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E3 2009 closed with our busiest day of the show, including some more private demos, a sampling of the local cuisine, and only one minor setback, for which I have myself to blame.
Any of you who have read my reviews know that, in the past year, the majority of games that I have reviewed have been point-and-click adventures. Most of these have been published by Dreamcatcher Interactive, with whose representative was our first appointment on Thursday. One of Dreamcatcher’s frequent collaborators is JoWood, with whom they were sharing an E3 meeting room, and it was their RPG sequel Arcania: A Gothic Tale that kicked off our day. The Gothic series has had most of its popularity in Europe, but JoWood is bringing its latest installment to North America for a simultaneous PC/Xbox 360/PS3 launch this winter. In Arcania, you play as a hero who has a score to settle with the hero from the previous game, a king who has burned down your village as part of his seemingly unquenchable thirst for power. The developer has attempted to make this title more accessible to the non-European gamer, adding mini maps and quest tracking to the game. You play in a three-island sandbox featuring 300 quests (approximately 180 of them story-related missions) that can make gameplay last up to 80 hours.
If you’re looking for old-school, unadulterated bloody mayhem, the next game we saw is definitely for you. Painkiller: Resurrection, the sequel to 2004′s Painkiller, in which you had to find, fight and destroy Lucifer’s generals (and later Beelzebub himself) to escape Purgatory and reunite with your true love in Heaven. No details were released concerning the plot of Resurrection, but its 15-level structure is being augmented with a co-op mode, 32-player multiplayer and Havoc physics. You won’t have to own the original to play the sequel, and with a tentative price of $19.99, you won’t have to take out a loan to enjoy what looks like a no-nonsense shooter in the classic Quake/Doom mold.
We couldn’t leave the Dreamcatcher room without a look at some adventure games, but these were created for the Nintendo DS instead of for the PC. In Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, you assume the role of Christie’s classic detective Hercule Poirot (who I’m told will have an authentic Belgian accent, so you purists can put down your poison pens now, thank you) as you find clues, question suspects and solve puzzles in pursuit of a vile evildoer. In Safecracker (a game that originally appeared for the PC and the Wii), you have to unlock the safes in a three-story mansion to find the will of the home’s deceased owner. And in The Hardy Boys: The Hidden Theft, you guide the sibling crime solvers in a 20-hour quest to find stolen cash and the villains who pilfered it. Finishing off our time with Dreamcatcher was a yoga workout program for the Wii that helps you turn your body into 49 different pretzel shapes. I could hear my old bones screaming in pain just watching it.
Switching gears, the powerhouse games kept on coming at the Ubisoft booth as Turks and I had private demos of Assassin’s Creed 2 and Splinter Cell: Conviction. Creed 2 plays just like the original, only with the action set in 15th-century Italy, and your character seeking revenge on a powerful government figure. In Conviction, you play a now unencumbered-by-law Sam Fisher in a journey from Malta to Washington, D.C., to unlock the mystery of his daughter’s murder. Conviction features some interesting new variations on the Splinter Cell theme and is bound to be one of the best-selling games next fall. Unless, of course, you only own a PS3, in which case you’ll have to concentrate on Assassin’s Creed 2, which will release for Sony’s console, plus the Xbox 360 and the PC, in time for Christmas.
Children’s gaming was also well represented at E3. The Harvest Moon series of farm and commerce sims has been around for more than 10 years, featuring games for the original Gameboy all the way to the current crop of consoles and hand-helds. Many new Harvest Moon titles were on display at the booth of Japanese developer Natsume, one being My Little Shop, in which you run a neighborhood store, playing minigames to serve your customers and earning money that you can spend at other stores to stock up on supplies. It’s a cute, anime-influenced game for young Wii-players. Reel Fishing: Angler’s Dream has you attaching your Wiimote to a fishing-pole peripheral, but technology problems prevented me from trying out my casting skills. And in Sunshine Islands, you interact and cooperate with animals and magical creatures on 10 islands on your DS.
My final Sega demo was Mario and Sonic at the Winter Olympics, which I suppose was inevitable considering the creation of its Summer Olympics cousin. Actually, the demo was highlighted not so much by the game itself, but by the people presenting it. The first part of the demo was being shown on the DS, which was played by someone who seemed to have very little experience with the game; several times during the demo, the Japanese designer hosting the presentation stopped to laugh at what was happening on the screen, which didn’t cover our American player in glory. When the demo switched to the Wii version, we were treated to the very strange sight of Mario on figure skates, executing perfect toe loops, double axles and death spirals, accompanied by electronic Tchaikovsky. The designers refused to say how many events would be included in either version of the game, but they did acknowledge that some of the event locations in the Wii version were modeled after the real venues to be used in the 2010 Vancouver Games.
The last appointment that Turks and I had together was at the Warner Bros booth. After a quick peek at Lego Rock Band (featuring the week’s 1,436th performance of “The Final Countdown” and one particularly painful attempt by an adult male to sing lead vocals on the Jackson 5′s “ABC”), we shuffled off quickly to the Batman: Arkham Asylum display, where Turks served as an able demonstrator while one of the game’s designers talked me through the details. Somehow, all of the baddies whom the Caped Crusader has incarcerated in his career have escaped from their cells at Arkham Asylum and have taken over the place, led by none other than the Joker. Your job is to progress from floor to floor with nothing but your fists, your feet and your trusty batarang in an attempt to find the Joker and put an end to his reign of terror. Arkham Asylum combines third-person fighting action with a stealth element that makes each part of the game a little bit different than the one before. Combined with its dark, detailed backgrounds, the voice talents of the actors from the animated TV series and the inclusion of a large collection of classic bat-villains, it’s bound to be a successful kickoff to the fall season (release date: Aug. 25).
I had time for two other demos at the Warner booth before I had to move on. Lord of the Rings: Aragon’s Quest is a surprisingly bloodless fantasy RPG following Tolkien’s Fellowship in its quest to destroy the One Ring. It’s one of the few Wii-based adventures that’s not on rails, which is a good thing, but the graphics have that washed-out look typical of Wii games, so we’ll have to wait and see if this is addressed before the game launches (date unspecified). An impressive crop of Warner DS games at the show included Lego Battles, a top-down RTS featuring six campaigns, 90 levels and 85 characters. The single-player levels can be completed in five to 15 minutes, which is great for those who play their DS’s on the train or at the laundromat, while multiplayer matches could last as long as a half-hour. Lego Battles will be available June 9.
A happy combination of high-level meetings and my own patience netted me a one-on-one demo with one of the designers of Heroes of Telara, an ambitious new MMORPG from Trion, which has taken the traditional fantasy MMO playbook and added some intriguing wrinkles. They have made drastic changes to how their servers generate the game, keeping all of the math calculations on the servers and shifting all of the art assets to the client. This enables Telara to look much richer and more detailed without impacting the smoothness of the gameplay. They’ve also changed the boundaries of character creation, allowing your character to be aligned with all available classes at the same time. So, if you’re playing a spellcaster and a warrior is needed to complete a quest, you can change your character to a warrior with the touch of a mouse button, smite whatever foes you need to smite, and then change back to the magician or any other class for which he has attributes. Also, in most MMOs, quests reset once you’ve completed them so that other players can finish them as well, but in Telara, if you go back to the site of a finished quest, you won’t find the same scenario being played out again. The version I saw was running on a practically godlike PC, but I’m told that the final version will scale down nicely for those with less Olympian rigs. I look for exciting things from this game. It might not be the oft-sought WoW-killer, but it brings some new things to the table. Look for an open beta this fall and a 2010 release.
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