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Speaking of violent action games, Sony Online is also showing Payday, a four-player co-op bank heist game that plays differently each time you start it up. You and three friends (or fewer, with bots taking the other roles) start out robbing a bank, but things go horribly wrong and you end up having to figure out how to escape the law. There are four difficulty levels and six maps available via download for the PC and the PS3. Payday releases at the end of 2011.
Back to the family-friendly genre we go with Free Realms, a currently available MMO designed for the 8 to 15-year-old gamer. It’s an open-world game with a rudimentary story arc, played in seven zones by groups of up to five players. You can change character specialties at will, and you can do almost anything you want. Best of all, it’s free to play up until you reach character level five; progressing up to the Level 20 cap will require a $5/month subscription, or $37 for a lifetime membership. Not bad for half the price of an average AAA new release. And then there’s Magic the Gathering: Tactics, the video version of the classic card game. Working through the eight minutes of tutorials and the one tutorial battle should get the average noob up and running in no time. The game starts you out with a deck of 100 cards and five missions for free. A new free scenario is available every day, and booster packs can be had for about $3 each. Tactics has been available since January, and an expansion is due out this summer.
On to the Activision booth for a look at two of the company’s big new games. The next iteration of the Call of Duty series, Modern Warfare 3 puts you back in the boots of special forces soldiers in America and Great Britain. We were shown two gameplay demos. In the first, the Russians have attacked the US, and Manhattan is in flames from missiles launched from a submarine. Your goal is to get aboard the enemy sub and redirect its payload of nukes back to the Motherland, while the second had us joining a squad fighting an invasion of London. The game has everything that has made this one of the world’s most popular game series: great graphics and sound, non-stop action and interesting characters. Look for MW3 in stores on November 8.
Also on the menu at the Activision booth: Prototype 2, which picks up the story 14 months after the events of the original game. A virus has taken a big bite out of the Big Apple. The city has been divided into three zones. The red zone (Manhattan) is a constantly burning, disease-invested disaster area in which nobody can survive for long. The yellow zone houses the red zone’s refugees, but is quarantined to prevent the spread of the virus. The green zone is the most habitable of the zones, but it’s ruled by Black Watch, a private security contractor that uses an iron fist to maintain control. Into this precarious situation comes James Heller, a soldier whose entire family was killed by the virus. Heller blames Prototype protagonist Alex Mercer for the death of his wife and child, so he comes to the city with vengeance on his mind. He also has Mercer’s powers, plus a few that Alex hadn’t yet developed in the first game. We saw a pre-alpha build, but what we saw was impressive, with additional character customization options and a refined combat system. Prototype 2 will be available for the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2012.
My last stop of the day was with our friends at Paradox Interactive, whose slate of strategy games has been an Avault staple for quite a while now. They showed me several of their new games, including a multiplayer add-on to their intriguing fantasy RPG Magicka. Starting on June 21, you can engage in up to four-player combat in three game modes. Two maps will be available at launch, with three more for sale for 99 cents each, and only the host has to own the maps, so you don’t have to have all of them to play. Crusader Kings 2 is an historical RPG set from 1066 to 1453. You play as a family instead of as a country, and you can play that family in any way you want; you don’t have to stick to real-world history. The game also offers a link to Wikipedia, making it easy for you to get an idea of who these families were before you make your selection. Look for Crusader Kings 2 at the holidays. And Paradox moves into uncharted company waters with Defenders of Ardania, their first game to include iPad support. Ardania is a multiplayer tower-defense game played on a selection of 10 maps by up to four players on PSN, XBLA and the PC (two players on the iPad). I saw it on the Apple tablet, and it looks impressive and simple to play. No release date was mentioned, so keep watching this space for more info.
And to cap off the day, the Avault crew headed to historic Sunset Boulevard to the Saddle Ranch Chop House, site of Bethesda’s annual E3 party. This is one of the major social events of the convention; you couldn’t spit a peanut shell without hitting someone in the games business. A free bar had the attendees properly lubricated, enough to coax folks into belting out a few karaoke tunes or riding the mechanical bull. And the answer to yesterday’s question: none of us rode the bull. We were all cowards, or not sufficiently wasted, or we were afraid to end up with a video of the carnage on YouTube.
The beat goes on on Wednesday, when I’ll be visiting Electronic Arts, 2K, Atari and other companies to check out their wares. And yes, there’ll be yet another party to attend. More about that tomorrow…
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