E3 2012 Blog, Day 3: “Halo 4,” “PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale,” “Guardians of Middle Earth”

A little ditty called the Zelda Symphony kept me late tonight, so let’s dive right into some of the games I got to check out yesterday.

“Halo 4” (360)   

Can a true Halo game be made without Bungie, the studio behind the first three titles in the epic “Halo” franchise? The fine folks at 343 Industries are sure doing what they can to prove that yes, yes it can be.

At the Halo booth the team started off by showing some of the single player, which was mostly the same footage and game play at the Microsoft conference. Already 343 has stamped their own identity on the franchise, with new enemies, new weapons and even some new visor modes, showing hidden baddies out on the battle field. (An intentional or unintentional inspiration from “Metroid Prime” design, it seems).

The new enemies come with some new tricks as well: One enemy can actually catch your grenades in midair, which kind of throws a wrench in throwing explosives. Another could teleport across the screen, getting close to Master Chief to land an attack before vanishing into thin air and retreating to safety. I really liked the organic design on both the weaponry and new race, offering some fresh designs for the series.

There wasn’t any hands on for the single player, but let’s be honest, “Halo” is all about the multiplayer frag fests anyways. I got to try out the multiplayer and take one of the new modes, Regicide, for a spin. It’s actually a pretty neat idea: It’s a free for all mode in which whoever is currently winning becomes the king, getting a little pointer over his or her head and then having their location broadcast to all the other players. The longer someone is king the more points you get for taking them down, so it offered a unique twist on king of the hill type matches.

The more interesting to me is the whole branding of what they are calling the “Infinity” multiplayer mode. This includes the co-op and versus modes such as Regicide, encompassing both with customization options, leveling up, load out customization, and so on.  I’m more curious how multiplayer is going to weave into the single player story, as they kept mentioning weekly episodic co-op missions that would affect the story in various ways.

Taking the reins of such an established franchise can be scary, but 343 seems to not only be injecting new ideas into the series, but willing to take risks (Which honestly, the series needs). The question is if those risks will be enough and pay off and actually grow the “Halo” universe, or simply alienate fans. So far, I’d say they are on the right track. And, the plasma sword is still kicking, and that’s all I need anyways.

“PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale” (PS3, Vita)

Let’s get it right out of the way: All Star Battle Royale looks, feels, and is going to get myriad comparisons to “Super Smash Bros.” It’s inevitable, and Sony’s own battle party fest brings together the characters you know and love from the Playstation universe, pitting them against each other in one game.

Sitting down with the game, the first things that strike you are the differences between it and the Smash series. Jumping is mapped to a button, not a direction on a control stick. You cannot fall, be thrown, or pushed off a stage, in fact, you can’t even die unless you are hit with some level of a player’s special attack. There are no health meters or percentages, with nothing keeping track of how many times you are hit or how much damage is done to you.

Instead, the tables are turned: The more attacks you land the more your special meter fills up (to level 1, 2, or the super bad ass and impressive looking level 3), and only by unleashing these moves can you best an opponent and get a kill. It’s a different wrinkle in the cloth work at least, but I’m not sure if it works. or if I like it. Not having health meters and not being able to kill opponents without using specials are odd design choices,

I got to play through three matches, which gave me time with Kratos, Sweet Tooth, and newly announced Big Daddy. The unique character variations that are necessary for this type of fighter are there, with Kratos having his long chains and whips, Sweet Tooth relying on fire, guns, and explosive land mines, and Big Daddy being slower and using his drill to knock people around.

Though, as I feared, the game seems to be weighted heavily toward whoever simply decides to hold their charge until level 3 and dominate. I managed to pull off a level three special only in one of the matches, and it got me something like 7 or 8 kills, winning the match for me. Sure, there’s going to be some strategy developed in deciding when to use weaker specials and get one kill versus saving it and getting a spree, but there just seems to be a disconnect between the fighting, special meter charging, and who actually wins. It could be just because it’s new and different.

As I’ve mentioned before, the game will have cross play between the PS3 and Vita, which is a plus, but I’m just not quite sold on it yet. And Sony is going to need their A game to break through the Smash comparisons and bring something more to the table.

“Guardians of Middle Earth” XBLA, PSN

As a closet (or not so closet) “Lord of the Rings” devotee, I’m always a little nervous when new games are announced. How will they reflect the literature? What will they draw from canon? Will they respect it or go way off course as some games have done? And most importantly, will it be any good and worthy of the franchise name?

But, fans of LOTR (and of “League of Legends”), I think my fears are rested on this one.

“Guardians of Middle Earth,” a downloadable XBLA and PSN title due out later this year, is the first MOBA available for consoles. Similar to titles such as the ever popular and friend stealing “League of Legends,” the game combines an action RPG setting with online real time tower defense strategies. It’s fun, and can get furious, especially when you are Gandalf and keep getting pummeled by a super leveled Golumn and can’t figure out why.

The CG trailer for the game was simply gorgeous, though the in-game graphics were a little on the rough side still, but plenty of time to fix that before launch. In the game, you get to play as one of several guardians, such as Sauron, Gandalf, Gollum, the Witch King, and so on. The goal is to take down the opposing side’s towers, and ultimately, their main tower/base, while leveling up and not letting your own forces be taken down. You have special abilities that you can level up, and those are timer based, making sure people can’t simply spam certain attacks.

It’s a catchy formula and ever growing popular type of game, even if the genre can fall into slightly repetitive ruts at times (I kept dying and had to slowly walk as old man Gandalf from the respawn point to anyplace where action was happening), and setting one in a LOTR universe does make sense (How many unnamed soldiers died defending the brave heroes who never died? Exactly).

Given it’s a downloadable title, I’m curious at what price point it will launch at, as well as any other features that may flesh out the full game and add some deeper strategy and depth.  Either way, it’s at least on my radar, and even if technically Sauron was never in full form when Gandalf inhabited Middle Earth, I’ll let them slide on that for now.

I’m over the E3 hump now, just winding down the last day on the floor. I’ll have hands on with some more upcoming titles, and I’ll be rolling out some video footage and more photos and impressions over the next few days, so keep checking back.


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