As we deplaned at LAX, Stu and I walked down the hallway towards baggage claim. The city of Los Angeles came out to greet us, with a sign held by a limo driver that read, “Sasha Grey.” It became clear to me at this point that my first trip to the West Coast and E3 was going to leave some lasting impressions on my mind.
Yesterday, Stu chose his five best gaming moments of E3 2011. These are mine.
Skulls of the Shogun
Over at the IndieCade booth, Stu and I got our hands on Skulls of the Shogun, and we met with Jake Kazdal, the lead designer and director at Haunted Temple Studios.
Upon starting up a game, Jake told us to abandon all our previously conceived notions of tactical games. The first thing that stood out is there is no grid to play on. With no grid, players are not restricted to any particular place on the screen, thus groups of characters can share the same space and still be effective.
Skulls offers a smart and funny single player story that follows the spirit of a dishonored samurai whose rightful place in the afterlife has been stolen from him. To get it back, he must go and fight the spirits of those who have wronged him.
The single player is fluid and feels more like an action adventure game rather than a turn based strategy game. It promotes fast paced game play, with a sense of humor and a clean simple interface that leaves behind much of the bloat tactical games can have.
Along with full animation and colorful art design, Skulls of the Shogun also features a rich multiplayer experience. Stu and I played the multiplayer through an entire round and the game was surprisingly fast and fun.
For those wondering, Stu and I fought down to the wire. I came away with a victory by sacrificing all of my soldiers. [Editor’s Note: he only won because Jake was helping him.]
Batman: Arkham City
Batman: Arkham City was a must see at E3 2011. Continuing the story from the 2009 release Batman: Arkham Asylum, the latest installment introduces new villains, new combat options and new playable characters. Two particular criminals this time around are the always dapper Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot – more commonly known as The Penguin – and everyone’s favorite defiled district attorney, Harvey Dent AKA Two Face.
Arkham City takes place about a year after the events of the first game and Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Prison have failed and collapsed as institutions. To handle the crazies, Dr. Hugo Strange creates a new borough for Gotham City called Arkham City. It has all the charm and fun of Escape from New York. There is almost no better environment for Batman to exist in.
Rocksteady expands the game naturally with new combat moves and many of Batman’s gadgets unlocked from the start of the game. For less pugilistic players, the Riddler challenges have returned once again to taunt the Dark Knight.
Also, Catwoman. A whole lotta Catwoman.
Having acquired Eidos Interactive a few years back, Square Enix continues to develop their diversified lineup with a reboot the Tomb Raider franchise. Now with a darker, more realistic tone and more focus on environment based puzzles, the game even adds a sense of survival horror to this action adventure franchise.
Fanboy favorite Lara Croft, has also gone through a very much needed make over. Gone are the torpedo tits, short shorts and arrogant attitude. Looking now more like Kate from Lost, Lara is a believable 21-year-old woman trapped on an open world island of mystery. I always felt the old Tomb Raider games took the story and characters much too seriously considering the character design. It always seems like they were one step away from a J. Scott Campbell sketch. This new Lara Croft is looks genuine and does not seem at all like a superhero.
Being marooned on Mystery Island offers a fair share of adventure (and variety – Lara will be spending plenty of time above ground rather than skulking from tomb to tomb) all the while creating that Bermuda Triangle atmosphere we have come to expect from unique seabound landmasses.
With the embarrassing stigma associated with Tomb Raider games missing from this reboot, I won’t feel weird if someone comes in the room and sees me playing it. Unless of course if I am not wearing pants. That would be weird.
El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron
Ignition Entertainment’s culty survival horror game Deadly Premonition is a favorite of Team Unwinnable. I don’t know anyone who played it and didn’t at least respect the game for its peculiar storytelling and its unique characters. Ignition’s latest outing is El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron. As the demo began I was told, “The story is based on the apocryphal Book of Enoch from the Dead Sea Scrolls and features the story of seven angels exiled from the kingdom of heaven by God.” [Editor’s Note: Kind of like Bible fan fiction.]
Considering their previous work, I should not have been surprised.
El Shaddai is an artistic cinematic platformer with just the right amount of Japanese quirk to make it interesting. It borrows heavily from (and modifies) some of the main plot points of the Old Testament. In Hebrew, El Shaddai is translated literally as, ‘God Almighty.’
The development team is led by Takeyasu Sawaki, best known for the artful Okami and the sometimes goofy Devil May Cry. Combine solid game play with an off beat story that could potentially risk alienating its audience and you have a game that makes me pay attention.
With no intrusive HUD, El Shaddai literally paints itself on to the screen. Each of the seven exiled angels is a different stage that reflects their personal obsessions and each one must be dealt with in a unique manner.
The characters may be celestial in origin, but they are all dressed rather well. Enoch, the main character, sports a pair of Edwin jeans. In the game, the character known as Lucifel is able to travel through time. Because of this, he prefers the clothing of our modern age. Since Lucifel helps Enoch, it is only obvious he would be outfitted in the latest fashions. Like Lucifel, Sawaki is a big fan of jeans, so he had a very limited run of jeans branded for this game released along side the game in Japan.
Payday: The Heist
Overkill Studios’ Payday: The Heist was not only the first game I played at E3 2011, but also had the honor of being the very last game I played as well. Fans of movies like Heat and The Town will love this objective based first person shooter. With four player drop in co-op, you rob banks, take over armored cars and can even play a map based on the North Hollywood Shoot-out.
Whether using thermite to burn through a bank vault or taking hostages as cover, Payday gave me the exact gaming experience I wanted. It is the Rainbow Six of heist games. I have always enjoyed objective based shooters -before Left 4 Dead I used to play a Half-Life mod called Zombie Panic. Like Zombie Panic, very specific goals have to be met in a certain order before progress can be made. First you get to the bank manager and steal his card key to the computer room. From there you can get the drill and thermite which were planted before the heist. Should you go in guns blazing, well, good luck.
The very last 25 minutes of E3 2011, I sat down and played Payday with lead level designer Illaj Petrusic. I asked him to lead the charge and we made it to the vault and held off a S.W.A.T team. Sadly, two of our teammates, Chains and Dallas, succumbed to injuries, which made it very difficult to escape. Also, the security at convention center was literally telling me to leave the building.
Tactical white knuckle action, it’s fun to be a bad guy!
E3 2011 came to a close and we spent an extra day in Los Angeles to recover and take in a few sights. Our Saturday flight back to JFK was uneventful, but I did see Julian Casablancas on the plane with us. He was flying Jetblue, just like me. I didn’t see him at E3, though.
If you can’t hear Chuck (unlikely), then be sure to follow him @JapanDudeGirl