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We played a lot more games than we've written on at PAX Prime, but a lot of them just didn't show us enough to really warrant a whole article, so we decided to do a quick hit list here and get most of them out of the way, so strap in. This will be quick enough, and then we'll never speak of it again. That's what she said.
Jurassic Park (360, PS3, PC)
A non-fun version of Dragon's Lair, essentially. Telltale was leading a modern Reanaisance of adventure titles, so why they decided to make an extended quick time event out of a CG movie that's even more boring than the third Jurassic Park movie is beyond me. And this is from someone who liked the SNES Jurassic Park game...
HAWTwired Hype Level - 4/10
X-Men Destiny (360, PS3)
Champions of Norrath with mutants. The demo didn't really excite, but since it was only the first few maps of the first few levels, there really wasn't enough to make an accurate judgement. The Champions of Norrath assessment was the quickest point of reference I could come up with such limited exposure. You beat up bad guys, you advance your skill tree, you min-max your abilities. We'll have to wait till release to say any more about it.
HAWTwired Hype Level - 6/10
Spider-Man: Edge of Time (360, PS3)
There was a lot happening in Edge of Time, and it was hard to keep track of it all. Combat appeared to be deep, but since there was no primer on what the control scheme was, it was frustrating and lead to a string of hard-attack-light-attack combos while I played. Like X-Men Destiny, the short demo didn't really showcase the game's selling mechanic (altering events in Spider-Man's timeline to affect Spider-Man 2099's timeline), so again, it will be hard to judge until release.
HAWTwired Hype Level - 7/10
SSX (360, PS3)
I'm still addicted to SSX3--at one time or another I've owned it for Xbox, PS2, and Gamecube. This ended up hampering me a bit on the new SSX, as the control scheme has been modeled more to the sticks than to the buttons (the demo rep compared it to Fight Night's punching mechanics), so it took me some getting used to, but yes, it is still SSX (and not that crappy SSX On Tour nonsense). EA's "Mountain Man" program that generates courses based on real world mountain slopes works, and in a big way. I'm looking forward to tackling the slopes and meticulously trying scoping out the best lines when this game drops in January.
HAWTwired Hype Level - 8/10
Forza 4 (360)
There are two major problems with a Forza demo--first, if you're playing it right, the demo (a single race) shouldn't take longer than about two minutes. Secondly, if you're properly focusing for a driving game, the details in the graphics and sound are the last thing you're concentrating on. But in it's own way, that's a compliment--if I hadn't been consciously trying to examine the graphics and sounds of the game, I never would have noticed them, which means that they are, in effect, creating a world complete enough that it doesn't distract with things that don't belong, and "enough, but not too much" is a damn hard target to hit with any creative exercise, so hats off for that. I was hoping John Q Public would have a chance to get their hands on the Kinect controls for the game, but the demo ran with gamepad only.
HAWTwired Hype Level - 8/10
Batman: Arkham City (360, PS3, PC)
This was the same demo that WB Games brought to E3, so nothing here was exactly Earth-shattering. The combat as Catwoman was fun, possibly more fun than playing as The Bat, and her voice acting didn't annoy me as much as it seems to some other people. Granted, it's not a voice that people are going to associate with "strong, positive heroine figure", but realistically, with all the bad puns an innuendo Catwoman has delivered as a character over the years, I think she's probably a bit more sex kitten than progressive women's advocates want to admit. Outside of Catwoman, the demo didn't really show anything that you didn't see from Arkham Asylum, but even if left at that, is more Arkham Asylum a bad thing?
HAWTwired Hype Level - 8/10
Capcom Booth (360, PS3, 3DS, PC)
We didn't play anything at the Capcom booth, and I want to tell you why. I don't know if they were Capcom employees or PR representatives, but the folks working the booth kept turning people away from lining up for demos because they didn't want their lines to get over an hour long. This is PAX. People waited in line over an hour for Citizen Skywatch, and they didn't even know what the hell it was. I waited two hours for Uncharted 3, and I don't even own a PS3. Turning away people so your booth has a better aesthetic sends a message to your audience that your games are more important than they are. Of course, so does re-releasing all your most popular games a year later, so I guess that just kinda tells us where Capcom sits these days.
HAWTwired Hype Level - 2/10
If there was one thing that was utterly unexpected about PAX it was the Citizen Skywatch booth. The innocuous booth sat in the edge of the 2K Games area, largely taunting the PAX-goers. The most entertaining aspect was that people kept lining up for it, even though most of them had no clue what it was. Some thought they were in the Borderlands 2 line, some thought they were lined up for Bioshock Infinite. Others walked by, asked the folks in line why they were there, and then left in a huff when no one could give them a straight answer (my personal favorite to watch).
What the line was really for was for Citizen Skywatch, an ARG (alternate reality game) designed to run with upcomer 2K title X-Com. If you're unfamiliar with alternate reality games, it's essentially a multimedia driven scavenger hunt for players to scour the globe in search of info related not just to the ARG, but to the title it's promoting as well. The game industry is no stranger to ARG's, ilovebees being the most famous, but it was nice to see such care being taken on a first-hand level.
The booth was populated with actors who improvised McCarthy-era paranoia as they dealt with the public. Doctors prodded PAX-goers, non-descript men in ties interrogated people about their involvement with communists, and nerdy engineers talked faster than they could think as they dealt with the public. As a theater person, it was truly wonderful to watch a team of actors do such tireless improv for so many straight hours, and the cast members deserve huge acclamations for their effort. The booth was decorated with a plethora of maps, memo, and coded information (many of which people took photos you can suss up online). I was particularly pleased to see that they employed an era appropriate 48-star flag in the booth (though they used a 50-star one in the looping film reel they played--I noticed). After observing the bulletin boards of information and suffering an intense interrogation session, booth attendees were signed up as honorary members of Citizen Skywatch, given ID cards, and sent off to look for more clues on the PAX floor and surrounding areas.
Citizen Skywatch appears to be extending beyond PAX, and you can still sign up if you want in. It will be interesting to see where this game takes its players.
HAWTwired Hype Level: 7/10
Personally, ARG's are most fun for me in retrospect, going back and looking at the aftermath, but the more inquisitive and curious should definitely check it out and start digging.
I've noticed two trends in gaming, recently. First is the resurgence of the loot-whore dungeon crawl, which I'm going to attribute to the success of Torchlight and Borderlands, plus the knowledge that once Diablo 3 hits that market is going to be impossible to break into, so get in now. The other is the free-to-play, team driven, class-based drop-in/drop-out shooter, which Team Fortress 2 is largely responsible for, despite only going free-to-play earlier this year. Wrath of Heroes in an entry into the latter.
Based on the scenario combat from the Warhammer Online MMO, Wrath of Heroes features 3-team combat, 6-on-6-on-6. Rather than generic classes, Wrath of Heroes uses named characters (each representing classic Warhammer classes) to duke it out, and BioWare Mythic is hoping to have as many as 25-characters when then get to launch. Still a game largely in progress, the BioWare Mythic is designing the characters on two principals: "What is needed?" and "What is fun?" As such, the development is seeing characters designed on the premise of awesome-to-play, potentially overpowerd character types, and characters who focus on grieving a potentially overpowered character. The combo promises to help keep the battle field evolving as teams continue trying to rock-paper-scissors each other into submission.
Combat plays similar to MMO combat, for those of you who are familiar. For those who aren't, each character has a basic attack and four unique powers. The powers each feature individual cool down rates to keep them from being spammed, but the main attack will always be available. Players can change characters on respawn, keeping the evolving battle I mentioned earlier constantly flowing.
There's not a ton of outside details yet, largely because the game is still in early, early stages. There's been discussion of collectible costume pieces and weapons, unlocking favorite characters (free-to-play characters will be on a rotated schedule, so your favorites can be unlocked for constant play via monetary or time commitment), and such, but nothing is set in stone yet due to the early development stage. The good news is that BioWare Mythic is taking submissions for the closed Beta, so you can rush over to the Wrath of Heroes web site to get your name on the list.
HAWTwired Hype Level: 8/10
So much promise in a game still far away, plus the free-to-play doctrine, may make this title a dark horse success.
Sometimes, standing in line at a demo station, you watch the players ahead of you, and you think you’ve seen all you need to see. Skyward Sword pleasantly surprised me by showing me I could be wrong.
The controls took a little getting used to, coming off the essentially digital waggling of Twilight Princess and into the modern world of Wii Motion Plus. I felt that, although the sword tracking was accurate and impressive, it wasn’t exactly functional (don’t go thinking that your high school fencing lessons are going to carry over). I’ll admit that it’s been awhile since I spun Twilight Princess in the ol’ Wii, but I’m pretty sure the controls were a lot more intuitive than Skyward Sword’s. Switching between items and drawing your shield took a lot more conscious thought than on-the-fly action gaming should call for, but take that with a grain of salt. The Zelda series has a bountiful history of easing players into its mechanics, so being dropped into the action with half an inventory of new toys is bound to be misleading.
Speaking of toys, we got a chance to play with a couple of the old stand-bys: potions, slingshot, bow, and a new, Predator-drone-like scarab, that you control remotely to grab items and explore otherwise impossible-to-reach locations. Several different shields were also available to try out (wood, iron, and such), but no word on if these function as the traditional shield upgrade, or if they had different attributes that look for switching between play.
The only thing I don’t totally get about Skyward Sword is the art direction. I suppose that the goal was to make is a lighter, friendlier affair than the dark gritty art direction behind Twilight Princess, but the lack of detail in textures just makes the graphic quality feel like a higher-ploygon count version of Ocarina of Time. Even worse, it feels like Nintendo is admitting they did something wrong with Twilight Princess’s grittiness, like they followed that path just to prove they could.
If it sounds like I have a ton of problems with Skyward Sword, I really don’t. It’s a Zelda game, and like other Zelda games, it was engrossing and exciting. Also like other Zelda games, you have a pretty good idea of the jist of what you’ll be doing, so it’s hard to discuss much that you haven’t already seen. But like the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
HAWTwired Hype Level: 8/10
Zelda game is Zelda. Which means it's still one of the better games ever put together.
If we have one critical flaw here at HAWTwired that I regret, its our lack of literacy when it comes to the Playstation 3. By which, I don't mean our brain malfunctions and we can't read a screen a PS3 loads into, but we as a group are not very familiar with the little black box and its library. Its not for lack of want; the Playstation family has a great history and the PS3 exclusives number along some if the greatest titles of this generation. But as labor-of-love, unpaid games writers, we can only play what we can afford, and thus far, for our editors, the PS3 hasn't fit into our individual family budgets.
For that reason, I always try to expose myself to at least one PS3 exclusive when I hit the game expos, and at PAX I went after what may be the biggest of them all: Uncharted 3.
First we were allowed quality time with the multiplayer, which, I know there are a lot of fans of Uncharted's multiplayer, but I'm not one of them. The controls just didn't feel tuned in or precise enough for me. The shooting was a little on the spastic side (I'm pretty sure real AK-47's have less recoil than their Uncharted counterparts), and the movement/platforming felt like a jerkier, airier version of Assassin's Creed. Both features were functional, but neither felt tight and polished. In fairness, this is a demo, remember, but I'm a big fan of the motto, "If you can't make something great, don't show it". I'm sure that to legions of Nathan Drake fans that have been following the series since its inception, the controls were old hat by now, but as a new user, they were certainly not pick-up-and-play friendly.
After nose-diving-off-high-rises and tossing-grenades-when-I-meant-to-look-down-the-sights my team to a narrow defeat, the folks from Naughty Dog took us into a small theater space to show us a short demo of the game's single player campaign. It was only then that I truly understood what Uncharted 3 was about.
The level had Drake and his blonde lady friend (the interwebz say her name is Elena, but I assume, in typical action hero format, you can tell his lady friends apart by their hair color) trying to break into your typical armed-guarded Middle Eastern airfield to catch a large cargo plane. The plane begins to approach the runway before Drake can get on board, so he quickly abandons any ambitions for stealth and a running, gunning chase breaks out as the player tries to get onboard before it takes off.
Stowing away in the plane's guts, Drake decides to emerge, resulting in a heart-pounding action sequence that included, but was not limited to:
- A one-sided fist fight against a guard twice Drake's size
- Dodging the majority of the plane's cargo as it was quickly dragged out the hold at 15,000 feet
- Manically climbing debris back into the plane's hold
- And engaging in a running gun battle in-between the shifting freight in the hold as the plane banks back and forth.
It was during this sequence that I was amazed to feel my face lighting up in a way that I haven't felt since watching Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade in the theater as a kid. That was the level of adventure and excitement that merely watching the game instilled--childlike wonder. Every time Hollywood released The Mummy or Flight of The Phoenix or National Treasure or a hundred other such films, this was the magic they were trying to capture--the down-to-Earth adventure sensibilities of Alan Quartermain with the big budget excitement of Jerry Bruckheimer, combined in a golden ratio that audiences have been waiting to see again since the original Indiana Jones trilogy.
The multiplayer? That's unimportant. At the risk of making an incessantly long preview even longer, here's an allegory. Years ago I worked in a fine dining restaurant situated inside a casino. Every day, that restaurant lost money, but that wasn't the point of it. It was an amenity to the casino patrons. And while maybe 200 people chose to partake in the restaurant and found it a wonderful addition, the casino's real game was the 20,000 daily that hit the main floor. That's what Uncharted's multiplayer is: an amenity. It's not the reason the majority are coming to the show, but its a nice goody to have waiting for you on the side.
The real star here is the single player campaign, and while we can sit here and talk special effects and camera movements and graphical resolution all day, it's how they fit together in the senses if the observer that causes them to cross the line of conscious appreciation of technical skill and into the realm of guttural, emotional reaction and amazement that separates this game from the vast majority of titles out there today.
HAWTwired Hype Level: 9/10
A stomachable side-dish of multiplayer gives way to a gourmet single-player main dish. Uncharted as a AAA franchise is solidifying its position at the head of the pack.
It's that time again, Post-PAX when we drop a whole ton of HAWTwired handled game previews on you. Last year we had some confusion on our rating system, which lead to misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and misinterpreted judgements, so I wanted to clarify things early, as well as refine the system a bit.
Last year we referred to the system as games being HAWTgraded, which was probably an unfair misnomer. You can't grade a demo. It's like a restaurant critic reviewing a restaurant on the font they use on their menu. A demo is a promotional tool, not a finished product, and has always been looked at as such by our staff. Unfortunately, our "HAWTgrading" previews led some to believe that we were laying some sort of final judgement on the title, which wasn't the case. Some games last year we hated the demo and loved the game, while others spectacular demos gave way to utterly mediocre final products.
So we've renamed our preview rating, changing it to "HAWTwired Hype". This isn't a judgement on the final product so much as how excited about the game the preview made up. A high HAWTwired Hype score means we're excitedly doing a pee-pee dance while we wait for the release, a low score means that the preview left a sour taste in out mouth for the title.
Hopefully, this clears things up a bit, and helps both the players and developers who read our site keep faith in our honesty and integrity.