Summary: Our second belated article of specific E3 coverage (other than Jakub's rant) has us swinging by Activision and taking a look at Call of Duty 2, Quake 4, X-Men Legends 2, Ultimate Spider-Man and a quick look at Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
Sporting a completely new game engine built in-house by Infinity Ward, Call of Duty 2 brings graphics a few notches better than Half-Life 2's to the table, though we'd say most of the improvement is in the actual artwork. Whereas Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and Unreal Tournament 2007 blew attendees away with gobs of shader effects, detailed normal maps and extremely high-resolution textures, with Call of Duty 2 it came down to the subtle things. One item that stood out in particular is a German half-track that rolls up into the battlefield to unload its troops. Not only is the vehicle accurately modeled, but it's camouflaged and covered with twigs, branches, and leaves. Foliage was all over the terrain on that map, making the effect even more pronounced.
Special effects have been greatly improved, particularly lighting, facial expressions and smoke/particles. The sun glares off tanks and metal, smoke is a now a huge part of the battlefield and seems to linger forever, providing cover from AI and other players as well. The demo was an incredible rush of action, as intense now as Call of Duty was when first presented several years back. Huge sound, huge explosions... all the cliches really, but even the memory of the show is gripping. The sheer chaos of the battle scenes was utterly engrossing.
The developers focused on AI from the start, both enemy and friendly. Enemies duck behind cover, and respond to new threats that reveal themselves, while your allies are more independent are likely to work together to a set goal. In a subtle yet deeply effective move, all characters yell out accurate and valid warnings. It's not just a warning of "grenade!" every now and then, but "LOOK RIGHT, LOOK RIGHT!" or any of hundreds of stock phrases that respond to the situation at hand. Soldiers are constantly communicating, shouting, warning each other, making the experience even more visceral and gripping.
There will be three campaigns, one in western Europe, on in North Africa and of course a Russian one. In a new move, these campaigns will be independent and the player will be able to freely switch between them if he feels the need for some variety.
The mission design has been revamped as well. They're still based off historical battles, with action as the main objective, but the development team has gone to some lengths to make alternate routes through a map possible. This may be as simple as taking a different road through a town or as complicated as choosing the order in which objectives are destroyed.
SIDEBAR: At one point, in a beach level, there's a quad 20mm German AA gun. I was talking to one of the historical consultants on it, but forgot to ask if the gun differentiates between the different types of ammunition (AP, HE).
Unlike Quake 2 however, the player isn't in this one alone. For much of the game, if not most of it, he'll be fighting alongside his fellow marines. In fact, this is the first game in which id Software has deigned to give the character a name - Matthew Kane. He's part of a squad of recurring characters, so these aren't the generally anonymous types who appear in Call of Duty.
The gameplay is still more arcade-like than Call of Duty but the addition of squads helps. Maps are generally much brighter than in Doom 3 and the monster-in-the-closet design is not likely to be repeated. Variety will be added to the game via the addition of vehicles and physics fields. While there aren't multiple planets to fight on, the environment will change thanks to these fields. Multiplayer is said to be similar to Quake 3. Details aren't finalized yet, but id Software reasoned that they reached a good balance and compromise with Quake III Arena, and don't intend to deviate from the formula. One solid tidbit that was offered was that hitboxes are back, and there will be no more per-pixel hit detection, which will permit netcode to return to normal.
The engine is still clearly Doom III, but it appears that the textures on characters and level of detail have been significantly improved. The art style and level design has taken a turn for the brighter - and browner. Where Doom III was gray and metallic, Quake 4 clearly resembles Quake II more. The world of Stroggos is filled with red and yellow and brown, in and outdoors. Darkness, while not unknown, isn't all-pervasive as it is in Doom III and the style of gameplay is more faithful to Quake 2 than Doom III was to Doom 2.
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
A surprise at the show was the appearance of a trailer for Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. This appeared to be in-game footage, though clearly of a mock-up nature. We were assured that the game was quite a ways off and will be a full stand-alone product, not an expansion or add-on to Quake 4. Like the original, it's being developed by Splash Damage, who are also responsible for the excellent multiplayer in Return to Castle Wolfenstein.
SIDEBAR: Even though I saw no real gameplay, I must say I'm pretty stoked about the new Enemy Territory, because Splash Damage has been so consistently kick-ass so far.
Among the changes include the ability to use any character at any time, the player is no longer limited during the game. The roster has been greatly expanded to 16 characters with the addition of the Brotherhood, so that dream Colossus-Juggernaut match-up is possible. The game has been streamlined to keep the action flowing, it can automatically level characters for the player, levels are longer and the pacing is more even. Co-op is being brought online at least through Xbox Live, though the PC version (yes, a PC version!) may have multiplayer as well, but that's just speculation on our part.
Obviously, there are more powers and they're more varied. No longer will a defense/armor line for one character work exactly the same as another's. The expanded powers list actually presented a bit of a problem for the developers, as they humorously described trying to design new abilities for bruisers like Juggernaut. There is the smash, and then there's the big smash, and the... really big smash?
Ultimate Spider-Man is a game that ties in directly to the comic book series and in fact fleshes out some parts of the comic itself. It picks up the story around the time Venom is being introduced. Brian Michael Bendis, the author behind the Ultimate Spider-Man comic book, is the one responsible for penning the story to the game.
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