It was all sun, sand, sea and Sierra games for Eurogamer the other week when the artist formerly known as Vivendi took us on a press trip to Mallorca. You might have already seen our previews of Ghostbusters, Prototype and 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand, but they weren't the only games on show.
For starters there was The Bourne Conspiracy. Who cares if it hasn't got Matt Damon in as long as you still get to stab people with biros? Then we took a look at World in Conflict: Soviet Assault, the console follow-up to last year's hit RTS. Read on to find out if they've managed to design a non-rubbish control system.
The second-least surprising revelation of the trip was the announcement Sierra is doing a new Crash Bandicoot game (the first was that the new Crash Bandicoot game has got an ice level). No one was shocked to hear there's another Spyro title coming too but you might be surprised to learn it looks very different to the previous instalments, and quite good. No really no wait don't go.
The Bourne Conspiracy
It's not been long since we published a big old preview of The Bourne Conspiracy. There wasn't much new on show in Spain; the level where our hero escapes from the US Embassy in Zurich was shown again, along with the driving mission.
But this time there was the opportunity to go hands-on and battle one of the game's bosses. The two-button system gives you light and heavy attacks, and you can string these together to pull off combos. Or you can just hammer away in any old fashion and enjoy reasonable success, I found. Simple, but satisfying.
Plus, the option to use objects in the environment adds an interesting dynamic. Objects you can use have a bright sheen to them so as to be easily identifiable. The idea is you maneouvre your enemy near an object, then press B when the relevant icon appears to make use of it. You can pick up a pen and stab your opponent in the hand with it, for example, just like in The Bourne Identity. Or you can whack enemies with books, push their faces into a sink of water, batter them with fire extinguishers and so on. It might sound a bit Itchy and Scratchy but the realistic animations and some excellent sound effects mean the overall effect is cinematic rather than cartoony.
It probably helps that Jeff Imada, stunt co-ordinator for the Bourne films, choreographed the fights in the game, and Matt Damon's body double did the motion capture. Developer High Moon has also been working with screenwriter Tony Gilroy, and Franka Potente has provided a voice-over. There's no sign of Damon himself, however, apparently because he's lost interest in the Bourne franchise altogether. Instead you play as a generic Bourne who has no distinguishing features apart from a horrible cardigan.
One thing which might cause more controversy than Matt Damon's absence is the decision to include quick-time events in the game. "I know they're hit and miss with journalists and consumers. Some people love them, some people hate them, some people think they're overused," observes High Moon's Meelad Sadat.
He reckons the game's designers have done everything possible to ensure the QTEs enhance the gameplay experience, rather than making you want to kill them. For example, there are checkpoints immediately before each QTE, so you don't have to replay whole 10-minute sections if you mess them up. And there are good reasons for including QTEs, according to Sadat.
"We wanted to create the types of situation you see in the film and make them interactive. Those could have been cut-scenes; we could have made it so you sit back, you see a crazy Bourne moment for three seconds, then you're back in the action," he observes. "At the end of the day you guys can decide whether they're overused or not. But there is a logic to it. It wasn't like, 'Hey, let's just throw some button presses in here to make it look cool.'"
It does look cool, though, as does plenty else about The Bourne Conspiracy. Soon you'll be able to see for yourself - the demo is released on XBLA on May 19th and PlayStation Network on May 22nd.
The Bourne Conspiracy will be released for PS3 and Xbox 360 on 27th June.
World in Conflict: Soviet Assault
Eurogamer stalwart Dan Whitehead was a big fan of RTS World in Conflict when it was released last September. He gave it 9/10 in his review, describing it as "one of the most indecently absorbing PC games of the year".
Now WIC is getting an outing on PS3 and Xbox 360. Porting PC RTS games to consoles is not an easy task, as many who have been down the path Massive Entertainment is treading can testify. But in his review Dan also wrote, "World in Conflict plays like a strategy game, but feels like an action game." In which case, could it be this RTS is naturally suited to consoles already?
Producer Petter Sydow reckons so. "For a strategy game, we go very far," he says. "We have a first-person shooter level of immersion, of story progression, of character progression, and we really think that is something the audience will like."
Yes, very nice, but they won't give a toss if the control system doesn't work - as Sydow is all too aware. "That was the biggest design challenge. We're very much focused on how to get those right, and keep the fluidity of the game," he says. "Strategy gaming was built around the mouse; it's built around selecting units and clicking and moving the mouse. We realised we needed to get away from that."
Soviet Assault has a two-tiered control system, explains Sydow. The A button is used to perform most straightforward commands. The second tier involves more buttons, but there are no complex combinations. You can also use the d-pad to select and control units you can't see on-screen, to save you constantly moving the free camera around the map.
Best of all Soviet Assault also features voice control, so you can order reinforcements or attacks just by speaking into your PS3 or Xbox 360 headset. To demonstrate Sydow orders a "guided bomb" then a "precision tank" before telling a dropship to deliver "one light tank", all without any voice recognition problems. He confirms voice control will be localised for different territories.
According to Sydow they've managed to put all the weapons and vehicles from the PC game in Soviet Assault. "I will say that we tweaked one or two maps just to ease down on the multi-tasking and keep the player centred, and we tweaked a couple of the units to make them work better," he reveals. "But otherwise it's basically the same."
Perhaps most importantly, you can still destroy every house and tree you see, and the nukes are back. "We want the end of a multiplayer match to feel like you're playing in an ashtray. Or, if you drop a couple of tactical nukes, like you're playing on the face of the moon."
One major difference is the game's narrative. "In the PC version we had 14 maps telling Parker's story from a US perspective. So for this version we've added a number of levels - less than 14, but the final number hasn't been revealed yet - which will tell you the story from the Soviet point of view.
"We didn't want an American version of Sovietism," Sydow continues. "We tried to get how Russians would feel. An American whose homeland is invaded has one set of motivations; what motivations does the invader have?"
Find out for yourself when the game launches later this year. And if you still reckon the only place for RTS games is on the PC, don't worry. Sierra will be releasing the Soviet Assault maps as downloadable content ("It won't cost as much as a full expansion, we look at it as a mission pack."). There are also plans to launch a new version of the original World in Conflict, complete with the extra maps, in the UK.
World in Conflict: Soviet Assault will be released for PS3 and Xbox 360 this autumn.
Crash Bandicoot: Mind Over Mutant
Last year's instalment in the Crash Bandicoot series was a bit of a disappointment, at least for platform fans who can remember when there was only one PlayStation and it didn't have a number in its name. If you're nine you probably thought it was marvellous, but then you probably also think excrement is hilarious.
Crash Bandicoot: Mind Over Mutant is most definitely a sequel to Crash of the Titans. In that game, you had to "jack" giant monsters - i.e. leap on their backs to take control of them - and complete an increasingly tedious series of fights. The bad news for miserable traditionalists is the titans are back in Mind Over Mutant, but the good news is there appears to be less boring fighting and more good old platforming.
You can also expect the kind of daft plot you'd have put up with in the nineties but can't understand how now, because you've forgotten what it's like to be a child and willing to accept fantastical concepts and all right let's not get into the Star Wars prequels row again. Neo Cortex and N. Brio have devised what's described in the press release as "a text-messaging, do-anything device" (and more honestly by producer Kirsten Forbes as "a sort of i-Phone, BlackBerry thing") that can control the minds of bandicoots and mutants. (Rumours the third Titans game will see Cortex grooming Crash and his friends through his new social networking site are completely made up.)
The game's big new feature is Crash's ability to keep mutants he's jacked in his pocket, and summon them as required to solve certain puzzles or defeat specific enemies ("Pokemon-style", says Forbes, who's clearly not in the business of pretending). There's one mutant who can slow down everything around him while he and Crash keep moving in real-time (Hiro-style?). Another one, TK, has telekinetic powers and can pull blocks out of structures in the environment to create staircases for Crash to climb. Mutants can also build bridges out of ice, form themselves into grappling hooks, turn into balls Crash can roll around on and so on.
Crash himself has new moves too, including a dodge and counter attack and the ability to dig. Plus he can climb vertical surfaces and jump side-to-side between platforms. This is useful as it appears that there's a lot more exploration to be done here than there was in Crash of the Titans. "This is a free-roaming game, essentially, in the same way that Metroid's a free-roaming game," Forbes explains.
The Wii and Xbox 360 versions of the game offer Coco as a playable character in co-op mode, just like in Titans, but now she acts as a gunner. Other new features include the ability to interact with Crash's house, which is where you go to access extras and collectables you've picked up. There are voices by Tom Kenny, otherwise known as Spongebob Squarepants, and Mark Hamill ("We didn't know he could be funny, but he actually is quite funny.").
Is all this worth getting excited about? Probably not, if you're a typical Eurogamer reader. Either you've never liked him in the first place, or the sight of his furry face makes you want to shake him by his pointy shoulders and shout, "But why? Why did you have to change?" Who knows, though, maybe there are some new ideas we just haven't seen yet, and maybe nine year-olds will like it anyway.
Crash Bandicoot: Mind Over Mutant is out on PS2, PSP, DS, Wii and Xbox 360 this autumn.
The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon
The third instalment in the Legend of Spyro trilogy doesn't appear to have a great deal in common with the first two. (This is a good thing, as they were rubbish.) In fact, according to senior producer Chris Wilson, it has more in common with some rather different titles.
"You could say we're a bit inspired by games like God of War and Devil May Cry," he says. "In a lot of kids' games, you don't often get some of those gameplay elements you're seeing in triple-A mature titles. We saw this as a unique opportunity to take some of the cool things we like about GOW and DMC, and bring that to a more mass-market game."
Dawn of the Dragon certainly doesn't look like its predecessors. Not too surprising, when you consider it's the first instalment in the series for PS3 and Xbox 360. But this really is Spyro as you've never seen him before; bigger, more detailed, and swooping around some seriously beautiful environments with amazing agility.
To begin the demo we're shown is a pretty pastoral scene complete with sunlit clouds, sparkling waterfalls and rolling green hills. The high level of detail and superb lighting are impressive. So is the way Spyro soars and dives through the air with, as Wilson explains, an unprecedented level of freedom.
"Spyro can now take off and fly at any point, not just jump and glide. For the most part you can fly everywhere you want to go, and if there's a gap in front of you, you should be able to fly to it. We're conscious you never feel like you're flying to a ledge and you're like, 'I'm right there, why can't I fly to it?'" But surely that will mean players end up flying everywhere rather than running and jumping. Does that mean Dawn of the Dragon isn't a platform game at all?
"We still wanted to stay true to the platforming roots of the series, while at the same time allowing people to feel the sensation of flight. So there is a ceiling to it. You can't fly as high as you want to, there is a limit," Wilson explains.
"We did that because we didn't want to turn it into a flight shooting game where you're always in the air shooting fireballs. In some instances, like if there's a cliff that's really high up, you might need to climb using ivy. We've incorporated a lot of platforming elements into that, so there might be boulders falling and you'll need to jump out of the way. It's very similar to God of War, the way they do their climbing zones."
Other new features include co-op play; you can swap between Spyro and dark dragon Cynder at the touch of a button. There's a two-player co-op mode too, but no online option. Once again Spyro can breathe fire, ice, electricity and earth, and you can choose to focus on upgrading a particular set of abilities. Now you can make use of Cynder's specialities too - poison, shadow, fear and wind.
But you probably won't care about that. What you might care about, if you're the kind of person who likes pretty platform games and wonders why everyone stopped making them in 2004, is how impressive Dawn of the Dragon is looking.
"This being Spyro's first time on next-gen has given us a chance to go back to the drawing board and think about how we can really take advantage of the power of the new consoles," reveals Wilson. "There was definitely a conscious decision to do something different."
The vision, he says, was always to make a game that was like an interactive Disney/Pixar movie - even before Sony started saying that about Ratchet & Clank PS3. "We think we're pretty close. Of course there's always room for achievement, but we think it really is going to feel like you're immersed in this big, epic chapter of a movie trilogy."
Spyro will never appeal to some people. But if you're a fan, or at least used to be before he went all dark and rubbish, you could be in for a treat.
Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon is out on PS2, PS3, Wii, DS and Xbox 360 this autumn.