EA came to NYC last week to show off many of their upcoming games, and I was able to get hands-on time with all of them. So were my kids. More on that little escapade to follow, but here are impressions of all of the titles they showed off.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst
Developed by: DICE
Release Date: February 23, 2016
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC
The original Mirror’s Edge was an anomaly in a lot of ways. A first-person… platformer? It certainly wasn’t much of a shooter, as you only got hands on a few weapons over the course of the game, which mostly saw you doing parkour around the rooftops of a dystopian city. But that movement... there was simply nothing better than the feeling of smoothly running and leaping. Slow sales made a sequel seem unlikely, but EA and DICE are pushing for another try, this time by giving it more weapons and breaking the world wide open.
Our demo showed that the game is a bit of a prequel and sequel at the same time, starting things off with a younger version of our heroine Faith escaping from some prison facility. The look of the game was similar, with objects that you can run and interact with highlighted in color in the otherwise drab world. It’s still remarkably easy to travel around the world, with the left trigger controlling all of your “up” motions (jumping, climbing, hurdling) and the left bumper controlling all the “down” (sliding, tucking into a roll, etc.). It’s much like we saw seven years ago with the first game.
The second section of the demo showed off the open world (open roof?) sections that allow you to go where you want and do a variety of side missions, which included a look at the new combat system. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to try it out because my game decided to glitch out, kill me, and refuse to load floors under me when I respawned, sending me spiraling into the abyss every time I reloaded. Such goes it with early alpha builds! Unfortunately I couldn’t do a new runthrough because more people were coming in for a demo, so that was it for me. It's a shame, because this is what was giving me the most trepidation about the game. Does a Mirror's Edge game even need a combat system? Even with that annoyance I can’t wait to get my hands on a more stable build and play more of this game - this is going to be one to watch for.
Developed by: Illumination Entertainment & EA
Release Date: October 13
Platform: iOS, Android
Ostensibly what we were invited to the event for in the first place, Minions Paradise features a brand new Minion named Phil who messes up a cruise, stranding the rest of his buddies on a tropical island. All the rest of the Minions show up as unlockable characters and you'll have to build the island up with stereotypical "paradise" items like a tiki bar, hot tubs, etc.
As you can guess, Minions Paradise is yet another free-to-play mobile game that lets you wait on timers and spend real money if you’re an impatient person. At this point, after The Simpsons and Family Guy and Jurassic Park and billions of other mobile F2P titles like this, you likely know what to expect. Minions Paradise does add a few things like a little water skiing minigame where your minion is getting pulled in front of a hungry alligator, but otherwise you know what to expect here. Fans of Minions will probably enjoy getting to throw a party and watch them all do little animations and interact, and it certainly looks fine, but there’s something icky about this kind of game being marketed to kids.
The funny thing is that this game is why I brought my kids in the first place, as press was told to bring the whole family in. This made for a very interesting afternoon as I was tasked with wrangling the interests of a three- and five-year-old as they did the press thing for the first time, which let me at least teach them the in and outs of working a press event (“Listen to the demo. Try out the game. Have a few good questions after. Always ask about embargo and assets.”) But the funny thing was that having played many of these free-to-play games myself for far longer than I should, I never would let my kids play them. They’re perfectly fun in spurts, like when waiting on a bus or in the bathroom, but kids don’t play like that. They get sucked into games and don’t want to let it go, and games like this are pretty much tailored to make you obsessive and impatient enough to part with your dough.
Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare 2
Developed by: PopCap Games
Release Date: Spring 2016
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC
PvZ:GW2 (I’ll be damned if I type that all again) is certainly more of the same, which ain’t bad at all. The original PvZ:GW is a really fun and light shooter and while EA has certainly been cramming microtransactions into all of PopCap’s games since its acquisition of the developer, the PvZ games constantly offer up a surprising amount of new free content, updates and events in their games to warrant it (see Plants Vs. Zombies 2 for the right way to do F2P.)
One brilliant thing they’re doing here is letting you bring along all of the stuff you’ve unlocked in the previous game. If you have plants or customizations you spent money on in the original, don’t fret - you’ll be able to bring it along with you.
As for the demo, first we were shown off the game’s new hub, which allows you to walk around to shop and jump into matches in a simple and easy way that's similar to what Splatoon does. Then we jumped right into the newest mode, Graveyard Ops, which is a zombie version of Garden Ops from the first game. (It's a co-op mode that sees your team of one to four players trying to defeat ten waves of enemies, setting up defenses to repel them from destroying your base.) Here we got a look at some of the new zombie classes and I got to try out Super Brainz, who is a cape-wearing zombie superhero. He's much different from any of the other classes as he's almost entirely a melee fighter, with moves that let him spin like a tornado or do a flying kick.
Playing in a group of four (well, six - I had two kids on my lap), we did a pretty decent job of fighting off the plant enemies, even with some new massive enemies in tow, like the Giga Torchwood boss.
Will there be enough new content here to warrant another purchase? Only time will tell, but either way this game’s going to be a blast.
Developed by: Coldwood
Release Date: Q1 2016
Platform: PC, PS4 and Xbox One (Digital Only)
The highlight of the event.
Unravel stunned audiences at this year’s E3 with its charming and beautiful style, and as someone trying to be professional with two kids in tow, this was just the relaxing game I needed. Here was the game that tamed the savage beast, a game we were able to sit and relax and enjoy. It plays every bit as well as it looks and is easy, intuitive and a neat puzzle game.
You play as Yarny, a little character made of red yarn who’s on an adventure. As he travels through the world he leaves a thread dangling behind him. Traveling further makes you unravel yourself, and Yarny will get smaller and smaller until he’s just a wire frame and can go no more. To prevent this you'll have to seek out balls of yarn that can be added to your string and keep you going. He's able to tie off bits of yarn and create bridges and springs to bound to new areas, as well as push around items found in the world to solve puzzles.
A great metaphor for how you leave parts of yourself behind wherever you go, and how you need to keep growing in order to get by in life? For sure. A wonderful platformer game? Definitely. We tried two sections of the game, one that acted a bit as a tutorial and one a little later that was much trickier, and forced you to conserve your yarn in order to progress. One brilliant thing is that you are always able to backtrack easily by simply following your string, finding exactly where you made a mistake and correcting it.
Creator Martin Sahlin of Coldwood Interactive was there to talk about his game and so was Yarny himself, a doll who so enraptured my little kid that she tried to walk out of the room with him in her arms.
It's clear that I'm going to enjoy sitting down with my kids to enjoy this game. It's great to see EA giving an indie dev this much of a push and I can't wait for the full thing to hit next year.
(Star Wars Battlefront was also shown at the event, but it was the beta we’re all obsessed with right now.)