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E3 2010 In Review

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A few days ago the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2010 closed its doors, having provided many magical, momentous and maladroit surprises and previews for the games industry, the largest entertainment industry in the world. While I may not be able to discuss everything, as such a feat would require a small army of journalists, I hope to be able to impart to you the low-down on some of the biggest titles and newest technology of E3 so here’s a roundup of the events in general of this premier games show…

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More Game Impressions

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Lucha Libre AAA: Heroes del Ring

Wrestling is a well-established sport within the video games world, but Konami’s Lucha Libre AAA: Heroes del Ring is something slightly different. Think tight leather masks and plenty of fancy colours because Lucha Libre is bulging with notable luchadores, bringing the Mexican touch to wrestling for the first time in a game. First thing you’ll notice is it looks great, you can really see the ethnic sweat and shiny leather, if that’s you’re kind of thing, so no complaints in the graphical department.

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The central mechanic involves gaining the audience’s support in order to pull off more elaborate and devastating moves. It’s a simple but effective dynamic that creates a link between you and the audience. This communication makes the atmosphere that much more immersive along with the presently Spanish commentators. Where our luchadores come off as slightly disappointing is in their actual wrestling, which is twitchy and lacks the fluid motion between the moves that other games of the same genre possess. Nevertheless, with online play, fully customisable masks and a fresh outlook on the wrestling scene, Lucha Libre AAA: Heroes del Ring may just have its place in the market come August 8th.

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– Mafia II

On it’s way to throw you in the back of the Chevy and send you to sleep with the fishes, 2K Games’ Mafia II– is looking mobtastic, and is ready to release in Europe on the 27th of august, just as the summer game drought comes to close. To give you a hopefully microcosmic example, the mission I was allowed to play had me, Vito Scaletta, out to kill a greaser from an enemy family.

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Having left the lovingly detailed house and selected my ride from the garage, the mission really kicked off with raining fire down upon my foes’ henchmen thanks to a handy MG 42 machine gun. I then proceeded to throw myself into a shoot out in a distillery, which was made fairly easy work of, thanks to a smooth and intuitive cover system and some help from my buddies. Naturally, the whole debacle ended in an escape from the now burning building onto a good old-fashioned cop chase.

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It’s evident that Mafia II is spot on when it comes to its subject matter; the cars all handle true to their time (like combine harvesters), the entire environment is clearly meticulously researched and, basing my opinions on the mission I played, mafia shenanigans will be full of all the ‘accidents’ and escalating disagreements you could ask for. We’ve yet to really see how immersive the world is in actuality though, the big question being can I whip out a Tommy gun in a busy restaurant and let rip? Hopefully so.

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Golden Eye 007

The very utterance of Golden Eye will have anyone over the age of 18 immediately and indulgently reminiscing over the classic first person shooter, so a sequel or rather, re-imagining, bears massive potential for Activision, Eurocom, the developers and indeed Nintendo. Eurocom have admirably endeavoured to create a game that visibly harks back to the original, yet possesses all the features a modern shooter should have. So this remake means gadget grasping Pierce Brosnan is shoved aside for a more modern and trendy Daniel Craig, with Dame Judi Dench reprising her role as M.

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I was only able to test out the multiplayer but according those who got a more in-depth look, the story has been slightly altered to change things up a bit, though without any drastic changes. Throw in destructible environments and you’ve got the brand new GoldenEye; will it be able to compete it today’s market? We’ll simply have to wait and see. On the multiplayer side, an online mode as well as promises to add plenty of new and old game modes has got to be a sure fire success, considering this is the Wii, with very few decent shooters. You can expect much of the nostalgia in this updated multiplayer, with many of the old weapons and characters ranging from the nefarious Jaws to the always strategically picked Oddjob, but alas, different map layouts, which I suspect may alienate any anxious fans.

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– Epic Mickey

Epic Mickey has been known about for some time now and the concept is solid: Mickey must save the cartoon wasteland full of rejected creations, by stopping the ‘phantom blot’. Although it’s very much a platformer, Mickey’s actions affect his morality and thus the way people react to him, making it also an RPG. Essentially, to progress through levels Mickey must use his exhaustible paint to create bridges etc or paint thinner to remove obstacles. When Mickey travels to another location, he’s faced with a short 2D sidescrolling section, featuring classic Disney locations and if it was originally black and white, so it is here.

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From this perspective, Epic Mickey is a pretty deep and innovative game, considering its subject matter, which attempts to capture all the strengths of Disney’s creations and widen the happy mouse’ horizons. The fashion in which it plays is slightly disappointing however: character models and the environment are somewhat rough around the edges and the jumping is a little fidgety. Nevertheless, with a few tweaks between now and release this winter, Mickey could establish himself as a game-worthy character for both kids and adults alike.

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– Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light

When you think Lara Croft you think shockingly large breasts and 3rd person platformer/shooter. You’d be forgiven for not thinking isometric viewpoint and ancient monsters. But this is a new direction for the downloadable game, purposefully not endowed with the “Tomb Raider” title as to separate it from the regular franchise. The game plays smoothly and has a few nice mechanics: throwing spears allows you to defeat enemies as well create makeshift climbing ladders and a grappling hook that can be used to traverse chasms as well as giving access to high ledges.

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This is the first Co-op Lara Croft game and presents you with a whole lot of puzzling as well, as is fitting for Ms. Croft’s world.  It’s built for co-op through and through, meaning there’s some interesting little platforming conundrums. For example: faced with a pillar that could be scaled with a spear as a jumping point on its own, Totec, Lara’s buddy, must run and jump to place a spear at a higher level, to complete the path for Lara; simple, but features such as powerup artefacts mean there’s a lot of potential for some devious puzzles.

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It looks great bearing in mind it’s a downloadable title, my only criticism coming down to taste: I never liked it whenever the series turned to fantasy with maniacal monsters, but others will have less of a reservation. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is a clear signal that Crystal Dynamics, the developers, want to reinvent the series after a slew of not-so-successful games, and it looks as though this little experience could be a fresh and fun experience, especially when faced with a friend.  It’s out later this summer.

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– Blacklight: Tango Down

Not interested in pesky single-player campaigns and the big price tags that come with triple A shooters like Modern Warfare 2? Try Blacklight: Tango Down. Zombie studio’s new downloadable title for Xbox Live Arcade, PSN and Windows offers 70 levels to work through, a futuristic setting and extensive customisation options. Blacklight plays just how you want a shooter to play: the guns feel hefty and powerful and the player’s movement is fluid yet realistic. I was only able to test out the multiplayer at E3 but reviews of the co-op are average to positive.

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The unique ‘digi’ grenade resets player’s HUD, your futuristic helmet technology giving you the dreaded blue screen of death, which is a cute little touch and the helmet itself allows you to temporarily see-through walls, and i struggle to see how that can’t be awesome, though you can’t fire your weapon. The philosophy behind the game is your weapon is your persona, and thus the tags you can pickup along the way boost certain stats whether it be accuracy or armour. It’s a nice little condensed experience with a lot of customisation for those that like to think tactically about their load-out (apparently over two trillion weapon and armour combinations!). It doesn’t look brilliant, but it’s perfectly sufficient for a shooter. Get 12 maps and 7 game types for just $15 in Blacklight: Tango Down on July 1st, which is sure to create a substantial online community.

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– Child of Eden

Child of Eden is Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s new game and visually compares to what I presume trigonometry on LSD would be like. Designed to work with Kinect, Move and regular controllers, Ubisoft’s new rhythmn based action game was demonstrated spectacularly by its creator on stage, no fanfare needed (Microsoft failed to show it’s brilliance in their presser unfortunately). Here’s what happens: you shoot the abstract shapes appearing in front of you which in turn provide musical flourishes. You have two separate weapons, one that fires as a constant stream and one that fires individual shots. Although it looks very much like Rez, outlandishly vibrant graphics and compatibility with Kinect see Child of Eden embracing the future. No release date yet, but it’s slated to be released on the 360 and PS3.

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– Crackdown 2

Anybody who’s played the original Crackdown will know that it’s just simply addictive. Securing locations, races, smashing into mutants and of course online play. It’s roughly the same formula this time round, but with an expanded skillset that allows for customisation. Although I was given a completely unlevelled character, progression is fast and rewarding, meaning you feel like you’re achieving things quickly as well as seeing the resulting upgrade. For instance, orbs allow you to jump higher and even simple driving manoeuvres upgrade your handling. With a simple cell-shaded aesthetic, a large Pacific City to bound about in and some promising online and co-op play Crackdown 2 is a sure-fire, beautifully addicting and badass open world shooter.

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– Dance Central

Widely believed to be arguably one of the breakthrough games of this E3, Dance Central is exclusively for use with Kinect and exudes an aura of exquisite simplicity, the kind that made Guitar Hero such a colossal hit. It’s simple: the game teaches you to dance with clear rectangles coming across the side and tells you where you’re going wrong. As you progress in the game you become a bigger star and you can even strut your own freestyle moves, which are directly performed by your character on screen. Throw in some standard graphics with some back-up dancers and you’ve got a potential smash hit.

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This is just what Kinect was designed for and what better way to use your body as the controller? The only shame is that it only supports just the one player, even though you can still have friends dance along should they wish to save you some of the embarrassment. Look out for Dance Central when it hits 4th November (along with Kinect) with its brilliant clarity and clean good fun. [Check out Dance Central as demonstrated by unrelated booth babes]

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Celebrity Gamers In Attendance

Turns out celebrities love to sit down and rock some video games as well, and so Nintendo was keen to show off some big names lost in the awesome power of the 3DS. [Steven Spielberg, Ryan Philippe, Zac Levi and Star Trek’s LeVar Burton]

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Best Publicity Stunts

Every company at E3 is grasping at your attention, some try scantily-clad women who’ve very little idea what’s going on, others build elaborate booths and others put on publicity stunts, and most do all of it. Here are some of the best and most creative stunts:

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– Toy Story Flash Mob

The video speaks for itself, but Disney organised a large flash dance mob right in the middle of one of the busiest areas to great effect.

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– Lucha Libre AAA: Heroes del Ring Match

The PR people for Lucha Libre decided to hold a live wrestling match with real stakes. The winner would get his face on the cover of the game. After an aggressive and sweaty match Dr. Wagner emerged as victor!

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– North Korean Army Invasion

To promote the new shooter Homefront, aside from adorning the parking lot with around 100 flags, sent a fake North Korean army into E3 presumably hastily recruited from the Asian (& people who look Asian) community.

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– Kevin Butler’s Sony Presser Appearance

For no reason other than for a laugh, despite a fairly uneventful presser, Sony had fictitious Sony VP give a hilarious speech on stage. I’m not sure if I’m proud to be a gamer or worried!

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– Methodman & Redman Concert

Popular rappers performed at the Konami booth to show off new Def Jam Rapstar. Not much else to say! (Yes, I did have to look up their names)

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Other E3 Gaming News

Kinect has gone up on Amazon for $149.00. This is only speculation though with the official announcement arriving in August at Gamescom. Although it’s an advanced technology it’s a steep price, nearing the pricepoint for the actual console.

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– It’s been rumoured that Nintendo’s next console may be 3D, in what manner, we know not, but it seems they’re waiting till around 30% of the specific market have 3D TVs before investing too much.

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– Gaikai, OnLive’s rival cloud gaming service recently announced that it has signed a deal with EA to bring some of the popular PC games including Battlefield: Bad Company, Mass Effect and Medal of Honor. Gaikai is due to launch next year.

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– The creepy, yet amazing experience that was Milo & Kate shown to demonstrate Kinect at 2009’s E3 was not present this year, but fear not: Peter Molyneux told VG247 that it is still under development and due to be re-revealed next month.

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– Microsoft is so confident in the new slimline Xbox 360 console that they haven’t even installed the red LEDs that signify an RROD error, otherwise know as the ring of death. Tempt fate much?

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The Coming 3D War

Sony unveiled their glasses-adorned 3D products feature this E3 with pride, championing it as the future of gaming. Extensive plans have been made to make everything 3D but I can’t help but think Sony is barking up the wrong tree at the wrong time, as most agree that playing games on a 3D TV, while it may look impressive, causes headaches after a period of time, and gamers tend to like to play for long periods given a crate of energy drink and a weekend off. Nintendo on the other hand, have been interested in 3D for about 20 years, and have been developing their latest handheld for 3 years. Clearly a great deal of time has been invested into the Nintendo 3DS and everyone, including myself, having tested it out on the floor at E3, is likely to agree that it was very much worthwhile. The glasses-less version of 3D that Nintendo have given us is subtle yet brilliant, and they appear to be contemplating 3D as part of gaming and not just a technology to get a one-up on over another company.

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Meanwhile, Microsoft sat back and watched the other’s battle it out. Microsoft UK boss Neil Thompson, speaking to Eurogamer, claimed 3D is “an interesting technology of the future”, saying it’s just not viable presently for consumers. Although this would probably look more dignified if the majority of their Kinect games weren’t such flagrant knock-offs from Nintendo. Again it’s simply another feud, much like motion control that seems detrimental to hardcore gamers more than anything, because of the time invested in developing the technology and time spent trying to convince us it’s the future. Only Nintendo have something truly interesting to offer to real gamers, the chief audience of E3.

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Motion Commotion

Now a running theme in the industry is the debacle over motion control. Nintendo got in the game early and now Sony and Microsoft would have you believe they’re offerings are much more advanced, in different ways. Microsoft gave us a more comprehensive look at the Kinect motion controller for Xbox 360, formerly known as Project Natal. Kinect uses no controller at all and tracks your body movements with very little latency, taking into account body size, even scaling difficulty for children; a fantastic and almost futuristic technology no doubt. But the best the folks at Microsoft could offer us in terms of games was Kinect Adventures, involving a simple river rafting game, with a cartoon aesthetic. Take a look at the other titles and they practically mirror the first party Wii titles identically, with not a single core game. It seems Microsoft are happy to shrug off its main userbase to potentially gobble up a slice of Nintendo’s pie.

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Sony have taken a different approach, copying the basic design of the Wii’s controls with more of an emphasis on the games that will utilise the sex-toy look-alike technology. Indeed, Sony is so determined to expand the compatibility of the Playstation Move motion controller that certain projects have been put on hold to accommodate it. The highly anticipated Heavy Rain DLC has been halted in its tracks so that you can lose your virtual son with the Move and as soon as Media Molecule finishes up on Little Big Planet 2, they’re straight back to the desks patching in Move support for level creation. Move will support some huge core games such as SOCOM 4, Killzone 3 and the eccentric and insane Kung Fu Rider.

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It really depends on your disposition, whether you’re more impressed with Sony, unoriginally, yet extensively adding a new control for lots of new titles or Microsoft innovating without the games to back it all up just yet. Both systems work 1:1 with decent accuracy, and both of their respective casual games are fun for around 10 minutes then begin to feel inane. There are of course, still a large proportion of gamers who have absolutely no need for motion control, and for them we must sympathise with as the big companies all endeavour to be the winners in a category many simply do not care for.

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Winners and Losers

Well the award for the strangest yet oddly endearing press conference has to go to Konami, thanks to the presentation of Never Dead from Shinta Nojiri, and the eagerly awaited Metal Gear: Rising and all its slicey goodness. EA delivered all the expected hits, but it didn’t take away from the spectacles that were Crysis 2, Dead Space 2 and the maelstrom of cheesy one –liners that is Bulletstorm. However Ubisoft probably pitched the best presser, with a long awaited sequel to the popular series Driver, solid work as always from the team behind Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and a fantastical abstract experience from Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s new game Child of Eden. Child of Eden is a motion control game for both the Move and Kinect which involves neon abstract shapes interacting with each other – difficult to explain but it looked bananas in good way.

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There’s really no debate here for the hardware giants, whether you’re more disposed to Microsoft, Sony or Nintendo, and however much you may hate to admit it, if we have to put a 1st place rosette somewhere it has to be Nintendo. Nintendo didn’t just steal the show, they broke in all guns blazing, nabbed it and sold in on the black market thanks to an indescribable experience offered by the 3DS with gorgeous graphics worthy of a Nintendo 64 and a whole host of awesome titles. Nintendo’s presser saw the reveal and revival of a number of truly classic franchises, quintessential Nintendo such as Donkey Kong, Kirby, Zelda and all the other surprises in between.

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Meanwhile Sony deserve some props for some intriguing proclamations including the arrival of steamworks on the PSN, Killzone 3, a new Twisted Metal and exclusive content for Mafia II and the Medal of Honor reboot. There were some rumours of a Sony PSP 2 which could have done a little bit to stem the tide of hype over the 3DS but alas, a no show, and SCEA’s John Koller squashed this well and truly claiming the PSP definitely has a 10 year life cycle. And although the decidedly uncompelling PSN+ is likely to split its userbase despite positive expectations from Sony bosses, the feature is only ancillary and at least promises the addition of many classic PS One titles.

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Finally, commiserations to Microsoft, who stunned the world with the promise of Project Natal last year, but failed to conjure up anything quite as impressive now it’s actually arrived. Kinect may very well be revolutionary once the larger software developers get to show their hand in 2011, but in terms of E3 ’10, it was nothing more than mildly interesting, if not a little embarrassing. The Xbox 360 has failed to secure any really compelling exclusives, only the half-expected early DLC for Call of Duty: Black Ops, even big-hitters like Metal Gear: Rising and Portal 2 are multiplatform. The only real redeeming feature was the new Xbox 360 slim finally with built-in Wifi, avoiding the ridiculously overpriced add-on, along with a nice big hard drive.

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But the real winners of E3? In spite of a spout of undisguised me-tooism on the motion control front, the gamers have some truly formidable titles heading for release across all platforms no matter whether its exclusive or not. Expect, neigh, plan to get absolutely no work done this autumn/winter period.

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Summary

There were a number of themes at this year’s expo, but E3 is really all about the new gaming experiences we’re soon to get our hands on, oh and nervously looking at the booth girls. Looking forward to this winter and the following year we’ve got a lot of good things ahead as well as some surprises. Kinect’s second round of games will hopefully hit back with some core games to flail about in the air with, SOCOM 4 with a Move gun could prove very interesting and the 3DS will surely have non-Nintendo lovers, feeling ever so awkward as they queue up to buy one, if only for MGS: Snake Eater 3D. Yes; it’s looking good.

June 25th, 2010
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