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Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) Part 1: Great Games

by June 18, 2009

Let me start by confessing that I never liked video games because they taught hand/eye coordination or social skills - I liked playing them because they were fun. So the opportunity to attend E3 at the Los Angeles Convention Center was irresistible. Even more so because the nonsense of trying to turn it into a business event over the last two years was rolled back so that glitz and glamor could once again lead the way. And why not? Times may be tough but games touch on so many genres that there’s sure to be something for everyone. Which explains why the video gaming industry has continued to be so profitable through the years.Ghostbusters

GhostBusters: The Game

So having seen the Ecto 1 outside (yes it’s the Ghostbusters tricked out ambulance), I was keen on seeing those 3rd party titles that look to brighten the Fall and holidays (the blockbusters hawked by Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft having been noted already). So first stop was Ghostbusters: The Game and making my way through the crowded hall, I planted myself in front of a monitor and glommed the graphics. For sure they were state-of-the-art, giving you outstanding views of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and Manhattan - in other words blowing away the oldie but goodie days of the C64 version (then again, I still chuckle over my Atari 800 singing out “Ghostbusters” if you pressed the keyboard and didn’t mind the screen blanking out). Looking for Ghosts

But even keeping it 1991 and having the characters look like the guys from the film isn’t what makes this a fun ride. It’s the fact that Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis (writers of the original film) helped to pen the story as well as lend their voices to it, along with Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson.

And how can it not be fun to join the team and use all kinds of weapons to take on those ghost and beasties?

Don't Cross the Beams!

Warriors doing their thingBut since I’ve gone all nostalgic, I pulled out my best New York face and got behind Warriors: Street Brawl. Retro as it is, nothing beats running around New York, except maybe being chased by street gangs dressed up as the Yankees! Comic book-like graphics are funkier than scary, and it’s like back in the day when we used to cruise the subway cars - just one of the missions you’re on as you try to get back to Coney Island in one piece. Plus plenty of hidden touches to make you want to come out and PLAY-AY! That it’s made as a download for the Xbox 360 Live is fine since digital is already taking a bite out of discs and boxes and stores anyway.

But is it nostalgic when the game is a franchise that stretches back for aeons? How about if it has solid game play that keeps your attention? That’s where this new Metal Gear Solid/Rising came in. As the first of its kind for the Xbox 360, it took characters from the past to combine them with the present. What you’ll get is a familiar but not the same old fighting experience, with a much better graphic engine powering the whole thing.

You've Got the Power

TransformersAnd speaking of power, of the dozens of games based on movies past and present, at least you know what you’re getting with Transformers. Or in this case Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. If beating up transforming robots on the ground and in the sky isn’t enough, there’s all kinds of rewards you can unlock from slideshows of original Hasbro comic art to six full episodes of the original TV cartoon. Plenty of cinematic cutaways included and I dig that you can go online and hook up with others too.

Final Fantasy XIIIAnd thanks to high-resolution photo realistic graphics, motion capture and CPU processing power, action games are more akin to big budgeted movies, albeit with interactivity. This lets you have a Final Fantasy XIII with gorgeously designed characters to take on explorations that combine seeking with big guns and loud explosions (Xbox 260/PS3). Or their in-joke title, My Life as a Dark Lord, which has you as a cutie of a little girl defending her Tower from all the heros from the Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles series. Good thing she knows how to set deadly traps and monsters for the best effect!

Getting Up Close and Personal

Music Beats Swords Any DayBut for those looking to think a bit more, how about life and death issues with a Japanese manga (comic) look? That’s the scenario for Trauma Team, in which the story line of daily hospital life is meshed with soap-opera intrigue and politics. Manipulating the tools of the trade via your onscreen “hand” is facilitated through the Wii’s point and click interface - choosing whether to be a surgeon or medical examiner or diagnostician or other professional is up to you. Then again, maybe you prefer the healing power of a music-driven title like Brutal Legend where Jack Black can be your alter ego (and voice). So go hang out in a mythical world where heavy metal rules and broadswords vie with “axes” which in this case are really loud guitars. Plus you get to jam alongside icons of the genre, such as Ozzy Osbourne.

But whether it’s a war scenario, acting as a James Bond or taking on some globe-circling conspiracy, there’s still a large audience who want to suit up and kick some behind in the best tradition of Mortal Kombat-style fighting (even if it doesn’t go the total gut-wrenching route). So those looking for “darker” action will gravitate towards the upcoming downloadable episodes for Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony and Episodes from Liberty City. Expect an overdose of violence and the worst in human emotions.

Arkham AsylumOf course Batman has gone a bit dark these days too - but at least he’s still fighting for the good. Batman: Arkham Asylum lets you get into the gritty depths of the psychiatric hospital to take on escapees and foil the Joker using weapons, devices, and a solid left hook. Of course more than just a 3rd person point of view will change depending upon whether you’re playing as the Bat or the Clown, but at least nobody is trying to rip off heads. Jokes on You

Which seemed more likely when I turned the corner to find Watchmen: The End is Nigh part 2. It meshes comic-book sensibilities from the graphic novel with the movie to give you ultra-violence (on the scale of Clockwork Orange). Sure it makes sense that a uber vigilante like Rorschach would hit people hard - even if the Nite Owl tends to be a bit more cautious - but we don’t think it’s right to hit girls, even if they are very, very, very bad in the worst possible sense. Not that you’ll forget you’re dealing with computer generated creations, just that it gives you pause because the characters come close to looking a bit too real and the violence too real -- imagine your character is punching someone in the face while holding them down to the accompaniment of spraying blood. That’s a bit hard to justify if you’re over 15 years of age. It’s going to be a download as was the case for part 1, but I was told that there would be a version for the Playstation 3 on Blu-ray disc that would also include the movie.

You Shouldn't have made him angry

And just to show that mobile gaming is also being represented and can be just as intense as in the home, that favorite serial killer from the Showtime series, Dexter, will be stalking on your iPhone soon (literally, because you're shaking the phone when it's time to attack).

Seconds, anyone?

Games Even A Mother Could Love

Rock Out, Lego styleBut don’t get me wrong - it wasn’t all slashing and hacking at the show. Social and family gaming continue to make big inroads for the casual gamer - hey, the Nintendo Wii is pretty much based on games that require some thought and more than just hitting something using opposable thumbs. So you can have titles like Lego Battles with pirates and knights, or a Lego Rock Band, which lets you work your musical savvy with block-buddies geared for the younger set. Or an action/adventure set to mini ninjas which forego the violence route by having the defeated bad guys turned into lovable forest creatures. Or even the freedom of living a virtual life with all the fixings of the “real” world, courtesy of The Sims 3.

We are so prettyYou can even go in for some air drumming as I did, thanks to the Rolling Stone: Drum King. Just use the Wii remote, create an onscreen avatar and rock out with those skins while listening to musical tracks (inspired, they say by groups like Steppenwolf, Smash Mouth, Bloc Party, etc.).

Plus there are fitness games that are exercise videos gone interactive, like Jillian Michael’s Fitness Ultimatum 2010 for the Wii. That it’s a Hell week-style boot camp designed to tighten you up over 6 months means you better be determined (wonder if anyone else thought that the title was a bit less than inspiring?)

Hit those skins

But for me, nothing will ever beat pinball, so I headed over where I could play two Pinball Hall of Fame compilations - one based on golden oldies from Williams and the other from Gottlieb. Playing these on a big screen HDTV with realistic action and tilt control was a dream come true (oh the quarters I could have saved on Diablo alone!). And having backgrounder info mixed in, along with added features to tax game play such as online leader boards and added table goals sure did the trick. Wii fans can keep their point ‘n click, me I preferred pressing buttons on a controller to work the flippers.

Let's All Tilt

There’s no way a single person can see it all and no doubt I missed some great stuff (like all the sports titles from Electronic Arts and others). But I still have to find those titles that boost their game to a whole new level by adding hardware. So see you at Part 2.

Brutal Legend, The Sims 3 Electronic Arts www.ea.com
Final Fantasy XIII, My Life as a Dark Lord Square Enix www.square-enix.com
Dexter Marc Ecko Entertainment www.marceckoenterprises.com
Ghostbusters: The Game Atari www.atari.com
Grand Theft Auto Rockstar Games www.rockstargames.com
Jillian Michael’s Fitness Ultimatum 2010 Majesco Entertainment www.majescoentertainment.com
Metal Gear Solid Rising Konami www.konami.com
Mini ninjas Eidos Interactive www.eidosinteractive.com
Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection/The Gottlieb Collection Crave Entertainment www.cravegames.com
Rolling Stone: Drum King 505 Games www.505games.com
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Activision www.activision.com
Trauma Team Atlus www.atlus.com
Warriors: Street Brawl Paramount Digital Entertainment (no web site)
Watchmen: The End is Nigh part 2, Lego Battles, Lego Rock Band, Batman: Arkham Asylum Warner Interactive Entertainment www.wbie.com