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Electronic Arts at GamesCom 2009

Electronic Arts were something of a warm up act for Sony’s shindig to tell us what we already knew on Tuesday but that didn’t stop them putting on an impressive and focused event. Lasting no more than 75 minutes with speakers appearing to be under strict orders to TALK QUICKLY, the pace was relentless. A few minutes of show & tell then bang!, moving on. Leaving aside the usual joke about German efficiency, we can only hope Ubisoft were taking notes after their horrendous E3 showing. With Crytek sat in the crowd in lieu of bigger things to come on Thursday (meaning no Crysis 2), here’s a whistle-stop tour of the the rest of the titles EA did show.

FIFA 10

Somewhat emboldened by the FIFA franchise’s return to form, lead producer David Rutter looked confident taking the audience through a just as breakneck paced tour of what’s to come in FIFA 10. Gone are the days of one headline gimmick each iteration, the presentation was jam packed of small gameplay tweaks from making players more physical to new features such as full 360 analogue movement, “Virtual Pro” and a set piece creator. That they have implemented such a thing as an “urgency system” just to make the AI tackle more aggressively some of the time should illustrate what’s possible with the processing power they have to tap these days. Rutter didn’t blink when he termed it “the best football game in the world”. Despite a cheap pop at Konami’s effort, the bottom line is even die hard Pro-Evo aficionados like me have to sit up and take notice. September 11th is when you’ll get your chance in the demo.

EA Sports Active – More Workouts

Next up was EA Sports head Peter Moore; someone we’re always glad to see on a stage. Sadly neglecting to show any new tattoos he wasted little time in changing into his shorts so that local celebrity and gold medalist Katerina Witt could put him through his paces on the slightly unimaginatively titled expansion pack to EA Sports Active releasing this November. As such, it has exactly what you might expect. More exercises, circuit training, a new six week challenge and seemingly endless new ways to use the torturous Inline Skating mechanic in other places. Witt for her part wasn’t shy to give the energetic Moore some stick despite his warning about his track record in live stage demos. Entertaining stuff, but nothing ground breaking.

Sims 3 – World Adventures

The first of many in what is sure to be a long line of Sims 3 expansion packs releases November 16th this year and beyond the trailer, EA didn’t show much of it.  Instead they spent their small time allocation telling us how big the Sims franchise is. 3.7m people in 3 months can’t be wrong. The expansion features foreign exotic locations such as Egypt, France & China and also appears to contain a selection of music artists whom they had filmed trying to sing in “Simglish”. Quite.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2

Fresh off the extraordinary success of Battlefield: 1943, the men from DICE backed up an impressive looking trailer (apparently in their Frostbite 2.0 engine, amazing if true) by talking about how they’ve iterated on the destructible environments pioneered in the original. Buildings can now be completely levelled but snipers can also shoot small holes through walls to set up a sniping position. DICE seem keen to preserve the organised insanity that is 1943,  clearly a testbed for this modern iteration. Players will be encouraged to again play in squads. Long time fans of the franchise will hope it’s not overly simplified as a result. March 2nd/5th 2010 is when we’ll they’ll find out.

Brutal Legend

Tim Schafer was next to rock up on stage. Armed with a barb at Activision’s lawyers recent failure he proceeded to take us through basic elements of Brutal Legend’s combat system. Having seen this game in the flesh I can certainly vouch for his assertion that the world he’s created is like living inside a collection of heavy metal album covers. The consistency of this design equally lends itself to the combat. The main weapon, an axe (what else). Clementine, Eddie’s guitar dishes out a variety of stage effects such as lighting and  pyrotechnics. Fighting off against a horde of hair metal fans Eddie will also perform combo moves with his allies such as starting mosh pits & mow people down in his car, the Druid Plough (aka the deuce). Even the multiplayer “stage battles” resemble a battle of the bands. If you love either games or heavy metal you owe it to yourselves to check out the September 17th demo. If its both, this is a no brainer.

Dante’s Inferno

That Dante’s Inferno looks very much like God of War never really bothered me. It certainly shouldn’t bother 360 or PC owners who will have missed out on those great games. Sadly, EA didn’t feel the need to tell us how their ill advised “Lust” competition at PAX turned out though they did show us a new circle of Hell, Heresy. The bigger announcement was the introduction of their “Righteousness system” where you can choose to punish or absolve damned souls. If that sounds a lot like what you do to the Little Sisters in Bioshock you aren’t far wrong. Your decisions apparently affecting the sort of attacks you can perform. Having earned a lot of kudos for Dead Space mind, I think we can allow Visceral Games some leeway to borrow ideas from other games and tweak them into what looks like a solid action game. It’s out February 9th/12th next year.

Dragon Age: Origins

Ray Muzyka from Bioware was next and got the longest time slot of the event, primarily because they had three games to show off. The first was Dragon Age: Origins, due for release this November. Asides from re-affirming the details of the collectors edition announced last week, there didn’t seem to be much new asides from a trailer. On the surface, casual observers could be forgiven for thinking this is a fantasy version of Mass Effect. Whilst that isn’t really true EA are wise to distance these two games apart. As a spiritual successor to the Baldur’s Gate series, Origins should offer a deeper role-playing experience whilst Mass Effect focuses on combat.

Mass Effect 2

Speaking of Mass Effect 2, Muzyka was quick to emphasise the combat improvements it will bring in the sequel. A new Krogan character called Grunt was introduced and described in the trailer as reckless, unpredictable and irrationally violent. Sounds like our kind of guy. They also showed off a new environment, the Afterlife club on Space Station Omega (originally shown in some concept art and looked similar to Chora’s Den from the original) and talked about how the loyalty system underpinning your interactions with your squad mates like Grunt will affect the final “suicide” mission. Described as “the dark second chapter”,  an obvious comparison is with the Empire Strikes Back and neatly surmises the direction Bioware are going. The only downbeat note would be a lack of a release date. That EA opted to flesh out it’s Q1 2010 line up here means you probably shouldn’t expect this until after March.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

And also speaking of Star Wars (I’m great at this linking malarkey!) the last game Bioware wanted to talk about was their forthcoming Star Wars MMO. Nothing new was really said despite hauling up a representative from LucasArts on to the stage to wax lyrical about the “40 novels” of dialogue in the “first fully voiced MMO”. Whilst impressive, the main announcement that this will be localised fully into French and German was only a big deal for the local audience. That’s a massive amount of localisation work and kudos should be given to EA / Bioware for taking it on. They closed by showing the same E3 CGI trailer in German which somehow made it more badass than it already was.

Need for Speed: Shift

Closing the show was the re-boot of the Need for Speed franchise. That people previously known for their work on Simbin’s GTR franchise are involved with it should tell you about the direction they are heading with the game. EA look to have sensibly combined this new focus on simulation & physics with an emphasis on the actual racing rather than the cars themselves. Much like Codemasters attempted to do with GRID. Even over EA’s live stream the graphics and frame rate looked like it would be able to give it’s competitors a run for it’s money which is more than can be said for the presenter’s driving. It’ll be out before Forza 3 as well landing on September 17th.

(CC image by PSD)

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