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E3 '11: Sega Roundup

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Though I didn't get to spend much time at Sega's booth on the show floor at E3, I did have the chance to see some behind-closed-doors footage their upcoming games. And while I was disappointed to find out that Aliens: Colonial Marines wasn't on the menu, I still came away with new impressions on Sonic Generations, Anarchy Reigns, and Binary Domain.

Sonic Generations was first on my plate, and was definitely the game I was most interested in. While on the show floor there was a playable demo of the re-imagined Green Hill stage, behind closed doors we got to see the new City Escape level inspired by Sonic Adventure 2. We started with the classic Sonic version of the level, which meant it was strictly 2D platforming. And it actually looked pretty good. The level had multiple layers, both in terms of height and paths twisting through the background. Supposedly the background paths are accessible, adding new routes through the classic Sonic levels, but none were actually shown during my demonstration. The level also did an excellent job of incorporating elements from Sonic Adventure 2 into the 2D framework. There was even a skateboard power-up to collect (by breaking a TV, as is classic Sonic tradition) to pay homage to the original City Escape's skateboard sequence, and the truck chasing Sonic through the original level returns to crash through the level and close off certain paths if you don't reach them fast enough.

Next was modern Sonic's stage, and it looked pretty much the same as the original Dreamcast level. There were some aesthetic changes, like spinning blades added to the front of the truck to make it appear more menacing, but even the level layout seemed essentially identical. Whether that's a good or bad thing will depend on how much you enjoyed Sonic Adventure 2. The developers did say that it's possible to play the game 80% in one style or the other, so classic fans don't have to play every modern stage to complete the game and vice versa. Sega also talked briefly about the 3DS version of Sonic Generations, which will feature entirely different levels than the console versions. For the 3DS version, modern Sonic will use the gameplay of the Sonic Rush series, since that is the modern connotation on handhelds.

After Sonic, I got to take a look at Anarchy Reigns by Platinum Games. Though Anarchy Reigns is being billed as a multiplayer online brawler, for the behind closed doors presentation Sega was showing off the single player campaign. And while the multiplayer is packed with characters to choose from, most of whom haven't even been announced yet, the single player only lets you play through the story of Jack (of Mad World fame) and Leo. Since this was a strictly hands-off demonstration, there really isn't much to comment on about the game. Combat seems fairly standard for a button-mashing brawler, with none of the interactive environments of Mad World or the flashy combos of Bayonetta. This is likely necessary to scale the game for online play, but it doesn't make for a particularly convincing single player demo. What little information the developers did divulge was that the campaign is expected to run close to ten hours, and the story has no connection to Mad World despite sharing its lead character. If you're a hardcore brawler fan who wants to play online Anarchy Reigns may still be a solid bet, but it's clear from seeing the single player campaign in action (which isn't co-op by the way) that multiplayer is the game's real focus.

Finally, I got to see Binary Domain, a squad-based third-person shooter in which the entire planet seems to have declared war on Japan for building an evil army of life-like robots. Coming from a Japanese developer, the psychology that motivated the game fascinated me, but the developers didn't want to comment on that. Instead they wanted to show gameplay. From what I saw, trust is the most important gameplay element for your squad. Every squad member has their own level of trust in the player, and this can be changed depending on your actions. For example, if you give a squad member a command and they take significant damage or have to be revived because of it, their trust will deplete and they may not follow all of your instructions in future missions. The AI will also call out and suggest strategies to you, such as flanking routes, which you can accept and build trust depending on your performance. Binary Domain's new wrinkle to all of this is that it can be performed entirely through voice commands with a standard headset. Or at least, in theory it can. The voice commands didn't always register properly in the demo, with the developer finally admitting "sorry, we're still in the alpha stage." When it did work though, the AI response performed well above what is expected of friendly AI, so with some more polish Binary Domain could be a solid shooter when it releases in February next year.

I did manage to get a little time in at the Sega booth, where I felt a need to satisfy my curiosity with Sonic Generations. Unfortunately, I have some bad news for Sonic fans. Either the controller being used at the E3 kiosk was broken, or there is currently a full half-second lag between pressing jump and any action appearing on the screen. This was true of both the 2D classic Sonic levels and the 3D modern Sonic stages. The speed and physics seemed to be much improved from Sonic 4, but I found the game frustrating to play because of that button lag. I want to believe that this is just one faulty demo, so hopefully the final game will get it sorted out.

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