Friday, June 17, 2011
I had the pleasure of attending E3 last week, a beautiful yet confounding place that makes one feel privileged and deprived in equal measure. For those of you in the dark about how E3 works, most of the major new games had demos that were only watchable or playable by the gaming elite, by appointment only. Everyone else wanders over to the Activision Booth to play Modern Warfare 3 or 2K to pounce on Bioshock: Infinite only to find nothing more than a poster as the only proof of their existence. But this does not stop Muse. Sure, I can't speak to games like Uncharted 3 or Skyrim beyond what we've all seen online, but my film bloggery sixth sense successfully managed to track down and get in depth with my most anticipated movie and comic based games. And also helped me spot rando celebrity after rando celebrity (Casper Van Dien, Josh Gomez, Aisha Tyler, Scott Porter and ... Zac Efron?), but that's neither here nor there. So without further ado - my favorite movie related finds of E3 2011.
5. Captain America: Super Soldier
The big story surrounding this game starting back at Wondercon was how it held the potential to not suck. And huzzah, that potential seems to be being met! Nice visuals and environment, stellar voice acting, and fighting mechanics reminiscent of Arkham Asylum or even some recent Prince of Persia, this was the only movie-to-video-game adaptation of its specific ilk shown at the entire conference that I thought I'd actually play again (despite fun enough gameplay and a script by Marv Wolfman, the design and tone of Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters were a big turn off, Cars 2 was cute, but not for me, couldn't care less about Transformers: Dark of the Moon and while the Kirk/Spock co-op in the Star Trek is promising, I didn't get close enough to the game to judge anything for myself.) The free flow style combat in particular got my heart rate elevated for about a half second, which is more than I can say for a lot of the games I tried out over the course of these three days. Sega gets a lot of flack in general for distributing sub-par movie based video games, so I'm very curious to see how this turns out. The demo didn't sell me completely, by any means, but it definitely has me optimistic.
4. Kinect: Star Wars
When Kinect first hit E3 last year, the first thought through my mind and many others, I'm sure, was "So how soon til we get to use the Force?" Well, the answer is now! Or, more accurately, in about six months. Kinect Star Wars uses the motion technology for lightsaber slashing, force throwing, kicking, jumping, and the like, and while I'm still not entirely sold on this tech in a full game (Fable: The Journey, you're my only hope), I gotta admit this demo was a lot more fun than I was expecting. Your right hand controls the saber, your left the force, and sometimes you use both hands together (though where the lightsaber disappears to I don't believe was addressed....) to access the force to its fullest degree. To move forward, you take a step forward and kind of awkwardly lean in that direction and to accidentally roll-jump over an enemy you do some sort of combination of awkward leaning and awkward jumping. I still don't know how I did it, but it wasn't not badass...
The pros? I did feel like I was using the force. I went in the second group during my particular demo, which meant unfortunately to the detriment of my partner, my brain already had the moves down, so I kind of destroyed everything in my path before he had a shot. As the demo progressed, we were supposed to try out new moves like the jump kick! But in lieu of that, I continuing using the force to throw every robot in my path into the walls, the ceiling, each other. Screw jump kicking, HELLO, I HAVE THE FORCE, IMA USE IT, THX. I got a lot of joy out of a tiny five minute demo, not gonna lie.
The cons? Despite what anyone may say, the game is clearly on a rail. Yes, you can choose how you want to engage in combat, as demonstrated by the fact that I ignored the guy taking us through the demo and killed those robots how I wanted to kill those robots, damnit, but it isn't open world, you can't choose where to go. This will make for a supremely fun arcade style game that makes you feel like you are using the force, but doesn't exactly revolutionize gaming or prove that this tech can appeal to hardcore gamers (again, Fable, and Mass Effect 3's voice control, I'm looking at you). Another big con? I was told the game goes through all the universes/movies, which means however many hours of going through allthe universes/movies...as opposed to just the good ones. I don't need to spend anymore time with clone-troopers-JarJar-young-obi-wan than I already have. Seriously. Get it away from me. This may be a deal breaker. When Star Wars: Kinect: The Original Trilogy comes out however? I'll be there. Conclusion? Jury's still out on whether or not this will be a buy, but I did enjoy the crap out of throwing enemies around by merely raising my hand.
3. Lord of the Rings: War of the North
As someone who is not a fan of the past Lord of the Rings games, I wasn't even planning on trying this one out, but once I heard playing the demo got you entrance into the Lord of the Rings swanky, exclusive open bar/baron of beef/live orchestra over game footage extravaganza in the south lobby that I had been coveting all week, I couldn't get there fast enough. Good work, Warner Brothers Interactive and Snowblind Studios, good work.
The game is set during the movies, specifically during The War of the Ring, which concludes in Return of the King, but way up North. We were playing co-op and could choose to either be a human, elf or dwarf. I clearly picked the elf, cause it was a chick, and hello. Knowing absolutely nothing about this game, I just jumped in and started fighting, healing my teammates when they got hurt, shooting arrows at the baddies in the distance and staff bashing the baddies who were in my face face, and this was all having no idea what I was doing, what the controls were, what the end game was - literally all I knew was that wine was in my very near future. The game was so unexpectedly intuitive, that I didn't need any of that. I had a fantastic time figuring it out on my own and played for WAY longer than I probably should have. The only reason we died and had to stop playing was because whoever chose the Dwarf didn't pick up on the fact that he needed to save his teammates when they were dying and effed it up for all of us. Jerky, selfish dwarf. You know who you are. Bottom line is even without knowing all the details, I was almost sold - on brief gameplay and graphics alone. Once reviews come out around its August 24th release, I'll know for sure if I'll be making that purchase.
2. Arkham City
Okay, FINE, it's not technically based on a movie, which is why I won't be giving it the number one slot, but mastering the art of the comic book video game, especially one that has been brought to the big screen as eloquently as Batman has, is no easy feat. Arkham Asylum was a pleasant surprise because it worked so hard to be as specific to the character and universe of Batman as possible, that despite the hand to hand combat being somewhat less than impressive, the game still worked fantastically overall. Rocksteady Studios has hands down taken the universe and gameplay to the next level with the sequel. I watched a fifteen to twenty minute demo that showed off the awesome that is playing as Catwoman, then, thanks to some crafty maneuvering, and by crafty maneuvering, I do mean sheer luck, got my hands on the game for a solid twenty minutes, thus getting to see a lot more of the world that the standard twelve minute demo normally allowed. During this time, I hacked into the Tiger soldier radio system, went off track and nabbed a Riddler trophy, attacked a few giant groups of goons, used Batman's detective skills to uncover some vital ballistics information, used the new gliding system to fly around Gotham City and revisited one of all time favorite game mechanics - Batman's stealth takedowns.
I was positively giddy, being in this world again, especially now with the introduction of a solid open world, being able to fight more than one henchman at once (probably the most glaring combat omission from the first game), being able to use the surrounding environment in combat, new gadgets, and entire challenge rooms that open as you collect Riddler trophies. But what has me most excited? Hands down, getting to play as Catwoman. Her mechanics are slinkier, more stylish and yes, sexier, than Batman's, all while maintaining that strong sense of control I've grown to like so much while controlling the Dark Knight. She crawls, she whips, she's fast, and delving into her gameplay adds 10-15 hours to the game, which, if you only stay on course with the main storyline and play only as Batman, clocks in at 20-25 hours. But because playing her does enhance the overall story and certain areas are only accessible by her, the game developers highly recommend taking her for a spin. Confirmed new characters include The Penguin, Two Face, the aforementioned Catwoman and Hugo Strange, plus I got the strong sense that Robin may be making an appearance as well, though no one from the studio would confirm or deny. For more details on the game, arriving on my doorstep immediately upon its October release, head here.
1. Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7
Say what you will about casual gaming, but no one can deny that TT Studios has nailed the art of the movie based video game. Placing you directly into the story with extremely user friendly co-op gameplay, their titles have always been easiest to play with your movie obsessed, if not video game obsessed, friends, while acting as a completely enjoyable respite for the more "hardcore" gamers, a nice break from shooting zombies in the face and getting blown up by faceless enemy forces. Since Lego Star Wars: The Original Trilogy came out, I have been ecstatic for the possibilities, most specifically one - Lego Harry Potter.
Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4 was, dorky as this is, a mini dream come true for me, both because the Harry Potter Universe is one I'll always choose to spend more time in, and because 1-4 meant eventually 5-7 aka when shit gets real. When the chance arose to play a level (Godric's Hollow, Bathilda Bagshot, Grave of Lily & James Potter, oh my!) and chat a bit with lead game designer and all around awesome dude, Arthur Parsons, I seized the opportunity. So what did I learn?
During the first four movies, the gang doesn't really venture much outside of Hogwarts, so Hogwarts acts as your main gameboard, Diagon Alley as the menu. But because so much of movies 5-7 take place outside of Hogwarts, the universe has expanded to such an extent that you can go take the train to London if you are so inclined. The new game is loaded with new mechanics, character specific abilities, and spells, 170 playable characters including Bellatrix, Slughorn, Umbridge, Lavender Brown, and Arthur Weasley, and some out of the box levels that will have you squirming with excitement. Parsons is a HUGE Harry fan, so when he heard about the game being developed while he was working on Lego: Batman, he jumped at the chance to be involved. And having a true fan at the helm makes a huge difference. Parsons let on that even more than the last game, this one would have inside nods to the books that will seem perhaps like made up additions to those that have only seen the movies, but will help make the game even more of a special experience for those of us who have devoured the books. He also confirmed the Deathly Hallows flying motorcycle level, the Order of the Phoenix flying on the Thames level, and perhaps the coolest tidbit of all, a 2D platformer, pop up book style, Limbo like level depicting the Tale of the Three Brothers. Plus, expect The Epilogue to rightfully appear as a bonus level.
Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7 hits stores around the time of the DVD/Blu-Ray release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two and I will own it and love it and marry it.