Between angering the Mega Man mob, rebooting Devil May Cry, and weighing down Street Fighter X Tekken with a bunch of annoying business maneuvers, Capcom's been getting sort of smacked around lately. They've become sort of a tragic tale along the way, too, releasing games that come very close to being terrific but end up getting held back by something that, on the surface anyway, seems like it could have been avoided. And, as if to add insult to injury, the company forgot how to spell, sliding a whole bunch of typos onto boxes and into trailers that make the company look pretty foolish. What the heck is going on over there?
With all of that fresh in my mind, I was especially interested in seeing what the company would show at its annual media event this year. This time around, the company flew writers and camera people from around the world to Rome. Yeah, the one in Italy. For a minute I was concerned that they were going to announce a sequel to Shadow of Rome. Then I got all hopeful that maybe the next Dino Crisis would have an Italian flair. Or... I don't know, maybe they'd finally make a sequel to Trojan and set it in Rome for no good reason? As it turns out, the Rome connection is little more than Capcom wanting to find a cool spot to host their event. So I sat on planes for 15 hours to see games from a company that has its US headquarters about... 30 minutes away from where I'm currently sitting. Surely there's a more efficient way to show off these games to the media of the world, but there's something to be said for the cultural exchange that happens when you get to spend a chunk of time with Capcom's Japanese developers. But taking the temperature of Capcom Japan's staff comes secondary to the games themselves.
If I had to wrap Capcom's lineup up into one neat package, I'd say that it feels like they have a set of games that could really appeal to wide audiences, though they all run the risk of alienating their existing fanbases along the way. Lost Planet 3, Devil May Cry, and Resident Evil 6 all look like they could be spectacular games... just not necessarily in the way that the people who already look for those names on shelves might want. Devil May Cry is the most obvious one here.
The redesigned Dante comes off as brash and cocky, not too out of line from what you might expect from a young version of the DMC protagonist. The action still feels sharp, with ridiculous combos and maneuvers that reward skillful play. But it's the world and the way its being warped by demons that make it look so interesting. The demons want Dante dead, and they hope to achieve this goal by sucking Dante into Limbo, where he's vulnerable to their attacks. Limbo is a twisted, wild take on the real world, full of jaunty angles and They Live style messages that appear over the real world's signs and advertisements. Security cameras turn into demon eyeballs and Dante's weapons are, naturally, at the ready. In addition to the standard guns-and-swords gameplay that you'd expect from a DMC release, the triggers are used as modifiers to enable demon and angel weapons. This means you can work gigantic scythes into your combos, and your gun button allows you to pull enemies in your direction or, alternately, pull yourself towards them via a Bionic Commando zip kick sort of move. The action feels very fluid, and it's easy to transition from one move to the next as you bounce from enemy to enemy. You'll get letter grades as you bust out your attacks, just like in previous games, though the developers at Ninja Theory are exposing more of the scoring that goes on behind the scenes, in hopes that players will find it easier to figure out just how deep the combo system goes.
Also worth noting is that the things that happen in Limbo occasionally impact the real world. This manifests in a few different ways, but the most notable was shown during a brief gameplay demo we saw, where a sizable demon knocks the boardwalk's ferris wheel off its hinges, sending it rolling along on its way. A quick cut to a news footage of the same thing happening in the real world lets you know that you're actually fighting to stop demons from completely terrorizing the entire world, but since you seem to appear wherever this terror does, Dante is quickly blamed for the chaos and branded a terrorist. With both the real world and the demon world on his back, Dante will probably have his hands full throughout the entire game. Between the demo we got and being able to play a little bit for myself, DMC seems like it could be very cool. But I've never really had any real attachment to the previous incarnation of Dante, so I'm also excited at the prospect of a new team taking on some of these old ideas.
Speaking of new teams, Lost Planet 3 is being developed by Spark Unlimited, and they aren't really picking up where Capcom Japan left off. LP3 appears to be a dramatically different type of game that explores the backstory behind EDN III's snowy surface in a game that seems to be channeling quite a bit of Dead Space and a touch of Red Faction along the way.
So yeah, it's Lost Planet 3, but it's actually a prequel to the other games that takes you back to the humans that are supposedly paving the way for EDN III's first colonists. This is before widespread fighting between multiple factions has broken out, so you'll play as Jim Peyton, a everyman sort of figure who's just there to get some money together for his wife and newborn child. This means you'll be taking on mining and drilling tasks for NEVEC, at least at first.
The game puts you in a first-person perspective when you're controlling your utility rig. This is a large mech suit--larger than the Vital Suits from previous games--that's equipped with a claw arm and a drill. In the demo we were shown, Jim's out attempting to plant a thermal energy collector--the same sort of posts found in previous games--as a big snowstorm comes rolling in. It's slow-going when you're in the suit, but it offers a relative amount of safety against the smaller Akrid creatures that roam around the icy landscapes. Those enemies become more of a problem once you exit your rig.
On foot, the game transitions to a third-person view, and in this mode you can grapple onto cliffs in order to climb around tighter areas that your rig can't navigate. You're also armed, which lets you blast away at the glowing weak spots of any creatures you may encounter. If you get too close, an enemy may pounce on you, triggering a Quick Time Event of sorts that has Jim pull out his knife. In an interesting twist, you actually have to move a cursor around the screen to aim your knife strikes, requiring you to aim for the glowing weak points before you start stabbing.
Combat in the rig is more about drilling the crap out of the larger enemies, though one particularly resilient crab requires you to use all of the tools at your disposal. The basic idea is that you need to grab one of the front legs with your claw arm and lift it up, exposing the weak spot on its belly. Then, while leaving the claw engaged, you jump out of the rig and start blasting away with a shotgun, repeating until the creature falls. As before, the creatures drop T-Eng when you kill them, but instead of feeding into a ticking timer of sorts, T-Eng is used as a currency for upgrades to both Jim's rig and his on-foot weapons.
LP3 is an Unreal Engine game with a pretty nice look to it. The standout moment of the demo is when Jim finally fights his way to the point where he needs to plant the post and start harvesting all that heat. When planted and enabled, a huge heatwave emanates from the post, instantly melting all the snow and ice nearby. It's a great look that, in the demo we saw, revealed a lost outpost from some sort of colony that came before NEVEC's current operation. Inside the abandoned station, the game almost started to have a Dead Space sort of feel, and the way Jim's HUD pops up as a real-world projection reinforces Visceral Games' influence on Spark's design.
Oh, there will also be multiplayer of some sort, but they're not talking about that right now. Lost Planet 3 is due out in early 2013 for PC, 360, and PS3.
ZOMBIES ARE BACK
That's what the slide in Capcom's PowerPoint presentation said, and after watching Resident Evil 6 being played by one of its developers, I can confirm with some authority that zombies have returned to RE. That's all due to the C-Virus, the latest in a long-line of letter-based zombie illnesses. This presentation and accompanying demo was pretty impressive. It's running on the latest revision of Capcom's internal MT Framework engine, and that engine makes for some really great-looking lighting and shadow effects. Lightning strikes light up the dark room as Leon S. Kennedy makes his way out of a college and attempts to figure out what's going on with a mysterious fog that appears to have taken out just about everyone in the immediate vicinity.
The direction for RE6 is a return to the horror-focused ways of its past, and the gameplay sequence we saw managed to build some decent tension by going for long stretches with very little combat. But once you do get into a proper zombie fight, the controls should come closer to industry shooter standards, allowing you to move and shoot at the same time. You can also drop to your back at any time, letting you shoot from that position, if necessary. It's hard to get too much of a feel for a game's controls without actually controlling it yourself, but after talking to some of the minds behind the game, it sounds like they're on the right track, and the enemies are being developed with the moving/shooting combo in mind. So you'll find tougher opposition along the way, like zombies that wield weapons or the nefarious J'avo, which are a group of twisted creatures that mutate when you dismember them and can heal very quickly.
There will be three sets of playable characters in RE6, and each set has its own story that starts in its own location, but all eventually lead you to China as you attempt to uncover the truth behind this latest outbreak. Leon is partnered up with a Secret Service agent named Helena Harper, and after they're done dealing with a zombified President, they quickly get blamed for, well, assassinating said zombie president.
Chris Redfield's story puts him in China with another BSAA operative named Piers Nivans. The only real detail about Chris' story is that something happens to him six months before the events in China that causes him to "rethink his stance on bioterrorism." In my mind, that can only mean that some other character close to him (Claire?) got turned into a zombie and he had to put her down. Or maybe he's just tired of killing things that are already dead. Or maybe he's secretly infected with a virus with another letter at the front of it. But I'm just making shit up at this point.
The third story has you controlling Jake Muller, a mercenary that just so happens to be the son of the now-deceased Albert Wesker. Jake is partnered with Sherry Birkin, who first appeared in RE2. Knowing him to be the son of Wesker, Sherry seeks Jake out in an Eastern European country because his blood has the potential to save the world from the zombie menace. But that country's in the middle of a civil war, making getting out of there and getting into China sort of tricky.
If you've watched the released trailers, you know that these stories will crossover. The developers intend for Leon's story to be the first one that people play, though it sounds like you'll be able to play around with different story orders, if you like. I asked if this would lead to moments where things done by one set of characters mean that the world is different when another set of characters arrives on the scene, but wasn't given a straight answer on that. Overall, though, it's an impressive-looking followup to RE5 that appears to be getting back to at least some of the darkness that made the series so beloved in the first place.
Speaking of darkness, Street Fighter X Tekken is coming to the Vita this Fall. It'll feature 12 new characters, which probably doesn't surprise you much considering the way some folks have gotten outraged after finding traces of those characters on the disc in the console versions. The developers are also adding touch screen controls and rear touch, as well. This can be configured to do a few different things, if that's your style. But it plays fine with the Vita's default setup, as well. The interesting part is that the Vita version will be cross-compatible with the PlayStation 3 release, and DLC will transfer between the two versions, as well. That means if you buy the Vita version, you'll get the 12 new characters in the PS3 version of the game, too. Gems, colors, and all that other stuff will also transfer between versions.
But what if you're not going to buy the Vita version? Yes, those characters will go on sale at some point this Fall for $19.99... on the PS3, anyway. I asked about the 360 version and got a carefully worded non-answer that makes me think that Capcom's signed away its ability to even talk about putting these characters on 360 until its exclusivity deal with Sony has lapsed. Well that'll certainly calm everyone down...
The Vita version of the game seems to play just fine, though you probably shouldn't expect a pixel-perfect conversion. Facial complexity was the one thing that stood out to me, though to be fair it only stood out because Capcom was showing the two versions side-by-side to illustrate the cross-platform play. On the small screen, it looks just fine.
The next steps for Capcom include getting a playable version of Resident Evil 6 ready, which will probably appear at E3 this year. The company also has some other stuff wrapping up, like Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor, Dragon's Dogma, and Resident Evil: Chronicles HD Edition. I also keep hearing people talking about a Darkstalkers game, but that was nowhere to be seen. Considering the big and often negative reaction to Capcom's last fighting release, I'm not too shocked that the message this time around was mostly about patches and updates for SFXT, rather than giving the impression that they're all moving on to the next release. So expect those infinite combos and online sound bugs to get patched out before too long.
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