E3 2006 First Impressions: Gundam: Mobile Suit for PS3

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E3 2006 First Impressions: Gundam: Mobile Suit for PS3

Los Angeles (CA) – The media preview window early this morning let reporters from the gaming and technical fields see up close, first-hand, the state of games under development for Sony’s PlayStation 3. Monday’s press conference left many of these same reporters wondering how playable these games actually are, even though quite ironically, Sony gave the most transparent, hands-on demonstration of any of the Big Three.

Sony set up five rows of demonstration systems on the show floor, with each row featuring four systems on two sides, for a total of ten games. Every one of them was in playable condition, although none of them represented their completed state – a bug in the corner of EA’s Madden NFL ’07 clearly read “WIP : 30%.”  On the south side of Sony’s PS3 display, catching reporters just as they streamed in the main gate of West Hall, was Bandai Namco’s Gundam: Mobile Suit, which sources say may be renamed Mobile Ops: The One Year War. Set in what many call the “Gundam Universe” (whose other titles actually include a trivia quiz), Mobile Suit offers gamers an arena for low-cover guerilla combat in a scenario tailor-made for network gaming, although perhaps matches will last shorter than one year.

One of the first reporters on the scene to try out Bandai Namco’s Gundam: Mobile Suit for the PlayStation 3.

The premise involves a battle between loosely-aligned mechanized warriors with super armored suits that include rocket jet-packs and built-in offensive weaponry. There’s a more detailed explanation for that premise, but in practice, it boils down to this. While the right joystick manages mobility, the left joystick provides an independent camera view that peers down toward the player’s “suit” from any angle. The shape buttons manage the armory and mechanized components.

What takes a little getting used to is the fact that “forward” from the perspective of the guy wearing your suit is always “up,” even though your camera angle may be looking back. In a way, getting used to this “separation of powers” can be part of the fun. There isn’t much one needs to learn to join in an arena of combat. The way things are set up here, there aren’t many opportunities for you to “take cover,” except perhaps behind a hill of significant size. You’re a slow-moving target, except during those periods when you’re flying and burning rocket fuel.

If a mechanized suit were truly designed for desert warfare in a rocky topology, perhaps item number one on its features list would have to be the ability to climb a hill. One of these Gundam suits (pardon my French) can climb a hill, all right, but your player’s head has this annoying tendency to want to right itself, exactly the way that turrets don’t when the tanks to which they’re attached are climbing up hills. If I’ve got tank treads or suction feet that help me climb a hill, I expect to be pointed skyward as I’m ascending. This way, I’m not aiming my fifty-billion-dollar weapon directly at solid rock, while some fellow at the top of the hill is aiming down at me.

The guy in front of me is only 10 feet higher than I am. I should have a clear shot…instead, I’m in trouble. I’m looking sideways, and I’m not used to the fact that forward is still “up” instead of “right.”

There isn’t much by way of artificial intelligence at this point for the mechanized soldiers; they only shoot at you unless you shoot at them first, which isn’t much like any threat to the whole of humankind that I’ve ever encountered. Still, this is a demo, whose high point is the way the terrain is mapped, the topology is presented, and the scene seems truly outdoors. For a bleak environment, it is a stunning one in high-definition, clearly attracting reporters and passers-by. If PS3 games can make bleak landscapes look this impressive, imagine what they might accomplish for sprawling urban areas.

At 60 frames per second in high-resolution, the relative sloth in which these characters move is very painfully pronounced. They’re not blocky at all, the way they would have been on a 1980s model PC; instead, they’re lumbering, like concrete koalas, thus far failing to resemble any guerilla warfare I’ve ever seen footage of. If the final game’s premise and practice end up continuing to be this simple, it may require the help of the alcoholic beverage industry to aid gamers in mustering the will to continue. Today, more than one reporter we saw testing out Mobile Suit left it behind to move on, muttering it was obvious this is just a demo.

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