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RPSish At-Ish E3: Housecleaning - EA

Yep, EA again, because this time I’m not talking about their press conference but the excellent time I had in their far-too-crowded demo room checking out their titles – Dead Space, MySims, Mirror’s Edge and Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, first hand.

Dead Space – Oh, goodness. Now not every game at E3 is demonstrated with the help of its producer, so I had one of the staff members of EA Redwood Shores on hand while I was playing Dead Space, and what he had to say was rather interesting. First of all that while the game looks like a shooter, “it’s a survival horror first and foremost.”

Exciting! Except obviously my hands-on time was limited to the action orientated bits they’ve already shown. Dead Space feels superb, however. The controls (Xbox 360 controller again, natch) aren’t instantly obvious – you have to be prepared to run, jump, use telekinesis, aim, fire/change weapons, switch your weapon’s firing mode (horizontally and vertically, important when you’re trying to dismember enemies) and several other things I’ve already forgotten – yet quickly I was running around, chopping enemies into bits and having a great time.

I mentioned System Shock 2 in my earlier coverage of EA in reference to Dead Space, and even though all we’ve really seen is action, I think the comparison is spot on. For one, within seconds of playing I’d already picked up an audio tape by walking over it (it began playing instantly) and the majority of the game’s story will be told through similar logs. Of course, there are many games, not just the ‘Shocks, which have done that, but there’s something else – I felt a genuine feeling of not only fear and disgust but pity for my enemies. They were obviously once human, and unlike the zombies of, say, Doom 3, their shambling forms, screaming in what must only be agony, are deeply affecting.

A little into my time playing I faced off against a female form pinned to a wall by a mass of flesh that screamed while popping out what I can only explain as horrifying foetuses that whipped at me with spiked tails. Chopping off their tails and then chopping off her arms was not pleasurable, and when I say that I don’t mean “not fun” – what I mean is I was challenged by the only way that I could silence her pain was by killing her in the most violent way possible.

So maybe there is some meaning to this strategic dismemberment thing! I asked if there were going to be any sentient humans left alive on the ship you’re exploring, and I was told that there in fact would be – but with the horrifying caveat “alive – in some form or another.” (This was only a staff member though, so I suggest we take everything they said with a pinch of salt.)

What else? Well, you can level up your character Isaac and his weapons as you play the game by using a skill tree (one which you’ll never be able to completely fill, so you will have to choose how to want to power him up and play accordingly) the weapons I used were super satisfying (especially the all-conquering flamethrower, which they’re going to balance by decreasing its power, boo) and the play in zero G is great.

In zero gravity you jump from one surface to the next by simply aiming (as if you were about to fire) and jump. These levels are potentially the most exciting with their potential for puzzle solving – in one area I had to leap from wall to wall to avoid electrified areas – and I particularly enjoyed the zero gravity boss I faced. Yes, I know – boss battles are kind of lame, especially for a System Shock sort of title – but this one, against an evil tentacled sphincter was pretty amazing – leaping to escape his tentacle sweeps and bumping into floating debris was just remarkable.

Though probably not as remarkable as when I failed to leap and watched as Isaac was chopped clean in half, his blood floating into the air in thick globules, his intestines beginning to uncurl and escape – eurgh.

MySims – MySims was confirmed as coming to PC recently, and EA are making a big deal of the online features. Probably because the main game is still exactly the same as it was on Wii, which is a shonky sort of Animal Crossing rip off where rather than spending all your time catching bugs and delivering mail to make your animals happy, you build beds out of fish to keep your Sims happy. It was basically nothing like a Sims game at all and a very lame use of a license to sell a game to an established fanbase.

As the online features can’t do anything to change that, it’s probably an even bigger crime to put MySims on PC where people are going to expect a Sims-like experience. I got some hands-on time with the online area (essentially an online garden shared between groups of friends which features new essences to build items with) and it’s alright, I suppose. The most exciting part is that you can easily sent new items that you’ve built to friends even via e-mail thanks to a “package and e-mail” option. So if you really, really like the object construction in MySims the PC version will allow you to share your creations with others. I still think the title should be designed around the social and mood management that the original game is known for, though. Maybe in MySims 2.

Mirror’s Edge – I know we’re all excited for this – everyone is. So much so that it was a waste of time trying to get hands-on time, as the queue was always a mile long. And it was only to play the bit that we’ve already seen played repeatedly. It would have been nice to play it to really get a feel for it, but at least from my observation I’ve learned that the levels aren’t quite as linear as they originally seemed (each level is going to have multiple paths of varying difficulty) and that it should be possible to traverse at least some sections (maybe even full levels?) without ever losing momentum (you can roll out of hard landings with good timing).

I was shown a later level of the game, which was interesting because it was set in a sewer (or something) and had a very dark green palette (rather than the impressively bright white colouring of the levels we’ve seen so far. It featured lots of snipers, so you had to maintain momentum to escape their laser sights, but it also still had the bright red piping which denotes pipes that will help you on your way to your goal, and they looked incongruous and “videogamey”, something Mirror’s Edge has done a good job of avoiding otherwise.

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning – I took a look at this in two stages, the first time a little tour of the recently announced features and then the second a lengthy chat with designer Paul Barnett which began with him explaining that the game just isn’t coming across correctly in the trailers being put online, specifically citing the recent trailer posted here.

I have to say I totally agree with him. Because Warhamer Online is genuinely a very beautiful game that really does look nothing like that trailer! I’m not going to go in depth on my chat with Paul Barnett otherwise (it was almost entirely off topic – so let’s chat about what I learned about otherwise. First, they were showing off the character creator, which is pretty decent. It doesn’t offer anywhere near a City of Heroes level of customization, but there should be enough to keep most happy. Of course, you should be able to customize your character perfectly acceptably as there are over 400 armour sets available, plus your clans can select heraldry from 1.5 million combinations (which is perhaps kind of a misleading number, as I wasn’t told how many different components there were, but all the heraldry I saw looked really cool.)

Warhammer Online has suffered some setbacks in public opinion recently – not just lame trailers, but that whole “oops less characters than we promised” thing – and I have to say while I’m still stung at the loss of some characters (I can’t believe they took out Orc Choppas) the number of characters seems to be less important than the other features which are already implemented - such as the public quest system. There are over 300 location based quests that you can join and play along with whoever is in the area (I took part in one short battle at an orc village that ended in an avalanche) and along with the open parties system (you can find all the groups nearby and how far it’ll take to get to them from one quick search) and a Lua based interface (allowing you to mod/edit your interface and layout exactly as you see fit) Wahammer Online might be the exact kind of MMORPG I’ve been waiting for (might) – one where it’ll be as easy to pick up and play as a quick game of Team Fortress 2 is.

I wish they’d kept the Orc Choppa though. Waaaaugh!

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Dead Space

iOS, PS3, Xbox 360, PC

Mirror's Edge

iOS, PS3, Xbox 360, PC

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Mathew Kumar