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The Escapist‘s handy guide to every game we saw at E3 2011.

This years’ Electronics Entertainment Expo provided a fairly accurate cross section of the gaming industry. Top stories included Nintendo unveiling a new console complete with touchscreen controller and full HD graphics but with another unfortunate name – there will be enough Wii U jokes to last another console cycle. Sony came out with an apology for the PSN outage, and then surprised no one by name dropping the Vita, while Microsoft shoved Kinect down every franchise it could.

But E3 is all about the games, and The Escapist team was able to get their hands on a frightfully impressive number of titles due out over the next year. But with so much information on so many different titles, it can be hard to suss the signal from the noise.

Here is a guide to all of the Games of E3, in general order of anticipation. Everything you need to know about these games is all right here, including trailers, screenshots and links to our editors’ more in-depth impressions of each game.

Below is an index of every preview from E3 2011, weighted for importance near the top, but feel free to cycle through all the games The Escapist staff saw last week.

Note: We realize that the handy links in the grid below won’t function for some Publisher’s Club members, but you should be able to scroll down to read the previews you want. Use the pretty pictures below as a guide to all the games we saw at this year’s E3.


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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Skyrim is one of the most highly-anticipated titles of E3 2011. One needs go no further than the series’ devoted fan base to see why – the appeal of an open-world epic fantasy RPG is widespread, and Bethesda is working hard to make Skyrim the most immersive and flexible of the Elder Scrolls saga thus far. From deeper skill selection and more versatile combat to more dangerous and dynamic enemies, it looks as though Bethesda is going to hit their mark.

Read Susan’s full preview of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim here. The game is due for release November 11, 2011 on PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.

Susan Arendt:
Rather than restrict you to a specific kind of character or class, the game lets you fight however you like simply by choosing what you’d like each hand to do. You can do sword and shield, dual wield two one-handed weapons, hold a magical staff in one hand and an axe in the other, have a spell ready in one and a different spell in the other, or the same spell in both to increase its power – the options are plentiful and easy to swap out at will.

Skills have, thankfully, also benefited from a revamp, and now every skill you use counts towards your leveling, even if you use it sparingly. There’s also a perk tree for every skill, which creates even more options for customization.

The part of the demo that I found the most interesting – besides the dragons that kept popping up – was the new shout mechanic. Your character is Dovahkiin – Dragonborn – and can use the shout ability because it’s dragon magic. Each shout has three words to it that increase that shout’s power. You can find new words on word walls; you can also absorb the souls of dead dragons to learn new shouts. We saw a few different shouts, including Fire Breath, which lets you breath fire as dragons do, and Storm Call, which brings down bolts of lightning.

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Mass Effect 3

The third and final title in the ambitious sci-fi RPG trilogy, BioWare looks to be taking the best components of the earlier games in order to make Mass Effect 3 the greatest yet. BioWare is attempting to balance RPG elements with satisfying combat and movement to appeal to fans of both previous entries, and judging by the way it’s shaping up, they have a good chance of doing so.

Read Tom’s full preview of Mass Effect 3 here. The game is due for release March 6, 2012 on PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.

Tom Goldman:
Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 were two highly-praised games with very different shortfalls that left them open to criticism. With Mass Effect 3, BioWare hopes to get the porridge just right so that it doesn’t burn any RPG fans’ mouths with too much action, and also isn’t too cold for those that prefer shooting to pumping up stats.

New attacks include Shepard’s Omni Blade, a melee weapon that brutally stabs foes from up close, and hand grenades. Shepard will now move around more dynamically by climbing, falling, and jumping across gaps. At the end of the level, an enemy Cerberus Atlas appears, which is a huge mech with an explosive cannon as an armament. The Atlas won’t only be a foe, but a vehicle that Shepard can climb inside to own his enemies with mech-sized glee.

Each section demonstrated the improved cinematic quality of Mass Effect 3, which seamlessly combines cutscenes with gameplay and dialog. However, the Mass Effect series is also about a host of underlying RPG elements, which have been expanded upon after what some would call the lighter RPG feel of Mass Effect 2. Equipment-wise, BioWare showed off a new weapon modification system where players collect mods during battle or purchase them in shops to customize existing weapons right on the battlefield if they wish.

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BioShock Infinite

The critically acclaimed BioShock and its sequel, BioShock 2, were lauded for their setting, the atmospheric and unnerving city of Rapture. BioShock Infinite leaves the notorious city behind, instead choosing a locale as radically different as possible – the sky. Though a huge departure from the previous entries, the new setting may give back to the series the trait that made it renown in the first place: that sense of overwhelming wonder, magnificence, and decay that set BioShock apart from its contemporaries.

Read Susan’s full preview of BioShock Infinite here. The game is due for release mid-2012 on PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.

Susan Arendt:
By moving the action out of water and into the clouds of Columbia, Infinite does something few sequels can truly manage: It recaptures the feeling of awe and wonder we experienced the very first time we saw Rapture.

The nuts and bolts of Infinite certainly look appealing, but what’s really changed my mind about this game is how it evokes the feeling of BioShock without copying it. Columbia, like Rapture, is a city stuck in time, tearing itself apart as differencing ideologies vie for dominance. But Rapture was a claustrophobic space. Everywhere you went, you felt the oppressive weight of the ocean bearing down on you. Columbia, on the other hand, is a wide open space, with huge expanses and lots of room. Rapture was held down by tones of blue and brown, Columbia is brightened by reds and whites. The people of Rapture pushed inward on Jack, with communication that was strictly one way, but Booker can speak. His influence pushes outward into Columbia as he talks to Elizabeth. Infinite has enough in common with its predecessor to let us feel comfortable with it, but this isn’t just BioShock all over again. The emotional interaction with the city is completely different.

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Wii U First Impressions

Rumored for weeks before E3, the Wii U was finally officially announced at Nintendo’s E3 2011 press conference. After the show, several demos were available to demonstrate the Wii U’s unique capabilities, ranging from a drawing game to Super Mario Bros. Mii. Steve Butts played several of these tech demos and, while impressed, he was wary of other developers’ abilities to take full advantage of the Wii U’s features.

Read Steve’s full preview of the Wii U here. The platform is due for release 2012.

Steve Butts:
Okay, so those were the logistics. Here’s the big thing. It looked amazing. The textures were crisp and clean, the reflection from the floor was dynamic and shifted in natural light. There were several little Navi-like fairies flying all around leaving sparking trails of fairy dust, all flickering independently. You could see each hair on Gohma’s furry spider body. Nintendo. Please make this game for me.

The big deal for this demo was probably showing how players can turn off the TV and use the Wii U controller as its own mini-console if mother needs to watch her shows. I have to admit that while playing and looking down at the Wii U pad, I sometimes forgot there was a TV in front of me. It was a weird, but futuristic feeling to have this choice. The TV obviously looked better, as I didn’t find the pad’s screen to be super sharp at this point in time, but it is comfortable to play on should it be necessary. Considering the popularity of Super Mario Bros., I would expect Super Mario Bros. Mii or something like it to make its way out of tech demo status sometime during the Wii U’s lifetime.

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Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary

To celebrate the ten year anniversary of Halo: Combat Evolved, Microsoft announced Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary at E3 this year. The updated version of the first-person shooter classic features improved graphics and maps. Susan Arendt got a look at the update and found that it keeps the original gameplay completely intact.

Read Susan’s full preview of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary here. The game is due for release November 15, 2011 on Xbox 360.

Susan Arendt:
The two-engine system also allows for a bit of nostalgia on the fly. You can hit a button at any time to turn off the new graphics engine and return to the old Halo look. It’s a fun little time machine that really shows off just how far graphics have come in the past ten years, but you know, Halo still looks pretty good, even a decade later.

343 was hands off when it came to gameplay elements, but that doesn’t mean Anniversary doesn’t benefit from a bit of tweaking here and there. In areas like The Library, where everyone got lost, new textures and lighting have been added to help point the way towards the exit. Other areas have received similar modifications, and new terminals have been added that will help explain Halo‘s story.

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Star Wars: The Old Republic

Announced late 2008, Star Wars: The Old Republic is BioWare’s first MMORPG. In addition to features similar to other MMORPGs, the game will include voice acting and cover mechanics. Steve Butts tried the latest playable demo at this year’s E3 and is looking forward to the game reaching Beta status.

Read Steve’s full preview of Star Wars: The Old Republic here. The game is due for release later this year on PC.

Steve Butts:
Thankfully, the second half of these demos usually contains a few new bits of information. This time around we finally got some information on the multiplayer dialogue system and the high level raids, which in The Old Republic are called Operations. Along the way, we also got our first look at Alderaan and had a chance to drive the new player vehicles through the Jundland Wastes. At our level, they’re not quite like Landspeeders or Speeder Bikes. These are more like intergalactic Rascals or Segways. Still, it’s nice to run over Sandpeople.

The Force powers and cover system and suppression mechanics featured are nothing new, but they do highlight the cinematic, cooperative nature of combat. What really struck my eye was the new multiplayer conversation model. This has been a big unknown in the game, and one that BioWare has struggled to solve. To try to make every player part of the action, each player makes his or her own decision about what should be said during a conversation and a random die roll determines which player’s option is actually spoken.

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Battlefield 3

Five years and six Battlefield games after the release of Battlefield 2, Battlefield 3 was announced earlier this year. Like previous games in the series, Battlefield 3 focuses on realistic gameplay, high graphical fidelity, and team cooperation. Steve Butts played the first hands-on demo on the E3 show floor and appreciated DICE’s work to rebalance the class system in the new game.

Read Steve’s full preview of Battlefield 3 here. The game is due for release October 25, 2011 on PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.

Steve Butts:
With them out of the way, our planes come in low and fast and smash the barrier leading to the Paris Metro. Heading underground through the tunnels and trains of the Paris subway system, there’s plenty of opportunity for even more close-in fighting, which is perfect for a light machinegun fan like myself. The platforms are connected by short passageways, which, along with the trains themselves, provide plenty of opportunity to sneak up on someone. As we move past the ticket counter, we emerge into the streets again where we assault the Russian’s final position. This final phase of the battle takes place with the forces fighting across a narrow city street, where there’s very little place to hide.

Though you can still customize your kits and weapons, the developers have made some key changes to the overall class system in Battlefield 3. First, the medic and assault classes have been merged. The reasoning was based on two key features: first, the assault guys were doing most of the dying and, second, the medics weren’t designed to fight as close to the front lines as the assault guys. With the old system, assault guys would die waiting for medics to come up to the point of contact with the enemy. Now, assault players will have their own health packs and paddles and can rescue each other as they go down.

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The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

The Legend of Zelda series is a venerable one, and as such, each new entry is held to a very high set of standards. Every game so far (excepting the CD-i ones) has been critically well-received, and it appears that Skyward Sword, which makes use of the Wii’s MotionPlus to enable more accurate maneuvering, will raise the bar yet again.

Read Sara’s full preview of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword here. The game is due for release by the end of the year on Wii.

Sara Brown:
The first part of the demo was Bird Racing. In this segment I was Link, not yet garbed in his trusty green tunic, vying for a trophy and the adoration of a casually dressed Zelda in a bird racing competition. Running off edge of a cliff of a mountain already in the sky and landing surely onto my trusty bird friend was exhilarating, and seamless.

Mechanically, the control system, and the battle system are very similar to those in Twilight Princess. The trigger on the Wii remote contains your items, which in the demo were the crossbow, boomerang, bomb and beetle. The C button draws the item, and launches the bombs and beetles. To draw your bow, you hold C down, and pull back on the nunchuck, aim with the Wii remote, and release the C button to fire. Sword play is no longer simple as a slight wave in any direction to swing your sword. Now, your movements with the remote are directly translated on-screen. Slice side to side or up and down, or jab forward to stab. The familiar spider foe is dispatched by shooting his web with an arrow, then knocking him on end with an upward slice, and finishing him off with a jab to the sweet spot on his belly.

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Batman: Arkham City

Batman: Arkham Asylum took the gaming world by surprise by delivering a nearly flawless, AAA title based on a licensed character, going so far as to win the 2009 Game of the Year award here at The Escapist. The sequel, Arkham City, is an even more ambitious title, expanding the game’s freedom and allowing the player to explore Gotham City, a locale five times larger than the previous game. Given their track record, Rocksteady Studios has the means to come through on their claims, and their preview supports it.

Read Steve’s full preview of Batman: Arkham City here. The game is due for release October 18, 2011 on PC, Xbox 360, and PS3, and in 2012 on Wii U.

Steve Butts:
Starting with a close shot of a large sign for Arkham Asylum, the camera slowly pulls back to reveal the enormity of Gotham City. The cluttered chaos of the city is apparent right away and this opening shot says more with its muted color palette and lighting than any voice over ever could. It also says a great deal about scale as the camera closes in on a barely distinguishable caped figure crouched atop a gargoyle outside the Gotham City Police Department. He stares off the right, to Arkham Asylum out in Gotham Harbor and then leaps into the air to glide across the city.

This is going to be good.

Not only can Batman glide as he could in the previous game, but he can also perform a power dive by gathering his cape around him and falling towards the street. Even better, he can use the grapple gun now to launch himself up into the air. Get good enough at it and you can traverse the entire city without once touching the ground. But there’s more on Batman’s mind than just getting to and from well-known sites like Crime Alley or the Courthouse.

You’ll alternate between two stories in Arkham City. As Batman, you’re on a quest to recapture the inmates who escaped at the end of the last game. But as Catwoman, you’re more than content to use the chaos and confusion in the city to advance your own interests. In this case, Catwoman is on the hunt for Hugo Strange’s vault, which is rumored to contain all the valuables confiscated from the Arkham inmates.

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Hitman: Absolution

Confirmed in development in 2009, Hitman: Absolution was officially unveiled at E3 this year. Like previous games in the Hitman series, Hitman: Absolution will focus on stealth and revolve around Agent 47, a mysterious assassin. Susan Arendt caught the hands-off demo on the show floor and was impressed with the aesthetic of the game and the new set of Instinct abilities.

Read Susan’s full preview of Hitman: Absolution here. The game is due for release 2012 on PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.

Susan Arendt:
As fun as it always is to watch Agent 47 do his thing, sneaking and quietly taking out enemies is a regular staple of the Hitman universe, so the demo moved on to pointing out something new: Agent 47’s Instinct abilities. The Premonition skill traces a firey line on the floor, indicating where enemies are likely to move; it also highlights the location of items of interest, such as climbable ledges. He can also Act and Hide in order to better blend in with his environment once he’s in disguise. Using any of these skills burns through Agent 47’s Instinct meter, however, so the abilities have to be used sparingly and wisely.

“Freedom of choice” is a core philosophy at the heart of the game’s design, and we did see Agent 47 pursue a number of different strategies while evading his police pursuers. He grabbed one and used him as a human shield, sabotaged a fuse box to create confusion, moved swiftly from cover to cover to avoid gunfire from a hovering helicopter, and hid in plain sight by grabbing a donut after donning a downed officer’s uniform.

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Deus Ex: Human Revolution

The prequel to the popular RPG Deus Ex, Deus Ex: Human Revolution focuses on combat, multiple-choice gameplay, and story. It follows Adam Jensen, a former security officer who has been mechanically augmented after being severely injured. Allistair Pinsof watched an exclusive demo of the game and came away generally pleased with the game’s graphics and use of multiple solutions during gameplay.

Read Allistair’s full preview of Deus Ex: Human Revolution here. The game is due for release August 23, 2011 on PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.

Allistair Pinsof:
Unlike previous Revolution demos, the alternate paths in this mission were less obvious and restrictive, requiring the player to have certain upgrades in order to use a shortcut. At one point in the mission, Jensen discovered a drop in the ventilation system that he could follow down in order to get to a security booth. With the Icarus Landing System augment, he is able to slide down the shaft without taking damage from the drop. Without it, he would have to find another way in or fight security guards directly.

Along with expanding your inventory, you can spend Piraxis points on augments that will help you navigate hazardous areas. One area was had an electric field, preventing intruders from entering. With the right augment, Jensen could step right through it but without it, it provided a platforming obstacle course. Augments are not always flashy, some are just practical. Later in the demo, Jensen needed to reach the floor above him, surrounded by security, in order to proceed. By augmenting his arm strength, he repositioned a convenience machine and used it as a platform to jump on to and reach the balcony above.

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Ghost Recon: Future Soldier

Announced early last year, the latest entry in the Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon series adds futuristic technology to the realistic military simulation. Like its predecessors, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier combines tactical planning with cover shooting and features optional Kinect controls. Steve Butts played a demo of the game at E3 and, while he did not appreciate the Kinect controls, he came away excited for the game’s release.

Read Steve’s full preview of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier here. The game is due for release early 2012 on PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, Nintendo DS, and PSP.

Steve Butts:
The single player mission makes use of the Augmented Reality system that was first popularized in the Splinter Cell series. Basically, text cues are laid over the world itself, giving players clear direction about where they should be going and what they should watch out for. I don’t know if I’m just more used to seeing this kind of thing these days, but it seems a lot less artificial than it has in previous games and helps keep your attention focused on the world around you.

In this mission, the Ghosts are equipped with the nearly invisible adaptive camouflage system that makes stealth kills so much fun. The synchronization option for taking out targets is particularly awesome. You can essentially mark targets for each of your three teammates and once you fire on your own enemy, your Ghosts will take out the targets you’ve assigned them. It makes dropping a whole group of guards at once ultra satisfying.

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Catherine

Catherine is another game from Atlus, the development studio behind the twisted Megami Tensei series of role-playing games. Catherine, unlike Atlus’ previous works, is a puzzle-platformer but, in keeping with the studio’s Persona line, contains a mature storyline along the theme of internal struggle manifested in nightmarish form.

Read Susan’s full preview of Catherine here. The game is due for release July 26 on Xbox 360 and PS3.

Susan Arendt:
Every night, Vincent has a nightmare in which he is climbing a tower of stacked blocks. He must maneuver up the tower, moving blocks, shifting position, and reorganizing them into stairs, so that he can make it to the top before time runs out. Pulling a block out the stack, Jenga-style, allows the one above it to drop, and you can hang from the edges to shimmy around a block you just pulled into the spot where you were standing. As Vincent climbs, the lower rows of blocks fall away into nothingness, so maintaining upward mobility is vital. It’s not as easy as simply shifting blocks around, though; some explode, others shoot out spikes, and every so often you’ll run into something really special, like ice.

Boss levels are a little bit different. Vincent still has to race to the top of the tower, but this time he’s being pursued by a gigantic monster that represents one of his innermost fears. The boss I got to see was, appropriately, Catherine herself, who chases after Vincent with a fork. Each boss has special abilities that make solving the puzzle even harder. In the case of Catherine, she can turn blocks into nonmoving blocks.

Catherine isn’t at all what I expected, but it’s still something very special and weird. The puzzles, sheepmen, confessionals, chaos meter, and anime cutscenes are a bizarre combination, but it all really seems to work. The multiple endings are great bait for replays, especially once you’ve mastered the block-shifting mechanics that will help you soar through the nightmare levels.

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

The mega-hit Modern Warfare line, spawned from the Call of Duty series, is back again with Modern Warfare 3. It features the action-packed but highly scripted campaign of the earlier games while keeping their focus on the multiplayer content, and a new addition to the lineup, Survival Mode, means this game – like its predecessors – will likely keep many consoles running and many people sleepless.

Read Allistair ‘s full preview of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 here. The game is due for release November 8 on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3.

Allistair Pinsof:
Modern Warfare 3 is louder, bigger and filled with more explosions than any Call of Duty before it. Shocking, I know. While the two missions presented at the show offered different setups and locations, they both culminated in absolute mayhem and bombast that has become the hallmark of the series.

In addition to co-op missions, Spec Ops will include a new Survival mode in MW3. At first glance, it seems like a basic Gears of War-esque horde mode. You and one partner kill waves of enemies, and try to survive as enemies increase in number and difficulty. By including elements of Nazi Zombies and multiplayer, Survival is elevated above your average horde mode and has the potential be the most addictive CoD mode yet.

It’s a combination of everything that makes MW multiplayer great, funneled into a challenging horde mode. If every level is as well designed as the one I played, this mode could really be a time suck – a perfect game for those who want to zone out to a podcast and hardcore players that want to set a new record on a map.

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Uncharted 3

Quip-spouting pulp-action everyman Nathan Drake is returning again for Uncharted 3. Returning with him will be the co-op campaign, which now includes a persistent perk mode as well as tying the storyline into the single-player campaign more heavily, and competitive multiplayer, which now has character customization, increased awards, and other additions to the mode to make it even more enjoyable than the previous entries.

Read Allistair’s full preview of Uncharted 3 Co-op here, and read Tom’s full preview of Uncharted 3 competitive multiplayer here. The game is due for release November 1 on the PS3.

Allistair Pinsof:
While demoing Uncharted 3’s co-op campaign, Naughty Dog consistently referred to it as a cooperative “adventure” rather than mode – and for good reason. The mode returns with new additions, including some unique to the mode and others shared with competitive multiplayer and single player. Co-op also features its own booster (perk) system that you unlock as you earn money in the co-op campaign. While the character roles in the co-op campaign will still be fixed and mission specific, there is much more variety in how to approach combat.

The co-op level I demoed took place in a massive, worn-down brick castle. It starts off with Drake, Sully and Elena swimming through the sewers. Once safety is reached, the group is immediately ambushed and set on a series of firefights that take place in different locations. Even when players are positioned in the same area for a while, the goals and strategic points are constantly shifting. A player may decide to take a sniping vantage point one minute and then run head-on into the action with a shotgun, the next – the environments are large and complex, making each a reasonable approach. Though, mission goals often force players not to stay dormant for long. In the mission I played, goals switched back-and-forth between “get to this point,” “defend this point, and “capture the gold shiny thing.”

The co-op demo ended with three helicopters arriving out of nowhere with their bright lights positioned on Drake and crew. Like a great episode of TV, it left me wondering what will happen next. And, like a great demo, it left me wanting to play it again and again.

Tom Goldman:
What I noticed right away is that everyone in multiplayer looks different. Instead of just choosing different characters to play as, which varied from Nathan Drake to a glowing skeleton in Uncharted 2, you’ll now be able to customize those avatars to your liking with all sorts of clothing and item variations.

I played deathmatch in a jungle environment with a ruined stone building. It was nicely designed compared to the levels found in Uncharted 2, featuring tons of climbing spots, different platforms on multiple levels, lots of cover, and unique environmental features such as a turret (which left you very vulnerable, so don’t hang out there).

I got a small taste of the new features in Uncharted 3 when a power play kicked in. Power plays are basically events that occur during multiplayer matches, providing certain conditions and bonuses for those that fulfill them. The power play in my game was “marked man,” which marked an enemy and made our team go after him and the opposing team protect him. The opposing team didn’t do so well, and he fell to my burning hot lead (thanks sniper rifle). These power plays are definitely a great addition to the already hectic Uncharted multiplayer game.

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Assassin’s Creed: Revelations

Ezio returns for his last adventure in the new Assassin’s Creed: Revelations with a variety of new tools, weapons, and a location set in the more culturally-varied Constantinople. The historically-influenced death-dealing acrobat has become even deadlier in this latest edition, and will have a greater variety of vicious explosives this time around.

Read Sara’s full preview of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations here. The game is due for release November 15 on the PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.

Sara Brown:
We are reaching the end of our journey with Ezio and Altaire, but from the looks of things, they’re going out with a bang. I mean that literally. Revelations is exploring their love for explosives. The range of explosives are a’plenty in this iteration, expanding your arsenal by allowing you to rig your own explosives, for both offensive and defensive purposes. Smoke bombs will hide you from pursuers until you escape, or sneak within the smoke, using your eagle sense to see your enemies, and to dispatch them. Splinter bombs…well, they’ll kill everybody.

My favorite new item was the Hookblade, which is exactly what it sounds like. A hooked blade allows you to climb buildings quickly, and zip line from one building to the next using available ropes. If at any point there is an enemy below you on your line, you can drop from the rope, mid-zip, and pounce suddenly, ferociously, like the wrath of God.

The demo for Revelations takes place in Constantinople and is more culturally diverse than the previous titles. Where we’ve been used to the Italian, this society will be peppered with Greek, Turkish, Jewish, Gypsy and Romani. The environment is rich and vibrant, and wide open. There were intense cinematic instances in the single player demo that played in linear action sequences on rails. I was, however, reassured that 95% of the game will be in an open world environment.

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Super Mario 3D

Mario is a staple of the platforming genre, characterized by his always solid – if not always revolutionary – gameplay and his near-universal appeal. So how would you like to play a portable combination of some of his best 3D appearences, Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy, in actual 3D?

Read Sarah’s full preview of Super Mario 3D here. The game is due for release sometime this year on the 3DS.

Sarah LeBouef:
With Super Mario 3D for the 3DS, the series combines the 3D platforming of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy with actual three-dimensional visuals, and playing it outside of the Nokia Theater earlier today felt like meeting an old friend.

Once I got acclimated to the control scheme, I was able to enjoy the fun but tricky level design, which is what defines a good Mario game. I found blocks that teleported me from one platform to another rather than spitting out coins, hidden items off the beaten path, and of course, that Tanooki suit sure to bring a smile to the face of any gamer who was alive during the heyday of Super Mario Bros. 3.

Of course, because the game is on the 3DS, the option to play in actual 3D just enhances the experience. In 2D, the game looks exactly as you would expect: bright, full of primary colors, and full of funny-looking enemies and various floating blocks. Other than the Tanooki suit, there wasn’t anything particularly distinctive about it, even though the visuals were very inviting. Being able to experience the game in 3D is what really gives it something extra and makes it stand out, no pun intended.

One level is hardly enough content by which to judge an entire game, but from that experience I can safely say that Super Mario 3D feels like a Mario game. It’s familiar and accessible while also being different and challenging, and hopping on that flagpole at the end of the level was extremely satisfying.

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Kirby Wii

Hot on the tails of last year’s Kirby: Epic Yarn comes the next game starring the lovable blob from Nintendo’s HAL Laboratory studio. Kirby Wii has had a long development history – originally slated for the Nintendo GameCube – but Steve Butts really enjoyed the new powerups and classic easy to grasp gameplay. It doesn’t have the innovative setting and aesthetic of Epic Yarn but that doesn’t mean Kirby in his more natural environment isn’t any fun. Plus, he’s got a few friends along for the ride as Kirby Wii introduces cooperative play for up to four players.

Read Steve Butts’ full preview of Kirby Wii here. No word on a release date on the Nintendo Wii, but it’s scheduled for this fall.

Steve Butts:
Other powerups are far more impressive. If you swallow certain objects, you can transform Kirby into a fire-breathing puffball. Watching as you incinerate row after row of round little enemies is darn fun. My favorite has to be the transformation of Kirby into Link, complete with giant sword and green cap. The sword here is clearly overpowered as it’s able to clear every single enemy on the screen in a single swipe.

In addition to Kirby, you can have up to three friends join in, playing either as MetaKnight, King Dedede or Waddle Dee. The levels we played didn’t seem to have the same fun interactions that we had throwing each other around in Epic Yarn, so as long as one player is accomplishing the objectives, everyone else is kind of just along for the ride. Smashing enemies and blocks, leaping over chasms, grabbing keys and such are all pretty par for the course, but when you do get four players on the screen at once, it gets very frantic.

The only real misstep is that Kirby’s allies aren’t nearly as versatile or powerful as he is. When he absorbs aspects of enemies and can clear an entire screen of enemies and obstacles, it makes King Dedede’s sledgehammer seem a little pointless. Sure, each character has its own flavor, but there’s a reason the game is called Kirby. I just wish the other characters had more to offer.

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Kirby Mass Attack

What’s more fun than one Kirby? How about ten? This game had the Japanese title Atsumete! Kirby when it came out on the DS in the island nation last year. The touchscreen is used to flick the many Kirbys around the screen and collecting powerups, but it lacks the familiar gameplay of the pink blob sucking in enemies.

Read Tom Goldman’s full preview of Kirby Mass Attack here. The game comes out on September 17th in North America on the DS.

Tom Goldman:
Players can get more Kirbys on the screen by collecting fruit that appears by bashing blocks, defeating enemies, and completing other special tasks. If you flick Kirby toward a hanging vine, he’ll pull it down and make either fruit or an enemy pop out. Certain spots require the cooperation of multiple Kirbys, such as a giant plant (with hanging vine) clogging up a hole in the Earth.

There was surprisingly little Kirby enemy inhalation action in my demo, one of the pink blob’s signature moves. Maybe it comes later. The emphasis was on touchscreen platforming and collecting Kirbys to make it through the obstacles of the level. The demo was a really fun taste of another new type of Kirby title along the lines of Kirby: Canvas Curse.

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Dead Island

The next zombie franchise made a splash with its time-bending trailer released around GDC, but the developers were quick to say that Dead Island would be more like your typical survival game. But that doesn’t mean it won’t accomplish its goal of scaring the pants of players and getting their blood pumping.

Read Tom Goldman’s full preview of Dead Island here. It’s slated to release on September 6th on Xbox 360, PS3 and the PC (including OnLive!)

Tom Goldman:
The combat and focus on melee weapons is similar to Dead Rising.From the first encounter on, the fights against the game’s undead are horrifying. The way they latch on you to made me squirm. They grab a hold and nibble on you, until you shake them off with the triggers.

The island’s open environment occasionally offers multiple paths to get to a location. The scale is more reminiscent of Far Cry than Fallout 3, but there is plenty of fun to be had by exploring and seeing what you can get away with in the game world. The game’s excellent mini-map keeps the player from feeling lost in Dead Island‘s large and dangerous world. It curves and redirects you to your objective, as you explore and walk along new paths.

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Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider is a venerable series, but from time to time things need to be shaken up and reinvented to stay relevant. Crystal Dynamics, developers of the new game titled simply Tomb Raider, aim to do just that with this reboot of the series. It will completely retell Lara Croft’s background and redefine her, casting her as a more relatable, vulnerable character forced to become the hardened explorer she is.

Read Susan’s full preview of Tomb Raider here. The game is due for release September 2012 on the PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.

Susan Arendt:
After she’s shipwrecked, Lara wakes to find herself held captive on a mysterious island surrounded by a veritable ship’s graveyard. Decaying vessels of all kinds dot the shore, and the natives are most definitely not friendly. During the course of the game, Lara will not only learn more about why she’s on the island – it’s not just dumb luck – but also more about herself as a person.

The opening scene is Lara’s escape from a cave where she’s been bound and strung upside down. The escape itself is quite exciting, involving kicking natives in the face as they grab at you, a slide down a slick tunnel, and even Lara setting herself on fire, but the controls on display were disappointing. Tapping the triggers Track and Field style and waggling the left stick to shake off a native’s grasp feels like goofy busywork and robs the action of some of its immediacy. That said, the game isn’t due to come out until September of next year, so many aspects of it could change.

We did get to see a few of what used to be called puzzles, but in this new Tomb Raider are called “Survival Escapes.” Lara uses her Survival Instinct to help her figure out what aspects of the environment can be used to her advantage. It’s a lot like going into Detective Mode in Arkham Asylum, as most of the environment drops into black and white and items of interest glow.

There are several ways through each part of the hub worlds, though not all paths may be accessible to you at a given time. You might need an ice axe to reach a higher path, for example, or need a higher strength skill in order to make a particularly athletic jump.

If you can see it, we’re told, you can go to it, a claim that becomes more interesting when you can see mountains far off in the distance.

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Call of Duty Elite

The Call of Duty series has, to make an understatement, a hell of a lot of fans. Call of Duty Elite intends to appeal to those players by providing extremely in-depth stat tracking, player groups, special events, and, moreover, a sense of continuity between games. Essentially, it’s the application of a league to the otherwise unassociated online matches.

Read Steve’s full preview of Call of Duty Elite here. The service will go into beta on July 14 of this year.

Steve Butts:
Most players of online shooters are used to seeing stats for time played, kills vs. deaths, and favorite weapon, but Elite goes about a million steps beyond that. Players can also view their last ten matches, seeing a heat map of their position and activity during the match, as well as the location of every kill or death they earned as well as the location of whoever it was they killed or were killed by. You can go into any of these matches and see death-by-death exactly where you were when you killed or were killed by someone else. The death stats also let you know which weapon was used, including the mods which were attached.

The Improvement section of the Elite site where you can view stats for individual weapons, see videos that suggest ways each weapon can be used, and track your progress toward unlocking the next rank. Having the option to read articles that outline the pros and cons of each weapon, and see video guides to help you use them more appropriately sounds awesome. The team behind Elite is even hinting that they might contact the top performing members of the community to create exclusive content for these lessons. Even if you’re not the best, you can also upload YouTube videos to Elite, which will tag every single player located in the video and send notices to them that they’ve appeared in a new video.

In case you’re worried, Activision promises that most of the functionality will be free and even those that cost will be “comparable” to the price of other services and will have the added bonus of automatically bundling in any DLC for the games.

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XCOM

XCOM is an IP with a respected pedigree in the PC tactical genre, but this game reimagines the world as a shooter set in the early 1960s. The basics for an immersive game with lots of scares and action are there as you play as an agent in the pristine American culture of the era in search of alien life and technology. This XCOM is X-Files meets Happy Days, but it will need to do much to live up to fans of its predecessors.

Read Susan Arendt’s full preview of XCOM here. It’s slated to release on September 6th on Xbox 360, PS3 and the PC (including OnLive!)

Susan Arendt:
The demo we saw is closer to the spirit of the original games, while still staying active enough to woo new players that might be turned off by traditional turn-based strategy. In case you’re not up to speed on this new version of Xcom, it’s an all new origin story set in 1962 America, a time of social and political turmoil. An alien force, which comes to be known as The Outsiders, invades; it falls to the men and women of Xcom to harvest alien technology to use in the fight against them.

I didn’t play the original Xcom games, so feel free to take my opinion with a grain of salt, but I really enjoyed the retro sci fi feel of this new Xcom. We even got to see a big fat disintegration ray gun, which was a lot of fun. The Outsiders are a good villain, clearly so intelligent and more advanced that they see us like little more than bugs, and their blocky appearance is creepy in a Saturday morning serial kind of way. The tactical gameplay is an interesting way to shake up what could’ve been (and almost was) just another first person shooter, and having a stable of agents should provide plenty of opportunities to mix and match skill sets.

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Fable: The Journey

The Fable series means a lot of things to a lot of different people. That doesn’t matter though, because this game has very little to do with those games. Instead, Fable: The Journey, controlled through the Kinect, casts the player as a mage driving a carriage, allowing the game to use the Kinect while still being relaxing and comfortable to play.

Read Susan’s full preview of Fable: The Journey here. The game is due for release sometime next year.

Susan Arendt:
The demo was assembled for the purposes of E3 and so doesn’t show off the game itself, but we got to see the basics of the Kinect-powered gameplay. You play as a mage driving a horse and carriage, who picks up Theresa as she’s running from forces unknown. You play in first-person view, and although you will occasionally leave the carriage to move around on foot, you’ll spend most of your time in the driver’s seat, which presumably means you’re going to spend a lot of time looking at your horse’s rump.

One thing that Molyneux really wanted to emphasize was that The Journey could be played comfortably – something not altogether true of many Kinect titles. You are, after all, seated in the game, so it makes sense that you can be seated as you play. The gestures you use to steer your horse are fairly small and relaxed, and even the moves you use to work your magic are pretty low-key. Pushing your hand out throws a ball of energy, while bringing your hands together in a circle slows time. Squishing your palms together allows you to change your magic energy into something else – the demo was a bit vague on this point, but it seemed as though the spell became stronger. You’ll supposedly also be able to use creation magic to make items out of thin air. Move your hands apart to make a telescope, or stop by the river and create a fishing rod, or if you find yourself in a fight, whip up a shield. It’s the lone interesting concept the demo had to offer, and naturally we didn’t get to see it.

Molyneux kept repeating how The Journey was all about giving you control, so you feel like this powerful magic user, but that wasn’t the feeling I had coming out of the demo. If it didn’t have the Fable name attached to it, The Journey would be utterly forgettable.

Perhaps my impression will change once we get to see the actual game itself. Perhaps we won’t really spend that much time staring at a horse’s ass.

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Aliens: Colonial Marines

Xenomorphs are wonderful in a terrible way. They play on many of the greatest fears we have: we don’t understand them, even with technology we are weaker than they are, and the very structures we built for safety and protection are their ideal hunting grounds. There have been many games based at least in part on the Aliens franchise, some better than others, but they all share one thing: even though you’re carrying futuristic weapons on a spaceship that stands testament to the ability of mankind, you still feel endangered, disempowered, and scared.

Read Susan’s full preview of Aliens: Colonial Marines here. The game is due for release in Spring 2012 on PC, Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U, and DS.

Susan Arendt:
The demo was clearly designed to resonate most strongly with fans of the Aliens movie, as it moved through key locations from the movie, replicating specific incidents. The crashed marines began working their way through the remains of the buildings, and it wasn’t long before the motion tracker began making its distinctive “You’re about to die” warning noise. Raising the tracker into view, seeing those blobs advancing your position as the bleeping becomes more insistent creates palpable tension, which isn’t relieved by the xenomorphs’ penchant for popping out of vents and flooring without warning. The aliens are fast and vicious, but more importantly, they’re unpredictable, which not only makes for a greater FPS challenge, but also cranks up the anxiety level to satisfying degrees.

Colonial Marines nails the look and feel of Aliens absolutely perfectly; a lot of energy was obviously spent on the kind of details that would honor the source material and please fans. Running and gunning is certainly nothing new, but the xenomorphs aren’t your standard enemy. They swarm up walls, they leap, they dangle from the ceiling and grab your comrades without hesitation. All the chest-high walls in the world aren’t going to help you survive an encounter with them, which is an exciting proposition in an FPS.

Fans of Aliens will appreciate how well Colonial Marines captures the spirit of its source material, but it looks like the game will also appeal to anyone who just wants a good old fashioned bug hunt.

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Metro: Last Light

The sequel to well-received shooter Metro 2033, was confirmed in development last year and officially unveiled at this year’s E3. The first-person shooter continues the story of the original title, following Artyom in a post-apocalyptic world. Sarah LeBoeuf saw the demo on the E3 show floor and, while impressed with the game’s ability to establish a creepy atmosphere, was worried that the game’s color palette is too similar to other entries in the first-person shooter genre.

Read Sarah’s full preview of Metro: Last Light here. The game is due for release late 2012 on PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii U.

Sarah LeBoeuf:
During the demo, Metro: Last Light was promised to be immersive, intense, and sometimes terrifying, with elements of survival horror and exploration mixed in with the first-person shooting. With an environment as claustrophobic as a bunch of dark subway tunnels, I think developer 4A Games will be able to heighten the suspense beyond what you would expect in a typical FPS. In fact, the protagonist was shown shooting out the lights to use the cover of darkness, which kept soldiers in the metro from being able to see him, but made the area that much creepier. A few stealthy kills were pulled off by creeping around in the darkness before a firefight eventually ensued between Artyom and the enemy soldiers.

As the shootout continued back and forth on two moving trains, I was treated to just a glimpse at the variety of weapons Artyom has at his disposal in Last Light. Rifles, grenade launchers, and chain guns are just a few ways to take down enemies in the metro. After an explosive finish to the train shootout, the demo jumped ahead to give the audience a quick look at one of the new mutants that can be found underground. The horrifying creature was certainly not something I’d want to run into in a dark tunnel.

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Saints Row: The Third

The third title in a sandbox series known for its propensity to take things to extremes, Saints Row: The Third first debuted at the Spike Video Game Awards last year. Like previous entries in the series, Saints Row: The Third will focus on over-the-top action sequences, character customization, and player access to a wide range of vehicles. Sarah LeBoeuf viewed the live demo at this year’s E3 and found the tone of the game to be both hilarious and refreshing.

Read Sarah’s full preview of Saints Row: The Third here. The game is due for release November 15, 2011 on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.

Sarah LeBoeuf:
The first portion of the demo was a simple sandbox demonstration to show some of the additions and improvements the developers have made to the game. As always, there’s plenty of customization to be made, although I didn’t see the character creation screen. Instead, I got a look at one of the in-game shops at which new outfits can be purchased. Your character’s style is really up to you – dress like a pimp, or a spaceman, or even go naked, because really, why not?

After suiting up, the Saint started beating on random people on the street with a few melee weapons, like a giant purple dildo (yes, you read that right) and boxing gloves that made those on the receiving end of punches explode. Then the demonstrator hopped in a car to show off the tighter driving physics and vehicle variety; in just a few minutes, we saw a fancy car, a jet, and even a tank, which launched a mini-game with an objective of causing $150,000 worth of damage in about three minutes.

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Luigi’s Mansion 2

Almost ten years after the eclectic GameCube launch title Luigi’s Mansion hit store shelves, Nintendo announced the game’s first sequel. Luigi’s Mansion 2 once again stars the green Mario brother, who explores a haunted mansion and catches ghosts armed with nothing but a vacuum and a propensity for finding coins. Tom Goldman got a first look at the playable demo on the E3 show floor, where he enjoyed the detailed levels and hidden secrets.

Read Tom’s full preview of Luigi’s Mansion 2 here. The game is due for release 2012 on Nintendo 3DS.

Tom Goldman:
If you’ve played Luigi’s Mansion, you know what to expect here. Luigi walks around with a vacuum, sucking up ghosts and valuables. The initial level seemed more detailed than those in the GameCube version. I walked Luigi around an outdoor courtyard, using Luigi’s vacuum to pull a tarp off of a statue which had a propeller on the top. I put the vacuum in reverse mode to make the propeller spin, pulling the statue up and revealing a cache of treasure. All over the courtyard were secret little areas like this to either suck or blow on to collect dollar bills, coins, gold bars, and other forms of wealth. Luigi can aim the vacuum upward and downward to suck things up from all sorts of levels.

I popped a few ghosts into my vacuum bag and moved onto a long hallway with suits of armor that tried to drop swords down on my head, all the while trying to suck in everything and anything possible. So far, I’m liking Luigi in his new job as professional ghost hunter.

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Star Wars Kinect

Although Star Wars Kinect was formally announced at the E3 2011 Microsoft press conference, a Star Wars game on the Kinect was used to showcase Kinect at E3 2010. The new gameplay video shown at the conference featured full-body mimicking of Jedi moves, which failed to impress Susan Arendt, but she found that playing the hands-on demo was a much different experience.

Read Susan’s full preview of Star Wars Kinect here. The game is due for release Winter 2011 on Xbox 360.

Susan Arendt:
I got to try a co-op level that takes place on Bespin – the very same level featured in the press conference. My right hand controlled the light saber and my left handled the Force powers. The game is on rails, which is still a bit disappointing, but it does leave you free to concentrate on slicing droids to bits. Leaning forward lets you dash from point to point around the current area, which gets you within striking distance of your enemies. You can also combine the dash with a jump to get behind shielded droids. Using the light saber was as easy as flailing my arm around. I didn’t feel all that masterful, but it was fun to see on screen. Using the Force, on the other hand (literally), was a bit tougher to get a feel for. I tried to extend my hand and lift, which should’ve grabbed a droid, but it didn’t seem to work quite right. Similarly, when it came time for my partner and me to team up to Force lift a whopping great ship out of our way, we couldn’t quite coordinate our movements in a smooth way. We got the job done, but the other Jedis were laughing at how clunky we were.

The demo was only a few minutes long, but I enjoyed it while it lasted. Would the flailing and jumping stand up for an entire game? That I’m definitely not sure about. I was told that the finished game, which is due out this holiday season, will feature many different kinds of scenarios and that what you wield will depend on where you are in the game. Hopefully there will be enough variety to keep things interesting. The demo was also far easier than the real game will be, because we weren’t taking any damage.

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Twisted Metal

Twisted Metal, the latest game in the Twisted Metal franchise, was announced to a great deal of fanfare at Sony’s E3 2010 press conference and was available in two demos at this year’s E3. Like previous games in the series, Twisted Metal focuses on vehicle combat with both multiplayer and single player modes. Steve Butts played both a free-for-all deathmatch, similar to previous Twisted Metal games, and the new Nuke the Base mode.

Read Steve’s full preview of Twisted Metal here. The game is due for release October 4, 2011 on PlayStation 3.

Steve Butts:
The giant robot flies around the level, launching vicious attacks at the player. To beat her, you’ll need to track down the nearby faction leaders, who can be spotted driving around the level in red limousines. The leaders have their own guards, so you’ll have a hard time taking them out but, once you do, you can drag the leader behind your car to a nearby missile truck. An opening in the back of the truck reveals geared jaws and massive flames, and you’ve got to sacrifice the leader here in order to launch the missiles.

After the second hit, Iron Maiden goes crazy, vomiting out baby heads left and right as you pour fire into her. Your regular weapons are good enough now that your second missile has reduced her shields, but you’ve got a few more phases to go before she’s completely defeated and the clown-prostitute finally gets what’s coming to her.

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Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

So you liked Diablo, but you wished it had the freedom and interaction of The Elder Scrolls. Or you liked Oblivion, but you wished it had the random goodies of Diablo. Or perhaps you wanted skills trees, but you didn’t want to be locked into a specific class. Or perhaps you just always wanted to play a game where you wake up on top of a pile of bodies.

If any of the above is true, read what Tom has to say about Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning here. The game is due for release sometime in 2012 on the PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.

Tom Goldman:
In Reckoning, players awaken on the top of a pile of bodies. Everyone in Reckoning‘s world has a destiny, but because you were revived by a magical invention called the Well of Souls you forge your own. Players choose from four different races at the beginning of the game. You’ll be able to fully customize the look of your character with all of the expected alterations, such as piercings, tattoos, ears, hair, face, mouth, nose, and all other associated human body parts and decorations.

Reckoning also has no predefined character classes. Players put points into the skill trees of finesse, might, and sorcery, and unlock destiny cards as they do so. Destiny cards improve specific types of abilities using skills that players have put points into so that they’ll be stronger no matter what they choose. These destinies vary from avenger to shadowcaster to wayfarer. There are tons.

Loot is totally Diablo. Randomly generated items pop up, as do uniques and sets. The demo showed the player killing some mages, looting their bodies, and equipping items right from the loot dialog which makes things easier.

The action-based combat system looked even better at E3 than in past demos. The player was making his way through a cave of summoners that were bringing demons from whatever demon plane they normally exist on. Spells and weapons slashes are all mixed into combos in Reckoning, but players won’t have to memorize button taps or succeed through mashing 38 Studios assured us.

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Far Cry 3

The announcement and first trailer of Far Cry 3, which is still in the pre-alpha stages of development, was shown at E3 2011 along with a hands-off gameplay demonstration. Like its predecessors, Far Cry 3 is a first-person shooter focused on an open world and a single-player campaign with multiple choices affecting the story. Sarah LeBoeuf watched the demo on the show floor and came away with a positive initial impression of the game.

Read Sarah’s full preview of Far Cry 3 here. The game is due for release 2012 on PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3.

Sarah LeBoeuf:
First of all, Far Cry 3 looks fantastic. When the demo started, the protagonist was tied up and struggling to free himself from a desperate situation where a painful death seemed likely in the immediate future. All I could think about, though, was how good everything onscreen looked, from the jungle backdrop to the seemingly crazy man barking at the screen. After a bit of rambling, he pushed the concrete block over the edge of a precipice, taking the protagonist over the edge and into the water below.

I also like the idea of a living, changing environment that encourages the player to go off the beaten path instead of just from point A to point B. As we watched, a gunfight ensued, starting with sniping from afar and moving to up-close shooting. Bodies were looted, new guns were acquired, and the protagonist made his way to a helicopter, hijacking it. Soon after taking off, the helicopter crashed dramatically; the character was faced with the same crazy man from the beginning of the demo, who asked, “Did I ever tell you the definition of insanity?”

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Kid Icarus: Uprising

Kid Icarus is a classic: the original was released in 1986 and received a sequel, Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters, was released in 1991. The series hasn’t seen another game until now. 20 years is a long time, especially for games – does Pit still have it in him? The Escapist’s Tom Goldman isn’t sure he does.

Read Tom’s full preview of Kid Icarus: Uprising here. The game is due for release in 2011 on the 3DS.

Tom Goldman:
Uprising features two level styles: one with Pit flying through the air and another with Pit on foot. The air segments are something like Starfox, featuring Pit moving forward on a rail as enemies pop in from all directions. Players have to shoot the enemies with turbo shots or temper their trigger fingers to let Pit’s angelic bow charge up. The sky level I played was fairly straightforward and easy, though a cave level made me dodge lightning bolts and spiky projectiles.

The ground levels are where Uprising makes me think that it might have an identity crisis. The basic game still plays out like a rail shooter with a targeting reticule, but players move Pit himself and the reticule with the same stick. The camera wasn’t the easiest thing to manage, and the button layout itself felt uncomfortable. It doesn’t control like your typical third-person game, and might not be able to because of the targeting reticule mechanic, though if it did it might be a lot easier. At the end of the ground level I encountered a hellhound boss that darted all over the screen and rushed at me. Double tapping the analog stick to dodge his attacks was, once again, uncomfortable. It wasn’t terrible, but it was still somewhat of a struggle.

I left the 3DS honestly confused about what Nintendo was going for with the latest Kid Icarus adventure, but it could just be one of those titles you need to spend more time with to get the hang of things.

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Final Fantasy XIII-2

The Final Fantasy series has tended towards iteration, making small modifications to its gameplay with each new entry, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Final Fantasy XIII-2, the continuation of Final Fantasy XIII, plays similarly. However, there are still changes to the game that The Escapist’s Sara Brown was able to elaborate upon.

Read Sara’s full preview of Final Fantasy XIII-2 here. The game is due for release some time after October 2012 on the Xbox 360 and PS3.

Sara Brown:
Speaking of combat, it’s pretty similar to its predecessor. The Paradigm Shifts are back, as well as the star grading system and the general layout. New to the series, we have Cinematic Action. Think Summoning, but without the Summon. When you pull off a cinematic action you get to watch a cut scene of the attack. However, in an attempt to merge the cut-scenes Square is so famous for with interactive gameplay, they’ve added quick time events during the cut to make sure you don’t go cook dinner while they work on the pretty. If you successfully execute the QTE you get bonus stuff, like paradigms that you can switch up during battle on the fly. Your cutscenes outside of battle are interactive as well. This time, success or failure determines the end of the cinematic. The enemy wreaks havoc on the environment, or he leaves it alone.

I mentioned above that the moogle was helpful during exploration. That means there will actually be exploration. Color me happy. Wide open worlds with NPCs you can interact with. I like XIII just fine, but it was too claustrophobic. I’m excited to be walking around aimlessly through little towns again. You get a map, also, that starts dim and shades in with a brighter grey as you traverse through the different areas. Thank goodness for open space. Guess what else … you can jump! There’s an actual jump button. It blew my mind.

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Silent Hill: Downpour

The latest installment in the classic survival horror franchise, Silent Hill: Downpour was available to play on the E3 2011 show floor. It takes place in the southeastern region of the titular town, starring a new protagonist and new plot unrelated to previous titles. As with previous titles, gameplay will include a combination of puzzles and combat. Sarah LeBoeuf played the 3D version of the game, but was not impressed by the 3D visuals.

Read Sarah’s full preview of Silent Hill: Downpour here. The game is due for release late 2011 on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

Sarah LeBoeuf:
The demo began with the crashing of a prison transport bus, leaving prisoner Murphy Pendleton as the only survivor. He finds himself on a foggy stretch of abandoned highway, muttering about how something just doesn’t feel right. Of course, anyone who has played a game in the series before knows how this is going to turn out: he’ll eventually find his way into Silent Hill, and things will get seriously messed up.

Unfortunately, all I could think about was how terrible Silent Hill: Downpour looked in 3D. Not only did 3D do absolutely nothing to enhance the game, but the textures looked messy and ugly, which was really distracting. A quick glance at the non-3D demo next to me assured me that Downpour does actually look better in 2D, but I was really disappointed by the tacked-on 3D on the show floor.

The Silent Hill control scheme is really showing its age, and sadly, felt a little clunky and unintuitive. Melee weapons have always been a bit clumsy in the series, and it appears that Downpour won’t be an exception. Just like in previous games, it looks like a variety of weapons will become available throughout the course of the game, and eventually more accurate firearms will come into play.

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Starhawk

Starhawk was announced a little over a year ago as the spiritual successor to Warhawk. Set far in the future, Starhawk will feature a single-player campaign starring a miner, Emmett Graves, who has been partially mutated by a powerful, lucrative energy source called Rift. Gameplay will be much like Warhawk, with the addition of a “Build & Battle” system that adds strategy to the battles. Tom Goldman played the multiplayer and single-player demos at E3 2011 and was impressed by the versatility of the Build & Battle system.

Read Tom’s full preview of Starhawk here. The game is due for release 2012 on PlayStation 3.

Tom Goldman:
Multiplayer:
Build & Battle allows players to bring up a build menu that is sparse at first, but expands as you collect enough materials from downing enemies. When you first spawn, you might be able to create a building that houses an ATV, a sniper tower, or a simple wall. When you have enough material, you can build an auto turret, a giant laser for taking down flying foes, and more.

Building adds an entire new element and a variation to battle that hasn’t been seen in many other titles. One player might just want to sit back and build walls. Another might build a sniper tower and hang out there all day. It’s a fun addition that will keep multiplayer fresh and have you guessing what kind of base the other team is assembling.

Single-player:
Red overlays appeared on the ground, meaning that Outcast were about to drop down from the sky just like my buildings to take back the Rift. Cutter taught me how to build walls, a supply bunker, and auto-turrets. Because I could see where enemies were landing, I could strategize about what to build. I put a wall blocking the extractor and auto-turrets around the sides. Another building spawns friendly squad mates that help kill Outcast and climb up on walls to fire down from above. After you create vehicles, like the flying mech, these squadmates can even jump into those.

Enemy mechs and jets were flying about, but from the supply bunker I built I acquired a rocket launcher. After a few shots at each, the jets were down. This was only the first level, but I had learned how to play while also having a ton of hectic fun, unlike most tutorial levels that can be a drag. Starhawk is one to keep an eye out for if you own a PS3 and enjoy single-player and multiplayer shooters.

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Prototype 2

As the sequel to Prototype, Prototype 2 stars the original’s protagonist as an antagonist when Sergeant James Hellar goes on a revenge quest against Mercer. It was first shown at the Spike 2010 VGA Awards and is currently in the pre-alpha stage of development. Tom Goldman watched the hands-off gameplay demonstration at E3 2011 and, based even on this early preview, expects the game to be a fun addition to the franchise.

Read Tom’s full preview of Prototype 2 here. The game is due for release 2012 on PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3.

Tom Goldman:
The demo opened in the green zone with Blackwatch forces brutally murdering a group of innocent civilians that wouldn’t evacuate a cordoned-off area where a strange creature was found. Heller takes the appearance of a Blackwatch soldier so he can question the scientists investigating the creature. There are multiple ways to solve this situation, but our demoer did it by creating a distraction with a tendril bomb, and then moving on to the scientist and bashing his brains out to absorb his memories. A second mission featured the Hunter mechanic, which allows Mercer to ping the environment (like radar) to locate a specific person.

Moving around the city is easier than ever, with Activision showing a system that looked like super-parkour. Heller soars up the sides of buildings and flips across rooftops with ease. It looked like a lot of fun just to make your way through the city. As Heller grows, players will earn mutations that might make his air dash or other customizable abilities more powerful.

There are also lots of other fun things for players to do. For example, when attacking a tank you can weaponize its attached rocket launcher, rip it off, and fly up into the air in slow motion as you blow the tank up with its own weapon. Lairs are a new mechanic that are basically like “underground treasure chests.” The one we were shown was filled with a bunch of wild infected human-type enemies, but they were just scenery compared to the real lair threats. A few spiky dog-types came out to team-up on Heller, who slashed them to pieces with his close-range tendril blade. Once they were all sliced in half, a pair of huge Juggernauts emerged as the bosses of the lair. Activision said it’s attempting to improve enemy tells in important fights like these so players can use skill in battle rather than relying on luck or a bumrush.

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The Sims 3: Pets

The latest expansion pack to The Sims 3, The Sims 3: Pets was announced just before E3 2011 began. Much like The Sims 2 Pets, the expansion pack adds furry (and scaley) companions for the sims in the game. Sara Brown saw the preview and demonstration of the pack at E3 and came away excited for the upcoming add-on.

Read Sara’s full preview of The Sims 3: Pets here. The game is due for release October 25, 2011 on PC, Mac OS X, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo 3DS.

Sara Brown:
In The Sims 3: Pets, there are over 100 breeds of cats and dogs to choose from. Out of the box there’s a pit bull that looks eerily like my own. Once you select a breed the aesthetic customization options are nearly endless. Bigger nose, easy. Tiny tail, short legs, Dumbo ears? Yes. Two pink spots behind Tabby’s right ear? Absolutely. On top of the ridiculously expanded visual options, you assign traits to your furry creatures. Fido can be smart, or dim. He can dig through your trash or bring your mail. Clueless, Feral, Genius, Friendly, Hunter, Digger…fantastic.

I think what I’m most excited about, the thing that makes all the difference for me, is the introduction of your pets as controllable sims. You can guide them to perform their necessary bodily functions (Yay?) and interact with other animals or people, they can even get jobs and make you some extra money. If you’re lonely you can take ’em out on the town, to a park or a bar, and have them “Fetch a Date”. I know actual people that do this. Is your sim president of the Lonely Hearts Club? Take Lassie to the bar and have her be cute as a button for every potential date in the place, ’til you casually stroll over and strike up a conversation. See, you can be that guy! Lifetime Achievements are exchanged for a mystery journal that offers rewards for completing specific tasks. Your pet is finally an active member of the household.

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Uncharted: Golden Abyss

Although starring Nathan Drake of the Uncharted series, Uncharted: Golden Abyss features a standalone story prior to the events of the series. It was announced alongside the PlayStation Vita and features an optional control scheme based on the Vita’s unique features. Like previous games in the series, Uncharted: Golden Abyss will focus on exploration, combat, and story. Tom Goldman played a hands-on demo featuring non-combat gameplay at E3 2011 and found that while some of the optional controls worked well, others did not.

Read Tom’s full preview of Uncharted: Golden Abyss here. The game is due for release on PlayStation Vita, but does not yet have a release date.

Tom Goldman:
The Uncharted style is also wholly present in Golden Abyss‘ gameplay, but it takes advantage of being on a handheld that features a multi-touch OLED touchscreen, gyroscope, and rear touchscreen. As an Uncharted fan, the Vita’s button and dual-analog stick layout allowed me to jump right into the game without re-learning any controls, hopping up ledges, rolling, and jumping across chasms. All of this is the same. However, Golden Abyss also provides a full range of optional (notice I said optional) controls using the Vita’s features.

During my demo, the touchscreen was also used to create rubbings of the ruins and to then assemble them like a puzzle, something new for the series. Another new addition that takes advantage of the Vita’s gyroscope is a camera mini-game where players have to snap a photo of a location that is as similar as possible to one shown in black-and-white, with the game giving a percentage ranking. You literally move the Vita around the real world like it’s a camera to align your shot.

These aspects all use the Vita’s features extremely well, but others are a bit more uncomfortable. I didn’t really get the hang of using the gyroscope to swing as I hung onto a rope. Climbing up a vine by rubbing on the rear touchscreen didn’t work perfectly for me either. Chalk it up to human error if you will. Thankfully, if you have the same trouble, I’ll reiterate that Golden Abyss‘ Vita-exclusive control methods are totally optional.

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Mario Kart

Announced and previewed at last year’s E3, the latest entry in the popular Mario Kart series is making full use of the 3DS’ features to add a new sense of depth to the tried-and-true formula of racing with random power-ups. Tom Goldman got a chance to play Mario Kart at this year’s E3 and enjoyed the 3D and the new customization options for players’ karts.

Read Tom’s full preview of Mario Kart here. The game is due for release by the end of the year on Nintendo 3DS.

Tom Goldman:
Before a race, players can customize their karts instead of choosing different ones as in past titles. You’ll choose the kart body, the kart wheels, and the type of hang-glider to add to the kart. The bodies are basically like the kart choices we’ve seen before, but wheels can make your kart into anything from a lowrider to monster truck.

Wait, did I say hang-glider? Yes, yes I did. You’ll be hang-gliding in Mario Kart 3DS whenever you launch into the air. Popping off of a jump in previous games sort of just made your kart fall to the ground. That descent is halted with the use of the new hang-glider.

During races, players now collect coins again too. Surprisingly, in the middle of one level I drove into a lake and wasn’t immediately fished out by Lakitu. Players will actually race underwater this time as if they were above water. It’s mostly a visual effect for now.

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Rayman Origins

Announced at last year’s Ubisoft E3 press conference, Rayman Origins was originally a download-only title that expanded into a full-retail release title during development. Like the original Rayman games, Rayman Origins focuses on platforming, and now players can play together to co-operatively complete challenges and access new areas. Sarah LeBoeuf played a demo on the E3 2011 show floor and found the game to be refreshingly challenging with excellent co-op mechanics.

Read Sarah’s full preview of Rayman Origins here. The game is due for release autumn 2011 on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii.

Sarah LeBoeuf:
There are other benefits to playing cooperatively as well, like being able to hoist your teammate and give him a boost to reach higher platforms. Of course, you can also get in each other’s way, whether on purpose or accidentally; without meaning to, I slapped Rayman right off a cliff on one occasion. Despite moments like these, the jump-in/jump-out co-op seems to work seamlessly, and I think it’s a great addition to the series.

Adding to the great gameplay is the fact that the game looks fantastic. The art style gives the game a goofy, cartoony look that suits it well, but still manages to be beautiful. It doesn’t look like an enhanced version of an earlier Rayman game; it looks brand new and original, like a breath of fresh air for the series.

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Zombie Apocalypse 2

The sequel to Zombie Apocalypse, a downloadable zombie-themed shooter released in 2009, was announced at this year’s E3 with a playable demo on the show floor. Like its prequel, Zombie Apocalypse 2 is a top-down twin-stick shooter featuring zombies as the main target. Sarah LeBoeuf got a look at the demo and noticed several improvements over the original title, including unique character classes and a bigger emphasis on story.

Read Sarah’s full preview of Zombie Apocalypse 2 here. The game is due for release October 2011 on XBLA and PSN.

Sarah LeBoeuf:
When I saw the first Zombie Apocalypse at E3 2009, I referred to it as “Left 4 Dead as a top-down, two-stick shooter.” With four player co-op and hordes of the undead onscreen, it wasn’t a very hard comparison to make. Zombie Apocalypse 2 still has cooperative play for up to four friends, but Backbone has made a few changes to distinguish the characters. Instead of being only different cosmetically with the exact same abilities and weapons, each character now has a different class: there’s a brawler, an engineer, a healer, and an “assault gamer,” each with unique weapons and abilities. There’s also a progression system within each class, so characters can upgrade their speed, firearms, and special skills. This adds a little more strategy than just non-stop shooting from all directions, and actually makes the decision of which character to choose somewhat important.

Zombie Apocalypse 2 also has more of a story than the first one, the basic plot of which was essentially “There’s a zombie apocalypse, go!” This time around, motion comics between levels shed some light on the situation, and use of voice-over in the game adds personality to each character while revealing more about the apocalypse. There’s definitely some humor to the dialogue, and thankfully, Zombie Apocalypse 2 doesn’t take itself too seriously; it’s a dark situation, but the game is just about having fun.

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The Darkness II

The sequel to the unique game The Darkness, The Darkness II returns to the anti-hero Jackie Estacado as he attempts to discover the mystery behind an attempt on his life and the origin of the Darkness. Like the first game, The Darkness II focuses on combat and managing the Darkness to defeat enemies. Sarah LeBoeuf saw the hands-off demonstration on the E3 2011 show floor and was impressed by its faithfulness to its source material and its unique addition to standard first-person shooter gameplay.

Read Sarah’s full preview of The Darkness II here. The game is due for release October 4, 2011 on PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.

Sarah LeBoeuf:
We got a quick look at The Darkness II‘s progression system, which has four branches; today we saw the Gun Channeling section, which, as you may have assumed, allows Jackie to channel the power of the Darkness through his weapons for even greater power. The upgrades are definitely incentive to get creative with executions; why just shoot someone when you can have one of your Darkness arms rip out his heart?

While quad-wielding and demon arms are certainly a unique approach to first-person shooters, what interested me is that like the first game, The Darkness II seems to be able to maintain the tone of the comic book. Jackie’s not a nice guy; he’s a killer. A killer with a mission, sure, but a vicious guy nonetheless. His Darklings, though, offer some dark humor, and often converse with Jackie, sometimes arguing, sometimes mocking him. That light-hearted banter lets us see just a little bit of humanity in Jackie Estacado, as well as showing us that the game doesn’t take itself too seriously.

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Neverwinter

The latest entry in the Neverwinter Nights series, Neverwinter got its first public appearance at this year’s E3. It is once again set in the titular Dungeons & Dragons city, but its plot is unrelated to previous games in the series. Steve Butts learned about Neverwinter‘s player-generated content system, an online evolution of the original modding tools for Neverwinter Nights, and was impressed by its versatility and potential.

Read Steve’s full preview of Neverwinter here. The game is due for release later this year on PC.

Steve Butts:
On the story tab, you can set missions and associate them with particular NPCs you’ve placed on the map. Our demo had a guard at the start of the level who asked the players to kill some undead deeper in the crypt. You add dialogue with a simple text editor and can give the player multiple responses that branch off into new conversations. There are also options to limit a player’s choices based on different criteria. You might have a particular conversation option that’s only available to certain classes, or certain Charisma levels. Through the creation process, a handy wizard will tell you if you have any loose ends or uncompleted elements in your story. Once the conversation is in place, you can assign a task outside of it for the player to accomplish. In this case, it’s killing the undead in the rest of the crypt. The mobs of enemies are placed with their own unique states and aggro ranges. What’s more interesting is that, like with the Aurora engine, you can simply label a monster spawn along a scale of “easy” to “hard” and the game will automatically scale the encounter to the ability and size of the player’s party.

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LittleBigPlanet

Since it was announced along with the PlayStation Vita, it’s only fitting that LittleBigPlanet was paired with the first hands-on demonstration of the new handheld. Building on previous titles’ success and features, LittleBigPlanet also integrates the PlayStation Vita’s unique capabilities in gameplay and level creation. Allistair Pinsof played the early demo on the E3 show floor and, found that while the touch controls to work fairly well, there are some kinks that need to be worked out before the game’s release.

Read Allistair’s full preview of LittleBigPlanet here. The game is due for release 2012 on PlayStation Vita.

Allistair Pinsof:
One section of the level presented a Tetris-like series of blocks stacked one upon another. In order to progress, I had to pop each block out without pushing myself off the platform where I currently stood. If a mistake was made, I would push blocks back in and start over. It was a neat puzzle, but all other examples seemed like busy work: here’s this platform that you have to push out. Where is the fun in that?

Along with 4-player online and offline co-op, the game features 2-player games that can be played on one system. By flipping the Vita vertically, I was able to play a Sackboy-infused game of Air Hockey against an opponent. It wasn’t particularly fun or deep, but it presented promise of the games that can be made with kids in mind.

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The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

Shortly before E3, CD Projekt announced that the the expansive, rich, and notoriously difficult RPG, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, was coming to the Xbox 360 for the first time in the series’ history after the suspension of the first game’s console debut. Tom Goldman saw the hands-off demonstration of the Xbox 360 version of the game and found it to be a faithful adaptation of the critically acclaimed PC game.

Read Tom’s full preview of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings here. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is due for release by the end of the year on Xbox 360, and is currently available on PC.

Tom Goldman:
The PC game looked like it translated nicely to console. Button prompts appeared onscreen when Geralt needed to perform a stealth attack or another context-sensitive action. Combat is still robust, with strong and weak attacks, ripostes, blocks, magic, and other timing-based abilities.

In what seems like quite a feat, the Xbox 360 version of Witcher 2 will have no loading screens. All of the game’s DLC will be as free on console as it is on PC. Even further, the game’s boobage will still be intact (believe me, I saw it), as CD Projekt is aiming for the most mature and complex game in the 360’s history.

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Gotham City: Impostors

Nobody really knew that a new Batman-themed game was in the works, nor that it was going to have some madcap FPS gameplay in the vein of TF2. But that’s exactly Monolith and Warner Bros. have in mind for this downloadable game. The easy controls and fast-faced action seem to blend well with the DC license.

Read Alistair’s full preview of Gotham City: Impostors here. No word on release date or pricing but it will be out on the PSN, XBLA and the PC

Allistair Pinsof:
In nearly every facet, Imposters recalls CoD. From shooting to capturing a node on the map, the game feels like a carbon-copy. The only substantial addition to the formula are the gadgets and support items each player can use. I used the grappling hook in the demo, which drastically changed the flow of the game. It gives the player the ability to latch onto any surface and quickly move toward it.

Tonally, Imposters has more in common with the Batman animated series than Arkham Asylum. Everything from the run down amusement park map featured in the multiplayer demo to the character design has a colorful, light-hearted feel to it. Well, as light-hearted as criminal gangs donning clown masks can be.

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Dark Souls

Demon’s Souls was known primarily for its brutal (unforgiving, unrelenting) difficulty and grim world, and any successor will need to maintain a similar level of intense cruelty if it’s to be respected as worthwhile. Thankfully, Dark Souls appears to do just that, giving tighter control to the player in order to make the combat even more challenging this time around.

Read Allistair’s full preview of Dark Souls here. The game is due for release October 4, 2011 on the Xbox 360 and PS3.

Allistair Pinsof:
The first thing you’ll notice about Dark Souls are the controls that have been slightly tweaked. The original had sluggish controls that could be mastered once the timing is memorized, but combat feels much more intuitive in Dark Souls. Movement, strong attacks, rolls and parrying all feel more responsive. Good thing too, because this sequel’s combat encounters are harder than anything in the previous game.

Graphically, the game looks identical to Demon’s Souls but the scale of the world is much larger. Everything in the player’s sight can now be explored, from distant towers to caverns. There is no confirmation whether the hub world of the original will return, but the new addition of bonfires will help players survive a long journey. Bonfires are essentially check points that heal you and replenish your potions. However, you are limited in the number of bonfires you can ignite unless you sacrifice souls (xp) you’ve collected. You’ll find these checkpoints throughout areas, but the game still retains its challenge. Replenishing at a bonfire not only requires extensive backtracking, but it also respawns all of the enemies you just defeated.

In the E3 demo, Namco – the series’ new publisher – showed off the new Pyromancer class. With a focus on fire-based magic, the Pyromancer is skilled at taking down larger enemies from a distance. The Pyromancer also has the ability to summon more enemies into other players’ games, showing up as red versions of demons in their games. This makes the Pyromancer griefers’ class of choice. From Software are still balancing the game, figuring out ways to inconvenience the caster as well.

Need for Speed: The Run

The Need for Speed series has long resisted the allure of on-foot gameplay but, just like the titular intestinal condition, sooner or later it’s going to happen. This time around, the game features segments of perambulation to tie together the heavier narrative of the latest entry. If you’re not a fan of pedestrian meandering, don’t worry – that 10% of the game serves to string together a track three times the size of any previous Need for Speed title.

Read Tom’s full preview of Need for Speed: The Run here. The game is due for release November 15, 2011 on the PC, Xbox 360, PS3, 3DS, and Wii.

Tom Goldman:
At a behind-closed-doors session, EA noted that Need for Speed: The Run‘s on-foot segments are only about 10% of the game. The Run actually has a linear storyline this time, so it created the on-foot Heavy Rain-like segments to flesh it out. However, the goal of these segments is for the main character to be moving from car to car, not so he can go grab a handgun or pump some iron.

The hands-on E3 demo of The Run drops you into a police car on your way out of Chicago. The goal of the game is to make your way from San Francisco to New York as quickly as possible, so hanging around the windy city just isn’t in the cards. A helicopter rains down bullets as you swerve around corners, smashing into pedestrian cars and various types of scenery. The Run puts arrow overlays on the streets showing you which way to go, but they’re not walls so you can drive right through if you miss a turn.

This area took place in a city, but EA says that the 300km of track (3 times the size of any previous title) will feature varied types of environments. Need for Speed: The Run actually uses DICE’s Frostbite 2 engine used for Battlefield 3, which enabled the on-foot segments to come together more easily. EA wasn’t showing too much of The Run, but don’t be too frightened that Need for Speed is turning into a different game quite yet.

Star Fox 64 3D

If you had a Nintendo 64, you almost certainly recall doing numerous barrel rolls by Peppy Hare. Even if you didn’t have a Nintendo 64, you almost certainly recall being told to do numerous barrel rolls by idiots on the internet. Either way, you can now do barrel rolls on the go in the 3DS remake of the classic Star Fox 64.
Read Tom’s full preview of Star Fox 64 3D here. The game is due for release September 11, 2011 on the Nintendo 3DS.

Tom Goldman:
Star Fox 64 3D features upgraded visuals that look redone instead of just smoothed out with anti-aliasing. Your team’s Arwings, the scenery, and enemies have all be given a brand new look. This alone is nice, but going by the game’s menu screen it also adds new modes to the N64 original.

The mode I took on was Score Attack, which challenges players to get as many hits as possible by destroying every enemy and object in a level, and doing it with style. Charging up a shot and releasing it into a group of enemies will blast them all at once, increasing your combo score. Star Fox 64 3D gives players three medal rankings to shoot for with your total score in each individual level.

I was able to check out Corneria, Star Fox 64‘s first level, which is exactly as you remember it. Players guide their Arwing under rock arches and between buildings to collect rings while blasting enemies, saving the incompetent Slippy the Frog, and eventually go up against the monkey-in-a-mech end boss. Thankfully, funny voice acting is still intact after you blast the monkey mech to bits.

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Prey 2

If you were a huge fan of the first Prey and can’t wait to get more of that action… too bad, because this game is the same in name only. If you’re looking for an open-world sci-fi noir alien bounty-hunting game, though, then you have extremely specific tastes. Thankfully, your search has finally ended, because that’s what Prey 2 is!

Read Susan’s full preview of Prey 2 here. The game is due for release in 2012 for PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.

Susan Arendt:
Prey was an extremely linear game, but Prey 2 takes place in an open world, which allows Killian to explore as he likes and take on missions in whatever order he chooses. He’s quite athletic, which allows him to take advantage of the game’s use of vertical space. The Bowery was full of tall buildings and high walkways, but with a bit of jumping and climbing, Killian could skip the elevator and go right to the top. His hover boots let him descend quickly, too.

We got to see one of the major missions, which was a bounty on someone with an unknown location. Killian first had to intimidate an informant by shooting his bodyguard – well, he could’ve just paid for the mark’s location, why be such a spendthrift when a gun in the face will achieve the same thing? The bounty took off through the streets of the city, forcing Killian to throw some traps to try and slow him down, which didn’t work because this particular kind of alien can teleport. Once the bounty was in hand, Killian then had the choice of interrogating him or immediately turning him over to the client. Interrogating him might result in information about the game’s story, the world, or even some loot, but it also might kill him. Turning him over to the client, on the other hand, is a guaranteed pay day.

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Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine

You can’t say much about Warhammer 40k that doesn’t involve orks, guns, space marines and more guns. The visceral gameplay of being in the center of a kinetic battle was apparently the mission statement for this melee-heavy FPS.

Read Alistair Pinsof’s full preview of Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine here. The game is due for release September 6th on PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.

Alistair Pinsof:
Space Marine encourages players to charge into hordes of orks, to the extent that the game doesn’t include a cover system. “Hordes” isn’t an exaggeration. In order to accompany this play style, developer Relic focused on building encounters with large groups of enemies. Enemies charge right at you and your teammates, so crowd management and evasion are necessary skills to survive on higher difficulties.

With a focus on melee combat, Space Marine has as much in common with Dynasty Warriors as it does with Gears. You slice through hordes of enemies, perform critical blows when prompted and knock down enemies surrounding you once your Rage meter fills up. Your marine moves quickly without sacrificing any of the long-range combat you expect. Grenades, weapon selection and zooming respond well and are mapped to the familiar places. Sniping is particularly fun, especially when combined with the Rage ability which triggers slow-mo with weapons.

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Star Trek

Say what you want about J.J. Abrams’ 1999 reboot of the Star Trek franchise, it has certainly lit a fire under an aging cash cow. Gone are Shatner and Nimoy, replaced by the younger and hotter Chris Pine & Zach Quinto. In order to complete the young-ification of the franchise, Abrams’ Bad Robot production company is helping out making a new action videogame that just might reverse the curse of all Star Trek games that have come before.

Read Alistair Pinsof’s full preview of Star Trek here. The game is coming out sometime in 2012.

Alistair Pinsof:
Digital Extremes, the developer behind BioShock 2 (one of them) and the upcoming Darkness sequel, have designed Star Trek to be a co-op experience from the start. In the game, one player takes on the role of Kirk and the other plays as Spock. Each character has his own personality, animations, gadgets, abilities and role to fill. Fans of Abrams’s film will be happy to hear the game retains the film’s playful dialog and comedic moments. After a jetpack-propelled trip through space, Kirk botches the landing and crashes into a pile of crates. Spock, on the other hand, lands on his feet with style.

The dueling personalities of the two come to life in the game’s setpieces, as well as cutscenes and dialog. One scene in the demo found Spock carrying a poisoned Kirk to a medical bay. Once positioned, Spock performs a Trauma Center-esque mini-game, while Kirk guns down incoming enemies through a drugged, hazy filter. The demo was filled with moments like this, where the lines between cutscene and gameplay were seamlessly blended in a way that recalled Dead Space 2 and Uncharted‘s most memorable scenes.

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Serious Sam: Double D

Serious Sam is one of gaming’s most hallowed institutions, filled with literary allusions to some of the world’s most celebrated works … ah, who’m I kidding? This game’s got a stack of murderous pancakes for an enemy. That’s all you need to know – and that it might just revitalize the 2D platforming genre.

Read Tom Goldman’s full preview of Serious Sam: Double D here. There’s no release date yet announced, but Double D will be a PC downloadable from Steam with console release possible.

Tom Goldman:
Serious Sam: Double D is a 2D platformer/shooter set in the Serious Sam universe. It might seem like it was set up as a promotional game for the impending release of Serious Sam 3: BFE, but Double D should definitely not be underestimated. After seeing it at E3, it’s shaping up to take the 2D shooter to the next level with the help of Serious Sam‘s essence.

Gameplay has been evolved in surprisingly logical and innovative ways. The gun stacker previously shown off is now completely configurable, with players able to make various pre-sets of different gun stacks that can be switched between on the fly for different combat situations. Gun stacks can be put together after players pick up connector pieces in certain areas. Even more cool is the fact that players can now collect 4 of each different weapon and stack them on top of each other, which will make finding a secret rocket launcher worth more than being able to use a weapon early.

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Serious Sam 3: BFE

One could say that Serious Sam is a poor man’s Duke Nukem, but those people should be punched in the mouth. Croteam has been diligently keeping up with the crass shooter-on-a-budget franchise for as long as Duke Nukem Forever has been in development, making three games in as much time. Who’s the king now?

Read Tom Goldman’s full preview of Serious Sam 3: BFE here. There’s no release date yet announced, but SS3 will be a PC downloadable from Steam (most likely) with console release possible.

Tom Goldman:
Serious Sam 3: BFE is still in alpha, but publisher Devolver brought a sweet demo of the game to E3 anyway. Basically, Serious Sam 3 is an incredibly gorgeous version of the previous Serious Sam titles with new enemies, new attacks, tweaked/new weapons, and destructible environments. Story-wise, it’s a prequel to the entire franchise.

Calling Serious Sam 3 hectic is like calling a time machine neat. Enemies begin to pop up before you know it, and if you move on before killing all of them you only have more on your plate. This is what Serious Sam has always been, and it’s what it still is with Serious Sam 3. The big difference is that even while behind four walls in Serious Sam 3, you’re not safe. Werebulls will smash right through the bricks this time if you’re in a destructible building. There won’t be many places to hide from the enemy hordes. You can also smash through destructible objects with the sledge hammer, or cause the environment to crumble in the process of blowing up kamikaze soldiers.

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Bastion

The light-hearted RPG from Independent studio Supergiant Games is all about telling a story, literally, to the audience. The narrator gimmick might seem out of place, but I look forward to someone telling me everything I do with a dramatic “movie trailer” voice in this innovative XBLA game.

Read Tom Goldman’s full preview of Bastion here. The game is part of Microsoft’s Summer of Arcade which kicks off June 20th.

Alistair Pinsof:
Whenever you do something in the game, the narrator will explain what just happened. It’s not as annoying as it may sound, because the narrator doesn’t do play-by-play. Rather, he explains the actions of the character in terms of the game’s storyline, which in other games may be explained through NPC dialogue, quest text, etc.

The E3 Bastion demo took place in something of a semiarid desert, with sandy portions but also strange plants all about. I started with a gun that fired a wide blast as one primary weapon and a spear as the other. Plants began to fire spikes at me from afar, so I had to dodge and fire my gun with proper timing. Another even more vicious plant peppered me with a steady stream that I had to wait and block before getting a shot in. Other enemies in this environment included some nasty birds, and all the while I was stalking a big bad (and it was stalking me) that was something like a landshark. The landshark moved through the level as a horn exposed through the sand, only emerging when it had something to bite (like me).

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Rocksmith

The whole music game genre may have imploded for Activision and EA, but Ubisoft is still plugging along making money with its dance games. The French publisher is now trying it’s hand at real guitar playing with Rocksmith and according to The Escapist’s in-house rock star, Steve Butts, the accuracy is great but the barrier of entry might be too high.

Read Steve Butts’ full preview of Rocksmith here. The game is due out on October 11th, 2011 on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.

Steve Butts:
The game works by letting you play through a few dozen songs from popular acts. The music selection in the build I played wasn’t exactly breathtaking, at least not compared to the other guitar games, but the presence of favorites like Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots and The Animals mean there’s at least a couple of songs you’ll know here.

The tracking is fantastic. I played through The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun,” and the game kept track of every arpeggio and was even slick enough to give me credit for playing the same chords in different positions up and down the neck. It’s not uncommon for guitarists to switch things up when playing the same progression over and over again, so having Rocksmith recognize that and still give you high marks for playing different ways is fantastic.

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Arma III

The realistic shooter experience the series used to be known for is back with the latest from Bohemia Interactive. Get ready to kill the bad guys like the good guys really do in combat.

Read Sarah LeBoeuf’s full preview of Arma III here. The game is slated for a summer 2012 release on all major platforms.

Sarah LeBoeuf:
When I was shown an early build of Arma III yesterday, I was told that the realism had returned, but the developers were improving the technology behind the gameplay. Some of the additions are simple, like customizable weapons and equipment, but others were more complex. For starters, they focused on realistic vehicle physics, which they showed off by driving around the screen in a tank. You’ll also be able to pilot helicopters and boats, as well as other land vehicles, and from what I could tell the physics do look solid; inanimate objects moved appropriately when being bumped by a vehicle, rather than flying into the distance, exploding, or any number of other ridiculous scenarios some war games try to present as normal.

Arma III takes place on a Mediterranean island, and I was told it was the largest area of any game in the series. The island offers many different objectives, so it’s not just about moving from point A to point B. I even got a look at some underwater diving, which can be done by equipping scuba gear to your soldier. There seems to be a lot of variety in the gameplay, but it’s clear that Bohemia is striving for that same realism their games are known for.

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Journey

From the makers of Flow and Flower comes Journey, an atmospheric platformer. It casts the player as a red-robed figure in a vast desert moving towards a large mountain in the distance. Tom Goldman played the demo at this year’s E3 and found the game to be a powerful emotional experience.

Read Tom’s full preview of Journey here. The game is due for release fall 2011 on PlayStation Network.

Tom Goldman:
Journey is being designed as a somewhat intuitive and instinctive title to play. There’s won’t necessarily be a heavy amount of instruction guiding you through, and you hopefully won’t need it. I was dropped into a massive desert, climbing up hills of sand and gracefully gliding downward. I wasn’t sure exactly what to do at first, but when I saw a giant, flapping piece of cloth I knew I was supposed to go check it out.

Meanwhile, thatgamecompany showed me Journey‘s multiplayer, which is more of an emotional experience than what you’d traditionally think of as multiplayer. Another red cloak-wearing hero entered the world, emitting a strange sound with a glyph above his/her head. The hero flitted about the world just like me, neither of us really guiding the other, but I felt the desire to stay near so we could take on the world’s challenges together. You have no way to communicate with this person, or even know whether they’re a man, woman, or child. Your powers can be somewhat improved by having another player around, but mostly they’re just there for emotional support. Players will randomly appear, and if you get too far away they’ll disappear.

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From Dust

Announced at last year’s E3, From Dust has been described as the “spiritual heir” to Molyneux’s Populous. Players take the role of a god-like being called “The Breath” with the power to manipulate the environment, and are tasked with helping their tribe flourish. Susan Arendt got to play the demo at E3 and found it to be uniquely challenging and intriguing.

Read Susan’s full preview of From Dust here. The game is due for release July 20, 2011 on Xbox 360 and mid-2011 on PlayStation 3 and PC.

Susan Arendt:
A second attempt, but the same results. I finally realized that I was attacking the river in the wrong spot; I needed to redirect its flow by adding land much further up its course. Once the water was diverted, the villager reached the stone, learned Repel Water, then ran back to his home to share his knowledge. The tsunami arrived, but washed around the island, sparing the residents, who celebrated.

From Dust is an odd game, quietly sucking you into its primitive world. It doles out goals that are simple enough on the surface, but once you begin trying to accomplish them, you realize how complex they really are. That river I redirected, for example, is now in between my village and the next totem they must reach, so I’ll have to figure out how to undo what I did without killing them all. Then again, according to the developers, sometimes you’ll have to decide which villagers to spare, and which to sacrifice as you make your way through the game’s 13 levels.

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FIFA Soccer 12

The latest installment in the FIFA series, FIFA Soccer 12 aims to iterate on previous games in the series to create the most realistic soccer game yet. New features include tighter dribbling, a new collision engine, and improved tactical play. Steve Butts tried the demo at E3 this year and came away with his love for soccer videogames potentially rekindled.

Read Steve’s full preview of FIFA Soccer 12 here. The game is due for release fall 2011 on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Vita, PS Xperia Play, PSP, and 3DS.

Steve Butts:
In previous versions of FIFA, your player’s turning radius was far too wide, leading to dribbling situations that took you well out of the range of safety. It’s like trying to steer a semi around a mini-kart track. Players can now turn the ball on a dime, stopping it right in the face of a defender and repositioning to take off in an entirely new direction. You don’t have to be moving to make the system work, but the fluidity makes controlling the ball on offense much more satisfying.

On defense, players will also have more dynamic and realistic options. You can read the play and react to it now, rather than just mashing away for steals and tackles. Tackles are now launched with a greater regard for time and position. Even the computer controlled players will do a better job of finding positions and intercepting passes. In the match we played, you could really play a position and rely on the other players to make smart decisions when the ball came near them.

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Dance Central 2

The sequel to the hit dancing game on Kinect, Dance Central 2 was announced at Microsoft’s press conference this year. It will build on its predecessor to include simultaneous two-player dancing, both co-operatively and competitively, as well as a campaign mode. Sarah LeBoeuf tried out the two-player play and found it worked well even without being a professional dancer.

Read Sarah’s full preview of Dance Central 2 here. The game is due for release October 25, 2011 on Xbox 360.

Sarah LeBoeuf:
The game breaks down the dance moves individually, showing you how to move your arms and legs to get into the groove, which is pretty much the same core concept as the first game. While I didn’t feel like I was ready to go on tour as a back-up dancer after one song, I must admit that I enjoyed myself even when my dance moves felt a little awkward.

In the middle of the song, the instructed moves went away and Freestyle mode was triggered, which let us do whatever we wanted and then played back a video of our freestyle jam. I was told that this mode could be turned on and off, and I think it goes hand-and-hand with two-player dancing – great for a party, not necessarily something you need when you’re just playing solo. The game will also have a new campaign mode and voice commands, but I didn’t get to try out either of those features on the show floor.

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Once Upon a Monster

One of the four games created by Double Fine Production’s “Amnesia Fortnight,” Once Upon a Monster was announced earlier this year as the studio’s first licensed game. Tim Schafer worked with Sesame Workshop to create a Kinect-based game that would promote learning for young children while being fun to play. Steve Butts played an extended version of the demo seen at Microsoft’s press conference and came away with a new perspective on the currently-accepted definition of videogames.

Read Steve’s full preview of Once Upon a Monster here. The game is due for release fall 2011 on Xbox 360.

Steve Butts:
The game plays out in a magical storybook format in which kids and parents take on the roles of series’ favorites Elmo and Cookie Monster and are encouraged to interact with other misunderstood monsters in order to replace fear with understanding. It’s not a scary game by any stretch of the imagination, but the developers have been careful to strike a good balance in terms of the visuals and language of the game.

In the chapter we played together, Nathan and I had to interact with the Gerrhoof, a large and lumbering monster hidden in the forest. We’d already seen the beginning of this sequence in the press conference earlier this week, so we moved past that to the point where the Gerrhoof has been cleaned up and made friends with the players. Even here, the adventure isn’t over. The adorable little Puffalopes, who live in the forest aren’t convinced the Gerrhoof still isn’t dangerous, so the players have to lure them out of hiding by tossing biscuits out and petting the Puffalopes when they come out to eat.

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Rise of Nightmares

Announced at last year’s Tokyo Game Show, Rise of Nightmares is being developed by the House of the Dead team at Sega. Its gruesome atmosphere and total movement controls makes it a unique part of the Kinect lineup. Susan Arendt tried it at this year’s E3 and, although she appreciated it bringing horror to the Kinect, she found the movement controls to be distracting.

Read Susan’s full preview of Riseo f Nightmares here. The game is due for release later this year on Xbox 360.

Susan Arendt:
Holding up your hand lets you interact with the environment, whether that’s picking up one of the game’s 40 different weapons or rummaging around in a blood-filled toilet for a key. (Yes, that’s as disgusting as it sounds, but hey, I really needed to open that door.) To fight, hold up your hands like you’re getting ready to box. Swinging your right hand down lets you attack with your weapon, while jabbing your left lets you punch. If one of the mansion’s monsters grabs you, pushing out with both hands shoves them away.

The monsters themselves are quite the horror show, though you may not have time to appreciate their design as you’re fighting to survive. During the demo, I explored a small portion of the mansion, which included the cell where I was being kept, a guillotine trap that cut my companion in half, and the bathroom containing the aforementioned toilet. The location wasn’t all that distinct, looking like it was taken from the pages of How to Do Survival Horror manual, but it’s certainly not something we’ve seen associated with Kinect before.

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Hot Shots Golf

The latest in the Hot Shots Golf franchise, Hot Shots Golf was first unveiled along with the PlayStation Vita earlier this year at the PlayStation Meeting. It uses the PlayStation Vita’s unique features to make control of each shot more natural and intuitive. Steve Butts played a demo after Sony’s E3 2011 press conference and found that the new controls were an excellent addition to the game, but missed the lack of same-system multiplayer play.

Read Steve’s full preview of Hot Shots here. The game’s release date has not been announced, but it will be on the PlayStation Vita.

Steve Butts:
You can also rotate the unit around to see what’s around your golfer. While this is more visually interesting than strictly useful, you can get a good sense of the wind and overall lie by shifting the unit from side to side. What I really like though, is the chance to twist the Vita into a portrait orientation to see more of my golfer’s form during the swing.

Strangely, the actual golf swing doesn’t seem to use the touch capabilities at all. You’re still restricted to the same two- or three-click system we’ve been playing with for the last twenty years. Click to start the backswing, click to stop it, and click again on contact to get the most power. You can jiggle the Vita around during contact to get a little more drive behind the ball, but it’s tricky to time it just right.

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Resident Evil: Revelations

Ever since the phenomenally popular Resident Evil 4, many fans would argue that the game has embraced its new action gameplay and abandoned, to some extent, its horror roots. Perhaps it was a fundamental problem with the new control scheme, some might say. With the player now competent at moving his character, could the same tension still exist? Apparently so, as The Escapist’s Sara Brown writes.

Read Sara’s full preview of Resident Evil: Revelations here. The game is due for release in 2012 for the Nintendo 3DS.

Sara Brown:
The thing that I loved the most about RE4 were the controls. No longer did I find myself running into each of the four walls in every room. The camera actually showed me all of the things I needed to see. Aiming and firing were intuitive and clean. The thing I missed the most from the Resident Evils before was the terror. The claustrophobic mansion hallways, basements, sewers and courtyards. The sure and shivery knowledge that nowhere was safe. The knowing that I had three friggin’ bullets left and no idea where I’d be getting any more. Resident Evil: Revelations not only brings back that fear, that closed-in anxiety, but it incorporates those seamless controls.

Proceeding through the door, you’ll note that the rooms are very reminiscent of the mansion in the early games. Dim lighting, lots of reds and browns. Fancy furniture. Nooks and crannies where horrible things will hide. The creatures that I consistently ran into were gray with tongues like sea cucumbers. Creepy. They looked a little like Lickers, but I don’t know, slippery…er. The feeling of danger was persistent as the the quantity of creatures grew.
The touch screen portion of the DS contains your map and inventory. It showed me clearly and often that my supply of ammunition was sparse, which made me feel all nostalgic and whatnot. The map was pretty standard, rooms were either dark or light depending on whether or not you’d been in them, and doorways changed color once you used them. The aforementioned puzzle was solved using your stylus like a screw driver to some screws on a panel to reveal a faulty wiring problem inside that you fixed , again using the touch screen. I was skeptical about a full, story-based Resident Evil title on a handheld, but it looked lovely, and the controls seemed simple and effective.

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Inversion

Have you ever found yourself playing Gears of War and thought, “This game is fun and all, but wouldn’t it be so much better if I could turn gravity upside-down?” Probably not, but Saber Interactive has you covered anyways with their topsy-turvy shooter Inversion.

Read Allistair’s full preview of Inversion here. The game is due for release February 7, 2012 for the Xbox 360 and PS3.

Allistair Pinsof:
“Gravity” is the keyword in Saber Interactive’s Inversion: High gravity, low gravity, and zero gravity. These concepts effect the way you attack enemies, the way you move around the world and the way the world moves around you.
Summoning high gravity can expose enemies hiding in cover, while low gravity can be used as a method of slowing enemies down. You can also grab objects and enemies suspended by high gravity and throw them outward. The two powers can be combined, tossing enemies into the sky and then hurling them at the ground with a low gravity attack.
These sections along with the game’s uninspired zero gravity areas – which really are just a series of platforms you hang on and jump between – recall Dead Space. The problem isn’t that all of Inversion‘s ideas have been done before; the problem is that they have been done better. The minutia of combat (aiming, melee and clinging to cover) leaves something to be desired. The amount of tactical options that the gravity manipulation provides makes for some fun firefights, but the game’s lack of polish and originality is apparent in multiplayer.

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Jurassic Park: The Game

The iconic park has always been the destination of choice for adventurers, so it’s fitting that the adventure game veterans at Telltale Games have taken on the project. They’re attempting to produce a tense, meaningful, episodic adventure game based on the Jurassic Park franchise and, given their track record, they’re capable of doing so.
Read Sarah’s full preview of Jurassic Park here. The first episode is due for release sometime this fall for the PC, Mac, iOS, PSN, and XBLA.

Sarah LeBoeuf:
This feeling of epic wonder upon first viewing Jurassic Park is exactly what Telltale Games is trying to capture with their episodic video game adaptation. The developer has found a seemingly perfect leading-off point where the movie and game plots collide: the fate of Dennis Nedry’s shaving cream can full of dino embryos. In the original Jurassic Park, the can was seemingly lost after the Dilophosaurus attack on Nedry.
Jurassic Park is a huge change in gameplay style for Telltale, a company known mostly for a more traditional point-and-click approach. It’s still an adventure game at heart, with situational button prompts directing you and making you aware of your options. Unlike most adventure games, your choices do carry some weight, and might even make a difference between who lives and who dies. Messing up doesn’t automatically mean the character that you’re controlling will meet a grisly end – but someone else in your party might.
The game also expands on the already existing Jurassic Park universe, and you’ll be able to explore areas only referenced in the movie. A variety of dinosaurs can be spotted throughout the park, including one brand-new species that apparently takes a stealthier approach to hunting its prey.

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Asura’s Wrath

It’s possible that during your time in school, you read a variety of ancient myths and legends. Perhaps you questioned their logic, wondering how it made sense that Athena could live in Zeus’ head, or why Zeus would choose to have his head split open to cure a headache when he’s a god. Or perhaps you questioned their morals, wondering why the Gods’ response to Gilgamesh’s oppression of the people is to create a friend for him. Or perhaps you, a man of simpler needs, thought simply, “Damn, dude, wouldn’t it be awesome to get into fights like those?!?” If you count yourself among the latter, Asura’s Wrath may have been made for you.

Read Susan’s full preview of Asura’s Wrath here. The game is due for release 2012 for the Xbox 360 and PS3.

Susan Arendt:
The word that Capcom wants you to associate with action title Asura’s Wrath is “different,” and while that certainly is applicable, it’s far more likely that you’ll think of it as “holy crap did that actually just happen freakin’ amazing.” Which is admittedly a lot longer to say, but comes closer to expressing what it’s like to play the game.
The game is a pure action title, with relentless, nonstop gameplay that constantly surprises you. The fight with Wyzen begins in a pretty straightforward manner – he shoots missiles at you, which you can catch and throw back at him. After you’ve beaten him up for a while, he grows until he’s the size of a mountain, shooting an entire barrage of missiles at you, which you must dodge as you run towards him. Once you get close enough, he leaps into the air, crosses his legs, and drives you into the ground by sitting on you. It’s a move that should be hilarious – you are stuck under a giant’s butt, after all – but instead it just emphasizes the brutality of the game’s combat. Crushing you into the ground isn’t enough, so Wyzen gets up and begins punching you over and over, further into the ground, to make absolutely sure you get the point that he is mighty and you are a bug.
And suddenly Asura has six arms. What the hell?
That’s the kind of curveball that Asura’s Wrath likes to throw, changing up the rules without warning, but doing it in a way that keeps the action interesting and fun. I had to pound on the B button to push Wyzen’s hand away, and appreciated the meter at the top of the screen that let me know how close I was to success. Once I was out of the ground, it was time to take on the spaceship.
Yes. Spaceship.

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Bodycount

Prepare for Bodycount, the spiritual successor to gun porn title Black, by seeing how fast you can polish your barrel until it’s ready to spew hot lead all over the deformable terrain of its futuristic, amoral mercenary world. Make your own hole, I always say.

Read Tom’s full preview of Bodycount here. The game is due for release sometime for the Xbox 360 and PS3.

Tom Goldman:
Bodycount will also be “gun-porn,” which isn’t as dirty as it sounds. It means that the focus of the game is the guns and the impact of their bullets on the environment. Codemasters calls this impact “environmental shredding.” Bodycount is set in the future, with two mysterious factions called the Network and the Target trying to shape the world for their own ends.

Environmental shredding is currently available only with certain materials. You can shoot holes in a wall to make a new firing point, but enemies can also bust into your hiding place. AI will use tactics to surround you, or stray off if one of the other enemy factions attacks it. Players constantly pick up new ammo and “intel,” which is used to power up abilities that heal players, make them faster, upgrade their radar, make them temporarily invincible, etc.
Bodycount doesn’t feature a sticky cover system, but rather a “lean” system. When you’re pulling the trigger to aim, pushing left or right makes you lean around cover. It was hard to get used to at first, but I see what Codemasters is trying to do. Sticky cover can slow the pace at times, and that’s not what Bodycount‘s developers are aiming for.

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End of Nations

Many people have attempted a MMO version of an RTS (often, we call it “war”) and most haven’t achieved significant commercial success. Petroglyph is taking a slightly different approach with End of Nations by allowing deep customization and personalization of a limited set of units, rather than playing like a more traditional RTS, which may give them an edge.

Read Tom’s full preview of End of Nations here. The game is due for release sometime this year for PC.

Tom Goldman:
End of Nations is an MMO of sorts, but it also has an expansive single-player campaign. This is where you’ll gradually learn how to play the game instead of being thrown into a PvP match with the best 14-year-old on the planet. The game is set 50 years in the future and focuses on the Liberation Front and its battle against the oppressive Order of Nations. Players can pick their faction, and then also a class.

The real meat of the game for most players will probably be End of Nations‘ Living Battlefield, which is a map that shows where all of the individual battles in the world are occurring. It notes if they’re PvP, a tutorial, etc. Players can jump into a battle at anytime, but Petroglyph will make sure you can’t spawn into a PvP game and take the win at the last second. Persistence on the Living Battlefield comes in through battles that take place over cycles. At the end of the cycle, which may last a month, the participating players will receive rewards and the cycle will reset. Guilds, clans, and individual players will want to get their hands on these rewards.

Maps support 26 v. 26 players. Players create their army beforehand and do not build it in the map. An army is fully customizable right down to the design of each individual unit. If you want a leopard-print attack helicopter, and another painted like a lily, you can do it (no joke). Parts of each unit will be customizable too with End of Nations‘ mod system that’ll give them more power as they’re upgraded.

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Defiance

If there’s anything that screams “quality,” it’s the SyFy brand. From their original movies to their original movies, it’s a non-stop adrenaline rush of quality writing, acting, and production. The question, then, is if Rift developer Trion Worlds can live up to the SyFy name and make an MMO of quality comparable to the as-yet-unaired show of the same name. The Escapist’s Tom Goldman thinks the outlook is good.

Read Tom’s full preview of Defiance here. The game is due for release near the show’s release for the PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.

Tom Goldman:
Players are armored up and look like something out of Mass Effect. The demo first featured a quest where a group had to team-up on a clan of cyborgs that have modified themselves by adding pick-axes and other crude weapons to their anatomy. It was more than just firing at enemies in an open area, with one part of the quest requiring a player to lay down cover fire so another could pass a warehouse filled with cyborgs. Also, as you fight you’ll acquire experience points and loot. The game was very reminiscent of Borderlands in style.
It sounds like an interesting MMO, and with Trion behind it, known for the really cool Rift, Defiance has potential to turn out great. But what’s up with the TV show tie-in? The game and the TV show are both episodic (obviously). If something happens in the show, it’ll be reflected in the game, and players from the game will also be talked about on the show but both take place in different cities. Characters from the show might travel to the game for a while, where players can interact with them, and later they’ll travel back and talk on the show about what happened in the game. Not so bad, right?

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Puzzle Agent 2

Perhaps there’s a reason Agent Nelson Tethers of the FBI is being sent to Scoggins, Minnesota, to investigate gnomes. Perhaps it’s related to his employment within the Puzzle Research Division of the FBI. Everything points to Agent Tethers being an imbecile, but the puzzle here is how Puzzle Agent managed to be so entertaining. Players will have another chance to solve the neat (too neat, even – as though someone were toying with Agent Tethers…) puzzles while doing the right thing and solving crime once again in Puzzle Agent 2.
Read Sarah’s full preview of Puzzle Agent 2 here. The game is due for release near the show for the PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.

Sarah LeBoeuf:
While I didn’t see too much of the game’s plot unfold beyond the basic premise, I watched the completion of a fairly simple puzzle, which gave me a general idea of the types of brain-teasers contained in Puzzle Agent 2. After inputting your answer (presumably after careful thought, consideration, and deductive reasoning), the puzzle is sent off to the FBI, where the nation’s tax dollars go to work letting you know whether your answer is right or wrong. Completing these without using hints or getting an incorrect answer will earn bonuses, though it wasn’t explained whether these will benefit gameplay or are just for bragging rights. For completionists, there are two different endings, which should give Puzzle Agent 2 a little bit of replay value.
With a promise of walking that fine line between challenging and frustrating without falling on the wrong side of it, Puzzle Agent 2 is definitely an intriguing title that I will be happy to spend more time with. The downloadable game is nearly complete and should be ready for release at the end of this month, and Telltale is even running a sale on the original game this week, so there’s really no excuse not to jump into the world of Nelson Tethers, Puzzle Research Division.

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Renegade Ops

As you can likely guess from the title, Renegade Ops is a top-down vehicle action game based on Just Cause‘s Avalanche Engine. The player, along with three of his good buddies, has to tackle a series of goals throughout the levels, and the entertaining physics provide a strong source of enjoyment.

Read Allistair’s full preview of Renegade Ops here. The game is due for release sometime this year for the PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.

Allistair Pinsof:
Where other top down shooters give you full control, Renegade Ops forces you to learn your vehicles handling in order to get around quicker. Once mastered, turning corners as you gun down an enemy is a thrill. The game’s terrain and collision detection also provides amusement, as you accidently drive off a cliff or cause a co-op partner to flip over.

Each of the game’s missions take place in a large open area where the player and three co-op players are directed to primary and secondary goals. Picking up hostages, defending a church and chasing an army of tanks were some of the goals presented in the demo. There doesn’t seem to be much variety in the action, but this is a decidedly simple arcade-style shmup. The bigger concern was whether the game will be able to throw some challenge and interesting enemy patterns at the player, in the full game. After Gattling Gears, this demo felt a bit too tame for my taste.

The large battle areas, detailed terrain and unique vehicle handling make Renegade Ops stand out among other downloadable top-down shooters. With adjustments to difficulty and variety in mission goals, it could easily become an gorgeous and addicting co-op experience.

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Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D

Now you can take Snake Eater with you wherever you go – whether it be sneaking around the neighbor’s yard/bedroom, at the snake ‘que out in the woods, or while struggling to survive having been embedded in a hostile region on a covert espionage mission.

Read Tom’s full preview of Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D here. The game is due for release in late 2011 for the 3DS.

Tom Goldman:
Metal Gear‘s controls have always been a little bit of a bear to get hang of at first, and the same was true for me when I started Snake Eater 3D. You use the face buttons to move the camera, the analog stick to move, and the directional pad to perform certain actions such as making Snake crouch, go prone, etc. Aiming and attacking is handled with the triggers.

Once I figured things out, the experience was remarkably similar to regular old Snake Eater (non-3D version). To my knowledge, the same exact levels and areas have been implanted into the 3DS cartridge. You’ll have to make your way past those docile alligators in the swamp, hide in tree trunks, and shoot down bee hives to scare away guards allergic to stings.

The graphics are about the same too, though without a side-by-side comparison it’s hard to tell if things have been smoothed out on the 3DS. Animations were a little choppy, but they may not be in the final version. As with all 3DS ports, the big differences come in with the handheld’s touchscreen and other associated abilities. Camouflage, food, weapons, and items can all be easily used or swapped in and out by tapping buttons on the touchscreen. You can also see Snake’s status without having to open a menu, which is handy when leeches are covering your body and you don’t have a clue.

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The Walking Dead

If raptors aren’t quite your thing, perhaps you’d be more interested in having your innards torn out by shambling corpses. Either way, Telltale has you covered in their upcoming game based on the comic of AMC show fame.

Read Sarah’s full preview of The Walking Dead here.

Sarah LeBoeuf:
While many gamers may be familiar with AMC’s Walking Dead TV show, the game is treating the comic like the Bible, and everything in the game will happen within Kirkman’s canon. However, it won’t follow Rick Grimes and his ragtag group of survivors, which I think is a good thing. It would have been far too difficult to appease comic fans while trying to cover the gruesome events of the book perfectly; instead, Telltale’s Walking Dead puts the player in the role of Lee Everett, who finds an abandoned 7-year-old girl named Clementine early in his travels. Like Rick, Lee has woken up to the zombie apocalypse after a crash, and doesn’t even have time to process what’s going on before he has to start fighting to survive. Instead of trying to get into Atlanta, like Rick originally was, Lee is trying to get the hell out.

I was told that The Walking Dead is probably the darkest game that Telltale has ever done, which was a little jarring after just having seen a demo of their upcoming Jurassic Park, in which two characters get mauled to death by dinosaurs. It makes sense, though; The Walking Dead is often disturbing, heart-wrenching, gory, and has actually given me nightmares in the past after a marathon trade-reading session. I’m glad the developer isn’t going to shy away from the tone of the story, which has no happy endings and no black-and-white decision. Everything is shades of gray, and I’m curious to see how the choices the players can make will affect the gameplay.

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SSX

It can be tricky to live up to the SSX name, which has connotations of absurd stunts a high speeds while yelling at your friends. Many may ask if, with the advent of more physically-realistic games such as Skate, SSX will forget what once made it great. The Escapist’s Sara Brown responds with an emphatic no (they haven’t forgotten, that is.)

Read Sara’s full preview of SSX here. The game will be available January, 2012 for the Xbox 360 and PS3.

Sara Brown:
Our host showed us the great Kilimanjaro, mentioning off-hand that during the design phase he discovered was actually a volcano. The level began with himself and his two AI opponents launching themselves from separate points at the mouth and tunneling inside. The details of the mountains were revised with an abundance of creative liberty to create ramps and tunnels for tricks and speed. The off-rails openness was emphasized by the detours and the missed jumps, making very clear how vast the playable environments were. Deciding against splines in the level creation makes it possible to grind each and every single sharp line you see. Anywhere.

Boarding down this beast of a slope gave the demonstrator ample space to show off the tricks. Physical limitations were eschewed in favor of excessive arcade-like feats of impossibility. The trick meter filled up quickly and the tricks doubled in ridiculous awesomeness. Also, when your trick meter is full, if you stomp a landing you deform your environment, slowing down any poor sap who sought to follow you. The level ended with fan-favorite Kaori flying off a ramp and into a hovering helicopter. Extreme indeed.

With a thank you and a smile we were ushered into the hands-on portion of the demo. Here, we were given a chance to play in Tricky mode, racing to the bottom while garnering bonuses for speed and trickery. We were reminded that at pre-alpha the controls were still being modified, but I liked ’em. For those of you that appreciate the immersive control option that Skate added to the genre with the analog rotation control, you can do that. Direction and grab tricks are performed using directional manipulations of both analog sticks. For those of us that miss the face button controls of the extreme sports titles of yore, you can do that too. Though somewhat glitchy at this stage of development, playing SSX felt like the perfect marriage between the way things used to be and the way things are becoming. It’ll be available in January.

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Binary Domain

Taking cues from Blade Runner and Battlestar Galactica, Binary Domain chronicles the conflict between robots and the humans they strive to emulate. Originally created to serve, the robots have acquired human characteristics and will stop at nothing, including revolution, to claim their place in the world.

Read Susan Arendt’s full preview of Binary Domain here. Binary Domain is due out for Xbox 360 and PS3 in February 2012.

Susan Arendt:
In 2080, robots have been created to help build a city on top of Old Tokyo, but those machines have been acquiring more and more human traits, which is increasingly problematic for the actual human population. Though some of the machines are still clearly robotic, others can now pass for human and are integrating themselves into society. You and your team must go after the creator of the robots and stop them.

The level I got to play from Binary Domain was combat-heavy and showcased the more robotic-looking machines that you’ll be fighting. They’re determined little suckers who, one presumes, don’t feel remorse or pity and will never, ever stop. The game features procedural damage, so if you blow off a robot’s head, it will walk around confused, but if you blow off its arms, it won’t be able to aim a gun at you anymore. Just because they’re in pieces doesn’t mean they give up, though; I shot off one robot’s legs, then looked down moments later to discover that it was hanging on to my ankles, keeping me stuck in place.

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War of the Worlds

Ocean Interactive’s upcoming War of the Worlds eschews many of the elements of Steven Spielberg’s 2005 film of the same name, including both heavy action and color, trading them for a more subdued, stealth-based game. Our own Allistair Pinsof was nonplussed by what he saw.

Read Allistair’s full preview of War of the Worlds here. The game will be available this summer on the PSN.

Allistair Pinsof:
The demo takes place during a London alien invasion, in which the protagonist must hide in the shadows as alien ships annihilate soldiers in the open.

The game has a distinct black & white art direction that will draw immediate comparisons to Limbo. Both games are inspired by classic B&W films: Limbo took inspiration from expressionist films of the 30s, while Ocean Interactive looked toward Hollywood films of the 50s'(War of the Worlds being one of them). Flashes of explosions fill scrolling parallax layers, while waves of fog block sections of the battlefield from time-to-time. The lighting effects are impressive, especially in one scene where the player must climb a large alien machine while a blinding glare sporadically whites-out the screen. The game uses color exclusively for enemy fire and the main character, which helps keep the player’s eye on the action.

The animation and characters, however, don’t look quite as good as the backdrop. Despite rotoscoping actors for the animation, characters have an odd look to them that doesn’t have that Flashback detail or charm. Even the elements of the game that look good are endlessly repeated throughout the demo, making for a mundane presentation despite its ten minute running time. The audio was equally dull and monotonous, putting me into sleep-state. Patrick Stewart’s soothing voice over narration didn’t help matters, even if it is a good performance.

I don’t doubt that Ocean Interactive are pouring their heart into this project. The developer has their head in the right place conceptually , but in execution the game seems sluggish, unpolished and not the least bit fun or original. In its current state, it looks like an iPad game you’d pick up and dismiss after spending a couple minutes with it.

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Otomedius Excellent

If you’re a fan of both anime girls and reflex-based sidescrolling shooters (a surprisingly common combination, actually) then you’re in for a treat: Konami is localizing the third entry in the previously Japanese-only Otomedius line of games. The Escapist’s Allistair Pinsof sees potential, but only if the performance issues can be ironed out before release.

Read Allistair’s full preview of Otomedius Excellent here. The game will be available July 19 on the Xbox 360.

Allistair Pinsof:
Otomedius is the spiritual successor to the Gradius/Parodius series, continuing their difficult horizontal shooter action and numerous load-out options. You also get to decide which ability to enable/upgrade, as you collect items after defeating highlighted enmies. So, yeah, it’s a Gradius game with large-breasted anime girls and bright, colorful backdrops.

The game controls like a classic Gradius title. I had a hard time wrapping my head around the various power-ups, but most of them perform as you expect. Overall, I felt they were hit and miss. Some you couldn’t spam and restricted you to a recharge time – not something I want to deal with in my shmups. The speed boost felt unwieldy, like someone cranked the thumbstick sensitivity to max. The quality of a shmup is dependent on smooth controls and frame-rate, so I’m worried about how Otomedius will turn out in retail form.

The demo only contained the first stage which was a breeze on expert. It’s worth pointing out that I am a shmup-graduate – I got my degree after two weeks at my local community college! — so newbies might have more difficulty wiht it. Konami shooters are known for raising the stakes, stage-by-stage, so Otomedius Excellent will probably get to be pretty tough by the time you reach the final, eighth stage. If not, there is still an unlockable, higher difficulty.

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Brothers in Arms: Furious 4

Fans of the Brothers in Arms games may be disappointed that the newest installment keeps none of the elements traditionally associated with the series, and while it is a bit mystifying that Gearbox chose to use the Brothers in Arms name for this particular game, they seem intent on delivering an entertaining – if wildly different – gameplay experience. The Escapist’s Allistair Pinsof commended the game’s style despite lamenting the loss of the series’ traditional aspects.

Read Allistair’s full preview of Brothers in Arms: Furious 4 here. The game will be available sometime next year for PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.

Allistair Pinsof:
As a fan of Brothers in Arms, especially Hell’s Highway, I was disappointed to see that the latest entry in the series forgoes all the strategic depth and serious storytelling. Gearbox plans to continue Matt Baker’s story in a different game, but for now we have Furious Four: An unexpected, offshoot that has little to do with the BiA series and a lot to do with Borderlands. Four-player co-op, cartoonish visuals, comedic dialog, leveling and character-specific abilities, for starters.

“Over the top” doesn’t begin to describe the absurdity Furious 4 embraces. The game revels in propelling the player through a mindless onslaught, where points and achievement progress bars (a la Gears of War 2) pop-up every second. The game even applauds your accuracy and combos with flashy text (“double kill”, “bullseye”) The HUD is a bit cluttered from the constant feed of points/achievement information, but the game makes nice use of Splinter Cell: Conviction stylized floating, in-game text. Mission names and goals are written within the game world, even enemy helicopters are accompanied with “Wreck this thing” commands.

Even though Gearbox seem to have no qualms with taking you out of the game’s world, they didn’t slack off in designing it. The Oktoberfest level is wonderfully rendered with a giant Ferris wheel centerpiece, which eventually collapses in spectacular fashion. The interiors of Nazi cabins have warm tones, while the outside had a bright, cartoony look. It’s similar to Borderlands, but you wouldn’t mistake one for the other – especially, when you factor in Furious 4‘s destructible buildings.

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Rhythm Heaven Wii

Rhythm Heaven Wii is the third game in a series of audio-based mini-game collections by the creators of WarioWare. The first of in the series was never released outside of Japan, and this is the first to be released for a home console, the earlier entries being for handheld systems. The game, like WarioWare, aims to be simple but entertaining and accessible.

Read Allistair’s full preview of Rhythm Heaven Wii here. The game will be available sometime in 2011 for the Wii.

Allistair Pinsof:
Don’t worry, series fans: The transition to Wii doesn’t mean gimmicky motion controls galore. Rhythm Heaven Wii continues to keep things stupid-simple, requiring only pressing a button or two in time to the beat. This Wii sequel keeps the simplicity while improving the experience with better sound and graphics that a console can provide.

The demo contained three games/songs. The first game involved stabbing a fork in time as peas flew across in the screen in time to the beat. The sound, music and graphics keep the lo-fi charm of the original without sacrificing fidelity. There isn’t much going on in these games, but the attention to detail is nice. For instance, if you slightly missed the beat, the pea would get stuck between two prongs of the fork instead of stabbed directly.

The final level, and my personal favorite, involved a relentless game of Badminton between a dog and cat fighter pilots. Throughout the song, your cat opponent repositions himself high and far, altering the timing required. Of the three games, it’s the trickiest and the most visually appealing. Colorful trees and blue sky blur across the screen and the character animation helps you prepare for a button press.

I never expected Nintendo to make another Rhythm Heaven, especially one for consoles, so discovering a Wii sequel was one of E3’s greatest surprises. No multiplayer was shown at E3, but the idea still has me excited to see it in action.

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NeverDead

Zombie shooters have become an overused theme as of late, which is why zombie shooter NeverDead is so interesting – rather than gunning down hordes of zombies, you’re a zombie gunning down hordes of demons. In addition to gunning, you’ll also be ripping your limbs and head off, using them as weapons, and then regenerating them. The Escapist’s Allistair Pinsof was able to see this absolutely absurd shooter in action.

Read Allistair’s full preview of NeverDead here. The game will be available sometime in 2011 for the Xbox 360 and PS3.

Allistair Pinsof:
Early on in the demo, Bryce is attacked by a pack of demonic hounds which – like all good demonic hounds – love the taste of savory zombie flesh. So, why not rip-off your limbs and chuck them across the screen, sending the dogs in its direction. While the dogs gather around your arm, press the shoulder button and watch Bryce’s limb explode along with everything around it. No worries, however: Pressing in the left analog stick regenerates his limbs. That’s anatomically correct. I think?

The game’s combat resembles Devil May Cry on the surface, as you shift back-and-forth between swordplay and dual-wielding gunplay, but the controls of each and the transitions between the two are nowhere near as polished and fluid as Capcom‘s series. The gunplay is decidedly different. Each gun has its own trigger and on-screen reticule, but they line-up to become one when standing still. It makes for a game that doesn’t control like others, but that’s not necessarily a good thing, in this instance.

The swordplay is even more cumbersome. After pulling out my sword and pressing every button on the controller, I was ready to call the game broken. Then, in disbelief, I discovered you control the sword with the right thumbstick – immediately, I’m reminded of the late 90s when developers were still coming to grips with the idea of a second thumbstick. To say the least, this odd control design makes the swordplay a chore rather than a visceral thrill.

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Leedmees

Leedmees is a game where, as you may be able to guess from the title, you lead little creatures much like in the Lemmings games. Leedmees, however, makes use of the Kinect, requiring the player to physically manipulate the environment as well as his little creatures in an entertaining twist on a classic type of game.

Read Allistair’s full preview of Leedmees here. The game will be available for the Xbox 360.

Allistair Pinsof:
Leedmees is a refreshingly clever Kinect game with a simple premise: You control a stick figure of God-like proportions that guides lemmings, who mindlessly walk forward, to a goal. Being that this is a game where you are the controller, moving your body is the only way to control your on-screen figure’s body parts.

At the start, guiding the minions from their blue spawn portal to the red portal is a breeze. You stretch out your arms to provide a lengthy bridge, flex your muscles to create a wall and, if you are a crafty player, toss them by flicking your wrist. If you aren’t quick enough to reach the little guys, they’ll fall to their death like idiots. Being mindful of their spawn portal grows increasingly difficult, as the levels progress, so it becomes vital to stretch out your legs. Watching the lemmings grab onto your leg and hang on tight, during a last minute save, achieves levels of adorableness that words can do no justice.

Co-op mode is where Leedmees shines. By teaming up with a partner, you can play the game’s Multiplay stages that require a higher level of reaction skills and strategic play. The first co-op level featured a randomly spawning blue portal and a red portal, which would always come attached to a player’s body part. Having one player holding an awkward pose, as the minions walk across, is tricky enough. Adding on a second player, whose head is the end goal, makes for absolute chaos and a great time. The second co-op stage featured a stand-up version of Twister, where both players must hold body parts on flashing switches and the other touching the other player’s on-screen hand.

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Rock of Ages

What does art history have to do with smashing fortresses with rocks? Very little, but ACE Team’s Rock of Ages aims to change that by combining tower defense, giant rocks, and various art styles into one delicious whole. Insert rock pun here. The Escapist’s Sarah LeBoeuf got a chance to play the game on the floor.

Read Sarah’s full preview of Rock of Ages here. The game will be available sometime this year for PC, XBLA, and PSN.

Sarah LeBoeuf:
At first glance, Rock of Ages seems almost too easy. The core gameplay is simple: roll giant boulders towards your enemy’s gate until it’s destroyed. No problem, right? When you factor in the different boulder upgrades you can purchase, like a spiked boulder that can take more damage, Rock of Ages seems like a no-brainer. Of course, while your soldiers are preparing a new rock, your enemy will be rolling his own toward your gate. In between rolls, you can set up various defensive stations along the course, which is often windy and full of natural obstacles.

I started out by playing the first tutorial, which explained these simple concepts to me. Before each level is a short cut scene that highlights the art style of that particular section, which adds even more charm to Rock of Ages. After quickly finishing off the tutorial and patting myself on the back for being so good, I jumped ahead to an early level in the main game.

In this level, I found an actual challenge, and discovered that Rock of Ages wasn’t as easy as I thought. Clumsily rolling boulders towards the gate and haphazardly placing towers in a hasty attempt at defense is not going to get you very far in this game. There is some strategy involved, but you also need to think on your toes, because your foe is always moving, always building, always ready to roll. While you’re trying to decide how to spend your coins, there could be a giant, flaming boulder on its way to your gate.

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Trenched

Set in a post-WWI alternate history world of heavy mechs duking it out on a war-torn battlefield, this tower defense third-person shooter combo looks doubly fine. Trenched, created by Brutal Legend developer Double Fine, looks to make (blast) marks in the tower defense/third-person shooter genre.

Read Sarah’s full preview of Trenched here. The game will be available June 22, 2011 for XBLA.

Sarah LeBoeuf:
Trenched offers up to four-player co-op, but I only played with one other person. At first, with neither of us really knowing what was going on, it was chaos. We weren’t really working together, and both of us were shooting wildly and not approaching the situation very strategically. Before long, though, we seemed to get into a groove, and without a word we were able to stop seemingly endless waves of Monovisions from destroying us and our base. The Monovisions take different forms, with some crawling on the ground, the more annoying breed flittering through the air, and even one type that was fiery red and extra powerful. When my partner was knocked down, I helped him up, and we got back to work.

With all the shooting, upgrading, protecting, placing Emplacements, and hordes of Monovisions, you can imagine that Trenched is much more hectic than many strategy titles. What I like about it is that the action never really stops; even without another group of enemies rushing at you, there are still things to be done, upgrades to be made, defenses to be fortified. Even though the game seemed tricky at first, it didn’t take long at all before I knew what I was doing and was ready to take on that next wave.

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Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet

When asked what first sprang to mind upon hearing the phrase Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, my coworker responded with, “Saturn?” Developer Fuelcell Games is significantly weirder (believe me, that’s saying something!) and instead made a game about UFOs with arm-ripping claws.

Read Sarah’s full preview of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet here. The game will be available this August for XBLA.

Sarah LeBoeuf:
Set on an alien planet, you control a tiny UFO with a few tools at its disposal. At first, you only have the scanner, which displays what you need to get past obstacles and defeat enemies, and the claw arm, with which you can pick up items or rib appendages from foes. These items are displayed in a tool wheel, and can also be assigned customizable hot keys, making it easier to whip out the scanner or any other tool you happen to use a lot.

There’s a lot of exploration in Shadow Planet, and it feels not unlike the more recent Castlevania games, meaning there’s some going back and forth as you acquire upgrades and better items that allow you to access new areas. After finding the laser, I was able to shoot projectiles, and there were a handful of other spots open on the tool wheel for items to come later in the game.

While Shadow Planet pretty effectively combines different elements to make a fun gameplay experience, it also stands out because of its distinct art style. I know I said it looked like Limbo at first, but other than the shadowy backdrop there’s really no comparison. It’s colorful, though the scenery is kind of-well, twisted and nightmarish are actually good adjectives in this case, making the title seem more and more perfect.

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The Lord of the Rings: War in the North

Lord of the Rings, as the ur-fantasy setting, is suited to a number of genres. The Lord of the Rings name has been oft-maligned in connection with videogames, but Snowblind Studios is trying to take it back by creating a co-op hack ‘n slash game in the vein of their 2001 Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance.

Read Allistair’s full preview of Lord of the Rings: War in the North here. The game will be available August 24 for PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.

Allistair Pinsof:
War in the North is a three-player cooperative action-RPG with loot, an enjoyable combat system and a original storyline with moral choices. The game is a hack-n-slash, so repetition is inevitable. Like all good entries in the genre, WitN avoids fatigue by stringing the player along with new loot, ability unlocks and addicting combat.

The three players choose between an elf, dwarf and ranger. Each has their own play style, but perhaps they aren’t as distinct as they could be. I was disappointed to find that running head-on into combat was more effective than long-distance archery, while playing as the ranger.

The player has a weak and strong attack which can be strung into combos; striking with a strong attack while an enemy is dazed results in an execution and extra xp. Cooperative play makes the waves of enemies manageable, but also helps players level-up faster with additional xp given for co-op combos. Incentives like these make sticking together the best choice, even when one player gets annoyed at another for hording all the item drops.

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Sword of the Stars 2: Lords of Winter

The original Sword of the Stars was a deep, engaging, and daunting 4X space game – a dying breed. Sword of the Stars 2 promises the same depth without the steep learning curve and hopefully will keep 4X fans going for some time.

Read Allistair’s full preview of Sword of the Stars 2: Lords of Winter here. The game will be available August 18 for the PC.

Allistair Pinsof:
The detail on the new ship models is immediately apparent when jumping into one of the game’s real-time battles. Customizing a ship’s paint job and features is nice, but it’s how it all factors into gameplay that matters. Taking down an opponent’s ship in the original SotS was as simple as destroying two parts of it, but now players must factor in how individual sections power a ship. This makes formations and rolling all the more important in this sequel.

With improved rolls, formations based around a new three-dimensional playing field, and a tweaked targeting system, the combat system will incorporate updated features of expansions while including some exclusive to this sequel. The developer promised annoying cat-and-mouse matches with an enemy’s command ship will be a thing of the past, this time out. While the strategic depth of this sequel might scare away newcomers, Kerberos are doing their best to streamline combat (now most encounters last 4-5 minutes) and the game’s interface.

The original was made by just a couple guys and it showed. The interface catered to the hardcore while scaring those new to the genre. The sequel cuts off the fat by hiding unnecessary info and smartly organizing the numbers that do matter. The game’s menus and art assets have also undergone a makeover. Everything from character avatars to the returning randomized tech tree have undergone visual improvements, making for a professional looking game made by a modestly sized team.

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Dungeon Siege III

Obsidian Entertainment will once again be taking on another developer’s franchise with the newest in the Dungeon Siege series, and though this is a more action-oriented game than many of their previous ones, they’re hoping to bring more depth to the genre with their take on it.

Read Allistair’s full preview of Dungeon Siege III here. The game will be available June 21 for PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.

Allistair Pinsof:
The controls felt great and never got in the way of juggling between long-distance magic against enemies and short-range combat. I appreciated the focus on fewer, powerful enemies rather than hordes of weak ones – it went a long way in complimenting the combat system. It’s hard to comment on how deep the combat will become as you unlock abilities, but the introductory options offer a lot more than the single-button spamming of similar titles.

The customization and leveling in Dungeon Siege III contains many routes presented in an accessible way, recalling straight-forward action titles (think God of War) rather than an RPG. None of the complexity you expect of the series seems to be sacrificed, however. As you level up you can broaden your play style with Talents, Proficiencies and Abilities. Talents are buffs that increase your health, stun rate and other combat traits. You receive a bonus for maxing out a talent, which makes it a tough call to spread the points across multiple talents.

As much fun as I had with the game’s combat, I found the world to be uninspired. Dungeon Seige never had the most unique setting, but even a makeover in art direction could help this sequel stand-out. The UI also could have done a better job of conveying information. Finding missions and navigating through the many pages of the character screen were problematic.

E3: NeverDead

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