EB Expo kindawesome Review
I was recently lucky enough to be sent by kindawesome to the EB expo, in order to get the ‘low down’ as the kids say on the future of gaming. Using my expert investigatory skills (thank you Nancy Drew) I was able to brave the many queues and hundreds of fans to bring back a trove of information on what to expect in the coming months.
After the floodgates opened and the hordes of rabid gamers rushed in to the cavernous EB Arena, I was drawn straight to the Nintendo space to get some hands on time with the Wii U. Whilst waiting to get in I was able to grab a photo with the voice of Mario and talk to a gamer of thirty years about modern games and the changing face of Nintendo as well as four cool dudes about the definition of ‘casual gamer’. Unfortunately it’s far too broad a topic to have solved in those few minutes butwas a good conversation. Keep an eye out for a future podcast about it perhaps.
Anyway I was eventually able to get in and jump on some games, the first of which was Nintendo Land. Nintendo Land is essentially the Wii Sports of the Wii U, a series of multiplayer minigames designed to show off the new hardware, namely the new gamepad. In the two minigames I played the gamepad was used both times to control the bad guys. Using the gamepad screen the player controlled first two guards trying to stop four players collecting fifty pieces of candy scattered around a map, a pretty standard fair except the two guards were controlled by the two d-pads on the gamepad at the same time.
The more interesting of the two was the Luigi’s Mansion minigame (not just because I won or because Luigi’s Mansion is an awesome game). The gamepad was used to control a ghost (me) who was invisible everywhere except the gamepad screen, which showed the entire map and where the other players were situated. An aura surrounded the ghost and when it touched the other players their wiimotes (wiiumotes?) vibrated, letting them know I was near. As the ghost I had to sneak up from behind and grab them until they fainted, whilst they had to drain my health with torches. It was a lot of fun, but wouldn’t have worked with less than five people. There were a few single player minigames on show but I don’t think the multiplayer would be well balanced with less than five players.
Next was New Super Mario Brothers U (or NSMBU as the cool kids call it). Although this is currently the only launch title that appealed to me I was skeptical going in to it. Why has Nintendo, after taking Mario into exciting new territory with Mario Galaxy, gone back to a side scrolling platformer? It did nothing to brighten my mood when seconds after starting the game an ally walked under my character bouncing me into a flying Goomba and killing me.
It was very similar to New Super Mario Brothers Wii, with the exception of the gamepad. Using this, a player could create platforms for his friends to jump on or give powerups. It quickly became apparent that a very high level of team work would be needed between the five players to make good use of this ability and make it more than just a gimmick. As well as that, how many people are willing to sit there and just throw up blocks whilst their friends jump around having all the fun? Probably less than one in five of the gaming population.
I spoke to Greg Arthurton, Director of Marketing at Nintendo Australia and asked whether he thought the gamepad could potentially be a fifth wheel to the game, leaving the player feeling left out and awkward. He disagreed, saying the gamepad would create a novel alternate experience involving players in a different but no less relevant part of the multiplayer experience. I also asked about the battery life of the gamepad, its inset camera and the possibility of using two gamepads in the same game. Mr. Arthurton responded that the estimated battery life of the gamepad is six hours and although it comes with a wired AC adaptor it is designed to be used unplugged. He also stated that it is possible to use two gamepads at the same time with the Wii U, but this along with the camera have not been implemented in any titles yet, although they will be implemented in the future.
After that I was able to play the game that makes the most effective use of the gamepad technology so far, Ubisoft’s ZombiU. Wandering through a stately mansion, I had to split my attention between the television and the gamepad screen that acted as both my inventory and minimap. It could also be used to scan the surrounding environment for points of interest and using the gamepad screen and spinning around I could view the environment in a full 3600, showing items and points of interest with a glowing white dot. You can still be attacked whilst standing still and doing this though so clearing the room first is a good idea. After scanning a draw and finding some ammo, I have to use the drop down inventory on the gamepad and drag the ammo over to the correct equipped gun. A zombie takes the opportunity to attack and I have to pull out my melee weapon (a cricket bat, it is set in England) and knock him to the ground, finishing him off as he crawls to bite my shins.
It was great to see this adult single player game in amongst the family-centric multiplayer titles that make up the list of announced games for the Wii U and is definitely one to put on your wish list.As one of the few games that weren’t a family friendly first party multiplayer ZombieU stands out like a zombie at a fundraiser for neuroresearch but I hope it is something we can expect more of from the Wii U. As a Wii owner I sometimes feel forgotten by third parties as I’m slowly buried in a mound of shovel ware. For goodness sake, won’t somebody please not think of the children and make some more adult games for the Wii.
The final game I was able to get some time with was Rayman Legends. A charming reimagining of the classic platformer, I was ably assisted by Ally, a member of staff who deftly blocked enemies and moved platforms as Murphy to help me through the level. Ally, if you are one of our five readers thank you for being so understanding about how terrible I was at this game. This two player dynamic was extremely important to my progression, but what if you don’t have someone to be a Murphy – Robin to your Rayman – Batman? I asked Ally and she said that this version of the game was not its final build and so may end up with separate worlds for solo and cooperative play, or an AI may control Murphy.
Hopefully Ubisoft is able to find a balance that creates a strong experience for both styles of play. It is worth mentioning this was the only game to use the Wii U Pro controller, the lovechild of an Xbox 360 and PS3 drunken fling. It was surprisingly comfortable even if it didn’t instantly make me a pro. It was a strange novelty to once again be using a normal(ish) controller with a Nintendo system again and could be a good alternative for third parties who don’t want to use the Wii U’s unique control systems.
Assassin’s Creed 3
After a great morning being a Nintendo fanboy, I was treated to presentations of Assassin’s Creed 3 (AC3) and Halo 4. The AC3 presentation was an improvised demo played through by Associate Director Julien Laferriere and Mission Director Phillipe Bergeron. In order to keep things casual, they asked for the audience to shout out suggestions if they wanted to see something. This proved to be a mistake. Opening on a snow sprinkled wilderness, our young protagonist Connor nimbly leaped from tree to tree. The weather is dynamic and covers all four seasons, but there is no word on a tank top or short shorts for Connor in the summer.
To add to the dynamic realism of the AC3 world wildlife is randomly generated. As if to prove this point, a bear slowly made his way through the thick snow below us, possibly on his way to hibernate or swipe a picnic basket. ‘Kill it!’ someone cried, and before long the auditorium is echoing with nerdy bloodlust. Despite a graceful leap to the forest floor and a arrow loosed straight into the bear’s face, he knocked Connor to the floor and proceeded to maul him. After respawning and getting revenge on some smaller animals, we’re taken to a British camp to show off the stealth play, which will be familiar to those who have played the other games in the series.
One of the big new things this title brings to the series though is ship to ship combat. With the dynamic weather back again, wind and waves will affect the handling of your boat as well as providing an epic backdrop to your naval battles. And the battles will be epic, with cannon balls flying, ships ramming each other and your crew calling out updates on the steering conditions as well as damage taken. This feature is not just for pretending you’re Jack Sparrow though, the ships can also take you to secret locations for bonus levels. In the one demonstrated Connor infiltrated a British outpost, swiftly disposing the sparsely placed guards before opening a chest and recovering a shred of a map. He is discovered and cornered, but luckily his ship outside opens fire and he takes advantage of the fort exploding to jump off of the cliff and into the sea.
Playing through this section myself, the most prominent feature was unfortunately the linearity. The tight corridors and enemy placements meant that there was only one route for reaching the objective. Hopefully this was just due to the level as the attack on the British base appeared much more open ended. It was also never quite explained satisfactorily why a Native American was fighting for the Americans. Trust the French to make an anti British game…
After AC3, the auditorium is plunged into darkness. Dramatic music begins to play, accompanied by the hiss of smoke machines creating a thick fog that spreads out across the floor. Slowly, a cryotube is wheeled out from behind the curtain and as the lid lifts, a figure gradually stretches and steps out. Master Chief! He climbs up onto the stage…and Josh Holmes, Creative Director of 343 comes on to the stage. Then Master Chief just wanders off behind a curtain. What an anticlimax! Why was Josh Holmes not in that Master Chief suit!? But I digress.
Set four years after the Halo Event, Halo 4 the storycovers the next ten years in the Halo universe, focusing on the return of Master Chief and his relationship with the ship AI Cortana. As she is approaching eight years old, (and as AI’s can only live for seven in the Halo universe) things might get a little blue. After a cutscene showing Cortana waking up and reactivating Master Chief, Josh Holmes proceeds to walk us through the first level where we meet the new galactic threat: the Prometheans, whose sleek white forms look like Apple has a side line in world domination in the future.
It all seemed fairly standard Halo fare, an opinion which was only confirmed by the multiplayer demo I took part in later. Don’t expect any exciting new gameplay, but do expect a continuation of an intriguing storyline in an increasingly deep universe.
After the demo, the audience was treated to a short Q and A.
Audience (A): Do any Spartans other than Master Chief appear in Halo 4?
Josh Holmes (JH): Several other Spartans will feature in the Halo 4 storyline, including an important character from the previous Halo games.
A: Apart from Valhalla are any other classic multiplayer maps being remade for Halo 4?
JH: At the moment Valhalla is the only other map from the previous titles being included, however using the map editor players will be able to create their own maps as well as additional maps packs being released online in the future.
A:Why did you choose to include Griffball in Halo 4 and what impact will Rooster Teeth have on future content?
JH: We included the Griffball map due to its huge popularity with the fans. We love the work Rooster Teeth have done and what they are continuing to do for the community and will be working closely with them in the future.
A: How will Halo 4 bring back the competitive scene?
JH: Well naturally we were disappointed to be dropped from the MLG and of course we want to stay on the competitive scene. This is probably more of a question for Kevin Franklin, our Wargames Designer but our current ranking is experience based rather than skill based meaning players of all skill levels can attain a high rank. Some sort of skill based ranking is something we are looking in to though.
A: How long will the single player game be?
JH: There are currently eight chapters in the campaign so the length of play in Halo 4 will be typical for the Halo series. As well as the main story we will have Spartan Ops, cooperative episodic content with about fifty missions in total.
Fifteen minutes is not much time to form an opinion of an entire game. You can play through maybe a part of a mission, try out a few weapons and maybe try out that new mechanic everyone has been anticipating. Having said this, there was very little new on offer during my brief flirtation with Crysis 3. Powered by the Cryengine 3 the Liberty Dome urban jungle scenery looks amazing, although you will need to invest in a time machine to purchase a computer from the future to run it full spec.
The addition of a compound bow which can be fired while cloaked is a great addition, adding more viability to a stealth oriented gameplay style but by having one new thing we’re only reminded how old the rest is. The enemy AI reacts exactly as it always has and the tactic of taking aim while cloaked, loosing off a few shots and then moving to new cover that I’ve been using since the first Crysis is still working a charm. Having said that, it was still great fun to play and left me wanting more. I just hope that on release Crysis 3 brings more innovation, rather than more of the same.
Injustice: Gods among us
I don’t like fighting games, nor do I like DC, (except for Batman obviously, I’m not crazy) but Injustice totally blew me away. This by itself should tell you how good this game is. Despite not having a fighting background the controls were intuitive enough that I was able to hold my own in 1v1 rather than the usual savage beatdowns I receive. Those who have experience with series like Mortal Kombat, Tekken or Street Fighter will most likely be able to jump straight in to Injustice without much trouble.
A range of fan favourites from the DC universe are featured ready to wail on each other, even if it feels a little strange watching as Nightwing beating the crap out of Superman. Iconic stages such as the Batcave and the Fortress of Solitude are also included, with interaction with items in the environment promised to be an important feature of combat. Each character also has a ‘super move’ they are able to use after they fill their ‘super meter’ although at this stage these moves feel unbalanced, both because they do far too much damage (almost 51% health!) and some of them are just way cooler than others. Superman punches you all the way into fucking space, before punching you back down, and Batman calls upon the power of the Batcar to run you over, whereas Harley Quinn places an exploding cake between your legs. The combo lists for each character were also limited to a couple of moves but this is still a very early build of the game.
With a release date of April 2013, the game has plenty of time for being polished to perfection. Is it too early to call next year’s game of the year?
Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth
Nestled between Ubisoft’s main offerings at the expo, Farcry 3 and Assassin’s Creed 3 was a little gem called Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth. The game itself doesn’t look like anything special, just a cell shaded excuse for an allstar lineup of Marvel characters to beat the snot out of each other. This was one of the few titles on the day however that was truly bringing something new to the table.
Rather than taking the Xbox 360 into my hands to control Ironman, the fighting was totally gesture based. Taking advantage of the Kinect (although it will also be available on the Wii U) I followed the movements shown at the bottom of the screen to queue up a combo. By lifting my arms up in the air, as Spiderman I swung up toward the ceiling before bringing a piece of it crashing down with an accompanying downward swing of my arms. Following up by raising my knee to have Spidey knee Venom in the face I continued with a flurry of punches. It was a very tiring control system but a hell of a lot of fun.
Swinging my arms around to beat up Marvel villains is basically a license for Ubisoft to take my money and it has great potential as a party game, particularly as non-gamers can get involved as easily as experienced gamers. Chaining together a combo was a little slow as I had to take a few seconds to find out what the next gesture was to make, swing my body about wildly and then wait for the Kinect
to recognize what I was trying to do. Although this would no doubt speed up with experience it might hamper the game from being considered a serious fighting game but has unrivalled potential as a party game for people too awesome to play Singstar.
The Kinect much like the Wii is often looked upon as the realm of minigames and fitness simulators but Ubisoft is showing with Marvel Avengers and ZombieU that motion control can be so much more than that. I hope that other big game development companies will take Ubisoft’s lead and start thinking about motion control as something more than a novelty peripheral.
Metal Gear Revengance
I’m a dedicated Nintendo fanboy. Through crazy controllers, waning third party support and endless shovelware I’ve stayed true. By the time I’d finished playing the demo for Metal Gear Revengance I had decided to buy a PS3. Playing as the sword wielding cyborg Raiden, stealth takes a backseat to up close and personal cutting-a-guy-in-half action. You are actually made to feel competent with a sword as well: rather than flailing about as if you were taught sword play by a child with a piñata, attacks are fluid and are comfortably chained into devastating combos.
Raiden can also build up energy to enter bullettime, using the second control stick to precisely aim the angle and direction in order to make precision slices. The blade control is so precise that in the training mode Raiden is able to dice enemies even whilst they are cowering behind a human shield. Everyone wants to be the anime badass with a wicked sword and it looks like Revengance may have got it right.
The EB Expo was a great day out and was a welcome reminder of why I love gaming. Tickets for a single session are about forty dollars and will give you time to see a few of the games you’re most anticipating. The Xpress gamer pass was a bit pricier but could be worth it for skipping the queues and allows you to see everything in about a third of the time.
If you can, I highly recommend attending so you to can marvel at the scantily clad cosplayers and get a peek at the bright future of gaming.