E3 2009: We say it all
The Electronic Entertainment Expo 2009 edition is now officially over. These three days have really been intense and exhausting, but they especially offered us a chance to take a look at a large amount of games. Games really amazing, in terms of visuals as well as gameplay. So here we go for our impressions on the titles we've been able to test.
The E3 does its oil change
For a car enthusiast like me, this E3 was like visiting Santa Claus village, as racing games were a huge part of the salon. Dealing with arcade games, we tried out Split/Second : Black Rock Studio abandoned Pure's quads and mud ; now it's all cars that look like they're from Ridge Racer and urban environments. Though the driving is really arcade with no subtelty, the spice comes from the possibility of triggering explosions in order to wreck your opponents, or even change completely the level layout by blocking certain parts of the road and unveiling others.For example, in the level we played, triggering an explosion made the airport control tower collapse, thus blocking the road and forcing cars to rush into the landing strips, among airplanes. The areas you can blow up are always the same but it seems there are plenty of them, so you can play the same level again and again without necessarily get bored. So, Split/Second is definitely a nice surprise but it sure needs optimization, as the game isn't particularly fluid for the moment, and prone to agressive clipping.
In a similar genre, we had the opportunity to try out Blur, Bizarre's first game ever developped for Activision. Forget the sophistication of PGR's races and production, Blur is rough and brutish with flashy saturated colours. Just like Split/Second, the driving isn't subtle either and all you have to do is collect power-ups then use them on your opponents. The circuit we had a chance to try out was about as interesting as a Nascar's ring -unfortunately. It's really hard to believe that after substantial titles like PGR, Bizarre offers us something that dull and tasteless. Let's hope they instil some soul to Blur before it's released.
Talking about arcade games, even if this title doesn't claim it loud and clear, Codemasters' DIRT2 had pride of place in several booths. We sure expected it to be gorgeous, but once you're before the screen, it just completely blows your mind. The light effects are fantastic, the car design is wonderful, and the distortions look better than ever. The cars are rather pleasant to handle and though they sometimes feel a little too light, DIRT2 smells like Rallisport Challenge 2 -and it quite suits us. Anyway, those who liked the first episode won't be disappointed.
Now let's switch to portable consoles, with Motorstorm : Arctic Edge on PSP, a quite impressive title. The gameplay is the same as the PS3 version, it's all slides and nitro. The studio abandoned the jungle and muddy environments for vast frozen and snowy areas, but the levels' layout didn't change much, with lots of branch lines and springboards. The production is truly amazing, and despite the polygons and light effects debauchery, the game is still smooth, which is really nice.
Another PSP title, but this time on its newest version, the PSP Go!, is Gran Turismo, which PSP owners have been waiting for since 2004. Considered for long as a vaporware, Polyphony's game made its comeback at Sony's conference and will be released at the same time as the new PSP, in October. Once it's in your hands, you cannot but agree it was worth the waiting : the game is gorgeous, easily reaching the level of GT4 on PS2, and has arrogant fluidity. The driving will not disorient Polyphony's series' fans, who'll be busy playing 35 circuits with one of the 800 cars available.
Back to grown-ups consoles with a taste of Need for Speed : Shift. A fresh start from EA's series who doesn't seem to be finding its identity. However, with this new episode clearly mimicking Codemasters' GRID, it seems the developers made the right choice : the production is quite good, and the sensations are real, thanks to the use of a very realistic internal view -among other things. Only the rendering of damage is a bit disappointing, making it slightly less impressive than Codemasters' title.
Last round of gas-smelling games with Forza Motorsport 3 : we all knew for months that Turn 10 was working on a third episode of Gran Turismo's direct opponent, but it was only officially announced at Microsoft's Media Briefing. This third episode looks very attractive, with tons of cars and tracks, top notch production, and -at last !- a cockpit view. The tracks we had the chance to try out are also complex, and the environments are far from being two benches and a stash of tires, unlike Forza 2. The driving is also pleasant, and you can really feel the car's weight, but still, it's rather easy to handle, even when you deactivate all the driving assistance tools. It's worth noting that the game is once more compatible with the 360 Force Feedback steering wheel, but can also be displayed on three screens for a panoramic view which enhances the immersion up to an incredible level.
Ready ? Fight !
Now, let's move to fighting games. Thanks to the return of the king Street Fighter, there's a strong resurgence of the genre, and we had a chance to try out its greatest ambassadors. Let's talk quickly about Soul Calibur PSP : I'm not a specialist of the series, so I really can't speak about the gameplay, as I wouldn't be able to compare with its home consoles versions. Nevertheless, it didn't seem to be particularly difficult to handle, as the character was quite responsive. Cherry on top, the production is very impressive, the decors are really spare though colourful, the characters well designed and animated, and the game is perfectly smooth.
Let's leave Namco and go see what Capcom, the unchallenged master of the genre, has to offer. We first tried out the Tatsunoko vs. Capcom cross-over on Wii, where you can fight with mythical characters from Capcom and other from anime studio Tatsunoko. Already released in Japan a few months ago, the title will finally hit the US in a few months to the fans' greatest joy. If you like fighting games with delirious furies and top notch 2.5D production, you won't be disappointed.
Talking about cross-overs, let's go back to the most famous of them, Marvel vs Capcom 2. The mythical title is coming back on XBLA and PSN with slightly retouched production (though it's not a real HD remix like Super Street Fighter II Turbo had). Once the big Madcatz stick is in your hands (you know, the ones you pray to see back in stores everynight), the game hasn't lost its superpower at all, and its crazy good cast lets you fight 3vs3 epic matches where hits rain down and 40 hits combos and furies filling the screen follow on frantically. A must-have for fans of the genre, which should be downloadable pretty soon.
The hidden face of the Wii
Let's go back to the Wii for a completely different genre : shooting games. Dead Space Extraction and Resident Evil : Dark Side Chronicles should thrill railshooters amateurs with their polished production and gameplay more evolved than any Virtua Cop. In Dead Space Extraction, for example, you'll have to solve enigmas while scripted elements in RE will make it necessary that the second player helps his partner when the latter finds himself attacked by a pack of zombies. However, let's wait until we play these games in our comfortable sofas rather than an overcrowded salon to test the hair-raising atmosphere.
Though The Conduit will be released very soon, it had pride of place on Sega's booth. On a technical point of view, the game proves that the Wii can at last show great stuff -even if other titles in the salon manage to raise the bar pretty high. The gameplay is pretty good too, the Wiimote making it easy to take aim at enemies. On the other hand, the general design shows absolute bad taste, which is a real shame : with less old-fashion art direction, The Conduit could have been a must-have for FPS amateurs.
But the Wii's big thing is, unquestionably, Silent Hill : Shattered Memories by Konami. Based on the series' first episode, the English from Climax (also known for SH : Origins on PSP) have completed a titanic work : the narration is different and seems to be based on flashbacks, and the Wiimote is used to angle the flashlight (which, for the first time, isn't in the heroe's pocket anymore but in his hands) so you can admire the impressive light effects the game offers.
Music makes the people come together, yeah
Music games were also on the salon, more than ever, and Activision and EA are engaged in a fierce war ; it's a matter of who will release the more Thingummy Band or Whatsit Hero of the year. Activision's Guitar Hero and Band Hero (same stuff but with a more mainstream playlist) lied low, as well as DJ Hero, of which we could only catch a glimpse during a live demo. Ok, why not, but I think you have to play it to really experience the sensations.
EA also had as many titles, but we had the opportunity of playing them, amongst joy and happiness. On PSP first, the surprising Rock Band Unplugged doesn't require additional accessories as the gameplay is solo only and you have to play four scores alternatively. Back to home consoles with LEGO Rock Band : after a first impression limited to "WTF ?", it's only just a Rock Band with LEGO characters playing on stage, LEGO bricks-shaped notes, and a more mainstream yet nice playlist.
But Harmonix real big thing is of course Rock Band Beatles : this game, entirely dedicated to the Fab' Four, offers incredible aesthetics, with a career mode which follows the band's evolution, particularly their looks and aesthetic influences, and will also offer crazy environments for the Liverpool band's psychedelic and hippie period. As for gameplay novelties, the major asset is that you can now sing with two other people in harmony on almost every song. An excellent idea, but I think your neighbours won't share your enthusiasm. Of course, the tracklist will make Beatles' fans cry tears of joy. DLC has already been announced for the game's release, because you know, one must make a living. As for gear, the guitars (one bass and two guitars have been designed for the game) offer a rather similar touch to the previous Rock Band versions' instruments, but are incredibly beautiful and look like real miniature instruments, rather than plastic thingies. A safe bet for music game enthusiasts and Beatles fans.
Among all these huge titles, we had the opportunity to try out a less famed one : Shadow Complex, developed by Microsoft Game Studio (and presented by CliffyB during MS Media Briefing) and released this summer on XBLA. This 2.5D game offers a gameplay that evokes Castlevania and Metroid, with alternate platform, shoot and reflexion phases. It's pretty cool to play but above all, it's gorgeous for a Live Arcade game. Definitely a game to watch, which could prove to be very enjoyable for those who will wonder what to play this summer.
Once more proving that size doesn't matter, Activision's booth didn't offer many playable games despite its gigantic surface, and the only game we could try out was Tony Hawk Ride. This umpteenth episode from the PSOne-born series tries to innovate for good with a skateboard-shaped device, but with no wheels. Covered in sensors, the board lets you performs a wide range of movements by leaning it or shifting its weight. Against all expectation, I must admit it works quite well, and soon you find yourself doing kickflips, grinds and manuals and enjoy it. The level we had a chance to play was rather short and the skater's steering was assisted, but you feel the game has quite a potential. However, the graphics are still a bit unsatisfactory, but nothing impossible to adjust before the game's released.
Sega goes the whole (hedge)hog
To finish with our overview of the three-day salon, let's stop at Sega's booth, which showed quite substantial titles. First, Alien vs Predator, which marks the comeback of the horror FPS franchise on PC and next-gen consoles. Unfortunately it wasn't playable, but we somehow managed to see clips from two out of the three campaigns the game offers : the Predator's side and the Marines' side. The game looks pretty clean graphically speaking, and all the elements proper to each character are there : invisibility, red triangular laser to assist aiming, thermal vision for the Predator, pulse rifle, motion sensor and sentry gun for the Marines. The game looks good, but seems to be extremely scripted, and we found the Aliens moves terribly slow. We hope this will change before the game's released.
More ambitious, Alpha Protocol looks more and more brilliant every time we have a chance to see it -if you forget the desperately poor graphics. The gameplay, though, looks really complex with plenty of different scenaristic possibilities. The player's actions and the order in which he can carry them out also influence the unwinding of the adventure, which is a good thing, since many of the games these days are desperately linear. The character will be customizable almost at will, his looks as well as his skills, which will obviously affect the way he approaches a mission. We really wish we saw more of the game, as it really struck us, and we hope Obsidian will be faithful to its reputation and bring us a great action RPG.
Last but not least, our "coup de coeur", our personal favourite, the game that struck us since we first saw it : Bayonetta. We finally had a chance to look at Platinum Games' newest beat' em all, and, pad in hand, the game is absolute Dantesque pleasure. The production is gorgeous, the design is totally crazy but assumed, and the fights show frantic fists/feet/guns combos before ending with completely surrealistic finishing moves. And the bosses are not left behind : they're gigantic, and they have the annoying habit of destroying the decor, though they always end up crushed by a well-chosen climax move. Bayonetta doesn't invent anything, it just takes up Devil May Cry's concept and brings it to its paroxysm, going really really far in that kind of extreme trip. That's pretty much all we expected from it, so we're quite sure it won't be disappointing at all. It's not much to say that we're very much looking forward to its release !
That's all for our 2009 E3 impressions. Everyone predicted the salon would bring back spectacle, and those few days really lived up to its promises. But it's not over since our video impressions will be coming up soon, with more details and passionate debates about Mass Effect 2, Uncharted 2, God of War 3, Heavy Rain or Saboteur. So you better keep updated !
Translated by Nora.
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