This October 12th, Sony held a holiday preview event to show off all of the upcoming titles set to release during the holiday season, as well as exhibit some other projects that are currently still in development. Amongst the well-known franchise instalments shown like Uncharted 3 and Twisted Metal, there were also some smaller titles such as Journey and Escape Plan, as well as new hardware like the Vita and a new 3D surround sound headset. I got to sit down with a bunch of these titles, and was quite impressed overall with the lineup presented.
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, due out on November 1st, had a single player demo that showed off two stages: a burning building level seen in the early gameplay videos, and the wreck of a cargo plane you may have seen in some of the promotions, if you've been following the game's development. As expected, the demo was absolutely gorgeous, and not just for the sake of being pretty. The cinematic feel to the level design immediately made me feel like I was playing out a summer action movie blockbuster, and really adds atmosphere to the storytelling and gameplay. Every action you take in these beautifully rendered environments feels epic – it's impossible to climb around the burning house stage, hanging by the tips of your fingers while your handholds crumble and fall away, and feel anything but heroic. And THEN people start shooting at you as you do it. The entire stage feels alive and dynamic, and as a result you are kept on your toes as the hyper-realistic fire consumes more of the level, burning down obstacles and creating new ones as debris gets in your path. The desert level is similarly grandiose, and in keeping with the trappings of a heroic tale, evokes a very Lawrence of Arabia aesthetic as it opens. The desert in the stage shown is extremely detailed and moody, from the sweeping sand dunes that react to your footsteps, to the smoke coming off of the crashed cargo plane. The way that the stages play suck you in instantly as you're forced to react to ever changing situations, and it does so without feeling unfair or obnoxious. Uncharted 3 appears to be a very strong entry in to this already fantastic series, and I am greatly looking forward to fusing with my couch as I sink days into playing it.
The eighth installment of the Twisted Metal franchise, bumped back from its October release date to early February, had a multiplayer demo out on display. The developers had hooked up the game session to another one in California, and it was a lot of fun to see in action. The mode on display divided the players in to two opposing factions, the Clowns and the Skulls, and would randomly assign a big shiny target symbol over to a player's vehicle on each team. This player then became the “Hunted”, and each team could score bonus points by managing to track down and eliminate that player. Gameplay was frantic overall, and although some of the controls that let you choose and switch between weapons were unintuitive, the stage was reminiscent of a frenzied demolition derby – just the kind of gameplay that I love the series for. The map design was pretty decent, although there seemed to be quite a bit of tunnels and winding straightaways that no one bothered to explore, even the person avoiding the pack while being the Hunted, but that will likely offer possibilities for veteran players to strategize. The vehicle selection was what I've come to expect from the Twisted Metal series, ranging from a motorcycle to a helicopter with their usual iconic vehicles mixed in between, each with their own themed special attacks and quirks. The handling was fairly responsive on most of the vehicles shown, but some of them were lacking and it felt like the major hit to the handling wasn't worth whatever stat compensated for it in the hectic pace of the multiplayer. Still, despite minor issues it appears to be a solid game for an awesome franchise we haven't seen games from since 2008, and I've sorely missed beating up friends with a psychotic clown in an ice cream truck.
Rocksmith, due out October 18th, is a game that seems to educate more than entertain, and had a demo on display with a playable guitar. As a musician it was interesting to see the mixing of gaming and music, and it feels like the next logical step to take after the success of the Rock Band and Guitar Hero games. The game comes with or without an Epiphone guitar, depending on the edition you buy, and has a solid selection of well-known rock music. It does a good job of adapting the difficulty levels to suit your learning abilities, however there is no selectable difficulty if you already have some experience with the instrument. It does have a built-in guitar tuner that pops up every time you begin to play, and if you know how to read guitar tabs you can customize the interface to resemble them. Overall I wouldn't recommend it for someone looking for a party game, but if you want to learn how to play the basics of guitar it seems pretty solid.
Sony displayed a new peripheral 3D display with surround sound that is wearable on your head and makes you look like a cross between Geordi La Forge and Daft Punk when you wear it. Despite being kind of an odd thing to have on your head, I found it bizarrely engrossing. Once you get over the initial confusion of having this surprisingly comfortable headset on your face while you play a game, it's actually quite immersive. It's a lot like finding that sweet spot in the middle of a movie theatre in the centre and having it all to yourself. I am not someone who normally cares for 3D-anything, but I was impressed and didn't suffer any eye strain. They also designed it with people with glasses in mind, and it will fit comfortably with or without spectacles. They likely also designed it with people who want to live in the flying car kind of future in mind, because wearing one of these made me feel like an extra in the Jetsons.
The Sony Vita, due out early 2012 in North America, was one of the highlights of the event, and was showcased with several launch titles including two unique indie games, Sound Shapes and Escape Plan. Sound Shapes, made by Canadian dev studio Queasy Games that gave us Everyday Shooter, is a side scrolling platformer that utilizes the front and back touch screens of the Vita while you play music and subsequently play through the level, and features very innovative gameplay and design. Escape Plan, made by the same team behind Fat Princess, is the lovechild of point and click adventure games and lemmings style gameplay, and fully takes advantage of the Vita's touchpads to help you clear obstacles, interact with the game's world, and keep your characters alive in interesting ways. It has a black and white cartoony aesthetic, and while seeming sort of 2D initially, fully utilizes it's 3D world to provide interesting puzzles and ways to solve them. Best of all, the developers have coded in a way to live and a way to die in each and every room, and once you finish one it's almost more challenging to go back and see exactly how you can mess up and die in several of the simpler rooms.
One other indie game prominently featured was Journey, a free-roaming game where you wander through the desert toward a mountain with no map or hand holding on the game's part. One of the big draws of the game is running in to other wandering players online and assisting each other while being unable to communicate. However, during the demo I didn't get the chance to experience this element, and while it still seemed like an interesting concept I wish that I had more time to spend exploring in a relevant manner. Overall it seems like a very interesting title, and I look forward to seeing what the developers do with it as they continue to work on it.
Several other games were shown such as Just Dance 3, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, Rachet and Clank: All 4 One, and LittleBigPlanet's port to the Vita, but all were standard fare for their franchises. Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure was also exhibited, a Spyro game that comes with collectable action figures that interact with the game when placed on a glowing stage peripheral. Though the figurines look well made, it feels like a cheap gimmick and offers very little to the gameplay, however it would likely be quite popular with younger children.
All in all, it was a fairly strong showing for the upcoming holiday season for Sony. There are plenty of titles and new kinds of hardware to look forward to in the upcoming months, both in blockbuster titles as well as indie games. No matter what kind of games you enjoy, there should be something new and exciting coming your way this holiday season!