Normal people love summer because it means warm weather, vacations, family barbeques and big-budget Hollywood movies. I am not your normal person. I love summer because it means I get to make my yearly pilgrimage to San Francisco to attend 1C's Another Night in Moscow press event. This one-day event features the finest in Russian games, food and, of course, vodka.
At first glance Another Night in Moscow 2010 is like every other game event I've ever been to. It has booth babes, flowing alcohol and areas set up for attendees to play games. But then I looked around and realize that I'm not at your usual video game event ... I'm in BIZARRO WORLD! I look left and right, I'm stuck in the middle of a wild room full of crazy games and even unpronounceable foods. And then it's over. And just like that I was left wondering what had just happened. All you have left is that long, awkward drive back from San Francisco. The car filled with silence.
Now that I'm safely home and have completely sobered up, I have decided to work out some of the things I learned from my night in "Moscow." With my glowing shot glass in hand and my comfy Russian hat firmly atop my head, I'm ready to spill the secrets and dredge up my memories of Another Night in Moscow 2010!
Russians Really Like War Simulators
I'm afraid I owe Activision an apology. For the past couple years I've been lamenting that the biggest video game publisher in the world is spending too much time with war games. After getting back from my time in "Moscow" I suddenly have a brand new perspective of what too many war games looks like. With the exception of four or five noteworthy titles, almost all of 1C's showing was dedicated to the history of war. It all leads me to believe that Russian gamers must really like war simulators.
The night started with some of the obvious wars, such as World War II (Men of War: Assault Squad) and Korea (Theatre of War 2: Korea) and of course Vietnam (Men of War: Vietnam). But don't look now, because there are also a few games set in fantasy wars (King's Bounty: Crossworlds), old timey wars (Real Warfare 1242) and space war (Star Wolves 3: Ashes of Victory). And we haven't even gotten into Death to Spies 3, which takes place in the Cold War. I'm surprised that 1C didn't announce Iraq 'N' Roll, the world's most dangerous truck driving simulator.
The good news is that most of these war games bring something new to the table. While I consider myself something of a peacenik, even I started get into the unique brand of real-time strategy. I also fell in love with King's Bounty: Crossworlds, the newest expansion pack to this unique series. Even more telling is the fact that not a single one of these war games plays from the first-person perspective. That's a lesson most American game companies could stand to learn.
Even Russians Know That Pirates Are Awesome!
1C's most accessible game had nothing to do with war or racing, but rather ... pirates??? It's true: The title most traditional gamers would be excited about was the long-overdue Captain Blood. Developed by SeaWolf, Captain Blood has been in development for more than four years. It's so old that it originally started as an original Xbox game. But fear not, because all this time has given the developers a chance to fine tune the gameplay and offer a more cohesive package.
Think of it as God of War meets Captain Hook. You play a guy out for gold and glory not afraid to do whatever it takes. This means you'll need to forcefully take other people's boats, go toe-to-toe with countless sword-wielding foes and sink the competition with cannon balls. All of this is couched in a nice story and a good looking (albeit outdated) art style.
Of course, I already knew all of this. Gamers who followed our coverage last year will no doubt remember this action game. What I learned this time around is that 1C is teaming up with a major publisher to get Captain Blood into as many homes as possible. While I can't report any concrete names right now, some of the names include companies well acquainted with costumed characters. Based on what I've seen and played of the game, this can be only good news. Hopefully an agreement can be reached quickly and Captain Blood can finally hit store shelves, as there just aren't enough swashbuckling pirate games on the Xbox 360 ... or any system for that matter.
The Future of Racing Games is a Winch!
As a lifelong fan of racing games, I'll admit to being more excited about gimmicky additions than the normal person. I was excited about the cel-shading in Auto Modellista, the one-wheeled antics of Nintendo's Uniracers and the role-playing elements in Final Lap Twin. After playing so many racers, I was under the impression that I had seen every gimmick possible. But my night in "Moscow" included a game mechanic so crazy that I still feel like I'm being Punk'd. Because there's no way a video game company would create a racing game around a winch, right?
It turns out that conventional wisdom fails us once again, because Off Road Drive is the racing game that intends to make the winch standard. Okay, so maybe that's not entirely true. This is a realistic rally racing game that has you speeding your way through mud, sand and other sticky substances. But again, the winch is there for a reason. I found that I spent more time stuck in the mud than actually racing, which is where the winch comes in. Because it's so easy to get stuck, the game actually requires you to do something about it. It's an interesting gimmick, but to say that it slows the race down is an understatement.
As is the case with all preview builds, we have no idea how forgiving the finished product will be. But it was obvious that Off Road Drive left the attendance a little cold. There's no question that the realistic mud physics turned some gamers off, including this writer. However, a room full of drunken game journalists may not have been the right audience for this realistic simulator. There's a reason why nobody has added a winch to their games -- it's the same reason you can't blow a tire in Ridge Racer. It's because it's no fun to do these everyday things. We are playing a racing game to race, not to get stuck in the mud.
I Have the Power To Kill Celebrities!
According to most comic books, a superhero doesn't ask for his powers. Spider-Man didn't set out to get bitten by a radioactive spider and I'm sure Aquaman wasn't intending to become the protector of the sea. I bring all this up so that you'll understand that I did not choose my superpower. Much like Bruce Banner and Peter Parker, my superpower was simply thrust on me, and was in no way my doing. While other people have the ability to fly, travel through time and turn into a green giant, I have the power to kill celebrities!
It's true, and I can prove it. Last year as I made my way down to San Francisco, I lamented about Michael Jackson's career. My Defunct Games cohort Patrick O'Connor and I had a spirited discussion about his video game ties, scandals and the way he's avoided making music for close to a decade. I ultimately concluded that while Michael Jackson's life has been tragic, I'm not ready for him to die. Sadly, Mr. Jackson died on that very day. In fact, there's a good chance that he died while Patrick and I were discussing his career. Spooky.
Of course, this one death could have been coincidence. I mean, there's no way that my mere words could take down the King of Pop. Right? It turns out I was wrong, because the exact same thing happened this time around. As we drove down to San Francisco, Patrick and I had a long debate about The Golden Girls, a show that helped launch Mitchell Hurwitz, the creator of Arrested Development. While talking about Bettie White and the rest of the gals, I inadvertently said that Rue McClanahan was dead. I was wrong ... or was I? It turns out that at the exact same time I was accidentally writing her obituary, somebody hundreds of miles away was doing the exact same thing. This just proves that I'm a killer and I shouldn't say a thing about any celebrities. I can't even talk about the celebs I want to die, because my powers are just too strong. So I bite my tongue and hope to never kill another celebrity again. To the families of Michael Jackson and Rue McClanahan, I'm sorry; I certainly didn't set out to kill anybody.
Russians Are Hardcore!
So you think that playing games all your life makes you hardcore? You think that standing in front of a Best Buy to pick up an Xbox 360 at launch gives you street cred? Think again, chump. The most important thing I learned from my night in "Moscow" was that the Russians don't mess around when it comes to their games. We've already talked about their penchant for war games, but it extends far beyond the types of games they play. It turns out that no matter what game they're playing, the Russians want everything to be as difficult as humanly possible.
Interview after interview, I discovered that the Russian game developers had no patience for America's easy games. Uncharted 2? God of War III? Alan Wake? Chush' sobach'ya, these guys weren't having any of that. They wanted games that really challenged you, in ways that you would never forget. And they've done it -- last year I attempted to review Death to Spies: Moment of Truth only to discover I couldn't get past the first level. There's punishing difficulty and then there's Death to Spies.
Sadly it's not just Death to Spies that suffered from being much, MUCH too difficult. Practically every game at 1C's event had some sort of game mechanic that made it needlessly challenging. You know the Russians are hardcore when they use a winch as a major selling point. And there's a part of me that loves them for it, even when they scoff at the idea of dumbing their games down for the English-speaking markets. Just remember, the next time you think you're hardcore, I have a copy of Dead to Rights with your name on it.
And it's not just their games that make them hardcore. It's the fact that they had a vodka drink for every color of the rainbow, including a few they started to make up as the night wore on. It's the fact that they had an ex-spy whose arms were tattooed with the men and women he's killed. It's the fact that the home of the biggest nuclear disaster of all time gave out glowing shot glasses. It's the fact that all this was held at the Russian Consulate and they flew in cupcakes with sea salt. Alright, maybe that doesn't make them hardcore. But I definitely came away from this event with a better understanding of the difference between American and Russian gamers.
I'd like to thank 1C for helping to provide transportation and lodging for the event.