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Thursday, June 9, 2011

E3 2011: Nick's Picks From E3

Yes, that rhyme was intentional and, yes, I am hilarious.

E3 is well underway now and there have been plenty of exciting announcements. A new PlayStation portable device, a new Nintendo console, a plethora of newly announced titles: the list goes on and on. And, while we here at Digitally Downloaded feel that digital distribution is the way of the future, that's not to say that we don't get just as excited about new retail releases as the rest of you.

To that end, here's my top picks of E3 2011, both downloadable and retail.


The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
(PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
One of the biggest roleplaying games of the last decade was Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Millions played it, both on console and PC, and it still retains a large deal of support to this day. Of course, not everything about Oblivion was perfect: the game was widely panned and criticized for many facets of the game design, yet that didn't affect the popularity of the game. Instead, people in the game's community banded together and created multiple mods to improve the design, revamping everything from the enemy leveling system to simple aesthetic changes. There even exists brand new campaigns, replete with new terrain, characters, voice acting, and the works. Indeed, Oblivion is possibly the most supported game by its community in existence.

So how can Bethesda can beat that success? I mean, yes, Fallout 3 was a game of the year, and Fallout: New Vegas largely continued that legacy (even if it is riddled with bugs), but Bethesda still needs to continue the Elder Scrolls franchise. After all, you don't go four games into a best-selling franchise and just let it die.

Enter Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.




As you can see from the video, the game looks gorgeous. Apparently, Bethesda has developed an entirely new engine to run this game: no more with the awkward movement animations; no more with the character facial animations that sit squarely in the "uncanny valley"; no more with horrible game-wrecking bugs that can have you sitting inside terrain features. Instead, we have smooth animations, believable character models and breathtaking environment vistas.

Everything about this game looks amazing. From the absolutely gorgeous graphics at work to the interesting combat mechanics to the compelling level design to the amazingly detailed character models to the brilliant inclusion of intelligent creatures with random behaviours (like the aggressive dragons or the wandering tribes of frost giants), everything sounds and looks incredible.

With a gigantic world that dwarfs even Oblivion's expansive landscape, and so many gameplay hours that even the developers have admitted they lost count, I expect Skyrim to be a strong contender for game of the year for 2011. The release date is scheduled for November 11, 2011 (a Friday of all days), so mark your calendars and prepare yourselves: this will be one hell of a game.


Rage
(PC, PS3, Xbox 360)

id Software redefined gaming when it released Doom, a game that basically created the first-person shooter genré. Since then, id has released numerous sequels to Doom, as well as Quake and Wolfenstein, all of which garnered enough fame and money for id that they have become a leading software developer in the industry today, both because of their games as well as their game engines.

But we haven't heard from id Software for a while. The last major release they developed was Doom 3, and that was in 2004. They've served as publisher for many games since then -- mostly for titles in the above series that have been developed by other studios -- but no other major development titles. Until now.

With the release of Rage, we will see the return of id Software to the gaming industry and, if what we've been shown is any indication, it will be the biggest and best title id has ever released.




This game looks prettier than Skyrim (if that's even possible) and that's mostly because of the newly announced id Tech 5 engine that is making its debut with Rage. The style of the game looks like a combination between Borderlands and Fallout 3; much like the latter, Rage is a first-person shooter set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where you wander around and accept quests given to you by people in the world. The other Borderlands-esque side of the coin involves how you get between the towns: namely, you spend a large section of the game driving around in dune buggies rigged with machine guns and rocket launchers.

Besides the amazing graphics that the game boasts, one of the most interesting things about this game is the combat. Well, rather than generalize it like that, let me specify: Rage has so many guns, so many different types of ammo and so many gadgets that there seems to be endless ways to play the game. Do you want to snipe from afar? You can do that. Rock a shotgun up close? You can do that instead. Want to drive an RC car strapped with explosives and blow up your enemies? You can do that too.

id has never disappointed and I doubt they will start with Rage. With how gorgeous it looks and how fun the gameplay looks, I'm expecting great things.


Deus Ex: Human Revolution
(PC, PS3, Xbox 360)

For the last decade, every time the topic "greatest game of all time" comes up, someone mentions Deus Ex. With cutting edge graphics and gameplay that merged the RPG and FPS genrégenré blend gaining true commercial success (y'know, like Fallout 3 or the simplified RPG elements of BioShock).

But now Deus Ex is back, and it's looking to teach the wannabes how to truly rock.




Merging stealth gameplay, roleplaying character building and first-person shooting aspects, Human Revolution will truly allow you to play the game the way you want to. If you want to specialize in stealth and install such cybernetic improvements like the ability to turn invisible, you can do that. You're allowed to specialize in demolitions and learn how to properly handle a grenade launcher. There will even be large parts of the game devoted to talking to characters in an attempt to gain information for them.

This is a game for everybody. The setting is an amazing homage to Blade Runner and the story is woven so tightly with conspiracy theories that it will make any science fiction fans proud. The combat is as diverse as you want it to be, and with things like customizable weapons, custom-created ammunition and a cover system, even the run-and-gunners will be happy playing through the Baroque world Eidos has created.

I have to admit, since Eidos was acquired by Square-Enix, they have produced nothing but stellar titles. Eidos has always been a powerhouse developer but with the monetary backing of Square-Enix, they've truly been able to go wild and produce amazing products. I have to say that I am excited for this game, and cannot wait for it to be released.

Besides, it's coming out on August 23rd, 2011, the day before my birthday. It's obviously marketed directly at me.


Journey
(PSN)

One of the most exciting downloadable titles at E3 for the last two years has been Journey. Developed by thatgamecompany, the people behind the sublime flOw and the gorgeous Flower, Journey looks to be channeling a little bit of Shadow of the Colossus and the success of Team Ico with the simplicity and ambitiousness of their design.

The entire premise of Journey is that you are a humanoid being who exists in this massive desert. You spend your time in the game wandering about the desert trying to make it to this massive mountain in the distance. Meanwhile, others are attempting to accomplish the same task. All of you are in the same desert and you will be able to see and interact with each other, though not in the conventional ways.




Yes, you will be able to see each other, but there is no form of chat supported in Journey; there is no voice chat and no text chat. You can't even see the username of the other people playing the game. All you can see is their in-game character and, really, that's all you need: the game will include puzzles that require two people to act together but the game is designed so that you interact with the others in the game on a strictly action basis. What that means is that you will have to attempt to communicate with others without words and only actions. Apparently thatgamecompany decided this as a way to explore communication in games and I'm pretty excited to see how it works.

Beyond that, of course, Journey looks like a deceptively simple game. Sure, all you have to do is move around a desert and make your way to a mountain but on the way you will encounter puzzles and platforming that you will have to complete if you wish to continue your adventure.

Considering the pedigree that thatgamecompany's products always have, and how much time I spent playing Flower as a way to relax, I'm sure Journey will be just as successful. I've already put aside money to buy this when it is released sometime this year, so expect to see me put up a review when it comes out.

From Dust
(PC, PSN, XBLA)

Another downloadable title to get excited about is From Dust, coming from developer Eric Chahi. The last thing Eric Chahi has done in the videogame industry was a game known as Heart of Darkness where we worked for a company known as Interplay. Of course, that was back in 1998. Seven years before that in 1991, Eric Chahi released a game known as Another World (or Out of This World in North America) which was a combination of FMV and platforming, and it is for this work that Chahi is most known for. That and apparently being kind of anemic with his development work, but that's neither here nor there.


From Dust is Chahi's next foray into the videogame industry and, while it has been a long time coming, it looks like he's been using that time to good effect. It's been branded a combination of Populous and Black and White. The basic premise is that you are God, or at least God's Breath, and you look after a small tribe of people who are merely trying to survive in the world. The way you look after this tribe is by altering the landscape by "inhaling" parts of the world and "exhaling" them elsewhere. For example: you can inhale sand from a beach and move it to create a sand bridge between two islands. It's very simple stuff but it sounds fantastic.



I am intrigued at the prospect of the gameplay design: being able to manipulate landscapes is very interesting and a very novel idea. Of course, don't get the wrong idea: it's not a sandbox game solely about manipulating landscapes. The purpose of the game is to follow and protect the tribe of your followers and the gameplay revolves around that task.

There's also some interesting backstory revolving around the tribe and how they have forgotten their magical heritage. Most of the objectives involve guiding your tribe to totems that will teach them songs they can use to manipulate the landscape around them. For instance, in the demo that everyone has spoken about, you must guide your tribe to a totem that will protect them from an incoming tsunami (which you keep track of by a countdown timer located on screen). You do this by -- as I mentioned earlier -- creating a bridge with sand between two islands. A later level involves you having to redirect a river. A further challenge involves drawing lava from a volcano and dropping it on a mountainside to create a larger wall of rock. I imagine there will be even more complicated and interesting objectives further into the game but I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

From Dust is scheduled for release sometime this year and will be coming to all digital distribution platforms. Again, because I'm super excited about this game, I'll put up a review as soon as I get the opportunity. And who knows? Maybe Mr. Chahi would be interested in doing an interview for our magazine sometime in the future. We'll keep you posted.
E3 2011: Nick's Picks From E3
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