Friday, 8 October 2010

Eurogamer Expo - Adventure Gaming hands-on impressions

Over the weekend of the 1st-3rd of October, I attended the Eurogamer Expo at Earl's Court in London. A huge selection of forthcoming and soon to be released games were on show, and that happened to include a few adventure games. I got some hands-on time with these adventuring titles, so check below to read my impressions for each title:

Heavy Rain: Move Edition.

If you read my blog regularly, you probably know I was quite impressed with Heavy Rain - and while it may not have been quite the revolutionary title it was touted to be - it is certainly one of the best adventure games released in recent memory.

With the advent of the PlayStation 3 MOVE control system, David Cage and Quantic Dream took the controversial (and frankly irritating) decision to cancel all future DLC chapters for Heavy Rain, in favour of putting together a MOVE enabled, motion-controlled version of the game. I believe that decision short-changes all of the fans who bought the game, having been promised several new chapters of content. However, that decision aside, here is what I thought after playing through two scenes with motion control. The two scenes I played through were both from early in the game. Firstly, Scott Shelby visiting the apartment of Lauren Winter, culminating in a fight scene. And secondly, in the apartment of Madison Paige - where she is attacked by masked assailants.

Both of these scenes contain a good mix of casual, free exploring and interaction, and of intense, fast-paced action sequences. So these were good examples to show of the full range of MOVE abilities. Now whilst I did find that some of the motions required were too sensitive, or required too broad a range of motion - I have been told that full calibration of the system and sensitivity adjustment is available - which should eliminate these factors. That said, I think the addition of motion control to the game is very well implemented. It feels natural that the actions - previously carried out with the analog sticks - is now transferred to gestures. The original controls were always based around simulated gestures anyway, so the new system fits perfectly into the game experience. It actually felt more engrossing, and more intuitive. For example, repeatedly pressing X to escape an assailant means nothing, whereas shaking your arms to try and free yourself makes sense with the experience we might have in reality. These factors make the game a better overall package - and is probably closer to what was intended when the game was first pitched.

The only really issue I had with the modified game was the conversation system. Gone are the floaty, nervous, circling conversation options - that slowly fade the longer you take - which used to give the feel of added pressure and tension. Now, conversations and thoughts are much more static, as the selection system involves pointing at the option you want to choose before clicking it. This does minimise the pressure which used to be created in these situations, and I feel is a real minus in terms of atmosphere.

Professor Layton & the Lost Future.

There is not a lot that I can say about this wildly popular adventure series. Most people will know about the adventures of the Professor and his sidekick Luke - and many will have enjoyed his lite-adventures, filled with puzzles and brainteasers.

It's safe to say that this latest outing offers much more of the same, albeit with a little more polish. Cutscene animations for example are more plentiful, and of a higher standard than previously - with very amusing voiceover work through. If you managed to watch the Anime: Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva, you will know what to expect as the cutscenes are of a really similar quality.

In terms of gameplay, there are some sections which implement a new sleuth-like system, where you can navigate a room - turning to view all sides of the room, looking for clues. This all still works very much in the same touch-screen way as the regular navigation however, and it all feels very familiar. Puzzles are harder in general I thought, but this may have just been a reflection of what stage of the game I was playing through. Overall the title seems like only a small step forward, but surely a hit with fans of the franchise.

Last Window: The Secret of Cape West.

Finally, the last adventure game on show was the sequel to 2007 sleeper hit Hotel Dusk, from developer Cing. Unfortunately, it seems like this may well be the final game from Cing, as the company filed for bankruptcy following the Japanese release of the game.

Like Professor Layton, this game carries on in an almost identical way to its predecessor, in that the control system and gameplay is very much the same. There is the addition of an IGNORE feature, which allows the player to ignore lines of questioning they feel will not be useful for the case - at the risk of missing vital information which could lead to an early game over - so it is a gamble, knowing when to use the feature and when not to. Additionally, an in-game novel feature has been added, where - after completing a chapter of playthrough - you can read a chapter of the Last Window novel, which both complements and expands upon what you have already learnt in the game, and the outcomes of the novel are influenced directly by your in-game decision-making.

These new features are, however, quite minor on the face of it all, with the game feeling very similar to the prequel. An issue I found with the first game, that still remains is the annoying length of some of the conversations. Compare this to another game, which many have criticised for being conversation heavy - Broken Sword. Now I never found conversations an issue in Broken Sword. They were always entertaining and useful for story progression. Other critics hated their length though. In Last Window, the conversations can last for what seems a lifetime though! I think the main problem is they contain a lot of useless information which doesn't push the story forward and makes them drag. This is a real issue with pacing, and everytime I discovered a new character, I was reluctant to speak with them as I felt it would go on too long and I wanted to be exploring more. That said - the interrogation system is still great, and there is a lot of fun to be had here. Cing could have done with just leaving out some of the extraneous lines of dialogue, that fall between the useful ones.

So, there wasn't a lot of adventure game representation at the Eurogamer Expo - but some promising signs, as a console-heavy show could carry a few heavyweight adventure titles that have done well in the charts. Here is hoping to even more next year.

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