Saturday, September 22, 2007

Best of the Tokyo Game Show


Halo 3

Well, duh. Halo 3 made quite an impression on the mostly Japanese TGS crowd, something that surprised us quite a bit considering that Halo is a firmly Americanized game. Be it the hype, the advertising campaign, or simply word of mouth, we were impressed to see a crowd of over 200 watching a team CTF battle comprised of mostly mediocre players. There is clearly something about Halo 3 that galvanizes Japanese gamers. Will this be the game to sell the Xbox 360 in Japan? Actually, and surprisingly, we're thinking that the answer may be "yes."

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

Newly rumble-enabled, Kojima's highest-profile PS3 project was looking sharp at the Tokyo Game Show. Outside of a few brief moments when the frame rate dipped into the 20's and teens, the visual presentation was superb: dust, debris, and elaborate post-processing effects showed off the power of Sony's battlestation. Otherwise, it was much of the same content that Kojima himself demonstrated at his Tokyo appearance in August. The controls have been much Westernized since MGS3, and the change was vastly for the better. But not everything was different in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots: the X button still handled dodging and crawling, and L2 and R2 handled item and weapon switching via the familiar MGS interface.

Despite the emphasis on stealthy combat, Kojima has mentioned earlier that MGS4 will allow for more guns-blazing approaches...but that such an action-oriented strategy would be "very hard." We saw quite a few players lunge into the fray, and as more and more soldiers ganged up on Snake, the results weren't pretty. Remember, kids: stealth is your friend!

Soul Calibur IV

Ah, yes. Soul Calibur IV had some of the nicest graphics we saw at the Tokyo Game Show. And though the gameplay and artificial intelligence were still clearly works-in-progress, the gameplay has taken some nice (if modest) steps forward. One key improvement particularly piqued our interest: a revised Ring Out system. A chief complaint of the series has been the ease at which players can knock each other out of the ring to score an easy victory. Soul Calibur IV improves upon this by introducing breakable background walls and objects, which give you a second chance if you're about to be knocked out.

But back to those graphics -- they were sweeeeet. You could see real-time reflections of the arenas in Mitsurugi's katana sword, and they looked eerily accurate. Taki's new costume has a metallic sheen to it, an eye-catching detail, and Astaroth (read: the big brute with the axe) seemed to be formed out of semi-hardened magma. Oh, and the T&A factor was off the charts: Taki's, um, assets bobbed and jiggled after each move. We expect that fighting fans -- and pubescent teen boys -- will have a ton of fun with Soul Calibur IV when it hits the Xbox 360 and PS3 sometime later in 2008.

Ninja Gaiden II

Much fuss was made about Ninja Gaiden II's gore factor, which seemed to tread dangerously close to the dreaded "Adults Only" rating if you judged by the first ultra-gory screenshots. It turns out that the truth is more complex than that. In motion, Ninja Gaiden II is too fast to be disgustingly violent: you see a few whirls of Ryu's sword, streamers of blood, and flying enemy torsos. It's hugely violent, to be sure, and we saw quite a few dismemberments, decapitations, and eviscerations. But given the anime stylings, it all seemed to fall well within a "Mature" rating. Of course, the ESRB will have the final say on that sure-to-be-controversial decision.

Otherwise, it looks like another, better Ninja Gaiden. Team Ninja's first Xbox 360 Gaiden looked sharp...but truth be told, not leagues different from Ninja Gaiden Sigma for the PS3. That's not a slam, but praise. We particularly liked the little details: Ryu could cripple enemy ninjas with a well-placed leg strike, and the enemies would crawl around trying to reach him. If they managed to grab him, the crippled foe would trigger a suicide bomb and blow you both away. We also liked the way he shook the blood off his weapons after particularly brutal battles. And speaking of weapons, we saw a few new ones, including a massive scythe (think Grim Reaper) and a pair of vicious-looking hand sabers (think Predator). We're not enormous Ninja Gaiden devotees, but even we had to admit that it was an impressive showing.

Metal Gear Solid Online

We played it, and we like it already. The controls take a bit of getting used to (especially if you need to invert the analog sticks, as the menus are all in Japanese in this build), and the aiming seemed to be a bit oversensitive at this early state. Overall, though, the gameplay shines and we predict it'll be a key draw for the PS3's online network.

A Metal Gear Online team deathmatch stage dominated the Konami booth on the TGS show floor. The auditorium-style stage features a red team and blue team, with six show attendees comprising each team. The presentation was over-the-top and theatrical -- in other words, pure Kojima. As we waited to play, we were led into a small back room and given a battlefield debriefing by an actor playing the blue team commander. Though the presentation was completely in Japanese, the message was clear: win or else! She bossed us and our teammates around, punctuating each command with a slap from her leather switch. She outlined the game's controls, showed us the level layout, and circled key choke points and areas of interest. Before we knew it, we were led out to the show floor for a very public battle, complete with a grandiose introduction by an overheated announcer. Gulp!

We sat down at our station, grabbed the Sixaxis (DualShock 3 support was not yet implemented), and donned our headsets. Game time! First up was selecting a weapon loadout; we opted for a modified AK assault rifle, 9mm handgun, and stun grenades. Then we were thrust into "Ambush Alley," a desolate-looking map comprised of bombed-out buildings, shattered streets, and strewn rubble. The level was roughly symmetrical, with a dense layout of narrow alleys and barricades. We jogged slowly through the opening courtyard, getting accustomed to the control scheme and the overall feel of the game. L1 raises your weapon into a ready state; R1 fires. The X button controls diving and kneeling; you hold X to belly-crawl. While aiming, the Square button zooms in further.

Because we'd never played MGO before, we kept it simple and stealthy. While many of the less experienced players lunged straight into the fray, we careful strafed our way past the central killing floor and took potshots at enemy players. Successful hits make enemies blink Matrix-style -- a nice bit of feedback. Overall, the gunplay seemed like a mix of classic Metal Gear and SOCOM, though it took more rounds to drop an enemy than in more realistic games like Rainbow Six: Vegas.

Still, the mix of nuts-and-bolts team shooting and vintage Metal Gear oddities, such as porno magazine "proximity bombs" and cardboard box disguises, was a delicious treat indeed. Though we'd like to see the controls streamlined and Westernized a bit more, we were quite impressed with Metal Gear's second -- and much more polished -- online tour of duty. We're hoping the game goes live by mid-2008...but then again, this is Kojima we're talking about.

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