There was, quite simply, too much going on to experience everything, even though media moppets like me were invited in two hours before the general public in order to play and chat with bigwigs in relative peace.
So my story of Day One is as much about what I didn’t get to do as much as what I did. Fortunately, there’s two more days to play catch up.
And I’m exhausted. I’m nowhere near as exhausted as the men and women who put this show together, but I am exhausted enough to waffle. We’ll clean this up for the print version, OK? For now, you’ve got a stream of consciousness thing going. I’ll break this up with subheads so you can skip bits if you want to.
The Ultimate Death-Match: Black Ops 2 v Halo 4
So I didn’t get to try out Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. By the time the hard-working techs had the LAN systems up and running mid-afternoon, there was a huge queue of desperately keen punters waiting to try it, in the stylish, walled-off dedicated gaming room.
In fact, interest in Black Ops 2 was high enough that it made regional XBOX chief Aman Sangar’s statement that “Halo 4 will be the game of the year; anything else will not be what we’ve planned for” seem extremely bold.
Not that Halo 4 looks bad – just the opposite. It looks awesome. Master Chief is back in the saddle for the start of a brand new trilogy, and Sangar assured me in a private chat that despite its rich, detailed history, the new release will remain very much a shooter, the direct descendent of the game that launched the original Xbox into the stratosphere.
But the difference between the numbers queueing up to try Black Ops 2 and Halo 4 was vast. However, a large number of the Black Ops queue looked as if they were still relying on pocket money, and the Halo fans looked as if they might have some cash of their own.
The two games are pretty much going head to head, with Halo 4 out on November 4, and Black Ops following a couple of weeks later. It’s going to be an interesting showdown.
While I’m mentioning Aman Sangar, by the way, he also told me Xbox Live is coming to the UAE “soon”. Yes, we’ve heard that before. Yes, we’re getting a bit fed up of waiting. And you know what? I think Microsoft and Sangar are too. They’re doing their best to work through the red tape. Xbox Live is one of the core aspects of the 360 experience, and they want us to have it as much as we want to have it. Let us be as one with the leaf in the wind. In the meantime, we can frag our friends instead of internet strangers.
And they weren’t the only shooters on show. Speaking personally, I’m hugely excited about the spring launch of the Gears of War prequel, Judgement. I love Gears with a passion bordering on obsession. I haven’t even finished the final chapter of Gears 3 so that there’ll still be a little bit of the game to play. I plan to finish it the week before Judgement comes out, and not before.
PlayStation’s Battle Royale
The Sony crew were having fun. Not only did Sony exec Robert Fisser brandish the new version of the PS3, half the size, with bigger drives, with great gusto – “Announced yesterday and already in the UAE,” he told the press, but Kratos invaded the press conference Q&A to tell the assembled journos they’d better get to the Sony stand ASAP if they wanted their swag.
It was surprising how many left the conference as fast as their little legs would carry them. Those of us who valued games over phat loot stayed.
Sony continued to push the presentation envelope with a mammoth sound system blasting out every few minutes, loud enough to make interviews difficult for our video team. Great showmanship, but it became annoying.
The games Kratos I famous for aren’t available in the UAE, but the deity of war does make an appearance in PlayStation’s All-Star Battle Royale, a pretty cool fighter that pits up heroes from various Sony titles against each other.
And there’s the GT Academy running as well, giving Gran Tourismo players a chance to win real race training and a race round Silverstone.
Passing along a line of games I noticed an unheralded, unsung little shooter. My geek sense was tingling. A discrete little poster beside it read “Aliens Colonial Marines”. My geek sense went into overdrive. I stopped to watch. And yes, it is. The best military SF movie ever made has a video game version coming out.
What I can’t say yet is whether this game has the growing sense of claustrophobia of the movie, the way it plays with the tension, cranking it up and easing it down. If it’s done right, it’ll be tremendous. If it’s a straight shooter, meh.
All I can tell you is that a xenomorph is definitely involved. Yeah, it’s a bughunt (let’s hope it’s so much more).
Mind you, if they get Bill Paxton, Michael Biehn, Jenette Goldstein and Sigourney Weaver to voice this thing, I don’t care if it sucks buckets. I’ll play it and love it. Sadly, there was no sound for passers-by.
You gotta have drive
(DVD inserted; the salvagers are entering Ripley’s lifepod. You know what’s coming as I write the rest of this. This Aliens game has serious expectations to fulfil.)
Forza Horizon has great graphics, but I didn’t try it out. Any regular readers of this column will know that my ability with driving games is more suited to Super Mario Cart than anything even vaguely simulationist – I drive a Toyota Echo, for Pete’s sake.
What I did try my hand at was WWE 13. Picked up a spare pad, hit restart and found myself playing Brock Lesner. Sweet. And I have to say that this year’s instalment is smooth. It flows between moves like a dream, and mistime if you mistime a move you’ll find yourself switching from attacker to defender before you even realise it.
Up on the 26th floor of the Intercontinental Hotel I had a chinwag with WWE star Santino Marella and – while he’s obviously here to promote the game – he tells me it’s as close to being in the ring as a game can get.
Being in the ring, he told me, is about reacting. “You listen to the crowd, you react to the crowd. You react to your opponent. That’s what you do in the game.”
Although he’s pretty retro on the rare occasions he gets to game these days, preferring shooters, particularly Second World War shooters, he says he has occasionally set the console to play rival Stone Cold Steve Austin while he plays himself, and he’s gone in to get some private, virtual payback for the time Austin hit him with a Stone Cold Stunner.
“I’ve done that once or twice,” he said, and grinned the Marella grin. His charm dial was turned up to maximum, and I left that interview feeling I’d just spent time with a genuinely nice guy. I love interviews like that.
The football derby
You know, I feel a little sorry for the Pro Evolution Soccer team. Each year they push the envelope a little further. And each year, FIFA pulls something from the hat.
So this year, Pro Evolution has Total Control. You can choose which of your players you pass to. The game’s smoother and sweeter than ever.
And FIFA has the Saudi Professional League.
And so we remain with Pro Evolution as the master simulationist game and FIFA as the populist one.
Game design master-class
Dubai’s SAE Institute has a stand to push its new bachelor’s degree in game design and production.
Yes, you read that right. You can now study game design at degree level here in Dubai. Lecturer Amir Jahanlou gave us a quick run-down of the course contents – modelling, scripting, design production and scripting. We’ll have more on this in a future column.
There’s more – far more – at GAMES12. I’m about to head in for Day 2. See you there.