Hands-On With Gameloft’s E3 2011 Line-Up

One of the biggest stops on our E3 demo tour was the Gameloft booth, situated directly behind Sony’s massive plaza on the show floor. Gameloft has a killer line-up for the next three months, so we wanted to share our impressions of their upcoming first and third-person shooters.

March of Heroes

Gameloft’s first Unreal Engine game, March of Heroes, is a first-person shooter set during the Cold War. You’ll travel to well-known hotspots during the late ’60s and early ’70s, including Vietnam, Afghanistan, and the Russian seas.

March of Heroes feels a lot like the Modern Combat series, right down to the control scheme. In the first of two levels we played, we found ourselves in a jungle firefight, ducking behind sandbags as we exploded barrels and shot at enemy soldiers. An onscreen marker indicated we could call in an airstrike, and when we did, the enemy forces were wiped out in a massive explosion.

The second demo level was set underwater, in the Russian seas. With SCUBA gear on, we slowly navigated our way past fish, turtles, and a moray eel, lighting a flare along the way. There was no shooting in this section, but we did have to tap the screen to avoid falling rocks and underwater mines.

Since this is Gameloft’s first attempt at an Unreal Engine game, the graphics are going to receive a lot of scrutiny. We didn’t think they looked more advanced than Modern Combat 2, and they’re certainly not on the level of Infinity Blade, but March of Heroes ran at a smooth clip even with lots of onscreen action.

March of Heroes not only looks like it has a fun single-player campaign, but it’ll ship with online multiplayer for up to 10 players on five maps. Plus, another cool feature is that it’ll offer a licensed soundtrack with music from period artists like David Bowie and Jefferson Airplane. We’re hoping March of Heroes delivers on its promise of an Apocalypse Now-style war game, complete with an oldies soundtrack.

Backstab

Available now on the Xperia Play, Backstab is set during the time when the British Navy ruled the seas. You play as a sailor who is betrayed by the Navy, and set to be executed. You narrowly escape death, and live to plot your revenge.

Just in the first level, Backstab impressively combines elements of exploration, sword fighting, and platforming. The combat is fast and fun, allowing you to pull off fancy attacks and finishing moves just by mashing the attack button. You can also switch to a pistol, which we had to do to shoot a barrel of gunpowder and open up a route through town.

Like in the console version of Assassin’s Creed, your character can gently or forcefully shove civilians out of the way. During a frantic swordfight, we were startled to find that you can also accidentally kill civilians, but it won’t have an impact on the game if you do.

Backstab was easily the best-looking game Gameloft had on display, even though it doesn’t use the Unreal Engine. Running on an iPad 2, the characters are detailed, the environments are large and complex, and the special effects like torchlight are gorgeous. Our one complaint is that the second level, where you fire cannons at enemy ships, was a bit dull compared to the climbing and fighting of the previous level. Backstab is the upcoming Gameloft game we’re the most excited about.

9mm

Making its debut in a gritty, NSFW trailer, 9mm is a story about a cop who takes a wrong turn in his life. It’s a third-person shooter, where the key gameplay mechanic is slow-motion bullet time. During shootouts with gang members, you can hit a button to slow things down, giving you the upper hand.

In the game’s first level, we were patrolling a tough-looking neighborhood when we received a call to investigate a house suspected of containing drugs. When we got there, a thug who was working under his car opened fire, setting the stage for a big showdown that ends with you crashing through a skylight.

9mm is fairly similar to other third-person Gameloft shooters, such as Zombie Infection, but with bullet time and much more aggressive (and armed) opponents. Amazingly, this shooter will also have 12 person online multiplayer across four maps, and we can only hope that it’ll involve gangland turf wars.

Silent Ops

The newest game of the bunch, Silent Ops is a third-person spy game that combines stealth, platforming, and combat. You play as a member of a secret government organization. We’re not sure of the plot details, but you will travel to exotic locations like Geneva and Hong Kong.

In the first level, we scaled walls, choked out enemy guards, and hacked into the security system with the help of a partner. This was the earliest, and therefore roughest of the Gameloft builds, so the graphics were a bit choppy. But Silent Ops does have a slick, Splinter Cell-style atmosphere, and we hope that it’ll maintain the light fun of an action-spy flick.

All of these games will be on the App Store in the next three months, and they’ll all probably launch in the premium price range ($5-8). Gameloft is continuing to make a strong case for deeper, more complex mobile games. They show no signs of capitulating to the Angry Birds audience, and we’re incredibly glad they’re making the effort.