Yesterday afternoon I got back from the Games Convention in Leipzig. I was so tired I went to bed at 9 PM, despite having woken up at 9 AM that day and not having done anything except travel.
It was a good trip. It all went very smooth despite the last minute arrangements. I met pretty much everyone I wanted to meet plus quite a few new people. Just like last year, the Games Convention turned out to be a good way to catch up with old friends from Germany and, as it turned out, from France and the US and Austria as well. It beats flying to California! Professionally it was also a success.
There are 3 big halls at the Games Convention filled with the latest games. I went in there around noon on Wednesday, and was done about 3 hours laters. People who know me in person may know that I can be very... efficient in my judgment of games. Here are my impressions, based on walking around in noisy halls and picking up a controller here and there:
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (PS3) Meh. I think maybe the monitors were badly adjusted - in any case, some of the rock textures had a very strange contrast to them that I found a bit distracting. It seemed to play much like Tomb Raider. Tilting the controller to balance your character while walking over a log didn't work for me - I think I focussed on the icon, which conveys no information, rather than on the character. I kept falling off and having to jump back on. Nice water though.
The Settlers (PC) Did I see the expansion? Settlers 5? Settlers 6? Dunno. I thought the ghosting behind the houses was a bit too prominent - I literally thought they were ghosts at first. And the face of the guide character in the bottom left is a bit too symmetrical for my taste, plus his expression is so neutral. Overall it looked great though.
Lair (PS3) It looked pretty good, although it would probably look better in a living room. Trade shows often force you to play 50 centimeters from the screen, and then you start noticing the terrain tesselation algorithms and other tricks. I didn't really get a feel for the game at all, I just flew around for a while and breathed fire. No clue what I was supposed to be doing.
Tomb Raider Anniversary (X360) It looked pretty much like what I expected. Can't wait for it to come out.
The Simpsons game (Xbox 360) Meh. It looked OK except the characters were a bit zombie-esque. I had no real clue what to do - trade shows just aren't the right way to judge some games. In one level, Homer can change into a big blob. I initially thought it was a Katamari Damacy reference but I guess it isn't, you just change shape and get one new move.
Skate (Platform unknown, I refused to click more than once on the official page to find out - if you can't put vital information on your website, you don't deserve my attention. I played it on some next-gen platform.) It looked real good, but despite extensive play of Tony Hawk 2, 3 and 4 I couldn't get my skater to do anything apart from moving faster or slower. I tried every button combination I could think of.
Heavenly Sword (PS3) It looks very nice. Combat was confusing, I was never sure if I'd killed an enemy or not. I was in a room filled with a dozen enemies and the goal was to get out. So I ran out onto a bridge and nobody followed me... That felt very not-next-gen. Then I had to play a sub-game where you have to throw a shield off of one object onto another object. The controls were pretty fiddly ("Press a button to take the shield, then release, then press the button and again and hold it so you can control the shield's path by tilting the controller"). I gave up after about ten attempts.
Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction (PS3) It felt like other Ratchet & Clank games. I never really got into Ratchet & Clank. Nice visual design on the backgrounds though.
Gran Turismo HD (PS3) It looked awesome as always. I didn't play it.
Kane & Lynch I had severe flashbacks to Hitman: the trailer and the characters looked interesting, but when I saw it in action I was not so sure anymore. (I still can't believe why anyone likes Hitman: Blood Money - the demo on Xbox 360 was the worst thing I've played in years. But that's another post.)
MySims (Wii) I thought the controls were fiddly (although that may just be me having little experience with the Wii) and the loading times were long. The characters were super cute though. I wasn't sure what I had to do, despite the scantily clad EA personnel trying to help me.
Super Mario Galaxy (Wii) I didn't play it, but it looked fun.
World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King (PC) I stood in line for about 10 minutes. I sat down on the Horde side, so a Blizzard person had to relog me so I could play as an Alliance druid. I started off as a level 70 druid in Auberdine, waiting for a magical boat to Northrend. I was wearing pretty good blue moonkin gear, with complete sets of feral and resto gear in my bags. So I equipped feral gear and used my 63 (!) talent points to spec feral. Good thing I know my spec by heart. Then I filled my action bars (!! - apparently the first time anyone logs into a demo character, the action bars are empty) with abilities. Then the 10 minutes were over. D'oh! I did get to see Northrend, which looked very nice. I really only stood in line so I could brag to my guild (just like last year :D).
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed I stood in line for about 20 minutes to watch a video presentation of this and Fracture, which is odd as the video felt about 5 minutes long. The trailer for the game was cool. The "Making Of" video was funny for the moment when the team sends a memo with a storyline proposal to George Lucas, and then everyone is waiting with bated breath for his reply. Waiting around the fax machine. Then we see the fax: It contains multiple-choice questions for Mr. Lucas ("Can Leia do...? [x] Yes / [ ] No") and completely illegible comments scrawled in the margins (Voice-over from producer: "George gave us great feedback"). Interpreting the gnomic utterances of Important People... brrrr.
Fracture A nice-looking Halo clone where you can deform the landscape. Very cinematic, in a good way. Having said that, it wasn't worth the back-ache I developed while standing in line. (The best thing at the entire Games Convention was the masseuse Gamecock brought along... I had a nice massage after seeing the LucasArts videos.)
Totems Last but not least I got to see an early build of Totems (I'd link to the official 10Tacle site except their Totems page doesn't seem to be working right now. D'oh!). Totems is being developed by 10tacle Belgium. Stéphane Bura, their creative director, is an old friend of mine, which is why I was able to sneak into the 10tacle booth and see the game. It's looking very good, and I know because Stéphane is involved that it has a lot more depth than can be seen just from running around. (Of course I secretly resent Stéphane for hiring a metric ton of great consultants to work on the game's story, setting and visuals, including some people I've been wanting to work with for ages shakes fist)
I also somehow found the time to read Ellen Kushner's Privilege of the Sword during the trip. I suppose it should be called a fantasy book, but only because it's set in a fictional historical city - it contains no magic or non-humans. I highly recommend it, even if the ending is a bit disappointing. Obviously I liked it a lot if I am mentioning it in a post about something completely different...
Update: I also saw Haze. Looked like a shooter to me.