The Gathering 2007 – Part 2

Time for Part 2 of our report from The Gathering 2007. If you missed Part 1 then head on over to our first report and catch up. Right, up to speed? Good – let’s carry on…

After being dazzled by Peter Molyneux’s show and tell we were all given a break to take a breather and settle down in preparation for our tour of the publishers that await us. After splitting into small groups we were whisked off to our first station – Activision.

Activision: Call of Duty 4

There was only one game of interest for me in the Activision area and that was Infinity Ward’s upcoming masterpiece – Call of Duty 4. Making a bee-line to one of the two available pods I settled down to make the most of my allocated 30mins in Activations’ corner. Two single player levels were selectable here, no doubt the available levels soon to be released on the Marketplace. Level one had you first storming an oil tanker, riddled with gun wielding terrorists. As seen in the released trailers your character is dropped by Blackhawk onto the ship’s deck where within seconds you bear witness to your team-mates make an assault on the captain’s deck. The first part of the level eases you in to your controls without making it feel like a tutorial assault course with cardboard targets, most of your team-mates will do the work here and it is later in the level where you will begin to take a few hits in your direction.

Character modelling is second to none on CoD4 and features possibly the best motion of in game characters I’ve personally seen, seeing your team-mates navigate between waypoints and taking cover is very life-like and believable. Graphically CoD4 is up there with any triple-A title coming out this Christmas, the moonlight and stormy atmosphere of first level is very convincing. Mix this in with your entire environment, rocking side to side from the waves, and you have quite an intense and atmospheric first level, and that’s before they’ve introduced the enemy terrorists!

With the top deck is cleared with the help from your chain-gun mounted Blackhawk, you make your way into the bowels of the ship. Around each corner you are faced with small groups of enemies and set pieces such as bursting pipes just to spook you up a bit and keep you on your toes! Your primary objective is to secure a package – deep in the bowels of the ship, and get the hell off the ship while it explodes and tips around you. This is when you see the most stomach churning part of the level as your escape is made increasingly difficult by the ship swaying from side to side, it gets so disorientating that at times you physically have your head tilted to the side to compensate for the motion as you escape to your awaiting chopper – great fun!

Caught on camera – rocking out to Pearl Jam along with Activision Staff

The rest – Thrillville, Guitar Hero 3

As you can possibly tell, CoD4 took up most of my 30 minutes, so while our group waited for the next room to clear I took a look at Guitar Hero 3. Standing in front of a 100”+ projected screen, rocking out to Pearl Jam’s “Even Flow” was great fun. The new wireless Gibson guitars – fitted with a Union Jack faceplate, the only two in the country, were just as intuitive as their wired brothers and had good weight to them. Best of all they looked the part and being wireless you were even more free to get your air-guitar on!

Ubisoft: Assassin’s Creed

Our next stop was just as exciting, we were finally able to get hands-on with Assassin’s Creed over in the Ubisoft’s area. Thankfully the Ubisoft guys knew what limited time we had, so after a brief Assassin induction course we were let loose. The level we played was in the city of Jerusalem, seen at this year’s Ubidays event, E3 and PAX. Your character starts off perched on the rooftops of the city’s bell tower where you are free to roam the sandbox environment where ever you please. We were directed to follow the symbol on the radar that represented your mission objective, so that is just what I did…

Scaling the rooftops and obstacles was a lot easier than I thought. Holding down the trigger and a single face button let you run roofs and buildings with the comfort of knowing that if you met a ledge you would automatically leap off it and onto the next building. If nothing is within reach of your character he would grab anything on the way down, thus leaving you able to scale back up the walls and continue your journey away from the crowds below. As you bound across the city’s rooftops you will see dotted along some ledges a line of perched crows. We were later informed that this is a visual point for making the well known “leap of faith” move down in to the streets below into mostly carts of hay that are cunningly positioned to soften your balletic fall. The streets of Jerusalem were bustling with characters of varying looks and styles. With Ubisoft’s unique character engine at work it was difficult to see any characters that were similar from a previous part of the city – something all too common in older titles of this genre.

While generally feeling like a medieval Splinter Cell, your interaction with characters was on another level. Walking amongst the crowds can be done in many ways, from running into them, bumping them out the way – which can bring attention between yourself and any nearby guards, or you can blend in, genteelly guiding people aside. While on my travels through the streets I saw a group of monks chanting in a circle. Walking up to them and pressing a face button lets you “blend in” with any group or character. So doing this next to a group of monks saw your character bow his head, position himself in the circle and put his hands together to prey…prey that the guard chasing you didn’t see you stabbing some passer-by earlier!

At the top-left of your screen is a string of technical information. A DNA strand animation streams in the background, positioned on top is your health and a threat meter. Health is shown in a group of bars where as the threat meter is a modern looking triangle shape that flashes red when guards are alerted to your wrong doings. To overcome this threat you character can do a few things. Dotted around the rooftops are square “bird boxes”, these cloth covered boxes can be entered into to lower your threat meter, handy when you have a stream of guards on your tail. If running away isn’t your thing then you can enter combat, now this is something I wasn’t all to happy with. Similar to Fable 2’s approach to combat, Assassin’s Creed’s combat will not a home for button mashing. Instead you are forced to parry your attackers and use their lunges and attacks to your advantage, basically studying their attacks and planning ahead your counter moves. This combat system felt very awkward at first but once you’ve overcome the learning curve you will start to witness some great attack moves which seem very fitting to the game and enjoyable for any sword wielding fanatic.

Overall Assassin’s Creed is going to be a deep game, oozing with atmosphere and will no doubt contain an interesting storyline, which has yet to be revealed. Keep an eagle eye on the site for a further hands-on look at Assassin’s Creed very soon.

The rest – Nuturo: Rise of a Ninja

Thirty minutes with Assassin’s Creed in the room left Nuturo without a look in, but our very own Reece has visited Ubisoft’s Studios and brings us a proper hands-on with the game, head on over here to check it out!

Microsoft’s PR sets up a PGR4 tourney for us swag hungry gamers

Bizarre: PGR4

Before lunch our next station was with Bizarre Creations Project Gotham Racing 4. A mini tournament was put on for each group to win a small prize. We all sat down and ripped around a few tracks of Tokyo, Saint Petersburg and Las Vegas. Yours truly came away with a prize which came in a not so very masculine pink Xbox cloth hand-bag, which had to be carried for the rest of the day – the shame! You can now play the available demo on the Marketplace so get yourself on Live and download it while you wait for our very own review soon.

Namco/Atari: Ace Combat 6, Eternal Sonata

In the hottest room of the venue, and I am talking physical temperature here, we were met with the guys from Atari who had a newly tweaked demo of Ace Combat 6. The demo showed slightly better aircraft models and textures, but overall it was just the same demo currently available on the Marketplace. A multiplayer demo is rumoured and is still yet to make it onto the Xbox LIVE Marketplace.

Sadly I didn’t have time to try out Eternal Sonata but Reece will have our review on the game very soon.

The Bungie crew cooling down out on the balcony between demos

Bungie: Erm – Halo 3?

Our final station for the day was with two guys from Bungie and six available pods of Halo 3. With Halo 3 being released days after the event, Microsoft brought in the much excited Bungie team to demo us the game, its features and then they let us loose on a multiplayer campaign. No doubt you’ve already played the game by now, but if you haven’t check out our review of Halo 3 over here.

With all the stations visited it was time to chill out and grab a few more minutes with some of the ground floor demo pods from earlier in the morning. Mass Effect was rumoured to be playable somewhere on the floor and after a few seconds I managed to track it down, grab the pad and along with a few fellow XCN site on-lookers I dived into to see what Mass Effect had to offer.

Mass Effect

From the off Mass Effect looked stunning, even though I had seen many videos and trailers from the game it still looked gorgeous to finally see in the flesh. Sadly the pod’s audio was fighting against the others nearby so it was difficult to hear Mass Effect’s audio and its hotly talked about conversation system. From what I saw of this system it was easy to switch between your discussion points and also skip them entirely, this made my experience much better as I was able to skip all the stuff I couldn’t hear get to the good stuff!

During my time in the game I took control of the main character and his two team-mates on one of the many worlds available to you in Mass Effect. The atmosphere and lighting was second to none, making the world you’re exploring very believable. Controlling your character felt very much like Gears of War, which is probably a good thing, it even had a similar take on Gears’ roady-run when you sprint. Like Gears, holding down the left trigger focuses your view over the shoulder of your character, making it easier to aim onto your enemy targets. Selecting your available arsenal is done by pressing down on one of the shoulder buttons – this freezes your game and pulls up a circular weapon menu screen, in a similar fashion to BioShock. From this weapon menu you can view you and your teams’ weapon and equipment load-out, each cut into three segments on screen. Selecting an available weapon for either yourself or your team-mate can be swiftly done moving your analogue sticks in the direction of which weapon or equipment you want to select.

Ordering your team-mates around the level was very intuitive and pretty similar to GRAW or Full Spectrum Warrior. Pointing simply at the floor or at an enemy and pressing up on the D-Pad orders where you’d like your team to move to or fire upon. Overall everything felt quick and intuitive to navigate and execute, leaving you out of the game as little as possible and help keep the game flowing quickly and smoothly.

Enemy AI in the build I played felt solid with intelligent species with weapons taking cover and finding ways to flush you and your team-mates out of your comfortable spots, or they would hide themselves so that you insecurely move away from your position to get a better firing angle. On the other scale there were less intelligent species, such as these bionic kamikaze zombies I came across that would make a bee line to you, leaving you no choice but to run backwards while emptying an entire clip into them to kill them, intense, but great fun.

From the small amount of time I had with Mass Effect it left me with a mighty big impression. The game felt deep and left me wanting to know more, visit new worlds, meet new characters and generally discover many more experiences that the game has to offer. This is one game definitely on my list this Christmas and should be on yours too!

Time to head to the bar…

Overall The Gathering was a well organised and informative event for Microsoft and the Xbox Community. It was a chance for smaller sites like us to get hands-on with some big titles coming out this Christmas as well as meet new faces, hear from such game gurus like Peter Molyneux and speak to the people behind the games played. I hope we see more events like this from Microsoft UK in the future and hopefully a Gathering 2008 next year!

(Thanks to Rob from MSXbox World for the pictures)

Anthony Barker

Anthony is the designer, developer and owner of Console Monster. In his spare time, Anthony is a keen gamer who enjoys playing mostly First-Person Shooters and Racing games. When he is not developing games or tweaking this site, Anthony likes to be on the slopes snowboarding or hurtling down off-road tracks on his mountain bike.

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