Readers of the blog likely know (or have been able to infer) that I am a huge gamer. This past Saturday and Sunday, another personal goal of mine came true - I was finally able to attend the Tokyo Game Show (hereafter TGS)!
This year's TGS was held at the Makuhari Messe Convention Center in Chiba City. It was open to the public this past Saturday and Sunday, with two business-specific days before then. The great thing about TGS is that it is an event for gamers. All of the major Japanese developers are present (except Nintendo), and each company designs a main booth and demo stations to let gamers try out the latest software.
Let's get one thing out of the way first, TGS is CROWDED! The thousands and thousands of people present are a testament to the fact that gaming is alive and well in Japan (and abroad!). Just walking from one end of the hall to the other was incredibly difficult. Sometimes you were smashed face-to-neck with people. That's part of the fun though. Even waiting in line gave you a great chance to chat with fellow gamers.
Photos and videos were technically forbidden throughout TGS. They have signs up everywhere and staff members would stop you if they saw you snapping pictures. Needless to say, I managed to snap quite a few undetected.
Overall, the event atmosphere felt a lot like a visit to Disneyland. Each company booth had long queues to play the latest games. They would even write the wait time on a little dry-erase board. Where was my Fast Pass!? Due to the long wait times, you can expect to play 5 - 6 AAA games per day at TGS. I played 11 games in total.
Here's a list of the games I played during the show with my brief impressions. Most of the games were still in development, so a lot can change before the ship date.
Assassin's Creed 2 (PS3 / 360)
I never played the first AC, but I knew what to expect going in. The animation was fluid and the graphics were beautiful. I actually enjoyed climbing around the city more than I did fighting the bad guys. I didn't have enough playtime to carry out the assassination.
VERDICT: Beautiful game with slow pacing.
Bayonetta (PS3 / 360)
This is the "Sarah Palin" game I joke about below. A Sega action game that's 1/2 God of War, 1/2 Devil May Cry. The main character is a witch, and her clothes fall off as her magic gauge empties. "But, I've seen everything!" The imaginative character and creature designs were the strong point. The actual gameplay felt a bit shallow. I was pulling of crazy combos by just mashing buttons.
VERDICT: Sorry Palin...Stick with GoW III.
Biohazzard: The Darkside Chronicles (Wii)
An on-rails first-person shooter for Wii. This could easily be mistaken for the latest House of the Dead. I played co-op with a Capcom staffer. She had the demo memorized and was able to point out where all the herbs and weapon upgrades were. I thought the game was fun enough, but perhaps a tad on the easy side. The graphics didn't seem quite up to par with RE4 on GC, which I found a bit strange.
VERDICT: Shallow shooting fun for a group of friends.
Final Fantasy XIII (in Japan, only on PS3)
The only FF game I've played is VII, so I don't know if I'm the best to judge how the game was. I much prefer real-time action RPGs (ala Kingdom Hearts) to turn-based ones. That being said, since your party characters move around as they attack, the new battle system feels quite dynamic, almost like they could have made it real-time. The graphics are also super beautiful. Square Enix has almost created gameplay footage that looks as good as the CG.
VERDICT: I want to just watch the cut-scenes.
God of War III (PS3)
I'm not a die hard fan, but I am a GoW fan. Having played both I and II on PS2, GoW III felt identical to the earlier games in terms of controls and gameplay. The only real difference I saw was that the graphics are now super hi-res. The animation was also silky smooth with 0 slowdown.
VERDICT: More of the same if you love GoW!
Gran Turismo 5 (PS3)
The graphics are beautiful and the cars are all there. I played GT5 in a racing cage with a force-feedback wheel and pedals. Rather than race, I fooled around with the car. Vehicle damage was fully implemented in this version. It's a bit depressing to see the beautiful cars all smashed up. Also, certain environmental elements (tire stacks / barriers) now interact with your car and go flying if you hit them.
VERDICT: The racing game to own!
Heavy Rain (PS3)
The next cinematic game from the makers of Indigo Prophecy (PS2 / Xbox). This was my must-play game of the show. I thought this game was just too cool for words. The control scheme is super strange at first (R2 to move the character, left analog to move the head, right analog to do onscreen actions), but you quickly get used to it. The character models, animation, and environments were all dripping with atmosphere. It felt like playing a videogame version of Se7en.
VERDICT: Watch out for this one!
Lost Planet 2 (PS3 / 360)
A 180 degree shift from LP1. This game seems like a cross between Gears of War and Monster Hunter. I played 4 on 4 team death match with some Japanese gamers. My team lost. There was a cooperative campaign too, where you worked with your team to kill a giant creature. Everything from the bulky marines to the nausea inducing "dash run" seemed ripped straight from Gears. The graphics were really pretty though. I especially liked the texture work on the monster. Lesson learned: in death match, just chuck grenades non-stop.
VERDICT: Is this just a Gears of War clone?
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (PSP)
Graphics are almost equal to Snake Eater on PS2. I skipped the intro cutscene because I only had 15 minutes to play ;). The game is still quite early in development. The demo mission was a basic sneaking tutorial on a beach / jungle - I beat it easily. The main change is a completely new control scheme. The analog stick moves Snake, L-button to aim, and R-button to shoot. However, when you hit aim, the four face buttons now act as a second analog stick. So to move the target reticule, you have to tap triangle, circle, X, and square.
VERDICT: Controls will take some getting used to. Classic MGS feel.
Red Steel 2 (Wii)
My first opportunity to play with the new Wii Motion Plus attachment. Never played the first RS. My initial impression was, "Man, the cell-shaded graphics look slick". The game really does look great on Wii. The gunplay was spot-on. I was able to pull of head-shots with no problem thanks to the added accuracy of Motion Plus. However, once the katana appeared, things started to get a bit wonky. The game recognized basic horizontal and vertical slashes, but it was nowhere near 1:1 tracking as advertised. I resorted to swinging my arm wildly to kill the boss.
VERDICT: Good first effort for Motion Plus. Swordplay has a way to go.
Uncharted 2 (PS3)
Loved the first Uncharted (cept for the creatures at the end). This one seems like more of everything: more explosions, more gunfights, more puzzles. The graphics and animations are top-notch. The voice acting and environments are all incredibly realistic. This was one of the best looking games on the floor in motion. Feels like playing an action movie. I had fun.
VERDICT: More of the same gameplay. A great AAA title.
GAME OF THE SHOW
My game of the show was Heavy Rain for PS3. If you've played Indigo Prophecy, you have a good approximation for how the gaming experience will be. Thus, this game may not appeal to everyone, due to the unconventional control scheme and the fact that the gameplay emphasis is put on cinematic QTEs and environment exploration.
However, I found the atmosphere, character models, and pacing to be top notch. Here is a game that simply makes you believe that you are in a suspense-thriller movie.
My gameplay demo was of a scene called "Robbery". I played this scene twice. You're an off-duty detective who enters a convenience store to ask some questions about the origami killer. During your visit, a robbery occurs.
The scene can play out in a few ways. The store clerk initially refuses to tell you anything and you go off to get some asthma medicine. Once the robber comes in, you have some choices. If you do nothing, the robber will shoot the store clerk and escape with the cash. As he dies, the clerk points you to a box under the register.
If you sneak around and work up your courage by talking yourself through it (L2 brings up the character's inner thoughts), you can find a wine bottle and clobber the robber. This results in the clerk being spared and you are able to persuade him to talk.
Even from just this short demo, it's easy to see how open-ended the gameplay will be. It's also a bit intimidating to know that the story will continue forward no matter what decisions you make (even, for instance, if a main character dies). Every gamers' individual experience will likely be different. This is truly a choose-your-own-adventure style game. I'm excited to play more!
K, that's my report from TGS 2009.
Happy gaming everyone!