It may seem strange, but the first thing I did when I got home was play Rallisport Challenge 2. You’d think that you spend three days at E3 playing games, and it just doesn’t work that way. You spend three days sampling small amounts of a couple hundred games, and those samples are typically drawn from such a truncated set of the entire game experience that it rarely satisfies. Booting Rallisport was like finally enjoying an entire meal after some 72 hour hors d’oeuvre marathon.
When given the choice, I typically start with the bad news.
Final Fantasy XII: I really don’t know what’s going on here, and it’s possible that we’re the only ones who aren’t ready for a change in Final Fantasy combat. Be assured: that’s what you’re in for, change, and lots of it. Obviously I have no problem with vastly more expressive models and lifelike lip-syncing. Before now, I thought of Final Fantasy XI as following the series numerically, but of some unknown parentage that moved it slightly out of the line. The reality is that the combat in FFXI and FFXII share a lot of similarities at the base level. Combats aren’t random, you see monsters right there in front of you and they occur on the map itself. You run up to a monster (or they run up to you) and then the whacking begins. The actions of your other party members are determined by “Gambits,” which are essentially behavior scripts. You can pause the action at any time and see the blessedly familiar Action Menu, selecting the thing you’d like to use next - you can do this for other party members, too. Characters are no longer arrayed in lines which make things like facing and position explicit. I still have to buy the thing, it’s Final Goddamn Fantasy. But that doesn’t mean I wont grit my teeth as I swipe the card.
Killzone: Honestly, I don’t know what the big deal is. Going by current release dates, Killzone itself will launch a week after Halo 2 - honestly, I’d just stop development right now. I’ve played both, networked and all, and Killzone doesn’t even rank Little Brother status. There was some nice geometry, but it wasn’t even “Nice Geometry” - it was just better and faster than I expected on the Playstation 2. It’s like when you see an old man hobble over to the mailbox all by himself. Getting the mail is no herculean act. And there is nothing startling or noteworthy about Killzone.
PSP and the DS: I’m sort of exhausted by this dialogue already, the false choice everybody has to adhere to. One does not Have to like the DS and hate the PSP, nor does one have to like the PSP and hate the DS. People are constantly exhorting me to throw in with either camp when, in my estimation, neither camp has earned my allegiance.
The PSP is, as is dangerously common in Sony personal electronics, so sexy you can feel it in the roots of your teeth. You want to lick or bite it, it is a sleek lozenge. It has a large, beautiful screen of impeccable clarity. None of these things are open to discussion - you’ve either seen it or you haven’t, and the industrial design is such that it represents some forgotten symbol that means Desire. It should be thought of more as a Walkman, a “Media Portable,” than a straight game machine with its coming library of UMD format movies and audio playback in addition to being a handheld console - it’s also a bit long. I only want to know two things: How much does it cost, and what is the battery life?
I don’t mean the battery life in their press kits, I want to know how long I can actually sit there and play a game on it with the screen at reasonable brightness. I’m sold from a design perspective, of course I want one - find someone at E3 who didn’t. They have a list of developers as long as my arm. The addition of the media capabilities pushes the device into the “gadget” realm, which I’ve historically been resistant to - how much is this thing going to cost? When you see it, it’s hard to believe they’d let that thing go for less than three hundred dollars, which is already twice or even three times as much as the full consoles on the market. The reality is that I do not need a portable gaming machine. All I need in the “portable gaming” space is a device that is inexpensive and good enough, and I’ve got two of those already.
The DS has to contend with the same issue - the Gameboy Advance SP pretty much hits all the notes I think most people are looking for. No headphone jack, as we’ve lamented, but I bring that thing with me everywhere and the sound is usually off anyway. It’s one thing to crack out my SP in the movie line somewhere, it’s another thing to make everybody listen to the Mario & Luigi music.
The DS was actually the main thing I was looking forward to at E3, so it isn’t fun to write this kind of stuff. They haven’t made a compelling case for it this year. There is a room you can go to and play “games” on it, but none of these are actual games, they’re more like Tech Demos. They show you ways in which the touch screen and stylus can be used together, and I will admit that I found it much more compelling than I expected to. A vegetable will shoot up, and I will cut it with a flick of the stylus, that kind of thing. One gets a sense of what they mean. But without a complete game experience, we can only imagine what kinds of things they intend the device to accomplish. It would be like if you saw a giraffe, but had no knowledge of trees. It would just be a large animal with kind of an odd neck that seemed superfluous.
but it keeps you off your knees