both the platforms and in the background. There’s a heavy use of black, giving a general silhouette look to most of the content. What’s amusing is that the developer claims to have not yet played Limbo, another silhouetted game. Coincidences happen. Aside from absorbing bullets of the like color, the player cannot hurt enemies of the like color. The must switch if the sword is to do any damage.
I didn’t actually get to play this one, and I wasn’t really a big fan of Ikaruga, but I definitely see people obsessing over the best speed run times for this game in the near future. Regardless of how much I enjoy games of its type, it looks like a really good puzzle platformer. In certain instances, your polarity changes the behavior of the environment and platforms itself.
At the end of the level, there was a giant Shadow of the Colossus style enemy that required both climbing skills as well as quick reflex polarity changing skills to defeat. The boss would periodically drop a rain of bullets down and the player would need to make sure they were standing in the right part of the pattern to not get hurt. There’s still plenty of time before this game comes out, but it’s one to keep an eye on, especially if you like Ikaruga.
I died a lot. The game is set in the Tron universe between the two movies, so it has the ability to answer some questions that the new movie doesn’t actually have the time to answer. This concept by itself I love. I still died a lot.
This isn’t to say it’s a bad thing. It’s clearly a game that takes some getting used to and getting good at. The combat is flashy, but in a way that it confused me as to what I was doing wrong or right. The health meter doesn’t give you much notice before you’re going to die either, which made a few of my deaths a complete surprise to me. Overall though, the combat looks like something that, once you get good at, you can really play around with and have fun chaining together very Tron-centric combos.
The Prince of Persia-esque platforming works as to be expected. I just feel drenched in Tron style the entire time I’m playing it, I almost can’t see it as anything else. It’s a action adventure platformer that is very passionately and distinctly Tron. If you like Tron, you don’t need me to tell you that this is up your alley. What I can tell you is that the controls take some practice, but the point of this title isn’t to hold your hand, it’s to challenge you and make you good at the game.
The light cycle is a perfect example of this. I kept trying to race through the sequence, with buildings collapsing all around me, without releasing the gas trigger. This is a bad idea. I died a lot. They’re still tweaking the controls a bit too, but I learned that I needed to really pace myself at turns, but still be focused on keeping ahead of the destruction that was happening around me. I would have been more thrilled with the sequence had I been better at the game upon playing it, but I was still able to enjoy it, then respawn and re-enjoy it. I’m interested to see how all the new Tron products are going to be received, both movie and game.
I’m not really sure how much I can say about this game. Killzone 2 had such a distinct look and feel to it. Killzone 3 has all the same things, just improved. In the levels I saw, there were some incredible looking environmental effects like snow. A new feature is also the Jetpack. It’s really more like a hover pack though. It gives you a big boost at the start, then a slow ride to the ground where you’ll have to jump again to get loft.
Then I played it in 3D confirming my opinion that conventions are horrible places to show off 3D. The 3D itself was pretty good, but I’m standing directly in front of the screen, barely 3 feet away, and I can see my reflection perfectly. This is very distracting.
In 3D, the game seems to drop in resolution, which is understandable to still keep the game running at 60 frames per second. The 3D really was some of the better 3D I’ve seen, though I still think that Motorstorm Apocalypse is the best console 3D I’ve seen to date. Killzone suffers a bit from a little too shallow depth of field. This is something that people may disagree with me about which suggests to me that the optimal depth of field is different to everyone. My opinion is this: Whatever is found at the depth of the screen itself should be as 1:1 in its shaping as possible. As I said, Killzone 3 is close, but I’m an anal retentive, so close isn’t enough for me.
But if you’re expecting me to say anything other than Killzone 3 looks and feels great, then lower your expectations. Killzone 3 looks great and it plays like part 2. I’m sure the team has a rollercoaster of surprises they’re packing in along the way, so if you like Killzone, I expect that you’ll not be disappointed.
The Shoot is a Playstation Move game that was cradled in a gun-shaped attachment. The basic idea of the shoot is that you’re on a film set and you’re shooting wooden targets trying to help the director get the best takes. If you lose a life, you’re wasting a “take”.
I love light gun games with a passion. The only problem is that light guns don’t work with HD sets, so modern consoles can’t run them. The move uses a crosshair on the screen something like a mouse cursor. The gun attachment helps in making it feel less like a cursor. I also calibrated the crosshair to be as close to matching as I would have calibrated a light gun, but it seemed that over time, the calibration sagged downwards until the cursor was nowhere near where I originally placed it. I can’t tell if that’s because of the game, or the hardware. I’m assuming the game for now, so hopefully that gets fixed.
There were also some gestural commands that triggered special moves, like slow motion or rapid fire. The movements were kind of silly though, even by my standards. To trigger the slow motion you had to physically spin 360 degrees. It worked each time I did it, I just felt weird doing it cause I took my eyes off the screen.
Eventually I stopped trying to play it as a light gun 1:1 aiming and just started playing it. The game was fine fun, but I can’t imagine ever picking up a copy. Seems like a game you’d play once or twice to show someone the move controller, but never pick up again yourself. Maybe that’s just me, but this one doesn’t really excite me.
The film presentation is cute, but again, not much of a hook to me. It’s a great prototype of what other things are possible either way.
The last game I played on Day 2. Whenever I go to a new Chinese restaurant, I always order General Tso’s chicken. I do this because I want to get a baseline on how the food is, to compare the General Tso’s chicken from one place to another. I felt like I was doing the same to the Move controller while playing this game. I picked the sword battle mini game here because I wanted to see how the controller did 1:1 slash movement. I have to say, I was not disappointed.
I was using two move controllers, one for the shield, one for the sword. In order to block, I needed to hold the trigger on the shield hand, then release and swing with my other hand to attack. I figured immediately this was going to trip me up along the way, but I found that I was more-so naturally tensing and releasing my blocking hand.
The sword did a great job at following my direct line of swing, though I realized that I personally had to aim better as I played. Maybe this has to do with the sagging calibration found while I was playing The Shoot, but either way I found myself going to swing for the legs and winding up hitting the opponent in the waist every now and then. I took a step back and swung lower and got the job done. Like anything, it takes more time that you get at a convention to learn the nuance of a game like that.
Aside from the minor targeting issues, the sword and shield combination felt great. It felt like I wanted it to feel like. Now hopefully they can figure out how to make the force feedback to be 1:1. With what I’ve seen of the Move, it really clearly comes across as being the superior motion controller. The Wii Motion Plus is really is only equal, though the Wii can’t simultaneously use the camera function in gameplay like the Eye does. But I digress. Sports Champions has a whole bunch of other goodies I’d love to try. I don’t see it replacing Wii Sports as the general go to party sports game, but I see people both young and old being able to find easy fun in it. I’d love to see my parents play this game.
End of Games. There was a lot to get to today and I hope I covered most of the important things you guys were wondering about. I also attended a round table discussion panel with Warren Spector, the designer for Epic Mickey, Deus Ex and others, but that’s going to have to go in a different post. It was a great meeting we had, so when it posts, you should all take a look at it. In the meantime, it’s bedtime and I have Day 3 ahead of me.
You guys rock. I hope you’re enjoying the coverage.