Whelp, in a kind of spur of the moment kind of thing myself and my pop popped off to the Eurogamer Expo 2008/Gamesindustry.biz Career Fare on tuesday, partly to get some inside advice for my future Level Design career from some industry employees, and partly so I could grab a play of Mirror's Edge and a couple of others. I ultimately ended up having a go on Mirror's Edge (twice), Far Cry 2, Red Faction 3, Saints Row 2 and Killzone 2, which I will now brag about and give some impressions on. Mostly brag.
Mirror's Edge. Wow. I'm not really sure how to even approach this. God knows I've seen the same opening level played enough times in videos at various games expos, but to actually play it yourself is something totally different. The controls are incredibly simple but ultimately work very well, the graphics are highly stylized but fecking awesome (radiosity lighting doing its magic) and the whole game just feels excellent. The main thing that surprised me was the level of skill needed to play the game well. I sort of expected it to become insultingly easy after the first couple of tries at a level, but even after figuring out that you used the left joystick to stay stable whilst walking across the red pipe I was still falling to my death three or four times per turn. Doing a soft landing is much harder than it looks as well - you need to press L2 at just the right moment to execute a roll so you don't break your knees upon impact. Overall I'm massively impressed with Mirror's Edge. Playing it has only heightened my desire to grab a copy of it around Christmas time, which indeed I will be doing. There should be a demo of it around sometime today if you want to try it for yourself.
Far Cry 2 on the other hand was quite contorary to what I expected.
The introductory sequence was pretty good despite the terrible anti-aliasing problems and low-res normal maps, which were no doubt a result of Ubisoft's typically awful PS3 port, or may have been an issue with the unit I was playing on. Either way I'm getting the PC version so I don't care too much. Visuals aside, the gameplay was clunky, stiff and I felt like I wasn't really in total control of my character. Enemies take an entire box of ammunition before they go down, wildlife is rare and despite being billed as an open world game it feels terribly linear and the environments seem repetitive. Despite all this I now want to play it more than ever. Don't ask me why because I have no idea. I just get the feeling that I had a bad experience and that the actual game will be much better. Some issues are to be expected in an open world game, after all.
The game is out now and it doesn't look likely that Ubi are going to release a demo, so I guess I'll have to buy it if I'm to find out.
Killzone 2, if I'm honest, I haven't really cared about until now. The original, which I borrowed from a friend, was pretty average. The reload animations were good but that was about all it had to its credit. I was amazed to find that not only is Killzone 2 one of the prettiest games on PS3, it's also one of the most meaty and satisfying.
I played a small section a couple of levels into the game where I was basically following some dope in a Marine cap through a series of encounters. Once I clumsily got used to the controls rather badly in front of an audience of 7 or 8 others waiting to play, I found the combat to be very satisfying indeed. The guns feel weighty and powerful, the iron sights feel very precise and solid and enemies fly backwards in a whirlwind of airborne blood and shattered armour when you empty a magazine into them. Killzone 2 is, to my delight also using radiosity lighting and it looks pretty damn stunning as a result. My turn ended, however, when a puzzle involving the PS3's sixaxis presented itself. It told me I needed to press L1 and R1 together and rotate the controller to turn a valve. It moved about a quarter turn then refused to budge. After handing the controller to somebody else a Guerilla rep told them that you needed you release L1 and R1, then turn it back the other way, then press again and turn, sort of how you would turn a real valve. To the newcomer, however, this is quite purplexing and hopefully easily disabled in the final build.
Killzone 2 has shot from 'meh' to pre-order in my book and I'm definitely glad I decided to try it out. Unfortunately it's got a 'when we feel like it' release date so it may be a while before any of us get to play it for real.
Saints Row 2, like Far Cry 2 I got off to kind of a bad start with. Somebody else had already created a character, played through about 10 or 15 missions and wasted ammo for all the available weapons before me so I was thrown in very much at the deep end. Thankfully the controls haven't changed at all since the first game so I was able to defend myself fairly well. One thing that has changed from the first game is any kind of restraint. The original was Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas on speed, but with SR2 it's more like LSD. Characters with the most absurd make-up, bling, hair styles, clothing and facial defomities populate the world and I seem to be the only person who notices. Everything seems bright, multicoloured and densely packed. I didn't get to see much of the city because, paradoxically, it rained the whole time I was playing and the first mission I jumped into took me into an ironically bland casino building for the duration, so I can't really comment on that, but it looks like the visuals have changed slightly and the animations have received some much needed smoothing and blending.
I didn't really get a very firm impression of Saints Row 2, mixed signals seemed to be coming from everywhere, which means I'm all the more eager to play it and clear up some of the mystery. Saints Row 2 is already out and has been for some time but no demo is available at present, so I guess I'll have to wait until I get it.
Red Faction Guerilla hasn't exactly been pushed very hard. It's been kind of like a distant humming in the background; you know it's there and you want to investigate, but it doesn't do much to tell you where it's coming from or even if it exists at all. Perhaps you have a brain tumour and you're slowly going mad, or maybe your friend has been doing it, but when you turn around and accuse him he has you committed. Perhaps it's the noise of the nanomachines inside your brain the government has been putting into the drinking water to enforce social conformity and council tax payments!
Ahem. Anyway. Having caught a play of RFG I can safely say it lives up to the Red Faction name. The open world gameplay (which I was, again, thrown in at the deep end of) of course won't make the most of the plot, but it certainly makes the most of the destruction, which is undoubtedly the main feature here. Straight away I whipped out my sledgehammer and began to 'disassemble' a nearby building, the walls giving way in satisfying, crunchy chunks. I then found out that the previous player had been doing a mission where this particular building was the object of the exercise, so I ran to a nearby monster truck and proceeded to drive it into the side in a shower of crumbling Mars concrete and rebar. I then found the button to change weapons and made use of the sticky mines to obliterate the remains. I also joined a base assault a bit later on where I was ironically killed by a falling water tower (ironic because I felled it to try and crush some nearby enemies) and can confirm that the combat is meaty and the cover system is as good as GTA IV's, which isn't bad all considered. During the time I was playing I had several in-game messages requesting help from various factions or requests that I destroy such and such a building, which was annoying since I had done nothing to invoke them. They were, however, quite easily drowned out by loud cracks of sledgehammer against concrete or human flesh, and gigantic explosions, so no harm done.
Overall, the game feels a bit like an early beta or tech demo; there doesn't seem to be much substance or plot to follow (again, perhaps because I was already a few missions in when I started playing), but the gameplay certainly makes up for it. Red Faction Guerilla could well be the Crackdown of 2009 if it continues the way it is. The physics are impressive, the gameplay is very solid and it has little to no plot, which is the perfect recipe for a game more fun than smoking marijuana at a bowling alley. Unreal Engine 3-esque muddy brown visuals aside, I'm really looking forward to Red Faction Guerilla. Destruction is one of the core elements of a fun game and Volition have put a lot of time into making it as easy and as satisfying as possible. Multiplayer battles could be a heck of a lot of fun on this game when it's released.
Semi-finally, I also went to the Gamesindustry.biz Career Fare, which I also went to last year when it was a separate event. It gives us aspiring designers, programmers and artists a chance to mix with the 'employed' crowd and ask a few newbie questions, as well as gain valuable information from inside various studios.
After asking around a few studios (Ubisoft Reflections, Realtime Worlds and Starbreeze) it seems that I'm doing all the right stuff so far, but that going ahead with my mod idea would be a smart career move. Because of this I've decided to go ahead with the damn thing, so readers (yes, both of you!) can expect to see some content related to this in the future. Perhaps even a recruitment drive or two.
Finally, I would also like to mention that I acquired an Oyster Card during this particular trip to London, which I guess makes me a sort of honorary Londoner. Hooray!
Stay tuned for many more gobsmacking revelations next week/month/year!