Following are various impressions of some of the games I managed to get time with at the show, I tended to head for some of the smaller titles as well as a few of the known upcoming blockbusters to hopefully give a nice cross-section of what was available on the show floor, and hopefully provide some differing impressions from the others at the show.
First up was PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, Sony’s, shall we politely say, homage to the Super Smash Brothers games featuring figures from all generations of Sony consoles. Gameplay wise it is very hard to get away from the Smash Bros. comparisons but it doesn’t stop it being fun and manic with four players on screen, and the morphing backgrounds that mix up the levels during the bouts are a nice addition. It looks good and the variety of characters (even if they struggle to be anywhere near as iconic as Nintendo’s equivalent) suggest a lot of varied gameplay styles. Sticking with the Sony booth next up was Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, a new adventure very much with the past in mind, echoes of the original Sly Cooper were very evident in the demo level, but with the extra polish and sheen you would expect of a current generation game. Other than that all the familiar elements of the series were present and correct, it will be interesting to see if the game works outside of the nostalgia factor and actually implements any fundamental gameplay changes, or whether it plans on coasting by on past glories.
On the PC side of things I managed to get some time with Criterion’s latest entry in the Need for Speed series, Most Wanted. Compared to the console versions also on show (though all played with a controller) the PC version seemed notably smoother and sharper, gameplay wise it felt extremely similar to Burnout but with that extra layer of NFS sheen and in a more built up city area. The demo had street races which were followed by a police chase where the aim was to escape and lie low until the heat was off. Along the way there were billboards to be smashed, shortcuts to find and jumps aplenty, it felt fast and responsive and could be the racing game to own this holiday season. Moving onto the shooters and Crysis 3 was setup in Multiplayer mode, the level I played was set in the crumbling ruins of what seemed to be apartment buildings. The games had you playing either a soldier, or cloaked hunter, as the soldiers died they converted to hunters until the last one survived. The gameplay was familiar enough to anyone with experience with modern first person shooters, but the game looked very nice and played smoothly, hunting people down whilst cloaked with your big crossbow was a lot of fun, but it was a relatively thin slice of what is destined to be a much bigger game that I got to see, so class it under one to watch.
I also got some time with Hitman: Absolution, now I’ll cop to not having much experience with the franchise but I’ve heard a lot about it, thankfully after some of the recent controversies about the game of late it is good to see that at its core, this is still very much a Hitman game. The demo mission saw you stalking through a wonderfully rendered and populated market, your target heavily guarded in the middle. How you assassinate him is up to you, the option remains to shoot him straight away (though you might not last long once the SWAT team arrives). Alternatively if you hang around and explore you find he has a habit of wandering around, a turn down an ally is a suitable spot for a silent take down, or if you are adventurous you discover his favourite lunch spot with a bowl of food begging for tampering with. A quick shuffle into chef’s uniform (after disposing of the chef of course) and discovery of poisonous Fugu from a nearby market stall the missing ingredients. It was nice to see such an open ended framework right off the bat and if this level is representative of the game then this could be an excellent and deep entry into the series.
Devil May Cry is another franchise I don’t have much history with, but the demo for the upcoming reboot of sorts impressed me, the gameplay felt snappy and tight, the combos and moves easy to learn and quickly made me feel powerful and, I can’t deny, pretty badass. There seemed to be a fair amount of grappling to either pull yourself to high ledges or bring enemies down to your level, playing through a crumbling cityscape it seemed as if another dimension was spilling out with some wonderfully gruesome monsters to fight. This is a game that wasn’t really on my radar before the show but that I came away from having had a lot of fun and pretty excited about.
The biggest portion of my day though was spent checking out the Wii-U, a system I have been very curious about getting time with since its announcement. First up was Rayman Legends which has a neat way of incorporating the Wii-U controller for co-op play, the main screen is controlled on a standard controller (the one I used looks very like a current Xbox pad) and in that respect the game plays very like last year’s wonderful Rayman Origins, the trick comes with the second player using the touch screen pad to interact with the level, be it cutting ropes to lower platforms, killing enemies or catapulting the player to different areas of the level. In one of the coolest moments the second player used the tilt functionality to rotate a dangerous maze for the first player to then navigate, it’s brilliantly implemented and forces real co-operation between players.
Overall this was one of the standout games of the show for me and a great demonstration of the different gameplay opportunities the console offers. With regards to the pad itself it felt surprisingly comfortable and light, but not cheap, the ergonomics have clearly been prioritised. Elsewhere I played some of NintendoLand, the latest mini-game collection designed to show of the system, which seemed somewhat slight but also like it would be a lot of fun with friends around. In fact the social nature of many of the games shown are really what sets the Wii-U apart, and for those who like to have friends over it makes a compelling case that the Xbox and PS3 can’t match at the moment, focused as they are primarily on online multiplayer.
I also got some eyes-on with Platinum games’ Wonderful 101 (formerly Project P-100) which seemed a lot of fun, if slightly crazy, with a very attractive and distinctive art style and neat use of the touch screen to order about and control your band of superheroes. Pikmin 3 was also on show, but not using the tablet controller for anything other than a visual map, further implementation is bound to be in place by the time the game comes out next year, but the demo itself was a strong enough reminder of how much I love the series and seeing it in HD made it look better than ever.
So overall I was generally impressed with the Wii-U’s showing, amongst a sea of familiarity it was invigorating to play something daring and new, who knows how it will perform in the current gaming market, and there are many questions including details of the online capabilities still to be satisfactorily answered, but I’m curious and cautiously optimistic which I’m not sure I would have been before the show, so on that count mark this down as a pleasant surprise.