Well what a change in fortunes – E3 this year has been nothing short of excellent to watch. Whereas the past few conferences have been relatively staid, cautious and sometimes very awkward affairs, 2013 has seen E3 return to what it should be – a true gamers conference. Badly choreographed on stage segments are now seemingly a thing of the past, and while a lot of the content on show was pre-rendered footage rather than actual gameplay, the games themselves came thick and fast with plenty of new and fresh ideas in the mix. Also, with the PS4 and the Xbox One going up against each other head-to-head for the first time, we could anticipate that something special was going to be in the works.
The following report is not a completely in depth take on events (check your friendly neighbourhood gaming website for an intricate breakdown of what happened), but rather the things that I personally took away from the best E3 conference in years.
Following the troubled reveal of the Xbox One and the overtly negative reaction to Microsoft’s policies on blocking second hand games and online interaction, a very strong press conference was required to get back into fan’s affections. Beforehand, Microsoft promised they would show at least 15 new titles, and that it would be ‘all about the games’. And in all fairness to them, they stuck true to their word.
They opened strong with a demonstration of Metal Gear Solid V running on the Xbox One, and then proceeded to reveal several new exclusive titles including Insomniac’s latest crazy project Sunset Overdrive (a personal highlight of mine), Dead Rising 3 (featuring an open world full of the walking dead), Project Spark (a voice controlled terraforming game with shades of LittleBigPlanet), the return of Killer Instinct and of course a new Halo title. We also got a look at Respawn Entertainment’s new title Titanfall, received confirmation that Minecraft will feature on the Xbox One, and saw Crytek’s Roman slash-em-up Ryse in action.
In other news, Microsoft have confirmed that they are abandoning Microsoft Points for real currency, and that Twitch streaming will be integrated into the Xbox One. News on new games for the existing 360 console was thin, but a new re-designed Xbox 360 is available in stores NOW, and Xbox Live Gold members will be able to download Assassins Creed 2 and Halo 3 for free in the coming months as Microsoft appear to be testing the waters with a subscription service similar to PS Plus.
And finally, the all important news on price – when the Xbox One is released later on this year in November, it will cost £429, the equivalent of $499 and 499 Euros. A bit pricey admittedly, but with a seemingly solid list of titles available for it and no news on what the PS4 would cost, at 6:30PM, things were looking quite healthy for Microsoft; in fact, things only started looking down for them a bit later on in the day…
With Microsoft setting the bar, there was a long wait for Sony to get going at 2AM and so in the meantime Electronic Arts got to strut their stuff. And as far as surprises go, they may be remembered as one of the highlights of the conference:
Not too shabby eh? Sadly, each reveal was tantalisingly short (Mirror’s Edge 2 will release “when it’s ready”), but the knowledge that they exist is more than enough for now.
The rest of EA’s conference was the usual solid demonstration that we have come to expect from them. Battlefield 4’s multiplayer suite was shown off with a spectacular set-piece of a entire skyscraper falling down (unfortunately my stream had no sound for this demo), and the usual buzzword gubbins was applied to the sporting titles NBA 2014, Madden 25th Anniversary, UFC 2014 and FIFA 14. The latest Need For Speed game, Rivals, had a quick demo showing off how racers and cops will once again come together like they did in Hot Pursuit, and then out of nowhere Aaron Paul (Jesse from Breaking Bad) came out to promote a Need For Speed film. YEAH, video game movies bitch!
Perhaps the highlight of the conference was the strange new direction that Plants Vs Zombies is taking – alongside the sequel due for iOS devices later this month, a third person class based shooter humorously subtitled Garden Warfare is being developed. It looked like quite good fun in action and might prove to be a sleeper hit of sorts.
For many people, Ubisoft’s conference might be considered a bit of a disappointment – I know that there was a lot of anticipation for Watch Dogs, but only a trailer which had been leaked in the morning was actually shown off. Nevermind though, because a playable demo was present in Sony’s conference and it all looks tickety-boo – Aiden was shown off driving and indulging in a bit of hack-assisted combat; it’s looking very good for its November release date.
In absence of Watch Dogs gameplay, it was up to a new title to leave audiences vowed and for the second straight year Ubisoft saved the best till last. The Division (a new entry into the Tom Clancy franchise alongside Splinter Cell and Rainbow Six) is an online RPG set in New York where a pathogen has spread causing a pandemic. The gameplay on show demonstrated how teams of individuals can engage in tense shootout combat with enemies (including the use of tablet devices to control a combat drone) and gain experience and new skills. It looks like an intriguing concept, and if the gameplay on show was in-engine then its another stunning looking game from Ubisoft.
Other highlights from the show included The Crew, an online racer where players work together to take down a criminal unit across an enormous open world America (complete with recreations of cities including New York, Miami, Las Vegas and Detroit), confirmation of a new Trials game called Fusion (which will be on the PS4), and the ever impressive Rayman Legends. Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag did not receive a playable section at Ubisoft’s conference, and the demo on show at Sony’s conference crashed towards the end – to say it could have had a better showing is putting it lightly.
If we look back on this E3 in a couple of months time, the decisions taken by Sony in this conference may prove to be very significant when the PS4 and Xbox One go on sale. With Microsoft showing off a great selection of games and announcing their price earlier on in the day, the ball was very much in Sony’s court – they didn’t disappoint.
First off, the world got its first look at the actual PS4 console – it’s not spectacular, resembling a slanted TV box in much the same way the Xbox One does. However, it is much smaller than the Xbox One and can be placed horizontally, bringing back memories of the PS2’s design. It’ll do for me at least.
If the games on show at Microsoft’s conference were good, then Sony at the very least matched it. We got trailers for Batman Arkham Origins (which will have exclusive costume DLC), Killzone: Shadowfall, Infamous: Second Son, Knack, Gran Turismo 6 and a few new titles including The Order 1886 (taking place in a Steampunk version of Victorian London), Mad Max and an impressive tech demo from Quantic Dream called The Dark Sorcerer. The PS3 isn’t being forgotten in a hurry either; The Last Of Us was promoted a day before its worldwide release, Grand Theft Auto V will be getting a special PS3 bundle for £299, and Beyond: Two Souls got a much more action orientated trailer than what we have witnessed before. Even the Vita has some stuff in the pipeline, including ports of God Of War titles and Final Fantasy X HD.
And then the heavy punches started to land. A video from Tetsuya Nomura confirmed that the long delayed Final Fantasy Versus XIII is now Final Fantasy XV…AND THAT KINGDOM HEARTS 3 IS IN DEVELOPMENT!!! Sony also made a point of stressing that indie developers are allowed to self-publish on the PS4 and showed off a selection of upcoming titles including Don’t Starve and the remake of Abe’s Odyssey, Oddworld: New And Tasty.
And then the killer blow: Jack Tretton re-appeared to confirm to loud applause that the PS4 will NOT block second hand games, will NOT be required to be always online, will be region free and has an upgradeable hard drive. Sharing games is as simple as handing a disc over to a friend, and if you pay for a game you own it forever unless you decide to trade it in.
And the PS4 will cost £349/$399 when it gets released – that’s $100 cheaper than an Xbox One.
In and amongst the rapturous shouting and hollering that took me and my friends over following this announcement, it is worth mentioning that multiplayer on PS4 will now be a paid service through PS Plus – however, the service will still offer access to free games and the Instant Game Collection, any current PS Plus members will automatically have their membership carried over to the PS4 and you will not require PS Plus to gain access to media like Netflix or IPlayer.
Coming a day after the other conferences, Nintendo’s performance at E3 2013 will be remembered for being safe – not only did they run a pre-recorded video via Nintendo Direct rather than the traditional live conference, but many of the games announced were the continuation of old franchises. But this safe approach isn’t necessarily a bad thing – there were no surprises in the Nintendo Direct broadcast but the line-up is practically rock solid.
After confirming an October 12th release date for Pokemon X & Y, along with the brand new Fairy type, Nintendo shifted into Mario territory. First off, we have Super Mario 3D World, which will be the first 3D Mario with four player co-op and is set for December this year. And then it was announced that Mario Kart 8, which features flying and submersibles taken from the 3DS title Mario Kart 7 and anti-gravity tracks allowing you to race upside down and on walls, will be arriving in Spring 2014. The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD looks stunning and will be out in October with new Miiverse support. Retro Studios are handling another Donkey Kong Country game titled Tropical Freeze which marks the return of Dixie Kong to the franchise, and finally the much anticipated Super Smash Brothers games for the Wii U and 3DS were confirmed…with the Villager from Animal Crossing and none other than MEGA MAN joining the roster!
Those games will steal the headlines, but it is worth mentioning the third party games that were highlighted as coming to the Wii U. Ubisoft are firmly behind the console, bringing Assassins Creed: Black Flag, Watch Dogs and Splinter Cell: Blacklist to the party while Platinum Games are offering The Wonderful 101 in August and Bayonetta 2 in 2014. Arkham Origins is also coming to the Wii U at launch with the other consoles, while Monolith Software’s latest Xenoblades game is due for 2014. All in all, the claim that there is nothing of note on the Wii U is slowly slipping away, but it is a shame that fans will have to wait another year before the console is really able to kick into it’s stride…and by that time it might be too late if the PS4 and Xbox One gain early momentum.
With all the new titles on the way, it seems to be as good a time as any to be a gamer – and a very good time to be with Sony. Microsoft have a very good line-up of games, but for me there is not one single title at the moment that would make me want to spend the extra £70 to get an Xbox One over a PS4 – most of my interests are multiplatform games, and I would prefer to be able to share my games with friends and trade them in when I want. Sony’s very deliberate explanations of what its policies are regarding second hand games are an enormous PR win for the PS4, and the popular reaction to the news inside the conference hall must surely demonstrate to Microsoft that they have taken the wrong approach with the Xbox One. In the meantime, while the other two are feuding Nintendo must hope to build upon the base they already have with the Wii U – as ever, having 3D Mario in stores for Christmas will be vital.
All in all, a very solid E3 – some great games on show, excellent surprises and more than enough fuel to keep the Hype Train running into the Winter release period. I’ve picked my top ten games of the show below; place your votes on what you felt to be the strongest titles on display why dont’cha?