XBOX Live Summer of Arcade Preview

Been wondering about the games in this year’s XBOX Live Summer of Arcade? Maybe you wanted to know if any of them were really going to be worth the hassle of getting MS points to purchase. If only there was someone who got a chance to try games who could advise you on what he thought of them.

Oh wait, there is. I got to play all but one of them at E3, and the one I did not get to play is about to be reviewed on Everyday Gamers by Kevin.

I know: stop rubbing it in.

I have been meaning to write this article for a while now, and with this week being the official start of this year’s Summer of Arcade, the timing felt right. I will also be publishing Episode #68 of the Everyday Gamers Podcast to coincide with this article, which contains interviews with some of the people behind Limbo, Hydro Thunder Hurricane, Castlevania: Harmony of Despair and Monday Night Combat.

So without further ado, here is my XBOX Live Summer of Arcade preview.

Limbo – July 21

Limbo is unlike any game I have ever seen.

Limbo is a very hard game to describe. The game starts simple enough. You play as a young boy who has entered limbo to try and find out what has happened to his sister. That is all you are told.

So why is this game so hard to describe? Well, you kind of have to see it played to understand. The game is done in something very close to black and white, which gives it an eerie feel that is hard to put into words. Playdead, the company behind the game, spent a lot of time working on how the boy moves throughout the environment and making sure everything he interacts with has weight. I know this seems really vague, but you really do have to see it to fully understand.

As this boy, all you can do is jump and grab onto objects, which allows you to interact with them. This allows for the platforming and puzzles spread throughout what is  an increasingly hostile environment. The game just does not look like anything else out there.

In the interview I did with producer Mads Wibroe, he mentioned that he hoped people would download the demo and try it out to see if this game was for them. In the end, that is probably the best thing you could do. Limbo is not going to be for everyone, but it will certainly grab your attention.

Hydro Thunder Hurricane – July 28

Hydro Thunder Hurricane is the sequel fans have been waiting for.

It’s no secret; I love Hydro Thunder. It is one of my favorite racing games of all time. With that in mind, I was very excited to get my hands on what is being billed as the sequel at E3, Hydro Thunder Hurricane.

The time I spent playing it did not disappoint me.

Hydro Thunder Hurricane brings back all the insane boat racing of the original game, along with new variations on the old favorite boats. The tracks are all new, though there is a new version of the Lake Powell track and a stadium track with a similar feel to the first track in the old version. Add to this water effects that look absolutely amazing and change up the race (Vector Unit spent some serious time on the water effects, and it shows), either through drafting effects behind other boats or waves triggered by explosions throughout the game, and you have the makings of a game any true Hydro Thunder fan will enjoy.

That’s not all. There are several different game modes and the ability to play up to 8 players online (4 of those can be split screen on one 360, with the ability to carry all 4 into online play).

The bottom line? If you like racing games or were a fan of the original, Hydro Thunder Hurricane is a must purchase.

Castlevania: Harmony of Despair – August 4

Color me unimpressed.

It is also no secret to any of you who have been on the site for a while that I am a Castlevania fan. As such, I was interested in what Konami was doing with Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, especially as I started to hear more about the 6 player coop mode. Something about the game just really caught my eye.

In the end, however, I have to say I was a little disappointed in this game.

The game is pretty straightforward in its build. You can choose to play any one of 5 heroes from previous Castlevania games: Alucard, Soma Cruz, Jonathan Morris, Shanoa, and Charlotte Aulin. Each character is unique and has a unique set of weapons and attacks; while Jonathan may be armed with the standard Vampire Killer whip, Shanoa uses glyphs to call forth weapons. This should allow for some interesting ways to approach the levels in the game, but that is where the good news ends.

I have several issues with this game after getting a chance to play it:

  • Only 5 characters when you allow 6 player coop? Granted, you can choose different colors for the characters to accommodate this, but if Konami wanted people to have to use the different abilities of the characters in tandem, this was a bad choice.
  • The levels in the game are timed. Even when you pause the game or come to one of the books that allow you to change up your weapons/skills, the timer is still running. This just makes no sense for a Castlevania game.
  • You do not get to play the 6 player coop in the regular game mode. That is reserved for the Boss Rush and other specific modes designed for it.
  • The graphics just do not look good. I know they were going for some of the 8-bit look, but I think they overdid it.

I had high hopes for Castlevania: Harmony of Despair. Now, I am not sure I will even buy it.

Monday Night Combat – August 11

A team sports shooter? That's what Uber is calling Monday Night Combat, and I cannot wait to play it.

If you had asked me to choose which Summer of Arcade game I was looking forward to playing the most before E3, I would have said Hydro Thunder Hurricane. Now that I have had a chance to try the games, that answer has changed. The one I am now  looking forward to the most is Monday Night Combat.

Uber Entertainment, the creators of Monday Night Combat, set out to make a team based shooter using the Unreal 3 engine that looked and played like nothing else using the engine, and they succeeded. The game has a bit of a Team Fortress 2 feel, being a team based shooter with different classes which each have unique abilities:

  • Assault – Your basic soldier unit, the Assault class comes with assault rifle, grenade launcher, a charge ability that lets him ram headlong into enemies and remote detonators.
  • Tank – The Tank is armed with a jet engine, and he has the ability to turn himself into a turret and use stun grenades which can be upgraded to Product Bombs, which clutter the opposing player’s HUD with advertising.
  • Sniper – Equipped with the standard sniper riffle and sub-machine gun, he can be upgraded to be able to shoot through multiple enemies at once.
  • Support – Armed with a gun that can heal his own team or draw health from the opposing team, the Support character can build turrets, hack enemy turrets to make them fight for his team and call air strikes.
  • Gunner – Similar to the Team Fortress 2 Heavy, the Gunner carries a mini gun and comes with a stomp ability that can stun enemies and the ability to flatten enemies from above.
  • Assassin – The Assassin is your quick strike character. She has the ability to cloak, use smoke bombs and upgrade her dagger into a katana-like weapon, making it the best melee weapon in the game.

Add to all of this two separate game modes and the innovative gameplay that combines a team based shooter with a tower defense game, and you have the makings of a phenomenal game.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of the Light – August 18

Think Square Enix may have had soemthing to do with Tomb Raider's new direction?

Rounding out the Summer of Arcade is Lara Croft and the Guardian of the Light. To say this is not your normal Tomb Raider game would be a slight understatement, and I believe the changes come at least in part from the influence of Square Enix. This new game is an isometric platform action game in the vein of the older Balder’s Gate games on the consoles.

In this game, Croft finds the fabled Mirror of Smoke in the Temple of the Light in Central America. The problems start when mercenaries try to steal the mirror, freeing  Xolotl, a dark spirit trapped in the mirror by the Maya warrior Totec 2000 years ago. Now Totec has teamed up with Lara to get the mirror back and once again trap Xoltol.

So not only do you have a completely different type of game, but you now have 2 player coop, with the second player taking control of Totec. The players must work together to to solve the different puzzles and defeat the enemies withing each level to advance. The game looks nice and actually plays fairly well, but it really is not my type of game, so as of right now I do not plan on playing it.

But wait: there’s more!

While this may wrap things up for my written preview of the XBOX Live Summer of Arcade, the fun does not stop here. While at E3, I had the chance to interview 4 of the 5 developers behind the Summer of Arcade games. You can listen to those interviews in EDG Podcast Ep. #68 – Summer of Arcade.

I have to say I am rather impressed with this year’s summer of arcade. I cannot wait for it to start.

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