August 19, 2011

The View From X’11

X11 Toronto
Microsoft’s annual Toronto holiday showcase of all things 360 took place yesterday, and I was fortunate enough to make the event with other members of Team Sugar to check in on upcoming releases for the system.

This year’s showing was undoubtedly the largest one in recent memory, with a slew of publishers showing so many titles that the mind boggled at how to break down and digest so much content. It’s not often companies like Square-Enix, Bethesda, 2K Games, and Sega come to town, and the result was a never-ending sea of screens that left me feeling a bit dizzy by the end of the day.

With that said, I’m going to stay true to form and simply tell you what caught my eye.

X11 Toronto

Renegade Ops

Avalanche Studio’s digital war-in-a-can twin-stick shooter was the very first title to grab my attention within a room full of screens shining with all the promise of digital bliss for the rest of this year and beyond. Finally getting my mitts on a controller also confirmed that if ever a title felt like Jackal 2.0, Renegade Ops is it.

Given the option of choosing between four playable ground unit characters with different weapon abilities, my tiny jeep was dispatched to the conflict zone aboard a hovercraft, giving me the opportunity to practice targeting on objects in the water before hitting the beach and being unleashed to cause an endless series of explosions wrapped in clouds of dust and fire. Primary mission objectives offered an always friendly arrow, beckoning me toward missile sites or special units, and also revealing prisoners that can be rescued along the way – my vehicle could hold up to three at any one time, and then it was necessary to drop them off at a safe zone before scooping up more.

If I’m going to tell you that Renegade Ops is the best upcoming digital title bang for your buck this season, it’s probably also important to mention the controls, which were just loose enough to allow for some ridiculous spins and jumps, without leaving the frustrating sensation of zero-control other similar titles might have over the years. Speeding along the dirt roadways and slamming into buildings not only lessened any anxiety I’d previously had about the controls, but also revealed the level of detail Avalanche Studios has crammed into the title – from exploding units and buildings to simple pleasures such as a flock of birds flying over the jungle.

When the pressure of enemy units intensified, I was even able to issue a missile strike on the area. Add 4-player co-op that allows every unit to bring unique abilities to the combat and create a team environment, and you’re short on reasons not to check this title out when it hits XBLA and PSN this September.

X11 Toronto
Batman: Arkham City

Sitting down for some hands-on time with the dark knight wasn’t likely to yield any new insights, particularly because the demo on display was from this year’s E3 showing – but some guilty pleasures must be satisfied, and the chance to swing over the rooftops of Gotham’s extended urban prison was a beckoning Siren that defied resistance.

Saving Catwoman from Harvey’s coin-flip left me thinking more about the culture of Gotham’s walled off city prison, and the way Batman feels like an outsider within this space where super villains deal and plot against one another – lending plenty of opportunity for this sequel to once again revel in the rich content of the franchise. Aside from delivering a memorable and fulfilling experience, 2009’s Arkham Asylum fed a desire to learn more about the world of Batman through the sadly rare act of appreciating the wealth of content available for a videogame, and the next installment shows every sign of continuing to raise the bar in that department along with expansive new environments to play with all of those “wonderful toys” Batman never seems short of.

Arkham City releases for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC October 18th.

X11 Toronto
Rayman Origins

A definite treat of the day was getting some co-op time with Ubisoft on Rayman Origins. The game is worth more words than I can throw at it – if a picture really is worth a thousand, than a videogame deserves far more, and sadly I lack the vocabulary to do much more than repeat the obvious fact that Rayman is so beautiful to watch and interact with that it surely must be the real reason doves cry.

The new engine Ubisoft created for the game not only seems to make any act possible, but gives it a visual kick that makes every one of those acts as pleasurable to watch as they are to perform. Every move is organic and fluid, swinging from elasticized hands, knocking down walls to hit enemies that ballooned out in response, and leaping from my partner to reach higher ground. This is Ubisoft at their best, feeding the mysticism of French animation that fascinated me as a child and continues on with titles such as this.

Rayman Origins hits the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, and Nintendo 3DS this Fall, with a release on Sony’s new Vita to follow in 2012.

X11 Toronto
The Darkness II

While I couldn’t play this title, watching it wasn’t hard – aside from wanting to grab the controller. Screenshots haven’t really done the graphic noir style of the game justice, but watching serpent limbs grab gun wielding enemies and devour their hearts while tossing them through the air, all while firing bullets into other enemies, well it was hard not to be satisfied with the display.

Killing moves like the wishbone and the anaconda, which find brutal means to dispatch an endless horde of enemies certainly helped as well. The short glance makes it hard to feel out if the environmental play will be as creative as the core, but there’s still plenty of time to keep an eye on this one with the release window hanging back till the early part of 2012.

X11 Toronto
Rise of Nightmares

This is the ultimate guilty pleasure title, hacking away at zombie nurses and french maids, I can’t help liking the degenerate kink at the core of this Kinect powered sensory deprivation experiment. And then I got time to get hands-on, or body-on as it were with the Kinect title. I walked down halls by putting one foot forward, putting it out farther made me move faster, and taking a step back reversed me. Turning with the shoulder could be something that gets tedious, but the game really feels like an ideal twenty-minute blood soaked workout.

Jump in to the mad house, grab a crazy barrage of weapons from brass knuckles to knives to chainsaws, and hold both hands in the air like you’re entering the boxing ring. If I wasn’t striking, that position also allowed me to auto block incoming hits from the undead. Digging through toilets for keys, blocking my ears and kicking at a singing screaming ghoul, good times.

Whether the title offers any long term satisfaction remains to be seen, but we’ll find out soon enough with it hitting Kinect friendly 360’s on September 6th.

X11 Toronto
Radiant Silvergun

Treasure’s legendary shooter sat silently in the corner alongside other XBLA titles, and I devoted some part of my day to directing traffic toward the upcoming digital release whenever possible. I could complain, but I was sincerely happy to simply see it on the show floor.

The single stage demo doesn’t leave a lot to chew on here – the game was fluid, fast, and furious – merciless in the way enemies seemed to keep wrapping around my position as I fired ahead, behind, and took a few sword swings for good measure. Consider this nothing more than your PSA – Radiant Silvergun is coming to XBLA – dig it!

Radiant Silvergun can’t release for XBLA soon enough.

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