The Electronic Entertainment Expo (otherwise known as E3) is a strange and fantastical beast of a convention. Large companies forgo their everyday suits and shareholder meetings to install fully-fledged stylised buildings within Los Angeles convention centre’s great halls, complete with multiple floors, ventilation, windows, backrooms and theatres.
These strange architectures are then rammed with PR trying to sell games they understand little of, developers nervous and agitated at the prospect of doing hundreds of almost identical interviews and ‘booth babes’ clueless as to what’s going on at all. And thus a literal gaming city is erected for the sole purpose of hype; most of it we see, some of it, such as the all together more business-like buyer meetings and VIP rooms, we don’t.
This year’s E3 closed its doors to 46800 attendees, with what I imagine were very varied opinions, even more so than most previous years like E3 2010. Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, the console companies, are usually the hot topics at E3, yet despite the Wii U’s reveal and an explosion of details concerning the PS Vita, the third party developers seem to have been the show’s natural focus, whether the big three liked it or not. Whether this speaks to the quality of the games or the hardware developers’ shortcomings is for you to decide.
To cover everything at E3 requires a battalion of journalists, and I am but one man. However, I can offer you the highlights in terms of games, hardware and oddities as well as my thoughts on who had the strongest (and weakest) showings. And, if nothing else, I can give you an insight into just a morsel of the madness that the show embodies and rubs off on its onlookers and participants.
Digital Extremes (Bioshock 2, Unreal Tournament) have finally found a way to make their mark again with his brand new 3rd person co-op adventure title, which I was privileged to see demo’ed during E3. The team are working closely with Bad Robot to try craft a unique and phaser-packed experience to release along side the upcoming sequel to JJ Abrams Star Trek film, but crucially, not to try to mimic it, as it’s concerned with its own story following Kirk and Spock.
Though in pre-alpha, from a hands-off perspective, it looks very Mass Effect, and I mean that in the best way possible. The part we witnessed saw Spock and Kirk returning to an under-attack Enterprise, via shuttlejump, dodging various debris, culminating in Kirk making a messy landing as Spock gracefully boards the ship. The endearingly dissimilar duo then scout the ship scanning various dead redshirts for their cause of death, eventually leading an encounter with the enemy.
The fight that then ensues triggers a playable cutscene, where both characters are viewing their own separate perspective and are able to aim and fire their guns as they scramble for cover. If a game insists on attaining cinematic effect and progression, this feels like a good compromise, neither token like quick time events, nor completely unscripted.
The presentation came to its final scene in a sequence in which Spock, having taken Kirk to the med bay, zaps the alien microbes out of his body, the difficulty of which depends on how many redshirts you scanned earlier, and then Kirk begins to shoot from his stretcher as they are ambushed, eventually getting to pickup a shockingly satisfying heavy phaser rifle.
Star Trek looks set to offer a truly co-op adventure, with separate abilities for each characters with a real buddy story at its heart (one of the developers insisted they didn’t want to make it ‘emo’). If this demo with its clearly high production values and Mass Effect-esque action is any evidence of what the full get will deliver, then we’re in for a treat in 2012.
War of the Worlds
It isn’t every game that has Patrick Stewart flexing his soft but authoritative voice over gameplay, much less 2D platformers, but Other Ocean Interactive’s new title due this winter is an exception. War of the Worlds takes place in London in a completely original story, parallel to that of the 1953 film adaptation, infused with the spirit of H. G. Wells’ classic novel.
The various layers behind the player, filled with tripods destroying buildings and great fires in the distance, look great, almost monochrome, in a visual style reminiscent of Playdead’s Limbo. However, the player’s avatar and other characters look distinctively like cardboard cutouts in stark and disappointing contrast to the backdrop; however, it is still in development.
The gameplay sees you avoiding lasers, working with military soldiers and scaling giant Martian spiders in what the creators themselves describe as a throwback to the time when games were more challenging. All the while Patrick Stewart is narrating the story and protagonist’s thoughts and progress making it feel like you are listening to a classic radio adaptation on a dark night – not an atmosphere I’ve yet seen created through the medium of games.
This title looks really promising, at least enough to stand up with its subject matter, which is no small order. Most of the gameplay is about timing and precision with the controls. We only saw a small section set in Hyde Park, though we’re promised many more identifiable locations in war torn conditions and I suspect we’ll be presented with many tricky sections as our hero attempts to take down bigger and bigger tripods. You can look forward to this novel novel-adaptation later this year on XBLA and PSN.
E3 has a habit of inadvertently producing its own memes, crazy and funny moments and things that stick in the minds of E3’s many attendees and viewers. Some of these arise from failed press conference demos and gags, some from nutty marketing campaigns and some from capers on the show floor. This video guides you through the worst and most cringe-worthy of E3 2011…
Meanwhile young women displaying more flesh than you can shake a stick at are washing obnoxiously modded cars in the parking lot, scary women are making pale attendees do press ups for a chance to play a demo, kids are breaking 24/7 video game marathon records and orchestras play Lord of the Rings tunes in the foyer.
Interestingly, this year there also seems to be a clear rise of ‘booth bros’, from big security guards at the Arkham City booth to WW2 tank pilots advertising World of Tanks – not as scantily clad, granted, but at least it wasn’t all shameless sex appeal from booth babes.
Winners & Losers
It may seem a bit crude to dish out the labels of winners and losers out of the various companies in attendance at E3 as it isn’t a tournament and in many ways they are not competing directly with each other. Nevertheless, in the microcosm of the convention it can be observed who came out best, and what that might mean for the future of the largest entertainment industry in the world.
Really pushed the whole Kinect thing to the front this E3. They’d promised that they’d prove the controller free device could appeal to the core market this year, yet I saw little evidence of that; only a handful of gawky looking on-rails (or might-as-well-be-on-rails) titles. The only snippets that showed any sort of promise were the minority report-esque gunsmith system in the new Ghost Recon and the squad command in Mass Effect 3, and even they feel wedged in at the behest of Microsoft’s corporate direction. In lieu of the Kinect all we’re really left with, in regards to first party, are a Halo sequel that’s on shaky footing being developed by a new company with no clear narrative direction, a remake of the original Halo and the supposed conclusion to a fun but fairly stale 3rd person shooter franchise in Gears of War 3. If I were an Xbox executive, ‘fist bumps’ would be the last thing on my mind.
Actually rebounded from its terrible situation with the PSN outage with a fairly stand up conference at E3. The PS Vita looks set to be supported with some great software (Uncharted, LittleBigPlanet and even a Bioshock game) at a good price, the only downside being its awful US 3G Network partner in AT&T – an audible ‘boo’ from the audience only confirmed the disillusionment. And, they’re still fronting the Move, but not with the brute force of Microsoft’s Kinect thankfully. But once again, there’s a disappointment in terms of the lack of any hard-hitting first party releases aside from a predictable, but inevitably enjoyable outing for Nathan Drake. So while Sony certainly managed to straighten up and fly right, we still didn’t see anything especially brilliant at this apparently stagnant stage in the console cycle.
Revealed, amongst a load of games we already knew were coming out, the Wii U. The headline puns area already rolling out and whatever you think of they’re marketing and launch announcement, it cannot be denied they’re once again attempting to do something new. The issue here, is this new thing something we want? You can hear a multitude of different opinions, but right now with only tech demos and vague promises from third party publishers, it’s difficult to really judge without seeing and understanding much more.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel, because the actual games at E3; you know, the things all these peripherals and new consoles are made for, were strong and downright awesome, mostly from the third parties. There are those that bemoan a lack of innovation, I found a list on the Internet that really does demonstrate the lack of original games (the vast majority of games were sequels or remakes!), but at least the games we are getting, are looking fantastic and don’t seem afraid to innovate in their own unique ways.
Skyrim will surely be a definitive fantasy RPG for this generation, Battlefield 3 looks to reintroduce and reinvigorate the classic franchise that it started all those years ago for the real core gamers out there, independent games like Rikochet, Renegade Ops, Bastion and many more were able to stand amongst the giants proudly and I haven’t scratched surface of awesomeness that makes E3 what it is.
So that’s it for this year’s shenanigans at E3 2011. Despite rumours that E3 is moving to another city, the organisers recently announced that it will return to LA next year during 5th-7th June, certain to bring the next annual load of marketing, maligned, much loved, mysterious madness. Word on the street is we’ll see the Xbox 360 sequel next year (almost definitely incorrectly dubbed the ‘720’), and perhaps a GTA V. Who knows? All I know is my body and mind are weak from the deluge of video game news and goodness, and I’m waiting with baited breath for many of the games this year’s E3 teased. See you next year!