E3 2011: Tomb Raider and the Square-Enix Round-up

We’ve covered a lot of stuff at this year’s E3, and Square-Enix had some of our most anticipated titles on the show floor. You can click on these links in case you missed my look at Deus Ex: Human Revolution, or Andrew’s sneak peek at Hitman: Absolution. Both of these titles looked fantastic, and made our respective trousers just a little tighter. You know, a little game-chub. Meanwhile, Dead Island, which Square is publishing for Deep Silver, came out as a good game, but one totally different than expected.

On the more flaccid end of the game-arousal spectrum, you’ve got Final Fantasy XIII 2, which Barb examined in a manner much more eloquently than my own “Meh.” To elaborate further, it seems like the franchise is stuck in some sort of rut. When I played through the demo, I couldn’t help but see the beautifully rendered characters with their jaggy “we’re trying too hard on the physics of this” hair, and the magical feathers that seem to be everywhere, blowing out of every character’s Kingdom Hearts looking ass, and think to myself, “Jesus, here we go again.” The developers tried to create something new by putting in a series of player choices, typically whether or not to take on a side-quest, in order to make the game seem less linear. However, in the demo, the player got effin’ murdered if they didn’t take on the side-quest, and got rewarded by more items and an easier boss fight if they did, so unless in the late-game a player accidentally kills off a PC by taking a side-quest, I can’t see any reason you would ever turn one down. That, in itself, is pretty linear, unless you’re a sometimes-masochist.

But Square took their time to show us all the games in their arsenal, and we would be remiss if we didn’t take a moment to discuss Laura Croft’s gritty reboot with the new Tomb Raider. Here’s a demo of the new gameplay:

 


The new Tomb Raider takes the route of Batman Begins, J.J. Abram’s Star Trek, X-men First Class, Amazing Spider-Man, Karate Kid, A-Team, Transformers, Casino Royale, repeat ad nauseam, and restarts Lara’s adventures with an origin adventure, taking place when she was 21. If its successful, it will no doubt replace the current ‘canon’ of Tomb Raider games, all sequels riding off of this new mythology. From what we’ve seen, and the general excitement for Lara’s return among the gaming community, its sure to garner that success.

Its interesting, too, that this is the second relaunch for Tomb Raider in as many E3s. Last year saw Lara Croft Tomb Raider and the Guardian of Light come to the PSN and XBLA, which was a major departure for the series, featuring more Diablo-like controls and camera views, and an added emphasis on puzzle-solving. It was a great game, and a fair seller, but not the redefining blockbuster that Square-Enix was hoping for, though that’s something they may have with this new installment.

Mo-cap does a body good.

It just goes to show that what the series needed wasn’t a full re-imagination, or the slapping of Lara’s name into the title, but a return to the adventurous attitude of the original, with controls and visuals finally brought up to speed with the current generation of systems. The minor-tweaks that have been made to the plethora of sequels of the original Tomb Raider haven’t kept up with the speed of technology’s advancement across two platforms, and they had left the gameplay feeling stiff and boring, the visuals uninspired and dated. Finally, Lara gets the facelift she’s been deserving.

In addition to the level shown in the video above, Padinga was shown what will be the fourth level of the game, where Lara, now outside in the wilds, finds her mentor suffering from wounds inflicted by his escape from their sunken boat to the shore. Here Lara, who is amazingly spry for a girl that just got stabbed in the stomach with a steel bar 4 days prior, leaps and bounds around the terrain, and battles off wolves (who nonsensically decided to steal their medical supplies) in order to save the elder adventurer. Developers promise that the world will feature environments both wide and spacious, and some that are hauntingly claustrophobic. Some of Lara’s adventures will take her over some areas more than once; weather will vary on different days across these paths, and sometimes heavy rain or extreme heat will create new hazards in the environment. Also kind of cool is the ‘salvage’ mechanic, allowing Lara to pick up and combine different weapons and bits of debris to make new items, as well as a tiered ‘upgrade’ system to give Lara new talents and increase her physical abilities, a system this game shares with Dead Island, and telling of Square’s RPG roots. Ultimately, Lara battled a wolf resembling the G’Mork and saved the day.

Overall, I’m very impressed with the direction of the relaunch, though Lara is almost painfully British. “Don’t you die on me, you Yorkshire bastard!” Really?

You've come a long way, baby. Ugh, actually used to masturbate to this?

Also in the Square-Enix booth:

Wak Fu

A city in the clouds... I've seen where this goes. Where's the Carbon Chamber?

Square makes another attempt at the PC MMORPG with Wok Fu. This game has a much different feel than FF XIV (thank God), and is more similar to something like Disgaea with extreme multi-player. The extremely customizable characters move around a grid and engage in turn-based combat, each augmenting their class-based spell powers with creatures that they grow and command to attack opponents, or spar against in their spare time for extra XP… not really sure how this works, this is the ‘Wak Fu’ of the title, and it has its own energy meter and game function, but this defining feature wasn’t accessible in the demo; we just got to run around and fling magic at one another.

I found that the learning curve on the demo was rather high, with the battles feeling sluggish if you didn’t know all of your spells and commands by heart. However, the look of the game and the humor were something resembling Bastion, which was one of our favorite games of the show. Given that, I’d be happy to give the game another shot and see if the final product feels a bit more manageable. Definitely worth a look for Disgaea and FF Tactics fans.

 

Heroes of Ruin

My least favorite game of the Square-Enix booth. It won Best RPG of E3 from Nintendo, but given that this 3DS title was the only RPG in Nintendo’s stable for the year, I find that award to be a little suspect.

The old medieval gunslinger.

The game is a Dark Alliance-style overhead RPG hack-and-slash, which offers up 4 different classes (I played as a ‘Gun Slinger’. There was also a Melee class in the demo) as the heroes team up to take on an evil cleric, or something else suitably generic. I wish there was more to tell about the story than ‘good guys team up against evil magic dude’ but if there was more to it, the reps in the booth were very hush-hush about it. Either its mind-bogglingly awesome and secretive, or its just not written yet and will be slap-dashed into the final product.

Regardless, the gameplay was decent, but unremarkable, featuring ye-olde quest-giver speech, followed by me wandering around slamming the light and heavy attack buttons in alternating style, and my top bumper keys set to the typical health-potion/mana-potion combo.

The game is highlighted, however, with online multi-player and a random level generator, for plenty of replay. Loot collectors will have fun running through this with friends. I wasn’t really pleased with it, but given the small library of the 3DS, its in a class of its own on that platform.

 

Dungeon Siege III

This title was held behind closed doors last E3, and is finally revealed this year to little fanfare. Squre-Enix purchased Obsidian Games almost exclusively for the rights to this title, so its kind of sad it only got a tiny corner of the show floor.

The environments are rich and detailed, indoors and out.

This class-based, loot-finding, hack-and-slash offers more visually and technically than just about any comparable game on the show floor this year, with huge dungeons tiered and layered in beautiful fashion. Multi-player games that see the party split off (in online mode, anyway) will let one player look down a pit at a lower level, where they could potentially see another party member battling hosts of demons below. Visually, the clothes and armor were a bit clunky looking in some combinations, as is typical in games that change character models in custom fashion, but the environments were rich and fully realized, and character models very distinct and creative, particularly in the magic user classes.

The game features a Talent Wheel, a slight diversion from the now-rampant 3 choice skill-tree of almost every other RPG in the modern world, allowing a player to either become a jack-of-all-trades, or master a particular skill set. Combat in multi-player was focused on group tactics, and finding powers that worked in tandem with each other, finding ways to either augment each other’s abilities, or create world-breaking combos.

Solid gameplay, though the story-heavy RPG elements were downplayed in favor of combat and loot gathering, at least judging from the demo given. Fantasy gamers will have to choose between the style of this and Dragon’s Dogma, and both of those will face harsh odds against the hype of Skyrim. Still, not a bad game.

 

With all those in mind, we thank Square-Enix for all their hospitality as we prowled around their booth and sampled their wares (including some of the best pecan-cake pastries I’ve ever had). We look forward to playing this year’s games, and seeing what they have in store for 2012!

Thank you, Square- Enix. Thank you.