When vaporware is mentioned, Duke Nukem Forever comes to mind for most people. But for me, the first thing I think of is Galleon. When Galleon was first announced, we were worried; it sounded a bit like Draconus. We were afraid they'd come out around the same time and steal our market. We needn't have worried: it was really nothing like our game, and it wouldn't ship for many years.
Well, it finally came out, and I'm mostly really enjoying playing it. In fact, it seems to me that it is under-rated by the review community. That's probably because it's been pretty much eclipsed by Prince of Persia. When PoP came out, the Galleon team must have wept.
Still, there's some genius here. I have no doubt now that Toby Gard was a key ingredient of Tomb Raider, and his absence is part of the reason for the decline of the series...I didn't play much Angel of Darkness, but in what little I did play Lara drove like a truck. I think that maybe if Galleon had only shipped sooner, the history of platformers would have changed.
Galleon solves a problem that plagues 3d platformers: it's damn hard to aim your jumps. I feel this way in particular with Mario; when your camera is pointing one way and your character another, all bets are off. Galleon's solution is (at least) two-fold: first, you steer the camera with the left-stick; pushing forward with the left stick moves straight into the screen. So the jumping at a weird angle problem is solved. On top of that, the system permits for a lot of slop - come near enough to a ledge and you catch it; when you're airborn you can adjust forward and backward if you're over or undershooting (the jumping is extremely slow by videogame standards - somewhere I saw a document on the average jump time in popular videogames and it was under a second - with Galleon it feels like you're airborne for a good long time); and it may cheat as well, I'm not sure. (How else is it that it seems to be so easy to jump from a ledge onto the top of a narrow pole?) In my opinion, Galleon is the first succesful 3d platformer that really is 3d - Prince of Persia cheats by giving you the wall run and putting most of its gameplay along those two dimensional walls.
Other things that make jumping in Galleon pleasant: you can slowly walk up to a ledge without falling off, thus guaranteeing that you are as close as possible to your target before you make your jump. Now, the forward jump from a stationary position is slightly problematic with most videogames: it usually requires that you press the jump button and move at the same time - press jump too late and you step off the ledge - press jump too early and you go straight up. Galleon solves this by giving you a moment after you press jump to key in the movement (the hero is crouching before he jumps). It took some getting used to, and I'd frequently screw it up in pressure situations, but it worked.
One of the joys of Tomb Raider and its ilk is you get to stand on a precarious ledge hundreds of meters above the ground with a breathtaking view and you're not afraid. Galleon takes this to a new level...although sometimes you're above water, which makes for some fun cliff-diving.
Galleon is another game that violates my "don't have wingmen" rule...the reason being that your wingmen are either too powerful and end up playing the game for you, or they're too weak and they're just an annoying liability. Galleon's wingmen are in the too powerful camp, which meant at first I was content to sit back and conserve my health as I watched them kill...later, when I got better at combat, I started participating too. It was only a few fights that I did this, and it didn't ruin my game, and for the most part having the wingmen (which you can control to solve some cooperation-type puzzles) was a plus. I really have to ditch that rule...my games violate it too.
Since Galleon doesn't use the right stick for the camera, it's free to use the right stick for a fairly intuitive, snappy menu.
So would I advocate a control system like this for future games? As pleasant as it was, I'm going to have to say no. There were times when I wanted the camera independent from the movement (it would have been nice to strafe in combat, for example...which you can technically do using the lock-on feature but that was more trouble than it was worth)...in theory you can do everything Galleon does even if you put camera steering back on the right stick, although if you still wanted that snappy menu you'd have to go with the Metal Gear Solid 2 model.
Although Galleon reused a lot of elements, it still managed to make every level and every non-combat encounter feel unique. That may be where the many years in production went; there's a lot of spectacle and a lot of set pieces, up there with Everything Or Nothing, but with EoN you were sometimes playing a mini-game; with Galleon it still feels like the same game throughout.
Combat employs some serious positive feedback; the more stylishly you fight, the more moves you unlock just for the duration of that combat...also if you fight really stylishly, you get a blue shield around yourself that makes you take less damage...so once you get good at combat you feel like quite the badass. Another interesting thing about their combat: x attacks are standard; y attacks are more devastating but when they land they also do a little damage to you. So you're managing resources: what are the chances this guy's going to hit me? If they're good, I better use the y attack. So y becomes the attack of choice when you're overwhelmed, or when you're fighting someone who has a non-blockable attack. Combo chaining is a timing game - and although I got pretty good at timing my combos in non-combat situations, whenever I was really fighting I could only do a few. Either I was panicking or it was framerate dependent or something.
On Spider-Man 2, we used to have timing-keyed combos in an early build, like Devil May Cry. People complained that they weren't sure how to make which combos happen, and we ended up cutting the feature. I was slightly sorry to see it go; I figured it rewarded the hardcore player and the casual gamer wouldn't know what they were missing. (Much like Devil May Cry: a lot of people never realized there were timing combos in that game.) But Galleon makes me think that maybe it was a good call; although they've got a different kind of timing thing going on, it does seem like slop.
One thing that absolutely blows me away about Galleon is the facial expressions. In Galleon, they bite their lips, arch their eyebrows, grin sheepishly...the reviews say the voice acting is great, but I don't think they'd be saying that if there wasn't facial expression going along with it.
I haven't quite finished it yet...I may post more on it later.