As you may or may not know, Game-Modo is proudly based in Manchester, England. Both myself and Dixon work in Manchester, within a stones throw of the shopping ‘paradise’ known as the Arndale Centre. Something that has in recent years, become somewhat of a Xmas time tradition in the Arndale, is for gaming powerhouse EA to set up a booth or hub to showcase new games. So this year we thought we would pay a visit, try out a few games, ask a few questions and try and blag some free stuff, all in the name of keeping our loyal Modo readers on the ball. So we did. It cost me an extra 60 minutes flexi time so I hope it was worth it…
EA is a games company that is loved by as many people who hate them. The reason for peoples dislike of them possibly originated around the PS0ne / N64 days, they were seen as the biggest third party company and bought licenses for fun with varying degrees of success, and some people took exception to that. They gained an unhealthy, but profitable reputation for releasing quantity over quality. There was a shift in attitude within the company around the PS2 era, and it saw EA put its name to games people possibly wouldn’t expect, such as Freedom Fighters, Black and Oddworld Strangers Wrath . These days EA is generally a respected member of the gaming world. The quality of its output has increased and games such as Mass Effect, Dead Space and Mirrors Edge are regarded as classics by core gamers. So EA are good. At the moment. We gamers are a fickle bunch….
We approached this years EA Play 4 Xmas Booths, expecting to see the obvious game franchises, so that’s where we’ll start. Battlefield 3 was enclosed in a darkened section of the booth, with both 360 and PS3 versions available to play, out of view of impressionable young Rambo wannabes. Neither me or Dixon have played BF3 yet, and we were pleasantly surprised. Reviews have been a bit on the negative side, but we brushed aside the reviews and hype, and were left impressed with the demo stage we played. It looks great and handles just how you would expect a FPS war game to handle.
We moved onto the 3DS section which by all accounts, appeared to have taken quite a battering. There were six consoles, only two were still playable, the rest looked like they’d gone 10 rounds with a sugar fuelled 5 year old. The playable ones had the latest Harry Potter game and the Sims, neither of which we could muster much enthusiasm for. There was also a PC keyboard and mouse set up for the PC version of The Sims 3. The Sims is one of EA’s biggest franchises, made even more apparent by the 8 pages the series takes up in the Gaming Guides being given out. Moving on, we had a look as this years Need For Speed.
NFS The Run, is a curious racer, as is the whole franchise. Not content with just being a racing game, it desperately wants to be an action film too. Its not. But there is some fun to had there. The demo track we played was long and twisty and very scenic, but it just seemed to lack that something, something the NFS Underground games had. The next section was dominated by FIFA 12. Dixon isn’t the worlds biggest football fan, in fact he hates it, but I am and have been spending plenty of hours playing this years version. So we didn’t have a go, but hung around to watch various ‘yoofs’ taking each other on, playing as Man City and Barcelona (wheres the challenge in that?!).
Noticing a spare screen and pad, we then made a quick dash for our first look at SSX. Snowboarding games are few and far between these days, especially in this gen. The N64 had two great snowboard games in 1080 and Snowboard Kids, and the PS2 had SSX. This is something of a reboot for the series, and from what I played (once we managed to get past the over complicated menu screens), it seems quite good. The course went on forever, and was interesting enough to keep me playing. Its visually stunning at times which isn’t easy for a game that is mostly white. I spent a good 10 minutes playing it, until I noticed Dixon had moved on to play a PS3 Move tennis game (Wimbledon, we think it was called). The shame. At this point I thought I would investigate the cornered off room we hadn’t been in. Thankfully it wasnt the EA staff lunch room, it contained to my surprise and (dare I say it) geekgasm, three screens with playable versions of Mass Effect 3.
Dixon eventually put the Move controller down and we both sat down for a session on the game we are both waiting for next year. The demo we played involved Shepard, Garrus and Liara (we think), raiding a facility to rescue Mordin Solus. The level started with a gun fight against Cerberus soldiers and instantly, we were reminded just how good a game Mass Effect has become, and that this was so far, just as good. Graphically, the game has stepped up a gear. Lighting and shading in the sun drenched facility was stunning and events unfolding in the background felt like there was a whole story going on that you weren’t involved in. The enemy AI also seemed a lot better. The level ended with you taking on a biggish Cerberus Mech, which whilst not overly difficult was amazing, and gave a small sample of what we think is going to be the game of next year, already. There are a few things we’d like to see improved, the combat controls felt a little cumbersome and weapons felt a little light, but that was possibly more to do with this being our first taste of the game. I think I can safely say though, that this is everything we wanted and left the game happy.
We managed to grab a quick word with one of the lads (Phil) working for EA at the booth and asked him a few questions. He mentioned the most popular games this year seemed to be BF3 (Phil believed this to be a Smart Mans FPS) followed by ME3 which he said considering it is a niche title, was surprising how popular it was. The booth has been well attended this year and not just this one. EA are reporting a high level of visitors to its booth in Manchester and its others in Birmingham’s Bull Ring, Westfield in Stratford and Meadowhill in Sheffield. We brought up the point about EA’s rather vague release schedule for 2012 and attempted to see if this had anything to do with possible work on next gen machines. Understandably, he couldn’t say much and soon side stepped the issue, but it did suggest it was a possibility and that maybe we were close to the mark. More than likely though, he just didn’t know. Or wasn’t being told. Hmmmm…
We asked what he thought EA’S big hitters will be in 2012 and he straight away mentioned ME3, so EA obviously have high hopes for it. Disappointingly there was no mention of Dead Space 3 and no other newer franchises that he could mention. We had a long conversation about Modern Warfare 3 and his opinions of it and it was interesting to get his point of view, seeing as he was very much in the BF3 camp.
So we left to return to work for the afternoon, still buzzing from the ME3 session which was without question, the highlight. I liked SSX and also quite enjoyed NFS. The only thing missing were some booth babes. And some freebies. I hate you EA. (See, fickle)