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Die-hard fans of real-time strategy games may disagree with me, but I've felt like the genre has been due for something of a new approach for some time. So I'm definitely intrigued by Order of War, the World War II-themed RTS due on PC from Square Enix this Fall.

Order of War Trailer

Order of War Teaser »


Though it might appear to be a fairly standard RTS at first glance, the designers are aiming to create something that's much more accessible than games in the genre tend to be. Gone are micromanaging of bases and units. Gone is the need to harvest any sort of resource. In their place is a streamlined game of large-scale tactics.

As a high-level commanding officer in World War II, you take control of either American or German forces through nine key battles in the European theater. You have a wide variety of different units at your disposal, from basic grunts all the way up to seriously powerful tanks and aircraft. But where many games give you the option of directing units individually, Order of War puts you in command of much larger groups of units, and relies on AI to give the individuals their immediate objectives.

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Trauma Team First-Look Preview

The Trauma Center series has delivered blood and guts to Nintendo platforms since the launch of Under the Knife for the DS in 2005, and really came to prominence when Second Opinion was released as a launch game for the Wii. Using a series of minigame-style scenes, players would operate on patients with a variety of ailments, accompanied by a melodramatic storyline full of over-the-top characters. It's also delivered a heck of a lot of weirdness, with themes of bizarre science fiction and the supernatural.

For the latest game, the designers are looking to bring the series a bit closer to the plausible. Trauma Team, due in Spring of 2010 for the Wii, still takes place in the future, but it's a little less "out-there," in the words of an Atlus representative.

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Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games Preview

It still strikes me as almost unfathomably weird to see a bunch of characters from the Mario Bros. series and a bunch of characters from the Sonic series in the same game. The fact that the game they're in is yet another officially licensed Olympic product just heightens the weirdness. But there it is: Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games, due in October on Wii and DS.

In the brief demo of gameplay Sega offered, our small group first got a look at the DS version. Most interesting here is the fact that this version features an exclusive Adventure Tours mode, which is sort of a light RPG in which all the main protagonists of the Mario and Sonic universes join together to defeat Bowser and Eggman. Seems this unholy alliance has set out to melt all the snow in Olympic Village and kidnap all the snow spirits. Using a combination of minigames and light puzzles, players explore the snowy world in what the developers believe is the first time Mario and Sonic characters have ever worked together in this sort of game.

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Warriors: Legends of Troy Preview

Since its rise to prominence on the PS2, the Dynasty Warriors series has made its name by throwing players into the midst of historically-themed battles, where they would then proceed to hack-and-slash their way through massive hordes of enemies. This "one versus many" gameplay has served the series well through six numbered releases, as well as the major side series Samurai Warriors, which replaces the Three Kingdoms-era China setting with feudal Japan.

Now Koei is branching off in yet another direction, taking on the theme of the Trojan War as told by The Iliad and other epic works. But unlike most other stories told of the Trojan War, which focus on only the final year of the war as told by The Iliad, Warriors: Legends of Troy aims to tell the complete story. And it aims to do so with more realism than in some of the previous games in Koei's flagship franchise; I'm told this will be the first Warriors title to feature blood, and that it will feature more "brutal, aggressive, and gritty" combat.

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SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo 3 Hands-On Preview

The Fireteam Bravo series is big business on the PSP. Each of the previous two games has sold over a million copies, and players have racked up countless kills in the games' robust online modes.

So a sequel was a no-brainer. But it's clear the designers aren't content with just churning out another set of maps; Fireteam Bravo 3 packs enough additions and improvements to feel like a legitimate evolution of the franchise.

First and most noticeable is the addition of two new teammates to the squad. The two-man team of the previous games is now a full four-man squad as in the original SOCOM games on PS2. This should offer a greater tactical element, allowing for more complex, concerted maneuvers. (Also adding to the tactical side of things is an enhanced weapon customization feature, with five slots available to add things like suppressors and scopes).

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MAG Hands-On Preview

Zipper Interactive knows how to think big. Maybe it's the fact that the company got its start designing Apache helicopter sims for the U.S. military -- it may be that any civilian game development feels like a cakewalk in comparison. But whatever the reason, the developer has been pushing forward in the online arena since they launched the PS2 network adapter with the original SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs way back in 2002. The series started out with 16-player online play, and graduated to 32-player matches with SOCOM 3. 2006's Combined Assault added four-player co-op. These were sensible, predictable improvements.

MAG, on the other hand, is almost ridiculously ambitious.

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Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier Hands-On Preview

3D platformers are damn tough to do well on the PSP. The analog slider is too imprecise, and the d-pad doesn't offer the analog control that's a necessity for the genre. But that's not stopping High Impact Games, developer of Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters and Secret Agent Clank, from taking another swing at the genre.

This time, they're adapting the Naughty Dog franchise Jak and Daxter to the small screen. In The Lost Frontier, our cartoonishly heroic duo finds themselves exploring the most distant areas of their world, where they discover the areas where the legendary Precursors stopped building the planet. With a new perspective into the inner workings of their world, they learn that the Eco -- the magical essence that flows through the world -- is dramatically out of balance. Their job, of course, is to restore it.

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Tony Hawk: Ride Feet-On Preview

"When you design a hardware peripheral, you have to design a game at the same time." That's what Josh Tsui, president of Tony Hawk: Ride developer Robomodo, says about his game's dramatically different style from its Tony Hawk predecessors. And the idea for the peripheral definitely came first: Tony Hawk himself had been bugging Activision for years to try to get a skateboard controller made. But it finally happened, and the result is Ride -- and its decidedly unorthodox controller.

Stepping onto the Ride controller is almost exactly like stepping onto a skateboard. The size is similar, the curves are the same, and even the balance feels the same (at least on the carpet of the demo room where I got to try the game out). Slight changes in weight and pressure lean the board easily, which is what controls steering. Running a foot alongside controls speed, just as on a real skateboard. And tricks are performed with motions similar to real life: popping the front end up performs an ollie, tilting the board to either side while doing that performs a kickflip, and so on. The board even has sensors to detect when you're grabbing it, which is crucial for advanced vert tricks.

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Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 Preview

The Superhuman Registration Act was a nasty business. Enacted in the Marvel Universe in 2006, it required superheroes to register themselves as weapons of mass destruction. In doing so, it caused a schism in the superhero community, with some joining behind Iron Man in support of national security, and others lining up with Captain America in defense of personal liberties. Now you'll get to choose a side for yourself. In Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, due in September for pretty much every game console, we join our heroes on the eve of the passage of the SHRA, in an adventure that adds a social and political element to the action-RPG formula established with the previous game.

This time around, the lineup includes 24 playable Marvel characters "out of the box" -- with more downloadable or unlockable, perhaps? -- including, for the first time, villains. In the demo we were given, I saw Spider-Man, Wolverine, Iron Man, Thing, Thor, Juggernaut, Storm, Mr. Fantastic, Hulk, the Human Torch, Venom, Juggernaut, Songbird, Captain America and Deadpool (who has a habit of directly addressing the player, in what Activision promises will be a regular occurrence of breaking the "fourth wall").

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Aliens vs. Predator Preview

You're walking through the halls of a colonial outpost. It's obvious something bad has happened here. Sliding doors hang slightly askew, lights flicker ominously, and everywhere you see holes where something very nasty has eaten through the metal floor. And the floor below. And the floor below that.

You're a rookie in the Colonial Marines, sent to investigate a distress call by a group of colonists stationed on this far-off planet. You're scared, sure, but you've got teammates beside you to back you up. Working your way up multiple levels of deserted base, you end up at a makeshift barricade manned by another Marine. She's obviously as nervous as you are, but your motion sensor is reporting nothing but its reassuring neutral ping.

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Bayonetta Hands-On Preview

Let's get this out of the way first: Bayonetta is unquestionably, intentionally provocative. Here's a game that stars a voluptuous witch kicking angel ass and taking halos. She walks with an exaggerated swaying of the hips that is just this side of absurd. She carries a pair of guns and has another pair strapped to her ankles, which she is able to use while performing handstands and other acrobatics. You know, like you do. And she's clad in her own hair, which -- stick with me here -- is also used to form huge magical creatures that devour her enemies. (And of course, when her hair is being used in such a fashion, there's hardly any left to cover her delicate bits. Imagine!)

So to some people, Bayonetta is no doubt fairly offensive. It's also completely awesome.

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World War II games. It's the genre everybody loves to hate to love. We gripe about mowing down swarms of Nazis even as we gobble up the next WWII-based shooter. It's become practically a running joke in the industry. Maybe that's why Pandemic created The Saboteur, a game set in World War II that's unlike any other game in the genre.

You take on the role of Sean Devlin, a race car driver turned resistance leader who's based on the real-life William Grover-Williams. When "someone close to Devlin" is killed (the designers are being cagey regarding who), he sets out to get his vengeance on the killer: The driver for a rival team, who also happens to be a Nazi. 

The Saboteur E3 2009 Trailer

 

The Saboteur E3 Trailer »


 

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Funny thing about weapons. They have a nasty habit of falling into the wrong hands. This is a lesson Third Echelon is about to learn. They spent years turning Sam Fisher into a very advanced, very potent, very lethal weapon. But in Splinter Cell: Conviction, all those finely honed stealth and spy skills that turned Sam into such a powerful, silent killer have fallen into the wrong hands: his own.

Yes, Sam's gone rogue, spurred by the death of his daughter to strike out on his own and track down the people responsible for her death. In leaving Third Echelon he leaves behind an arsenal of fancy gadgets and futuristic weapons. But he still has all the skills that were the real secret to his success. 

Splinter Cell: Conviction Demo from Ubisoft E3 2009 Press Conference

'Splinter Cell: Conviction' Demo From Ubisoft's E3 Press Con »



It's the Splinter Cell designers' chance to "tell a more personal story," says Lead Designer Steve Masters. But it's not just the story itself that's new -- it's also the way it's being told. Conviction is delivering its story in a ballsy new way, using uniquely stylistic methods to convey the kind of information usually reserved for cut-scenes and heads-up displays. We see cinematics splashed across walls as Sam moves through the environment, as if from a film projector. Mission objectives are plastered in 20-foot-tall type on the sides of buildings. Changes of scene are hidden with deceptive zooms and other cinematic tricks, so that the player never experiences a loading screen. "We want to tell the story," says Masters, "without ever breaking the scene."

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The Battlefield franchise has always been about big, big multiplayer. So it should come as no surprise that for one of the first hands-on sessions ever given to the press, EA sat a group of eight journalists down in a darkened back room in the opening moments of E3 for a multiplayer session with Battlefield: Bad Company 2 on 360. 

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Multiplayer Trailer

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Multiplayer Trailer »


We're thrown in with almost no preamble. After a quick rundown of the different loadouts -- recon, assault, engineer -- we're dropped into a frenzied multiplayer match in a huge snowy environment. Literally dropped: We parachute in to start the match. (Well, those of us who figure out that we need to tap "A" to deploy our chutes parachute in. The rest of us just splat.) The action starts off on foot, but players quickly pick up vehicles. A two-person ATV provides nimble and speedy transport, while tanks and armored personnel carriers provide slower but more reliable support.

Our goals are marked clearly in orange on the HUD: two crates stashed in buildings, which we need to destroy by planting charges. We push forward in a scraggly line, attempting to focus on the goal. As players test out the game's weapons -- especially the grenade launcher the assault class spawns with -- snow-covered trees fall and buildings crumble. That's because a significant part of the environment is destructible. Got an enemy guarding a door? Chances are you can blow a hole through the back wall and get in that way. OK, sure, that might draw some attention. You'll have to figure out if it's worth it.

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