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More heavy hitters were on my menu for E3 Day 2. Several of Electronic Arts’ big new games (but not all); two promising new titles from 2K, including a long-anticipated reboot of one of the greatest PC games of all time; and updates of two classic arcade games from Atari. There were also some good-looking strategy games, a sequel to one of my favorite shooters from last year, and a very comfortable sit-down with streaming-gaming company OnLive.
You can always tell the importance of a publisher by the size of their E3 booth. Some of the indie companies are lucky to have a 10 ft x 10-ft cubicle, while pubs such as Sony or Nintendo have booths that seem to take up a city block. Such is the case with EA. An enormous carpeted area and a giant video screen are surrounded by demo rooms and stations where their games can be played by the attendees. My first stop: Need for Speed: The Run, a multi-stage racing game that takes you from San Francisco to New York. Developer Black Box has used the impressive Frostbite 2 engine to craft a driving game with twice as many tracks as any other installment in the series, more than 50 cars, 150 NPC opponents, and on-foot sequences that take up about 10 percent of the game. The out-of-car action is mostly controlled by quick-time events, but the sequence we were shown in the demo was exhilarating nonetheless. Also included is the Autolog feature that debuted last year in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Autolog allows you to keep in touch with the completion times of the players on your friends list, giving you a chance for those important bragging rights. NFS: The Run will be available for PC, Xbox 360, PS3, DS and iDevices (basically every platform except the Wii U).
Next from EA was Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, from Big Huge Games and former pitcher Curt Shilling’s 38 Studios (Shilling could be seen prowling the booth, shaking hands with the attendees; he’s shorter and plumper than I thought he’d be). Reckoning is a single-player, open-world RPG that casts you as a resurrected hero who is no longer effected by fate, so he goes out in search of the destiny of his choice. The game is played in five zones, taking you through deserts, cities and swamps. There are 120 dungeons to explore, six factions to join and hundreds of side quests to complete. If a big part of your RPGing is crafting, you’ll be pleased with Reckoning; you can create items in three categories: alchemy, blacksmithing and sagecraft. Skill-wise, there are nine non-combat skills to use, along with 60 abilities to improve through character leveling. And if you’d rather not wade through pages of dialogue, each dialogue tree has a choice that will move you quickly through to the next part of the game; you’ll see it highlighted in blue. We were shown a pre-alpha build of the game, but it already looks amazing, so RPGers should look forward to it on the PC, the Xbox 360 and PS3 sometime next year.
And my final stop at the EA encampment was to see one of EA and BioWare’s most anticipated games: Star Wars: The Old Republic. This new MMO takes place 3000 years before the rise of Darth Vader, in the period just before the war broke out between the Republic and the Sith Empire. You can choose one of eight character classes, with each encompassing more than 100 hours of gameplay, so you could be playing TOR for a very long time if you choose to follow all of the classes to their end-game content. You can visit dozens of planets, including some of the most popular locations in the Star Wars canon. BioWare has brought the Codex, an old favorite of Mass Effect fans, to The Old Republic. The Codex includes detailed information about all of the locations and races included in the game. They’ve also adjusted the conversation system to meet MMO requirements; all members of a party can respond to questions and statements, with one of the responses used to continue the conversation. Also included is a map that can be turned translucent and superimposed over the action on the screen so that you don’t have to depend on a tiny minimap in the corner of the screen or stop the action to bring up a normal map. And endgame content is in the form of Operations, which is BioWare’s term for raiding. Star Wars geeks have been clamoring for a detailed, fun-to-play MMO for years; BioWare might have finally found the magic formula.
You might legitimately ask, “What, no Mass Effect 3 coverage?” A good question with an unfortunate, personally infuriating answer. Demos at the EA booth all involve standing in lines. This year they’ve made an effort to separate the media and retail attendees from the rest of the visitors, ushering us to the front of most lines. Not so with ME3. I was about 20th in line for the demo. One of the EA folks working the line told us that they were only admitting five people from our line into the demo room every half hour. Some quick math showed that I’d be waiting two hours to see the demo. E3 is a show in which you can’t afford to stand in line for anything for two hours; there’s just too much to see. So, unfortunately I had to skip it. Either the demo was too long, or the room was too small, and I suspect that I won’t be the only media type complaining about this in the next few days. But, on the other hand, I could take the glass-half-full attitude and say that more of the game will be fresh and new to me when it finally releases in March.
Anyway, back to the action. Another truism about E3 is that the small developers and publishers offer the most swag, and Bohemia Interactive is no exception. I visited their booth to see ARMA III, the next iteration in their PC military shooter series. Bohemia has made some serious improvements in the ARMA formula, with revamped ground combat, and customizable characters, weapons and vehicles. The graphics inside the vehicles are nicely detailed, while on the outside they are smooth and clear, with fully deformable environments and a 900-square-kilometer play area. The new game is also not land-locked, with the inclusion of naval battles and underwater action. As for the aforementioned swag, I walked away from the Bohemia booth with a press kit, a pen, a DVD with video and screenshot assets, and a nice T-shirt that might actually fit me. ARMA III
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