E3 2011: Ninja Gaiden 3 Hands-On Preview

We see London through Ryu's eyes in a hands-on demo for Ninja Gaiden 3.

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It was loud at Sony's post-press conference E3 event. So loud that we couldn't tell what was going on during the introductory cutscene for Ninja Gaiden 3. But perhaps that's just fine. Team Ninja's high-energy action games have never been particularly heavy on story but have rather been focused on smoothly controlling, brutal action. However, they have never been about contextual quick-time events and stealth, though Ninja Gaiden III is bringing both of those mechanics to the series. It's too early to tell if the game will fare better or worse for these additions, but it's clear that this action game is, in some ways, what you would expect from a Ninja Gaiden game--and in other ways, it is surely not.

The opening of the demo showed Ryu looking down onto a city block from high above. A few onscreen words informed us that this is London before the game flashed back to a Japanese village--presumably the Hyabusa ninja village. A crashed helicopter in the village indicated sure trouble. But the scene didn't linger, and we returned to Ryu, who began the game by gliding down from his perch and assassinating a military guard beneath. The controls here were contextual, a definite departure for a series in which you generally wield full control over Ryu. A stealth kill followed soon after, in which you maneuver Ryu behind an unsuspecting foe and press a button to deliver a vicious kill. Another sequence then introduced the Kunai climb, in which you ascend walls one grasp at a time, with the shoulder buttons equating to your respective hands.

If none of this sounds particularly like Ninja Gaiden, never fear: The action that followed was typical for the series, involving lots of fluid hacking, slashing, and dashing. Our militant foes wielded blades and rocket launchers but were dispatched with a series of slick slices and dices. The camera was particularly cinematic, zooming in frequently to highlight the blood spurting everywhere. Later enemies included guards with riot shields, who were more easily taken down with Ryu's charge attack than with standard blows. The strongest attacks are somehow related to Ryu's apparently possessed right arm. As you kill more enemies, that arm begins to glow blood red. Once it does so, you can unleash a devastating, incredibly violent finishing blow. As we moved forward, a military vehicle barreled toward us, signaling a quick-time event in which we moved an analog stick and simultaneously pressed a button. Ryu then dramatically slid under the vehicle. This and another timed event evoked thoughts of another Ninja Game: 2009's Ninja Blade.

The demo ended with a boss fight versus a multi-armed robotic walker. It was easily defeated by slicing up its limbs, which triggered yet more quick-time button presses. These ripped the limbs off, before we ran up to its center and completed the fight with--you guessed it--another button press. Not quite the super-difficult boss fight you might have expected from Ninja Gaiden 3, but then again, this is clearly a new take on a beloved series. Yet, it still has the usual Ninja Gaiden sensibilities, including sterile but attractive environments and smooth controls. Will fans take to the more scripted elements? We'll find out in 2012 when Ninja Gaiden 3 lands on store shelves.

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