EA has a lot of exciting looking new titles coming up -- and, judging by its Gamescom presentation today, clearly has its eye very much on next-gen.
Following a predictably dubstep-infused sizzle reel -- seriously, let's have some classical music for a change, eh? -- we jumped right in with the latest installment of a series that EA claims has acquired over 30 million players since its inception.
The Sims 4
The Sims 4's tagline is "Come to Life," which reflects the new game's emphasis on emotions and enhanced artificial intelligence.
Core to the new Sims experience is a tech that EA calls "SmartSim." This makes each individual Sim an "emotionally aware being," with every action informed by their emotional states. What this means in practice is that the mood a particular Sim is in will determine what actions they're able to perform -- a Sim who is angry won't be able to flirt, for example.
Much of the gameplay will revolve around manipulating the Sims' emotions to achieve various tasks. A demo showed off a developing "love triangle" at a party -- one character -- I forget the names they used, so let's call him Dave -- was talking to a woman he liked (hmm... Ariana?) while another (Boris!) sat nearby, bored. Boris, who clearly also had designs on Ariana, picked up a violin and started playing a sad song, which promptly afflicted Dave with the "depression" emotion, causing his attempts at flirtatiousness to fail. In revenge, Dave pulled out a voodoo doll, which made Boris angry and equally unable to flirt.
A house's decor also has an effect on Sims' emotional states now, too. The house that played host to the party in the demo was deliberately designed with somewhat suggestive artwork on the walls, which helped make flirting easier.
Alongside the emotionally manipulative gameplay, the creative tools that are such a hallmark of the series have had a bit of an overhaul, too. When building a house, you can now plop down fully-decorated rooms immediately rather than having to painstakingly arrange everything yourself -- though presumably this option will still be there. Perhaps more notably, though, is the fact that the Create-a-Sim mode now has the ability to directly sculpt bodies in suitably ridiculous fashion, and even adjust things like their walk styles to reflect their personalities.
There's no release date for The Sims 4 yet, but we can expect it in 2014. Pre-orders are open now.
Command & Conquer
EA elected to show off the new Command & Conquer game by having two people play a very short multiplayer match while two other people bellowed over the top of it. It wasn't particularly easy to follow, but it certainly looked like you'd expect a new Command & Conquer game to look.
One thing the team was keen to note was that alongside the competitive multiplayer modes, the game would also play host to episodic story missions that could be played solo or cooperatively. The introduction of these missions was apparently the result of user feedback, who were keen to see something akin to the old-school Command & Conquer titles' single-player modes alongside the more competitive element. The story missions will apparently launch in 2014.
C&C is currently undergoing alpha testing. Once the game launches, the game will have new generals, new maps and new modes added on an ongoing basis.
Dragon Age Inquisition
A new dev diary gave some deeper insight into the third Dragon Age game and how it works. Reps from BioWare gave the usual guff about "player choice" and "moral decisions" -- "do you save a village or let it burn down?" -- but the actual structure of the game sounds really interesting.
In Dragon Age Inquisition, you take on the role of the Inquisitor. Unlike the Grey Warden from the first game, or Hawke from the second game, you're the head of an organization rather than just a single character, and you have powers that other citizens don't have that have a strong impact on the game's world.
Besides the aforementioned "burn the village or not" scenario -- seriously, is that the best they could come up with? -- you'll also be able to send out agents to tackle missions for you. The decisions you make, either directly or through your agents, will apparently have a significant impact on the world and how the story unfolds.
It all sounds very ambitious. Will it live up to expectations? That remains to be seen, but BioWare certainly seems keen to make up for the disappointment that was Dragon Age II.
We already heard in Microsoft's conference earlier today that Peggle 2 would be an Xbox One launch title, but in EA's presentation, we saw the first gameplay footage of it. Guess what? It looks almost exactly like Peggle, complete with Ode to Joy and Extreme Fever. That was worth the wait.
EA also took a moment to talk about the recently released Plants vs. Zombies 2 for mobile. Since its launch, it's shot to No. 1 in the App Store charts in a large number of territories, and players have clocked somewhere in the region of 15 million hours of gameplay so far.
Since PvZ2 has been designed from the ground up as a free-to-play "game as a service," it'll be getting regular content updates, the first of which is already being worked on. This add-on -- which it's not yet known if it will be free or a paid expansion -- will take the game into the far future, in keeping with the new game's time travel theme.
Meanwhile, we also saw some gameplay footage from Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare, the third-person shooter spinoff. Apparently you'll be able to play either four-player co-op sessions or 24-player competitive matches, and you'll also be able to play as a zombie.
In gameplay terms, it looked disappointingly like a rather conventional third-person shooter, with zombies running around like Team Fortress 2 characters wielding ridiculous weaponry. One thing that did look potentially interesting, however, was the apparent ability to switch weapon and ability loadouts on the fly through a pop-up menu rendered in the game world as a floating interface.
Also noteworthy for the Xbox One version of the game -- it's also coming to 360 and PC -- was the addition of Boss Mode. This allows one player on each side to take on the role of either Crazy Dave or new zombie boss character Dr Zomboss and "command the battlefield" using either Kinect or SmartGlass. In practice, this appeared to take the form of dropping items for players, causing things to explode dramatically or unleashing huge waves of zombies.
The upcoming UFC game is due in Spring of 2014 -- it's apparently 9 months away from release -- so the footage we saw was relatively early in development. It was already looking quite impressive, though, thanks to a new tech the developers call "Feel the Fight."
What Feel the Fight provides is, apparently, a "real sense of weight and movement." Specifically, this means that fighters move around the ring by actually planting their virtual feet on the ground rather than "sliding" back and forth like in many other fighting games. There's also a dynamic body deformation and exertion system that is particularly apparent when fighters are on the ground -- fighters grimace, veins bulge out, faces turn red and bodies interact surprisingly convincingly with one another.
Need for Speed The Rivals
"There are no rules and no loyalties!" Except, apparently, for whether you choose to play as a cop or a racer. In the former case, the game will offer three distinct career paths -- a patrol cop, an enforcer or an undercover cop -- and different gameplay to reflect your chosen path, though it wasn't explained particularly well how this was implemented.
The game is, apparently, "powered by AllDrive," which sounds suspiciously like a replacement for the current AutoLog system. AllDrive apparently blurs the lines between single player, co-op and competitive multiplayer, and allows for "sharing at any point instantly," whatever that means, exactly. In practice, AllDrive appears to mean that you can be happily exploring the open world and immediately, seamlessly get into a race without loading breaks or menus; likewise, once a race is over, you continue driving, potentially pursued by the police, and have the option of either banking your winnings from the race immediately or risking them to see how long you can survive while being pursued.
Progression in the game isn't through a standard experience point system; instead, it makes use of an objective-based system popularized by mobile games such as Jetpack Joyride and Skylanders Cloud Patrol: to level up, you have to complete a certain number of specific objectives, though you'll have an option of several different "speedlists" to complete according to your playstyle.
Oh, and the Ferrari 458 Spider is apparently back in the game after a seven-year absence from the series. EA was very excited about this, but the audience seemed somewhat underwhelmed.
We saw some exciting-looking footage from Titanfall in which it was, to be perfectly honest, quite difficult to work out what was going on -- but it did highlight one interesting thing about the game: the integration of cinematic setpieces and storytelling typically reserved for single-player games into an online-centric game.
What this meant in game terms was that non-player characters were constantly shouting at the player as the match continued, and scripted events appeared to be constantly unfolding as the action progressed. At the end of the match, rather than being immediately booted to a menu, too, a degree of context was provided -- messages come in saying that, say, the player has taken too many losses and needs to withdraw, and then gameplay continues even though the main scenario itself was over.
The next FIFA game for mobile devices will be free-to-play. Yay? Alongside that, FIFA World will be a new release for "markets where PC gaming is king" -- specifically, Brazil and Russia. It, too, will be a free-to-play game -- and no mention was given of it coming to territories other than those mentioned.
As for the upcoming FIFA 14, EA showed it off with a frankly ridiculous trailer in which Patrick Stewart appeared to be reprising his scenery-chewing role from Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. The new installment will reportedly include 33 leagues, 600 clubs and 16,000 players, with new additions coming from Chilean, Argentinian, Italian and Brazilian leagues.
Online modes for the new game will include Seasons mode, where players can enjoy 2v2 cooperative matches, and the popular collectible Ultimate Team mode, for which Xbox 360 and Xbox One players will be able to acquire exclusive "Legends" cards.
In answer to a question I had while watching Microsoft's conference earlier -- why would anyone play a late-arriving next-gen FIFA when it comes out in September on current platforms? -- EA confirmed that players would be able to start their game on current-gen systems and carry their progress across to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions when they released. It looked as if you'll only be able to go from 360 to One and PS3 to PS4, though, implying that progress will be somehow synced using Xbox Live and PSN respectively.
As for the game itself, EA was keen to hype up its "Matchflow" system in which there are all-new broadcast-style camera angles, stadium flyovers, "emotional pre-match ceremonies" and "authentic" stadium atmospheres. Player will apparently even interact with sideline characters such as linesmen -- though it's highly likely that most players will either turn off or skip these animations having seen them once or twice already, since no-one really plays FIFA for the cutscenes, do they?
While the buzzword "Levolution" still grates every time I hear it, in practice it actually looks rather good. As the name suggests, it's a means for Battlefield 4's maps to dynamically change as a match progresses, supposedly resulting in an experience that is "different every time." While that's likely little more than marketing hyperbole, the gameplay demonstrations on display showed an impressive array of dramatic events happening on various maps.
Notable examples included a city map where it became possible to flood the streets and drive attack boats down them, and a new map set on an island in the South China Sea whereby careful manipulation of the dynamic water could force a ship to run aground, allowing players to rush in, take control of it and make use of its anti-air capabilities to take down the other team.
A new game mode was also revealed, known as Obliteration. Here, two teams will face off against one another, each tasked with destroying the other's base. There's only one bomb available, though, which spawns in a random location. Players will have to find the bomb, then defend it until they can detonate it in their enemies' base. Hardly the most revolutionary setup for a multiplayer mode, but potential for some fun there.
Like Battlefield 3, Battlefield 4 will also offer a "Premium" service -- the previous incarnation of which apparently enjoyed over four million members. Battlefield 4 Premium will allow players two weeks of early access to new content along with priority placement in queues for servers. There'll be new content every week, apparently, ranging from new weapons to new game modes and vehicles. The game will also apparently enjoy five full expansions over its lifetime -- all of which Premium members will be able to gain early access to.
So that's it for EA. Any standout performances for you there? Or is it just business as usual for a company that's becoming increasingly predictable with each passing year? Let's hear what you think in the comments.
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