We see a lot of games previewed throughout the year. At the recent PAX Prime in Seattle, there were many games we got a brief demo or hands-on experience with, but not enough time to fill its own spotlight report. This roundup covers that nicely.
This Roman Empire era Xbox One exclusive launch title showed off a new co-op mode at the Penny Arcade Expo 2013 that pits you and a buddy in a fight for your life on the floor of a gladiatorial arena. Taking a page from the real history of gladiatorial combat, the richly decorated arena features a changeable floor that adds or removes traps and obstacles. On display in the demo were two such layouts: a simulated forest and a more traditional arena littered with spikes and traps. Combat is a usual two button affair, augmented by a shield, throwing spears you can pick up out of corpses on the floor and brutal finishing moves. Teamwork is essential as you and a buddy take on waves of other gladiators, together you can keep from getting overwhelmed, pull aggro and flank enemies or revive a fallen ally. How this mode fits into the game's story mode is unknown but it should provide plenty of online play for a young system.
The most highly anticipated title for the Xbox One (though unfortunately not a launch title - you have to wait for early 2014 for this one) is this multi-tiered multiplayer FPS that features giant mecha and fleet-footed human 'pilots' doing battle at a frenetic pace. In the demoed “Attrition Mode,” two teams of human players were augments by a legion of AI controlled grunts to fill a detailed cityscape of buildings and alleyways with combat. Before launching into battle, each player selects one of (so far) three loadouts for themselves on foot and then they select from one of three types of Titan mechas they can call down to wreak havoc. The battle was a points race and on foot each pilot is given a fighting chance against both human and titan with a three weapon loadout, two for humans and a special heavy weapon that is effective against any giant robots looking to step on you. Pilots also have quickly regenerating jump jets that give them tremendous leaping ability, putting them on top of buildings quickly for a better vantage point. These jets also let them wall run/jump making navigation a breeze. Once an onscreen counter reaches zero (a counter that can be sped up with good on-foot combat performance) a pilot can call down their titan, letting players crush puny humans and battle other mechs for as long as their machines can still operate. Take too much damage and you'll have to pull the cord and eject, putting you right back into the battle on foot. When the battle's over, the losing team will have a chance to salvage some dignity and attempt to sneak/frantically flee to their evac point, denying the hunting victors a little satisfaction.
Fantasia: Music Evolved
You are the new Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Fantasia: Music Evolved, and thankfully not the one from that Nick Cage movie a few years back. Described as the true realization of Walt Disney's vision for the original Fantasia as an every evolving/revolving showcase for music and animation this Xbox One Kinect game tasks you in its campaign mode to bring life back to a number of environments via the magic of motion and music. On display for the first time at PAX Prime 2013 was the new “Haven” level, a snowy forest-scape that you need to wave your arms to control The Conduit, a magical orb that draws power from the reviving landscape. As the Kinect follows you and your arms around the area from a parallax-scrolling-like perspective you unlock songs a series of songs that will turn the dark forest into a bright and lively scene. The core gameplay was demoed using a unique recoding of Vivadi's “Winter” (aka Concerto No. 4 in F minor, Op. 8, RV 297) by the London Symphony Orchestra, the player steps into the role of the conductor, waving his or her arms in time with the music, but not only with a particular beat but augmenting the move with a conductor-like swipe. Breaking up this action is the occasional free-play space using different musical 'toys' like a harpsichord you control with the motion of both of your hands or a circle where you can 'draw' a guitar part. Expanding the musical experience, each song of the over thirty planned comes with remixes in different styles (dubstep Vivaldi is something that needs to be heard.)
Ubisoft's very highly anticipated open-world cyber-secrutiy adventure title showed off their mobile connectivity inside a small theater on the PAX Prime show floor. Using a tablet device (of Windows make to be exact) the mobile player sent a request via the Watch Dogs app to her friend who was between missions on the console version. The challenge was a checkpoint race, the console player has to reach a series of points before time runs out and the mobile player gets to use her overhead map of Chicago to try and stop him using the city as her weapon. As the console player jacked a car, the mobile player tracked him down by directing a police helicopter, she also arranged for police cars to give chase, to change stoplights ahead of him to block the road, fire off traffic management pylons and even blow open steam vents in the street, launching the console player's car into the air when a manhole cover gets blown off under him. No matter how the challenge turns out, both players will be rewarded for participating, and though it wasn't announced, there appeared to be more modes that can be played across platforms as well.
The indie scene stealer from Sony's E3 presentation was playable at PAX in its primary online 2v2 multiplayer mode (1v1, 4v4 and 8 player free-for-all is also available). A twin-stick isomeric shooter, Secret Ponchos combines action and strategy as each of the six playable character comes with a pair of weapons that vary in range, firing speed, firing mode, bullet spread and ammo count. These factors make each fight a challenging 'dance' of closing in at just the right angle, aiming, attacking and then escaping before being hit themselves. When the guns go silent, the developers described that the scoring system is based on how much the bounty on your head is, a bounty that can then be bet against other real-world player's adding a element of risk to leaderboards.
XCOM: Enemy Within
An expansion that's too big to be downloaded into the console version of the smash remake XCOM: Enemy Unknown (though the PC version can apparently handle it) this standalone combined release adds a new set of weapons and biological powers to the game. Stepped through them one at a time by the developer at the controls, an XCOM team lands on the first of dozens of new maps; the top of a hydroelectric dam. Appearing to be at a disadvantage, the team turns the tide using their genetic modifications. A sniper reaches an unclimbable vantage point thanks to enhanced muscles, an assault trooper repels a psychic attack with force thanks to his neural feedback trapped brain. A new needle grenade is used to kill an alien without damaging nearby cover finally a mech riding MEC uses a rocket punch to send enemies flying before charging a new enemy type in a demo ending cutscene: an armored sectoid.
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag's Sea Shanty button is already the Hug Button of 2013, and it was on full display in an off-site, closed door open-sea demo of this highly anticipated mid-quel of the Assassin's Creed series. Given a few minutes to sail the waters of the Caribbean with a band of song-ready pirates players were spoilt for choice for what to try out. Hunting down a small gunboat foolishly sailing alone, player character Edward Kenway's ship, the Jackdaw, was more than a match for it, especially since the navel combat system has been expanded in the new game. New weapons and ammo types are now selectable by the postilion of the game camera in relation to the enemy ship, for example the chain shot cannons are dead ahead, while you can fire mortars from the stern if you are looking that way. If you can disable the ship without destroying it, you can pull it in for boarding. A handy rope for swinging in is always nearby for Kenway to swoop in in the classic Assassin style, but in hand (and confessed by the developers on hand) the difficulty of the combat has been turned up, so players used to wading through legions of Crusaders/Borgia troopers/Redcoats will have their skills tested. Winning the fight will get you supplies and the ship itself which can be added to your fleet and used in the offline/mobile platform 'assignment' mission. Back out in the sea each of the 11 sections is protected by a fort and populated by a number of small islands with their own missions and points where you can weigh anchor and dive for treasure underwater. Taking a oxygen-holding diving bell down below the surface you play a 3D game of cat and mouse with the local wildlife, looking out for sharks while keeping an eye on your oxygen meter. Underwater the game is gorgeous and the same kind of movement that is usually found on the surface in AC games is present in a form underwater as Edward can push off reefs and stones for bursts of speed. There appears to be a lot to do in Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, and just like in the great pirate games of the past, the real toughest part will giving up that special kind of freedom to do the story mode.