E3 2008: Sega
The main floor of E3 is where everyone is able to play some of the latest games, but the fun stuff is behind closed doors. Almost every company at the conference has their own room on the second floor. These are the spiritual successors to the lavish game booths that used to be a staple at E3. They are also invitation only. Sega representatives adamantly stated that the use of recording devices was prohibited. For most publishers this is a mere formality, but Sega was serious. They even had a security camera. No unauthorized images of their games had a chance of getting out. This is understandable and at least they compensated with good showings of Alpha Protocol, Bayonetta, Mad World and Empire: Total War.
In the first room was an early demo of Alpha Protocol, developed by Obsidian Entertainment. The game is a third-person action game with RPG elements similar to their work on Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II. Two producers walked us through one of the stages, which takes place in an American embassy in Russia. Michael Thorton is a badass agent that looks like he may have trained at the same place as Jason Bourne. While Bourne is a good guy, Michael Thorton can have a nasty streak. Or he can be an honest agent. It’s all up to the gamer.
To get into the embassy, Michael could charge in with guns blazing. Or he could smooth talk his way in. Dialogue options are represented by the face buttons. Things get dangerous once Michael gets in peacefully. An explosion erupts and enemy soldiers pour in through the windows. Since Michael entered peacefully, the Marines are on his side. If he forced entry then he’d have to worry about the Marines in addition to the invaders. The action moved at a quick pace and the use of RPG elements looked effective. Certain weapons can be upgraded and skills can be learned, which are used by pausing the game during a battle and then selecting the attack.
Another level had Michael hunting down an arms dealer. Once the target was found, several options were available. The villain could be brought in and arrested, which is what the objective truly is, or could be shot in the head just to be a jerk. The most intriguing option was letting him free in exchange for money. If extortion is selected, the villain later becomes a valuable ally thanks to his arms dealing. Producer Chris Parker said that the goal of Alpha Protocol is to “make the player feel like all the choices they make are driving the world around them.” Look for the game in February for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.
Next, the people at Platinum Games showed off a demo of the action game Bayonetta. This game was absolutely insane. The main character is a witch with guns strapped to her feet (?) that summons torture devices like the iron maiden to dispatch angelic foes (?) and uses her hair as a weapon (?). It was an overload to the senses, but it looked great. The witch looks like a butterfly when she jumps around the beautiful environments. When she lands, a cloud of butterflies appear rather than a cloud of dust. The action was over-the-top with enemies that gruesomely explode and zany weapons, such as a horn that works like a shotgun. Crazy stuff.
Platinum Games followed up with some gameplay of Mad World for the Wii. This game has been attracting some hype due to the visuals, which resemble the Sin City graphic novels. The only color in the game comes from the crimson blood. I thought Bayonetta was ridiculous, but this was just as deranged. A thug had a sign post thrust into his head, which caused him to wander around in a daze. Then another sign post was tossed in there. To top it off, he was thrown into a wall of spikes, which was soon full of dangling bodies. Mad World is supposed to represent a game show like Marathon Man or Manhunt. There were two commentators who vulgarly gave the play-by-play. One issue seemed to be that the enemies hardly did anything. They were essentially killing targets. The game doesn’t come out until spring 2009, so that should give the developers plenty of time to fix things up.
Finally, there was Empire: Total War with a couple of the producers. Taking place up to the 18th century, this is the most modern game in the series. It is also the most detailed. The biggest addition is naval combat, where opposing fleets of ships try to outflank and outmaneuver one another. The level of meticulous detail was astounding almost to the point of lunacy. Every single person on the ship was rendered and had a different task. Some manned the cannons, others wandered the deck and one lucky sailor was climbing to the crow’s nest. When a ship catches on fire, each sailor jumped off and floated around until their inevitable death. Producer Kieren Bridgen said they had one guy that spent a year working only on physics of the water.
He also revealed some details about the action that takes place off the seas. One intriguing mode is The Road to Independence. Gamers begin with the Jamestown settlement and working their way up to the Revolutionary War with George Washington galloping around like the great American hero that he is. The U.K. readers might not care for that too much, but it sounds like a great way to experience an exciting history. Kieren also mentioned that when it rains, each individual soldier will have differing amounts of mud depending on where they’ve walked. Empire: Total War seems like it will continue the legacy of its predecessors when it comes out on PC in February 2009.
Sega didn’t hold a fancy press conference like Ubisoft or Activision, but they didn’t need to. Their line-up was diverse and didn’t focus exclusively on one genre. They also had Sonic Unleashed in another room, which I unfortunately didn’t have time to see. Their playable games on the main floor included Samba de Amigo, Yakuza 2, Golden Axe: Beast Rider, and several others. The only thing to perfectly top it off would have been Shenmue III. Right now, that is nothing but a pipe dream for most of us.