Friday, June 5, 2009
After a nonstop week of gaming (and a ludicrous amount of walking), I'm back in the Midwest with a substantial taste of things to come in the gaming industry. Everything about this year's E3 Expo was bigger and better than last year's underwhelming experience.
Yesterday, I got a chance to get some hands-on time with Bethesda's upcoming new IPs Rogue Warrior and Wet. Rogue Warrior stars Mickey Rourke as the voice of longtime real-life Navy Seal Dick Marcinko. It was fairly standard action fare, and took some major cues from 80s action movies. Marcinko can take on the Russians with guns blazing, or he can sneak up on them and dispatch them with instant "Quick Kills". It played decently enough, but didn't really offer anything that hasn't been seen before.
Wet is a cinematic shoot-em-up in the same vein as John Woo's Stranglehold. In it, your protagonist Rubi can wall-run, dive through the air, and slide across the floor while shooting her dual pistols. The developers told me that a major feature they wanted in the game was the ability to shoot at any time. Sure enough, there isn't a single point in the game where you can't be blasting away, whether you're in mid-air or the middle of a QTE event. One segment of the demo featured Rubi jumping from car to car on a San Francisco highway as she fires at enemy vehicles. It's like a more polished Stranglehold, but time will tell if the gameplay holds up over the course of the campaign.
Next, I wandered over to the Activision booth to try out the intriguing new Tony Hawk Ride board controller. I was extremely skeptical of the concept, but was actually very impressed with how it controlled. It took me a while to get the hang of my balance when doing a manual, but I went through the tutorial multiple times and eventually got it down. Performing ollies is as simple as kicking up on the back of the board, and you can spin around while doing grinds or jumps. As someone who has never skated in his life, I found the experience to be surprisingly solid. Unfortunately, the demo was very linear in nature and didn't give me a feel of what it's like to explore the entire game world.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is comprised of three distinct applications of the Dark Knight's skills - brawling, stealth, and detective skills. All three components are well-made, and it's the first game I've played to really get the feel of the Caped Crusader correct. Melee attacks are brutal and quick, stealthily attacking enemies is satisfying, and the detective work isn't at all tedious. All of the voice-over work is great, and Batman fans are sure to love this title.
When I first heard the concept of Scribblenauts, I thought it was incredibly innovative but was unsure if it would be as comprehensive as it claimed. For those unfamiliar with the game, it features your protagonist collecting stars throughout various levels. This sounds incredibly basic, but there's a catch. In order to reach the star in each level, you can type in ANY noun you can think of and it will appear. I tried countless items, and every one of them worked like a charm. On the level where you have to get a star out of a tree, I spawned a flamethrower and took it down. When I played the level again, I thought I'd try something a little more creative, so I tried "termite". Sure enough, it appeared and ran over to the tree, eating it and bringing the star down with it. I spawned a bear and a shark and watched them briefly fight, but the shark ended up flopping around and dying thanks to being on land. Another level required you to bring a cat down from the roof of a house. At first, I spawned a dog and put him on the roof. He chased the cat off the roof, but ended up attacking it and failing the mission for me. I eventually passed the level by spawning a rotary fan and placing it on the roof, blowing the cat down to its owner. It's incredibly innovative and I can see myself playing levels over and over to see all the different ways I can beat them. As an added bonus, the lead designer on the title is Matt Cox, former Video Games Editor for Lawrence.com. Scribblenauts is getting a ton of positive buzz from the gaming press, and it's great to see one of Lawrence's own behind what's sure to be a big hit.
E3 2009 entirely erased the bad taste left in my mouth after the 2007 and 2008 shows. It filled both major halls of the LA Convention Center, and marked the return of massive booths, scantilly clad booth babes, and all the pomp and circumstance the event used to be known for. Thanks to its success, it has been announced that it will return in this fashion next year during the middle of June. Based on how great this year's show was, that can't come soon enough.