Eurogamer Expo: Some thoughts
November 1, 2009
Yesterday, I spent a few hours at the Eurogamer Expo at Old Billingsgate. Comprising of most of the triple AAA games due to be released over the busy Christmas period, and those that have recently hit the shelves, the Expo was a good chance to play some of the eagerly anticipated titles. At least it would have been if it wasn’t absolutely awash with people. It was rare to see a machine free, and the big-hitters that everyone wanted to play were usually surrounded by thick crowds of people. Add in the fact that the temperature was through the roof and that the noise was close to deafening, and you didn’t really have a conducive atmosphere to relax into the various demos on show. Having said that, I did manage to get some playtime with the three games that I had come to check out. My thoughts on them appear after the break.
God Of War III
One word: gory! Having still not played the original God Of War games on the PS2 (I’m waiting for the the immenent God Of War Collection re-releases), my only frame of reference for the God Of War franchise is the PSP instalment, Chains Of Olympus. That in itself was a bloody orgy of a game, but pales in comparison to the feast of excess on display in God Of War III. Pulling the eye out of a centaur, spearing a chimera’s head with it’s own horns, and most shockingly of all, ripping off Helios’ head with your bare hands, watching the sinew in the neck literally split apart; God Of War is not afraid of splashing the crimson. Marry that with bone-crunching, meaty sound effects and appropriate grunts from our ‘hero’ Kratos and you have an indulgent, extremely visceral gore-fest. However, the flip side of this particularly blood-spattered coin is that the violence is so over the top that it actually becomes comical. I found myself chuckling away quite merrily. Perhaps this is just an indictment of a more worrying condition on my part however…
The only problem with the game is that it’s too easy. Despite dozens and dozens of enemies swarming all over Kratos, they are all easily dispatched with one particular 360-degree blade swing that eliminates everything around you, often culminating in ludicrous 100-hit combos. Although the result is often spectacular, combat systems like Batman: Arkham Asylum’s have now raised the expectations of what the gamer should expect. Whereas the Dark Knight’s combat is fluid but subtle, God Of War is simply waded through with button mashes and repeated moves. Hopefully the full game offers some variety and challenge in it’s rank-and-file enemies; otherwise it could quickly descend into a mindless, albeit very pretty, paint-by-numbers brawler.
There is a huge amount of hype surrounding this release. Billed more as an interactive story than a videogame, the developers of Heavy Rain, Quantic Dream, hope that it will redefine how videogames are made. For them, narrative is king. Everything else is secondary. And, to be fair, the demo showed this all too well.
Ignoring the fact that my playtime was cut short due to a crash (I was playing early game code after all) I found myself spending the majority of my fifteen-minute runthrough getting to grips with fiddly controls and working out what I needed to ‘discover’ in order to progress the scene. The decision to map walking to the R2 button feels ridiculous, and runs against everything you have come to expect about controlling your character with the current generation of controllers. The oft-derided QTE sequences (which I don’t mind at all in fact) were actually satisfyingly challenging, and seemed to make logical sense. Most QTE sequences in games are handled qute crudely, with no relation to a particular button being used and the action on screen. However, in Heavy Rain, if you are required to roll right, you press right on the stick. A small detail perhaps, but a necessary one in order to combine the story and the player’s input.
Despite being touted as a new level of realistic animation in videogames, I was left feeling quite disappointed with the standard of the cut-scenes. Lip-synching seemed a little off, and the facial animation as a whole felt a bit heavy-handed; mouth movements looking particularly exaggerated. I’m hoping the final code of the game has a touch more polish, especially considering the unprecedented amount of mo-cap work that the developers invested in for the game.
I’m still looking forward to Heavy Rain, but I’m going to need a bit more convincing before I pick this one up. I think a few reviews will be needed before I take the plunge.
It’s been derided as a God Of War clone, and to be honest, it’s very easy to see why. Every button press produces an identical move to Sony Santa Monica’s established franchise, with one key difference. Dante’s Inferno’s battles are much, much harder. Enemies seem to have more intelligence and resistance to your attacks, and deaths were common for me and everyone else who I saw playing the game. The creatures spawned in Hell (where the game is set) were particularly gruesome, consisting of disgusting blobs vomiting green bile from mouths at the end of their arms and murderous babies with scythes for limbs. Bosses were ginormous and the overall sense of scale and drama was epic. The game will still be a riot, even if the experience is likely to me a mindless, shallow slash’em’up. It is clearly targeting the same audience that is enraptured by God Of War, and it’s likely that this will sell just as well. And who can argue that the nine circles of Hell won’t be a fantastic environment in which to stage an all-action videogame.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, than Sony Santa Monica should consider themselves seriously flattered indeed by Visceral Games‘ creation. Whether the two games will live side by side on gamers’ shelves is up for debate, but the initial signs are good that this can deliver just as many cheap thrills as God Of War III.