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E3 Impressions: Atari

7:29 PM, Jul 16, 2011   |    comments
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At Atari's booth this year, I was able to get my hands on three different titles, besides the classic arcade cabinets they were allowing people to compete on. Atari is reaching back into their catalog for old franchises, and bringing them new life on new systems.

The first game I got to try out was Warlords, a downloadable remake of a very old title for the Atari 2600. Four players each have a castle in a corner of the game area, and fireballs bounce around trying to break them down. You have two ways of fending off the fireballs and preventing your castle from being destroyed. The first is with a shield that moves around your castle, which you control with one stick. The other is with a small warrior that can move anywhere on the field with the other stick, who is attempting to not only battle the fireballs but collect powerups that can help you survive.

As with any game that makes you control two things at once, the gameplay is really hectic. Your attention is constantly divided, and I often found myself losing focus on the fireballs as I tried to obtain a powerup. That's normal for those kinds of games, though, and adds to the fun. What really bothered me was the fact that it felt like my sticks were flipped; the character, on the left, was controlled by my right stick, and my shield on the right controlled with the left stick. I asked if the sticks could be switched, and the rep was unsure, unfortunately. It was my only major gripe with the title, though, which is entertaining and seems like a good deal for a downloadable title. The visuals are nice, too, giving a colorful futuristic theme to the game, and the colors are bright enough that it's hard to lose track of things, even if you will get confused with all the action. Warlords is currently available for Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, and PC.

The next title I saw was the only Facebook title I saw at the entire show, and it was also the most expansive Facebook title I've ever seen: Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes of Neverwinter. It's a through-and-through RPG, based on the 4th Edition ruleset for tabletop 'Dungeons & Dragons', that has you traveling the land, exploring dungeons, defeating monsters, and recovering treasure. Along with your customizable hero, you can have friends join you with their characters, or you can recruit other heroes to play with you at the tavern.

When you choose to go off on an adventure, you'll head into dungeons, which are viewed from an isometric three-quarters view, and divided into many squares. Both you and the enemies can only move so many squares per turn, as would happen in a D&D adventure, and you can level up your characters to do more damage and increase other stats. Each character has a D&D-esque description to go with it, as well; defeating them yields either the next floor of the dungeon, or treasure. Atari told me there were over 100 monsters in the game, which is an impressive number, to be sure.

How far you can go in a sitting depends on how much energy you have; you need a certain amount of energy to go on certain adventures, and this recharges slowly over time, though being in a live chat with other players can help recharge it faster. Each adventure will last you about 15 minutes, and I'm told players can get 20-30 minutes of playtime a day without paying a dime for extra energy. In addition to the main questing portion of the game, each hero (of which you can have up to four) will have his own house, which you can deck out as you go on more adventures and succeed.

What's most interesting to me is what happens when your character hits level 10: you get the chance to become a dungeonmaster, and create dungeons for other players to play through. User-created content isn't a concept I've seen in other Facebook games, but the depth that this presents to what already seems like a robust RPG experience is very enticing to me. What I was shown at E3 seems much bigger and more fun than Dragon Age: Legends, which I was in the beta for, and which now seems rather shallow and one-dimensional by comparison. Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes of Neverwinter is due to be launched this summer.

Unfortunately, the Wii had a waning presence at this year's E3, and this was visible at the booths of companies such as Atari. There was only one Wii title available for play when I was there: a new entry in the classic Centipede series called Centipede Infestation.

Like the original, Infestation is based on a simple premise: bug-like enemies are heading your way, and you need to shoot them with your gun. Unlike the original Centipede, however, the action takes place in a few different environments, and you're able to aim in all different directions instead of just one. You take control of a young boy or girl with a sweet gun, and enemies will burrow out of the ground and slowly advance toward you. Occasionally, larger enemies will head your way that take more hits, but defeating them will cause a turret to be planted that shoots enemies for you; the development team was inspired by the original game, and how shooting a piece of the centipede created a mushroom that aided you also.

You aim using the Wii Remote's IR pointer, pointing at the part of the screen that you wish to fire upon. The controls so far are accurate and not at all sluggish, and I never felt I had to wrestle with them in order to destroy my enemies. It did take me a few minutes to figure out how to switch to my alternate weapons, which you can pick up as powerups and use until they disappear, but I soon had some grip on that as well, and by the time I was finally dead I was taking out waves of bugs fairly easily. That said, the whole death thing is still being worked on; in the game's early state, you can be killed with a single hit, but I was told this would change as development gets further along.

It's a bit too early in development to make any judgment calls on Centipede Infestation as a complete package, as only the core gameplay has been implemented, but what's there is done quite well. It's a simple yet addictive gameplay concept, and the controls are very quick and responsive, so there's not much there to impede you in your goal of shooting evil bug enemies that are trying to kill you. In its current state, I would say that it would make an excellent downloadable title, but I'd like to see what else they intend to do with the game.

- Jim Avery for news10.net

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