Sega Sweet Celebrations Recap

Ever since they got out of the console business, Sega has become quite the interesting company to watch. While a few of its more familiar franchises have had their ups and downs over the years since the Dreamcast days, a number of their newer IP’s have shown Sega at their very best – innovative, exciting “gamers games” for casual to hardcore players. At Sega’s recent Sweet Celebrations event in NYC I got the chance to see and play a bunch of upcoming releases, all of which should be part of your want lists. From the disturbingly brilliant Condemned 2 to the wacky mascot mash-up that is Sega Superstars Tennis, there’s something for everyone coming in 2008. There were also a couple of embargoed surprises on display and while I can’t discuss these titles at this time, let’s just say it’s going to be a really interesting year for fans of Japanese RPGs, licensed comic book and rhythm games.

My first stop was an Xbox 360 build of Beijing 2008: The Official Video Game of the Olympic Games. With Sega’s always entertaining Denny Chiu providing plenty of assistance and info on the upcoming release, this one looks to be the best Olympics video game to date. Featuring 35 events, a single player mode that has you creating your own team and for the first time ever, 8-player online play, this was the first time I was truly excited about a one-shot game that appears every four years. Eurocom is handling the development on this one and the build I saw featured super-crisp HD visuals and that classic Sega “feel” to the gameplay that should appeal to all ages. I got to try two of the swimming events and one track event, each with decidedly different, intuitive controls.

While both games required a right trigger press to set up an ‘on your marks’ pose, each game controlled differently. Swimming has you rotating both analog sticks in time as a meter at the bottom of the screen rises or falls, which works amazingly well once you get the timing down. The 100m Dash was the old-school button tapping goodness well all remember from the Track & Field days, however, you can also tap it out on the triggers if you like. In terms of the online mode, one of the cooler things about the game is the leader boards that will be updated during the games to reflect actual world record Olympic times. Given that the game will ship in July (about a month before the games), it’ll be interesting to see how well players do on the leader boards beforehand, as it’s a given that those who get really good at the game may end up posting better times than actual Olymipians.

Continuing with the sports theme, Sega Superstars Tennis was another winner: The Virtua Tennis team at Sumo Digital brings that familiar style to Sega’s mascot lineup with great results on the Wii, DS, PS3 and 360. On the Wii version shown at the event, three flexible control setups mean the entire family can hop in and play with no trouble. Expect to see colorfully themed courts featuring 16 of your favorite past and present Sega mascots along with a number of unlockable goodies that should make this a party game classic. As if Sonic and company weren’t enough, the mini-games here should be enough to warrant a purchase. I got to see the House of the Dead-themed mini-game court where your chosen character has to whack a small army of zombies with glowing tennis balls before they get too close for comfort. Things are pretty simple for a round or three, but then you’ll see zombies with tennis racquets coming at you and then it’s time to duck and dodge away – great stuff!

Next up was Viking: Battle for Asgard from The Creative Assembly and if you’re looking for gorgeously gory M-rated action from the heavens, look no further than this. If you thought the God of War games were brutal, Viking will make you say “God of What?” as soon as you see it in action. Taking place over three massive islands, this single player focused, story driven game mixes no holds barred combat with large scale battles that have a truly epic look and feel. Stunning graphics, dynamic, fluid gameplay that’s continually challenging yet rewarding to gamers who’ll come to see this is no mere button-masher. Kratos can’t hold a candle to the massive army you’ll amass, while the game’s environments beg to be explored to the fullest. In the one portion I got to play, freeing groups of captured Viking warriors from scattered enemy encampments was the order of the day with each formerly caged bunch adding to an ever-growing (and extremely useful) army. Gameplay elements such as an automatic stealth system, blocking moves are pulled of wonderfully. This absolutely isn’t yet another hack & slash, as running headlong into an enemy position does wonders for minimizing your life bar at a rapid pace.

Freed troops will automatically attack enemies, setting up ambush points where you can draw in the soon to be slaughtered foes. Trying to take on a map solo is a terribly bad idea, as enemy AI is stellar, bordering on fanatical. Run away from an alerted mob, and they’ll charge after you, knocking you down like a linebacker slamming into a quarterback for a loss. In the larger scale battles, you’ll see hundreds upon hundreds of characters onscreen as archers shoot flaming arrows from afar, enemy mages cast spells galore as foot soldiers of different types clash and swarm the battlefield. You’ll be equipped with a couple of handy spells that can freeze, zap or roast enemies, as well as a few well-implemented special moves. In the area I was shown, a giant berserker type needed taking down along with a couple of well-protected mages so that a massive castle could be stormed. Our hero, now packing a full army with a gigantic battering ram and two flying dragons, laid siege to the fortress in a phenomenal display that looked almost like something out of a feature film.

GOW fans will see familiar context-sensitive button action here when facing of against the giant, complete with nasty finishing moves that generally remove important body parts. In addition to this big boss, you’ll also face off against very well armored mid-boss types packing wicked broad swords with enough power to send you reeling. The level of tension in these huge scale battles is amplified greatly as you’ll need to make sure enough of your men survive the onslaught in order to complete each objective. Of course, as absolutely badass as the game is, I can see some gamers out there waling on and on about the lack of any multiplayer or online features. However, Viking really shines as a single player experience, period. This is a game that definitely doesn’t need any split screen, co-op or online modes to gum up the works and besides, that’s what Creative’s continually awesome RTS games are for anyway.

Finally, a hands-on with Condemned 2: Bloodshot left me a cross between speechless, scared out of my mind and exhilarated… and that’s only from the tutorial mission. With this sequel, Monolith has raised the bar for the action/horror genre by packing in even more dynamic and vicious combat, beautiful yet frighteningly realistic graphics and a mix of surreal imagery that should please fans of M-rated content. Formerly ace investigator Ethan Thomas has hit rock bottom as an alcoholic, his mind warped by the events in the first game. Surprisingly, he’s sought out and recruited by the police force to help find a missing investigator as well as find out what’s turning street people into maniacal killers called “Influenced”. There’s a weird masked Jigsaw-inspired guy popping up on TV’s scattered throughout the game, even weirder black tar covering parts of the game world (or is it Ethan’s mind going haywire?) and a collection of enemies that have no hesitation about bashing his brains in at any given moment. In addition, there are dozens of odd sonic emitters placed throughout the city that seem to be part of the

The game still blends adventure, fighting and shooting elements as you guide Ethan about, with the all-new game engine doing an even more spectacular job of immersing you into things right from the beginning. The combat system has been refined and works incredibly well. The game opens with a lengthy tutorial that coves the basics of navigation and conversation before dropping you into a closed off area for some fisticuffs of the first order. Here you’ll learn how to punch and crunch your way through single and soon afterward, multiple enemies using your fists and an assortment of found weapons. Picking up objects such as spiked boards, pipes, crutches and artificial limbs displays ratings for speed, damage and attack, but each weapon also has a limited amount of usage before it breaks. Your fists are more than capable against some of the standard freaks, but it’s definitely nice to have the extra power a blunt object provides.

A combo system allows you to string together attacks for maximum damage and there’s even a set of simple finishing moves that allows you to use environmental objects to perform some nasty kills. Shoving a twisted thug’s head into a TV set is always good for a laugh, particularly when said thug was tossing a few TV’s at you from a stairway moments before. It looks as if Monolith might have studied the best parts of both Breakdown and Manhunt for a few ideas and overall, the game’s violence and atmosphere is brilliantly thought out and implemented. Later in the mission, a shotgun was procured, but with only five shots, each one had to count. Given that the shottie was acquired in a dark, dark hospital setting that featured black tar-like monsters dropping down from cocoons suspended from tar coated ceilings or popping from tar covered walls, let’s just say this part of the game will put you under (or behind) your couch until it’s over. After a couple of massive fake-outs (you’ll see), the real game begins and Ethan is back in action.

As with the original game, detective work using a number of forensic instruments to hunt for clues is integral to success, so expect to see some familiar as well as all-new tools. Of course, if you’ve been following print ads for the game, you’ll probably wonder about some of the disturbing objects such as those creepy-looking dolls that look like something straight from Silent Hill. Well, those little guys are in the game… as proximity explosives that can be used against you or should you nab one, against your enemies. While the surprising multiplayer modes weren’t on display at the event, Sega’s Jay Boor told me how they came about. During production, the game’s testers were playing around with characters and weapons from the game, pitting them against each other in assorted beat down events that became so much fun, they finally decided to add a couple of multiplayer modes to the game. In addition to the standard deathmatch action, there’s Bum Rush, which pits two cops against six Influenced (ouch!) and Crime Scene, where four Influenced take on four police officers looking for a set number of human heads stashed throughout a level (ewww!).

In addition, I got a quick look at Dinosaur King for the DS, a turn-based RPG based on the popular anime. The game makes gfood use of the dual screen format, mixing classic RPG top down 2D maps with some great-looking 3D dinosaur combat. The stylus is used to uncover fossils and clean them off, mini-game style while random battles are the tried and true stuff you’d expect. In other words, the game is perfect for the kids, but fans of old-school JRPG action will get into this one no matter their age. All in all, the event was a great show for Sega and with the majority of their current lineup (along with the other three titles I can’t talk about yet), it looks as if the company will have a strong 2008.

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