Summary: The E3 coverage continues! Tom hits us today with coverage of five new games:
•Hidden & Dangerous 2
•Railroad Tycoon 3
Chrome is a post-Halo first person shooter from Techland in Poland, whose previous credits include Crime Cities. I don't remember it either. For Chrome, Techland has built an engine to render long-range outdoor battles, comlete with vehicles, indoor areas, and even a bit of stealth. You play a mercenary named...
The fellow demoing Chrome described it as a tactical first person shooter "because you can't take much damage". The weapons are souped up versions of real world guns. You have a Diablo style grid for your backpack, so you can only carry the weapons that will fit, Tetris style, into your inventory. As you play, you earn implants that will give you special abilities like cloaking, improved accuracy, a scope view with any weapon, infrared vision, boosted speed, bullet time ability, and damage protection. Kitting yourself out with implants should be an interesting element of multiplayer games.
Your enemies are other human soldiers and the mechs and vehicles they drive. And the occasional dinosaur, of course. There will be two mechs and two vehicles, all driveable. Just to give an indication of how Techland was inspired by Halo, all you need to do is glance at the models for the buggy with its mounted gun and the hovering dropship. But there are far worse games than Halo to imitate; it's not as if Techland is creating a Mortyr clone. And with an engine that looks this nice, I say 'let a thousand Halos bloom'.
SIDEBAR: Jakub has really, really bad memories of Mortyr.
Hidden &Dangerous 2
Hey, it's a World War II game in which you lead a squad of men through pitched battles! You rarely see that these days.
Before each mission, you select a team of special forces soldiers, who improve and gain experience as you play. You equip your soldiers, which in some missions means giving them uniforms to be used as disguises. Once you're in the game, you control one soldier at a time, but can freely jump into different members of your squad. You can command the other members using a menu to give orders to everyone or singling out individual soldiers. Far more flexible is the command mode, which lets you pause the game and assume a bird's eye view of the level, where you can give everyone waypoints and queue up orders. You can even run the game from this mode, playing it as a third-person tactical squad game.
The campaign can be played through in multiplayer co-op mode. You can also play missions solo, without squad members, or as a combat skirmish with the only objective being to kill everyone. With a variety of ways to play, and considering some of the spectacular set pieces from the first Hidden & Dangerous, this sequel should hold its own. At the very least, it should be a nice combination of Rainbow Six's squad-based tactical control with a World War II theme.
SIDEBAR: Jakub remembers seeing H&D2 at the last GOD lot, in 2001. Wow, old times.
Firefly are the guys who did Stronghold, which was nothing like their upcoming Space Colony, a game literally light years away in terms of subject matter and tone. Whereas the Stronghold castle building games were historical and earnest, Space Colony looks like one of those whimsical trifles that you might actually get your girlfriend to play with you.
But then there's The Sims element laid over this. Space Colony has a cast of about twenty characters, each with unique predilections for entertainment, interaction, and work. At E3, Firefly was showing off a spunky redheaded girl, a Norwegian biker, and a middle-aged barfly. Characters have needs like hunger and social interaction, measured with familiar satisfaction bars that fill up as the needs are met. But it's not necessarily a matter of building a generic entertainment item, a generic feeding item, and a generic sleeping area. The characters can be picky. For instance, the biker really liked the zero-G pod, but it made the barfly nauseated. Some characters like each other and spending time together will satisfy their social interaction need and maybe even result in a relationship. But characters who don't like each other are just made unhappier when they're together. Part of the game is figuring out who likes what and how you can make your space colonists happy.
Characters earn skill badges that determine what kind of machinery they can operate, which in turn determines what resources you can harvest and what goods you can produce. The happier your character, the long he, she, or it will work. There are aliens that will attack your base, so at some point, you should built defensive turrets and robot commandoes to beat them back. "People like defending stuff," says Firefly's Simon Bradbury as a variety of lasers take out advancing swarms of alien bugs. However, if that's not your bag, you can choose a peaceful fork in the campaign.
Unlike The Sims, Space Colony uses intelligible sound bites as characters comment on situations and talk to teach other. With twenty characters, there's potential for an enormous number of permutations, which requires a lot of recording. "The most voiceover work of any game ever," Bradbury guesses. But it's all part of making what he describes as a builder with an emphasis on people instead of buildings.
SIDEBAR: If only you actually got to build castles in Stronghold…
Railroad Tycoon 3
The most immediately noticeable fact about this third iteration of the Railroad Tycoon games is that it's gone over to 3D. Now the trains are animated models, steaming under fluffy clouds and sunsets and starry skies, through quaint little towns and rolling terrain, into and out of tunnels, over bridges spanning fancy water effects. Seasons pass, night falls, and you can zoom out far enough to get a broad overview of the playing field. It looks very nice and brings computer train games that much closer to their roots in model railroading. But this also raises some new problems. The illusion of model trains, much less real trains, is hobbled when trains pass through each other on a single track or fold over on themselves after pulling out of a station to go back the way they came in. Hopefully PopTop will come up with some clever tricks to hide these sort of visual pratfalls.
PopTop showed a few views that displayed the data running under the graphics. There's an economic model at work that grows cities based on the flow of goods and people. You can influence this by building industries to encourage traffic and expansion. As cities grow, you can drop in buildings like hotels to cash in on the additional traffic. Multiplayer games will allow plenty of in-fighting as players build routes and structures to try to cut into each other's business. And what Railroad Tycoon game would be complete without a stock market?
If you were one of the handful of people who played Strategy First's overlooked gem, Rails Across America, you've seen how well this sort of high level strategic perspective can work with a railroad game. By building it into a fancy 3D engine, PopTop is taking Railroad Tycoon into new terrain, literally and figuratively.
SIDEBAR: Tom has a certain fetish for telling me ‘Forget it Jake, this is Chinatown.’ Constantly. At every available opportunity. I think it’s because he wants me to see Chinatown, but I could be wrong.
Uru: Ages Beyond Myst
Ubi Soft is quick to explain that Uru: Ages Beyond Myst isn't just a Myst-themed massively multiplayer online game. They'll point out that it's a "full single player experience" with ten "ages" and thirty puzzles, which is bigger than any previous Myst game. But in addition to this, you get your own personal age, which is a small island floating in some kind of nowhere ether dimension. As you complete puzzles, you get decorations that you can use to personalize your personal age. Turn on a sun like a light bulb. Drape a waterfall over a ridge. Stick some islands off in the distance. Plant a tree that grows over time. Ubi Soft mentioned a juke box. They showed me some kind of doohickey that has something to do with storing screenshots for later viewing.
"In our games, you've always played yourself," says Rand Miller, the creator of Myst, by way of an explanation for the modern clothing. "It's always been you." This explains also the detailed avatar creation screen, which allows a range of ages and body types. Kudos to Uru for allowing characters over the age of 25 and body fat of 5% to be featured in their game. And can I just say how much fun it is to say 'kudos to Uru'? Just try it. You'll see.
After you've played the single player game, you can go online and enjoy limited interaction in public areas. But if you pay a subscription fee (you knew that was coming, didn't you?), you'll unlock a whole new game with additional multiplayer ages. These ages will feature quests and puzzles that unlock additional doodads with which to adorn your personal age.
There will be no crafting and no combat. "You don't die, you don't kill things," Miller says. When asked whether he's concerned that this paradigm didn't exactly having people beating down the doors to play The Sims Online, he explains some important differences. In Uru, the developers are creating the content rather than simply relying on player interaction. He brings up the television model, whereby new episodes keep people coming back for more.
Miller also points out that Uru will offer a sense of exploration, something missing in The Sims Online, where you just zap into your choice of location by selecting it from a list. In Uru, you have to explore and look around. Whether this will be enough to attract players in a genre that had relied heavily on level treadmilling, rat whacking, and sword forging remains to be seen. But, once again, kudos to Uru for trying something different.
SIDEBAR: Five games are shown the FS love. Five games for the geek kings, one trade show to show them. Got a comment? Is Railroad Tycoon 3 just too damn sexy looking? Sound Off!
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