Zath @ E3 2012 – Day 0 Review

e3-logoIt’s here. Electronic Entertainment Expo 2012, better known as E3, has kicked off in LA, and being the games industry’s yearly D-Day, the announcements have already started rolling in, even though the show floor has yet open. Zath will be giving you daily summaries of all the news of the day as well in-depth game previews and interviews over the next 3 or 4 days, and we’ll begin with a summary of the various press conferences of the day.

Microsoft

At around 9:30am Microsoft began proceedings, bringing out the big guns with Halo 4. The demo showed the single player wherein Master Chief is moving through the jungle going up against ‘defense AIs’ and using a new infrared visor mode along with Forerunner weaponry, good stuff.

Next up was a trailer for Splinter Cell: Blacklist, set on the Iran-Iraq border, it looks to be about a terrorist group known as Blacklist and features the Spy vs. Merc mode as well as co-op and singleplayer. With Kinect integration, the game is out Spring 2013. Other interesting game announcements included Forza Horizon and Gears of War: Judgement, what looks to be a prequel to the original trilogy – only a CG trailer was shown.

Aside from those and some predictable sports games announcements, including Kinect integration for FIFA and Madden, Microsoft seemed to forget that this was meant to be about games, listing off a slew of service announcements that I’m not sure anyone was actually asking for. Bing voice search, broadcast partners, Nike fitness programs and a music service, unsurprisingly called Xbox Music were announced, clearly signalling that Microsoft want the Xbox to be a multimedia entertainment device – whatever floats their boat! They also triumphantly announced that Internet Explorer was headed to the Xbox; a browser that no one even uses on their computers! One useful service was announced however, which they’ve called SmartGlass, a system to sync multiple devices, including your existing devices, even if they are Android. This means you can start watching a movie on your tablet then flick it onto the TV instantly when you get home – pretty neat.

There were a few other little announcements – a new hack and slash called Ascend: New Gods and a preview of the new Tomb Raider Reboot. Then Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of South Park, took the stage to relieve the audience with a little bit of irreverence, and to talk about the new South Park RPG, Stick of Truth, which they stressed they wanted to make feel like an episode of the show. Finally, and almost predictably, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 wrapped up the show with much shooting and on-screen prompts telling you to go over there or snipe that. It certainly looked pretty and contained plenty of explosions, though no new features were demonstrated in particular. Might also be worth mentioning that Usher came to promote Dance Central 2 – so there’s a celebrity, though I’m not sure how that gives it credibility. All in all, a fairly mediocre presser – you can tell it’s the end of the 360’s life cycle.

Electronic Arts

Next EA brought the audience into the Orpheum theatre and got straight down business showing off Dead Space 3. While the necromorphs were pretty gnarly and the vistas of the snow planet they were on, very pretty, it struck me that there was a lot more action than horror. The game is going to have co-op and is out February 2013. Then it got all sporty again – there were many improvements in the physics and animations for both FIFA and Madden along with better social networking elements and mobile device versions, also some american football chap came on stage to be very enthusiastic about such things. Then we had the reveal of a new Sim City with integrated multiplayer and various new features including airports and better ground level human and car animations.

Following that, we saw Battlefield 3’s further descent into emulation of the Call of Duty franchise with the announcement of Battlefield Premium, a £39.99 service which will get you all the DLC and early access – that’s Back to Karkand, Close Quarters (out now), Armored Kill (vehicle gameplay), Aftermath (post-earthquake city maps) and End Game (which appears to have motorbikes!), along with various weapons and extra kit additions.

Then the folks at Bioware came to make a thinly veiled attempt at begging for people to come play Star Wars: The Old Republic – It will be free to play up to level 15 for all of July. Medal of Honor: Warfighter (I’m still not sure how they decided that would be a good name) was shown in a new trailer – again, plenty of explosions and shooting, also a new door breaching system with different ways to breach then slo-mo to shoot enemies the other side – standard fair.

It seems that UFC has now partnered up with EA for their next game – a blow for struggling THQ and Criterion’s new Need for Speed game, Most Wanted will have you racing throughout a large city being chased by cops and knocking many things over; It looked lovely and seemed like a good arcade-y racer. EA then closed off the show with a look at Crysis 3 set in an overgrown New York, looking very pretty thanks to the Cry Engine. It’s out February next year. The focus on games here was good, but there was a distinct lack of anything new and original.

Ubisoft

Following EA, Ubisoft opened up with a performance from questionably named rapper Flo Rider, who was promoting the newly announced Just Dance 4, but no sooner had he finished his act, than did Ubisoft really get stuck into the core games. First up was Far Cry 3; we saw previews of this last year, but this time they endeavoured to show us a bit more variety – how open the world is, how there’s bloody tigers who can help and hinder you, and how you can stab and shoot a lot of people quite brutally. It seems the protagonist ends up becoming the leader of a native tribe and rebelling against the crazy antagonist we’ve seen in previous trailers. It’s looking pretty fantastic, nice and sunny – it doesn’t hurt to get away from the brown/gray shooters once in a while.

Although we saw some more Splinter Cell: Blacklist, nothing that wasn’t in the Microsoft conference was really shown and so we moved onto Avengers: Battle for Earth, a Kinect and Wii U exclusive and then the charming Raymen: Legends, which can be controlled via the Wii U touch screen or with the pro controller. After that Zombie U was debuted – a zombie apocalypse game set in England. No gameplay unfortunately, but a very nice little trailer.

The next biggie was Assassin’s Creed 3, as expected from the previews there’s plenty of action going on in the wilderness this time and some very nice new assassinations including a very speedy lynching. There’s also wildlife that you can kill for hides and Producer Francois Pelland took the opportunity to assure us it’s not all about murdering English soldiers – good to hear.

After a push into the e-sports direction with Shootmania, Ubisoft dropped its bombshell – a brand new IP called Watch Dogs. It appears to be a cyberpunk action RPG set in a near-futuristuc Chicago where the protagonist makes use of his ability to control all the electronic systems in the city and obtain information on people through their digital footprints. It very much seemed like a cross-over of Grand Theft Auto and Deus Ex or Syndicate. The ability, as shown in the gameplay demo, to intercept a target by screwing with traffic lights to cause a collision is, frankly, awesome. The graphics, including beautiful explosions, looked absolutely stunning, which leads us to believe that this will be a next-gen title. I don’t think anyone really expected it, but Ubisoft kind of knocked it out of the park with this conference – a really solid line-up with a fantastic new IP at the end that had plenty of gameplay to show straight up.

Sony

Finally Sony rounded out the day beginning with Quantic Dream’s and David Cage’s (Heavy Rain) new game Beyond: Two Souls. Starring Ellen Page the game seems to revolve around Jodie Holmes who has some sort of special ability or some paranormal affliction – it wasn’t exactly clear – nor was any gameplay shown. Nevertheless the facial animations and expressions looked extremely realistic and the premise, with the production values, certain seems a promising prospect.

Next Sony showed its Super Smash Bros (we could say rip-off, though that may be too harsh) clone, PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale, announcing two new characters: Nathan Drake and Big Daddy. It’s also coming to the Vita and could be a good bit of mindless fun, though Nintendo must be grumbling under their breath.

A reaffirmation of commitment to the Vita was made, claiming that over 60 games would be made available over the next year including Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified and an Assassin’s Creed III tie-in, AC: Liberation which follows a separate female character in New Orleans. Keeping with that theme they then demonstrated the amazing sea battles in AC3, set amongst idyllic Caribbean islands, giving the player full control of steering and the cannons of a galley ship. After spotting the enemy an impressive sea battle takes place and bad weather sets in. The weather effects and choppy sea water looked pretty amazing, no doubt evidence of the new engine for the series.

For the younger ones, Wonderbook was revealed – a AR game that brings various books and experience to life through use of the PlayStation Eye and Move. In particular, Book of Spells from JK Rowling was played on stage, causing a few awkward mishaps. It’s a cutesy idea that may appeal the younger ones, but may be limited therein. Next, PlayStation Suite had its named changed to Mobile and Andy House announced that it would be coming to Android devices and that they were entering into a partnership with HTC in that interest.

After this we saw some God of War: Ascension, which looks to be more of the same, only with reconstruction-time-manipulating abilities. Though it didn’t scream originality, it was impressive as always and is sure to deliver more of the same frolics to its fans. To finish up the show, we got a gameplay demo of Naughty Dog’s new IP The Last of Us. In the demo we saw Joel (the player) and his young companion Ellie clamber through a beautiful but overgrown city only to encounter a group of enemies which they took down through hand-to-hand combat and weapons, going so far as to set one on fire. Though I’d love to know some more details about how much survival elements play a part, and what the context of the wider story is, it’s certainly one to watch in anticipation.

Winners and Losers

The day seems to have divided itself in half, leaving the morning and early afternoon to the mediocrity and iterative development we are so unfortunately used to, then leaving the late afternoon and evening to Ubisoft’s solid games and original IPs and Sony’s hard-hitting line up. Though we didn’t see a Vita price drop or any news on the Last Guardian (or GTAV for that matter), we weren’t entirely disappointed by the end of the day thanks to some really interesting new IPs and commitments to keep bringing games and content to the Vita and PSN. It seems to me that Microsoft is ironically experiencing a dearth of games and original IPs as Sony did in the early days of the PS3 and that EA is really failing to do anything new, as far as we know. Nonetheless, the positive beats of the day leave us in good spirits for what’s sure to be an interesting E3 – and we’ve still got Nintendo, and the reveal of the Wii U in earnest, to go! Keep checking out Zath and our twitter for news from the show floor and plenty of previews!

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