Another Penny Arcade Expo come and gone and I find myself on my couch trying to remember the games I saw, the things I did and the people I talked over the last three days. I can sort out the panels from the events and the events from the experience - but beneath all of that is the most important part of PAX - the part that you want to hear about: the games.
Hit the jump for hazy, disjointed hands-on impressions for Infinite Undisovery, Animal Crossing: City Folk, Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, Damnation, Rise of the Argonauts, Lord of the Rings: Conquest, and Mirror's Edge.
I literally got no more than 10 minutes with each title in the Exhibition Hall and with the exception of The Conduit, I didn't get to chat up the demo-keepers for the usual details a journalist needs to report on her games. But since most of these titles are coming out soon, already have demos available or were previewed at E3 and Leipzig only a week or so ago, 10 minutes is really all you need to get to know a game for yourself, if you've been following it in the news.
Above: Tabletop... meh.
I bee lined for Infinite Undiscovery first thing, since it'll be the first thing I buy in that list of games. This action JRPG is the closest replacement Square Enix has offered me to replace Kingdom Hearts, and while I could deal with the lack of Disney, I'm not sure I could deal with the art design. Like Lost Odyssey, everything was proportional and colours were muted for a more realistic-looking experience - to me, it seemed ugly, but we were only playing in two areas that weren't very well-lit (caves and stuff). The combat served me well enough - button mashing is what I expect when someone says "action" RPG. I sort of liked that you could be strategic when it came to setting up your primary party and your secondary party, and even a third party to have in reserve - but then I realised all of these characters were onscreen with me as I ran off to locate hidden energy crystals. Talk about crowded! At least Goofy and Donald weren't so far up Sora's arse, you couldn't see the boss.
Despite not being able to see the demo boss, I took him out in short order (the save featured over-leveled characters, huzzah!) and gave up the controller to the girl in line behind me.
Above: You catch more bees with honey... and more gamers with food.
Then it was on to Animal Crossing: City Folk, but that was only because the line for Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World was longer. Animal Crossing: City Folk looked like it was directly imported from the GameCube Animal Crossing, with a larger town area to run around in and different NPCs. I was the most fugly-looking little boy with a beanie and I spent most of my time in the demo, running around and trying to find my house so I could empty my pockets. Failing that, I just settled for dropping cherries, fossils and decorative end tables to make enough room in my inventory to put my watering can away.
Then the line for Symphonia abruptly got shorter, so I made my move. However, the guy ahead of me got his hands on the controls and played Dawn of the New World for a solid 23 minutes straight. Other people gathered around me, fidgeting, wondering when this guy would give it up - but nobody wanted to be the asshole who asked for a turn. So I watched him play and marveled that he couldn't seem to get the motion controls to work. How hard could it be to point the cursor at the flower and press A to trigger the flower bridge? He kept getting attacked from behind as he struggled, and most of the battles he spent mashing on the artes button to send his character into aerial attacks. Dude didn't even bother to change his elements the way Nintendo Power says you're supposed to...
Finally, I got my turn and wandered around the world map, trying to trigger the flower bridges. But the motion controls sucked and I found myself piddling around just as much as the guy ahead of me had. The only difference was I gave up after only 10 minutes instead of making the poor bastards behind me wait another half hour.
In disgust, I wandered over towards the back of the Exhibition Hall, maybe to get another look at the Pink Godzilla store, but I got turned around and wound up getting my hands on Damnation - since there wasn't a line. I'd read a little bit about the game and knew that it was supposed to be this big, open-world adventure that featured acrobatic-type stunts and stuff. But I hadn't read anything about cowboys, so I was surprised to see myself playing as one - gun slinging some far-off enemy I couldn't figure out how to target (yeah, yeah, I don't do shooters, so kill me). A small cluster of 12-year-olds formed behind me and one of them told me to use my "spirit vision" to target the sniper I was having trouble hitting. When I couldn't figure out how to do it, I handed over the controller and watched to see what he would do - but I'd left him in a bad place and the sniper took him out three seconds later.
Above: Mountain of Pink Godzillas!
I wandered away before the demo level restarted and found myself staring at Rise of the Argonauts. And my only question is: how have I not heard of this game before? I'm totally down with mythology and I even suffered through God of War and God of War II just because I get a fangirl's thrill of watching Zeus interact with Hera (it's like the original soap opera). The game is still in early days yet, so the graphics were a bit chunky and the frame-rate was crap - but it played pretty well as far as movement. The environments were rich with detail and the cartoon-ish style of the characters totally worked for me; so I was really loath to give up the controller after only 10 minutes. But I didn't want to be a dick and there were a lot more games to play.
Later, I felt bad because I realised I hadn't actually experienced any combat in Rise of the Argonauts - I just ran around a hallway and made slaves open doors for me. But when I went back for a second bite at the apple, the line had suddenly swelled to ten people (I guess that E3 Game of the Year Nominee sticker above the demo table got some attention). However, it turned out man friend had played through the demo from the start and he filled me in on what I missed later.
Apparently, this game is ultra-violent between light attacks and execution moves. "Like Ninja Gaiden II?" I asked. "No," he said. "Like Conan - except all the animations are canned." He totally dug the big arse mace, the big arse shield, the big arse spear and the smaller-arse sword. You can switch weapons in the middle of the combo, so if you start out hacking someone with a sword, you can finish by pulling out the mace and caving in a guy's skull. "It's a pretty big deal," said man friend. The combos didn't feel really fluid to him, but we agreed that that had more to do with the game being in early development stages as opposed to the game potentially sucking.
Oddly enough, man friend was sold on the deep-looking advancement system. I had Googled the game for info about the god-based affiliations, but he was talking about aspects related to astronomy. Whatever that means. I don't care, because I'm totally going to get this game just based on my 10 minutes with it - never mind man friend's experience.
Next up was Lord of the Rings: Conquest - and that's only because Mirror's Edge had a line out to next week. My man friend volunteered to start waiting while I wandered off, and the closest console available was where I wound up. There wasn't much of a wait to play Conquest - I assume because everyone's already seen it. Even I'd already seen it at EA's last Showcase event; and not much has changed between then and now - it's still a Star Wars: Battlefront-style of action game where you can get by with button mashing. It's pretty, though.
Man friend stood on tiptoe and waved me over to him. I dashed, thinking he'd gotten his chance at Mirror's Edge, but it turned out he just wanted to vent. Some Parkour expert had cut ahead of everyone in line and was being given the royal treatment by the demo handler. The guy right behind Parkour dude got a consolation shirt, but the rest of the the jilted line-waiters had to suffer.
"It's because of his shoes," I consoled my man friend, staring at the funky-toed footwear the Parkour guy was sporting. It certainly wasn't because this guy was good with games - he died like half a dozen times. To be fair, the demo level started you off with a pretty serious jump and if you botched it, down you went. But after that, he was getting shot because he wasn't running up stairs fast enough to get away and he kept over-balancing on the part where you've got to walk across a cable stretched between buildings.
"Why is everything red?" Parkour guy demanded. Clearly, he hadn't read up on the game... Then the PS3 overheated and I thought he'd give up and go away. But the demo handler - anxious to please - restarted the demo for him and ran through the level to get back to the point where he'd left off.
I checked my watch. It'd been more than half an hour with just this one guy!
Finally, he finished the level and the line moved up. At long last, we got our turn with the game and I let man friend take it since he'd been a dear about waiting in line. Man friend says the controls were a lot simpler than he thought they'd be. He was really impressed by the sense of moment and speed - the faster you went, the better it felt. And the combat was very minimal, which fit in with the rest of the game. He disarmed at least three guys and stole their guns - but "it didn't feel right" so he threw each firearm away and kept running. He also didn't really use the "bullet time" feature because it made the free-running feel less fluid (even if it did make disarm moves look cooler). The little touches impressed him the most - the multiple paths through environments, the way Faith touched the wall before rounding corners. I thought it was kind of dumb that you had to punch open doors, but he didn't seem to mind.
My favourite part? The dot they added to the middle of the screen to reduce motion sickness. Seriously - a life-saver.
Man friend finished the level in 10 minutes and I pried him away from the console, stressing my etiquette about not taking too much time. I felt like I had been pretty efficient with the whole day, but when I check my watch again, I realised three hours had gone by and I hadn't even seen half the games on the floor.
And that's why I'm glad Crecente had his magic yellow badge and that I had three friends with me at the convention. Because there is no way one PAX-goer could ever do it this year all without some way to cut in line or some way to be in four places at once.
Stupid Parkour guy...*mutter, mutter*