THQ Gamers Week 2011 Event|
Written by Charles Boucher
January 21, 2011
Day One: On the first day of the event, THQ opened with a bang. Or, rather, a long series of explosions, as Red Faction: Armageddon was put on display. Following up on Red Faction: Guerilla, 2009ís open world building-destroying tour-de-force, Red Faction: Armageddon takes the adventure underground. While the controls still felt like Guerilla, the changes in Armageddon manage to reshape the entire feel of the game.
Taking place two generations after Guerilla, Armageddon takes place during the end of surface life on Mars, and the awakening of an ancient alien race under the surface that threatens the settlements that the former surface-dwellers retreated to. As the action now takes place mostly in the underground caverns and cities, with the surface rendered largely uninhabitable, the open world of Guerilla has been left behind. Instead, the player navigates more linear levels, with the smaller areas contributing to more elaborate destruction than ever before.
In addition to more typical science fiction weaponry and the classic Red Faction hammer, the magnet gun and nano-forge were both shown off. The magnet gun plays like an amped-up version of Half-Life 2ís gravity gun, with the ability to mark a target, and then mark a second for the initial target to be drawn to. With the ability to send enemies, loose objects, and even chunks of buildings into each other, as well as sending those things slamming into tunnel walls, the magnet gun turned out to be an incredibly fun way to fight through the sample levels we were shown. Still, thereís only so much crap to fling around, and the nano-forge exists to fix that problem. Starting with the unlimited ability to repair destroyed objects, the nano-forge quickly picks up more powers. Though we only saw the ability to fix things and the ability to project a small blast of force on a short cool down, those abilities, together with the magnet gun, allowed an amazingly fluid combat style, magnetizing enemies to fling them into your force blasts, reconstructing walls for cover, and then sending the walls flying back at your enemies.
The Red Faction: Armageddon demo ended with a heavily armed walker section that implies that despite the move away from an open world, weíre not seeing the end of vehicular chaos in Red Faction. It remains to be seen, though, whether the plot and delightful new toys will make up for the sheer joy of jumping a truck off of a cliff and smashing it through the walls of an apartment building.
The next game up for show was MX vs. ATV Alive. Unfortunately, without a playable demo, there were only two really exciting things to take away from the presentation: First, the terrain deformation is nothing short of amazing, with the wheels of bikes churning up the muddy tracks as the race continues, subtly changing the racing lines of the competition as it goes. Secondly, and perhaps more interesting to general audiences, is the announcement that the game will be launching for $40, with frequent free and paid DLC allowing the game to be heavily customized by players. THQ stated this is an experiment to see if they can produce more games this way, and I hope that this means of a la carte content releases and cheaper base games works out in the end.
Finishing the day up was De Blob 2. Available on all the major consoles now, and with 3d TV support, De Blob 2 looks like a major step forward for the franchise. The biggest differences shown were the presence of side-scrolling areas as well as the free-roaming painting that was the core of the game. The game also seems to present more of a challenge than I expected, but it seemed like the demo was from the end of the game. Hopefully, with its charming visual shorts and soundscape, De Blob 2 will end up reaching an even broader audience than the original game.
Day Two: Day two opened strong with a showing of WWE All-Stars, THQís upcoming wrestling game. A hard break from previous wrestling games, All-Stars puts the wrestlers of today against the classics of previous generations, letting the Big Show fight Andre the Giant, or Kofi Kingston against Ricky Steamboat. With its exaggerated, super heroic visuals and high-flying action, All-Stars looks set to be a love letter to modern and classic professional wrestling.
While the demo we saw was fairly limited, with roughly ten fighters and only the gameís exhibition mode ready to be shown, the actual fights are exciting, with free flowing combos, hundreds of moves for each wrestler, drawn from across the length of their careers, and an array of power attacks and finishers providing plenty of depth for the matches.
While the full array of wrestlers hasnít been announced yet, and the create-a-wrestler mode hasnít been seen, they announced and explained the differences between classes, with the durable big-men, high-flying acrobats, brutal brawlers, and the grapplers that keep their opponent locked in a seemingly-endless series of slams, tosses, and suplexes. With each class having their own mechanics, and each wrestler having their own variations within the class, the gameís simple, arcade-style mechanics are balanced by the depth and variety within the roster of fighters.
Still, with the excitement of WWE All-Stars dying down, THQ dropped another bomb that nobody quite expected by bringing Stacking down to the main stage. The new Double-Fine game, led by art director Lee Petty, marks a brilliant return to adventure gaming, and was one of the sleeper hits of the show, with it being hard to find a moment when it wasnít being played on every station it was available on.
Putting players in the shoes of Charlie Blackmore, the worldís smallest Russian stacking doll, Stacking tasks players with exploring the world, inhabiting larger dolls by stacking inside of them, and solving puzzles or causing mischief by using the unique powers each doll possesses in order to rescue Charlieís family from the clutches of The Baron, an evil industrialist thatís pressed Charlieís unfortunate family into indentured servitude.
With a style influenced by dioramas, silent films, and the Victorian era, and puzzles that can be solved numerous ways and reward experimentation, Stacking looks to be a brilliant, stylish, fun adventure game for casual players and long-time adventure junkies. Speaking only for myself, it might be Double Fineís most exciting game since Psychonauts, and perhaps the most enchanting game that THQ featured on the main stage for the length of the event.
Also featured on the sidelines of the event, though it never got down to the main stage, was a new You Donít Know Jack title, featuring dozens of episodes and the voice talents of Cookie Masterson. While I only played a few rounds, it looks like both same-room and online play is available, though with set episodes, itís a bit of a question of how long it takes before the competitive crowd memorizes the solutions. Hopefully weekly challenges or some form of DLC will keep it fresh, but itís been so long since a proper You Donít Know Jack game that Iím perfectly willing to take what I can get.
Day Three: The final day of the event was all about Homefront. With the gameís release looming on the horizon, and Kaos Studios in residence, a new addition to the multiplayer mode was announced. The lucky journalists there were among the first to try out the new Battle Commander mode, a feature of the deathmatch and ground control battles that adds an AI into the mix, which watches player progress and gives them goals and rewards as they excel during a battle, as well as assigning enemy soldiers to hunt down the players who really excel.
After the event, I couldnít help but feel a little bit of disappointment about the Battle Commander. The AI would only give orders to do more of what a player was already doing, with scouting missions leading into more scouting, and kill streaks leading into more killing. However, the system is still in the works, and the ability to assign missions that help a team win more directly, such as capturing or defending control points, might still be in the works.
And, complaining aside, in the middle of the match, the battle commander helped raise the stakes and the tension of combat to an even higher degree than the already-impressive ground control mode provided. While it would only follow up my killstreaks by telling me to kill more, faster, and harder, that didnít make me feel like any less of a badass when I was told that my murder-mission was complete, that I had been awarded a flak jacket, and that there were now four soldiers hunting me down. Even with the slight letdown of what it could have been, the Battle Commander as-is introduces a great system of incentives. While there are some rough spots when it comes to dealing with drones, which now slowly run out of batteries, and whose streaks eventually break, or vehicle rewards, which applies shorter EMP times to air vehicles that, if disabled, are dead regardless, thereís still some time to patch it all up before it heads out the door, and even with the rough spots in, it still provides a sharp, fast-paced huge multiplayer experience that kept my pulse racing.
To cool down, I tried out Dawn of War II: Retribution, the new standalone expansion to Relicís terrific real time strategy juggernaut. Taking players back to sub-sector Aurelia, where the heresy of the Blood Ravens is about to doom an entire swath of planets to being purged, the new expansion gives players unprecedented choice in the single-player campaign by allowing play as any of the races featured in the game.
Between the Space Marines, Orks, Tyranids, Eldar, Chaos and Imperial Guard, each race gets their own storyline that shows one view of the events unfolding in the sub-sector. While I only got the chance to play the first few missions of the Ork and Tyranid campaigns, the tone of the storytelling fit both races tightly, and though the maps were the same, the missions were varied between races.
The newest addition to the game, the Imperial Guard, features a trio of new commanders, with the brutal Comissar slaying enemy and ally alike to inspire fear, the psionic Inquisitor with a vast array of warp-feulled attacks, and the Lord General, who can build up an entourage of soldiers and buff nearby units in a wide variety of ways. True to their nature in previous Dawn of War games, the Imperial Guard can crush the enemy with their weight of numbers, lock down areas with heavy strategic defenses, and build some of the most devastating vehicles on the field, including the tremendous Baneblade superheavy tank.
I went into the event only expecting to care for a few of the games shown, but by the end, I was pretty thoroughly pumped. The event seemed like THQís declaration that they were ready to join the major leagues, and, if not take down behemoths like Activision and EA, at least have their games in the same arena. After what I saw over the course of the week, I was convinced that theyíve got a pretty good shot.
Red Faction: Armageddon Screens
MX vs. ATV Alive Screens
WWE All-Stars Screens
You Don't Know Jack Screens
Dawn of War II: Retribution Screens