News, Views, and Reviews
The Electronic Entertainment Expo has officially started. From June 10th through the 13th, 197 electronic exhibitors will be on display in the Los Angeles convention center. The big game announcements from the major companies like Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft, and Sony, took place yesterday, and here are my views.
As I said in my preview, MS had the most to prove. Even before their new console was revealed, rumors and speculations about “always online” and used game restrictions were hurting Microsoft’s image. The Xbox One reveal was a great show, but mixed messages afterwards didn’t help that image. Instead, the plan to divide their announcements between the Xbox One reveal and E3, with the hardware specs, services, and capabilities discussed at the reveal, and new game announcements saved for E3, frustrated gamers even more. A press release days before E3 helped answer some of those bad rumors, but not with “good” answers. Microsoft had to show up at E3 with a dazzling show of new games to fix their image, and make people excited about the new Xbox again. In my opinion, that’s exactly what they did.
High Points: If we can forget the negatives, the high price, the weird internet checks, and used game restrictions, Microsoft’s show was a great way to start E3. They promised nothing but games, and they delivered sixty minutes of back to back game announcements, trailers, game developers on stage talking about their games, and a decent amount of surprises. They had some awesome game presentations that demonstrated the advantages of “always online” gaming and the Xbox One multi-tasking capabilities. They even brought up a commitment to the “indie” game development scene, but didn’t go into too much detail about what that means. Highlights were showing off “Ryse: Son of Rome” from Crytek, “Killer Instinct” from Rare, and “Sunset Overdrive” from Insomniac, a game studio that used to be a first party developer for Sony. We saw a clip of the Xbox TV show “Quantum Break” at the Xbox One reveal, but now we got to see game footage and it looks amazing. We were also told that playing the game will effect different outcomes on the TV show – for different players. I think the game/TV show has something to do with freezing time or altering time in some way, which is pretty cool by itself, but tying that to a TV show that changes based on how YOU play the game is just mind blowing. Speaking of games/TV shows, there was a teaser for Halo – but they didn’t refer to it as “Halo 5” – so I wonder if they were actually showing us a teaser for the TV show. A new game with the working title “Project Spark” looked like a more advanced, 3D version of Sony’s “Little Big Planet”, and that’s a very, very good thing. Then there was the big debut of the new Respawn Studio’s first game: “Titanfall” which looks like a really cool hybrid of battle mechs and infantry shooting each other, a strange combination of multi-player and AI characters, and I am really excited about it. I don’t want to list every game and every cool moment from Microsoft’s show here, but I will say that they did what they needed to do, and they did it very well. Oh, and they showed a new version of the Xbox 360 that is supposed to be available TODAY.
Low Points: Looking at nothing but the games Microsoft revealed, I think Microsoft did a great job. Microsoft didn’t talk about their policies during their main show, and that was smart, but the policies still exist. Strangely, I don’t think anyone even said the word “Kinect” once. Still, if I had to evaluate what we DID see and hear during Microsoft’s presentation, I have to say the ONLY low point was when they announced the price of the Xbox One: $499. I don’t think I’m alone, I think a lot of people expected a lower price, so this was a bit of a shocker. Personally, I was also disappointed that my prediction about cross-platform capabilities didn’t come true. Come on, MS, you control all these properties, make them connect to each other! It isn’t exactly what I predicted, but MS did alter their Xbox Live “Gold” memberships: now subscribers will get free games every month, just like Sony’s “PlayStation Plus” members. Adding the free games is a nice touch, but they made no mention of dropping the Netflix services down to the “Silver” or free members. They did mention a new “family sharing” plan for Gold members, which I think is just a nice way to explain the used-game restrictions. All in all, it was an impressive show full of games, that was overshadowed by a high console price.
I might as well cover the other shows from Day One, and EA was next. I’d like to point out something strange that, well, I don’t know when it happened. For years, MS and EA were practically enemies. Then, they settled whatever it was between them, and more or less tolerated one another. EA went on to make some exclusive deals with Sony, like changing the Mass Effect series from an Xbox exclusive to a multi-platform game, and giving timed exclusive rights to extra content in games like Battlefield 3 to the PS3. But here we are at E3, 2012, and now MS and EA are like BFFs. The Xbox One reveal in May prominently featured EA Sports games, the main MS show devoted a lot of time to EA games like Battlefield 4 (which will now have its extra content given to Xbox One first) and even debuted the new Respawn Studios game “Titanfall” (published by EA) at the end of their show. Word is, MS paid EA $60,000,000 to make Titanfall an Xbox One exclusive. EA returned the favor during their show, constantly referring to how great their new games would be on the Xbox One and, oh yeah, they’ll also be on the PS4.
High Points: EA had a solid show, in spite of some really awkward celebrity cameos. Their show started with the reveal of a brand new game, an Xbox One exclusive called “Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare”. Just like it sounds, this is taking the popular overhead-view, 2D strategy game “Plants VS Zombies” and turning it into a 4 player co-op third-person shooter. Well, if you can call a game with plants throwing “chile grenades” and firing peas from “pea cannons” a “shooting” game. But, after that announcement, EA focused heavily on their new “Ignite” engine, showcasing four sports games featuring new animations and smarter artificial intelligence: Madden 25, Fifa 14, NBA Live 14, and UFC. Of these, the UFC title is noteworthy because this is the first time EA gets to use the UFC license, acquiring it after the demise of the THQ company that previously owned it. Now, EA can make official UFC games instead of their generic “MMA” games they were working on. After the sports games were covered, EA switched the focus to their other game engine, the “Frostbite” engine. The Frostbite engine was made famous by its environment destruction abilities in the Battlefield games, but apparently, EA is using it in every game that isn’t using the “Ignite” engine from now on. EA got a tremendous reaction from the crowd when they teased the new “Star Wars: Battlefront” title, another big reaction during the Battlefield 4 multi-player demo (with 64 players on stage!) when an entire sky-scraper collapsed, and yet another big reaction when they revealed a new “Mirror’s Edge” game. It looked pretty, but “Need For Speed: Rivals” didn’t impress me. It seems to be another racing game following the next-gen trend of racers being able to seamlessly switch from single-player races and challenges to playing with their friends or against “rivals” but in a more arcade-like style. Bringing a real car out on stage with actor Aaron Paul, who will star in a live action movie based on Need For Speed, was just cheesy and silly.
Low Points: Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only silly celebrity cameo. EA’s show was full of them, especially during the sports games segment, and even featured an awkward rap about ball handling and dribbling in basketball. I suppose I shouldn’t be too critical, as just because I’m not their target audience for sports games doesn’t mean these cameos weren’t exciting for somebody, somewhere. But, after watching Microsoft’s blazing fast, back to back game trailers and announcements, EA’s show was just oddly paced, awkward, and weird. Fortunately, the games do look impressive.
I might not like their “U-Play” online passes, but Ubisoft knows how to release some triple-A games. Far Cry 3, for example, was one of my favorite games last year, and I’m really looking forward to Watch_Dogs later this year.
Low Points: You can’t mention awkward stage shows without thinking about Ubisoft. They had possibly the most awkward show yesterday, but once again, they made up for it by showing some of the coolest games. Last year at E3, Ubisoft blew everyone away with a surprise game reveal, the amazing looking “Watch_Dogs”, and the excitement for that game only grows the closer we get to its release. “Splinter Cell: Blacklist” comes out this month, so we just got a cool game trailer to remind us. Personally, I’m not as excited about “Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag” as some people are, as I feel like they’ve totally gone in a different direction than what made Assassin Creed so special. I mean, really, you’re a pirate now? How is that at all related to being an assassin? I have to admit, it looks pretty cool, in fact, I might be more excited about it if they just called it “Black Flag” and made it a cool pirate game. I suppose it’s not fair to judge a game I haven’t played just because I don’t understand the concept.
High Points: In spite of changing Assassin’s Creed into a pirate game, I liked what I saw from Ubisoft. “The Crew” is taking the next-gen trend of turning racing games into open world, seamless multi-player events to the most impressive level of all the racing games I saw yesterday. It’s practically a driving MMO set in the entire United States. Yes, the entire country. But, the highlight of Ubisoft’s show was definitely the big surprise game reveal at the end: a brand new game called “The Division” that is being described as an “open world, multi-player RPG”. Set in a near-future, near-plausible situation, a serious disease pandemic has totally crippled the country and mass chaos and anarchy has broken out. Players enter the game as an elite squad of soldiers, called the Division, that try to restore order and safety to the survivors of New York City. It looks amazing, had some really cool RPG elements, and even supports “second screen” game play like piloting remote drones with a smart phone or tablet. At the end of the demo, the group of players ran into another group of players for some spontaneous “versus” action, but no specifics were given on how many players can play at the same time. With Watch_Dogs coming out this year, and The Division coming out next year, Ubisoft looks like the third party to beat.
Just by not being Microsoft, Sony was destined to “win” E3 yesterday. All they had to do is show up, announce some new games, and state their position and polices about “always online” and used game restrictions. I suppose they could have lost their momentum if they announced a high price or admitted to following Microsoft’s lead about blocking used games, but they didn’t.
Low Points: I was getting worried. Technical difficulties delayed Sony’s show by a good twenty minutes, and they dragged the show on for another thirty minutes before they started talking about games. Sony spent too much time talking about the PS3 and the Vita – and then talked too much about TV plans like Netflix for the PS4. So much talking! The few games they did show were either lower budget, indie titles, or games we saw at the PS4 reveal back in February. A few of these games will be available when the PS4 launches later this year, but everything else is scheduled for 2014. Even their main presenter, Jack Trenton, looked tired and bored with their presentation. There was an awkward game/video demo called “The Dark Sorcerer” that was just…weird, but Square Enix made up for that by announcing Final Fantasy Versus XIII, Final Fantasy XV, and Kingdom Hearts 3. In my opinion, the best, new game they showed was the big gameplay footage debut of Bungie’s “Destiny” which we thought was going to be the end of an otherwise lack-luster show…
High Points: …but then Jack Trenton returned to the stage and made the last three minutes make up for everything we saw at E3 on Day One: no used game restrictions, no internet connection required, and a low price of $399 for the PS4. Boom. Drop the mic. Sony wins.