It is once again the most special time of year, and I’ve been glued to my computer for the last few days shoveling video game news into my brain as fast as I can. As a result I no longer remember my address or my dog’s name.
Here’s my take on what was shown and announced:
Microsoft came out of its recent Xbox One reveal with a lot to prove. People are pissed about the once-a-day online requirement and the ability for publishers to lock used games and even lending to your friends to behind a fee. Microsoft’s big media spectacle focused heavily on TV and other non-gaming media, leading to a general feeling that people who just want to play games on their new console are being shunted to the side. In order to alleviate the negative press Microsoft needed one thing: good games, and lots of them. Did they deliver?
….. no, not really.
A lot of the content coming to the Xbox One is also available on other platforms- including the 360. Given the slew of advantages the PS4 is launching with that I’ll talk about below, if there’s an option to play something on Sony’s console I’m going to be taking it without hesitation. The handful of exclusives shown at the conference did nothing to get my attention- Sunset Overdrive could be fun but isn’t anywhere close to a killer app, Ryse didn’t impress me with its heavily linear and QTE focused combat, I don’t have any interest in Halo, as much as I love giant robots and jetpacks Titanfall isn’t doing enough to distinguish itself from the overstuffed multiplayer focused shooter market and apparently Dead Rising 1 and 2 were too much fun so now its gritty and brown. A new Killer Instinct was announced, which I know people have been wanting for a long time, but someone thought it would be a good idea to hand off development duties to Double Helix, a studio that has been given the reins to well known franchises twice before, and severely botched it both times. Basically if Double Helix is contracted to develop something I consider it a sign that the publisher doesn’t really care about that game. The only thing announced at the conference that caught my attention was Project Spark, a game creation tool, but it’s not enough to make me consider dropping $500 dollars on a console.
Microsoft needed to come out swinging on this one, and they just didn’t. I’m not part of the screaming hoard crying for blood and vowing to never allow an Xbox One into my home, but it’s going to take a lot to convince me to ever buy one.
Oh also, one of the Killer Instinct guys made a rape joke.
I came away from Sony’s Playstation 4 reveal not exactly frothing at the mouth for the new console, but rather pleased and looking forward to seeing more. It was like drinking a cup of nice tea and being promised that you might be able to drink more in the future.
After Son’y press conference I am completely sold on the PS4 as my next gen console of choice. The console itself is launching with a whole bevy of advantages- none of the shady nonsense Microsoft is pulling, a $100 dollar cheaper price, a 500GB hard drive as standard, an included headset out of the box and no region locking. These are all features I can get behind. That said, there is one very large downside to all of this- the PS4 will require a Playstation Plus account to play games online, leaving Nintendo as the only console manufacturer offering free online gaming. PS Plus is cheap and you get all sorts of perks for joining including a library of free games, but I’m still hugely disappointed in Sony for doing this. It was bullshit when Microsoft did it last generation, and it’s still bullshit now.
On the games front, the PS4 doesn’t have quite as many killer exclusives as I like to see in a new console but there were some cool looking games none the less. Killzone and inFamous both look like great additions to the console’s early lineup and it was great to finally see some confirmation that Kingdom Hearts 3 is in development even if the footage they showed looked like it was slapped together 20 minutes before the conference started. Both the PS4 reveal and Sony’s E3 conference were heavily game-focused and gave the impression that Sony is confident of where its strengths lie and knows exactly what it wants to do, as opposed to Microsoft’s vague, unfocused effort to be all things to all people that I can’t help but interpret as a knee jerk response to a rapidly changing industry. The gaming apocalypse is on the horizon and Microsoft is the wild-eyed survivalist desperately hoarding supplies and throwing up flimsy barricades while Sony sits in a rocking chair on the front deck strumming a banjo. “Nah, it’s cool,” they say. “We’ve got, like, a whole create of Snapple. Come around and we’ll have a hoe-down. ”
Nintendo decided to eschew the traditional flashy media spectacle this year, presumably realizing that throwing millions of dollars away on a press conference during the company’s first non-profitable year in it’s history might not be a great idea. Instead they had a long-format version of their established “Nintendo direct”, streaming videos in which the company’s CEO invites you to watch game trailers in a polite, low key sort of way.I found it a lot more enjoyable to watch than sitting through the corporate grand-standing, bragging and long winded developer back-patting that other conferences are generally stuffed with.
As for the games, Nintendo has been playing it distressingly safe for a few years now and today was no exception. We mostly got lots of incremental, slightly improved or reworked versions of popular franchises but nothing new or exciting with the sole exception of Monolith’s “X”, a frankly stunning open world RPG that I’m amazed is running on the Wii U at all. This is best demonstrated by Retro Studios, the acclaimed second party developer who made the Metroid Prime trilogy. A few years ago they were tasked with reviving the Donkey Kong franchise, putting out the critically and commercially successful Donkey Kong Country Returns. Their next game is…. another Donkey Kong game, one that looks virtually identical to its predecessor. Where once new consoles would be graced with a a new, innovative Mario title that pushed the series in new directions, now we’re getting a confusingly named sequel to the last 3DS game that may as well be an expansion pack, boasting a whopping two new features- the cat suit and a four player mode. When Nintendo finds something that works they simply run it into the ground.
Don’t get me wrong, all of these games look great and I’m sure I’ll enjoy them, but I can’t help but come away from this E3 feeling that Nintendo has grown creatively sterile. For a company whose watchword used to be innovation and whose games once formed the pillars that entire generations of other games were based on, it’s a sad thing.
The eve of a new console launch was always exciting, but overall I felt this was a lacklustre E3. Last year’s was as well, for broadly the same reason: there just wasn’t enough new games. A lot of time was spent rehashing things we’ve already seen and the few brand new titles announced weren’t shown extensively. There were a lot all-CG trailers and brief snippets of maybe-gameplay maybe-not that left me feeling cold.
That said, we did get a handful of exciting announcements that I do want to talk about.
Last year’s E3 was pretty mediocre as far as new games are concerned, except for the surprise announcement of a promising open world action game at Ubisoft’s press conference. This year’s E3 was also pretty mediocre as far as new games are concerned, except for the surprise announcement of a promising open world action game at Ubisoft’s press conference.
The Division, the next game to bear the increasingly meaningless Tom Clancy brand, at first appeared to be a graphically stunning multiplayer co-op shooter in an open world, until the very end of the gameplay demo when a squad of enemies attacks out of nowhere and one of the demo-players says the magic words: “Another group of players- brace for PvP.”
So what we’ve got on our hands is a high-production quality, open world, survival focused multiplayer RPG with action-based combat and a heavy emphasis on exploration and co-operation between players. Yes fucking please.
There’s a lot we don’t know yet, including how the online component is actually going to work (the developers have stated that the game isn’t a full-on MMO) but what was shown at the conference was more than enough for me to name this my game of E3 for 2013, and the most promising next gen game I’ve seen yet.
(and in case that video up there looks too good to be true, the game is apparently playable at Ubisoft’s booth)
This is the part of my post where I’m expected by long tradition to say that the first Mirror’s Edge was actually deeply flawed despite its cult following but fuck you, Mirrors’ Edge is awesome. And now we’re getting a…. reboot? Details are scarce but this is apparently a retelling of Faith’s origin story rather than a sequel, which I’m okay with as the first game’s story wasn’t fantastic by any means.
The game appears to be very early in development judging by statements made on the official site, but it looks like the iconic art style and the first game’s runny-jumpy-kicky gameplay is intact for the moment. Whether or not any of that footage up there is actually gameplay remains to be seen. People I showed it to were skeptical about the graphics of the first-person segments, but it’s running on the Frostbite 3 engine which we’ve seen produce some amazing visuals even on current-gen hardware in Battlefield 4 so I’m not entirely sure.
Whether that was all smoke and mirrors, I’m just happy we’re getting another Mirror’s Edge and that DICE don’t appear to have fucked up the original game’s charm by adding cover based shooting or making Faith a bald white dude.
Metal Gear Solid Whatever
In what has to be the most overly-elaborate gaming prank of all time (especially considering the gaming press figured it out in roughly 30 seconds) Konami first announced Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeros, then a supposedly unconnected game called The Phantom Pain was announced by an unknown Swedish developer, except it’s actually Metal Gear Solid V and Ground Zeros is also Metal Gear Solid V. Okay then.
It’s a good thing the finished product looks pretty impressive even if the writing is Hideo Kojima’s usual brand of overblown geopolitical nonsense. An open world stealth game is something I didn’t know I wanted, but apparently do quite badly.
The Walking Dead: 400 Days
It’s pretty telling that one of the most exciting announcements at E3 was DLC for a game that came out last year.
The Last Guardian
I don’t know why I keep tormenting myself like this. Every year I’m convinced we’ll see this game again, and every year I’m let down.
Not only did Team Ico’s The Last Guardian not show up this year, Sony’s Jack Tretton apparently stated that the game is “on hiatus“.
…. which is odd since Andy McNamara, the Editor-in-chief of Game Informer tweeted just after Sony’s conference that he had been told the game is “on track”. Clearly some wires are getting crossed somewhere. I’ve tweeted McNamara to see if he can clarify the conflicting information.
Call of Dog
Apparently the Last Guardian thing was a mistake, the game is in active development. Crisis averted!