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My E3: TAKEDOWN, Saints Row IV, The Elder Scrolls Online & More

My third day at E3 was my most anticipated by virtue of hands-on time with two of my favorite franchises. But I also was treated to demos of other titles that frankly have piqued my interest.

First up was TAKEDOWN: Red Sabre, a first-person tactical shooter from Serellan, which includes veterans of the Ghost Recon, Halo, SOCOM, SWAT and F.E.A.R. franchises. Creative Director Christian Allen, who held the same post with the Ghost Recon series and was lead designer on Halo: Reach, filled me in while his team demoed the co-op gameplay.

TAKEDOWN is made to provide a more deliberate, realistic experience than today's run-and-gun, garden variety shooter. The "round-based, no respawn" gameplay is intended to be extremely challenging, demanding that gamers stick together and cover each other's six.

One year has been spent in development to ensure the game's realistic portrayal, including factoring in bullet penetration values, item thicknesses and lengths of weapons. This determines how far bullets travel into or through objects and weapon position beside objects or walls (if too close, you'll move your weapon accordingly).

This devotion to detail extends to the game's environments from a cargo ship to an arctic radar station. The radar station, for instance, features color-coded buildings for easier identification in low visibility situations. Serellan's intent was to build structures realistically, from everyday life, before adding gameplay scenarios.

Part of the impact is a more modern, clean look than found in shooters that equate realistic with gritty. Map design itself is nonlinear. In fact, I can attest to the modern, clean look, which reminded me of SWAT: Global Strike Team, and the multipath configuration familiar to fans of the Rainbow Six series.


In terms of gameplay, there are single-player, six-player co-op or 12-player adversarial multiplayer options. Six core scenarios are based on PMCs (professional military corporations) and include objectives like tango hunt and bomb disarm. Multiple scenarios are available per map.

The bullet penetration system means that armor and weapon choice becomes more important. Likewise, it impacts one's health instead of a hit point system common to other titles. It will likely take one to three shots to kill you in TAKEDOWN, which will lead to a more quick demise than in other games.

Although rounds can end relatively quickly, the maps are designed for replayability. They are nonlinear, there are multiple insertion points and enemies spawn in random locations. This all adds to the game's challenge, and allure.

In practice, targeting appeared precise, scopes are well implemented, the peek or lean feature was well executed, and movement was fluid. Much of the combat occurred at a distance, but I could tell that enemy AI took advantage of cover as opposed to standing in the open. Gameplay did remind me of both SOCOM and Rainbow Six.

There were no presentation issues that I could see, and production values appeared solid at this stage. TAKEDOWN runs on Unreal Engine 3 and is targeting a Fall release with the PC as lead platform and a 360 version available for digital distribution on XBL. From what I've seen and heard, TAKEDOWN is well on its way to providing a much needed alternative to the standard arcade shooters that dominate the genre.


Also available in the Fall is EKO Software's How to Survive, an isometric zombie-killing simulator that is part Dead Nation and (a large) part Dead Island. This third-person survival game with a top-down perspective offers two-player co-op in story mode or challenge mode (with no checkpoint saves).

You play as one of three characters: Jack (melee-oriented), Abby (range focused) or Kenji (a balance of melee and range). The objective is escaping a zombie-infested jungle island in an archipelago off Colombia. Combat, loot grinding and crafting represent key gameplay elements during the journey.

Your character starts with nothing but has to acquire items to maintain health, hunger and thirst meters. Vegetation and items can be found throughout the environment and can be used for this purpose or to craft into other items or weapons. For instance, a flexible branch and reel of string can be combined for a bow or fishing rod, and flint can help fashion an axe.

Speaking of, you can also hunt for food with weapons such as a bow and arrow. Arrows also can be created through combination such as feathered arrows for improved accuracy. Their use involves a learning curve as targeting involved holding and releasing a thumbstick, if I recall, which proved a challenge on moving targets.


Besides range attacks, combat will involve melee attacks. These can be charged up for stronger swings. Sometimes, fleeing is a more practical option; sprinting is helpful though limited, and it depletes one's stamina besides being weaker when tired. Light proves helpful at warding off foes called creepers, whether a flashlight or torch, though the latter burns out.

Like the flashlight, weapons don't degrade, however, they need to be upgraded to progress. And weapons can be reinforced. As in Two Worlds 2, items or weapons can be disassembled into their component parts to make others. Other RPG elements include a skill tree. Experience points can be earned for killing zombies or wildlife and finding some items.

In my limited playtime, melee combat was more intuitive than ranged, though arrows are more effective against some foes like the explosive kind (think Left4Dead or Dead Island). Movement is smooth and animations fluid, loot grinding and crafting are simple and intuitive (especially as crafting shows you combination possibilities), and foes are various and numerous.

Enemy AI is pretty straightforward as most will rush you, though as stated creepers will shy away from light in the evening. I enjoyed what I did play, though had a few issues that hopefully will be addressed such as non-breakaway roofs when inside structures (which lead to a cheap death when surprised by numerous enemies).

Also, the map is only available in a separate screen, not on the HUD; hopefully that will change to help improve navigation. In general, this game incorporates many elements from my favorite zombie games and seemingly without some of their problems. I look forward to its Fall release on Steam, XBL, PSN and WiiU.


I was fortunate enough to have a 30 to 45 minute hands-on demo of Saints Row IV, and Volition's latest entry in the franchise doesn't disappoint. Not only does the same core gameplay from previous titles carry over, but the addition of superpowers reminded this gamer of Crackdown's exceptional gameplay.

To begin, the same impressive character creation tool is available, though I eschewed that feature to leap straight into the action. The demo begins with you playing as the President and includes the alien attack. If I recall, the game is an alien simulation and the objective is to get yourself and your homies out of it.

This is all typical over-the-top presentation that the series is known for. It's played for laughs and the sheer ridiculous entertainment of it all and it succeeds on both counts. And while previous entries have done this admirably, Saints Row IV gameplay takes it to a new level and makes one wonder why it wasn't done sooner.

The White House section involves standard gunplay and movement, targeting, firing, etc. all work well. There is also a stationary gun segment that plays out as an entertaining homage to Space Invaders, the type of tribute that the developers are known for.


Once out on the street, the gameplay opens up considerably. With superpowers implemented, I admit to having spent most time sprinting through people, objects and vehicles, all of which are sent flying through the air.

It was during this exhibition that I was impressed with the level of destructibility Volition has brought to this sequel. With the exception of buildings, I knocked down lampposts, mailboxes, streetlights, fences and anything else without a solid foundation.

You can also run up the sides of buildings a la the title character in The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, leap great distances with charged up superjumps as in Crackdown and glide to earth as in some other superhero games.

As if that wasn't enough, weapon variety returns as a source of endless entertainment; though truth be told I relied almost exclusively on my black hole gun, firing holes at vehicles, people, objects, etc. like the infamous weapon (you obtain too late) in The Darkness.


Typical sequences for me involved tossing cars and trucks left and right as I sprinted down city streets before seamlessly running up the side of a tall building, leaping far off its roof, gliding to nearby rooftops for collectibles than landing in the street with black hole gun at the ready to suck up foes gunning for me and all vehicles and objects nearby.

At some points I was assaulted by alien gunships and did manage to superjump onto one but couldn't commandeer it, whether due to my own inexperience or to an inability to do so I'm not sure. During all this, there were no discernible framerate issues or other problems with the presentation.

Much like my experience with Saints Row: The Third, I spent little time on story missions and most time causing mayhem, racing, finding hidden items and pursuing side quests. The addition of superpowers only added to the overall entertainment value and by the time we were asked to stop I could not believe it had been at least 30 minutes.

I had an opportunity to speak with Robert Gable afterward, assistant project manager at Deep Silver Volition, and he filled me in on some of the game's background and features. The developers at Volition are huge gamers themselves and have been inspired by titles such as Prototype, Infamous and Crackdown.


Such influence is readily apparent in the game's superpowers, which are mapped to the left and right bumpers. The left bumper can access navigation powers such as sprint, glide and wall running, while the right bumper provides offensive powers like stomp (to shatter), freeze blast, telekinesis and fire. The four offensive powers can be mapped to the direction pad for quick swapping.

Superpowers in Saints Row IV have their own upgrade section (just as Saints Row: The Third-style player upgrades).Upgrades can be accumulated via data clusters on the tops of buildings, similar to the collectible orbs in Crackdown, and can unlock elements for each superpower (sidequests offer an alternate means of unlocking elements).

Weapons variety is another key area, and they can be bought from weapon stores or unlocked through gameplay. In fact, both weapons and their customizations can be unlocked through challenges or activities. The game offers tangible rewards for many activities that we might otherwise take for granted.

Guns include the black hole, dubstep and inflatoray, and all can be changed through visual customization such as costume changes that affect their look or skin changes that impact their color. An RPG, for instance, can be altered to appear like a guitar. The game has more than 200 weapon customizations.


As far as the game world, it's similar in size to Saints Row: The Third, but it is more dense in terms of the gameplay options available. The general objectives are similar, such as taking over territory through combat (like taking out alien hots spots, or shields) or buying property, which will change the landscape from Zin (alien) red to Saints purple.

Most missions are focused on Zin, and there are optional missions based on freeing your homies. Past characters in the series will make cameos, as at least some will come back in antagonistic ways (after the aliens bring them to life). When asked whether you'll ally with former foes, Robert said, "You'll have to find out."

In terms of vehicles, saved ones can be dropped practically anywhere in-game when you call for it. This includes all ground vehicles, and maybe air as well. The goal is to get gamers to the fun quicker, and to this end you can save alien vehicles as well.

A few final notes: Gamers can carry over their Saints Row: The Third character (If they first upload it to the community website, I believe). When asked about story duration, I was told that usability tests required four eight-hour days (so about 32 hours?). Saints Row IV will release August 20 in North America and August 23 in the rest of the world on PC, PS3 and 360.


Nival's Prime World is a multiplayer online battle arena game that is designed to find a balance between games that offer fast progression and slow progression. Sixty heroes can be leveled up individually and have different talents and passive and active abilities (currently there are over 700, with more to come).

There are eight gameplay modes including PvP, SP and co-op. The game also allows players to start and manage guilds and build towns or castles and provides persistent hero development. It is currently in a closed beta but will be offering an open beta.

I had an opportunity to sample its gameplay, which was a challenge for this non-computer gamer. WASD controls weren't too difficult, though coordinating between those and the mouse to fight multiple foes sometimes was a comedy of errors. Needless to say, I died often, though through no fault of the game that I could tell.

In fact, movement and attacks seemed well implemented and precise despite by every effort to prove otherwise. And when playing properly, meaning with my teammates, battles were much more successful than when taken on solo by an inexperienced PC gamer.

Attacks appeared strong, especially powers/spells, though my inexperience only made my tendency to spam buttons under duress more pronounced. I do believe that powers/spells had a cool down period as I couldn't spam them.

As far as objectives, I believe we were protecting structures from a variety of beasts and shaman-type characters. It played out much like control points, with flags raised or lowered depending on who was controlling it at the time. Thankfully, I could respawn at nearby spawn points, and navigate easily by clicking points on the HUD map.

It was a fun experience despite my lack of familiarity with the controls, and the production values are very good whether animations, textures, color palette, frame rate, particle effects, etc. For veterans of the genre, it might be a game to follow.


At the Bethesda booth, I was able to catch a developer demo for The Evil Within. The game is their attempt to bring horror back to its roots, offering a pure survival horror experience with "no boring QTEs." Sneaking is the optimum means of getting around, as there are limited resources and ammo.

The demo took place at the beginning of the game. Players assume the role of a detective visiting an asylum. Memorable moments involve waking after being captured and finding yourself hanging upside down among other victims, one of whom is being butchered out of sight; all you hear are effectively gruesome noises that clearly suggest he is being eviscerated.

Indeed, you soon see a large figure that more resembles a dungeon master than an asylum orderly dragging the victim's bloody torso across the floor into another room. At that moment, you make your escape, with the homicidal figure in hot pursuit. It's a tense, disturbing sequence that promises a nail-biting game.


Last but not least, I was able to squeeze into the busy schedule for some hands-on time with Bethesda's The Elder Scrolls Online. Yes, I realize it's another PC title, but I'm a fan of the franchise and looking forward to the recently announced console versions.

The developer first gave a brief introduction and showed a video of content that attendees would not see in the hands on demo. Like developer videos already released, it shows areas and characters that fit comfortably into the Elder Scrolls universe.

The hands-on demo began with character customization which, like Saints Row IV before, I opted to keep to a minimum in order to jump into the action. However, the only jumping I did was via the back button out of the demo as I struggled with unfamiliar keyboard controls. If not for the kindness of TES Online Creative Director Paul Sage I would never have escaped the character creation page

After mapping some powers/spells to number keys with the assistance of other Bethesda handlers, and acquainting myself in-game with basic keyboard and mouse controls, I followed the map to a point of interest.


There, amidst some ruins, I encountered a group of bandit squatters. With a mixture of strikes, blocks and spells, I was able to dispatch the first two or three, but once I came upon mages, too, I was done for.

Thankfully, I had the option of respawning at a waypoint or reviving on the spot. The revive proved helpful as there was a time during which I was mobile but invisible, which I took advantage of to move out of danger. The problem for me was that I could never move completely out of harms way so ended up dying often whether due to my PC gaming inexperience or poor judgement or both.

Here again, however, as in the Prime World demo, the game plays much better when cooperating with other gamers. The two or three times I found others in the game world and we combined our resources I was able to survive for the most part. So I didn't help my own cause by venturing off often without backup, as I was most interested in exploring the massive world.

To that end, I discovered other ruins, marshes and towns, besides the rolling hills outside the area we began in. All were vintage Elder Scrolls: varied, detailed and well conceived, exhibiting creative art design. Enemies, too, were varied and also included automated sentinels, gargoyle like creatures, alligators and werewolves. I avoided most.


The enemy AI was similar to other Elder Scrolls games, meaning foes moved usually in a limited range once engaged, whether back and forth or sideways, which provided enough of a challenge especially when in numbers. They also defended themselves well, whether mages with spells, alligators with tails, etc.

As far as NPCs, there were some on roads but most were in populated areas, again as can be expected in this franchise. Many had tales to tell and sidequests to pursue. I undertook two or three, though didn't follow through on any to their conclusion as, again, I was more interested in exploring the world laid out before me.

Of course the hands-on demo was only a small portion of the reportedly huge world, but it offered enough gameplay to whet my appetite for more. If I recall, we began the demo at level 5, so I can only imagine how competitive a higher level character would be against the vast majority of foes populating the game world.

As it was, even on keyboard, the melee combat was familiar and spells provided a good alternative. With more practice, especially on more familiar platforms for this gamer, I imagine gameplay would gel pretty quickly. After all, the opportunity to play an Elder Scrolls game in co-op is too good to pass up.


Indeed, despite my inexperience with keyboard and mouse controls, in many ways as described it had many of the familiar Elder Scrolls elements and still played out like any other game in the series. I'm grateful for the opportunity I had to play it, for the gracious assistance of Creative Director Paul Sage (above, left) and other Bethesda staff, and I look forward to its release.

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