I was fortunate enough to attend a press event at Bandai Namco’s London offices recently. It turned out to be the same as most evenings with gamers – full of pizza, beer and geeks. I chatted with marketers and PR and – most importantly – played a bunch of games.
First was Project Cars 2, running on PC at 4K/60. As someone who traditionally plays arcade racing games – think Burnout or Wipeout – more than sims – think Forza or Gran Turismo – I’ll admit PC2’s handling caught me off guard. The game reprimanded me for illegal takeovers and I seemed to constantly oversteer or lose control of my vehicle. I pretended to be too busy admiring the detailed cockpit view to acknowledge that I’d smashed the windscreen and rear end of my Ferrari, and thoroughly enjoyed the simulated first person view; beyond the traditional internal view of the car, it simulates the driver’s glances towards upcoming corners and focus on track rivals, lending another layer of realism to the experience.
After a couple of races, I realised my error – PC2 is a true sim. You can’t hit the pedal to the metal and hope for the best; trigger control is sensitive, and you follow the rules of the road. One track – a small, twisted mud circuit – was all about repetition. My AI race engineer radioed in my headphones – “that was your best sector yet, keep going,” and I felt that drive to shave a second or two from my time. As someone who wasn’t particularly excited about PC2 going in, coloured by the launch issues and muddled reception of the original, I left with a renewed interest. The level of attention to detail and clear love for motorsport in general shone throughout.
Next was the game I was most excited for, Ni No Kuni II. The second the game launched I checked the dev units visual settings, convinced I was looking at a 4K image. It turned out the game was running at 1080p, it was just that crisp. The first Ni No Kuni was a highlight of last gen, and the demo convinced me the sequel will be just as successful. One scenario saw the characters take on a gigantic dragon in the heart of a volcano – the new fighting mechanics, including dynamic assists and a deceptively simple power move set offering fluidity and strategy to the battle.
That same difficulty from the original was on show in full force here – I was swiftly killed by the dragon. Studio Ghibli’s charm is as bright as ever; the second scenario offered the briefest snippet of an open area with NPCs, and I could feel myself smiling. Like a beautiful animation come to life, the production quality is even higher than the first title. The charmingly British voice actors add a touch of humanism to the characters as well, and it’s all as weird and confusing as you’d hope and expect – an acquired taste, but a sweet one, and distinctly Japanese.
From one living animation to another, the highly anticipated Dragon Ball FighterZ was a blast. At times the game looked as if it literally were an episode of the classic anime. Think Skullgirls level of detail and you’re halfway there. I furiously smashed buttons and was swiftly defeated by my co-worker. There’s a lot to like here – 3v3 fights are as frantic as you’d expect of a title from the Guilty Gear team. Yelling, laughing and a lot of people going Super Saiyan made it all as much fun as you’d expect. It’s not as strict and serious as Street Fighter, but much tighter than Soul Calibur, striking a healthy balance somewhere in the middle. It feels like the kind of game I can play casually alongside my fighting game fanatic brother’s more intensive playstyle.
Next was my personal highlight, one that I’d not expected at all – Ace Combat 7. I’m aware of the Ace Combat franchise but have never really played one before, and what was on show here was certainly impressive, with the demo running at an uncapped framerate, beautiful graphics and top notch sound design. As had been noted at the introductory talk, there isn’t really anything to compete with Ace Combat in the industry, a gap in the market Bandai Namco are eager to plug. But the real attraction was VR.
This was the real ‘wow’ moment of the evening. My first experience with PSVR, and it left me beyond impressed. I put on the headset, some headphones and grabbed a DualShock. Booting into the game, I felt myself tense up with anticipation. Radio chatter, a jet in front of me cleared for takeoff. I watched it zoom away and felt the anticipation rising. I was granted clearance to go but had lost myself looking around the cockpit – highly detailed, giving real presence to it all, with a radar tracking enemy jets and a floating UI letting you know which weapon is selected. I pulled R2 and took off, the sense of speed and feeling of height blowing me away.
I played through the demo twice, gaining more confidence as I went, deliberately pulling riskier moves as I flew upside down and close to land masses, marvelling as my brain almost tricked me into feeling the g-forces. If you’re waiting for a killer PSVR app, Ace Combat 7 is it, and the guys at Bandai Namco know it. The genuine excitement from the head of marketing for the title was infectious.
All too quickly things were wrapping up. Pleasantries exchanged, high scores set on the employee arcade machines. An evening of interesting chats punctuated with new and exciting games isn’t the worst way to spend a Tuesday, it turns out. Now if those games could hurry up and all be out…