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Xander Markham avatar 8:29 PM on 10.03.2010  (server time)
Eurogamer Expo Game Reports (Part 1): Zelda, Assassin's Creed, Kinect

This photo took three hours to take - thanks for that, Nintendo. More serious thanks to the photographer, Yusuf, for lending me his camera.


It's great to have the opportunity to offer something different to my usual blogs, especially in giving PS3 and 360 players something worth reading for once. I got home a few hours ago from a day out at the Eurogamer Expo 2010 in London, where I played many of the biggest upcoming games for the end of this year and the first few months of the next. Since the hour is late (just gone 2.30am on this side of the Atlantic) I'm too tired to write up reports for every one of the games played, of which there are twelve, so shall instead take a leaf out of Elsa's book and stagger the previews over the next few days, possibly with some of those 'Game of the Show'-type awards at the end for laughs. Tonight's three games are Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood's multiplayer and a summary of both my and many other people's experiences with Microsoft's Kinect. Enjoy!

Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Nintendo's Skyward Sword booth consisted of two screens behind a curtained enclosure, with a line leading up to it that was short in distance but took a full three hours or more to get from beginning to end. Considering the game was always likely to be Nintendo's most popular, it was quite the travesty that immediately behind the Zelda booth was a row of four televisions exhibiting Metroid: Other M, a game that has not only been out for a month but did not even received particularly good notices. Why those screens were not dedicated to Zelda instead is something only the organisers will know, but it might have saved fans a great deal of time, allowed others less willing to endure the queue the opportunity to explore the game, and make the ten minute demo less of a disappointment after the three hours it took to reach it. Identical to the E3 build, the demo presented its players with a custom-built training arena containing two mini-bosses (a Stalfos and a giant scorpion), in addition to several easily-solved puzzles that showed off the game's various items and motion-controlled swordplay. When it worked, the game was quite the treat: being able to exploit holes in enemy defences with precisely aimed strikes is a very satisfying upgrade to the series' traditionally undemanding swordplay. However, the Motion Plus had slightly de-calibrated by the time I arrived, so only about 70% of my attacks went where I wanted them to (the rep said he didn't know if there was a way of setting things right). Aside from this enhancement, there were few discernible changes to the Zelda staples that began to wear thin with Twilight Princess. The old items persisted, although having to change the position of the controller to fire a shot in Wii Sports Resort-style (rather than using IR aiming) from the bow or catapult feels cumbersome and unnecessary. The only new item among the collection was a whip, which wasn't given a chance to demonstrate its purpose. The 'puzzles' were familiar stuff: shooting spiders down from vines and bombing away fallen rocks to reveal doors. While this was just a gameplay demo and won't be part of the final game, it was a shame to see so many of the tired series regulars recurring yet again when streamlining and freshness are in such dire need. Even the art style looked as though it was striving for an uncomfortable middle ground between Wind Waker's shading and Twilight Princess' realism, rather than finding an identity of its own. Nintendo may yet innovate the structural aspects of the formula, perhaps bringing in some non-linearity, but while this first taste of Skyward Sword was enjoyable enough, it took just ten minutes to quash the hopes of those who had waited three hours in the hope of seeing their favourite series try something new.

Assassin's Creed Brotherhood (multiplayer)

Brotherhood was one of the last games I played and only did so because it was late in the day and the queues had dissipated into non-existence. I had high hopes of the original game, which it comprehensively failed to fulfil. The ideas were there, but the execution was lousy and fell back on the laziest of immersion-breaking videogame design choices (diving from the tops of towers into shallow haystacks and surviving, the glow of targeted enemies, that ridiculous sci-fi backdrop), missing the opportunity to craft the intensely tactical assassination simultion – in such a beautiful setting as well - it had the potential to be. Although Brotherhood's Eurogamer Expo demo was multiplayer only, another bad sign to my eyes after BioShock 2's shoe-horned deathmatch, it was more than enough to convince that the Creed games may be worth another try. The game is set up by each player picking a character model, of whom there will be many others in the playing arena, selecting weapons and then being dropped somewhere in the city with another player as your target. It is up to you to discern exactly which one of the many identical character models is your target (and therefore not an NPC), by following a compass and observing any strange behaviour in the crowd - kill the wrong man and everyone around you goes beserk. You must then strike before the player targeting you manages to achieve their goal first. It's everything the first game promised, but ingeniously retooled into an extremely tense and thrilling multiplayer spying match. You are constantly making tactical decisions: do you break into a run to find your target, but risk revealing yourself? How long do you have to pick out your man before your own life is taken by a more efficient murderer - in one infuriatingly memorable instance, I was shot from a rooftop just as the button prompt went up for me to impale my target in the back of the neck. If you have your man in sight but a killer on your tail, should you make a bid for escape first and return to your hit later, or take the risk of killing both in rapid succession? The limited number of character models is a necessary evil for the mode to work, but the game is otherwise visually as rich as has come to be expected. The map I played was rendered with every bit as much care as the original game's vast cities. The slow-pace may dissuade some players from returning as frequently as they do to the likes of the Call of Duty games, but Brotherhood's developers deserve considerable acclaim for building a multiplayer mode that not only stays true to what the series is about, but is an immensely satisfying and innovative game in its own right. In ideas and execution, this was the surprise hit of the Expo for me.


I didn't have time to play the Kinect extensively, limiting myself to the ping-pong game in Sports, but did find the time to ask many of the people gathered around its stage what their experiences were. For my money, ping-pong was a moderately enjoyable diversion that brought on a strange bout of self-consciousness despite having greater success in that game than many others at the Expo (my performances on FPS' could be generously described as starting cataclysmically and getting progressively worse) and being a long-term Wii player. Having a controller in-hand gives purpose to your actions: playing a game. Without it, there's a very sharp dawning of quite how silly you must look waving your empty hands through the air, especially with a sizeable crowd observing your every move. You play with an open palm simulating the racket, performing each swing much as you would in Wii Sports Tennis, only considerably more red-faced. It seemed more difficult to pull off cross-table shots, my better efforts coming by adopting the Wii Sports strategy of swinging earlier for a more acute angle. Most subsequent players simply ended up knocking the ball back and forward straight at each other until one of them missed their timing. That's not to say that there isn't a knack to it, but Wii Sports worked because while it wasn't especially realistic, anyone could pick up the fundamental rules of its mini-games very quickly and have a chance of competing, even though greater practice revealed depths that could swing matches back in the experts' favour. Granny might be able to get a strike in Wii Sports Bowling with little more than good fortune on her side, but to do it consistently requires a deeper insight into the game's nuances. Microsoft seem to have configured Kinect Sports with the mantra that experts deserve to be rewarded with complete dominance for their dedication and efforts. Hardcore gamers will therefore probably find this game a more appealing prospect than Nintendo's equivalent, but Microsoft may have crucially missed what make the Wii so perfect for those new gamers whose main desire is nothing more than to pick up and play, rather than perfect.

A short note on the reactions to the other Kinect games on show: while ping-pong had occasional glitches or minor lag but was generally responsive, few people expressed such positive reactions to Kinect Adventures, where reports abounded of players not being recognised by Kinect at all and members of the watching crowd accidentally interfering with play. The mini-game on show was River Rush, a white-water rafting challenge to hit as many targets as possible before finishing the course. Kinect Joy Ride was better received, albeit without much enthusiasm for a return visit, with one person noting similarities to Wii launch title ExciteTruck, right down to the focus on boosting, stunts and long powerslides. The main complaint was that having to hold your arms up in the air for an entire race could be tiring, although had there been somewhere to play sitting down, this probably wouldn't have been an issue. The greatest success for Kinect by far was for Dance Central, which drew the biggest crowds and (judging by the big screen behind the dancers) was nigh-on flawlessly responsive. That it was the only Kinect game to have the camera facing away from the crowd may have had something to do with this, although that's not to dampen the achievement of a game which genuinely seemed to be enjoyed by everyone.

Thanks for reading! Tomorrow's games will be Kirby's Epic Yarn, Platinum Games' utterly bonkers shooter Vanquish and Enslaved: Odyssey To The West. Any comments or suggestions are much appreciated.

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