Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Report from the Front: SDCC 2014 Video Game Demos

As with last year’s Comic-Con, I saw the convention as an opportunity to play some demos of upcoming games to see if they might be worth a future investment. While I did accomplish this goal on Sunday, the last and shortest day of the convention, I’ll admit right off the bat that I didn’t get the opportunity to play all of the games that I could have played. I didn’t end up playing Ultra Street Fighter 4 or anything at the Behemoth booth, nor did I get a chance to play the new Super Smash Bros. (though I’ll admit I consciously avoided it due to Nintendo always having a crowded booth). I also didn’t play Sunset Overdrive due to long lines (and wait times) and I also didn’t play Sonic Boom (I’ll stop there). However, I did get to play some games at the pretty empty Bandai Namco booth, as well as a couple games I’ve actually been anticipating. So, with all that said, let’s explore the games I actually tried out.

Preview Note: The following write-up solely expresses the opinions of the writer and is based on a work in progress. Should the final product be reviewed on Trophy Unlocked, these opinions may change to reflect the full game.

Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix (PlayStation 3)

This should be pretty obvious already, but I really love the Kingdom Hearts franchise. Going into the convention, I already knew that I wanted to play the upcoming HD 2.5 Remix, which features tweaked HD versions of the Final Mixes for both Kingdom Hearts II and Birth by Sleep, plus the cutscenes of Re:coded. However, I never actually anticipated that I would be able to play a demo of this hotly anticipated game at the Square Enix booth on the floor. Since I was waiting for a signing, and I had enough time to kill, I decided to try it out, finding myself in front of one of the kiosks for the Birth by Sleep portion of the game (there were plenty nearby for the Kingdom Hearts II portion).

The Birth by Sleep demo contained sections for Terra, Ventus and Aqua, the three main characters of the game. In the time I was there, I got to play through all of the Terra section and most of the one for Ventus. Though short, these sections really show off all of the improvements made to the game, the most noticeable one being the graphics. Simply put, this game now looks absolutely amazing, like how the PSP version looks in your mind’s eye. Character models are now much slicker and all of the little details are shown with more clarity. Combat remains exactly the same as the original game, but now with the added bonus of using the right analog stick to control the camera and a single shoulder button to lock on, creating much smoother combat.

I'm still getting used to my new Smartphone.

While the experience was very nice, there were a couple of sticking points. The camera was a little weird for me to control since it was inverted and pretty loose. I can chalk this up to the fact that I couldn’t access an options menu during the demo and that I didn’t have enough time to adjust to it. The other is that while the pre-determined command deck wasn’t that bad, I couldn’t change it even though I acquired different commands during Ventus’ section. Then again, I also play the Keyblade warriors differently than the demo would have me do, so the selection would naturally have been jarring. Nonetheless, December 2 can’t get here fast enough.

Aw yeah!

Dead Rising 3 (PC)

Since I played both Dead Rising 2 and it’s updated rerelease, Off the Record, on PS3, I’ve been a fan of the series, going so far as to buy the original Dead Rising for Xbox 360 (though I haven’t played it yet). Since Off the Record, I had anticipated the thought of a Dead Rising 3, though when they did finally announce it, my heart sank when I saw it would only be for the Xbox One. I also felt a little pissed off since PlayStation users previously had access to the series through both versions of Dead Rising 2, only to take that away with the latest installment. When they announced a Steam release however, my spirits were lifted by the possibility of finally being able to play it. On Sunday at Comic-Con, I was a bit surprised at how small the line was to play this game (i.e. almost non-existent).

Pictured: A hope spot.

I didn’t play very much of the game because time and Psycho fight with no preparation, but I really enjoyed what I played. I like the idea of the open world atmosphere, as it presents more opportunities to do what you want and craft combinations of items. The graphics are the best I’ve seen of the series so far and the frame rate suffered no drops despite the large number of zombies on display at once. One of the best features however is that there were absolutely no loading times, an impressive feat indeed. After I played for a bit I talked to the rep about the game and he informed me of other really cool features, such as combo vehicles and one mechanic I had been clamoring for since I played Dead Rising 2: time is no longer an issue. Dead Rising 3 is more of an open sandbox where you can do what you want and accomplish the individual story goals pretty much any time you want, while also having other side missions sprinkled throughout Los Perdidos. For those who want the traditional time limit and save options, there is also a Nightmare Mode for increased difficulty. All of these features and more are getting me excited to play as Nick Ramos sometime in the future.

Project Cars (PlayStation 4)

I’ll admit that I’m not really familiar with this title, having only really heard about it at SDCC when I saw it at the Bandai Namco booth. However, since no one was really playing it and I had time to kill, I decided to give it a shot; I regretted this decision. The idea seems to be that it’s a more realistic racing game, though I couldn’t really get into it. The steering felt incredibly floaty and hard to wrestle with, with too much movement on the right stick causing me to spin out. Maybe this was due to in-game damage I suffered while trying to figure things out, but even when the car was “fresh” I still had a hard time getting used to the controls, even when I found out which button was the handbrake. I wasn’t really interested in playing this game anyway, but my time with it only drove the wedge between me and the game even further. I know someone out there will buy it, and they can go ahead and do so, but I certainly won’t.

Pictured: A metaphor.

Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2 (PlayStation 3/Nintendo 3DS)

As I did with Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures last year, I decided to play Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2, once again on two platforms (in this case PS3 and 3DS). This time I got a better feel for the games, with Pac-Man still being able to go between two different forms, in one case resembling a 3D version of his original arcade appearance. The controls are very responsive and the levels feel pretty polished, although some of the puzzles require a good amount of patience (Full Disclosure: I sucked at the puzzles). It’s still not pretty exciting to me, and I won’t be investing in it in the future, but if you feel like getting it then by all means do so; I guess I’m just not the audience is all.

Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment (PlayStation Vita)

Okay, I have some background on this one. I watched Sword Art Online as it aired on Toonami because people were talking about it and I was taking a Japanese class at the time (where other students kept talking about it). I didn’t have high expectations and when I first saw it, I actually kind of liked it. The premise was very interesting, providing a sense of urgency through people trapped in an MMORPG where death is real. Kirito was also shaping up to be an interesting character, since he had Beta Tested the titular game and had planted the seeds for a future relationship with a girl he knew nothing about. I figured that this sort of high stakes, emotional beginning would be the start of something great. Of course, once I finished watching it, it turned out that the story didn’t care about any of that and now I can describe it best with a single image:

Their words, not mine.

That said, when I saw the game with no one in front of it, I figured “Why not?” and began playing. A few seconds in though, I realized I had made a mistake. I had no context for anything going on and the control scheme felt highly unorthodox. The graphics were pretty decent from what I remember, but unfortunately I don’t have much to say beyond that. I kind of figured out the controls as I fought a few monsters, but after about a minute I felt I wasn’t going to be able to give it a fair shake, especially since I couldn’t just go back to the main menu or some similarly safe place, and just decided to stop playing. If I had an opportunity to play where I wasn’t just dumped in the middle of things and given more time to adjust to the controls, I’d probably go for it, but as it stands I’m not too enthusiastic about it.

It's hard to get a clear photo of a handheld game.

So ends another San Diego Comic-Con Wrap-Up. Hopefully I’ll get to play more games next year and find out about games I’m anticipating, as well as maybe walk away as a fan of something else.

Also, I apologize for the lateness of this post. I’ve been putting Comic-Con away at home and also got really into JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All-Star Battle (foreshadowing alert!).

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