E3 Report Part Six
May 20, 2003 by: Jason Bergman (loonyboi)
America's Army (PC): I had a great sit-down with some people from the America's Army development team, and was able to see some of the new improvements that will be rolled out over the next six months. The first thing I was told is that America's Army: Soldiers, which was originally planned as an RPG expansion of the game, has since been merged into the regular game. It wasn't canceled, but rather integrated into America's Army, and I was shown how this is reflected in the upcoming medic class. In order to play as a medic, you will have to go through training just like you did for the other classes, however training has gotten a total reworking here. For this training, you'll actually go to a class, where an instructor will show you slides and explain the concepts behind field medicine. There will also be scripted events within a hospital, and this is all more reminiscent of an RPG or at least a single player game than anything that's been seen to date in the game. Following that training, you'll be given a test, and if you pass, you're able to play as a medic. There are plans to overhaul the entire training process this way, although whether or not you'll have to retrain if you're already playing the game has yet to be decided (probably not).
Medics add an interesting facet to the gameplay. Along with the rollout of medics a new damage model will be introduced, where if you're shot you will actually start to bleed, and not immediately have health detracted. You'll get a certain ammount taken off for the entry wound (which can be fatal), but thereafter you'll start to lose blood, and this is where medics come in. Medics can't really heal you unless you're on the brink of death. Instead they can bandage you, which will stop the bleeding, and allow you to continue on. As a gameplay balancing tactic, medics can't actually heal themselves, making them especially valuable but vulnerable players on the battlefield. Aside from medics, there will be a new special forces class added to the game, and these guys will be the elite, able to do pretty much anything they want.
As far as new weapons are concerned, I saw a new visor which gives you an improved scope and day and night vision, a single use weapon that is primarily used to take out armored bases. Other new improvements include bullets that ricochet and leave decals on walls, but can also be shot through certain objects, making wooden doors a poor choice for cover. The character models have all been given a serious overhaul, and players can look forward to much more variety, as subtle things like the goggles they wear will be different every time you go into battle. The character animations just look much, much better, and to prove this I fired up the current version of the game to compare...and believe me, it makes a world of a difference. Another big addition is a complete overhaul of the user interface. The original UI was pretty clunky, and this version is a big step up in terms of pure usability. One thing that I wasn't able to see, but thought sounded pretty cool, was laser sights for weapons. Not only will you have a little laser dot you can use for greater accuracy, but the opposing team will be able to see this, and if it crosses your face you will get a temporary red glare across your screen.
As long as I had the Army's ear, I asked a few questions about their funding and the government's commitment to the America's Army project. I was told that their funding is secure for at least three years, and will likely last six or more. The project has to date cost the government far less than a superbowl ad or sponsorship of a NASCAR racer, and has proven to be more effective than all previous efforts combined. I also asked what kind of things have been considered but not implemented yet, and I was told that one thing the army would like to see is to go so far as to allow players to rappel down from helicopters into missions, however I was told that like everything else in the game, if and when it gets done, it will have to be done with total accuracy, and the technology at hand simply doesn't allow for them to do that right now. Overall, I was very impressed with the direction this free game is going. Considering the resources available to them, they obviously have a distinct advantage over most other development teams, but that would have been meaningless if the game had been a dud. While it certainly has some quirks to it (and always will) I was very impressed with the commitment to delivering both an accurate and fun game I was shown.
Castlevania: Lament of Innocence (PS2): Castlevania fans are among the pickiest in the industry, as should be pretty obvious from the fact that the previous attempts by Konami to bring this series into 3D were met with scorn, if not complete outrage. And so with this in mind, I was extremely curious to know how Konami fared this time around. Sadly, while this clearly looks better than Castlevania 64 did, it is not up to the level of quality we've all come to expect from the name Castlevania. Now maybe this is because I had been playing Aria of Sorrow the night before, but this game, while attractive, doesn't have the kind of look that screams Castlevania. The character models are really very good, and it's clear that this is where Konami devoted the most attention. But the rest of the world, which in games like Aria and those before it, was so lush and vibrant, is blocky and dull here. I heard more than one person compare this to Devil May Cry, and that may be true, but I'd be willing to accept this if the game had more...life in it. I saw the perfunctory boss battle, and while I could imagine the same thing looking very nice as a pre-rendered 2D sprite, in 3D it just looked clunky. I get the impression that this time around Konami isn't going to accept outright failure, even if the game is met with disdain. And if that's the case, then the next 3D Castlevania will likely be more like the game this one should have been.
World of Warcraft (PC): Yet another MMORPG I saw at the show was this one, which marks Blizzard's first foray into this increasingly populated space. Unlike the others I saw at the show, this one has the distinct advantage of already having a fan base, and as such there's a certain number of people for whom this game will be a no-brainer. For those people, I can safely say they won't be disappointed. WoW does have a lot more to it than just being a MMO with the Warcraft name attached to it. Some of the nicer ideas in here include a dedicated arena for player vs. player combat (complete with tournaments and prizes to be won), dynamic quests that are assigned by NPCs on the fly, and a world that really felt alive. One thing that was very clear from this game is that Blizzard has really taken to 3D, and if you thought Warcraft III was pretty, you ain't seen nothin yet (of course, if you thought W3 was ugly, you'll be pleasantly surprised by this game). I was shown an underwater dungeon, which really looked spectacular, and it helped to convey the feeling that Blizzard is really crafting a world here, with tons of different environments to explore. Combat is turn based, which should be good news to anyone tired of Diablo-style clickfests. Overall, I was impressed with the game, but the differences between this and other MMORPGs is subtle to a person like myself who doesn't actually play these games. As a fan of Warcraft I will happily admit that this is the one I'm most likely to play, but if you're not a fan I'm hard pressed to give you a convincing argument. Still, if you are a fan, and specifically one who's always wanted to see more of the World of Warcraft, this should be right up your alley.
Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness (PC, PS2): Hey, it's another Tomb Raider! Okay, cynicism aside, this didn't look half-bad. I will admit to being a really big fan of the first game, although by the third I was, like many of you, pretty tired with the repetitive gameplay. I can't say I saw anything that conveyed any real change for the series, but it does look good, as well it should, as it's the first Tomb Raider game for this generation of hardware. We were told about some cool things in the game, like the fact that when the game begins you have no weapons, and there's a definite emphasis on stealth this time around, which should add additional depth to the game. Beyond that however, I'm afraid there was little else of note. But I'm going to give this one a whirl as soon as a playable demo is released. It may not be a huge evolution for the series, but a solid game is a solid game.
Legacy of Kain: Defiance (PS2, Xbox): After years of being split apart, Kain and Raziel are reunited at long last in this game from Crystal Dynamics. No plot details were available to let us know how these two crazy kids got reunited at long last, but the gameplay is looking good. Probably the biggest change here is the new combat system and its dynamic camera. In any third person game the camera can get in the way, and Crystal Dynamics has responded to this by creating a special "combat camera" that swings back to give you the best view of the action -- and stays that way until the battle is over. There are new combos, including some awesome aerial attacks, and we saw how when playing as Kain you can lift characters into the air before jumping up and mauling them. This can also be used in conjunction with fire, allowing you to hurl your victims into torches and set them on fire. Very nice, and a nice match for the evilness that is Kain. As Raziel, you'll be able to walk on the spectral plane, which allows you to walk through certain areas that are inaccessible in the normal world. Characters will also be able to create their own combos, and we were told this was done to keep people from using the same attack over and over again (although chances are it'll happen anyway). As was sort of expected, while Kain drinks blood from his victims, Raziel steals their souls using the Soul Reaver, and this energy can be used to unleash more powerful attacks or special moves. We were told that the game has been in development for two years, and will definitely be ready in time to ship this Christmas season.
Star Fox 2 (GC): I only got to see this in movie form, and what I saw was certainly interesting. But first of all, the wacky thing is really the name. Star Fox 2? What happened to Star Fox 64? Or is this supposed to take place 62 games before that? Nutty. But anyway, as for the game, the footage being shown had some cool space combat, but also some third person action (which resembled Star Fox Adventures), and most surprisingly combat using ground vehicles. That last bit came as a real surprise, but opens up all kinds of interesting possibilities. Also shown was a brief glimpse at some four player combat using a combination of ground and air vehicles. Visually, Star Fox 2 looks solid, but surprisingly not as good as Star Fox Adventures did. I'll be interested in hearing more about this in the near future.
Gran Turismo 4 (PS2): Okay, let's get one thing perfectly clear...I am not a big Gran Turismo fan. Not being the kind of person who knows, well...anything about cars, I find all those cars and car parts to be a bit intimidating. But I can recognize a solid racing sim when I see one, and this series certainly fits that bill. And on those same grounds I liked what I saw with GT4. The most exciting new feature is its online multiplayer, and there were a lot of people on the show floor who were having a blast doing just what you'd expect them to do...racing. Visually, this game is a step up from the last one (the Grand Canyon is awesome to see) but the big stickler for me with GT3 is still a problem here: the crowds in the stands as you go by still look like cardboard cutouts. In fact, it 's no better than the last one, which is a real shame, since otherwise it's a great, great looking game. Assuming that's not a problem for you, and if you liked GT3 and have been waiting patiently for an online Gran Turismo ever since, you'll have a blast with this game.
The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords (GC): Um...it's Four Swords for GameCube. Whee. This game looks exactly like the GBA game that was included as a bonus with A Link to the Past. The one addition here is if you're playing with others and you all have GBAs you're using as gamepads, when you enter a dungeon, the action suddenly jumps from the television screen to your GBA. Why on earth anyone would actually want this feature is beyond me, and like most of Nintendo's GBA/GameCube connectivity demos this serves pretty much no real purpose. I understand that Nintendo really wants to sell us on this connectivity concept, but this and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles have connectivity that detracts from the gameplay, instead of adding to it, and that violates my one and only rule of gaming: if it ain't fun, I don't want it in my game.
1080 Avalanche (GC): What happens if you take the original SSX and remove the style, speed, and most of what made it fun? Here's your answer. 1080 Avalanche doesn't look like a bad game per se, but it's very generic looking, and after seeing the vastly superior SSX 3 (which will be released for GameCube) earlier that day, it just looked like an unnecessary title. I'm all for another snowboarding game, but a slight improvement over the N64 just won't cut it after SSX.