At Penny Arcade Expo 2009, much of the focus was obviously on the huge triple A titles like Splinter Cell: Conviction and Halo 3: ODST. However, today's games market is enormous and varied, and we tried to get around the show floor and to the panels as much as possible. Here are some first impressions of three more of the games we saw at the show.

Red Dead Redemption (PS3, Xbox360)

In a cozy theater carved out of the Rockstar booth at Penny Arcade Expo 2009, the groundbreaking developer previewed a few minutes of their upcoming open-world western sequel Red Dead Redemption. Since the original, Red Dead Revolver, the scene has shifted to the year 1910 and new protagonist John Marston has left his life as a bandit behind and settled down. Until “The Bureau,” the predecessor to the FBI, blackmails him for his help tracking down his old compatriots. Retuning from the previous game is the “Dead Eye” mechanic, a bullet-time like maneuver where you can paint your targets, Panzer Dragoon style, then unleash a flurry of deadly shots.

The demo has John and a few allies fighting though a botched hostage exchange in a parched ghost town. After taking cover, using Dead Eye to kill five men at a time, and countering the remaining enemy’s attempt to flank, all that was left were dead bides. The presenter then described that bodies will persist for some time and attract vultures, just part of the game’s ecosystem, which includes animals like dogs, snakes, deer and antelope. In particular, animals like the deer and the antelope, while there is no word if they get to play, can be hunted, tapped and skinned for their valuable pelts.

Now on horseback, riding through the scrublands, it was reported that there will be three large open world areas, the frontier, Colorado, and Mexico, each with their own unique caricature and combined will be “much bigger” than GTA4’s Liberty City. While the horse is the primary conveyance, one that will allow for random encounters, there will be trains, stagecoaches and steamships for faster travel. The side mission will help you define your character on a good/evil scale.

Red Dead Redemption is set for a first half 2010 release, and yes, you can shoot the horses.

Brink PC, Xbox360, PS3

Previewed in an ‘open air” theater in the center of the Penny Arcade Expo 2009 show floor, Splash Damage and Bethesda previewed Brink, a game that seeks to redefine the phrase “hybrid FPS.”  In the not too distant future a state of the art floating city, The Ark, is a self-contained world unto itself; until it loses contact with the rest of the world.  A flood of refugees and mechanical failures have pushed The Ark to the brink of civil war between the two playable factions, the rebellion and Ark Security.

For the producer-led demo, character creation was said to incorporate directly into game play.  A larger, bulky character can take more damage, while a more lithe design will be faster and sneakier.  Armor, tattoos and face paint can be altered and more design options will open up with gameplay.   The game itself incorporates a ‘fluidity of movement’ option, that is, when pointing the camera and holding a certain button your character will move around it in one motion. For example, looking slightly down when approaching a barricade will cause you to slide under it, when looking over it will cause you to jump it, each without any onscreen prompting.

In missions, for each side of the campaign mode’s story, you can choose your character’s class from a list of the standard FPS archetypes (heavy, stealth, engineer, etc), but that class can also be changed on the fly either by finding computer terminals or spending XP.  Earning that XP comes from not only killing the enemy but by completing mission goals that you can also select on the fly during the mission according to your preferred play style.  For example in the demo the player started as a standard assault class, but switched to stealth so he could complete a optional capture and interrogation side mission (for this the player’s iPhone like PDA changed into a stun gun in a move that elicited laughs, and probably inspired a few app designers), that he accepted from an ring menu of side-missions. The producer running the demo then announced that two of his fellows has just joined the game in progress and that up to eight people could play the campaign in co-op in the same manner.

What looks like a dash of Bioshock, Mirror’s Edge and Team Fortress 2, Brink will be released in the Spring of 2010.

Split/Second PC, Xbox360, PS3

Almost to scale with the Marvel Comics buyout, Disney (under the banner of Disney Interactive with Blackrock Entertainment) this time caught gamers who hadn't attended E3 by surprise this past weekend at the Penny Arcade Expo 2009 with a demo of their upcoming racer, Split Second

Taking obvious cues from EA's classic Burnout franchise, Split Second puts a first place finish dependent on staying in one piece; causing your competitors to crash works just as well, or better, than being the fastest.  However, the switch up is in how crashes are triggered, as you perform drafts, drifts and passes you build up a three tiered ‘Showtime’ meter, displayed with your ranking and lap count as your only on-screen display hovering along your rear bumper, that will allow you to trigger not only shortcuts and jumps, but most importantly, environmental obstacles along the course. 

In the demo, triggering these events on a race taking place around a busy airport caused radar dishes to topple off towers and bound across the race track, a helicopter to drop a fuel container causing a car flinging explosion and in the biggest event, a cargo plane crash-landing in the opposite direction of the race, forcing drivers to risk squeezing into a narrow path between the fuselage and a burning engine to get through.  Since each event is player triggered and depends on race performance, there is no set sequence, creating the possibility of unique variations of a race on the same course.  It should also not go without mentioning that each crash, both vehicular and environmental, produces a shower of particle effects and the track demoed is chock full of detail, whizzing by at pace that delvers a real sense of speed. 

The full game, set for release in the first quarter of 2010 for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 promises not only more tracks and cars, but a potentially interesting plot framing the action as part of a realty TV series and some multiplayer options as well.

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