Wednesday, June 3, 2009

E3 2009: The Big Guns

In case you haven’t noticed, an entire year’s worth of trailers, news and showboating is happening within three days. Today is Day Two of the Electronic Entertainment Expo, otherwise known as E3. Welcome to the eye of the storm.

We’re doing our best to make sense of the bedlam. Yesterday, Craig talked about Project Natal, Microsoft’s ambitious motion control scheme. A bombshell for sure, but yesterday, scores of AAA titles were announced, confirmed, exhibited and demo’d. Modern Warfare 2, Halo: ODST, Splinter Cell: Conviction – excuse me.

There. Much better. You never really expect blood to come streaming out of your ears, do you? Anyway! I’m going to attempt to digest and discuss some of 2009’s big-name titles without another hemmorage. Hit the jump and judge my success.

Halo: ODST
Developer: Bungie
Release Date: 22 September

: Formerly titled the reasonable Halo: Recon, Halo: ODST plops you in the boots of an, ahem, ODST – Orbital Drop Shock Trooper. Where the Master Chief was superhuman, able to absorb long falls and sustained fire, you are eminently soft, fleshy and vulnerable, without shields or super-duper armor to protect you. As “The Rookie,” you are separated from your unit in a devastated city crawling with Covenant.
As you explore the open-world city of New Mumbai, you stumble across artifacts that trigger flashback missions. In the exhibited walkthrough, The Rookie found a fragment of a demolitions kit which warped the player two hours ago, sweating in the boots of a different soldier who is rigging a bridge to blow. Bungie said the flashback missions will piece the story together in a nonlinear faishon, the pieces coming together like a puzzle.

As most of you know, I harbor a deep distaste for the Halo franchise. When Halo: ODST was announced, I was unsurprised and unenthusiastic. “Gritty,” you say? “Urban?” Thanks, Bungie, but I already played Gears of War.
I must say, though, the ODST trailer looks shit-hot. Bungie is experimenting, which I wanted them to do since, oh, Halo: Combat Evolved. As a softer target, you’ll need to revise your approach to battles – if Bungie delivers on its bluster, you’ll strike from the shadows, and strike swiftly with an array of silenced weapons. Judging from the trailer, it doesn’t look like we should expect Rainbow Six – in fact, the running and gunning looks pretty much like Halo to me. We’ll see in September.
Oh, and for a four-six hour game, Bungie is asking $60. How’s that recession going, America?

Cautiously optimistic. You have one shot, Bungie. Make it count.

Halo: Reach
Developer: Bungie
Release Date: Mmmm.

: A Halo prequel. There’s a planet called Reach, and it gets blown up by the Covenant. You wouldn’t know this unless you read the novel.

: The cash cow moos. It knows what’s coming.

: Unsurprised. Jaded.

Modern Warfare 2
Developer: Infinity Ward
Release Date: 10 November 2009

: Teryarch had their fun with Call of Duty 5 – now the franchise is back in professional hands, and Infinity Ward even deigned necessary to dispose of the “Call of Duty” tag. Modern Warfare 2 is emerging as a brand of its own, the sequel to 2007’s stunning Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, which lifted the CoD franchise from WWII and plopped it into the cynicism, uncertainty and sneering cool of Our Troubled Times. Modern Warfare 2 pits you against Makarov, terrorist disciple of Zakhaev, the one-armed bastard you killed in MW1.
In the walkthrough, your character infiltrated a (Siberian?) airstrip and blew shit up. To get there, you scaled a cliff with icepicks. Blizzard conditions limited visibility to 10 meters or so, concealing you from sentries - who, thanks to your heartbeat sensor, are rendered corpses efficiently and silently. The mission ended with the snowmobile chase promised in the trailer.

: Infinity Ward hasn’t stumbled since launching the franchise in 2003, and I doubt they’ll disappoint now. After their triumph with Call of Duty 4, Infinity Ward will need to up the ante in both single and multiplayer modes. I’m unworried. Look at your team leader heaving himself up the side of a cliff – have you ever seen such realistic, kinetic animation? This is a studio that pays attention to details. I’m confident that Modern Warfare 2 will sweep the market like its predecessor.

: November 10 is my birthday. I know what I’m getting.

Metal Gear Solid: Rising
Developer: Konami
Release Date: Unannounced

: The big news was that Konami was developing an MGS title for the 360; the bigger news was that you’d play as Raiden, a nubile man-child, not Solid Snake. With a tagline of “Lightning Bolt Action,” I have no idea what to expect. This is Kojima we’re talking about, folks.

: While fascinated by the series, I never got a chance to play a single game. I wonder how the MGS faithful will take to a Raiden-only game? I understand there was something a backlash against his prominence in Metal Gear Solid 2.

: Listening.

Splinter Cell: Conviction
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: November 17, 2009

: Two years after Splinter Cell: Double Agent, Sam Fisher is on his own, acting independently of Third Echelon. Somebody killed his daughter, and he wants to find out who. Besides the usual repertoire of scuttling, climbing and sliding into darkness, Sam now has a wide array of context-sensitive actions that make brawling a treat. Take a look at the gameplay demo – the fluid violence of Fisher’s maneuvers is incredible. I can pretty much guarantee the 24 market is going to love this game.

: That said, this is pretty much 24: The Game. After this occurred to me, I found myself hard-pressed to find a downside. Pretty much every episode ended with Craig, Andrew and I groaning in frustration, saying “Why hasn’t anyone made a decent game out of this?” From what I can tell, my Jack Bauer fantasies will find a safe home in Conviction.

: More or less sold, but I need to see more of the context-sensitive brawling. Ubi was light on mechanical details, and as with anything this ambitious, I’m skeptical.

Of course, I didn’t even touch on Alan Wake, Mass Effect 2 or the countless other big-bore titles out there. For more on those, check back later tonight, when we round up the day’s news and feed it to you just like this.