With an enormous high definition screen belching out promo footage from their plethora of games on the show floor, I couldn't miss Square Enix's display area if I tried. Having been a fan of the company's Final Fantasy franchise for some time, and enticed by some of the recent acquisitions for the publisher, I trundled over to check out some of the new titles for myself.
My first experience came in the form of IO Interactive's Hitman: Absolution, from a series I have admittedly never tried before. E3 is all about new experiences after all, so I decided to lead Agent 47 through a short assassination mission. In this case, the target is hiding in plain sight, inside a pagoda in the midst of a busy Chinatown street. Before you play, the game gives you a short hint as to how you might off this guy—you can bomb his car, electrify him, or use any other number of subtle or overt tactics to achieve the objective. Unfortunately, being somewhat unfamiliar with the game and its laws, I ended up alerting all the guards when I strangled a street vendor in plain sight and stole his clothes. In subsequent attempts, I tried following the game's minimal hints to successfully complete the task before me, but found that experimenting with the world's rules yielded many interesting and humorous situations, until finally getting close in a security guard's outfit and taking him out personally. My first experience with the vaunted Hitman series may have been late, but trying out Absolution made me consider tracking down the earlier games and seeing what they have to offer.
Next, I hefted a 3DS to try out the new Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance. Starting off in Sora's demo, I ended up in a Three Musketeers themed world. Nothing about the backstory made very much sense, as Sora kept referring to past events and concepts that didn't make much sense. As I played, I started questioning what brought me to enjoy this series when it first launched—the areas felt vacant and dull, with bland dialogue and cutscenes far outstripping the action. Even with the control stick, the controls felt sticky and slow, while the main addition appears to be a touchscreen-based quicktime event that effectively destroys everything around you. Enemy attacks felt cheap and combat proceeded at a snail's pace without abusing the quicktime event option. Regardless, for a Kingdom Hearts game, Dream Drop Distance tends enough towards the formula to be something any fan would be interested in playing. Though, I found my previous enthusiasm for the series waning as I walked away from the 3DS, the demo only half-finished.
From there, I found a demo of the upcoming Sleeping Dogs from United Front Games. I had seen a few trailers for this game, and was pretty excited to see a game unabashedly embracing its roots in the heroic bloodshed movies of John Woo and Ringo Lam. You're an undercover cop in Hong Kong sent to infiltrate the Triad power structure, and in the demo you've been tasked to find and beat down some no-goodnik. Once you find the guy, you have to chase him through a series of dark streets and alleyways, dodging foot traffic and trying to stay close the whole time. After chasing him for long enough, you find yourself surrounded by a group of his friends, eager to rearrange your face. Luckily, you have access to a pretty fluid set of punches, kicks, and counters to turn the tables on them, complete with brutal, powerful animations that emphasize the particular weight of the combat. Leaving them behind, you have to keep climbing and running after the target, steamrolling a few more of his minions before he whips a knife out and takes you on himself. If you successfully counter his attacks and beat his face to a pulpy, blood-slick mess, the camera pans out, revealing the police officers gathering around to arrest you. Honestly, there's not much here that I haven't seen in a game before, but the delivery was impressive, drawing me in from the first few moments.
However, it was time to move on, and I decided to check out a little theater tucked off to the side, where they held presentations for Quantum Conundrum from Airtight Games. I saw this game unveiled at Pax 2011, and the concept seemed solid even then, though only small details had been offered at the time. You play as a 12-year-old boy trapped in the mansion of his eccentric uncle, Professor Fitz Quadwrangle. In order to navigate each room, you must use the ISD (Interdimensional Shift Device) to shift through four different dimensions, Fluffy, Heavy, Slow-Mo, and Reverse Gravity, each offering different possibilities for solving the game's rather devious puzzles. The game's comic tone takes the edge off of its more frustrating aspects, which occasionally confounded even the demonstrators from Airtight Games. The game takes an understandable inspiration from Valve's Portal series, having been developed by Kim Swift, its co-creator. It requires the same sort of non-linear thinking and playful approach, but complicates the formula a bit, leaving it less streamlined, but still a formidable game, worthy of keeping an eye on.
My last half hour with Square Enix was spent in Crystal Dynamics' theater, watching gameplay footage from the reboot of the Tomb Raider series, which shall henceforth be known as Tomb Raider, for simplicity's sake. Following Lara Croft's trek through a dense jungle island, the team at Crystal Logic seems to have an interest in fleshing out the survival element of this game. The demo got extremely tense, with an abrupt realization that there are malevolent scavengers sharing the island with you, thwarting your friends and eventually attempting to capture and kill you as well. One segment involves using stealth while your hands are bound behind your back to avoid recapture by a group of scavengers, who have stolen the only gun your group has access to. Your checkpoints take the form of campsites, which is where you will upgrade Lara's skills and items, presumably shaping her into the intrepid adventurer known to fans of the original series. Instead of a pistol, her primary weapon this time around is a bow and arrow, which makes her direct confrontations with enemies more tense and fraught with danger. Wolves hunt you through some areas, and shooting them in time to escape their frightful jaws requires patience and precision. The game itself looks solid, taking cues from the Uncharted series in how it approaches its platforming segments, but departing from it by including experience and character growth as a tool for furthering the story. I have high hopes for the new Tomb Raider, and Crystal Dynamics seems to have found their stride with the material I've seen so far.