Jun. 10, 2009 - Issue #712: Hot Summer Guide 2009
Infinite Lives: Nerd bounty
Another year passed, and the supply ship HMS Electronic Entertainment Expo once again sails away from Videogame Island, its precious cargo, crates and barrels packed with life-giving hype, stacked neatly on the strand of Geek Beach. Once again, as has been the case for many years, I did not go down to meet the ship. I lurked with millions of others in the safety and comfort of the jungle's edge, peering out through the foliage as an intrepid team, the cream of the gaming press, ventured down to inspect the goods. I trust them; they always return with armloads of trailers and announcements, interviews and press releases. Around the village cookfires they share their bounty, telling tales of the beach and of "hands-on impressions"; the discussion and debate among the clans goes long into the night, a million voices rising up through the canopy to the stars.
OK, enough with the desert-island metaphor; I'm cutting out before this roman-a-clef extends into a discussion of the breadfruit economy and our curious courtship and marriage customs. What I'm getting at is that in 11 years of covering video games I've never once made it down to E3. Always good reasons to beg off, but always the reasons boil down to: why? Why subject myself to a ruinous weeklong purgatory in LA just for the privilege of getting sales pitches like two seconds before the rest of the world? I'm perfectly happy to be hyped remotely, and how! Lots going on this year, deep inside the mature phase of the console-generation curve. Some semi-random impressions, or impressions of impressions (an uncle doing Rich Little doing Nixon) if you want to be snarky about it:
The Last Guardian The trailer for the next game in Fumito Ueda's stunning series comprising Ico and Shadow of the Colossus was leaked last month and has now been officially presented, and I for one got quite the special tingle in my nethers watching it. My initial vibe feels something like Ico/Shadow meets A Boy and His Blob: a young lad runs around mysterious, adventuresome places while relying on a companion-thing to help him navigate the challenges. What really appeals to me is the way the game is playing with scale; this series has always been about blowing your mind with the gap between the puniness of your dude and the monstrosity of the game's spaces, but Last Guardian is really bringing it home: your guy is small, and your companion is huge—a 50-foot-long dog/fox/griffin thing—but that huge companion is also small, relative to the impossibly cyclopean ruins of the game world. Prediction one: your griffin companion is a baby Colossus, not yet fitted with his cyber-architecture. Prediction two: its bleating is going to get right on my damn nerves.
Invizimals Maybe this is a bit trivial to call out, compared to the big names that fought for E3 elbow room, but I just love the concept: an "augmented reality" game for the PlayStation Portable that uses the PSP camera attachment to "capture" pokemon-esque battle beasts based on real-world patterns and objects, then lets them duke it out against real backdrops as players manipulate the environment—blowing, flicking lights, casting shadows—to trigger special attacks. Seems like it'd be really trippy, but ... Prediction: I will never play it properly, having exactly zero PSP-owning friends who might be interested in monster fighting. This is one of my many sad realities.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow The fanboy-thrilling news is that Hideo "Metal Gear" Kojima is on board this 3-D action-adventure installment of the super-kickass monster-whippin' Castlevania series. They showed a trailer, and ... what? Well, it looks better than that last 3-D Castlevania back in 1999, all whips and flames and Dracula's castle and giant awesome bosses, but, man, where do you go in this subgenre when the God of War games already exist? I am unhyped. Prediction: Flying Medusa heads were bad enough in two dimensions, goddamnit!
Project Natal The big deal at E3 was Microsoft's demonstration of a motion-capturing, voice-and-face-recognizing system that'll really let players get "into the game." The even brought Steven freakin' Spielberg out to pitch it, telling the gathered gamers that games haven't been truly able to create emotional connections because they haven't yet involved enough goofy miming, shouting and making faces. Fair enough; the tech is certainly geek-baiting of the highest order. But, seriously, what's with this fixation on physical monkeyshines? I like pretending to be an undead cyber-ninja as much as the next guy, but if I had to actually mime karate every time I wanted to beat up a bunch of henchbeings there'd be nothing left of my groin before I even got through the tutorial. Prediction: XBox-branded ice packs. V
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