Activison held a pre-E3 briefing for the Asia-Pacific press and retailers this afternoon (LA Time). After an interesting marathon taxi ride and a tour of half of Activision's offices looking for "those darn Aussies") I had the opportunity to get a sneak peek at what Activision had up their sleeves for E3. Sadly, there was no mention of Doom 3 or Quake 4... yet. Here's what was on display:
X-Men: Next Dimension (PS2)
A flashy 3D beat-em-up based on the comic. Some of the smoothest graphics seen on the PS2, with an emphasis on over-the-top special moves. Very akin to Tekken, but possible even a bit more braindead.
It's visuals leave Virtua Fighter 4 in the dust, but from what was shown it looks like this isn't the kind of title you will be seeing 150k strategy guides for on GameFaqs.
Matt Hoffman's Pro BMX 2 (PS2)
The PS2 debut of the Hoffman series is shaping up pretty well. The visual style is very similar to Tony Hawk 3, but one notable thing about the build that Activision had on display was that there seemed a lot more draw distance on this baby.
As can be surmised from reading below, the differing developers across the range of O2 titles means that Activision are unwilling or unable to enforce too much consistency across the range of sports on offer. Hoffman 2 expresses its individuality by totally reworking the tricking display list down the bottom of the screen, and as a very nice extra has the now obligatory rider clips display while the levels load, the clip you see being consistent with the level you're attempting. A nice touch, but one likely to get a bit old after the 8th time you attempt a level.
Speaking of video, there is supposedly 92 in the game. The levels are also intended to be a lot larger than the original Hoffmans, and some nifty flatland tricks have been added to make sure that there's never a dull moment from point a to point b.
Shaun Murray's Pro Wakeboarder (PS2)
It's pretty hard for most of us to get amped over a wakeboarding game when the likes of surfing, bmx, snowboarding and skateboarding are on offer. That said a good mate had told me this was shaping up to be something special, so due care and attention was taken.
Annnd it's still a hard call to make as to whether Aussie audiences will warm to it. There's obvious quality on display, the game looks deep, and also graphically looks the goods, but the actual gameplay might struggle against some of its O2 stablemates. Wakeboarding, for those that don't know, is like jet skiing, except you're on a board. Shaun Murray's has taken some license with the concept, allowing players to let go of the rope when necessary and allow them to use the built up momentum to trick off obstables/side diversions. This is probably the most creative license yet seen in the O2 series, which normally likes to make things arcadey, but still firmly grounded in pseudo-reality. The boat dragging you through a largely linear "track" would have been boring, so it's a good move from a diversity POV. The trick suite looks lifted from Tony Hawk but with a more aerial bent.
The water modelling, as you'd expect in a game that relies heavily on wave and wake interaction, is top notch and looks fantastic, but it's got to be noted that with the exception of the you and the boat's wake, there wasnt a ripple to be found. Hmm.
Kelly Slater Pro Surfer (PS2)
This was the other "awesome looking" title my friend in the know recommended I pay attention to, and this time around I'm pleased to say his judgment was right on the money. Just like how Slater schooled everyone when he was a pro surfer (well, he's back on the pro tour now but you know what I mean) this game already looks like the next step up for surfing games, not that that has been much to write home about to date.
It looks like the developers have really made a sincere attempt to capture the essence of surfing as much as merely focusing on the comp side of things. An incredibly lush opening video that is fully surf vid quality opens up proceedings, with Slater providing some sparse comments towards the end of the video. Some shit hot surfers are in evidence too, mainly guys no longer full time tour surfers. Guys like Tom Curren and our own Tommy Carroll are featured, which will make old schoolers happy.
The game itself looks ubelieveable. It's really gone to town on the subtle details that make it impossible to go back to titles that dont have them. Like how waves break in the background, how different waves have different velocities. Things like that. Critically important, the waves have a random element to their breaking style and size, and can (and do!) section! This means you cant "memorise" the breaking pattern of the wave, a-la Sunny Garcia's et al, which in turn means that like real surfing, you have to react at quick notice to changes in the wave shape and breaking pattern.
The gameplay is a bit formulaic in the tradition of Tony Hawk, but that is a great formula to bring to a surfing game. There was probably more concern over how the mechanics of wave motion and velocity and the sheer random aspect of mother nature would affect the game than the actual play model, and it's a relief to say this looks to be in the bag.
Unless something goes drastically wrong here, or there is a real stuff up in the translation to your chosen platform, this and the next title below are looking like absolute cainer games.
Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4 (PS2)
Blasphemous to say as it is, but Hawk as a series was beginning to maybe feel a bit tired. THPS3 was a great game, but when it comes down to it, the essential style of play hasn't been altered significantly for around half a decade. Things needed a kickstart.
And boy, this has happened. The early build we saw of THPS4 was impressive on a number of levels. The visuals, while still looking a bit too clean (think THPS3), seem to have a bit more life in them, but at first glance it looks disturbingly like THPS3. Then you notice something missing. The timer. Must be a REAL early build right?
Wrong. The timer is history. Neversoft are wanting this baby to be more about what real skating is about, so the timer is gone, and levels have been given another size boost, and the amount of objectives has gone through the roof. The attempts Neversoft made with toying with unlockable areas within levels continue, with both pro challenges and certain actions you take opening up parts of the map. Nothing was revealed as to whether a new linking trick like THPS2's manual or THPS3's revert will make it into the game, but a lot of refinement is going into this one.
There's a strong focus on pro challenges, where to unlock parts of the level you have to meet then beat a given pro skater, and I know I've mentioned it before, but the sheer number of challenges available has been massively boosted, and thankfully not all have to be completed to progress.
A bunch of gimmick challenges have been thrown in, and a lot more attention is being paid to how the skater interacts with the environment. A good example was given by the developers where (in the final game) it is hoped that you can skate onto a tennis court and then start bopping the ball with your deck!
It's a brave move to ditch the easy to enforce timer - such things help conceal a map's limitations as players hustle to complete their "shopping list" of tasks, let's all hope that THPS4 can bring enough depth to nullify the timer.
Soldier of Fortune II (PC)
It's going on sale this week both here in the States and supposedly in Australia, so this is probably the last SOFII mention before the Ausgamers review.
Not much needs to be said except that the exterior levels are going to redefine the realistic FPS, not only do the visuals look simply phenomenal, but it really does affect gameplay. Activision seem pretty proud about Raven and their effort on this one, making specific mention of the increased texture detail that they squeezed out of the Q3 engine despite id saying it wasnt possible. The gore is sickening, as is to be expected. You can actually expose and splinter bone and apparently have less censor issues than say if you play GTA3, but gratuitous gore aside it was refreshing to hear the rep mention that after the positive feedback that the makers recieved after deciding relatively late to go for multiplayer, they fully intend to provide a HEAP of post retail support to the game, including maps and all kinds of goodies.
Someone seems to have put it into their head that SOFII could take on the CS juggernaut. In every measureable aspect, from movement to visuals to technology, SOFII eclipses the older title. It deserves a run at the top, but whether die hard CS players will agree is yet to be seen.
Keep a look out for the prototype OICW weapon. It's going to cause more whinging on servers than any wallhack. And speaking of walls, yes, bullets from SOME weapons will pierce walls, and better yet, the AI will use this as well!
Finally, and most promising, the random mission generator will be multiplayer compatible too. No more being bored with a limited selection of team deathmatch, infiltration or ctf maps, it seems. It was demoed in action, and looks impressively simple, yet elegant.
Medieval Total War (PC)
The sequel to Shogun Total War, Medieval is set in Europe, and thus sports not only a much larger map, but an Age of Empires-style selection of races and a lot wider appeal than the original's limited subject matter.
Once more the emphasis seems equally split between strategy and tactical elements, portrayed via the familiar sprite-based engine, which allows thousands of units in play simulataneously. During the demonstration of this title, someone unwittingly won my personal "most retarded question asked" accolade. The rep was demonstrating the historic battle mode of the game and was asked if players could change the outcome of the battle. The rep coped well with the answer, somehow not managing to say "IF YOU COULDNT CHANGE THE OUTCOME WHY BOTHER PLAYING IN THE FIRST PLACE?" but rather something a lot more diplomatic.
The game itself seems to be concentrating on increasing the variety and depth of play and extending the attraction of the original.
Star Trek: Elite Force II
The series somehow manages to boldly go where a lot of other FPSes have - the Q3 engine. Models and wall textures in particular are looking sweet in this game, however for some reason the levels I saw seemed somehow Unreal-ish. Visually though, if they hadn't shown Soldier Of Fortune II after this one I would have ventured an opinion that this was the most impressive use of the Q3 engine yet.
The gameplay is going to offer multiplayer modes, but the focus very evidently remains on single player, with your team's interaction with you crucial to meeting objectives.