And so the dust has finally settled on the main conferences at the Electronic Entertainment Expo; over the last two days Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft, Sony and Nintendo have all held their annual E3 media pitches. As with last year, I was furiously typing all the way through the conferences making notes, and below is my quick round up of all the relevant stuff from the two days.
- We opened up with the game that finished off last year’s conference: Halo 4. After a brief trailer that mixed live action and game footage, it opened up into proper gameplay footage. Taking place in a lush forest, it showed off Master Chief’s new Battle Rifle, and featured several new enemies who appear to be the Forerunners of Halo legend. From an initial look, it seems that 343 Industries have done a pretty faithful job of copying the classic Halo experience, while also adding some new touches such as hand to hand combat action sequences and bringing back the VISR mode from Halo: ODST. A good start to proceedings.
- After a quick hype that the conference was the first to be streamed from Xbox Live, we have a nice surprise in the form of the next Splinter Cell game, called Blacklist. Acting as an origins story for covert operative Sam Fisher, the game appeared to focus on tactics more than anything, as Sam could highlight his targets and perform rapid executions afterwards at the touch of a button (prompting initial worries that the game might play itself a bit too much for my liking). Another very cool feature was the use of Kinect’s voice recognition to dupe a guard before Sam pulled him over a ledge to his doom. If that sort of functionality works as we hope it would, it would be great fun I must admit. Expect the game to be released in Spring 2013.
- Next, the head of EA Sports came out and shocked me – they remembered their promises from last year! You may remember that they promised to integrate Kinect functionality into their premier titles, and it looks like they have. FIFA 13 was displayed first, demonstrating the ability to do substitutions and alter tactics and formations using your voice and Kinect commands. Another feature was how you react to the referee; swearing in real life will be caught as dissent in game and you could get penalised. Madden 13 was the other example shown, again using the Kinect to issue commands without having to pause. No word on the likes of Tiger Woods or NBA which also promised this new functionality.
- We then got a trailer for Fable On Rails – sorry, I mean Fable: The Journey. The most significant part was a man seemingly throwing hadoukens into the screen to make fireballs in game. No gameplay footage was revealed.
- Sadly, there was no gameplay footage for Gears Of War: Judgement either. All we got was a teaser trailer showing off a young Baird in chains, and hinting at a 2013 release. There may be a possibility that People Can Fly (taking over the reins from Epic Games with this one) may be holding out for the next generation of consoles with this one, thus there was a lack of gameplay or details.
- And to complete a trilogy of no gameplay, we then got a dubstep-heavy trailer for Forza Horizon; the latest edition of Turn 10’s simulation racer which will be a more open world experience than the previous titles in the series. It is set for release on October 23rd 2012.
- The conference then took quite a significant downturn in entertainment value as Xbox executives talked about…ironically enough, Entertainment on the Xbox 360. Among the major announcements, you can now search films by genre using Bing and it will now recognise multiple languages, 35 new entertainment retailers including Nickelodeon, Machinima, Paramount and NBA will be partnering with Microsoft over the next year to Xbox, ESPN is to run 24 hour streaming, and Nike have entered a partnership to offer a new fitness system for Kinect. It was big news, but the delivery was horribly boring for anyone outside of the US because it will most likely not concern us – the approval rate system on Gametrailers was flat lining during this entire segment
- We finally got to Microsoft’s new big thing: Xbox Smartglass. After announcing that Xbox will indeed be getting Internet Explorer as a browser very soon, a man talked about how Microsoft is looking to seamlessly integrate the Xbox experience with tablets and smartphones offering new content and information on games as you play (for example, play Halo 4 and information will be sent to a Waypoint application on your smartphone). No doubt if you have a smartphone or a tablet, it will prove an interesting gimmick…as for me, I have neither so this did not interest me in the slightest unfortunately.
- Finally, we got back to the issue of games, with the arrival of gameplay for Tomb Raider. It was more of a combat and action orientated segment than last years platforming, as Lara took down enemies with a crossbow and then plummeted through a forest with a broken parachute. The shooting mechanics looked quite static if I’m honest, and the action sequences simply looked like an excuse to beat up Lara in this more gritty interpretation of the character.
- Next was the announcement of three exclusive titles for the Xbox 360. Signal Studios showed off Ascend: New Gods, a hack and slash adventure that can be played across Xbox Live and phones as well, set for release next year. We then got a teaser trailer for Twisted Pixel’s latest project, LocoRyder, which seems to be about a high tech killer motorcycle (I was intrigued), and finally another trailer for Matter, a futuristic looking game that looks to affect physics to get a ball to the finish line.
- Some Capcom representatives then came out and demonstrated brand new gameplay for the eagerly awaited Resident Evil 6. Featuring Leon Kennedy taking down the undead in China, it showed the ability to move and shoot, as well as Leon’s ability to roll and jump while keeping zombies in his gun’s sights. The segment also featured some button press sequences that allow you to counter enemies in a pinch and events that help make the game feel a bit more cinematic. It ended with Leon hightailing it away for a huge explosion which threw cars everywhere. It revealed nothing more than we already knew, but it is good to see the game looking solid in action.
- Another Xbox exclusive was up next, in the form of Kinect game Wreckateer. Using Kinect controls, you control cannonballs in the air as you aim for castles in the distance, knocking them down for points. All cynicism aside, it looked simply like Angry Birds: Castle Edition. Not very imaginative at all.
- Perhaps the highlight of the conference was next, in the form of South Park: The Stick Of Truth – series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone came out and took the piss out of Microsoft’s conference before explaining that they aimed to make this game the ultimate South Park experience. It seems that it will play in a similar style to Castle Crashers, whilst maintaining the oddball and risqué humour that South Park is known for – I’m pretty sure I spotted Jesus with a machine gun at one point in the trailer
- Then came the utter lowpoint of the conference as Dance Central 3 was announced – rather than show gameplay footage, Usher came out and performed for four minutes. Nothing about the game was revealed, and it was a complete waste of time.
- The conference then ended on perhaps a predictable note, as Call Of Duty: Black Ops II was shown off. It was an impressive show of what the game has to offer, as Treyarch takes the story into the future and offered new scenarios including a sniper standoff where you can see through walls. However, it was nothing that we haven’t already seen a thousand times before, and even the inclusion of a jet chase offered nothing new because it was on rails (at least Battlefield 3 offers more freedom with vehicles). The Xbox 360 version will once again get exclusive content.
I think the word ‘disappointing’ just about sums it up. It wasn’t that Microsoft didn’t have games as per the usual criticism – more that they didn’t have anything noticeably new or unique. The presentation of some parts of the show, including the Nike fitness demonstration and the Usher performance simply took far too long. On the plus side, Halo 4 looked nice in action, and they at least reacted to the Wii U’s new functionality with devices with the Smartglass scheme. Overall however, a weak year for Microsoft at E3.
- EA decided to start off proceedings with Dead Space 3. The prime focus here was on the introduction of co-operative play in the story mode, as Issac and his new pal John Carver fought to stop a large drill that had got out of control, before taking down a massive space beast. The gameplay also showed off the new icy planet setting for the game, which had some pretty impressive draw distance and looked generally quite beautiful. The game looks like it will be more inclined to lean towards the action heavy second game rather than the atmospheric first title, but then again only boss battles were shown off so I can’t comment on the game as a whole. Dead Space 3 will be available on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC in February 2013.
- Madden 13 then made it’s second appearance of the day, as the Infinity engine was revealed. Based off the Impact engine from FIFA, it aims to make sure no two tackles look the same and is looking to affect the flow of a game in a new way, allowing for ridiculously long plays. Madden 13 also includes a new Careers mode utilising parts of the Football Club feature from last years FIFA – it even has a virtual Twitter feed.
- We then got two announcements from Maxis. First up was Sim City Social – A Facebook game where you can play with friends and create a city using an engine seemingly based around The Sims Social. With the promise that it will be ‘the best city building experience on Facebook’ (and to my mind, the only city building experience I am aware off), it could be worth a shot. Of more interest however was the main course of Sim City, which will be bringing curved roads and multiplayer (hooray!) to the highly anticipated next game in the long standing series. It will also feature dynamic challenges that force you to work with other players to get the best results for your cities
- EA then made a point of introducing Messrs Zampella and West from Respawn Entertainment to the crowd in attendance. They didn’t say or do anything; it was more of a case of highlighting that EA had them and Activision had not. And speaking of first person shooter related things…
- Battlefield 3 has apparently become the biggest game in EA history with over 50 million players worldwide. DICE then formally introduced Battlefield 3 Premium will give players new expansion packs including MOTORBIKES and all vehicle combat maps, alongside new weapons and skins. The total cost for the service will be $49.99, which seems a bit steep to me.
- Similar to last year, the MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic only got a fleeting mention in the conference, but it came with a nice prospect. Come July this year, anyone can play up to level 15 for free to test the game out.
- Afterwards, we got out first look at Medal Of Honor: Warfighter, the second game in the Medal Of Honor reboot following the first one which bombed quite badly. Running on the Frostbite 2 engine, it looked quite nice in action and had some nice features such as the ability to control a mechanised robot to take down enemy soldiers. The multiplayer, with its focus on different factions that include real life military units such as the British S.A.S, also felt a bit different. However, good as the game may have looked, you have to ask why the game exists – if EA have put such a focus on Battlefield 3, what’s the point of this game? To me, it seems to be a bit of a pointless escapade.
- Good news for all FIFA fans; any stats you have amassed via the Football Club system in FIFA 12 will be automatically transferred over to FIFA 13, and will also give access to exclusive celebrations, kits and boosts to game modes such as Ultimate Club. Score!
- EA then revealed a coup in the form of introducing Dana White, president of UFC, to announce that EA Sports will be the new makers of UFC games. They had previously been made by THQ.
- Before E3 started, I was very happy to hear that Criterion were bringing back the Need For Speed: Most Wanted IP –and although the game has dropped the ‘underground’ theme that was very popular in the mid 2000’s, the idea of the game is still to be the most wanted, only this time amongst your friends. The game will feature the return of the Autolog system (humorously referencing the Royal Family’s names on this Jubilee weekend in the gameplay footage), along with the evasion from the cops that made the original Most Wanted such fun. In action, the game look pretty swish, feeling fast and more like Burnout than Need For Speed…which is usually a good thing. It’s scheduled for release on October 30th, and will be a game that I keep my eye on very closely.
- The conference ended with Crysis 3; showing off a super solider in an urban jungle as he took down enemy troops and even a helicopter with his trusty futuristic bow and arrow. As one would expect from a Crytek game it looked jaw dropping, but in order for this to be good it has to be interesting to play. It will be coming out in (surprise surprise) February 2013.
It was a quick and concise conference from EA with much to praise. Dead Space 3 and Need For Speed: Most Wanted both look like they can be quite accomplished games upon release, and being able to steal the UFC license will be of interest to sports fans. On the negative side, there was a worryingly reliance on old IP’s, no news on some of the more intriguing titles from last year (what has happened to Overstrike?), and Medal Of Honor: Warfighter seems kind of pointless. Overall, not too shabby a conference.
- Initially, it looked like this conference could be set straight for disaster as the first game to be revealed was Just Dance 4 – however, out of nowhere Flo Rida turned up to perform and got the crowd fist pumping to the max. What made this a million times better than the Usher performance earlier in the day was that the damn game footage was actually in the background this time.
- After the showman opening, we got down to serious business with a look at Far Cry 3. Focusing on a section of the game later in the story, it appears that the protagonist has gone kinda crazy and is now the leader of a tribal gang. We then got treated to a lengthy action sequence where our hero took down several enemy patrols by stabbing them in the neck, before getting himself caught up in a firefight in the middle of a town. It all looked suitably frantic, and the game appears to have developed far beyond its predecessor in terms of AI – for example, at one point the hero shot a cage to let out a handily placed tiger, which then proceeded to maul everything it set its eyes upon. The sequence ended with our hero getting drugged and tripping balls, highlighting the feel of insanity that Ubisoft are pushing with this one. It looks fantastic, the combat appears to have been sorted out and the plot thus far is very interesting indeed. A definite highlight of the day.
- You may have seen The Avengers in cinemas recently; well now it appears we have a game tie in. The trailer for The Avengers: Battle For Earth had no gameplay, but oddly enough featured the likes of Spiderman, Venom and Wolverine, indicating this game will feature quite a bit of Marvel Comics talent.
- The next game marked a point in history, as Rayman Legends became the first game to demonstrate the abilities of the Wii U. The gameplay is similar to that found in Rayman Origins, but the Gamepad tablet can be used to remove obstacles in Rayman’s path as others play along with Pro controllers. The demonstration also included a fantastic rhythm level where all the characters had to operate in tandem to proceed. It may have been using early development kits, but this game showed off the sort of stuff that Nintendo have been harping on about a day before Nintendo had the opportunity to do so themselves.
- Remember how the first trailer for Dead Island was amazing but showed us nothing about the game? Well I got a sense of déjà vu as Zombi U was revealed. It is a Wii U exclusive featuring zombies strangely enough, and the trailer showed various members of the British public getting taken down in a zombie apocalypse while ‘God Save The Queen’ was played in the background. As I mentioned though, no gameplay on show here, so I don’t know if it will actually be any good.
- Ubisoft then moved onto the jewel in their crown, as Assassins Creed 3 took to the stage. I had my doubts about this game when it was announced, but in action I have to say it impressed me. The protagonist skinned wild deers and took down wolves in the wild, stalked out an enemy camp and proceeded to rip through a ton of British soldiers very stylishly using a combo of Tomahawk strikes and gunplay. We were then informed that the game takes place over a period of 30 years, and the action will take us to cities and well as the wild. It won me over quite convincingly it must be said.
- E-Sports are apparently quite big these days, and Ubisoft are looking to cash in with Shootmania; a PC FPS with user created levels. It reminded me of Counter Strike, only with rockets and rail guns.
- They say to keep the best till last, and Ubisoft blew everyone away with the arrival of Watch Dogs. Imagine a virtual system that collects data on everything; your name, your social security number, your health, everything – what happens if that system gets hacked? The gameplay footage showed a man in a huge replication of New York City with the power to use the city and its inhabitants as a weapon, including stuff as advanced as changing the order to traffic lights to cause a pile up to isolate a target. The game literally came out of nowhere and received a standing ovation. If there is one game to watch the footage of from this years E3, this is it.
Given the exploits of Mr Caffeine last year, you may have expected this to have been a joke, but despite a very awkward host Ubisoft had by far the best conference this E3. Far Cry 3 looks to have cracked the problems of Far Cry 2, Assassins Creed 3 was very well presented, and Watch Dogs has quite rightly been the game on everyone’s lips over the past two days. Kudos to Ubisoft for putting on a great show of games.
- After a trailer showing all the games released on PS3 in the last year, David Cage of Quantic Dream (the studio behind Heavy Rain) came to the stage and announced their new project, Beyond: Two Souls. The game will take place over 15 years of life, and the main character has motion capture and acting performed by Ellen Page (the star of Juno and Inception). What followed was a real time demo featuring some utterly ridiculous facial detail as the main character was interrogated by a police officer after being found in the wild. It has great promise, and showed what sort of graphical prowess the PS3 can still kick out.
- Next up was Playstation All Stars Battle Royale, a game I had been looking forward to. After announcing that the game will also be released on the PS Vita and will be cross compatible with the PS3, we were treated to a live four player battle as Kratos, Sweet Tooth, Fat Princess and Sly Cooper fought it out. The gameplay works by building up a super meter, split into three gradually more powerful moves, which can then be utilised to OHKO characters. I was disappointed to see that the actual fighting looked very generic, and aside from one or two special moves that were unleashed I couldn’t tell me differentially between the characters fighting styles…something that it very noticeable in Super Smash Brothers. After the fight was finished, we got confirmation of two new additions to the roster; Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series (a given), and more interestingly the Big Daddy from Bioshock, a game which was once a Xbox 360 exclusive. This may open the path for lots more third party characters to be revealed in the future.
- We then got some advertising for the services Sony offer to consumers. In the enxt year we have been promised 200 new games for the PSN service, the long overdue addition of downloadable PSOne Classics for the Vita, and an incentive of 12 free games for those who are signed up to the Playstation Plus scheme. They then announced that everyone in the conference room would be getting a free year subscription to the service…way to buy the audience Sony
- The PS Vita will be getting two exclusive titles before the end of the year, both spin-offs of major AAA titles. They are Call Of Duty: Black Ops Declassified, and Assassins Creed III: Liberation.
- Representatives from Ubisoft then came out to talk more about Assassins Creed 3 & Far Cry 3. They showed off sea battles in Assassins Creed 3 (complete with choppy waves and cannon fire), and also revealed that Far Cry 3 will have a four player co-op mode, which looked very laggy in action.
- Sony then did a very bad thing; they remembered that the PS Move still exists, and wheeled out a brand new project designed to support the system. Called Wonderbook, using the PS Move and Playstation Eye peripherals, you can interactively make a book appear on a television screen. Sony then announced an exclusive partnership with J.K Rowling, and proceeded to waste 20 minutes showing the game off to the crowd. It was boring as hell, and I’m sorry but if you need a console to bring a book to life for you, either the book is written terribly or you have no imagination. A complete waste of time.
- HTC are to be the first partners for smartphones to link up for the Playstation Suite; which has now been renamed Playstation Mobile because no-one knew what the hell it was.
- The conference then ended on a high note with two big hitters, the first of which was God Of War: Ascension. The big selling point with this game is the addition of multiplayer…and that’s why we got a gameplay runthrough of single player action as Kratos took down some minions in the usual violent style of his, before getting to grips with a Kraken. To be honest, I didn’t see anything special that I haven’t seen in another God Of War game, and it didn’t help that the Gametrailers audio messed up half way through the demo meaning you couldn’t hear what was going on. The decision not to show of multiplayer was mystifying in my opinion.
- The final game on offer was Naughty Dog’s latest project, The Last Of Us. In action, this game looks quite superb; it’s a far more tense affair than the likes of Uncharted, as the main character has to protect his companion with limited ammunition and guns in the post apocalyptic world. The combat animation looked as smooth as silk without being overly cinematic, and it’s gruesome as hell to boot. Naughty Dog seem to have done an excellent job with this one, and it makes me kind of jealous that it’s a PS3 exclusive.
I think Sony’s conference was a case of massive peaks and deep troughs. For every moment of excellence (the astonishingly quality of graphics in Beyond: Two Souls, The Last Of Us), there was some pretty bollocks moments (the travesty that is Wonderbook), and some generally underwhelming gameplay on display especially in Playstation All Stars Battle Royale. The conference felt like it needed that something extra special; an announcement on the likes of GTA V or something. Instead, we got something that has generally marked Sony’s performance in this generation; an inconsistent show of strength.
- The show opened with gaming legend Shigeru Miyamoto coming to the stage to announce Pikmin 3. The return to the franchise last seen on the Gamecube will fully utilise the Wii U Gamepad in order to give you complete control over what your Pikmin are doing, allowing to zoom across the area map and interact with different characters via the touch of a tablet. Another nice feature is the introduction of strategy mode, which records footage of your runs through levels to analyse so that you can improve the next time around. There was no information given on the release date for the game
- Reggie Fils Aime then took to the stage to hype up what you could expect to see. He promised no fewer than 23 new Wii U and 3DS titles, and confirmed that Netflix, Youtube and Amazon Video will all be applications accessible via the Wii U console. He also made the point quite emphatically that we would not hear the release date or price of the Wii U at this E3. Bugger.
- A new Nintendo console inevitably means a new Mario game, and lo and behold we have one in the shape of New Super Mario Bros U. Using the wildly successful New Super Mario Bros Wii as its base, the game will feature new costumes including a flying squirrel outfit (lets see how PETA react to that), and if someone uses the Wii U tablet they can add blocks and remove obstacles to help other players in the game, making it a five person experience.
- The head of Warner Brothers Entertainment then came out to hype up two of its upcoming titles. The first, Batman: Arkham City Armoured Edition is a unique version of the game released last year featuring new armour for Batman and Catwoman, and the ability to use the Gamepad tablet to control batarangs and spray explosive gel. The second game, Scribblenauts Unlimited will feature multiplayer and allow you to draw items into the game using the tablet and stylus, which can then be shared with people around the world.
- We then got a montage of games that will be available for the Wii U around the time of launch. The titles are, Darksiders II, Mass Effect 3, Tank! Tank! Tank!, Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Trine 2: Directors Cut, Ninja Gaiden 3, Aliens Colonial Marines, Wii Fit U and Sing.
- With regards to 3DS announcements, we got a trio of new games announced before being told that Nintendo will be holding another conference tomorrow dedicated exclusively to 3DS games. The games announced were New Super Mario Bros 2 (set for release on August 19th), Paper Mario: Sticker Star, and Luigi’s Mansion 2.
- At this point, we then had the reveal of Lego City: Undercover – it will be an open world Lego game where you play as an undercover cop. Under the helm of Travellers Tales, it promises to be a humorous little adventure game.
- We then got some gameplay for the previous announced Ubisoft game Zombi U, which demonstrated how you can use the Wii Gamepad as an enemy scanner, a sniper scope and a device to hack locks amongst other things. It also has an application that allow the tablet to zombify your face. As far as I can tell, this is the title that was featured in Nintendo’s pre E3 conference.
- The final part of the conference dealt with Nintendo Land – looking to combine the most popular franchises in Nintendo history, Nintendo Land will be a party game featuring 12 attractions in total. However, we only got to see two of the games in action, which looked very basic and took a horribly long time to demonstrate. The crowd in attendance were apparently dead for this, and I cannot stress how disappointed I was with this as a finish to the conference. They didn’t even confirm whether this will be the bundle game for the Wii U.
Nintendo’s conference wasn’t terrible, it was something far more damaging – it was lacklustre. Reggie promised that it would be ‘all about the games’, and I am struggling to see where they are coming from. There was no Zelda, Metroid, Kirby, Pokemon – all titles that are the bread and butter of a normal Nintendo conference. Instead we got three Mario games, a port of a title that has been out for ages, and Nintendo Land, which will surely go down in history as one of E3’s great failures (certainly, it was trending for all the wrong reasons after its unveiling). Perhaps most damaging is the fact a year later, we still don’t know enough about the Wii U. They hope to launch this year, and they still don’t have a price? It seems like poor business to me. I was thoroughly disappointed with this, and thinking back on it is even more painful. Arguably, Nintendo may have lost E3 this year.