What was once traditionally the realm of comic book and sci-fi geeks matured into the multiplayer, free-for-all, pop culture phenomenon known as Comic-Con. This annual San Diego four day event attracts over 120,000 fans of comic books, movies, television shows, anime, manga, fantasy/sci-fi novels, and video games. Yup, video games!
It’s easy to dismiss Comic-Con as simply a nerd fantasy world gone wild with no place for video gaming. With the recent additions of Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft and other major game developers to the roster of exhibitors, it is getting harder to ignore the fact that Comic-Con is maturing into a gamer’s paradise. Although it hasn’t quite reached the same video game industry presence as E3, which is held 1.5 hours away and about one month earlier and showcases a lot of major announcements, Comic-Con is beginning to rival it. Announcements such as the unveiling of the Halo 4 live action trailer for the upcoming series Forward Unto Dawn and Epic’s Rod Ferguson announcing the March 2013 release date for Gears of War: Judgement. Unlike E3 where you must be directly involved in the production, review, distribution and development of video games, Comic-Con is open to anyone and everyone. Similar to E3 though, there are multiple opportunities to play a lot of games before they release.
I had the opportunity to play many of these upcoming games at Comic-Con. All I can say while I compose this at work during my lunch break is...we are in for one heck of a ride! The game play began on Thursday. As soon as I got to Downtown San Diego, I strolled on over to Zachary Levi’s offsite location, Nerd HQ. Nerd HQ was headquarters for both the world-wide exclusive demo of Tomb Raider as well as Gears of War: Judgement. Alongside these two powerhouse properties, Square Enix also featured Hitman Absolution and Sleeping Dogs.
The first game that I played was Gears of War: Judgement. All that I have to say-Best game I ever played! Epic showcased the new Overrun mode. Consoles were set up so you could try each of the new COG classes of Medic, Engineer, Recon/Scout or Soldier. Opposite these were consoles dedicated to playing the Locust. Players alternated between playing offense (Locust) and defense (COG). The goal is destruction of the COG generator and the team that does it faster wins.
There are some really cool features to look out for in Judgment. Maulers can now deflect bullets with their shields. They can also spin their shields to turn you into ground hamburger meat. The Sniper/Recon class carries a longshot with a four shot magazine. You can get four rounds off before you have to reload! Medics no longer must crouch beside a downed teammate to revive them; they can now deploy a stim-gas grenade. Engineers carry blowtorches to repair fortifications and, for protection, they also carry turrets. Soldiers can deploy ammunition when the rounds run dry. They also carry around a boomshot with only two rounds in it... and so much more! March can’t come soon enough for fellow Gearheads!
After two hours of hogging the Gears consoles, I headed upstairs to play Tomb Raider. All that I have to say - Best game I ever played! Comic-Con was the first playable Tomb Raider demo in public anywhere and I was excited to try it. As soon as the level starts, you instantly transport back to 1996 but with better sound, graphics, gameplay and controls. Like a friend you haven’t heard from in a long time, it feels great to play Tomb Raider again. At this moment I realized I missed the panel for Epic’s Fortnite. My feeling of angst quickly replaced by the justification of “why would I want to sit in an audience talking about an upcoming game when I can play upcoming games?” I simply chose to stay and play.
The controls were super responsive. Gameplay on such a brief level was nothing short of amazing and the graphics demonstrated excellent attention to detail. It was like playing Uncharted from a female perspective (although if you said that playing Uncharted is like playing Tomb Raider from a male perspective, you wouldn’t be wrong either). I have high hopes for this reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise. Although it is never a good sign when there are development delays-the Fall 2012 release has been pushed to Q1 of 2013.
The third game I played was Hitman Absolution. All that I have to say - Best game I ever played! Square Enix had several booths at Nerd HQ that featured the next installment of our favorite follically challenged assassin. Controls and gameplay, similar to Tomb Raider, are tightened up considerably and the game had plenty of gripping moments. During my first attempt at assassinating my mark, I went in guns ablazing, Gears of War style! This was a big mistake! Rogaine Agent 47 doesn’t have the big burly space armor that you find in Gears. He soaked up bullets real well until the Square Enix booth attendant instructed me to go to a certain area of the map.
When I arrived at the area of the map that my new booth buddy pointed out, I found a fish vendor’s uniform coupled with a knife to help make the disguise believable. I donned the new set of clothes and walked past a few guards. I thought I got away with it until one of the guards asked me why my face was covered. Pretty uncommon for AI to do that! Normally AI is content asking you to hop into a Warthog and then driving you off of a cliff to test the Warthog’s airbags and your Spartan armor”s water seals.
At this point, it was midday and I still hadn’t made it to Comic-Con. I was on my way out when the Square Enix attendant showed me Sleeping Dogs. Best game I ever played! Combine True Crime: Streets of LA with both Yakuza and Grand Theft Auto and you have Sleeping Dogs. I didn’t play too long as I had to get to the convention to meet up with some friends. In the short ten minutes I played this demo, I mutilated, maimed, murdered and macerated a good portion of the population with just about anything I could get in my hands. This is a game where anything in your environment can be turned into a weapon! If you think that umbrella is looking at you funny, it is and it’s only a matter of time before it shoves itself into you turning you into a human skewer!
I quickly navigated the streets of San Diego’s Gaslamp District to make it to the Hard Rock Hotel where I met up with some friends. We went to the Xbox Hospitality Suite and was it a sweet suite indeed! The moment we walked in we saw Xbox 360 green all over the place and 360 consoles with a bunch of exciting upcoming titles. We quickly found a place to sit down and like Jigsaw in the next Saw movie, we screamed, “Let the games begin!”
The nearest console was set up to play Resident Evil 6. Best game I ever played! I love the Resident Evil franchise. RE6 addresses many of the issues from RE5. You can now run and gun...if this is what passes for running though. Then again, I am a gamer and the most running I get is from playing Battlefield 3 when I get left behind with no vehicles. Melee combos are much easier to perform. You simply pull on the right trigger and the combo is pretty to watch...the first time. After seeing the melee combo the first time, you scream at the zombies as they fall for the same roundhouse, roundhouse and right cross combo over and over and over again.
Just as I got used to punching zombies (I ran out of bullets), a console with Borderlands 2 became available. Best game I ever played! I had one of my trusty Nikon D3’s with me. As soon as I sat down, the Gearbox staff watching the booth immediately directed my attention to a sign that read “NO PHOTOGRAPHY OR VIDEOTAPING ALLOWED.” Meanwhile, a couple of their Gearbox friends were dragging a gamer, lens first, out of the venue (the lens was shoved down his throat). I dropped my camera, picked up the controller and played. Boy was there so much wub-wub in this sequel that I couldn’t help but squeal - in a manly way, of course - every time I killed something and it dropped a weapon that was 1% more accurate or dealt 1% more damage than my currently equipped weapon. The guns will never get old in Borderlands 2!
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron had me at Transformers. When a console opened up, my friends and I swarmed it. Best game I ever played! I played single player campaign and multiplayer and both modes were loads of fun! It’s hard not to have fun when, in a push of a button, you can be a robot or a vehicle and not just any vehicle but a vehicle with weapons! The only drawback was in the demo you couldn’t play as a Dinobot as you can in the retail release of the game.
At this point, it was quickly nearing late afternoon. I decided to finally head over to the Comic-Con itself. Microsoft saved its piece de resistance for their booth on the exhibit floor. As soon as I swam through a sea of stinky nerds (grandmas and parents-please encourage the nerd living in your basement to shower and use deodorant on a regular basis), I made my way to the Xbox booth. Halo 4 baby! I got to the booth and...Best game I never played! Yup, I didn’t play it. Something went down and they cordoned the booth off. None of the consoles were on so I decided to come back the next day. The line to play was longer than I was willing to stand in so I left. Later that day, Xbox announced a Halo 4 themed Xbox with two controllers and a copy of the game similar to the Gears of War 3 console announced at last year’s convention.
As disappointment set in I made my way to the Sony Booth. When I arrived, I wasn’t sure if they wanted me to play a game or buy their audio-video gear. The booth featured all the latest Sony TV’s and audio systems. PS3’s were setup but the only game playing was DC Universe. A few PSP Vitas were hooked up to...you guessed it, TV’s! I walked away not sure if this was a video gaming booth or part of a Best Buy home entertainment display that fell off of the delivery truck and stumbled into the exhibit hall after a couple of drinks. I was really looking forward to playing some upcoming PS3 titles and as fun as DC Universe is, I already played it.
I’m not a big fan of Nintendo. To give them their fair share though, I went to the Nintendo Hospitality Suite at the San Diego Marriott Marquis and Marina. When I arrived, I was even more disappointed because they, like Sony, were demoing games that were already on the market with the exception of perhaps an upcoming Mario title or two. Then again, what do I know? The last time I touched my Nintendo Wii was to pack it up and trade it in at Gamestop.
Nintendo did not have the Wii U set up anywhere but if they did, they probably would have stolen Xbox’s thunder. Instead, the suite featured belly bars with Nintendo 3DS’s chained to them. You couldn’t near them though because they were hoarded by cosplayers dressed as Pikachu or some other horror of homemade Poke-character that they created in their parents’ basement. The suite also featured several Wii’s set up to play Let’s Dance and as fun as it is to watch a grandma or two play this game, there’s only so much that a hardcore gamer can take before they have to go off and listen to some Barry Manilow to rinse out the images of grandmas dancing to Katy Perry’s California Gurls.
As much as I had a great time playing a lot of the upcoming game demos and experiencing all of the video game-related activities at Comic-Con this year, Comic-Con at its core is still and will always be about comic books. The influence that comic books have on everything geek is far reaching and whether we want to admit it or not, we are all comic book geeks at heart. Many of the games we play are directly lifted from comic book pages or are heavily influenced by them and as long as comic book publishers continue to produce books with great art and even greater stories, we as gamers can be assured of one thing - that we will never run out of sources of inspiration for great games!