Originally published on GameInformer.com June 13, 2014, at 7:30 PM.
Selected for Blog Herding -- The Best Blogs of the Community, 6/19/14.
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Update 6/4/18: Select screenshots from this pictorial appear at bottom.
I've become so busy that it appeared last year's Electronic Entertainment Expo would be my swan song in terms of covering this industry. So it was with some relief that, on this last day of the 2014 expo, in its waning hours, I finally had an opportunity to visit and reconnect.
Absent making appointments ahead of time, I was left to fend for myself on the show floor. Fortunately waiting on standby for Rainbow Six: Siege paid off handsomely, and I was gratified to try out a few other titles I was excited or curious about.
First up was a Sniper Elite 3 demo. This might not be big news at E3, and is in fact a title only weeks from release, but it's high on my list of anticipated games due to the excellent though unsung original game that I played on PS2 and its capable Sniper Elite V2 reboot on last gen consoles.
Gameplay takes place on a map of Tobruk, with the player on a hillside overlooking a Nazi encampment. Having seen others complete stealth takedowns of foes (and having done so in prior titles), I approached the first enemy, but forgetting past controls I crouched about trying to trigger a prompt and instead alerted my enemy.
In lieu of melee combat I shot him dead and alerted the entire camp, which advanced on my position, which is not unusual for someone as clumsy at stealth as I can be. At least I had plenty of med kits and bandages to see me through, as well as an assault rifle, which was as imprecise as in prior titles (perhaps by design).
I was able to resort to my sniper rifle on occasion and its control and execution were as I remember, though someone must have removed bullet drop as my shots had to line up precisely (and with limited time I didn't want to customize the sniping options). The bullet cam is as engrossing -- and plain gross -- as ever, my highlight having been an eye-socket fatality.
There were plenty of sniping opportunities at distance, whether from the elevated hillside, watchtowers or at ground level, and the map in general was well conceived with tents, ruins and other objects creating multiple pathways and cover. This Tobruck map wasn't as large as I remember the Berlin maps from the original game, but it was a decent challenge.
An initial objective was searching enemies for intel, but an optional objective of eliminating a sniper appeared as I progressed. This kind of sidequest should help broaden gameplay and help maps feel more expansive, at least artificially. HUD features likewise are similar to V2, with stealth/threat indicators and a map onscreen, and a radial inventory search a button press away.
As far as inventory, it appears standard with sniper rifle and assault rifle as well as grenades, med kits and bandages among other items. I think inventory searches are in real time so selecting when to use it is important. As far as presentation, it's very similar to V2 despite a change in locale; I didn't notice any upgrades despite playing on Xbox One (with the caveat that it's only a demo).
All in all, the experience was very similar to V2, which is not a bad outcome. I know I'll enjoy playing it if that's the case, though I still hope for larger maps with more gameplay options; in other words, an experience more similar to the original game. Time will tell.
A sniper rifle would be a true asset in the post-apocalyptic world of Dying Light, but removing melee combat from the gameplay equation would defeat the purpose. The combat, in fact, is what defines this zombie survival horror title, though the demo is less distinctive than the title might suggest.
Indeed, that it began as a sequel to the developer's Dead Island franchise should come as no surprise to those familiar with that series' brutal combat, its powerful custom weapons, exotic open world and fun co-op gameplay. Reportedly, what differentiates Dying Light is the impact of its day/night cycle on enemy behavior and its parkour movement, among other differences.
While the former did not factor into my playtime, movement did seem more dynamic with the ability to grab edges while climbing or jumping, which increased options and the fun. Controls did take some getting used to, as using the R1 shoulder button (grab) while depressing L3 (sprint) felt less than intuitive, and I did fall on occasion.
The demo starts beside a building with the objective of reaching a safe house, if I remember. I had an electrified axe, I think a flaming blade of some kind, and a nailed bat. Secondary weapons include knives that can be thrown with the opposite hand and are effective at momentarily stopping or disorienting foes.
Having played Dead Island games, it was clear these weapons were highly upgraded and, indeed, cutting down enemies was fairly simple and appropriately bloody. Even for that franchise, fatalities in Dying Light seemed more gratuitous. Still, attacked in numbers meant a greater challenge, and tight corners ensured assault from all directions.
If you liked the Dead Island games, you will like this one. It's similar in many ways, but its reported differences are compelling. If like Dragon's Dogma in terms of the day/night cycle impact, and approaching Mirror's Edge with its parkour elements, such features should evolve gameplay in welcome ways, and Techland's commitment to fewer glitches is promising.
The highlight turned out to be Rainbow Six: Siege. I knew a little about the cancelled Patriots title, but I went in to Ubisoft's presentation completely oblivious to what Siege had to offer. Having been a fan of the series since PS2 entries but especially the last gen Vegas games, this was the one presentation I made time for.
Ubisoft made clear from the start that this title was focused on multiplayer, with the siege scenario of the title being the central gameplay mode. Opposing teams of five players would clash over objectives like hostages, with one side tasked with breaching a target locale and the other with defending it. Three classes per side offer varied inventories.
My hands-on demo began on the breach team. After selecting the assault class and a courtyard spawn at our developer team leader's request, we all sent wheeled drones inside to survey enemy fortifications, position and/or movement. The assault then began with us advancing and entering through doors or windows of the first or second floors.
Once inside, the team leader guided players but I was preoccupied with the controls so lagged the others (not to mention tossing an ill-timed flash-bang). Thankfully the HUD showed general teammate location, though tight corridors kept me focused on corners. Team members can access drones at any time, but in the moment I relied on my eyes and ears.
I did get the drop on a foe but excitedly fired mostly into the air instead of into him. The funny thing is I don't think he even noticed as he continued to crouch slowly around a corner. Actually what's more funny is that my pursuit put me practically on top of our objective and I was killed before I could heed my team leader's admonitions.
Despite my poor judgement, our team eliminated the opposition to win. It's worth noting that I don't recall having any issues with the actual controls or execution, only with my learning curve. Movement is fluid, targeting feels precise and hit detection seems fine, despite not getting my foe to take the bait earlier. Drones also control well.
Likewise, level design is impressive, especially when considering the tight confines of a residential home. This is not a Vegas-style commercial hotel/casino interior. Multiple paths follow short hallways that connect various rooms. On top of that, players also can create their own paths with their demolition tools in the midst of a firefight.
Adding to the intensity of firefights is a solid presentation, whether smooth animation, quality particle effects or static backgrounds. Of course one doesn't really have time to appreciate their surroundings during such a scenario, but it appeared serviceable enough and I think enhanced rather than detracted from the overall experience.
The next time, our roles reversed and my team became the defenders. We set about erecting fortifications like wall reinforcements, shields and other impediments. I of course erected a shield nowhere useful, but thankfully could remove with ease. When the assault began, I was able to kill a foe after a hallway firefight, but it wasn't long before I was taken down in turn.
I believe it was this go around that ended with our team leader eliminating his opposite. The final round had our team again assaulting the objective. This time I did listen and follow instruction, setting up a breach on the kitchen floor and detonating before following our team leader to attack foes through a breach he setup on the floor of an adjacent room.
To my recollection, we both killed someone prior to leaping through the breach. I managed to take down another enemy in an ensuing firefight but had to hurriedly revive the hostage in another room. Shortly thereafter I was knocked off. I think the odds were still in our favor when the wall next to our last two team members was destroyed, killing both instantly.
That moment demonstrated best the potential this game has. It goes beyond the destructive capabilities of games like Battlefield: Bad Company 2 or even Red Faction: Guerrilla and implements destruction as a tactic from moment to moment in a firefight. Walls and floors can be breached or shot through to change the odds in one's favor.
I came away from this demo with the same level of excitement I had after having played the Borderlands 2 demo at E3, and that turned out to be one of my fave games, especially in co-op. The one caveat for me is whether there is a respectable single-player mode as in the Vegas games, and I overheard one of the developers reassure an attendee that that has always been a part of R6 titles.
Last but by no means least was the Far Cry 4 demo. The prior game in the franchise was an entertaining shooter so I have high expectations for this latest entry, despite a villain that appears to hail from Stilwater or Steelport and a setting that seems similar to the Rook Islands of Far Cry 3.
The demo, it turns out, felt small in scope and my equally limited time discouraged exploration or experimentation (though more precisely, my limited lifespans prevented it). But my Ubisoft handler was kind and generous, allowing me several playthroughs due to a short line so I felt I got a good feel at least for the gameplay on display in the demo.
My first attempt I chose the fly option from among three that included stealth and ride. Unfortunately my handler warned me too late that the controls are challenging. Indeed the small helicopter you pilot is unintuitive to control at best, with PS4 left stick to turn, right stick to target, circle to rise and X to descend. That meant I had to fly, target/shoot, fly, target/shoot.
I was shot down to no one's surprise. I could select a different option than fly, however, I'd have to back out twice for a longer loading wait. So I tried walking instead of boarding the helicopter. The problem with that is I still had the same arsenal, which included a grenade launcher and pistol, if I recall. Using either of course raised the alarm.
I did manage to get inside the main gate and find some cover, and even eliminated a jeep of reinforcements. But I soon ran out of ammo and had to emerge from cover to search fallen foes for ammo/weapons, which were in limited supply. It wasn't long at that point before I ran out of healing syringes and options.
The next time I opted for stealth instead of ride (the latter involved an elephant and from appearances was slow and didn't afford much protection). Although stealth is not my strong suit (see Sniper Elite 3 above), I was armed with a crossbow and sniper rifle, which proved a pretty fun loadout to attack with. I also was able to use a grappling hook for a different route inside.
Regarding this map, the village features many multistory buildings in close proximity. There is a variety of cover and options for crouching and climbing. In this way I was pleased with the level design, which works both ways. Foes would take cover or flank, requiring players to be aware of their surroundings at all times.
This makes taking out foes at range all the more important, and in this regard the stealth arsenal proved perfectly adept. Targeting and hit detection seem precise, allowing for long range crossbow executions (it helps that body shots kill as effectively as headshots). The sniper rifle is even more effective when scoped, taking out two foes with one shot when lined up.
Still it was tough for me not to raise an alarm, and equipped ammo will only get one so far. I did manage to kill most if not all enemies but a gunship proved difficult for me to take down even with a found RPG launcher. Granted, I never ran out of syringes, but my timing for applying them could have been better.
I believe it was on my second stealth attempt that I eliminated all foes in the village and thereby passed the level. In the process I did enjoy Far Cry 4's gameplay, with the possible exception of the helicopter learning curve. It played like its immediate predecessor so is promising. Hopefully it will innovate and improve in ways that grow the franchise positively.
A final word about my Ubisoft handler, she was positively helpful and enthusiastic, providing tips and other guidance besides letting me play a long time. She is a game designer who hasn't worked on the franchise, but has worked at Ubisoft Montreal on a secret game the past four years though wouldn't reveal whether or not it's a new IP. So that's my big scoop: Ubisoft Montreal has spent four years on a secret game! You heard it here first. : D
That was my experience of E3 2014. A few hours spent on the show floor with some of my most anticipated games. I wish I could have spent more time and reported to you on more titles, but I'm grateful to have even had this limited opportunity. Thanks for reading, and I hope your most anticipated games meet with your expectations.
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