Attendance at the New York Comic Con was over 75,000, up almost 15% from last year. What better place for game companies to show off some of their shiniest upcoming titles? Dave Brown and Jason Keeley spent the weekend with developers, marketers, and also the games themselves.
Prior to the official opening of the NY Comic Con, Activision invited press to attend a private event to preview some up and coming titles. On hand were demos of Prototype (a 3rd-person action title), the movie tie-in game X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and a non-playable demo of the FPS Wolfenstein.
Dave Brown: Among all the titles present, I was most interested in trying out Prototype. This game has always been on my radar but is now firmly situated at the top of my list for anticipated titles. The game is still very early in development so it still has a long way to go, but the controls were easy to use and the amount of attack combinations you are given was impressive. You can also customize your powers as you progress, which lets players put their own spin on the game. Equally impressive was the game engine, powering the staggering amount of carnage and mayhem I led my character though. For a game that is clearly a long way from being polished, it was nice to see how smooth it played. I believe that they are pushing the hardware as far as it can go. I left the demo wanting to see more.
If there is anything that, without a doubt, the developers of Wolverine got right, it was the brutality of our Adamantium-clawed friend. What immediately struck me was the feeling that someone finally “got” what Wolverine’s ferocity would look like in combat. Heads roll, limbs are hacked off…I saw a guy’s legs get sliced off and watched as the character then spent a few seconds grabbing his stumps in agony before dying. Controls are familiar if you’ve played other third-person action games, and there are some light puzzle elements. The path through the demo was very clearly defined which took me out of the experience a little. There are also some quicktime events, which were fun to watch. The game looks to be fun, but I don’t expect it to redefine the tie-in genre.
Wolfenstein was non-playable, which was a little disappointing. I watched the rep play through a level where you seem to link up with some resistance fighters to add a little cooperative spice to the typical one-man army approach. I was asking myself what made this game stand out from other first-person shooters and couldn’t come up with any compelling answers.
Depending on how generous you are, the SouthPeak booth could be described as either eclectic or schizophrenic. Velvet Assassin, a stealth-based game set in WWII, shared space with both Roogoo Twisted Towers and its brightly-colored shapes and the shapely anime heroine of X-Blades.
Jason Keeley: Velvet Assassin seemed like a pretty slow-paced game. Personally, I’m into sneaking up behind a Nazi and slitting his throat with a knife. However, using morphine allows you to rush right up to enemies, and it undercuts the stealth feel.
This newest iteration of Roogoo adds some minigames, boss battles, and party-style games to its puzzle mix. Moving the game over to the Wii and DS is probably a good idea, as the cartoony aesthetic of the game seems to fit in there.
And as for X-Blades…well, it certainly delivered the fast-paced frenetic action promised, but aside from killing little demon things, I wasn’t quite sure what to do as I played. I didn’t feel like I had a clear objective.
DB: I only played a little Velvet Assassin and my time with that game did not leave the best impression. A simple mission involving hiding in some bushes to creep behind an enemy soldier left me trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. The slow pace I can appreciate, but the AI seemed too sensitive to my movements and the linear nature of the level left me wondering if this was a tutorial or the nature of the gameplay.
Behind a dozen or so demo DS kiosks sat a Rockstar van emblazoned with the Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars logo and the stylized character art we’ve come to know from the GTA box art.
JK: This was my favorite game being shown at the convention. I haven’t bought a really engrossing DS game for several months now, but Chinatown Wars looks to change all that. It’s got a lot of the charm and mayhem of the older top-down games combined with the depth of the 3-D titles. Rampages and ambulance missions are back, while having to take your cousin bowling has fallen by the wayside. Some of the touch-screen gameplay seemed a little tacked on, but most of it, like the PDA (which serves as a hub for GPS, e-mail, and game functions), makes perfect sense. While it’s primarily a single-player game, the fact that you can send the GPS coordinates of interesting spots around Liberty City to other DS owners is a nice touch. Yeah, I think I’ll be selling drugs and evading the cops on my subway come March. (Kids: Dope is for dopes. Stay in school and off of drugs!) Of course, it didn’t hurt that I got play the game inside that van, away from the hubbub of the main floor.
DB: I missed out on the special “van” screening (hope you were escorted by an adult, Jason). This is a title that could convince me to buy a DS. The mechanics of the touchscreen controls felt very natural. The classic top-down perspective of the camera was a nice touch and, of course, reminded me of my time spent with the original GTA. I also thought it was a great idea to be able to share interesting locations with friends.
While Sony Online Entertainment had a booth showing off DC Universe Online, they also hosted a little cocktail hour far away from the convention center to show off some of their other PS3 and PSP titles.
JK: While InFamous looked great and the people playing it seemed to be having a good time electrocuting innocent passersby, the beauty and simplicity of Flower just entranced me. All you do is control a gust of wind by pressing a button and tilting the controller. Sure, there are objectives and a bit of a difficulty curve, but if you wanted to, you could just breeze around. However, be warned: I believe its possible to “beat” all the levels in an evening’s sitting. It’s not a big game, but it is something different. Oh, and I think Killzone 2 was somewhere near the coat check.
Also, there was DC Universe Online. It’s a little hard to get excited about a game that’s still in the pre-alpha phase with no sign of a release date in sight. However, the sight of a speedster superhero running up the side of a building that did something for me. I’ll be keeping my eye on this one.
DB: On initial glance, I thought DC Universe looked interesting with its character creation system, massive environments, and action oriented controls. After spending more time with it, I realized that it just seems like any other comic book-style MMO. Sure, you’ve got a much more familiar license by taking cultural icons like Batman and Superman and including them in your title, but after that wears off, will gamers really stick with this title?
Atari showed off some strong titles. The also had an ice sculpture shaped like Slimmer.
DB: Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena may prove that it’s safe to go back to the well sometimes. Starbreeze took everything fans loved about the original and repackaged it with improved graphics and enhanced audio. Then they put in a new campaign. The demo felt just like the original Xbox title, so if you are familiar with those controls, you’ll be happy to know that developers didn’t screw with the formula. We didn’t have a chance to check out the melee combat, which, as most will know, is what we love so much about our gravelly-voiced anti-hero. Can’t wait to see more of it later this year.
JK: I didn’t play the first Riddick game, but since the new game includes a revamped Escape from Butcher Bay, I may not have to search through bargain bins to rectify that. The game looked great, and its always cool to hear Vin Diesel croak some badass dialogue.
Personally, though, I am way more excited about Ghostbusters. You probably know the story by now: Aykroyd and Ramis wrote the script, the original cast did voice work, and you fight the StayPuft Marshmallow Man near the beginning of the game. It’s enough to make a fanboy’s head explode. Wii owners shouldn’t despair; while that console will see a different version of the game, it looks a lot better than you might think. Especially if you were a fan of the old The Real Ghostbusters cartoon.
DB: Ghostbusters was one of the titles I was most impressed with at the Atari booth. The developers said that the movie cast considers this a faithful sequel, and I couldn’t agree more. Watching people wrangle ghosts with their proton guns and sucking them into those traps made the little kid inside me smile from ear to ear. I was really happy to see the developers taking the Wii version of the game in a different design direction. Instead of trying to compete with its next-gen brethren, the Wii version embraces a cartoonish style. I also thought that the running destruction tally was a fun touch.
There were a couple of games showing at the THQ booth, including Deadly Creatures and WWE: Legends of Wrestlemania. We were only interested in getting our hands on Red Faction Guerilla.
JK: While the concept of being able to destroy any of the man-made structures situated on a fully open and explorable swatch of Martian landscape is certainly an interesting one, I don’t know if its enough to get me interested. However, if you’re the type of person who likes hitting things with sledgehammers, then you might get a real kick out of this game.
DB: I can’t honestly remember one particularly cool aspect of the demo that would have been a good hook. Unless they announce some major enhancements, this one is off my watchlist.
Known for bringing capes to the world of MMOs with City of Heroes, Cryptic seemed right at home at the convention, with some hands-on demos of Champions Online and a video of some early Star Trek Online footage.
JK: One the things Cryptic tried to drive home is that their games are paragons of customization. For example, Star Trek Online subscribers will be able to make their own alien races and share them with other players. I would have liked to try that out to see if it was more than just skin color and forehead bumps, but they were only playing a video of the feature. That being said, the game might break new ground by giving players control of a whole starship crew. We’ll just have to see how well that works.
Champions Online is a lot closer to being finished and has similar levels of customization. However, when I got a few minutes at a terminal, I didn’t get to play with any of it. I would have liked to see how closely the character creation sticks to the popular pen-and-paper rules on which its based. I also wanted to tinker with the costume options for a bit, as that’s what sold me on City of Heroes years ago. Despite all that, I still have high hopes for Champions and I’ll probably try to get in on the beta.
New York Comic Con seems to be growing every year, and the gaming presence at the convention is growing with it. It’s really no surprise, as comic books and gaming go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Unfortunately, the next convention isn’t scheduled until October of 2010, but by that time they’ll hopefully be able to get some more space in the convention hall so even more companies can participate.