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 the 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, as in previous years’ of E3, a literal gaming city is erected for the sole purpose of hype; most of it we see, some of it, such as the altogether more business-like buyer meetings and VIP rooms, we don’t.
Well E3 is well and truly here, and on the day before the show floor opens up to a hungry press, two of the console companies along with EA and Ubisoft held press conferences to demonstrate their latest and (hopefully) greatest, and of course, to brag about games/consoles sold.
Microsoft Press Conference
First up, bright and early at 9:30 was Microsoft’s presser and their emphasis was as clear as day: lots of Xbox Kinect, much like last year. Aside from a few demos of intriguing, moan and groan filled Tomb Raider, from Crystal Dynamics, an utterly predictable dose of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, a demo of Gears of War 3 with Cliffy B and the ever-enthusiastic Ice T and a few somewhat inevitable Halo announcements, the bulk of the show was given over to Kinect.
Core titles such as Mass Effect 3 were shown to utilise voice commands of the Kinect, to select dialogue and instruct your squad, along with Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, which showed a demo of an insanely detailed weapon customisation system.
The rest was regrettably, mainly on-rails Kinect games such as Ryse, an action title set during the fall of Rome, Star Wars Kinect, set just after Episode One and Fable: Journey. And of course what would Kinect be without the obligatory sports and kids games stiffly simulated by fake families and children?
Microsoft’s primary offering to the core audience was a remake of the original Halo, a game that “changed the way we play shooters” (I’ll leave it up to you to make your mind up about that) and Halo 4, which is to be made by 34 industries to begin a new trilogy. Commence sighs of indifference.
EA Press Conference
Next up was EA in the Orpheum theatre, which thankfully got to the real meat of matters, and markedly perked up disengaged attendees. We got to see a nice gameplay demo of Mass Effect 3 which exhibited the epic scale of battles they hope to offer as well as the lovely visuals, followed by an announcement of a March 6th 2012 release date.
Insomniac announced a brand new shooter based in the future called Overstrike featuring a charismatic team of four, EA Sports unveiled Football Club, an online service to tie in all EA Soccer games.
Bioware also threw out a new, admittedly epic Star Wars: The Old Republic CG trailer and not one thing more, and when I say ‘new’, I mean some parts of it were new.
But the real showstopper that made a fairly mediocre presser, comparatively awesome, was Battlefield 3, which showed a glimpse of that coveted multiplayer followed by a lengthy gameplay demo of a tank section. The graphics, as expected were pure insanity and the realism and physics really make this game a front-runner for shooter of the year. As John Riccitiello said, unlike other conferences, it was just developers talking about their works, (aside from the NFL stars they shoved on stage in defiance of such philosophy) which gave it a relatively dignified edge.
Ubisoft Press Conference
I had low expectations for Ubisoft to say the least, given their embarrassing shenanigans last year with virtual Laser Tag, but they actually made a fairly strong showing.
After the initial talk of their celebration of 25 years, the side-platformer Rayman Origins was shown with some really inventive levels including a Tetris parody of sorts, and then a nice trailer for previously shown Driver: San Francisco.
Then came the best surprise: Far Cry 3. Set on a jungle island, with a crazy man whose mouth needs to be washed out with soap, who tries to execute you. We were treated to a little bit of gameplay with some nice explosions and some good old knifing, which is rare for the first reveal for a game.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier also got a good showing and looks to be a solid co-op shooter.
Skipping Your Shape 2012, Just Dance 3 and a few other obvious previews, let’s move onto the Tin Tin movie tie-in game, which featured video interviews with Steven Spielberg and others and looks rather endearing and is sure to bring back childhood memories.
There was a new Raving Rabbids game that utilises Kinect augmented reality with lots of mini-games that looked kind of fun in a goofy way.
Finally, the next instalment of Assassin’s Creed was demonstrated, with new features such as flamethrowers, zip lines and explosives. AC: Revelations looks set to be a fitting conclusion to Ezio’s funky-accented adventures.
Quietly forgetting Aaron Priceman “ Mr Caffeine” and some of the most cringy lines so far, Ubisoft kept things moving in the order of the day in being better than the last, and doing themselves pretty proud on their 25th anniversary.
Sony Press Conference
Finally, the day gave way to arguably the most anticipated event, simply because it could have gone a lot of different routes. Sony’s extravaganza was, most agree, a pretty impressive showing. The big question was how they were going to address the elephant in the stadium, the PSN outage. Amazingly, Jack Tretton got to the point swiftly and delivered a sincere apology in an astute manner, not only to the consumers but to the third party developers, who arguably lost a great deal more.
Having cleared that up Sony went onto a great show. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception looked stunning, in this instance, set on an ageing cruise ship, explosions, sinking and upside-down hallway navigating ensued and, as always, it looked bloody fantastic.
A nice surprise, in the form of a brand new Sly Cooper game, arrived; ‘Thieves in Time’ was announced, though there wasn’t much other information.
And, determined to push the 3D experience, with almost the same conviction as Microsoft with the Kinect, the extent to which Sony has accommodated 3D games was spoken about at length before announcing a Playstation Branded TV with glasses included, that can display two different images for co-op and costs $499 — not too shabby.
Resistance 3 also got a great looking demo and trailer and Ken Levine took the stage to announce exclusive content in Bioshock: Infinite for the PS3 (content exclusivity for a number of games incidentally seemed to be another strong theme) and Move support, explaining how he’d come round to the idea, despite his initial reluctance displayed in interviews (I don’t blame you, Ken!).
The main event, however, was the now formally named PlayStation Vita (formerly known as the PlayStation NGP). It was given a demo with a number of great games including a PS3-worthy Uncharted: Golden Abyss, ModNation Racers and many more, the PS Vita looks great and appears to intuitively use the touch and tilt controls. The real big news was the price: Just $249 for the Wifi version and $299 for the Wifi/3G model — very competitive in comparison with the Nintendo 3DS.
E3 2011 – Day 1
Nintendo Press Conference
Nintendo kicked off the day with a conference that left many people confounded. I’m still not sure what to make of it myself, but nonetheless, we’ll try to make sense of the festivities. Project Cafe is dead, long live Wii U. The naming conventions continue to defy logic and suggest that this iteration isn’t in fact, a whole new console — which it actually is.
The Wii U features a 6.2-inch touch screen controller, as rumoured, complete with mic, camera and gyro sensor. It will be able to run 1080p, is backwards compatible (nudge, nudge Sony) and will allow for multiscreen play with the TV.
Despite their emphasis on the controller, there is an actual console that is small, sleek and white and more amazingly, is capable of running games like Batman: Arkham City and other such games, as John Riccitiello of EA announced.
To further add to the confusion, the video footage shown of the 3rd party games was actually caught off PS3/360, although Reggie Fils-Aime assures the Wii U will hold up to scrutiny once it’s closer to launch.
The brand new offering from Nintendo that no one is quite sure about yet, is due out 2012, is due to benefit from a new Super Smash Bros. (also for 3DS), Darksiders II, and Ninja Gaiden III, amongst other games, though none are ready to be shown yet.
Delving into the “other stuff”, Link’s Awakening is heading to the virtual console tying in with the Zelda 25th anniversary, Ocarina of Time 3DS is out next week with Skyward Sword hitting stores within the year and finally we saw a slew of 3DS games including Kid Icarus, new Mario, Starfox and Luigi’s Mansion 2.
It’s going to take some time and supplementary news of the Wii U to really start to win the crowds over, but it’s an interesting prospect, to say the least. I’ll have more Nintendo news during the week as I get my mitts on the merchandise on the show floor. For the full conference, check below!
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
Finally, the show floor opened at midday today, turning an orderly queue full of respectable professionals into a frenzied, every-man-for-himself rush for the booths. The first game I came across was Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, where Ubisoft was offering playtime in the new multiplayer.
Although the format is essentially the same as Brotherhood’s, Revelations further extends the assassins’ arsenal with landmines and other bombs and weapons and features new game modes that take advantage of the unique chase and evade gameplay, with both teamplay and lone wolf style.
The Constantinople cityscapes look fantastic as expected and introduce a new colour set to the franchise in the lighting and buildings, which help Revelations differentiate itself. Finally, some may be happy to know that the Ubisoft attendants assured me the matchmaking was being significantly improved, in lieu of the fairly poor service offered by Brotherhood.
Next, I embarked on an epic journey to endure the understandably mammoth Battlefield 3 queue, why? Because it just had to be done! And I can safely say it was worth the wait.
First Lars Gustavsson, the lead multiplayer designer and a veteran of 12 years since the beginning of the franchise spoke about their new engine and the multiplayer operation we were about to play through
“The magic is called Frostbite 2, it’s our new engine built locally at DICE that’s going to allow us to build this game. We really need to start creating new inventive ways of making games continuously better and better and we think we have the edge here.”
“We integrated the new system [of fluid animations], the same one they have in the new FIFA game, which really improves the experience on the battlefield and sets us apart from the competition”
“Battlefield has always been about huge battles, possibilities and Battlefield 3 is no different. This time around we challenged ourselves to move into more urban environments, which was quite a challenge, especially with destruction”.
As soon as I hit deploy, the visuals had me taken aback for a few seconds and I could hear similar reactions from others — this particular map had a bright and clear feel as the afternoon sun shone across the grass in the park, that proved that BF3 wasn’t just about the brown and bloom of the desert. As we made our way to our first objectives the animations became very apparent in their fluidity, especially when I cast my mind back to the old days and certain other shooters that look stiff and hence videogame-y.
The rush game mode allowed us to move forth once the first line of defences had been secured with a momentous bombing run that opened up the subway underground and the next part of the level, becoming much tighter. It was at this point I really started to notice the destruction system that felt impactful but not silly to the point where a couple of bullets could destroy a wall. It meant that subway turn-styles and other fairly flimsy objects just became a part of the battlefield in terms of obstacles that could be overcome, as opposed to inexplicably immovable objects, such as in Call of Duty.
Combat felt great, as I’d expected from the Battlefield series, and I witnessed new features such as ‘suppressing fire’ that allows machine gunners to lay down gunfire that reduces nearby enemy combat efficiency, while your teammates move up to make the kill. Also, the HUD and UI take a page from Bad Company 2, but are more refined and feel suitable and sleek for a new generation Battlefield.
My experience in this short period was really great and I could have sat there for hours had they let me. When considering this game is still in alpha, it really is astounding, and it no doubt will prove a very worthy opponent to the Call of Duty behemoth.
E3 2011 – Day 2
As soon as I awoke this Wednesday to an uncharacteristically cloudy LA day, I had but one priority: to get my hands on the still very oddly named Wii U, as well as the portable powerhouse that is the PlayStation Vita. So that’s exactly what I did once the show floor opened to a now very purposeful, hot and busy press.
As you might imagine, there are quite a few people looking to test out the new console, some important, such as company VPs and industry-hopping celebrities, and some not so. This meant a long wait and short play with the device, but I feel I was able to get a good impression, given the lack of software (and any games at all). The controller itself is around the size of an A5 piece of paper and is cast in the signature shiny white plastic of Nintendo.
The screen does feel unnaturally large for the device it is, but it is sharp and clear, despite not quite being able to put out 1080p. The bottom feels fine, with a ridge that houses the triggers and accommodates your fingers relatively comfortably, but the top is where the problems unfortunately arise.
For some inexplicable reason, Nintendo saw fit to throw out many years of tried and tested control layouts and place the directional sticks above the buttons, meaning an awkward manoeuvre every time you need to carry any actions. To add insult to injury (possibly, quite literally!) the analogue sticks, much like the Nintendo 3DS stick, are tough to push, and put up a great deal of resistance without appearing to offer any real precision.
The tech demo I played was one of the more interactive experiences out of the lot where you’re asked to use the controller as a shield to block pirates’ incoming darts that can only be seen on the screen of the controller. In order to do this, you need to move around to the beat of the music. It certainly served to begin to realise the possibilities of the controller, but the game itself was pretty poor.
Other tech demos (‘experiences’ in marketing speak) only really allowed one to manipulate the camera but showed stunning visuals for both Zelda and a bird flittering about a Japanese garden, akin to the levels of the best HD titles for the other existing rival consoles. The potential for the Wii U is definitely there, but it’s going to take clarification, and a clearer and more robust launch catalogue to persuade the masses.
The brand new, tech-heavy portable gaming console from Sony was in equally high demand by E3 attendees and I was lucky enough to see Uncharted: Golden Abyss in action, which many would consider the most exciting PSV prospect announced so far.
The hardware itself feels very similar to the Sony PSP, though slightly more hefty, and the first thing that struck me was the pure joy in actually feeling the dual analogue sticks, being able to cast aside the dark days of the PSP and the games I wanted to love, but couldn’t bare trying to control.
As was evident from the Sony press conference, Uncharted: Golden Abyss does truly look brilliant, to the point where, when considering the screen size, it looks like the same level of quality of the PS3 Uncharted games. I was presented with a mountainside jungle temple with plenty of the regular Uncharted action, but the extent to which the touch screen swiping and tapping helps you climb and navigate almost made me feel disconnected from actually controlling the game.
Fortunately, you can choose to simply use the regular buttons that are mapped out the same as the PS3 version, and once the melee combat sections and mini-puzzles came up, which used QTE style tap screen attacking and dragging and placing puzzle sections, I began to feel more assured of the suitability of this game for the PSV.
I’m certain there’s much more to see and they haven’t let up on the cinematics that is indicative of the Uncharted franchise. This is a completely original and separate adventure to Uncharted 3 and while there’s no release date yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see it as a launch title.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Deus Ex is a title we can almost touch, due to its scheduled release in August, which only makes it more mouth-watering. The action-RPG has a lot to live up to after the critically acclaimed original, but the team at Eidos, as far as I can see from the demo, appear to have pulled it off, at least in creating a fluid tactical RPG, the like of which we don’t see often these days.
The art direction is distinctive, defined as ‘futuristic baroque’, the buildings and hallways are saturated in deep yellows and browns and the UI shares the palette. The player is a security worker for Serif Industries, a cybernetics company opposed by a group of purists, who witnesses an attack on the company and is injured in the process. The opening sequence then shows you being rebuilt, building the themes of transhumanism within the game.
The game plays like a crossbreed of Metal Gear Solid and Fallout 3, where you spend plenty of time in 3rd person cover mode, but also in first-person, making your way through various missions and hub-worlds by the methods you decide, depending on your preferred tactics and strengths. Thankfully, this is no shoddy run and gun shooter posing as an RPG: take some bullets and you’re going down, but of course, the same applies to the enemies, even the bosses.
Additionally, you’re able to upgrade your cybernetics in a plethora of ways from speed, to hacking and stealth abilities. All this, coupled with a bunch of interesting decisions you’re forced to make and solid and strategic shooting mechanic will make Human Revolution a pre-order for many RPG fans, and hopefully a saving grace for a struggling Square Enix.
Saints Row: The Third
As a marked break from the comparatively highbrow games I’d been looking, I clambered over to THQ’s booth to check out the new Saints Row. Turns out I was in for pure, unadulterated, guilt-free insanity. The first couple of minutes of the presentation featured giant dildo weapons, a fist that makes people explode, a truck-mounted cannon that propels unsuspecting pedestrians and pink space suits — just for starters.
After some explanation of the depths of the character customisation and the announcement that one can play naked, we went to see one of the story missions. That mission featured the Saints, your gang, robbing a bank, signing autographs for fans of your criminal syndicate and a massive shootout culminating in a battle from the top of a bank vault against about five police helicopters. Needless to say, there isn’t really much point in me pontificating the visuals and gameplay philosophy — all you need to know about the ideology of this game is right in those details!
A little later I sat down with Volition’s Drew Holmes, Lead Writer, to talk about the gangster extravaganza…
The Saints Row series has a clear focus in sandbox play, so how does the story mode fit in alongside that?
It’s part of the entire package but it’s not necessarily the main focus. Obviously, we still have this huge, crazy, over-the-top story that fits along with all the stuff we’re trying to do in the open world game. We’re really elevating the level of wackiness and insanity in the story missions as well. Previously in Saints Row, the story missions tended to be darker overall and not quite as humorous as the rest of the world. We wanted to change that up and match the overall tone and vibe with the way people really want to play the game so the story is gonna absolutely match that. You’ve got ridiculous crazy missions like the bank job we demoed today. We really wanted to take the missions to a level that you’re not going to see in the overall gameplay: lots of cutscenes scripted moments and lots of ‘crap I can’t believe this is happening’. It’s constantly one-upping the last mission.
In continuing to bend the rules of realism, what have you been able to do that you couldn’t in Saints Row 2?
We’ve got a whole bunch of brand new weapons: the giant dildo, calling in airstrikes and lots of crazy stupid things, we’re definitely not held back by realism. It’s whatever we want to imagine, we are able to throw into the game. You’ve got an activity called Professor Genki’s Reality Climax, which is essentially Running Man meets a Japanese game show, the tagline is “murder time, fun time”. It really lets us let loose in terms of what we want to do, where we want to go and how we want to play the game.
Is there anything you can tell us about the multiplayer side of things?
We’re not doing any sort of competitive multiplayer, what we’re doing is an online drop-in/drop-out co-op throughout the entire campaign and you can just roam around the city and just smash cars into each other. We’ll be unveiling lots of cool co-op specific stuff later on!
There was plenty of DLC for Saints Row 2, are you going to continue that tradition?
We’re going support the game post-launch, absolutely; there’s going to be lots of different things for people to play around with. We’ve got so many toys that don’t necessarily fit in the first game that we’ll throw in.
Why did the team decide to create a fictional city, as opposed to somewhere everyone knows?
We didn’t want to use a real city because you then you start to break the boundaries of the universe you’re trying to create. You want to create this over-the-top experience where a gang of criminals can be the greatest celebrities in the world as well. If you make a real city then all of the sudden people start thinking that doesn’t really fit. We wanted to create a brand new city, a brand new Mecca of sin, where literally everything and every vice that you could imagine is going to be.
The story setup is somewhat different this time, at least compared to most games where you have the small time gangster. What does it involve this time and why did you choose that route?
We have so many cool toys and so many cool weapons that we didn’t want players to have to wait and play through a lot of the game just to get them. We wanted to give them lots of different things to play around with right from the beginning and then escalate it from there. We also wanted to give a different feel from Saints Row 1 and 2 where you were working your way up. This time you own Steelport, you’re the top gang and now it’s about expanding your empire into another city and really trying to take over the world.
Finally, I got a quick look at the zombie game that set the web alight with its debut cinematic trailer. It is, however, clear by now that the character drama that the trailer seemed to suggest is not the direction Dead Island looks to go in. The focus here is more on kicking zombies’ heads in, and although it’s different, there ain’t nothing wrong with that.
There’s an overwhelming feeling of arcadey-ness. For instance, a well-executed attack will grant exp, and the HUD is bold, much like the tropical island visuals. Attacks will primarily be melee form, due to the shortage of heavy weaponry generally held in hotel resorts, and hence considerable depth has been afforded the hand-to-hand combat system as well as melee weapon techniques.
I’m slightly disappointed that the dialogue and characters are all pretty basic, but the combat system is fun and intuitive; although it may be hard to keep the player engaged with this over an 8 hour plus story mode unless other elements are fleshed out.
E3 2011 – Day 3
Once again E3 attendees lined up as we did in previous days and once again lines gave way to pandemonium as the doors opened up for the final day of E3. I myself took the time to make sure I’d seen every thing I wanted to, and of course, to take in the generally insane atmosphere.
Metal Gear Solid Peacewalker HD
Though there’s virtually nothing new here in terms of game content, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see how these classic games held up on they’re newfound platforms.
Peacewalker HD, part of the Metal Gear Solid collection coming to the PS3 later this year is an exciting prospect for me, as I decided against playing its PSP iteration due to my disgust of the single analogue control system.
Fortunately, it’s now running very smoothly the way it should be with two sticks right on the PS3. Slightly discouraging, however, is the fact that Konami seem to have used the phrase ‘HD’ very loosely given that, when displayed on a 50-inch LCD TV, Peacewalker is looking much shoddier than a fair amount of PS2 games, with very low-res textures and unnaturally sharp edges. Nonetheless, it’s very much more playable than it’s ever been, and comes with two of the best PS2 games of all time, so it’s hard to argue with that.
Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3DS
Next, I headed over to the Snake Eater 3DS stand where the game had taken the opposite route, from console to portable. Comparatively, it’s looking much better, and though I haven’t played the original Snake Eater in a little while, I’d put myself out there to say it looks just as good as it did on the console. Much like Peacewalker, Snake Eater 3DS uses the action buttons (X, Y, A & B) to manipulate the camera direction and the sole stick to control movement. While this isn’t ideal, you can get used to it, and utilising the bottom touch screen for inventory management actually works pretty well.
Unfortunately, I still can’t put my brain and eyes through the dizzying experience of 3D for more than a couple of minutes, so I tended to leave that off, but it does actually add something to the cinematics if you flip it on for MGS’ trademark cutscenes, so all it is not lost.
Aside from a few other questionable features such as being able to take a picture and then apply it as camouflage on Snake (get those silly thoughts out of your head!), it’s essentially the same game, but at least that game is arguably the best the series has to offer!
The PlayStation 3 continues to build up a strong catalogue of games after a rocky first few years, and the 3rd person shooter Starhawk aims to aid that further. Now saying it’s a futuristic shooter with fairly brown and grey environments isn’t exactly going to get people’s neck hair standing on end, but what it does have going for it is 32 player multiplayer with vehicular combat and a real-time strategy element.
It isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but being able to build structures including vehicle dispensers and defences by using ‘Rift energy’ earned in combat is pretty fun and makes a welcome change to the majority of shooters.
It’s going to be hit or miss as to whether the strategy element becomes apparent, as a lot of people spend most of the time splattering clueless players across their jeeps’ bonnets, but ideas are there and the basic mechanics of combat are their with a nice fidelity to aiming and shooting. Look for Starhawk out in 2012.
Gears of War 3
Gears of War 3 is one of the most anticipated titles for the Xbox 360 this year and a presentation I attended today proved to me that the team at Epic aren’t content to rest on their laurels.
One of the main additions this time is the reintroduction of Horde Mode, now with ‘2.0’ on the end, where players will be fighting against round after round of Lambent and Locust. The revamped game takes a page out of Call of Duty’s Nazi zombie mode allowing players to use the cash that they earn during rounds to buy defences such as walls and barbed wire, automated turrets and player controlled mechs.
Additionally, players have the option to try to complete mini challenges for the chance to earn extra ammo and weapons, which should come in handy especially when every 10th round features a random boss; a mighty Berserker in the playthrough I watched.
This mode along with other advances in the storytelling such as playing epic scenes from different perspectives and a solid competitive multiplayer assured by the recent beta, make the conclusion to Gears of War story look pretty tempting, aside from the cringy theme song from rock band Bodycount — but we’ll forgive that one slip up.
More Curious Gaming Technology!
As well as games and new consoles, E3 also has more to offer, depending as to whether you’re willing to get a bit experimental.
One game/experience I came across a game that used what looked like a gas mark to completely cover the players face and blind them, which created a very eerie scene as I walked past the bank of faceless players and computer screens.
The player uses sound and a joystick to locate his enemies in a simulated underwater setting. However, the mask also measures your breathing and depending on how loud and heavily you breathe, you’re enemies might hear you, and you might not be able to hear them over your own breathing.
It sounds and frankly is, crazy, but it’s small developers like this who keep creativity in its truest sense alive.
Other attempts to create increased immersion included projector screens that wrapped around the player in a spherical shape and virtual reality stereoscopic 3D goggles that use head-tracking, allowing you to somewhat naturally look around your virtual environment in a racing game.
Review Of E3 2011
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 a demo of during E3. The team are working closely with Bad Robot to try craft a unique and phaser-packed experience to release alongside 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 shuttle jump, 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 pick up a shockingly satisfying heavy phaser rifle.
Star Trek looks set to offer a true co-op adventure, with separate abilities for each character 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-like 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…
The IndieCade had an interesting showing as far as curiosities go as well, demoing some sort of a twister game, gas mask gaming (see the photo earlier in this article) and Humans Vs Zombies, a moderated tag game that wasn’t electronic at all! Plenty of innovation in its rawest, most quirky form.
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-like 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 Ricochet, 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.
Summary Of E2 2011
Of course there are also plenty of interesting and odd things going on about the place such as autograph signings from minor Glee cast members, full orchestras playing Lord of the Rings music in the foyer to promote the new War in the North game and scantily-clad girls in t-shirts bearing the phrase “I love rim-jobs”, washing obnoxiously modified cars in the parking lot; all part of the madness of E3.
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 bated breath for many of the games this year’s E3 teased. See you next year!