Thursday, 17 June 2010

E3 2010: EA Keynote Impressions

Due to circumstances beyond our control at Just Stuff & Nonsense we weren't able to attend E3 this year, however thanks to the wonders of the internet it has been possible to watching the keynotes live online. Here are my impressions of the EA conference. Electronic Arts presented ten games, and rather than doing a play by play as we did for the Microsoft Keynote I will just look at those ten titles.

Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit
The event was opened by a trailer for Criterion's take on Need For Speed, and it looks like they're taking everything they learned when making Burnout and will be applying it here. The trailer was a good introduction to the return to the roots of the series, super fast sports cars on the run from souped up police cars, and at one point a helicopter swept in and dropped off a stinger trap. The focus of the trailer was on the players, every few seconds it would pause and bring up the details of the person in the car. It was very stylish and made me want to watch The Blues Brothers.
Before delving into the gameplay side of things a breif moment was taken to show how the online features would integrate into the game and they were touting it as revolutionary, but in reality it was just a varient of the ticker system Burnout already has. Instead of being just scolling text the information rises from the darkness on the main menu, this may tell you who is online, or that someone has beaten your best time, it will also bring up photos of your rivals.
Then it was time for a look at the online gameplay. After a brief load (it must have felt excruciatingly long when stood on stage) a cutscene started playing, this opened with the chase already in progress. The camera followed a fleet of police cars chasing the other players yellow sports car, using the same effect as the trailer had the action paused mid action and bought up the details of each player, it's extremely stylish. The camera from the cutscene slowly rotates until it is behind the car and suddenly they're in control of the action, the graphics are very good quality and look like a more refined and advanced version of Burnout Paradise. It looks like both sides have power-ups assigned to the D-pad, it was hard to make out the symbols but it looks like the police had access to Stinger Traps, Helicopters and Road Blocks, the other icons weren't so easy to decode. The gameplay was as fast as you'd expect it to be from the creators of Burnout Paradise, and seems to be about trading a lot of paintwork, eventually the police driver was able to hit the required about of damage and the criminal's car was sent into an explosive spin with lots of flying and crumpling parts.
Being a big fan of Burnout it's good to see that Criterion didn't just settle on a straight up street racing game, it looks very good and parallels to their magnum opus series will be unavoidable. The demonstration ended with a release date of November 16.

Dead Space 2
Before we can see any footage we are reminded that Dead Space was more than just a gaming franchise, it also had a spin off comics, an animated movie, and a Dead Space: Extraction, a Wii spin-off, while we were being told about these products and Dead Space 2's place among them there were screenshots in the background, all of which looked far superior to anything seen in the original game, Dead Space was a good looking game to begin with so the extra detail is particularly striking.
The gameplay section that was being shown took place in a church, it made a nice change to see the Isaac be somewhere other than an oppressive festering spaceship. Within seconds the game was back to its old tricks when a new type of enemy burst from the floor and started dragging Isaac along my his ankle in the exact same way the giant tentacle did in the first game. Once that had been fought off swarms of large headed wailing creatures jumped out, the design of these was pretty unpleasant and the sounds they made we also sufficiently creepy, a few were dispatched by having their heads knocked clean off and the rest had their limbs removed in the usual fashion. Gameplay seemed to be faster this time around, even Isaac seemed to be moving and aiming a little quicker, other than that though it was all very similar to everything we saw in the original. My main hope is that this was a section later in the game, or that it had been tweaked to include extra monsters, because the emphasis was much less on horror and more on fighting off hordes. The fight continued to the upper levels of the church, where more Necromorps launched surprise attacks, by way of - you guessed it; jumping out, once Isaac was out of the church and in an elevator it was clear that there is a lot more emphasis on different environments in the game, the elevator was very colourful, and the doors opened to reveal The Sprawl; the futuristic industrial city that the game will take place in. suddenly there was an attack from some kind of drone that opened fire with a machine gun, this was avoided by way of some serious button mashing, looks like there will be a larger variety of enemies in this game. The demo came to a close with Isaac tumbling down into a pit where a very large drooling Necromorph roared in his face, we were told that the demo would continue at the Sony Keynote and that the game will be released January 25.

Medal Of Honor (+ Bad Company 2 and EA Gun Club)
A very wise decision has been made with Medal Of Honor, the campaign and multiplayer are being developed separately by two different studios. The multiplayer duties will fall to Dice, and it is their work that was being displayed.
The demo was a 24 player deathmatch, and although they had a different name for it, there is no escaping the fact that this game looks a lot like Modern Warefare 2. Its a parallel I was hoping to avoid because its the first thing everyone will mention, but sadly I'm going to have to say it too, even the HUD looks like a variaton on Infinity Wards genre defining shooter. The only noticeable difference was the way kill scores are displayed, they flash up in a very bold and unique way above the crosshairs, but they're a little too distracting for their own good. Graphically there was no faulting the game, it may not be particularly distinct in its style but at least it looks good while it's trundling down the middle of the road. Medal Of Honor will be defined by the quality of it's single player experience, there was never any doubt that a Dice created multiplayer component would be extremely strong, which made the choice to favour this side of things at such a big event a little odd. A beta of the game will be available in the coming weeks, hopefully a more up close and personal time with the multiplayer allow us to see where it stands out.

Following the MOH demo, Dice's other multiplayer extravaganza Battlefield: Bad Company 2 received a bit of fresh news. There will be an expansion pack in the near future; Battlefield: Bad Company Vietnam. Nothing was shown beyond a brief teaser that essentially consisted of a helicopter flying through a very lush and beautiful Vietnamese jungle and swooping over a small village engulfed in smoke. It's a no brainer to assume that Bad Company Vietnam will be a multiplayer only title, and its announcement explains why there has been no new content for Bad Company 2 since release (we're not acknowledging new outfits of maps being unlocked for different modes as new content).

If you play a lot of EA Sports games you may have been aware of a feature called EA Sports World that tracked all the games you owned and based upon accomplishments in those games unlocked rewards for an avatar that you never really saw. After the BCV teaser it was announced that a more practical version is being rolled out for shooters called EA Gun Club. Gun Club will follow your progress in games such as Dead Space 2 and Bad Company 2, and will reward loyal players with early access to beta's, demos, news and other things that everyone stopped listening to once the words 'beta' and 'demo' had been said. Essentially it revolves around buying more and being rewarded for it, but it's always good to receive a little extra for something that we probably would have bought anyway. The final announcement was that users of EA Gun Club will get access to the Medal Of Honor demo June 17, everyone else will have to wait around ten days on top of that.

EA Sports MMA
Peter Moore was unsurprisingly the host for the EA Sports section of the keynote, I'll save you some suspense right now; there were no new tattoos this year! MMA has been in development for two years now apparently, but there was next to no footage to be seen during it's section of the presentation. We were presented with a few screenshots and some bulletpoint statistics about the game such as; the control method requires accuracy and timing rather than button mashing, the fact there are lots of fighting styles from around the world, there are many global locations and variants of cage fighting in the game and finally revealing that the cover stars are Randy Couture and Fedor Emelianeko. The bigger focus of the presentation was the revolutionary take on online gaming that MMA will feature called EA Live Broadcast. The concept behind Live Broadcast is to make playing online more like competing in real sports, they will be implementing the ability to set up a Facebook style page where the player can build a persona for themselves including a section where they'll be able to upload 'smack talk' videos as well as get involved in real life rivalries with other players. If a player is able to build up enough fame for themselves behind the scenes while also proving their in game prowess they may be invited to take part in a live online game that will be broadcast to all owners of MMA and will feature live commentary from real world commentators. To add a little incentive (and probably to detract from the embarrassment of talking smack into a webcam) there will be actual prizes up for grabs. It was disappointing that there wasn't even so much as a trailer for the game, let alone a gameplay demo, so the quality of the game remains a little up in the air.

EA Sports Active 2
The Wii exclusive title is going multi-platform, and it's shaking things up by making everything wireless on the PS3 and Wii while utilising Kinect on the 360. Unfortunately after the much more impressive Your Shape: Fitness Evolved presentation by Microsoft earlier in the day Active 2 was looking a little last gen before it has even been released. The graphics were particularly poor on the Wii version and didn't seem to be utilising the little power that the system has, the PS3 and 360 versions were passable but by no means revolutionary. The wireless nature means that there is a far greater amount of exercises and stretches that can be achieved without the limitation of the tiny Nunchuck lead in the way any more. The other feature that was being touted heavily was the newly included link to which means that regardless of platform (but depending on if you're connected to the net obviously) the game will automatically upload your workout statistics to the website where the user will be able to see how they are progressing and can share their progress with other users as well as joining fitness clubs that will set goals and bring a social element to the game. The kinect version of the game will feature 1:1 movement recognition, but there was some pretty noticeable lag between the demonstrators movements and the game repeating them. All three versions of the game use a heartbeat sensor and relay the data back into the games HUD, in addition to this sensor the Wii and PS3 versions of the game require a motion sensor strapped to the leg and arm. After demonstrating some of the activities in the game such as mountain biking and boxing it was announced that the game would be released across all platforms on November 16. The online aspect certainly has some appeal and may provide the additional incentive that other games in this rapidly expanding genre lack, if your console of choice is the PS3 or Wii then Active 2 looks like it will probably be the fitness game to go for, on the 360 Your Shape still looks like it will make better use of Kinect.

Madden NFL 11
Peter Moore returned to the stage and introduced his special guest to talk about Madden NFL 11, one of the best quaterbacks ever to play the game: Joe Montana. Moore explained that the buzz words for this years Madden are 'Simpler, Quicker, Deeper' a lot of effort has gone into making the game easier for newcomers without alienating the All-Madden elite, the biggest step towards this is the feature that has been coined 'Gameflow' which puts the player into the huddle, giving them a coach shouting into their ear with the play to perform. It does actually look like it will make the game far more accessible, for over twenty years the play call screen has been the same across all of the Madden games, which is great for anyone who knows what they are doing, but to someone with a casual interest looking to pick up the pad and play a quick game as the Detroit Lions it isn't particularly user friendly. Peter Moore asked Joe Montana to talk him through a play, a rematch of this years Superbowl "between the New Orleans Saints and the Miami Colts"... something tells me that he may be slighting feigning his interest in the sport. The virtual coach doesn't just suggest the plays he will also explain why he has picked the play and what the player needs to do once the ball is snapped, which in the case of the Seattle Seahawks will probably be along the lines of "try not suck". Vetran fans will still be possible to call audible changes on the line of scrimmage, or if they really can't stand the Gameflow mechanic will be able to switch back to the traditional play-book. An embarrassing video that was aiming for funny but felt hideously awkward ran through the features of the game and introduced 3 Vs 3 co-operative play, the ability to create your own game strategy and play-book in advance and introduced Gus Johnson as Chris Collinsworth's broadcast partner for the game. There wasn't any new news about the game and anyone with a slight interest in the franchise already knew about the features they were touting, so given the room was full of journalists (whose job it is to know these things) it felt like a complete waste of a segment.

The Sims 3
The Sims 3 is coming to home consoles. This segment was very long winded, and didn't provide any information about the console ports at all, however it did remind me that we are essentially terrible people, and that The Sims 3 caters to our darker sides. This again felt like a completely wasted segment.

Crysis 2
Business picked back up again when Cevat Yerli introduced us to some Crysis 2 footage, and it was completely worth sitting through the Madden and Sims presentations. The graphics were brilliant, more so when a button prompt appeared on screen and it became obvious that this was a console version of the game. For a console title it looked out of this world, the explosions were extremely impressive as were the reflections of the action on Grand Central Station's marble floor, friendly units were engaging enemy units in a small scale skirmish around the station while the player manned that staple of a first persona action game; the mounted machine gun turret. Yerli explained that the nanosuit the player wears offers three completely different ways to play the game, they can switch to a stealth mode and completely disappear from sight, taking their time to carefully flank and eliminate enemies, or they can switch the suit to battle mode which essentially tanks up the player, offers them extra armour and opens up the ability to play far more aggressively. The third mode of the suit is a tactical mode, this is the middle ground between the two suit modes and offers advanced features such as a predator style heat vision to allow a more careful but still direct approach to the action. During the demo the player was fighting off a series of smaller enemies and a giant alient robot that smashed through a window, the shattered and the debris flying everywhere when he did so looked truly brilliant as did the way the creature unfolded itself into the room taking out almost all of the friendly characters in one swipe. Things started to get a tiny bit generic at this point with the player finding a conveniently placed missile launcher crate containing what seemed to be unlimited ammo. During this missile based back and forth Yerli said that the game is best described as a choreographed sandbox, so it will feature all the freedom of a sandbox game but with the intensity and focus that is usually reserved for linear experiences. The lighting effects during this fight were spectacular, the entire room glowed blue and bloomed with light when the robot as firing it's special attack, each individual bullet it fired carried with it a moving light source that seemed to effect all the shadowing around it, the game is made great not only by the overall visual quality but by the attention to these little details. The demo came to a close with an attack on a building by the invaders, after a few rounds of fire the building started to tumble, the player jumped onto a Humvee and a Cloverfield style first person escape video started to play, it was a brilliant end to a overall fantastic demo.
After the gameplay demo was over a pre-rendered trailer played in full 3D, all 3 versions of the game will support stereoscopic 3D, assuming you have the appropriate hardware, when the game is released this holiday.

Cliffy B and two associates bought a gameplay demonstration of Bulletstorm to the stage, if you haven't heard of this game before the most important thing to keep in mind is that it doesn't take itself seriously at all. The game is about revelling in the excitement and fun of running around with a giant gun blowing people to pieces, it rewards brutal experimentation with bonus for impressive and unique kills, the way it was eloquently described was "you do cool shit, to unlock cool shit, to do more cool shit". The demo opened on a some form of a quarry high up in the mountains, it looked absolutely brilliant, the colours were vibrant, the buildings and architecture looked really unique it was a refreshing change to the subdued gritty realism of other games that use the Unreal Engine. The lead character kicked a large vault style door open sending it flying to the other side of the room, squashing an enemy in it's path, he then shot a couple of others and kicked two into exposed power cables on the walls. Every time a kill happened a bit of dialogue popped up over the enemies head (such as Fire In the Hole when an enemy got hit in his posterior) and a score in the corner continued to climb. The weapons in the demo were the standard types of FPS guns albeit with fancy skins, but the hero did have some sort of stasis whip that let him throw enemies around in slow motion or tear up bits of the scenery to use as makeshift weapons. The dialogue is a cheesy swear-fest with some of the lines falling a little flat but majority of them raise a wry smile, if this game took itself seriously then it would just be considered outright bad dialogue, but luckily it is able to avoid taking the Rogue Warrior route. The demo ended with an on rails section featuring a giant cutting wheel hurtling towards the characters escaping train, the dust that was being thrown up by this along with the hundreds of explosions looked fantastic, just before the wheel hit the train the demo came to a close with a screen informing that the game will be released February 22. The game looks like it will be a lot of fun, as long as it doesn't fall into the trap of having too many repetitions of the cool kill moments (every level having re-skinned conveniently placed spikes on the wall for example) and can keep things varied throughout the campaign.

Star Wars: The Old Republic
Such a disappointing end to the show following the last two games, information was low on the ground and there wasn't any in game footage, just four screenshots. Every player will get their own spaceship in the game, this ship will be their base of operations and will be in some way customisable. PvP will take place in 'warzones' that will be based on classic Star Wars locations, the one they were announcing today was Alderann. This announcement was followed by a CG trailer, it was a fairly good watch and capture some of the essence of the franchise and how it will relate to the game, but was no substitute for any real information or a demo of the game in action.

Overall the good outweighed the bad at the EA Keynote, Need For Speed, Crysis 2 and Bulletstorm were the absolute best titles at the show. It was a shame that time was taken up by re-hashing already published Madden and Sims 3 information, when we could have seen another two games, a look at the new pro mode in Rock Band 3 for example would have kept the pacing of the presentation going instead of having a very noticeable lull in the middle.

Don't forget to check out our Microsoft Keynote coverage. We will be covering the Nintendo and Sony conferences as well, and keep checking back for all the most interesting news from E3 throughout the week.

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