At this year’s E3 Expo, Square showcased many projects that had been in development for some time. Quantum Conundrum was near completion, and Hitman went from being a pre-alpha build to a pre-beta. Square Enix has a lot to offer for all types of gamers of all ages and tastes, ranging from action titles to charming music games. Here’s what we have to say about Square’s upcoming games in this, our latest Roundtable Reaction.
Being a Hitman fan for as long time now, I just about lost it when Square announced Absolution. A new Hitman where I can alter the story like Mass Effect on steroids? Sold. I initially saw Hitman at CES back in January, and was blown out of the water by its dynamic environments and choices to do whatever you damn well please. Square representatives played through the demo twice; once in a stealthy matter, and the other with a more aggressive approach. We were taken through an orphanage that featured very realistic environments; you could pick up anything from screwdrivers to toy robots, and use them in at least three different ways.
The new level that was on display at E3 took place a bit later in the game, with an objective to terminate four greaser guys in a small South Dakota town. This showed how much effort Square Enix put into the character scripting for the non-person characters. There was a scene in which you have to sneak past the female clerk in the liquor store without her noticing, as you’re technically trespassing. The girl is on the phone, exclaiming to her friend how one of your targets wants her to move to California, and start a new life together. Mid-sentence you pull out your silence pistol and ding her car, in which then she says, “Oh hey honey, I gotta go, my car alarm is going off.” She quickly hung up the phone, and went outside to investigate the noise, giving you time to sneak by and out.
The rest of the gameplay demo showed off more awesome combat, and the fluid use of different disguises. You can choke people from behind, pacify them with random objects, and even crush them to death with larger objects. You start off as Agent 47 in his suit, then become a mechanic, a cop, and finally a barber. The barber kill was so visceral we all gasped a little.
Hitman: Absolution is now in its pre-beta phase, and will be available mid-November. Square’s partnership with GameStop gets you the Hitman: Sniper Challenge (a sniper mini-game in which you can unlock things for your full game later) at the time of pre-order, which is a bit of fun before the game comes out.
Square Enix said that it wants Tomb Raider to be the best game of the generation, and that I would be blown away by its E3 presentation. I wasn’t blown away — it was a hands-off video demo — but it did remind me a lot of last generation’s best game, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.
Like Naked Snake, the newly proportionate Lara Croft must sneak around and survive by hunting animals around a vast, beautiful jungle environment. In the walkthrough I watched Lara crawl up the side of a cliff, navigate across a wrecked plane hanging off said cliff as it threatened to teeter off the edge, build campfires where she could upgrade her equipment (axes and bows were shown), get kidnapped, and sneak her way to safety until a lecherous low-life caught her. This is where the demo really impressed me. It made a gun in a video game a big deal.
At this point Lara’s been armed only by a bow for slaying wildlife (a gimmicky slow-mo wolf attack left me unenthusiastic). There hasn’t been much in the way of attacking, and it appeared that arrows are rare — though it’s possible to gain the ability to retrieve arrows from corpses via the campfire upgrade. Anyway, back to the gun! Lara and her attacker struggled on the ground as part of a short series of QTEs then she got the upper hand and shot her assailant square in the head. She recoiled in horror at what she had done, and I was left wanting more.
A sympathetic main character, gorgeous verdant graphics, and survival-based play mechanics… these could be the ingredients for the best game of the generation. It worked for Snake Eater, the origin story of Big Boss, it looks like it could work for Lara’s new origin tale.
Kind of cool and sadly, kind of forgettable. I’ll be perfectly honest here – it took me much longer than I care to admit to remember what I actually saw during Square-Enix closed-doors presentation of Sleeping Dogs at E3 2012. It is a flashy, John Woo-esque open-world action game set in Hong Kong, full of guns, cars, sex, and violence. The game world is grounded in realism, but it has plenty of over-the-top flair, with cinematic explosions, stylistic slow-down, hardcore brutality, insane shootouts, etc.
Unfortunatlely, open-world action games full of guns, cars, sex and violence are a dime a dozen nowadays, and this makes Sleeping Dogsa bit nondescript – not a whole lot about it stands out when compared to other games in the genre, like say Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row. There is some uniqueness to the game, by nature of its robust action combat and cinematic gunfighting, but neither really impressed me enough to keep my interest.
Sleeping Dogs tells the story of a San Francisco cop, Wei Shen, who is working alongside the Hong Kong Police in an attempt to infiltrate the Sun On Yee Triad organization in Hong Kong. Shen’s story focuses on his conflicting interests as he immerses himself in the criminal lifestyle of the organization, while staying true to his goal to stop them. The voice acting does a great job of telling the story, but the lip-syncing is terrible and facial expressions are absolutely wooden. I suppose it’s forgivable if you pretend you’re actually watching a Hong Kong cinema flick, but from a presentation standpoint it looks sloppy.
Sleeping Dogs‘s selling point, in my eyes, is the setting: Hong Kong. I feel that United Front Games did a fantastic of depicting the city: Hong Kong is well-known for its rich and eclectic fusion of architectures, featuring towering skyscrapers and modern structures, as well as its claustrophobic streets and alleys, canopied with brilliant neon lights, garish signs and advertisements. All of this is represented in Sleeping Dogs, and it looks wonderful. Streets are littered with people and vendors, and it’s a great touch to hear pedestrians mumble in Cantonese when you punch one in the mouth.
My second issue with Sleeping Dogs boils down to bad pacing. Shooting thugs in a nightclub with cinematic gunplay adds great aesthetic flair, but shooting thugs for five minutes straight feels a bit drawn-out. Shooting down some cars and motorcycles during an intense chase feels exhilarating, but shooting down waves of cars for minutes on end feels like a chore. Chasing a scumbag down and weaving through crowds in a handful of great-looking Hong Kong alleyways is awesome. Doing so down a dozen alleyways is a bit tedious. Having two such chase sequences is a bore.
The novelty of what I was seeing during the demo wore off when each sequence started to drag on. How Sleeping Dogscan manage to look as cool as it does, and as tedious, is kind ofimpressive in and of itself.
I’m quite surprised that this was my favorite game at the Square Enix booth, considering standouts like Tomb Raider, Kingdom Hearts 3D, Hitman, and Sleeping Dogs were on display. But I was captivated once I picked Theatrythm: Final Fantasy. The games premise is simple: it’s a music rhythm game that uses the 3DS’s touch screen. You flick or trace patterns to recreate some of the most legendary tracks in Final Fantasy history. But if you dig deeper you’ll find that there are some interesting RPG mechanics in play. First, you have to choose your party from a long list of fan favorites like Cloud (FFVII), Squall (FFVIII), and Bartz Klasuer (FFV). With each song completed your party gains experience points, earns items, and levels up.
The song choice is excellent. Players can choose from a huge selection of Final Fantasy titles ranging from III to XIII with a few omissions (I didn’t see VI or XII in the list). It was quite enjoyable watching my party run through West Ronfaure, one of the starting areas from Final Fantasy XI, but hearing the all to familiar song was even better. Sadly, I think the game’s soundtrack carries the game more than the actual rhythmic gameplay.