Canadian-made video games have been acknowledged the world over as triumphs of their genres; thus it was a real delight to attend Toronto’s Microsoft X10. Held by The Fifth, X10 filled every available space with demonstrations of the Xbox 360’s power to surprise, delight, and thoroughly entertain.
2010 has been a strong year for the Xbox 360, and the holiday season is sure to deliver a grand finale. There are comebacks for many of the console’s best-love franchises, and the debut of the much-talked about Kinect. Canadian offerings for the fall and winter land in both camps-with EA and Ubisoft both making particularly strong showings, and Big Park providing the Kinect with a joyous launch product, great games will arrive this winter from both sides of the border.
The doors opened at ten that morning; when I arrived at 10:04, the line still went out the door. The transformation to the club’s interior completely justified the mayhem. EA’s aisle was justifiably packed from sunup to sundown—with three instalments of powerful franchises on display, I was lucky to have the company of both Guillaume Voghel and Dana Sissons, who were eager to share their inside scoops on EA’s releases.
Guillaume Voghel is obviously proud of Dead Space 2 — with good reason. Dead Space 2 looks to deliver more in every imaginable way. The borders of the USG Ishimura have fallen away into the Sprawl, a fantastical space city on Titan that stretches into every plane of the screen. Changes have also been made to Mr. Clarke himself.
“Isaac’s got a face! We have given him a voice, he is no more the silent and vigilant guy. He’s more talkative, and more interested in taking strong action.”
Perhaps the most deliberate change in the Dead Space series is its passion for balance. The Dead Space 2 team has managed to both heighten the tension and pick up the pace by developing horrific new foes—the Puker stands out in this regard—and allowing Isaac to be ambushed by more than one foe at a time. The environment on display was the interior of a Church of Unitology; to have the Necromorphs descend from the aisles while a Tripod roars made my heart race. To compensate for the higher amount of enemies, Dead Space 2 allows the player to use the fragments of their corpses as weapons against them. In relation to this sped-up combat, Dead Space 2 also offers opportunities to indulge in a little classic puzzle-solving. The key puzzle on display was a challenge to use stasis and kinesis in turn to bring a gyroscope to a halt.
“It’s about taking what’s good in the first game and building on those basics. It’s really about revisiting a very rich story, a very deep environment, and having a really tight, horrific, gory experience. And being intense. And stressful in a good way.”
If any negative stress will come out of this game, it’ll only be from the tortuous wait. Thankfully, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit will be there to allow EA’s fans to blow off steam. Dana Sissons walked me through it.
“If you look at Need for Speed, there’s a couple different periods in its life. Before ‘Underground’, it was exotic cars and running away from the cops. With this, we’re trying to give it an homage. ‘Hot Pursuit’ is the first game ever that allows you a full career as a cop. You’re generating Bounty whatever you do, so whether you’re playing single player, multiplayer, online, you’re always levelling up. Criterion, with the Burnout series, they’re all about fun. They wanted to create that sort of competition, but they’ve pushed it a lot further than anything that existed up to this point. We created AutoLog, which made sure that you’re connected to your friends at all times. I don’t want to care if I’m better than someone who’s three thousand miles away. So AutoLog creates game play recommendations based on your friends’ game times. You can have a very dynamic game play experience.”
The game is beautiful—set in the fictional location of Seacrest County with four distinct regions, the inspiration is clearly the Pacific Coast Highway in all of its glory. The cops are suitably aggressive—with helicopters, spike belts, and supercars, this career path has notable allure. More than anything, this game is fun; whether driving well or driving poorly, the high-octane mayhem delights. This is going to be a competitive holiday season, with established names in most corners. But EA’s confidence is unshakeable.
“Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit offers hot racing action and this year’s most connected game. Some of them may have great multiplayer offerings, but our game is built around connectivity. To your friends, the world, the entire time in the game play section. It’s being published that way. You’ve got postings, comments—there is no more connected game than Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit.”
Unfortunately, there was no one at X10 explicitly for NHL ’11; thankfully, the enthusiastic reactions of the demo’s players spoke highly on EA’s behalf. During my visit, Joseph Cariati held onto the controller with utter delight.
“It’s a lot more authentic, I think that’s what EA meant to do, and they created a whole new physics card. I think the fact that the sticks break is such a nice touch. It’s a great hockey game. I’ve always been an NHL fan, and it’s amazing that each year, you think, what can they do to make the game better? And they always do.”
However wonderful EA’s products, there was still plenty more to see. Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood has got to be one of the most quickly made games for the seventh generation; its launch date will be a year less
a day from the release date of Assassin’s Creed 2. In no way is this a slapdash production; the much ballyhooed multiplayer may not have been on display on Wednesday, but the featured footage was nevertheless fantastic. Christophe Grandjean was on hand to discuss the evolution of the series, and the singular delights of axe-throwing.
The demo featured the first playable sequence of the game, in which Ezio loses his villa and uncle to an attack from the Borgia family. The physicality of Ezio is still as fluid as ever; something that’s sure to delight fans of derring-do is the promise that Ezio’s steed will play a larger role in his adventures, due to the expansion of Rome itself-four times bigger than any city featured in the series so far.
Ezio has never been a more delightful assassin to play; Ubisoft listened to the grousing on AC2’s combat system, and has changed it up to allow for a much more aggressive style of play. During the fall of the villa, both the beautiful graphics and Ezio’s newfound bloodlust were demonstrated beautifully. The siege and bespoiling of the town are sights never before seen in a videogame, and if melee combat is nothing new, then perhaps its singular delight comes from the novelty of Ezio throwing an axe into an armoured guard.
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood had a strong showing at E3 this year, with its introduction of the titular brotherhood—but the sisters, as ever, are still doing it for themselves. The Courtesan that made such a stir
back in June, was notably absent—but if Wednesday’s demos are anything to go by, every member of the fellowship will demonstrate equal power. The footage of the assassins released this time was sparse—but the specially-crafted demonstration of their power was just enough to satisfy. While it disappoints that one won’t be able to use your assassins to hail a storm of black bolts into Renaissance cardinals, only for you to pull off a coup inside the Pantheon, Ubisoft’s vision of their customer’s wants is spot-on. The brotherhood is certainly what the crew desires the most excitement for.
It’s a game they can be excited to release—the public, if the constant crowd of their aisle is anything to go by, is excited to play.
While the majority of the demos filled the main hall, the upper level of Fifth Social buzzed with energy as gamers got acquainted with the offerings for Kinect. While no representative of BigPark was personally available, the company’s personality filled the void at the Kinect Joy Ride booth. While the thrusting motions necessary to propel the vehicle took some getting used to, the exuberance of tricking the cars harkened back to SSX Tricky in the best possible way. Canadian content was ubiquitous upstairs; Canadian ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ veteran Blake McGrath was on hand to demonstrate Dance Central, and Ubisoft’s entry into the Kinect playing field, Kinect Your Shape: Fitness Evolved, was in frequent use.
While there were some difficulties with reception of my cross-kick in a skirt, the combination of minimalist aesthetics and maximized fluidity was effortless to use–no matter how vigorous the exercise, their patience will go untried. On hand was Nicola Godin to share the excitement. While many would be happy to simply
enjoy the innovation for its own sake, Godin’s focus is in parallel with the game’s.
“In terms of fitness, it’s so easily to do things improperly and get injured. But because of the tracking capabilities, we’re able to know where your body is. And we’ll be able to give feedback if it’s right or wrong. We’re just pushing the limits of fitness games, in ways that other titles weren’t able to do. We’ll do the same thing, and push it higher.”
“Now that we know what designs are working, we can help that game to evolve…If it’s going to exist, we have ideas. The DLC will serve at first, but we need to put all ideas on paper, and push the limits.”
Microsoft X10 demonstrated far more than the games. While Canadian titles were set to best advantage, American productions are only growing greater by the year. Halo Reach has clearly built on the decade of experience that the franchise has behind it; critics of the series’ realism will be delighted to discover how much more substantial the weapons feel, and those who enjoy a more fanciful future will find joy in the inclusion of the jetpack. The Halo property has always been about amazing multiplayer, and true to form, its benches were never empty.
Equally popular was the Fable III station. While demos by their very nature are small, Josh Atkins himself spoke proudly of the scope of the game.
“We’ve never been a big stats based game, but I think the combination of hardcore action, really fun accessible, good story–but then we have really good co-op gameplay that I don’t think anyone else has ever done. You can partner with another hero, and both get abilities. You could have a business relationship with another hero, you can get married to another hero–you can have a co-op experience unlike any other. There’s also a lot of Sims stuff, and there’s nothing like Fable. We’ve carved out our niche, and we’ve packed it with action….We’re proud of what we’ve made.”
All of this would be enough to win over a reluctant customer–but when pressed as to the main reason to nab a shy buyer, the answer was surprising.
“There are awesome games coming out, but the thing that has centered us this time is that it’s funny. It’s a funny world, even with a complex drama side, and it works. Fable III is a game that will make you laugh.”
The event remained thriving well through the night. Toronto can be proud to have put this on, and every developer can be proud of what they had to share.