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E3 2009 Day Three Coverage - Featuring DC Universe Online, Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, Heavy Rain
Posted on Thursday, June 4 2009 @ 22:32:51 PST

Contents: DC Online Universe, Lego Rock Band, Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, Real Heroes: Firefighters, Heavy Rain

DC Universe Online
Publisher: Sony Online, Rating: Pending (likely 'T'), Platforms: PS3 & PC, Release Date: TBA 2010

DC fans haven't had much to cheer about - Justice League Heroes was alright, and I guess you could create a faux-Batman or something in City of Heroes - until now. DC Universe Online, as it sounds, is a MMORPG based around the DC comics that is a superhero brawlfest where you can either aid or help destroy the Justice League of America (JLA). No character customization widgets were shown in the demo, but they had several builds of different character builds available - I played as a hulky, super-strength, Colossus-esque character in a blue and red custom who wields a giant hammer suitably name Sledgestrike. Don't worry if you want to create a character just like one of the classic DC characters - there are preset default skins available as well.

The only mission the demo showed was helping control a mutagen that has already mutated the scientists at S.T.A.R. Labs, and leads you helping Batman complete the antidote and assisting Wonderwoman and Superman defeat the large mutants forms. All the while, you'll employ your four special abilities, which only need to regenerate to use them again (there is no "mana"), and keep your fingers on the hotkeys for any equipped items. Sledgestrike didn't have flight, which meant that travel through the large corridors took a long time... until I found out that he had a jump ability that could just leap him up to the second floor with ease. And like most any other MMORPG, you will collect loot that can boost your stats and earn experience that will level up your character's attributes and skills. Somewhere between City of Heroes and Crackdown, DC Universe Online should be the game that DC fans have always wanted - and even better, the online servers are cross-platform between PS3 and PC.

Lego Rock Band
Publisher: MTV Games & Warner Bros., Rating: E10+, Platforms: PS3 & Xbox 360, Release Date: Holiday 2009

What do you want? It's Rock Band with Lego avatars in it. Okay, okay, so it's more than that, but not that much more, which might not be a problem really. Lego Rock Band is essentially your family-friendly version of Rock Band for all those times you don't want any naughty euphemisms in suggestive lyrics from Aerosmith (oh my). As much as they should know who Nine Inch Nails, Rush, and Rage Against The Machine are, they probably wouldn't understand their awesomeness when they're teeny-bopping to Jonas Brothers (they are thankfully not on the soundtrack... yet). Instead, you can expect the Jackson Five, Pink, Carl Douglas, and Jackson 5 - bands that have a broad appeal to satisfy both parents and kids.

There also a "super easy" difficulty which allows beginners to strum any note on the guitar for any note to count, so as long as they are hitting the strum bar at the right time, they'll do fine. And even if they don't, the difficulty is automatically no-fail. As for the Lego skin, you can see the Lego-ified avatars, instrument icons, health bars, and Lego vehicles which replace the van and jet in the original Rock Band career mode. All of this is to draw the young into the game and it's an approach that should work - not even full-grown adults could resist rocking out at the three Lego Rock Band booths at the E3 expo. Look for Lego Rock Band to become the premiere gift for those bumbling kids this holiday season.

Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story
Publisher: Nintendo, Rating: E, Platforms: DS, Release Date: August 24, 2009

His Surliness, His Grouchiness, His Bowserness is not having a good day. Fawful, in his plot to conquer Mushroom Kingdom (before him?!... how dare he!) has tricked him into eating a magic mushroom that has made him inhale everything in sight, including Mario, Luigi, and Princess Peach, who are all now trapped pint-sized in his body. Honey, I Shrunk The Nintendos! So while the Mario brothers try to navigate through Bowser's intestinal tract to rescue the princess, Bowser is trying to put his new nemesis in his place. Alternating between both of our protagonists will remind you of another time Bowser was the hero: Super Mario RPG: The Legend of the Seven Stars! And for me, this couldn't get any more awesome.

Let's just say that in one scene, Mario and Luigi must massage Bowser's arm muscles using nerve energy against their hammers to boost Bowser's strength so that he can pull an island tug-of-war style towards the beach. I think that speaks for itself.

Whenever your character encounters an enemy on the map, a turn-based battle will ensue with all the timed attacks and defensive moves known in Mario RPGs. You can punch or jump on enemies before the battle begins to gain an initial attack, as well as deliver and block against your enemies' attacks while enhancing your own special attacks with precise stylus movements. Defeating enemies will earn your character experience and eventually a higher rank for more abilities. If you're having trouble boosting your special attacks with the stylus, you can practice and challenge yourself in the Endless and Juuuuump modes (yes, there are five u's in it), ala diversion in Rhythm Heaven. Everything about this game makes me want it now, giving it a place in one of my top picks for E3 2009.

Real Heroes: Firefighters
Publisher: Crave Entertainment, Rating: E10, Platform: Wii, Release Date: August 3, 2009

The most unexpected surprise I had at E3 this year was Real Heroes: Firefighters, a non-violent game (well, non-violent against everything except fires, I guess) aimed at showcasing one of life's true heroes. They save our lives; they work their butts off; they even sign a waiver saying that they will likely die from cancer due to smoke inhalation; yet they don't get paid much at all. (Go figure.) As far as realism, a team of firefighters acted as consultants, though one of the captains commented that players want the real experience, they should just paint the screen black while dumping the player with water.

Partially made by part of the team that developed Call of Duty 2 (a good start, there!), Real Heroes: Firefighters pits you as the usual rookie who is just trying not to mess up while learning all the skills it takes to take out three-story blazes and lead survivors to safety. Spread throughout nine different level, such as a steel factory, a museum, and an indoor mall, the FPWS (first-person water shooter) adventure will teach you how to force doors open with your crowbar, break obstacles with your axe, put out fires with the fire extinguisher or fire hose, and clear a path for any trapped survivors. Get too close to a fire or dilly-dally around too long and the fire will spread and eventually engulf you, so you will have to move quickly through the winding hallways, making sure to follow the directional arrow and to be aware of your surroundings. Missing a switch can be lethal.

Though the title isn't exactly a 100% realistic interpretation of firefighting, firefighters seem to be just glad to have a game finally represent what they do. According to one producer for the game, at least 60% of the game's fan page on Facebook are firefighters from around the world. Better yet, a portion of the profits made on the game, which retails for only $29.99, will be given to the Firefighters Cancer Support Network, a charity that aids firefighters who have cancer. It's a great cause for a great game... what more do you want?

Heavy Rain
Publisher: Sony, Rating: M, Platforms: PS3, Release Date: Q1 2010

Quantic Dream's Indigo Prophecy (or Fahrenheit) may not have been the best adventure title in the last five years, but it's innovative gameplay with dialogue branching and an emotional health gauge made it one of the few memorable points of next-gen design. And its effects are still being felt, with the now almost obligatory insertion of multiple outcomes in dialogue sequences, and especially its spiritual successor, Heavy Rain. Just like Indigo Prophecy was in 2005, Heavy Rain is a video game that showcases a "modern" interpretation of quick-time events as a portal of how to translate movies into interactive media (or shall we say, how to make games based on movies not suck so much so often). While some designers would argue that simply shoving in a lot of options doesn't make for true interactive storytelling, this doesn't make Heavy Rain any less intriguing, at least as a possible - no, likely - stepping stone for video game scriptwriting.

The story is freeform in perhaps its strongest definition to date. Even if one of the four main characters, which you switch between throughout the story (every main character has been skinned by the actors that play them, by the way), happens to die, that doesn't mean the game ends. Even if you mess up a quick-time event, that doesn't mean the game ends. Just because you failed to notice that one thing in that one corner in that one room in that how-the-hell-was-I-supposed-to-figure-that-out, that doesn't mean the game ends. Perhaps the outcome or the ending changes, but that doesn't mean the game is over. Of course, there should be a good ending where one of the prerequisites is having all of the characters survive (no official word on whether the game will use automatic quick-saves to prevent you from quitting and reloading if anything bad happens).

The live demo shown to me by one of the producers of the game from Quantic Dream featured Norman Jayden, an FBI agent who is collecting information and evidence in the case of the Origami Killer, which has lead him to a car scrapyard owned by a man named Mad Jack. (Surprisingly, when I asked the producer what Heavy Rain to do with the game, he said that I was the first to actually ask him that question and said that Heavy Rain refers to how the Origami Killer murders his victims.) Parking his car near the muddy entrance to Mad Jack's rickety warehouse, Norman steps out of his car, the heavy downpour dampening his tailored suit (do intelligent FBI agents not bring umbrellas?). He sneaks up onto the musclebound black man operating the crane and begins a curt conversation with Mad Jack, who seems to be faking a memory lapse. Time to get some hints back at the shady warehouse.

In his pursuit of justice, Norman has two handy features: the Thoughts system and his unique state-of-the-art forensic glasses. The Thought system, which can be used by any main character and at any time when a set cut-scene is occurring, allows the player to read the thoughts of the character which circle around the character's head. Some of the thoughts don't yield anything significant but add to the atmosphere - choosing say "Cold" just has Norman comment on how chilly it is. But others can reveal or remind you of hints of what to do next without telling you bluntly. His futuristic glasses, on the other hand, allow him to take forensic samples and images of fingerprints, footprints, DNA from blood and hair that immediately send the information to the FBI database and return all the pertinent information right to his eyes.

*Spoiler Alert* Eventually, this leads him to believe that something is amiss in the warehouse, what with the blood trail leading to a skull in a box, triggering a shoving match of intimidation between Norman and Jack which soon escalates into an action sequence of life and death proportions. While Norman tries to evade Jack's powerful attacks through the player's hopefully successful button presses and directional movements with the analog stick, his drug addiction problem triggers. The screen blurs. The worst time possible. To recover, the player has to hold down a seemingly impossible set of buttons all at once like Finger Twister - and because of it, will likely fail. Again, that doesn't mean the game ends, but it usually means that Norman's life may be closer to the brink of death. If you want to know what happens to him, well, you'll just have to play the game, now won't you?

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