… twice, in this case.
Today I got Assassin’s Creed II and Fallout 3: Game of the Year Edition, and I played a bit of both. The former is entirely new to me, the latter I played through on PS3, but I’m now heading back to it on 360, with all the DLC chapters included in the GOTY version.
Anyway, while very different games, they do have one thing in common – you have an extended tutorial where you live through your character’s birth, and get to control them as a baby. Which is an odd thing to do in a game at all, but twice, back-to-back, on Christmas?
While Assassin’s Creed II just gets you to waggle the baby’s limbs as he fights for life and breath, then skips forward to you (well, Ezio de Whateverzi) as a young man jumping the rooftops (though not yet an armed assassin) but dulls the impact by having to work around all the near-future material with Desmond McGuffin, even if it kind of justifies such an extended time in Ezio’s youth with all the ‘bleeding effect’ malarkey.
Fallout 3 spends longer on your childhood, spreading your tutorial phase through babyhood (where you learn to move around, and pressing the talk button causes a burst of babyish burbling), to your tenth birthday party where you get a PIPboy and learn to shoot, then exams at sixteen before you reach age nineteen and the plot shunts you out into a larger adventure.
What’s fun with Fallout 3 is that, as well as letting you learn the interface ropes before you’re under serious threat, through various questions, items and tasks you shape your character’s attributes as they grow. It’s actually a rather droll summary of how games compact real life into simple decision trees, two decades of nature and nurture boiled down into half an hour of conversation trees and simple yes/no, on/off, interactions. I’m not sure it’s intentionally funny, though.
Although asking a gamer to work through their character’s childhood may seem like a big ask, it’s an interesting tactic for deepening the narrative and providing some novelty to what could be dry tutorials for what are, in both cases, atypical control schemes beyond the demands of your average FPS or platformer. It’s certainly more interesting than a straight tutorial or another run around Croft Manor, anyway.
It’s been a busy few days. After a brief trip up North, I’m back in London to get some important stuff done: to collect my accumulated comics from Gosh! (which means I’ve just had the delayed horror of Philip Tan’s art on his second issue of Batman and Robin, a week or so after everyone else has recovered from the trauma); to discuss how to overhaul Shiny Shelf with webmeister Jon de Burgh Miller; and, most importantly of all, to attend this year’s Eurogamer Expo.
The photo here is of one of the queues for the Brink developer session. Pleasantly, bar the queue to get in first thing, this was the only major queue we encountered all day, with short lines for most of the games (lines made bearable by getting a chance to see the title you were waiting for in action). As a consumer show, the Expo was notable for it’s excellent crowd control, keeping attendees moving and making sure everyone got to see what they wanted to see with minimal misery. The venue was a good one, easy to navigate with good facilities, with a lot to see across all three floors.
Brink first. This ‘developer session’ from Splash Damage was more of a hands-off demo than any kind of insight into the development process, but was promising nonetheless. After Borderlands (which is likely to keep us occupied for months to come), myself and my associates are very open to co-operative shooters with RPG elements, and this seems another variation on that theme, but with some very neat little systems – flexible classes, missions you can pick and switch mid-session – and a (relatively) novel environment which can best be described as Bioshock‘s faded aquatic utopia translated into the clean futuristic palette of Crackdown. There are plenty of unanswered questions about Brink, and a lot of development time left in which to answer them, but I was cautiously impressed. Oh, and I have a lot of time for Paul Wedgwood’s admirable giggling every time he executed a kill.
The Brink session also yielded one of my two free t-shirts of the day (even though I don’t really wear t-shirts), the other being a prized Left 4 Dead 2 shirt. L4D2 was probably the longest wait we had for a hands-on game, but was well worth it, eight consoles running a single game of Versus in the new Scavenge mode, where survivors need to keep gathering resources while the special infected try to stop them. Although I got murdered – I’ve never been hot on Versus, and couldn’t be bothered to go into options and invert the Y-axis so I kept looking in the wrong direction – the sequel is a lot of fun to play, and the innovations are well worth it being a new title. The Louisiana atmosphere is palpable, the production values as good as ever, and the new Specials are suitably game-changing. Favourite so far – the Jockey, who jumps on survivors backs and squeals a lot. L4D2 looks like building on it’s predecessor, and as that was pretty much the funnest thing ever…
Well, I didn’t get time with Assassin’s Creed 2, as attendees were getting quite long sessions with it (all hand held by vigilant Ubihandlers, who were explaining the control system in great detail), but it looked pretty good, although sadly everyone playing was busy fighting and stabbing rather than doing what I’m looking forward to, which is running and jumping across the rooftops of renaissance Italy.
The Saboteur seemed like a solid third-person actioner with the slightly clunky controls we’ve come to expect from GTA. The black and white aesthetic looks nice, but the section that was playable seemed pretty linear. I’m a little dubious about the constant World War II exploitation in games, but I did like lead character Sean Devlin’s habit of shouting ‘shite!’ whenever the player fucks up. One to watch, possibly – could be great if it delivers a fairly open WWII experience, could be not if you’re corralled down a set path.
Dark Void was one that most of us were keen to play, and while I had Y-axis issues again, its combination of Resident Evil 4 style third-person gunplay, rocket pack flight and vertical hop climbing (where you use your jetpack to hop and grab ledges, using them for cover on the way) feels like a winner, with a bit of practice. There’s a lot going on in this, but it definitely has the Capcom magic touch.
After playing an on-the-ground section of Dark Void, I turned around and found Mr Barry Nugent from Geek Syndicate and (more relevantly) The Next Level behind me. Barry introduced me to his fellow Next Level host Amaechi, but sadly I didn’t see the guys again all day. Good to see them though, and their ‘cast is highly recommended.
Pushed in all our faces whether we liked it or not was Avatar, the game of the James Cameron film. While the 3-D display was impressive, the number of demopods for this bloody thing was way, way out of proportion for the level of interest. It’ll be interesting to see whether this marketing onslaught has an effect. From a distance, it looked a lot like a generic space shooter, but there could be a good game in there, I suppose? It’ll take a lot to get me past my Cameron aversion, though.
OK, some other quick impressions before I wrap up: Bayonetta is as completely bonkers as you’d expect; Saw: The Videogame is equally what you’d expect, i.e. a clunky Silent Hill clone; Wheelspin on the Wii is graphically crude but could provide some multiplayer fun if you’re up for a straightforward racer on that console; Heavy Rain looks like a rather ponderous movie that forces you to play ‘Simon Says’ throughout; and God of War III is more of the flashy, spectacular same, but if they continue to use those QTE finishes they can sod right off.
The Eurogamer Expo is a great idea, well executed by the team behind the show, and I hope it continues on an annual basis. It’s a fun, inexpensive afternoon and a great chance to get some hands on time with forthcoming titles. Well worth attending.