The Electronic Entertainment Expo, known colloquially as the Electronic Three (a fantastic name for both a ground breaking electronica trio and a modern band of adventurous musketeers), has come and gone for another year, much like my annual bout of indescribable bowel problems. The show was as large, loud, flashy and full of women with electronic devices attached to them as ever, however the announcements and grand reveals fell pretty flat on the gaming audience at large. The amount of time dedicated to a live performance from Usher at the Microsoft press conference alone should give an indication as to how much they cared about video games. And the worse part? It worked.
What video games Microsoft did show were a bunch of uninspired sequels. Call me crazy, but Gears of War 4, Halo 4, Forza 4 and Call of Duty 9 don’t have me pumping my arms and screaming “YEAH VIDEO GAMES!” from the rooftops. I have no doubt they will be quality titles, Halo 4 looks particularly gorgeous, but I can’t help but be underwhelmed by the general lack of creativity in what was shown.
Apart from a handful of standout titles this seemed to be the general feeling across the show and the consensus amongst gamers is that this generation of hardware has outstayed its welcome. Seven years into a console generation and no publisher wants to take a chance with a new idea. At the start of a console cycle rabid gamers will buy everything they can get as there are so few games, making it one of the best chances a developer has to build the foundation of a new franchise. Gears of War and Uncharted are perfect examples of this. This late into a generation however, it takes a massive marketing budget to sell the masses on a title they’ve never heard of when there is a library of thousands of games to choose from.
What developers hadn’t anticipated was how long Sony and Microsoft would drag this one out. While the hardware continues to sell and every console is making profit, they are using this time to recoup losses from the red ring of death fiasco, the development cost of the cell processor and the hit they took losing money on every machine sold during the early years of the generation. With all the big trilogies wrapped up, the unnatural extension of this cycle is what has given us such abominations as a Gears of War prequel no one asked for.
Sony did better than Microsoft at actually showing some new and interesting games. The Last of Us, from the creators of Uncharted, looks incredible. My biggest issue with Uncharted was that I loved the characters and the world, but the part where Nate kills a thousand dudes like it is as difficult as eating breakfast always made me reevaluate the character as the mass murderer he was. Whilst in Uncharted a thousand foes is no problem, in The Last of Us coming across two dudes makes you reconsider your options. You could fight them and waste all your equipment or take a fatal injury, or you could play it stealthy and sneak past or wait them out. If you decide to be the coward however, it’s possible the men will come across the items you would have discovered, leaving you with less ammunition or gear going forward.
Another title that really excites me is Beyond: Two Souls. From the creator of Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain, Beyond looks to be another exciting interactive story (and based on their previous work, some of the best uses of quick time events in gaming) following a woman and her ghostly companion.
I’m also curious to see more of Watch Dogs from Ubisoft, which has the awesome concept of a character who can “hack” his surroundings to learn about the people around him, change traffic lights or generally make things explode. Star Wars 1313 was also the rave of the show, putting you in control of a bounty hunter experiencing the more gritty side of the Star Wars universe, harking back to the original trilogy.
Sony’s presentation wasn’t all fireworks and victory laps mind you. They had their own sequel-heavy presentations (another God of War game guys?), WTF moments like Wonderbooks and... oh yeah... they completely forgot to announce any games for the recently released PlayStation Vita.
Probably the most disappointing press conference of the show however, was Nintendo. As the only hardware maker showing a new machine, it was really their show to lose, and boy did they snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. They announced Pikmin 3 (which I’m sure is great, but I’ve never been a Pikmin guy), New Super Mario Bros. U (that “new” tag is wearing a little thin isn’t it?) and a mini-game / tech demo package called Nintendoland (the saddest place on earth), none of which really sold me on why I need this new system or why a resistive touch screen in my controller is going to be awesome. The fact the console can only support two touch screen controllers is also incredibly disappointing.
ZombieU from Ubisoft demonstrated the most interesting use of the second screen, showing the concept of your character still being vulnerable on the TV while you search a dead body for gear on the controller’s screen, but none of it really sold me on the Wii U. They announced a fairly sizeable list of third party games, but they were all titles like Batman: Arkham City which will be a year old by the time the console is released, and Nintendo’s third party support is going to crash and burn (if it ever exists) the moment the PlayStation 4 and Xbox 720 leapfrog the Wii U in graphical fidelity.
This was supposed to be Nintendo’s coming out party and we were supposed to have left E3 wanting a Wii U. Sure it will have Zelda and a real Mario game eventually, but is any of that a reason to buy this machine? By using the name “Wii” in the name they seem to think they will still be able to grab the mass market they had with the Wii, but I think that audience is well and truly lost to them (those people played Wii Bowling and nothing else) and all the branding is doing is confusing the market by giving the impression that the Wii U is an accessory for the Wii instead of a new machine entirely.
On the plus side, the year of the bow has me pretty stoked.