As I drove downtown this morning, I reflected on how lucky I am that E3 is in Los Angeles every year. That’s quite considerate of the show’s promoters, considering I live in Hollywood.
I won’t say I was preoccupied with glee at the prospect of heading off to my favorite three days of the year for the fourteenth time, but I drove off after paying for my Meaty Breakfast Burrito at the Jack in the Box Drive-Through window. Before they actually handed me my Meaty Breakfast Burrito.
Fully caffeinated from my Trashcan-Sized Diet Coke and fueled by the aforementioned burrito (of course I went back), I felt quite thrifty and virtuous when I found $5 parking only a couple of blocks away from the Convention Center. (Feeling virtuous isn’t something I get to enjoy all that often).
Check-in was a breeze. It took less than five minutes! It’s almost as if they’ve done this before. I had about an hour to kill before the doors opened and I was quite grateful for the Media Hospitality Room, where I cooled my heels, reviewed my schedule, and saved my strength.
Stunning New Point and Click: 1954 Alcatraz
I’m very excited by Daedalic’s upcoming adventure 1954 Alcatraz. The game was actually developed by Gene Mocsy and sold to Daedalic, who then gave the graphics a complete overhaul.
The game takes place in and around San Francisco. You play as two characters: An inmate of Alcatraz named Joe and his wife Christine. You can switch between the characters at any time.
While Joe has plenty of problems to deal with in the brutal prison, Christine has her own problems as she deals with gangsters who want her to lead them to the money Joe supposedly stole.
A large portion of the game takes place in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco, which in the mid-Fifties was drenched in the Beat culture. The game embraces this cool Beatnik vibe, creating a rich environment that features gay poets, balcony-grown pot (good for bribes!), and even a facsimile of the famous City Lights bookstore.
The graphics are absolutely gorgeous, with rich colors and a slinky, shadow-drenched film noir sensibility.
The presentation is in third person, and the dialog trees work nicely. The game appears to have a rich story with lots of dialog and choices. You can definitely die in the game (we had Joe shank another prisoner just to see what would happen). However, when you die, the game simply returns you to right before you made your fatal mistake, with just a quick load. It’s very forgiving and elegant.
In addition to using marijuana as a bribe, evidently you can also use waffles to bribe other prisoners. This may be a first in adventure gaming.
Oh, and did I mention that the Birdman of Alcatraz is also a character?
I cannot WAIT to get my hands on this game, which will ship before the end of 2013. I really think this game could be food for the tired souls of us long-suffering adventure game fans.
The Return of Thief
The Thief franchise is my favorite game series ever. A quick bit of background: The first and second games were developed by Looking Glass Studios and released in 1998 and 2000. They introduced a stealth style of gameplay that many people, me included, found irresistible. In fact, I would say that the second installment of the series, The Metal Age, is perhaps my favorite game of all time. The third game, Deadly Shadows, developed by Ion Storm and released in 2004, was a mild disappointment.
The upcoming game, a reboot titled simply Thief, is being developed by Eidos Montreal, the team behind the excellent Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
The game’s Narrative Director, Stephen Gallagher, led us through a preview demonstration of a “Pre-Alpha” version of the game.
The first portion took place in a fancy, heavily guarded manor house. The player, playing as master thief Garrett, is tasked with sneaking in and nabbing a rare gem.
My first thought watching the startling PS4 graphics on the giant screen was, I want to jump into the screen right now and play this game.
As always in a Thief game, it’s vital to stay in the shadows where you are nearly invisible. This time around, there are two indicators of how well hidden you are: A darkness that gathers on the edges of the screen, and a small circle near the bottom left of the interface. The darker the circle, the harder to detect you are.
Several of Garrett’s classic specialty arrows return with this game, including arrows that shoot water (to put out torches), rope (for climbing), and fire (for creating mayhem). There’s also a blunt arrow which can be used to cause a distraction or to knock out a guard.
It was thrilling to watch Garrett slink in and out of shadows, pickpocketing the unsuspecting guards, and silently knocking out several of them. This is a game where combat is generally to be avoided!
There’s a new ability called “Focus,” which helps Garrett do all of his sneaky skills better: Important objects pop out in the environment, lockpicking goes faster, pickpocketing is easier, traps and triggers become visible, etc. But you must use Focus judiciously, because it is a pool like mana, and it does not regenerate automatically. You have to consume poppies, which you can purchase or find in the environment, to replenish it.
As you skulk around the mansion you overhear conversations which fill out the story and even can provide valuable clues to completing your missions.
I was happy to see that the interface has some great choices. For example, the default interface shows various indicators over guards heads, indicating their level of alarm. If you want a richer, more immersive game environment, you can turn these visual cues off.
I saw nice touches in the game play that seemed fresh and fun, such as the ability to use peepholes to see into otherwise blocked areas, exploring picture frames with your fingers to search for hidden triggers, and even the ability to simply put out shadow-banishing candles with your fingers.
After the sequence in the manor, Gallagher showed us an absolutely thrilling escape sequence over a vast, burning bridge. You have to navigate the flames and collapsing debris and make it to the other side in one piece.
I’m hoping Eidos Montreal will put my beloved Thief franchise back on track after a ten-year absence.
We’ll have to wait until sometime in 2014 to find out if they succeed!
Coming in the next installment of my E3 2013 Report: Rain, a gorgeous adventure puzzle platformer from the Play Station Network.