As a kid, there may not have been a more pleasing sound to my ears than the light ring of the word “Sega” upon striking up Sonic the Hedgehog on my old Genesis. As much as I loved playing the original NES with my brothers and the Sega Master System with my neighbor David, the Sega Genesis was the first console that was 100% mine. I have fond memories of playing endlessly through both the Genesis and Sega CD versions of all the Sonic games, Kid Chameleon, Mickey Mouse’s House of Illusion, Quackshot and countless other Genesis titles. Even when the Super NES hit the scene, the Genesis was still my system and the sweet sound of that Sega chime brought happiness to my ears. But the years move on, whether you want them to or not, and soon the relationship with my beloved Sega would fade like all of those memories of playing stickball in the abandoned lot near our house.
During high school, I became much more of a computer gamer, but I still revisited the Genesis, Game Boy and Super NES titles now and then. The girlfriend that I had senior year had a younger brother with a Sega Saturn and I remember playing through Nights a few times with him. The visuals were incredible and the game moved at a speed that reminded me a lot of those early Sonic years. Then I went to college and all of my gaming was on the PC. I remember a classmate ducking out of class so he could play more Final Fantasy VII and a friend going nuts for Metal Gear Solid, but I honesty don’t think I touched a Dreamcast until senior year. This junior girl from The Hollywood Club (yes, I was a member of something called The Hollywood Club) invited me over to her dorm room and being the naïve “I guess she just wants to hang out” guy I was (am?) I ended up playing tennis on her Dreamcast until I picked up on the tension in the room, realized I had a girlfriend and left. Dreamcast, I never really got a chance to know you, but I thank you for getting me out of that room before I did something I regretted (like playing Seaman… run with that reference however you want).
As we all know, that was the last of the Sega consoles. Today, the Sonic games are harsh mockeries of their former glories and most of Sega’s offerings have been relegated to games we pass over at the local GameStop in search of games we’ve actually heard something positive about. Then came Sega’s latest push on the Wii with their “hardcore” initiative of publishing both MadWorld (which rules) and House of the Dead Overkill (which I honestly have yet to play). The soon to be released Conduit looks like a game that will give the few hardcore gamers that didn’t sell their Wiis reason to celebrate. Reactions are generally positive about these titles, and say what you will about the Wii as a system, but I think most gamers will agree that Sega’s new approach in 2009 has been both brave and promising. So with that promise still fresh in my mind, I approached E3’s series of Sega game demos with a mix of excitement and trepidation. What version of the fabled game publisher will we see in the three games represented? Well, let’s take them one at a time:
Going into this presentation, I knew NOTHING about Alpha Protocol except that someone in the media room had mumbled that it would be that year’s Mass Effect. I never played Mass Effect. I took one look at how long the game would take to complete and said “no thank you… that looks like it would bankrupt all of my human relationships if I got addicted to that!” Well, after sitting through Sega’s presentation of Alpha Protocol, I can safely say that I now want to play Mass Effect if it is anything like what I witnessed. This game easily surprised me the most out of any of the titles in the presentation.
I’m on the right. Jake108 is on the left… again.
Set in the world of global espionage, Alpha Protocol goes to enormous lengths of making the world as dependent on the player’s choices as possible. The branching system in this game, and the countless ways in which you can upgrade your weapons, armor and character’s abilities bring a whole new meaning to the term “immersive experience”. If I was afraid of getting addicted to Mass Effect, a shooter with loads of RPG aspects and customizability, then Alpha Protocol is the biggest nightmare I’ll ever face. I could definitely get lost in this game and never come out.
First off, the game looks and sounds great. The graphics are sharp, the NPCs all have their own unique personalities and voices and the action is fast and quick. I get worn out in games like Hitman and the earlier Metal Gear Solid games when you spend a few minutes waiting for a bad guy sentry to turn the corner, or for a camera to rotate. In Alpha Protocol, if you want to tackle each mission guns blazing, you can level up your character and his abilities to be that kind of player. Or, if you want to go the stealth and intelligence route, you can play that game as well. Just know that every trait, piece of armor or weapon that you customize to outfit yourself with has its own specific level of detail. If you armor up with heavy body armor, the clay plates in the bullet-proofing might alert nearby enemies. If you go the stealth route, other NPC characters may trigger scenarios in the mission ahead of when you want them to occur.
Jake The Snake taught me well!
Available missions and NPC interactions can be handled in whatever order the player likes. Should you interrogate someone before taking on a mission, which might reveal clues, a new objective or tip off an enemy? Or should you go in, get the job done and see what their reaction is afterwards? Even the player’s approach to the NPC interactions effect the almost limitless branching of the storyline. Being overly aggressive with some characters might make them reveal entirely different information while being too nice with others might be the way to go. Every NPC is different and as you interact with them, you will see their level of trust in you going up and down. During one play through of Alpha Protocol, your enemies could end up being your allies during a completely different play through. It all comes down to how you choose to handle each interaction, especially knowing that in the small game of government espionage, each of the NPCs are also working against each other. As you meet and work with more characters in the story, you fill out their specific intel file. Some characters may give you information on others that will also help inform you to the best approach to dealing with others. Then again, how do you know they aren’t just playing you towards their own interests?
This guy seems nice enough… I choose “Draw Gun”
The missions in the game are solid and varied and almost every situation can be handled in a varied number of ways. The environments are fully manipulative so a scenario where snipers are shooting at you from atop a water tower can be handled by simply sniping back at them through a broken window or by lobing an explosive towards the base of the tower and bringing them all crashing down. Even the ease of your targeting and shots can be manipulated by leveling your character’s abilities in certain directions. It really just depends on how you want to move through the missions and the storyline.
I wonder if I can knock that tree onto him…
At the end of the mission that we saw, the attempted theft of some explosives in a train yard, the option came up once reaching our objective of taking the weapons for yourself to sell on the black market, or rerouting the train to a number of different locations, each with different effects in the NPC characters watching your actions. A computer monitor comes up for a hacking mini-game, and based on how well you’ve leveled up your tech abilities, or manufactures certain gadgets, these mini-games (which are numerous and varied through out the game based on the different objectives) can be either very simple or hard. It all depends on the handling of your character. Even the boss battle at the end of the mission can be talked through and avoided or can be handled in a violent fashion, depending on the type of message you wish to send to the rest of world in the game or the types of allies and enemies you choose to make.
“I just want to reconnect my satellite TV!”
In the end, Alpha Protocol went from a murky area of semi-interest to being one of the top 5 games I saw at E3. It completely floored me with its level of detail and involvement and despite what it would undoubtedly do to the wrest of my life, I’m very interested in seeing the finished product once it comes out.
We didn’t get a whole lot of explanation on the Bayonetta game because the game’s producer spoke Japanese through a translator. This could be the reason the game didn’t get a whole lot of explanation… or it could be that Bayonetta didn’t NEED a whole lot of explanation! Everyone loves to throw the “God of War style” description on a lot of games that follow a ¾ perspective of a third person bad ass cutting up a lot of bad guys in a lot of spectacular methods. I agree that that’s a pretty accurate assessment of most of these types of games. But I’ll take it one step forward and add what those games don’t have: speed. If you can take a “God of War style” game and add to it the speed of the above mentioned Nights (or the perspective bending levels of Sin and Punishment) then you’re a lot closer to what makes Bayonetta so original. As much as the game feels like it could be in a God of War style… it moves in just too crazy of a fashion to be properly pigeonholed into that category of imitators.
Okay… what does the trumpet have to do with ANYTHING!?!
The lead character looks like a sexy Librarian gone bad who wields multiple six shooters that sometimes doubles as her high heels (I’ll wait for you to read that again). During the game play that we saw, she ran, shot and destroy pieces of the environment and multiply bad guys at a pretty breakneck speed. The entire time, she ran through buildings, up buildings and jumped across the environment as all of it came crashing down (you see, she was being chased by a river of lava). Does it sound insane? It IS insane. And it might have been too much but for the awesome sense of humor that the game has. During the various battles, there are opportunities to bust out spells and combos using pieces of your environment or your magic abilities. After going through a button combo system, you unleash some of the most insane kills I’ve ever seen in a game. By pulling the wheel off of a broken nearby wagon, you can make it sprout spikes and then send it spinning through the body of your enemies. The entire time, your main character is laughing and spouting off one-liners. This is all going on at a breakneck speed. It’s like playing Burnout as a 3rd person brawler: the more chaos and speed, the better.
I told you this game was insane…
The one boss battle that we witnessed started in a giant windowed cathedral. Suddenly, through a wall of tinted glass, a giant dragon’s head smashes through and snaps at our main character. You battle at the head using fast spells and combos and the camera pulls in and out of the action (which is pretty huge… you ARE fighting a dragon). Out of nowhere, once you’ve delivered enough hits, the dragon yanks the entire cathedral out of the ground and takes to the sky. Now the perspective goes nuts as the entire piece of the building is flying through the air around the dragon’s neck (and of course he’s still trying to eat you). The camera pulls back to another insane distance to reveal… the dragon has another head! So now you are flying through the air, in a crumbling cathedral, looped around a two-headed dragon’s head, as both heads try and eat you. This game is complete manic insanity! I had relegated this game to just being another big breasted exploitation game but after seeing it in motion I am beyond excited to try my hand at flying through these levels. And if the combo system seems a bit too much for you (there are WAY more combos and spells than in the God of War games), you can practice your button combos during the load screens, a nice touch that keeps the player involved throughout the crazy ordeal.
Was I the only one not excited by the prospect of another Aliens VS Predator game? Like the cinema franchise, I was ready to put both the Alien and the Predator to bed after cutting my losses and pretending that the only products that existed were the first Predator and first two Alien films. Everything else just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Luckily, someone else had a different opinion. Enter Aliens VS Predator (VS Colonial Marine, right?).
The game takes place on an earth colony where the Colonial Marines have been called in to answer a distress call. It seems that someone (I’m not pointing fingers) discovered a batch of aliens in an old Predator temple and now the hunt is on. The aliens are coming for the colonists and the Predators are on their way to do some… predator-ing. So that’s the story, simple enough, and all three storylines, regardless of whether you play as a Colonial Marine, an Alien or a Predator, all run alongside each other during the storyline portion of the game (and of course there will be multiplayer).
Wanna catch some tail? No, thanks.
At E3, the presentation we witnessed showed us some of the opening moments of the game from the perspective of a Colonial Marine. The first thing that hits you in this game (and it should) is atmosphere. You are 100% in the middle of what appears to be James Cameron’s Aliens. The hallways, the sounds, the beeping radar… get ready for some “game over, man”. The introduction to the scenario, in your first person perspective, is paced very cinematically and you’ll feel as immersed in this world as you would playing a Valve style of game like Half Life. There are tons of hints, from the acid burn marks on the walls, to the distant gun fire and injured survivors crying for help, that tell you that things are going to soon go from bad to worse. And of course they do when a group of Aliens get through the sentry guns and work their way through the walls. The combat is fast and scary as your radar goes nuts. The aliens attack quick, in a testing manner, trying to find your weaknesses. When you shoot them up a bit, they’ll retreat to the shadows and go silent from your radar… but you can still hear them hissing at you somewhere. You’d better get ready to defend yourself because they’re coming right back.
Does the game look hard? Yes. But that’s what makes it more believable. In the demo we saw, our game producer was killed pretty quickly and some of the NPCs he could have saved all got taken out. Supposedly, every time the game is played, the AI is shifted a bit in a Left 4 Dead fashion, to throw different things at the player. Taking a page from Valves book is a good thing as far as I’m concerned and putting that kind of immersive experience in an Alien VS Predator game is the kind of cinematic experience we’ve been wanting from Hollywood for over two decades.
“The guy on the left is dead in 3… 2…”
But what about evening the odds a little and playing as one of the other two marquee characters? Well, the show floor only had the Predator on display and the entire HUD is different (as it should be!). You can work in different levels of vision as well, depending on whether or not you wanted to hunt using plane vision, targeting or infra-red. This feels very much like you are the hunter, using various techniques to seek out your prey and put an end to them. The Predator also has the most bad ass range weapons as well and up close melee combat. I witnessed a first person perspective of drawing your two arm claws, taking a man’s head off (watching his eyes go lifeless) and then stroking the side of his head. As sick as it was, it was 100% Predator and the level of detail made it obvious that the game developers weren’t messing around. From what I witnessed, they were taking all of their cues from the proper source materials and leaving the bad stuff out of it.
“I aint got’cho money, I swear!”
So there you have it: Sega’s presentation demos at E3. Am I excited? Definitely. Alpha Protocol seems like the most immersive single player experience I’ve ever witnessed and fans of RPG-laced shooters have a new standard (we’ll see what you’ve got Mass Effect 2!). Bayonetta just looks like insane, fast paced fun and Aliens VS Predator looks like the cinematic experience we’ve been wanting for so long but now we get to take our friends along for the ride (I call Predator!). So regardless of whatever promises were made in the past, rest easy that Sega has heard your cries and that the fall of 2009 and months of 2010 look like a brand new day for the publisher and its fans.