E3 has come and gone. John and Bill offer their impressions on this year’s biggest gaming event.
So this year’s E3 has come and gone with quite a few nice surprises mixed in with the usual expectations which, for the most part, have exceeded my expectations. It is hard to argue with the claim that Microsoft ran away with the most buzz surrounding its next fiscal year, and Nintendo recognized their hardcore gamer mistreatment and addressed it in a big way. Sony, for me, left an underwhelming sense of “That’s it?” from a show that really needed to boost their presence.
Honestly, we all knew Sony and Microsoft were developing their takes on the motion controller. Regardless of how impressive and responsive the “motion wands” for Sony will be, they were completely overshadowed by Microsoft’s Project Natal. Game fans would do well to keep their eyes on what Sony will be able to do with the “wands” and their more practical application in games. From what I’ve heard from those who had an opportunity to test the tech, they walked away impressed with their natural feel and relative ease of use.
In regards to Project Natal, I think the most important feature to stand out is the system-wide integration with the 360. Dashboard navigation and selections, while not a defining reason for purchase on its own, will be a very welcome change to the sometimes clunky controller movements. It really seems like Microsoft wants Project Natal to be more than a controller-less interface, but a natural integration with the system that offers more than what gamers have come to expect from the big three. But before jumping up with excitement about this, I feel the need to remind everyone that all the magical things shown in the videos most likely will not be available day one. Looking at how Microsoft has taken its sweet time with the Avatar system – announced at last year’s E3 and went live last November with the dashboard update – and how little it has actually been integrated with the system. I think the same will be true with Project Natal. I do believe all the things in the announcement video will come to light, but over the coming years, which seems even more likely now that Microsoft announced it would be supporting the 360 fully until 2015. The Avatar system is rolling along and improving, and actually looks to be gaining a purpose besides a digital character that waves and burps at the player with the upcoming store.
Nintendo, needing to appease frustrated hardcore gamers, jumped to the plate in a big way with not one Mario game, but three. Super Mario Galaxy 2 looks to be more of the same, but the original is such a well made and fun game that it is great to see a proper sequel. Bringing Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story stateside, the third in the RPG series, will not disappoint. And New Super Mario Bros. Wii should not only appeal to fan boys but everyone into games. Adding Metroid (by Team Ninja) for the Wii and a new Zelda title for the DS alongside the trinity of Mario will definitely boost the quality of Wii software.
As for games coming from everyone else, two games have jumped to the top of my “must play” list that I had otherwise been previously uninterested in or skeptical.
Splinter Cell: Conviction (Ubisoft) and Assassin’s Creed 2 (Ubisoft) not only dropped my jaw more than a few times with their impressive gameplay, but most importantly their presentation styles. For those who haven’t had the chance to check out their respective trailers and gameplay demos, set aside some time to do so. Splinter Cell: Conviction has, hands down, the most inventive approach to displaying missions and objectives. Going with a “show not tell” layover of video footage and text descriptions in the game world is so different and visually striking that I come up short trying to draw comparisons to other games. The action itself also looks top notch. Assassin’s Creed 2 seemingly addressed the main issue of its former title by adding diversity to mission structures, as well as in-game actions. Repetition will hopefully no longer be the name of the game, and it looks amazing.
APB (Real Time Worlds/EA Partners) brings a large scale online multiplayer game of cops and robbers to the PS3. Vast character customization options should help gamers individualize themselves in what could be a surprise hit for the coming year, and maybe a legitimate contender in the online gaming scene.
Bioware is bringing Star Wars: The Old Republic and Mass Effect 2. The Old Republic is expanding on its former titles in a big way with character options reminiscent of Star Wars Galaxy, as well as introducing numerous stories complementing the main and a new morality system that is not your typical good/evil paradigm. I don’t think it is too much to ask that the game ignores the prequel trilogy as much as possible, or anything related to it. Mass Effect 2, prior to E3, was my most anticipated upcoming game, and thanks to the info released and shown, that hasn’t changed. Really, all Bioware had to do for me was play a bit of the awesome musical score and I’d be satisfied. Most importantly though, I cannot wait to see what kind of influence my actions in the first game will have on its sequel.
Modern Warfare 2 (Infinity Ward) should be just as good as the first, if not better. Everything great from Modern Warfare returns with additions that look to up the intensity, locales, and action. As a devoted fan of the original, this is a no-brainer for me, and looking at its sales across the 360, PS3 and PC, I’m not the only person that will jump on board again.
BioShock 2 is a highly anticipated title that hopes to capitalize on the massive success and fan base of the first game. With a new character to play as (the first Big Daddy) and new areas of Rapture to explore, expect the same stifling and atmospheric environment with a slew of surprises up its sleeve. My only complaint is the new multiplayer aspect. BioShock really doesn’t lend itself well to the deathmatch arena fragfests dominating today’s shooters, and it will all but lose what makes the single-player game so special. I can’t imagine myself spending time with that part of the game, and just hope the single-player game doesn’t take a hit because of this.
As much fun as Left 4 Dead was/is, I really can’t get my head around why we need Left 4 Dead 2 (Valve) so soon. From what I’ve seen so far, of the daylight levels, two new Infected classes, and melee weapon additions, this all could have been made into an expansion pack. I’ve got to say I’m a bit disappointed that this is being pushed out so fast.
Wrapping up, there is a lot to be excited about. The coming year – or years if you’re a bit cynical like me – promises to have some major gaming improvements and surprises up its sleeve. My impressions for this E3 are very favorable and optimistic, as I don’t feel like there was a lot of fluff thrown our way, but good, genuine content that we can really look forward to.
Damn am I tired of plastic peripherals for games, and with the Tony Hawk Ride board and now the Wii Vitality Sensor on the way, it seems we, as gamers, are in for more and more of them, and with them inflated costs and poorer controls for our games. Don’t get me wrong, I was extremely impressed by Microsoft’s Project Natal. As John mentioned, it has taken center stage at the show. It will have to prove itself when it comes time to hit the market, though. Too many times we have seen impressive tech demos, or even game footage for that matter, at E3, only to watch the quality recede closer and closer to launch, until we’re playing the equivalent of trying to talk to an automated machine on the phone. And it’s painful. I’m looking at you, You’re in the Movies.
The same goes for Sony’s wand motion controller, which they did say won’t likely look the same by the time it hits retail. The demo looked incredibly impressive, what we expected to receive from the Wii Remote the first time around but are only now getting closer to with the addition of Wii MotionPlus (count that as another peripheral). Sony also did a solid job of making it look enticing, especially with that bow and arrow demonstration. Still, as someone possibly defined by “hardcore gamer,” I’m most interested in the things that work well for good gameplay, not gimmicks. So for both of these I remain hesitant, but hopeful.
Another thing I found quite irritating, and continually feel this way about, is the constant claims of exclusivity, true or false, for just about everything. Why the hell is Xbox claiming exclusivity of map packs months before Modern Warfare 2 is even released? Why are map packs being planned already for a game that is not finished?
While Project Natal stole the show, I feel that Sony’s conference was quite possibly the strongest of the three. Though I also expected to be underwhelmed, I was impressed by all three major players. But after several years of enduring criticism while Xbox racked up the market share and Nintendo dominated with a new wave of casual gaming, I think Sony’s showing was incredibly strong – In part because of the quality of games and technology they showed, and in part because of the confidence exuded sans arrogance by presenters this year – even cracking jokes about how terrible they’ve been at keeping secrets. Whereas I felt like Nintendo’s presenters were sternly educating me on why I should care about their products, Sony knew it had impressive titles to show and let them speak for themselves with pride, even without a blockbuster announcement to make.
Even though, as John mentioned, there wasn’t a slew of unexpected announcements, I watched and felt that Sony has its act together after some of the early blunders of the PlayStation 3 cycle, and seems focused on its core of hardcore gamers, rather than the trend of casual gaming. They started by convincing me that PlayStation 2 is still a viable platform for millions of people, though I’ve personally long since moved on to PS3 and questioned the company’s focus on the old system. I still don’t care about Uncharted 2’s multiplayer other than something to extend the experience, but I am in love with what they’re showing on single-player. The same goes for God of War III single-player.
PSP Go was the biggest non-surprise Sony unleashed. It looks cool, and interesting that the digital distribution is being pushed, but after the company has released three versions of the PSP and countless versions of the PlayStation 3, it hardly seems necessary that yet another is being released without major chances such as, say, another analog stick. Still, it looks so sexy, but creates the problems of UMD to digital for those looking to upgrade.
Gran Turismo PSP should please racing fans, but when the hell is Gran Turismo 5 coming out? Another Metal Gear for PSP, headed by Hideo Kojima, is definitely something to look forward to, and nice to see that the Microsoft announcement of Metal Gear Rising is also something PlayStation fans can look forward to. Hopefully, LittleBigPlanet can capture the same magic on PSP, and along with Resident Evil, the next few years could be big for the handheld. I was happy to hear about games for the handheld, rather than other needless apps.
The most exciting game news, however, was seeing a trailer for The Last Guardian.
Microsoft showed a lot of games that are multiplatform. Modern Warfare 2 will likely be a blast, but I wasn’t impressed by its showing. The story seems interesting, but the gameplay starting off boring as all hell, with a long ice-climbing scenario. Even the presenters had an “in the interest of time” skip forward. And I can’t help but feel the snowmobile combat looks really loose, working against the tight controls of the original.
Alan Wake also looks to be a cool melding of story, presentation and gameplay. And Crackdown 2!!!
Nintendo spent most of its time on casual games, but started its showing strong with New Super Mario Bros. Wii, which could be amazing. And then more Mario is Super Mario Galaxy 2, which frankly I was surprised to see. Nintendo needed something big for hardcore fans, but it seemed too soon for another Mario title. Still, it made me smile, as I love the first Galaxy title. Metroid: Other M and The Conduit rounded out a solid presentation for traditional gamers. Flipnote Studio could also be a very cool piece of software if done right.
Ubisoft’s presentation was way too long, matching the length of Microsoft. I was bored a few minutes into the Avatar presentation. Joel McHale, as funny as he can be, was awful when reading from the teleprompter. Casual games and fitness ate up most of the show, but the hardcore games impressed. Splinter Cell: Conviction’s presentation alone looked amazing. Assassin’s Creed 2 will hopefully address the mistakes of the first, and hooray for the announcement of No More Heroes 2.
Electronic Arts likewise spent a lot of time on casual and tween games following the Dante’s Inferno trailer. Mass Effect 2 and Fight Night Round 4 look incredible, though, as does Saboteur. As John mentioned, the ideas behind APB sound incredibly cool, and one can only hope the gameplay backs them up.
Overall, E3 didn’t feature much in the way of the unexpected. Most games were already announced or leaked, but tech demonstrations impressed and Nintendo did more than expected for the hardcore fans. Only the release dates will tell what’s good and what’s bad, but E3 left me hopeful for the games industry in the new few years.