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My (Belated) E3: Planetside 2, Samsung Cloud Gaming, Watch Dogs & Wrap Up

I've finally caught up with my lack of E3 sleep, so am posting my last day experiences and wrap up. Better late than never, I hope. In case you haven't already seen footage of the demos I'll be writing about, or you simply want a different perspective, I'll fill you in on the sights and sounds of the show's finale.

My day began with a one-hour appointment at Sony Online Entertainment's booth to preview their new MMOFPS Planetside 2. The fully free-to-play title, the first game in the series since 2004, is designed to allow thousands of players to compete over territory and resources as one of three warring factions fighting on a persistent alien world called Auraxis.

The Terran Republic represents a human military with lots of armor and rapid fire weapons. The New Conglomerate's weapons fire more slowly but are more powerful. The Vanu Sovereignty uses alien technology such as energy-based weapons.

Massive infantry combat involves the character classes infiltrator (invisibility), light assault (jump pack), heavy assault, engineer, combat medic and max. Customization unlocks tweak weapons and character classes to affect appearance and gameplay. Vehicle combat involves transports, tanks and aircraft.

Squads facilitate team play. They allow squad spawns and can form into platoons. While squads last only per session, permanent outfits (like guilds) can be created. In an interesting feature, gamers should be able to phone in to their teammates playing the game.

Some of the features introduced in this entry to the series include the Forge Light(?) engine, proper hit boxes, iron sights, kill cams, and the fully free to play format. Other elements are stats that can be tracked on the website, and related mobile apps for iOS and Droid.

In all honestly, when this console gamer first saw the keyboard setup for Planetside 2 I nearly broke out in a cold sweat. I warned our handler that I was going to forgo the headset in favor of his instruction on PC controls. Thankfully it shared a similar configuration to the browser game Kartuga that I played the day before.

For someone otherwise unfamiliar with shooter controls on a PC, the speed with which I settled in to the configuration I think says something for how intuitive they are. Granted, I sampled only the core mechanics such as maneuvering around the battlefield and handling my arsenal, but it felt comfortable.

I started out using the max class for its armor and arsenal. In many ways, it indeed felt like using a mech, from its relatively slower pace to its more powerful arsenal. The various hand cannons proved powerful and the ability to equip two different guns was handy. However, I ironically was ill-equipped to take advantage of its strength.

I was pwnd often and even managed to fall into a spot where I became stuck thanks in part to the lack of a jump option. Since neither my handler nor I could extricate myself, I had to fire explosives at my feet till I could respawn. Needless to say, I came back as a different class, in this case heavy assault.

One advantage of classes other than max are their ability to jump and to drive or pilot vehicles. Obtaining vehicles was a simple matter of choosing it at a designated control panel at one's base. My preferred transport is a tank and they proved easy to control in Planetside 2, whether navigating the uneven terrain or firing at enemies.

When I was savvy enough to leap from my tank before it exploded, character controls enabled me to survive longer whether dodging enemy fire or shooting on the run. When I did die, squad spawns or even transport drops proved helpful means of returning to the fight. That said, the map I played was not too large or difficult to navigate.

In fact, map design was well conceived, with a few key paths to funnel combat but plenty of options to change up one's tactics or strategy. Aircraft, whether transports or gunships, and vehicles including tanks had their place, as did various classes including snipers and assault. None seemed unbalanced and many were utilized.

Bottom line, it was an exceedingly fun game despite my relative inexperience with PC shooters. I even almost missed my next appointment. It did remind me of other online shooters like Warhawk or Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. However, Planetside 2 offered its own unique take that was definitely a fun experience. 

Switching gears from games to technology, I was impressed with the concept behind Samsung Cloud Gaming. This feature will allow owners of Samsung Smart TVs beginning with the 2012 LED 7000 series to stream video games directly through their televisions. An ethernet connection is all that's necessary, with no need for a download, installation or patch/update.

Gaikai, the cloud based video game platform provider, is Samsung's partner in this new endeavor. Full games can be played streaming from the cloud space provided by Gaikai. Titles are accessible from the Samsung Smart Hub, which will feature a cloud gaming icon. Progress can be saved to the cloud. 

Gaikai has servers all over the world, with 24 data centers that can reach potentially 88 countries. The U.S. will get the service first. While games will live on the Gaikai cloud service, Samsung Cloud Gaming will be defined by Samsung, who reportedly has 40 publishers and over 150 titles lined up. Samsung is working with publishers to set pricing.

Games will include a mixture of family titles and others, and 3D titles might be available. Multiplayer will be supported, including MMOs such as Tera. In general, titles will be PC or tablet versions. Controls likely will be reconfigured for virtually any USB controller (2012 Samsung TVs have about four USB ports).

A limited beta should begin in a few weeks, with a potential launch at the end of this year or early next year, though it is as yet undefined. Ultimately, consumers will be able to try games for free, and only pay for those that they choose. All in all, this sounds like a promising option for gamers, especially those without state of the art gaming rigs like myself.

From here on out, I'd kept my schedule free and took advantage of the time to sample various playable or developer controlled demos. First up was Danger Close's Medal of Honor: Warfighter.

The second title in the revamped series sports the Frostbite 2 engine and features Fireteams. In this context, you choose a buddy who you can respawn on and revive in part by slaying their would be killer. Their are six classes to choose from: Polish GROM (ground assault), Australian SASR, Canadian JTF2 (heavy gunner), U.S. OGA (spec ops), U.S. Navy SEAL (sniper) and U.S. SFOD-D. Weapons customization is an option.

The demo we played featured the sector control mode, with each team vying for control of about three sectors, if I remember. The urban map included a heavily destroyed neighborhood with multiple paths through the ruins at different elevations. Unfortunately my teammates and I were pwnd from the start by savvy foes who took advantage of each class's specialties.

Whether being fragged by someone who's gun lobbed six 'nades at once, or sniped by others, or practically spawn camped, we were always on the defensive. Still, targeting and hit detection seemed to work well, character control likewise proved intuitive, including going prone for more stealthy attacks from cover, and certain specialties came in handy such as a viewing foes even from behind cover.

The presentation was solid including animations, particle effects and even disorientation from flashbangs. There were few glitches I saw including collision detection and, in fact, reviving allies was simple and trouble free. All in all I was impressed with how far along this demo appeared and how smoothly it played. Indeed, gameplay was solid and fun overall.

Visceral Games promised that Dead Space 3 would finally answer questions and while its demo yielded few clues it did demonstrate typically solid and entertaining gameplay.

In this new entry, Isaac Clark is transported to an icy hostile world more reminiscent of Lost Planet than Dead Space. Indeed Gigantic boss creatures known as Feeders inhabit this wasteland and promise to make things difficult, as do Unitologist soldiers.

New this time around is the opportunity for drop-in/drop-out co-op gameplay featuring John Carter and his quest for revenge. Playing cooperatively will vary the experience, as it will include new cutscenes and dialog.

The cutscenes themselves are detailed and include a decent score, particle effects and sound (such as footsteps in the snow). There are the kinds of scripted sequences you'd expect, slightly altered depending on the number of players. Impressive enemy design, as always, includes severed bodies that sport appendages at the waist.

There are no AI followers, you either play alone or can pause the game to invite a friend. Likewise there are co-op lobbies if looking for anyone to join. The game is persistent either way, whether co-op gameplay or singleplayer.

The new look for Clark includes cold weather gear such as padding and a fur collar. A new move set includes crouch, roll and evade options. Also, cover can be utilized, though it's not sticky cover, enabling more freedom of movement.

One impressive set piece included a giant rotating drill spinning among yourselves and foes. Another featured a giant beast that spews necromorphs and also sucks air and/or objects. The demo ends ignominiously, though intriguingly, with Clark being swallowed.

Bottom line it was a very impressive demo that showcased what we expect from the franchise and what this sequel in particular can offer in the way of gameplay and entertainment.

Crysis 3 likewise looks to deliver its compelling context and trademark excitement in this new installment from Crytek. The story follows Prophet 20 years after the events of Crysis 2 and focuses on Nanodomes, in particular the Liberty Dome, built to protect humanity from aliens.

The Liberty Dome is a unique environment that includes distinct areas such as a rainforest or canyon. It should provide more of an open space feel with lush environments and, indeed, the demo showcased impressive design whether the terrain or structures.

Adaptive warfare is the basis for the gameplay, following a process of assess, adapt and attack. New weapons assist in this approach, including the Compound (allowing firing while cloaked), the Bow, the Typhoon (500 rounds/sec.) and unique alien weaponry.

The nanosuit features revamped customization for more options. There are customized slots, and different items can be mixed and matched. Plus there are different loadouts. Among the variety of options are the ability to either destroy or hack turrets.

The level demonstrated, which I believe is called Dam Busters, showcased incredibly detailed textures, a compelling design and colorful, destructible environment. Easily the best presentation I'd seen.

As far as gameplay, the Typhoon advanced assault rifle was used for pop and shoot firefights, though the bow was effective for a more stealthy approach. As for the bow, draw weight can affect arrows, and you cloak affects the draw weight.

The demo effectively showcased the nanosuit's cloak and strength, as well as your arsenal's firepower. Like it's predecessors, Crysis 3 appears to offer varied gameplay in well designed levels for a tense experience focused on strategy.

The highlight was the surprise of Watch Dogs. If I didn't spend 1-1/2 hours in the Borderlands 2 line on my first day I might not have heard about it, but as it was I made sure to make Ubisoft Montreal's demo a must see.

The premise is that 10 years after a disgruntled employee unleashed a virus and caused a blackout, private companies now control the CTOS (Central Operating System) that is responsible for a vast global network that oversees infrastructure. The result is that all data is interconnected in data clusters.

This has the unintended consequence of allowing everything to be hacked, including all city services. The game world is a rich and fully realized open city with accessible areas and buildings, where the entire city can be wielded as your weapon.

In this third person action game you control Aiden Pearce. You can watch everything, and listen to everything. The demo takes place in and around a theater. Your target is inside and your mission involves getting to them.

A doorman/bouncer prevents your entering by conventional means, so Aiden jams communications in the immediate area including phones and headsets. The confusion allows him to enter unnoticed. Once inside, a profiler tool allows him to eavesdrop and reveals details about everyone and side mission possibilities.

I don't recall the exact sequence of events to follow, but I believe he was trying to get noticed in order to call out his prey. He pinpointed someone who, if I remember, had identified him and was relaying the info to his target. When his prey exited the building, he followed.

The man entered a vehicle and Aiden followed on foot. This sequence highlighting the platforming options, and Ubisoft suggested anyplace that you can see is accessible, so one can attack from above or below. Indeed Aiden had scaled an elevated railroad before leaping off later on.

About this time he had accessed the city's traffic lights and manipulated them to cause an accident in an intersection ahead of this prey. At that point he engages in a firefight, moving between cover and vaulting over objects. Targeting and hit detection appears solid in this sequence that shows off the shooting mechanic.

Aiden ultimately reaches his target and after a brief exchange uses him to leave a message for others. It's at this point, if I remember, that he uses a vehicle to escape. All in all the variety of gameplay and unique options for approaching your objectives made Watch Dogs stand out among other titles this year.

Last but not least, I was among the final batch of gamers to demo God of War: Ascension by SCE Santa Monica Studio. The multiplayer mode on tap was an intimidating mixture, for me, of forgotten gameplay and unfamiliar territory.

And true to form, I was routinely pwnd by the competition who, for whatever reason, ganged up on me repeatedly. I think my handler took pity as he watched me get tossed around by groups of four or five foes at a time.

I did manage to kill a few enemies and in those sequences when I actually could flex my combat skills I was impressed how well GoW single-player moves translated to the multiplayer. Whether acquiring pickups, platforming or wielding the variety of weapons on hand, it definitely mined the GoW experience.

The objective based mode, which I think involved securing various control points before racing to obtain the weapon that could kill the giant cyclops boss, was engaging enough. And the multilevel map design appeared well conceived. It was just hard to judge when I rarely made it anywhere alive LOL.

In the end, it played like I (faintly) remember God of War playing as, and the presentation likewise was consistent with that universe. All told, it seemed a faithful and successful adaptation of GoW elements in a multiplayer format.

 

(L-R, I think LOL) Bryan Vore, Dan Ryckert, Ben Reeves, Kyle Hilliard, Kyle Wadsworth, Ben Hanson and Jason Oestreicher (And I honestly can't remember who's behind the camera! My apologies). At the close of the show, I was finally able to meet up with some of the GI staff, though I'm pretty sure they have no idea who I am haha. That said, they were all very gracious and friendly, especially for a bunch of journalists worked ragged and still on deadline for the magazine. Thanks for your kindness and the photo op, guys!

For inquiring minds, here's the final day's grab-bag.

As far as my impressions of this year's show in general, I was impressed with the quality of the demos I saw and had the fortune of playing. All the developers and publishers brought their A game and showed off dynamic gameplay and impressive presentations. Indeed, many of the sequels on display look to continue in impressive fashion the legacy of those franchises that they represent.

However, the lack of significant new gameplay options in established series, or of new IPs this coming year, was very pronounced to the point that any titles offering something new really stood out. I, for one was impressed with the direction Treyarch is taking Call of Duty, with the unique gameplay options in the new Watch Dogs and with the imaginative worlds on display in an early build of Otherland.

That said, I also enjoyed the gameplay in titles that did not appear to vary significantly from established genre format but that nevertheless proved eminently playable in their own right. The most fun I had was with Borderlands 2 and Planetside 2. And the presentation in Crysis 3 continued the series' notable quality in that department.

By no means was I disappointed in this year's presentations. Indeed, I thought there were plenty of titles that looked very promising and no doubt will be quality additions to anyone's library. Still, I'd like to see more innovation, especially not just from independents, but from established studios as well.

And finally, where are the panel discussions, roundtables, press conferences (not what passes for them these days), Q&As, etc. that other trade shows are known for? Such formats, where industry leaders can discuss the state of the industry, trends and the future, provide the most interesting news and generate the most buzz at other trades' shows. Just a thought ...

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