And so we begin. E3 begins in earnest starting today, and as promised, I’m on the ground floor here, covering the big show from beginning to end. News, interviews, impressions, whathaveyou. It’ll all be here. This article will get bumped on the main page from my first appointment to my last.
The story so far: I got in LA Saturday night/early Sunday morning. It’s my first time in LA, so, Sunday was random tourism and getting the lay of the land. I went to Hollywood Blvd, which is like a pornless Time Square. I went to LACMA to check out that Kubrick exhibit (and if you have the means, holy shit check that out. It’s more extensive than you can imagine, and it’s gone end of the month.). I wandered around. I watched that remake of The Thing on HBO at 2am. I ordered vegan food. Etc, etc.
I also trekked to the convention center to pick up my media badge., and get a general look-round there. You never really get a sense of scale until you’re actually in there, realizing this is a place dedicated to games the size of a college campus. Not all of it was even visible Sunday. I’m expecting to be awestruck when I actually get to the center. Which I should probably go do now instead of watching that Hobbit trailer, huh?
11:50AM–THE INSANITY BEGINS
That right there is what greets you when you walk in the convention center: a full size, moving replica of one of the Titanfall mechs. THAT’S NOT OMINOUS AT ALL. And then you notice its next to a poster for Kingdom Hearts III. I just can’t tell if that makes it better or worse.
First appointment, after ducking and weaving through the masses. They’re showing off the just-announced 400 Days DLC for Walking Dead. The expansion is just as big as the entirety of Season 1, and even with that, Season 2 is still hitting late this year.
The expansion follows 5 brand new characters, during the first 400 days of the epidemic. Yes, the choices you make here will carry over into Season 2, as will characters, if they survive, of course. The episodes can be played in any order and still make sense, though characters/locations will interweave. Kinda like what Mitchell Hurwitz planned with Arrested Development Season 4.
The demo shown focuses on a scraggly guy named Vince. Within the first 20 seconds of meeting him, he shoots an unseen victim in the street and is on the run from the cops. He gets trapped down an alley as the sirens close in, and boom, jump cut to Vince in irons, on a prison bus.
He’s sandwiched between two other cons, Justin, a white collar embezzler, and Danny, your more run of the mill street criminal. The prison bus has stalled, on a hot Georgia day. While waiting, Vince is stuck between the other two, mediating all the shit they give each other about their criminal histories, their victims, who got hurt and why, any regrets. This stuff could carry its own game. The one fact both criminals agree on: “FUCK WALL STREET.” Vince, on the other hand, besides telling the other two to stop being assholes, is mum about what he did and why.
A less civil argument breaks out up front. One of the other prisoners strangles another to death. A trigger happy guard ends up blowing the killers brains out with a shotgun after he resists. This is the least harsh thing in the demo.
Trigger happy guard turns the gun on Vince and his buddies after they flip out. Justin has lost his lunch. He is white collar after all. Behind the guard, the inevitable happens: the dead prisoner who still has a head rises, and bites the guard’s neck out. The walker tries going after Vince, but he’s still shackled. Eventually, Vince convinces the others to help roll the guard’s body off the shotgun. The prisoner walker is shot, but 4 others board the bus after the driver jumps off. The door isn’t holding up. Vince can’t shoot the chains off , nor can he shoot the walkers through the door. The chains can be pulled off if, say, someone’s leg is removed. But whose?
In the demo, Vince decides he’s better off with the guy who does murder for a living. Justin gets his ankle shot off. And, just like that bear trap bit from Ep 2, it doesn’t take one shot. The other two run off. Fade to black. Welcome back, Walking Dead, you brutal son of a bitch. 400 Days is coming next month, for $4.99. You will need Season 1 downloaded to play.
2:00pm–Killer Is Dead
There’s time before heading to Warners’ booths, so, did some wandering. It’s day one, virtually everything is packed. So, I slipped off into a corner, and got to play Suda 51’s newest.
Simple demo, just showing off some of the gameplay. It’s a Suda 51 joint all right, with our protagonist and his blonde companion riding a motorcycle to take down a dude in a skull mask. He’s several times creepier than the version of Black Mask in Arkham Origins. The gameplay is Suda’s as well: Kinda broken, and yet, the first time you figure out what the triggers do, that is, a blue and red colored nightmare that results in split second decapitations, and Dragon Ball Zish punch combos, the joy is easy to find. Then later, that same lady companion comes back on her motorcycle to assist during a fight. With her 16 arms. And the guns in each one of them. And her cackling while firing them. I….don’t even know where to start. Either way, it’s good to have Suda back working on his own. I missed his undistilled weird. Late summer for that one.
3:00pm–Warner Bros Interactive
You think, because you’re carrying a 40 pound bag of tech on your shoulder all day, and walking several miles around a convention center all day you’re working hard. You are horribly wrong. That pic right there is the PR team running Warners’ set up. That booth was a well oiled machine, getting folks in, out, giving directions, sorting out press list issues, supplying assets, the whole nine. For the love of God, hopefully Warners pays out the ass for them.
You sort underestimate going in that when they say they have a booth tour, they MEAN a booth tour. The reason for the radio silence is around 3pm, I am taken on a whirlwind trip to three separate viewing rooms for Mad Max, Arkham Origins, and Dying Light.
The viewing room is made up like one of the marauders’ hideaways, with foam sand, jungle netting, and hardwood benches. So naturally, this is the room I’m not allowed to take pictures in. It was, however, neat.
The game, though? Mixed bag. It’s pretty. The busted up industrial machinery, the fires, the remnants of scrapes for oil. It definitely feels like Mad Max. The desert winds blow, sand moves with it. Later on, in the sizzle reel, we see that this becomes a major environmental problem.
In the demo, Max has lost the Interceptor, and needs to hit up a place called Gas Town in his new ride, which is fully customizable. Emphasis is made here that this is YOUR ride, and even though some customizing is necessary just to proceed–the upgrade we saw was a heavy demolitions grill made for busting down heavy doors–the rest is up to your imagination. And the customization is deep enough for that to be almost daunting.
Problem is, the rest seems terrifyingly generic. The mission we’re sent on, we get into a minor road fight in the car. Enemies jump from one car to another, you use a harpoon to take down vehicles, some speed ramping is used to target a car’s wheels to take it out, then loot the driver for supplies. Later, you’re on foot, and some simple, but relatively brutal melee combat takes place. The highlight is getting hold of one of those trademark Thundersticks, impaling a dude on it, and waiting for the bloody explosion. The game is also, to its credit, sporting the most terrifyingly awesome sniper rifle I’ve seen in a game. But the rest just looks stiff. Generic. It could be because there wasn’t a whole hell of a lot to the demo that we haven’t seen before, but still. This one’s a question mark.
3:29–Batman: Arkham Origins
Next stop, Arkham Origins. Demo starts with Bats doing his thing. We’re in the POV of some random thug, being held upside down by Bats. Sadly, nope, it ain’t Kevin Conroy voicing this time, and the new guy sounds like the middle ground between Conroy and Bale. It actually kinda works. Either way, he gets his info, drops him, in the usual asshole Batman way. And then, we’re off to the races. The old mechanics are still here, the combat is still awesome, the zipline-to-glide thing is still exhilarating as ever. It all seems business as usual, except with a less-than-compelling plot keeping us going, which is the major problem. Last game had you surrounded on all sides by scum and villainy, and you were fighting to figure a way out and take down Hugo Strange in the process. This one, there’s a bank robbery around every corner, and a nebulous hit on the Bat but it never feels like Bats is being constantly hunted, despite the fact that Bats can be hurt being the thing that makes him interesting. Instead, the demo has him taking down armored dudes the size of Bane like any other enemy.
The one intriguing twist, however, is a new Detective Mode mechanic. While traveling to the main goal set on the map, Gotham PD swoops down in a helicopter.Looks like Bats is screwed, until out of nowhere, the plane tilts, crashes, and burns. Bats swoops down; No survivors. BUT, with his fancy pants new detective mode, Bats is able to collect clues on the ground, allowing his visor, via the Batcomputer, to reconstruct the crime, rewinding it, fast forwarding to find new clues, at the scene, back up on the roof, ultimately leading him backwards to an adjacent roof, where the fateful gunshot seems to have come from. Except the SWAT team member there was aiming at Bats, not the chopper. A bit more investigating, the shot that brought down the chopper came from about 200 yards away. A ricochet. From Deadshot. This series has been struggling to get Detective mode right a while now. This feels like they succeeded.
The rest of the demo isn’t as awesome as that, but they do introduce a new grappling hook that allows you to latch one end on to one thing, remotely target another, and have to two targets draw each other in. Grappling two enemies slams them together. Grapple one to a statue, it’ll remotely take down a target, with your foes aiming at the empty status, and not you. Grapple an enemy and an explosive, and enjoy the best shit-eating grin.
The rest is on autopilot, as Bats gets torn out of the roof of an elevator by a giant black dude in a steel mask, roughed up a bit, before being thrown at the Joker’s feet. Nope, it’s not Hamill, but Troy Baker’s a reasonable facsimile. The Joker unveils 6 different old-timey explosive charges. He pushes one, and what looks like an entire cross section of Gotham goes boom out of his window. A construction site. It was blocking his view. HA. End of demo. October 25th for this. Hopefully, the game’s got some surprises in store.
3:45pm–Arkham Origins: Blackgate
The Dying Light presentation isn’t open yet, so me and the good gentlemen from Screw Attack who walked with me are encouraged to check out the Arkham games in private. Everyone gravitates to Origins. I head straight for the 3DS. I don’t get to spend too much time with the 2D Metroidvania Batman game, but the time I spend is quality. The cutscenes are old-school 70s Batman, set in motion. When the actual game starts, the combat feels very much like its console cousin, and then you start moving. The preview have it wrong. It feels less like Metroid or Castlevania, more like Bionic Commando and Prince of Persia. And it very much WORKS. You’re led on a merry chase by a taunting Catwoman, grappling across Gotham, in multiple camera angles, in and out of the scenery. It’s perfect for the little handheld, and, yes, it honestly put the kind of smile on my face I wish the preview for Origins had.
This one just popped up on the radar before I left for LA. Many a Left 4 Dead/Mirror’s Edge joke was made.
Today there’s fewer jokes.
The demo we see starts us on a rooftop. You have a voice in your ear telling you to turn your eyes skyward, and collect the airdropped supplies before the army or other bandits make off with them. The teaser trailer showed us a world bathed in stark, frightening yellow, but the first act of this demo, it’s beautiful, tropical daylight, with a steady, almost comforting breeze swaying anything willing to move. There just happen to be shambling zombies running around. At this point, everyone knows by fatigue with the whole god damn zombie thing. I can’t say this does that much to relieve that fatigue, but, to Dying Light‘s credit, it actually follows that suggestion I made in the other article to the letter. There’s no guns. Just a lot of running. You start out Team Fortress Scout style, traversing the rooftops at top speed with just a baseball bat, bashing zombie brains in. One gets too close, he gets a full-force headbutt. The first thing you notice, off the bat, is that every hit in this game HURTS. Like, bass-thudding, squelching HURT. Taking out zombies with extreme prejudice here feels satisfying as hell, as the very least.
You continue on, ducking in and out of run down favelas and shanties. You stop in one, hearing whimpering coming from a closet. It’s a little girl, but she wants none of what you’re selling. Her daddy will be back, she says. The voice in your ear again. “Focus on the job.” And so, you move on, cracking zombie skull, and narrowly escaping fights at every turn. The gentleman running the demo emphasizes how unwise it is to fight every fight. You have the ability to run for good god damn reason. Use it.
You reach the first drop, and are stopped dead in your tracks. The military got there first, and off to the left, you can take a look at the last fellow you who didn’t walk away quiet. That airdrop’s gone. Time to move on. Through the next door you have the opportunity to customize your weaponry. You’re carrying a machete. You upgrade it so that fucker has electricity shooting through it. Killing…gets easier after this. Even still, a giant zombie is lurking around the next corner. It tosses a car at you, killing two of his buddies, until you slide through a crack in the adjacent wall to safety.
Around the next corner, you have someone running at you. You strike, and have a moment of pause. The zombie, it looks like, is crying from the pain. These guys are infected, but not yet (un)dead. That reaction buys the zombie a moment to try again. This time, he’s put down for good. Up ahead is a group. A special move is activate separating about 6 folks from their torsos at once. Not a single second available to bask in the cool. The light has changed. The sun is setting.
Our hero’s found a hammer. The noise that thing makes on impact is unsettling in the worst way. But it’s the only thing keeping our hero alive. The second airdrop is found. Meds of various sorts taken. But it’s too late. Night falls, and the real horror starts. A red pulse starts affecting all the shamblers around, making them more resistant. On top of that, some of them start walking upright, skulking around with a purpose. They remind me of Pinbacker from Sunshine, except, there’s no human drama for them to ruin. One of them sees you. Again, fuck a fight. You RUN.
The escape is nerve wracking as hell, even with the hammer in hand, and the parkour stuff still looks smooth as silk, which is your only way out. The Mirror’s Edge comparisons are strongest here, and even from that game, which I adore, there’s nothing that seems like it’d rile up the blood like this. You’re a foot from escape when you’re pounced on. Cut to black. God damn it, this could very well work, if it doesn’t get repetitive. We find out in 2014.
4:15pm–Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z
I have an awesome little video game art exhibit to check out at 5. Just enough time to check out the nearest show floor in South Hall for one more game.
I could’ve walked straight ahead, and checked out Nintendo, even had enough time to stand in line for Bayonetta 2. I could’ve finally held the PS4 controller in my own mitts and played any of those titles. Nope, I just had to let my weakness for the Ninja Gaiden series sucker me into playing Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z.
I have such regrets.
Ninja Gaiden Z, on paper, and for the first cutscene we see, with Ryu dueling another ninja in a bamboo forest, looks AMAZING. It’s cel-shaded, less like anime, more like some unholy manga/Marvel hybrid. It’s striking. It’s cool.
It is shit.
After the duel, we go two weeks later. Ryu has a cyborg limb, and has to fight his way out of a city full of zombies. Dying Light magically made me get over my zombie prejudice for a few brief minutes. This brought it back with a vengeance. There’s no skill here. Mash the face buttons, and shit gets indiscernibly sliced up. There’s some minor QTE stuff, allowing Ryu to tear off limbs and use them as nunchucks which, again, sounds delightful on paper. It just feels like this could’ve been a mobile title instead of a console game.
Then Ryu opens his mouth. Ryu is still Japanese on the outside. On the inside, Ryu is a grizzled, brown-haired dudebro protagonist, with such witty bon mots as, after destroying a porn shop to kill a miniboss, “You just ruined my panty party!”
I wish I was paraphrasing in any way.
If anything, it does two things. It makes Lollipop Chainsaw, which does much of the same things, look even better in retrospect. It also makes me want to find Tomonobu Itagaki, and crack the fucking whip on Devil’s Third. Regardless, as the last game of the day, it definitely sends one off on a low note.