Monday 6th June 2011 marked the start of the biggest gaming event of the year, where the games industry descended on Los Angeles for E3 2011. Four conferences went ahead yesterday, from Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft and Sony. Below, is my coverage of the event, and my opinions on the stuff that came up. Strap yourself in, there’s a lot to cover here.
- First things first, the studio looked really nice. I am usually not one for architecture, but I liked the way the studio was shaped
- Saints Row 3 – There was a small piece of gameplay before the Xbox conference started. It looked typically ridiculous, with a man hitting an opposing gang member in the balls with a shotgun and then surfing on his body down the street. There was also a piece of footage showing an entire bank vault being lifted into the sky via a helicopter. Fantastic and over the top, just the way Saints Row should be.
- Perhaps predictably, Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 opened the show for Microsoft, with actual gameplay footage. After a random pause where the controller got disconnected (probably to highlight the fact that it was actual gameplay footage) we were treated to gameplay of a level where the main character swam for ages underwater outside of Manhattan, before breaching a submarine and moving inside to showcase some actual gunplay. To be honest, it just looked like Modern Warfare 2 in a submarine, with slightly better graphics (right down to the ‘blow up a wall, charge through and shoot everything in slow motion’ set piece). The demo ended with a chase scene on the water which displayed a full showcase of the destruction of Manhattan, with jets and missiles flying around everywhere. The heads of Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer came out to confirm the release date of November 8th.
- Following up Modern Warfare 3 was Crystal Dynamics reboot of Tomb Raider. It looks gritty as hell, featuring an injured Lara making her way through an underground tomb. The focus here was on actual gameplay, focusing more on elements of Lara’s survival in the tomb. It looked beautiful and very engaging, and is set for release in 2012.
- Next up was the head of EA Sports to announce a new set of titles; and more importantly the fact that they would have Kinect compatibility. The four games confirmed were Madden, FIFA, Tiger Woods, and an unrevealed title, all set for release in 2012. If they can pull this off, I would be very impressed indeed.
- There had been rumours about Mass Effect 3 prior to E3, but Bioware completely blew me out of the water by demonstrating KINECT SUPPORT FOR THE GAME. Yep, Bioware showed off a short demo (which showed us the confirmed return of Liara, Garrus and Mordin) that had Shepard interacting in game via the voice activation of Kinect. We also had a short fighting sequence, which saw Shepard use his omni-tool as a sword. Very impressive, and my personal highlight of Microsoft’s conference.
- Ghost Recon Future Solider – This part of the presentation opened with a pre rendered video showing an operation in glorious sweeping slow motion. The developers behind the game then hit the stage to demonstrate a weapon customisation system utilising Kinect controls. We have been promised near to 20 million unique weapon combinations, and two of them were displayed in a virtual firing range. An FPS using Kinect? You better believe it. The presentation was rounded off with the announcement that all new Ghost Recon titles will use Kinect in the future.
- Xbox Live – The head of Xbox Live came on and told the world that the dashboard on your Xbox will be changing again soon; this time the emphasis is on expanding the media aspect of your Xbox. The update, which can be controlled by Kinect or by controller, will be bringing a ton of new music, films and live TV to the Xbox Dashboard; the headline additions are the introduction of Youtube, UFC and Bing onto the console. There was a lengthy display of a woman using the Bing search function on the console to find films and games; it seemed pre co-ordinated but it has the potential to be a very useful tool indeed. They summed it all up with the tagline ‘You say it, Xbox finds it’. Watch this space I suppose
We then got into a small section of Xbox exclusive games
- Gears Of Wars 3 – Cliff Blesinskzi came out to announce stuff about the game, and introduced the rapper Ice T to come out and hype it up. They started playing a demo where Marcus and the team fight off a massive Leviathan Locust, with random mech units thrown in for good measure. There were some nice set pieces (especially when the Leviathan got its eye blown out), but overall I found it relatively underwhelming. Maybe its because I’ve already seen so much of it, but Modern Warfare 3 looked more impressive on gameplay comparison.
- Ryse – A random new Crytek game appeared halfway through the conference, which seems to be set in Ancient Rome. The video showed a guy imitating the use of a sword and shield using Kinect to beat the crap out of an AI opponent…and that was it mostly. Nothing else was revealed, so I’ll just assume it will be a normal Crytek game; looks superb, action gets repetitive.
- It had been heavily rumoured beforehand, but we now know for sure that Halo: Combat Evolved is getting remade, in the form of Halo: Anniversary. HD graphics over the original story and gameplay engine, online co-op play, and 7 re-mastered maps for online multiplayer using the engine from Halo: Reach. The release date: November 15 2011. I cannot wait to get my hands on this.
- Forza Motorsport 4 – Another game that we knew was coming at E3, Forza 4 impressed nevertheless. The footage on show (which interestingly stole the Kanye West song from the Saints Row 3 trailer) looked beautiful, with support for 16 players online. It was also revealed that they have stolen the Top Gear test track as a circuit for you to race on. So about that exclusive for Gran Turismo 5…
- Fable: The Journey – Yet another Kinect game, Lionhead Studios newest entry into the Fable franchise has you shaping the journey of a hero for yourself to save theland of Albion. Zoe Wanamaker is still doing voices, but the gameplay looked horribly on rails, like House Of The Dead. Set for release in 2012
- Another random announcement halfway through the conference: the hugely successful Minecraft will be making its console debut this winter on Kinect. I genuinely thought they would make a bigger deal of this.
- Kinect Disneyland Adventures – Have you ever wanted to walk through your own theme park and ride the attractions for free? Well now you can with Kinect Disneyland Adventures! This part of the presentation showed an impressive zoom through a replication of Disneyland Paris, before two small kids started playing minigames that looked suspiciously like the boating minigame on Kinect Adventures, collecting ‘magic coins’ and fistbumping their way to success. Unless you can walk through the theme park, I will be very unimpressed with this.
- And the award for worst game of the conference thus far has to go to Star Wars Kinect; the lightsaber combat looked incredibly forced and the guy playing the game failed to pick up a tank and throw it. PLEASE LUCASARTS, MAKE BATTLEFRONT 3 INSTEAD OF THIS CRAP.
- Tim Schaffer, the creator of Brutal Legend, then came out and announced his new title; Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster. It looks like an educational game but it has the Cookie Monster in it to amuse young kids. Coming this fall, one of my friends has already promised to buy this game. I intend to hold him to his promise.
- Kinect Funlabs – Perhaps the major surprise of the Microsoft conference, Kinect Funlabs is meant to act as a hub for a number of Kinect specific tools. The highlights were avatar scanning and finger tracking (which allows you to draw all over images in 3D – very impressive). Not bad, but the real surprise: its free for everyone’s dashboard, and it is available from NOW. Yep, they dropped that bomb by telling us you can get it straight away. And to be honest, more stuff for free is also a good thing.
- Kinect Sports 2 – The sequel to the largely popular Kinect Sports, you can now play darts, baseball, American Sports, in your living room.
- Dance Central 2 – Another Kinect bestseller gets a sequel; nothing much more to say apart it will have more music, and the motion capture seems adequate
- And finally, to close the show, Microsoft announced a title which had sadly been leaked a day before, and that title is Halo 4. We got a trailer showing Master Chief very much alive, collecting Cortana and standing at the edge of the Forward Unto Dawn, staring a massive portal in the face. It will form the basis of a new trilogy in the Halo story. Halo 4 is coming fall 2012.
Overall, I thought it was a good start to E3 by Microsoft. They managed to cover two important aspects of their marketing strategy, by ensuring that the Kinect will have support for the meantime and the immediate future, whilst also ensuring that the core base of gamers are kept placated by some big release titles, such as Gears Of War 3 and Modern Warfare 3. Mass Effect 3 looked terrific in action, and having Halo Anniversary officially confirmed can only be a good thing; what remains to be seen now is whether Halo 4 can keep the Xbox in the driving seat over the next year or so.
I was heavily disappointed however by the lack of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in the presentation, and also by the sheer number of sequels and remakes: apart from Ryse, there weren’t that many new IP’s to talk about. It is difficult to highlight exactly what Microsoft needs, I suppose that keeping COD and Halo will be enough to make the sales figures rise
Electronic Arts (EA)
- It was Mass Effect 3 that opened up the show for EA, starting up with a trailer showing a massive army of reapers hitting Earth, and more importantly announcing the release date of March 6th 2012. This was then followed up by a live demo showing Shepard using theNormandy to blow up a Reaper base, followed by an on rails shooting section against another enormous Reaper. We got to see more of the actual gameplay footage here, and I must say it looks like a step-up from what was already impressive work in Mass Effect 2. Shepard can now roll around, perform stealth kills, and generally seems more action ready across the game. At the moment, this is easily the must have title for 2012.
- Need For Speed: The Run – The newest entry into the Need For Speed franchise caused quite a stir. Not only will the Autolog system from Hot Pursuit now cover the entirety of the game (whereas before it was just for online stats), but you now have sequences that take place outside of the car, a new feature for the franchise. Admittedly the out of car but amounted to just a series of quick time events, but its good to see the game try to do something different. Aside from this, the game looked excellent in motion, but it is still a bit of a shame that there was little damage to the car. Still, one to look out for this Winter
- Star Wars: The Old Republic – Unfortunately, we got absolutely zero new gameplay for Bioware’s MMORPG. We were told to experience the game first hand, and then were treated to a cinematic trailer largely comprised of the jaw dropping trailers we saw from last E3. Quite a disappointment if I am honest.
- SSX – The snowboarding franchise is getting its reboot, and it seems to be going back to the old days of ridiculous tricks and huge air. EA announced three new modes here; racing, trick mode, and the rather intriguing survival mode. The trailer also showed locations spread around the world, meaning that there should be plenty of varied courses. Its good to have it back, and you’ll be able to purchase it in January 2012.
- If you follow my blog, then you will already be aware of the holy trinity of gameplay aspects being brought into FIFA 12 with the Impact engine and refined dribbling, but what we didn’t know about was EA’s new initiative called ‘Football Club’. In laymen’s terms, it’s a new social hub offering challenges and updates to the game on a regular basis, determined by what is going on in the real world. The best part of this? Its free!!! Yet more reason to pick up a copy in October.
- Madden 12 – The other behemoth in the EA Sports franchise, Madden is also getting a physics overhaul this year with a new impact engine. Ea are taking this seriously as always and got three NFL players, including the guy that won the Superbowl (I don’t follow American football if you can tell) to come out and shout stuff about being ‘in the game’. I’m sure that if you like Madden, you’ll be fine with the new update.
- The Sims Social – From what we saw in the trailer, this looks quite simply like the Sims on Facebook. Given the enormous audience of Facebook and the huge following for the Sims, this has the potential to be a storming success if implemented right.
- Kingdom Of Amalur: Reckoning – One of very few RPG’s on show all day, the premise behind this game is that you can affect anything and everything in the game world to play as you see fit. Looked quite like World Of Warcraft from the trailer. Set for release in 2012.
- Overstrike – Insomniac’s new IP to be published by EA, Overstrike follows a team of four operatives with unique abilities as they do…covert stuff all around the world. My early scepticism about this trailer was soon replaced by delight upon seeing this being implemented, with the traditional dose of Insomniac wit we have come to love in Ratchet And Clank, with some ‘Tick Tick Boom’ by The Hives thrown in for good measure. It looked nice in presentation, but I will have to see more about gameplay before making a final judgement on it
- Battlefield 3 – Undoubtedly the gem in EA’s conference. It opened with a short demonstration of what the Frostbite 2.0 Engine is capable of using in game footage, which was followed by a short multiplayer video and an explanation of a stat tracking system which will be free to all users. After announcing an open beta set for September 2011, we then got a beautiful demo of tank gameplay in the desert. It looked outstanding…and that was an understatement. Whereas the Modern Warfare 3 gameplay had to have all sorts of stuff going on in the background to keep us amused, this was intense for just being warfare perfectly executed. And the parting blow to Activision? A release date of October 25th 2011, two whole weeks before Modern Warfare 3. Superb stuff, and my game of the Convention thus far.
EA had the best line up of the day for me, and apart from the complete lack of The Old Republic, they put on an excellent display. All the major franchises were represented and given good screen time, Overstrike and Kingdom Of Amalur look like very nice new titles to work with, and then Battlefield 3 stole the show with its terrific gameplay demo. EA continues to move from strength to strength it seems.
- A key feature to this conference was the fact that this is the 25th anniversary of Ubisoft. Congratulations to them for surviving so long.
- The conference started off with a showcase of Rayman Origins – after an awful Hamlet reference (‘to Ubi or not Ubi?’), we were shown the unique cel-shaded graphics and co-op gameplay. The guy playing it died a lot, which was interesting, but otherwise the game was full of charm. Rayman and Globox can attack each other ala Lego Star Wars, there were references to older titles in the series and also to the Tetris franchise, and we were promised four player co-op at launch. This could be a long welcome return for the limbless wonder.
- The host for this event, Mr Caffiene, was straddling the thin line between disaster and becoming and internet meme – for little reason there were Charlie Sheen references and dick jokes thrown about. Credit to the guy for being enthusiastic, but the crowd was not into him at all unfortunately.
- Driver: San Francisco – No gameplay footage surprisingly, instead we got a trailer which showed Bullitt-like chase action through the famous hills ofSan Francisco. Not much more to say, apart from it seems that they have got licenses for proper cars; I saw a Ford GT40 and a Murcielago in that trailer and they looked pretty damn authentic.
- What following Driver was my biggest surprise of the show thus far. We were shown a lush jungle landscape, followed by a confrontation between a crazy talking man and a guy who was then thrown into a lake tied to a rock. After escaping the predicament and killing a guard to get a weapon, it clicked pretty quickly that it looked very similar to Far Cry 2. And sure enough, come the end of the trailer it was confirmed we had just watched in game footage from Far Cry 3. I really wasn’t expecting its announcement here at E3, but it was a more than welcome reveal. Now, please make sure it isn’t boring like Far Cry 2.
- Randy Pitchford of Gearbox Software then came out and announced a new (SHOCK HORROR) WORLD WAR 2 shooter. Brothers In Arms: The Furious Four. Imagine Inglorious Basterds as a game, and you have this trailer in a nutshell. For what has always been quite a serious series, this Brothers In Arms game seems to be a massive two fingers up to history and the Nazi’s. And to be honest, I’m sick of generic ‘modern shooters’, so bring it on Gearbox.
- The Adventures Of Tintin: The Game – The large majority of this was Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson hyping up the film, with a small bit of gameplay tagged on at the end. In fairness, it didn’t look bad at all; a platformer of various stages and styles like early Crash Bandicoot. Could be quite good.
- Ghost Recon Online – To celebrate 10 years since they first ventured online, Ubisoft Singapore are making a FREE online game for you all to play, which will also carry stats over to Future Solider. You can apply for a beta now.
- Trackmania 2 – An online game which allows you to make your own tracks, with fast paced Ridge Racer like action to follow it up. Set for release in December 2011.
- Raving Rabbids: Alive And Kicking – Those lovable/detestable Rabbids are back for another outing, this time in the form of minigames for the Kinect. The two games featured were a variant of a game of whack-a-mole, and a picture taking game from Kinect Adventures. Best for families and kids methinks.
- Just Dance 3 – The third game to be released in a short span of time, this game will have more tunes to boogie to when it gets released in October 2011. Katy Perry randomly turned up in the promo trailer.
- Rocksmith: Authentic Guitar Games – A quite novel idea this one; you can plug your electric guitar staright into the game and start to learn to play guitar with chords and real notes and such. It is interesting that Ubisoft have released a music game when the rest of the industry is dead with the discontinuation of Guitar/DJ/Drum/Band/Instrument Hero; I would like this game to actually teach people. Set for release in Fall 2011.
- And to end the show, Ubisoft brought out its big guns with Assassins Creed Revelations, the final game in Ezio’s trilogy – a random (but very good looking) trailer showing Ezio in theMiddle East and in snowy mountains was followed up by the demo for E3 set inConstantinople. Showcasing new features such as fighting in fog, Ezio blew up a lighthouse, before setting ships on fire with a flamethrower that had ridiculous range, before free running to freedom. You can pick up Revelations in November this year.
This conference will probably be remembered for the host moreso than the games on offer to be honest. Seeing Far Cry 3 was a welcome surprise, but something just didn’t click with Rayman, and Assassin’s Creed Revelations appeared to me to be distinctly average at best. The thing I was pondering moreso than anything else during this conference was why Ubisoft had a place between the likes of Microsoft and Sony; I would have much preferred a mass conference for Square Enix with their roster of varied games like Tomb Raider, Hitman and Final Fantasy. Sufficient at best I would say
- It should be noted that the start of this conference was delayed by at least 15 minutes, and that the opening video took far too long to finish. Considering others throughout the day had operated without a hitch, this looked really poor on Sony’s behalf
- We got an apology for the PSN fiasco. If they hadn’t, I would have expected an outpouring of rage from the journalists assembled at E3.
- Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception – Starting straight off with the big titles, we got shown a level from Naughty Dog’s latest offering. The game, in particular the water physics and waves on the ocean, looked spectacular, and the gameplay, showing Drake take down guards and deal with the sinking ship, wasn’t shabby at all. If you want in on the beta fro multiplayer, you can get involved from June 28th, and bizarrely a random deal for complete access to multiplayer has been made with Subway. Yeh, the sandwich place. The teaser trailer at the end showed an impressive range of locations and story; a very good start for Sony.
- Resistance 3 – Considering the number of shooters on display throughout the day, there was very little gunplay on display here, and so I can’t talk that much about it. There are aliens, and they wish to kill you; frankly if you had shown me blind I would have thought it was Gears Of War in first person. It is released on September 6th
- God Of War Collection – Another collection of old games announced this E3, this bundle will feature God Of War 1&2 plus the PSP titles re-mastered in HD and also in 3D graphics. Well worth trying out if you haven’t played it before, the original God Of War still rocks today.
- ICO + Shadow Of The Colossus – And ANOTHER collection, but this one deserves mention. ICO is a rare classic, and Shadow Of The Colossus is regarded as one of the great games of all time. In HD & 3D, now is the perfect opportunity to play them. It makes me wonder why it was such a throwaway for Sony in the conference.
- Sony then announced a Playstation specific24 inch3D screen with PS3 glasses, intended to get consumers using 3D more often. The price? $499.
- NBA 2K12 – The first game shown to be using the Playstation Move controller at the show, Sony dragged Kobe Bryant out to come and play it and say nice things about the game. As he waddled off with his sack of gold, we were left with a game that may not push the boundaries, but at least appeared to work well with the Move controller
- Medieval Moves – Another Move game, it allows weapon switching by motions using the controller rather than having to press buttons. Again, looked alright in its application, but nothing special at all.
- Infamous 2 – A bit odd to be showcasing this game at the conference considering its already out, nothing new was shown here, and I think it was just purely to remind people that the game was out.
- Little Big Planet 2 was announced to be getting Move support very soon. It was meant to have been on the title at launch.
- Starhawk – The new game from the developers of Warhawk, it was certainly an interesting trailer: Mechs, guns, desert planets, space battles, all utilising the Sixaxis controller. Should be a good game if made right
- Sly Cooper Thieves In Time – Finally, Sly Cooper is coming back to Playstation! We only got a trailer, but it showed off the cel-shaded graphics the series is known for, as Sly made his way across a city to get his loot back to the hideout. Set for release next year, hopefully it can inspire some more good platformers.
- Dust S14 – A cross platformer shooter, that will work with Move and the NGP, from the trailer we can assume it will be a generic future shooter with battles in space. Uninspiring to say the least
- Bioshock Infinite – Why this was buried halfway into the show I do not know. Irrational Games new entry into the Bioshock series looked terrific here, with all footage coming from in game. It looks as scary as hell and the city all set in the sky is a visual masterpiece. We then got a teaser for a Bioshock game on the NGP, and the information that you will get Bioshock 1 on the same Blu Ray disc as Infinite, only on the PS3. How nice of them.
- We then got some marketing jargon from Sony saying why we should buy EA games on their system – in SSX you get an extra level, Need For Speed: The Run will get 7 new cars, and anyone who buys Battlefield 3 will get Battlefield 1943 for free on the same disc. It smacked of desperation to be honest.
- Finally, we get to the big part of the conference; the revealing of the NGP. And it is called……….the PS Vita. It has Wi Fi, two cameras, sixaxis controls, two analogue sticks and can have 3G wireless as well. Interestingly, the announcement of at&t as the broadband supplier got booed quite audibly when it was announced. The party idea looked like a clear rip off from Xbox Live, and the ‘Near’ system smacks too much of Nintendo’s Streetpass idea to be seen as a new idea. The Wi Fi PS Vita will cost $249, and the 3G version will cost $299.
- Uncharted Golden Abyss – The first game shown on the system, it will act as a prequel to the first Uncharted game. You can control it via touch control and normal controls depending on what you feel comfortable with. It looks really nice on the handheld platform, but the touch screen mechanic felt forced and awkward in game, and also seemed to make the game too easy
- Ruin – An action RPG for the Vita, you can select different classes here to wreak havoc. The combat looked a bit too ‘hack and slash’ for my liking, but being able to transfer a game straight from PS Vita to the PS3 was impressive. It totally discredits Kojima’s ‘Transfarring’ idea from Konami’s conference.
- ModNation Racers For Vita – You can create tracks and environments around the track by just dragging the screen around. Quite nice in its application, and there is the promise of getting all the stuff from the PS3 title from day one. Worth a buy.
- Street Fighter X Tekken – We were treated to a random cameo appearance for Cole from Infamous2 in the Vita version of the game. Not much else was shown, and the camera work on the recording was pretty shoddy here.
I wasn’t expecting that much from Sony given how poor their conference was last year, and even then I came out of watching it a disappointed man. Uncharted 3 and Bioshock Infinite aside, it was incredibly uninspiring and boring compared to what else had gone on during the day. The Vita has done nothing to sway me from thinking about getting a 3DS, and the core console still has little going for it whereas the Xbox has some solid titles on its way. With Nintendo set to announce their new console later on, I get the feeling Sony have been caught in the mix yet again.
Overall Summary For Day One Of E3
- SO. MANY. SHOOTERS. Seriously, what happened to a balanced roster for a conference? Where were the RPG’s? Racing games? Platformers? Note to the game industry: please stop making Modern Warfare rip offs and do something more original please?
- Gametrailer’s coverage of the event was quite stellar. No buffering issues for over 6 hours of continuous video, with exclusive looks at Batman:Arkham City, Modern Warfare 3, Skyrim and Twisted Metal: excellent stuff
- SURPRISE OF THE DAY – The announcement and lengthy gameplay for Far Cry 3 for Ubisoft
- FAIL OF THE DAY – The kids fistbumping to Kinect Disneyland Adventures for Microsoft
- BEST GAME SO FAR – A tie between two EA titles; Mass Effect 3 and Battlefield 3
- WORST GAME SO FAR – Star Wars Kinect. Awful.
So that’s my summary; its been a pleasure to write and I really am looking forward to Nintendo tomorrow. I hope this proved a useful catch-up for E3