Demo Daze

I spent a good chunk of today wading through the demos that had piled up recently on my Xbox. I don't typically make a habit of playing a lot of the demos that come out -- usually I let them sit for months before shrugging my shoulders and deleting them to make room for other demos I won't play -- but today was different. I played, deleted, downloaded, and played some more.

Yes, I'm still nursing that initial 20-gig hard drive along.

So, without further ado, here's some thoughts on five of the higher profile demos to be unveiled recently on Xbox Live.

Resident Evil 5
There's little I can say that hasn't been said countless times on other sites, but I'll try anyway. In short, this is the sequel to what I consider one of the best games I've ever played. Despite hating (see also: detesting, loathing, and despising) the first three games in the series, RE4 really captured my attention and didn't let go. RE5 looks to be more of the same, although set in a different locale, with improved graphics, and a new co-op mode that seems to allow for more intense fire-fights that still retain some semblance of winnability. I didn't check out any of the online co-op with the demo. Instead, I played through the two scenes included in the demo, smiled, and deleted it. There's really no reason to ruin the surprise for later. If you liked RE4, you'll want to pick this one up. It's a day-one purchase for me. Release date: 3/13/09.

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X
Now here is a surprise. Despite still having an unopened copy of Ace Combat 6 on my shelf and generally avoiding any of the games with Tom Clancy's name in the title on account of not liking my games too simmy, but this flight-combat game really impressed me. For the most part, it's typical near-future Tom Clancy military drama but unlike the other games, this one is set in the skies across real-world locales (the demo takes place above Rio de Janeiro) and is loaded with exquisitely detailed aircraft. Naturally, the story appears to be complex and the dialogue has that Clancy authenticity that all his games share. Best of all, the game was easy to pick up and play, looks and sounds absolutely fantastic, and I positively love the challenge and XP system that is built into the game. Not sure if I'm going to rush out and buy this, but it's definitely making me consider renewing my Gamefly membership. Release date: 3/03/09.

Halo Wars
As a one-time huge fan of the Age of Empires series, I have a deep respect for the work Ensemble Studios (R.I.P.) has done with the RTS genre, and judging by this demo, their final game is another excellent addition to their portfolio. That said, I have no interest in picking this up. Never mind my complete lack of interest in the Halo mythos, I simply don't have the time and the desire necessary to really get into titles like this anymore. To be honest, I stopped playing halfway through the advanced tutorial and deleted it. The game looks great, the interface has been masterfully built around the console controller (not a small feat), and I have no doubt that all of the RTS staples are there. But I just don't care. It's not you, Halo Wars, it's me. Well, actually it is you. It's your story, your unit names, your sci-fi powers, and abilities, and your too-serious Covenant references. I just don't care. It's really too bad Ensemble couldn't just make a console version of their wonderful decade-old Rise of Rome expansion for AoE. That I would have loved. Release date: 3/03/09.

F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin
I was about five minutes into this demo before remembering that I not only played the original F.E.A.R. but actually liked it quite a bit. I wondered how I could have forgotten playing a game of this popularity, then remembered it was probably because I had put the annoyance known as PC gaming firmly behind me. And this demo only helps lock that memory away for good. Imagine, a hi-res FPS that looks and sounds fantastic, controls exceptionally well, is filled with cutting-edge effects and gameplay elements... and you don't have to spend a week tweaking your system to get it to run. The thought puts a smile on my face. While it's hard to get too much of a feel for the game from the demo alone, other than to say it's a semi-futuristic first-person shooter with excellent bullet-time usage, plenty of blood, and a lot of fright, it seems clear that the sequel has the fantastic enemy A.I. of the original and added to it better weaponry, some very cool mecha sections, and even more creepy horror elements. But really, the best thing to say about F.E.A.R 2 is that it makes you realize just how brain-dead the enemy intelligence is in all of those other shooters we like to play. I'm going to pick this up and hopefully be able to convince some of my friends to put down COD4 and L4D to play this. Release date: Now available.

Afro Samurai
Now here was the surprise of the day. I wasn't sure why I downloaded this game. I certainly didn't expect any more than for it to be yet another cheesey videogame adaptation of a movie adapted from a comic book. Or something. Wow, was I wrong. Let it be known that, of the five demos I played today, this was the only one I didn't delete after playing. The style, the gameplay, the presentation, it's all fantastic. And it doesn't help to have Samuel L. Jackson over your shoulder narrating the story in some sort of wild real-time flashback storytelling mechanism. The game pits you as Afro, the title character, and you hack and slash your way through enemy-filled areas in search of, well I don't know what yet. The action shifts between real-time, high-speed combat, to an in-focus bullet-time, and then to a lengthier in-focus mode when Afro is really outnumbered. Jackson's script and voice-acting work is mother f&#%ing superb, as you'd hope, and the graphic-novel style graphics and excellent music compliment the action and story perfectly. The game actually looks quite a bit like Sly Cooper, which is a good thing in my book. I really enjoyed the lack of a HUD and the use of the "meters" being built into Afro's pendant and only came away with a minor gripe about the camera and a concern that it could become a bit repetitive. Sadly, the video review below bears this out. Release date: Now available.

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