Going into E3, you know quite a bit about what to expect. There will be more info on a bunch of stuff you know about and you've got a pretty good idea what the new game announcements will be. Sometimes, though, a game catches you completely unawares - this year, for me, that game was Blades of Time.
Technically a sequel to X-Blades, which was most kindly described as average, it doesn't include the name of its ancestor in the title for fear, no doubt, of turning people away from the game. An action brawler thing, where the players have swords, guns and so on, the basic gameplay might seem familiar. Well executed, sure, with satisfying combos and fights with big bosses and hordes of minions, etc, but familiar none the less. What is new, however, and very exciting, is the time-manipulation mechanics. It may not have X-blades in the title but it's got X-factor in the gameplay - let me explain...
You wade into a fight, only to find yourself outgunned. If you just keep on fighting, your chance of success is not as high as you'd like. Fortunately, a simple pull of the right trigger rewinds time - let go and you'll rejoin the fight. What's the point? The old you, the first one to wade in there, is still fighting. That's right, there are now two of you waging war on this digital battlefield. Want to improve the odds further? Do it again. You can have up to ten of you in the fight at any one time.
This simple, genius mechanic is more than just what we've described above. It opens up a whole new world of possibilities, only a handful of which we got to try out during our hands-on at E3 this week. Another sees you going toe-to-toe with a boss, only he always faces you and his armour is impenetrable from the front. What to do? Dance with him for a bit then rewind and rejoin from behind while your original self retains his attention at the front.
There's also the potential for loads of Chronotron-like puzzles, where players will need to create versions of themselves to perform specific feats at specific times. The most basic scenario imaginable was on display, with the player tasked with standing on two switches at once, however the mind boggles as to the potential this mechanic can have in the mind-bending department (almost enough, perhaps, for a Portal-like gunless game).
Will it be awesome? We have no idea. There was a lot wrong with the original besides the complete absence of this awesome mechanic. But does it have potential? The answer to that is a resounding YES! It's immediately compelling and fills your mind with thoughts about ways in which the developers can exploit this single genius mechanic. We're extremely optimistic about the title and consider it one of the hidden gems of the show.
Blades of Time is coming to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in 2012, and is developed by Russian team Gaijin entertainment / published by Konami.
Pros: Amazingly intuitive and clever to play.
Cons: Technically, it's a sequel to the (meh) X-Blades.