Christmas in July is an odd concept but one that’s very familiar to journalists. Due to the long leads of certain publications and the need to plan ahead, everything from food to toys gets an early run out.
That’s also true – happily – of the games industry. Even for pieces like this that are less planned ahead, more thrown together at the last minute, it’s a great opportunity to see what big studios are hoping we’ll all be playing when the nights start closing in. These events frequently run for hours and involve much beer and snacking and cakes and things. But that’s the sort of hell we put ourselves through for you, dear reader.
Last week, I got my (beery, cupcake-covered) mitts on some of THQ’s forthcoming output. First up was WWE Smackdown Vs Raw 2011. As the name suggests, this is the latest in a long line of World Wrestling Entertainment titles. Having not really played many, I’m not in a great position to comment: The idea of playing a simulation of something so simulated has always struck me as a bit too ironic.
Still, with a beer between the knees and the chance to beat the living crap out of a mate without actually drawing blood, the appeal is obvious. The difference here, I’m told, is the “dynamic, ever changing” gameplay, which seems to boil down to you can throw your opponent out of the ring and continue to beat the living crap out of him. There are also, I’m assured, more creative tools than ever before to customise your WWE Superstars, better story designs and finishing moves. It certainly looks the part, with very decent graphics, and the interactivity of what I saw – the ability to smack your opponent over the head with a ladder, chair, metal stairs or table or, indeed, to faceplant into the table – seemed impressive.
The early version gave access to four huge WWE names which were all probably wasted on me. There was some big evil bugger called Mr Death or The Undertaker or The Chief Mourner or something?
Anyway, the final game is going to have over 70 people I’ve never heard of but that you probably have. The finished version should be out late October...
More interesting, simply because the film looks like a cracker, was Megamind. THQ have recently signed up a huge licencing deal with Paramount and Dreamworks so are busy working on the game versions of films like the Kung-Fu Panda sequel. First up though – well, second up, after The Last Airbender which we’ll get to in due course – is Megamind.
Voiced by Will Ferrell, Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, Megamind is a good looking computer animation about the titular supervillain – voiced by Ferrell – who spends his life pitted against superhero Metro Man (Pitt). And then he beats him but, instead of feeling triumphant, he just feels bored without a nemesis to fill his days and so creates Titan (Hill), a new superhero to battle with. One catch: Titan decides it’s a lot more fun being bad so he becomes the supervillain and Megamind has to save the world.
The game, as seems to be increasingly the case, is set after the film has finished. The city has been taken over by something called The Doom Syndicate and only Megamind can save the day. First though, he has to rebuild / find all the weaponry that Titan has stolen.
Again, while not finished, this looks like a pretty decent interpretation of the characters and the spirit of the game. The learning curve does appear to be rather juvenile but hey, it’s based on a family cartoon, so it’s probably only reasonable. Controls though feel instinctive, it looks like a cartoon, the way the character runs is oddly amusing – even after 15 minutes, it’s still amusing – and the restore function – there are no save points, you get revived pretty much where you died – is certainly family friendly.
It’s probably better than The Last Airbender, the unfortunately named new film / game from M Night Shyamalan. This Wii (and DS) title combines beat ‘em up and a bit of puzzle solving, as you run around, er, bending air. This basically translates to controlling air which, in retrospect, might have been a better title. Although, admittedly it wouldn’t have resulted in lines in the film such as “When did you first know you were a bender?” and that, given my juvenile level of humour, would have been a pity.
The other side of the room though was a game unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and one that could well lead to arguments and divorces aplenty. I think that one deserves a little post of its own...