We’ve already given you a look at Medal of Honor, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Gears of War 3 and the remarkably daft Bulletstorm, but there was a lot more to see at the Eurogamer Expo. Here we take a look at some of the other titles battling for attention on the show floor.
One last thing: if you’re in Earl’s Court Exhibition Hall do not, we repeat do not eat the baked potatoes. Trust us on that one.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit
By EA’s own admission, the Need for Speed franchise was a key example of how EA used to force their franchises to release every single year, with no real concern for quality or the mental state of their overworked staff. Hot Pursuit sees development duties passed over to Burnout developers Criterion, with the veteran racing developers being given free rein to develop an open-world racer.
The first thing you notice is that this isn’t Burnout. It looks familiar, and the gameplay isn’t a million miles away, but the handling is much heavier and less arcade-styled, with narrower roads forcing slightly more careful driving (at least in the sections we saw). Also different were the weapons, with the opposing sides of police and racers able to employ devices like spike traps and EMP devices in order to force each other to crash out. With that said, there are still the familiar mechanics of boosting, driving in oncoming traffic and drifting that show Criterion might not be abandoning their heritage just yet. The demo we played was a slick Cops Vs. Racers multiplayer mode for 8 players. Racers need to reach the end of the course, Cops need to stop them. Fairly straightforward. Both sides get to employ tricks, with Cops pulling in reinforcements further along the track, and racers able to block their radar and disappear temporarily. Crashing out takes you out of the race altogether, so this mode at least looks like a more hardcore experience than the ‘crash and restart’ gameplay of the Burnout games. Thankfully, anything you do online or off adds to your permanent profile, so even crashing out hard nets you some experience.
At this stage Hot Pursuit is looking like a strong contender for those who want a less serious racer than the upcoming GT5 this Christmas. Nothing we saw suggested Criterion had lost anything in the move from the franchise that made their name, so this is definitely one to watch out for.
Donkey Kong Country Returns
Retro Studios seem to be Nintendo’s favourite studio for surprising and upsetting fans. There was outrage when the beloved Metroid franchise was announced as being farmed out to a third-party American studio (and being turned into a first-person shooter, no less!), and that turned out the amazing Metroid Prime series. At this year’s E3 it was announced that Retro were stepping into the very large shoes Rare developing the latest Donkey Kong title, and doing it as a pure retro throwback 2D platformer. The developer than broke the Metroid mould and dragged that franchise kicking and screaming into the modern age is happy to live in 1994 for this title.
But it’s no bad thing. Rare’s own Donkey Kong 64, while lauded at the time, was about as generic a 3D platformer as can be imagined. This return to 2D roots is a welcome throwback, especially when it’s as well executed as this. The original Donkey Kong Country was graphically stunning when it first arrived, and while Returns can’t make the same impact, it is bright and colourful with some great animation. It plays very simply, with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk used as a joystick and buttons, with simple motion controls used to roll and ground pound. It doesn’t feel like a pushover – it’s still very easy to die if you’re being careless – though the second player (controlling Diddy Kong) can ride on DK’s back, hopefully allowing adults to shepherd younger players through tougher parts of the game.
Ultimately, Donkey Kong Country Returns doesn’t really have anything new to offer, but it should be top of your shopping list if the words ‘mine cart level’ put a smile on your face. Like New Super Mario Bros., it hits the sweet spot that should satisfy kids and older Nintendo fans alike.
Dead Space 2
Dead Space 2 sees original protaganist Isaac Clarke return, this time to a large space station-cum-cathedral called The Sprawl. The new setting allows for a wider range of environments, with gothic stonework joining the familiar tunnels and ducts of the first title. The gameplay is very familiar, and it’s hard to tell from the section we saw as to just what has really changed from the first game. There were certainly a lot of Quick Time Events, which is not exactly a positive step, but they seem to be restricted to what would otherwise be cut scenes or lead-ins to boss fights. Combat seemed near identical to the first game, the only immediately obvious difference being the camera placed further back from your character, possibly suggesting a more action-oriented title. Onemetal’s Mark Dryden had a comprehensive playthrough, which to him seemed to involve stamping on the same enemy over and over until they were a bloody paste on the floor. If that sounds like your sort of thing, be sure to check out Dead Space 2 come January. It may not be original, but fans fo the first game are unlikely to be disappointed regardless.
Hunted: The Demon’s Forge is a strange title. It claims to be a Diablo-esque dungeon crawler, but it plays like a fantasy Gears of War. There’s nothing to say the two styles can’t cross-pollinate (Borderlands being an example of the dungeon crawl merged with another genre to great effect), but from the evidence of what we played, there was little of the obsessive loot collecting any good dungeon crawler needs to keep players’ interests. Watching an Elf slide into cover Gears-style is an unsettling experience at first, but should ensure players get up to speed with the combat system quickly.
There are two distinct characters – the big and muscly melee fighter Caddoc, and lithe ranged combat specialist Elara. While the characters are clearly specialised, there’s nothing to stop them fighting in the style better suited to the other – save for the fact that they’re rubbish at it. In addition to weapons, each character can cast spells to make the other more effective, as well as lobbing healing potions to revive your comrade should they get taken out in combat. If you want to play as the other character, a menu option lets you switch bodies, which is a neat touch and should help prevent monotony. Less good is that (at least in the build we saw) co-op is restricted to Online and LAN – no split-screen mode.
We got to battle through a collapsing temple filled with Ray Harryhausen-styled skeletons and goblins, with combat seeming relatively straightforward. It’s not unchallenging though, and you do have to be aware of what your partner is doing if you want to succeed. It’s very easy to get isolated by a horde of monsters if you split up, so sticking together seems the only viable tactic. With the section we played showing very little of the whole, it will be interesting to see whether Hunted can bring the RPG elements to capitalise on the obvious quality of the action we saw. It’s launching in 2011, putting it (allegedly) head-to-head with Diablo 3, and the fickle gaming public may not have room in their hearts for two loot-grabbing fantasy titles.
Dead Nation is a zombie game. It’s also a twin-stick shooter. No, wait, please come back. While this PSN-exclusive title might not be the most the most original game around (to say the very least), it is definitely a lot of fun. You and a co-op partner must blast your way through hordes of the undead, picking up more powerful weapons and making use of the environment to maximise your chances of making it through to the next level. It’s almost as though the developers (Super Stardust’s Housemarque) set out to make a minimalistic take on Left 4 Dead, and that’s exactly how it plays. There’s nothing here that you haven’t seen before, but it’s a very polished game that you can play in far shorter bursts than it’s Valve-published second cousin. Bizarrely, the co-op play that looks to be the game’s focus wasn’t playable at the Expo. Still, what we saw seemed to be a slick if simplistic blaster that should definitely be good for a few evenings-worth of zombie blasting.
Brink seemed to be one of the must-play games of the show, with 2-hour queues to play most of the time. The Onemetal team being as decrepit as we are, we couldn’t even look at that snaking line of sweaty gamers, let alone stand in it, so we had to settle for watching the pitched 16-player battle and badgering a Bethesda PR guy with the best forced smile ever.
It’s not due out until the middle of 2011, but Brink is already looking great, with a Judge Dredd / Blade Runner – inspired aesthetic and chunky customisable characters that tread the line between cartoony and realistic. One of the things that developer Splash Damage is touting as making Brink stand out from the pack is a parkour system, where tapping a button allows you to make context-sensitive moves letting you scramble over scenery, slide about, and generally lob yourself around the maps with gay abandon. The only problem was that no-one seemed to be using it, but presumably to do well in the finished game you will have to utilise it.Similarly the demo isn’t a great way to get a look at the persistent elements like character levelling and customisation, though Splash Damage are promising big things. What we saw looked good, but whether Brink is offering gamers enough to stand out in a very crowded market remains to be seen.
Fallout: New Vegas
Anyone who played Fallout 3 knows how easy it is to lose 50 or more hours of your life to it, meaning that a timed demo on an exhibition floor is not the best way to see the best that New Vegas has to offer. What was on display was a very familiar looking game, albeit with the grey-brown of the Northwestern setting replaced by the brightness of the desert and towns with power. A big difference seems to be that the settings seem to have enough power to run a dissolute impression of the Vegas strip, with neon signs everywhere. There will apparently be new enemy types to fight, but the brief run through the desert that we saw only ever brought out the familiar Radscorpions. Still, with not long to go until release, everything seems to be in place. Without investing hour upon hour, there’s no way of knowing if New Vegas lives up to its predecessors. There was also nothing on display to suggest that it won’t.
Marvel Vs. Capcom 3
Capcom’s upcoming brawler was on show in a custom arcade cabinet, but we didn’t get any hands-on time, mostly due to the three-deep crowd of fighting fans surrounding the machine, cheering on the players. The game isn’t due out until 2011, but it looks finished, and incredibly polished with it. The gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has played Tatsanuko Vs. Capcom, with the same sort of speed, simplified combos and overblown attacks, but seeing Spider-Man and Viewtiful Joe facing off is a far more exciting prospect. We’ll see for sure when it finally comes out next year.