Tuesday, June 18, 2013

E3 2013 Wrap-up


E3 2013 has come and gone and I’m experiencing that post-E3 blues, which is kind of like the day after Christmas, except instead of having all your new toys to play with, you need to wait several months or years to play all those sweet new video games. Overall, I was impressed this year, certainly much more than last year. In addition to the exciting battle royale between Microsoft and Sony’s next gen machines, I just saw a lot of great-looking games this year that I genuinely want to play.

Between Sony’s ultra knock-out Monday night, to the unveiling of the new Super Smash Bros., to exciting next gen games like Metal Gear Solid V, Watch Dogs, The Division, and The Witcher 3, this was an E3 to remember. This post is basically my “best in show” awards. There were several games that stood out to me, and my wishlist is now bursting at the seam with shiny upcoming titles, so I’d like to honor some of these and talk about what excited me, disappointed me, and overall impressed me the most.

Best Press Conference: Sony

This is the easiest pick on this list. Microsoft set Sony’s victory up with its poorly received initial Xbox One unveiling, mixed messaging about the console’s restrictions after the unveiling, and its failure to address these concerns at its E3 press conference as well as finally unveiling the price of the console to be $499. Sony absorbed all this information and went straight for Microsoft’s throat. It’s a little strange when the most exciting part of Sony’s press conference is when Jack Tretton took the stage to basically tell us that the PS4 was going to do everything the PS3 did, and not have any additional hang-ups or restrictions. But it was the precedent that Microsoft set and the controversy that they sparked that made these assurances necessary. I respect Sony because they addressed the concerns on everyone's minds directly and up-front on-stage, instead of sending out mixed messages before finally sending out a press release. Sony revealing that its new machine would cost $100 less than Microsoft’s was just the final twist of the knife in their competitor’s side.

I wouldn’t have been so impressed with Sony if they’d just addressed these concerns and had great messaging, but they also just showed a constant stream of great games and even had some exciting surprises. Sony’s ardent support of indie developers is something I’ve always admired about them, and they passionately pushed this support by having a parade of indie developers take to the stage and demonstrate unique game after game, many of which looked like something I’d want to play. Sony also didn’t ignore its current hardware and made a point to push PS3’s great lineup this year. They showed interesting new IPs like Rain and The Order: 1886. They surpruised us all by rebranding the long-lost Final Fantasy Versus XIII as Final Fantasy XV, immediately followed by the long-awaited announcement of Kingdom Hearts III. They demonstrated the PS4’s processing power with Quantic Dream’s Dark Sorcerer tech demo. They showed fantastic-looking (if a little buggy) gameplay of popular upcoming titles like Assassin’s Creed IV and Watch Dogs, as well as finally unveiling gameplay of Bungie’s new, greatly-anticipated title, Destiny. It was just a great show and got me excited about the PS4, which is something that Microsoft has failed to do with Xbox One and even Nintendo has partly failed to do with their incredibly safe-looking line-up of games for the Wii U. This was Sony’s show and they nailed it. I still don't feel the need to pre-order a PS4 and get it day one; at this point Sony is simply selling the better story. I think in the long run, Xbox One isn’t going to be as evil as everyone thinks and everything might even out. For now though, Sony is the leading brand with great messaging and a solid, varied line-up.

I already wrote a lot about it in my E3 Day 2 Impressions post, so I’m not going to dwell on it much here, but the extended trailer for MGSV is beautiful-looking, disturbing, thrilling, and most of all gets me interested and excited about the game. It’s just a very-well put together window into the game and makes me want to go back and play MGS3 and Peace Walker to prepare for the new release.

Runners-up: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Nintendo 3DS, X

Biggest Surprise: Mega Man in Super Smash Bros.

I was hoping for a big surprise during the Nintendo Direct Tuesday morning (HD Metroid please?) and while Nintendo’s announcements did surprise me in some not-entirely positive ways, their biggest surprise came from Super Smash Bros. We knew Super Smash Bros. was going to make an appearance, but not only was I pleasantly surpised by how far along the game looks and how much information and footage of it we got, the biggest surprise came when Mega Man joined the battle at the tail-end of the game’s trailer. Nintendo often forgets that it has in the past mastered the art of delivering a “megaton” Christmas-morning surprise at E3 with moments like the Twilight Princess reveal and the Super Smash Bros. Brawl reveal so it was exciting to see the company once again catch me off-guard and get my heart pumping in a mostly-otherwise tame E3 presence.

Many people are saying how great the new Donkey Kong Country game looks and don’t understand the disappoint many fans are feeling around it. Yes, I’m sure Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze will be another great platformer, but what these people must understand is the hype that was surrounding Retro Studios’ next project. For over two years now, the developer of the Metroid Prime series and Donkey Kong Country Returns has had a supposedly ambitious, mysterious Wii U project in the works. They hired talent from Naughty Dog, id Software, and Vigil games. I had also heard that Retro said that it was “a project everyone wants us to do”, as well as received an assurance from Reggie Fils-Aime that Retro was working on a "fantastic project". Speculation ran wild. Rumors flew around about Retro working on Zelda, about a new Star Fox, about a return to Metroid, and even about a crossover of those two. Or would it be a new IP from the studio? The fact that Nintendo kept this project so mysterious and hidden only built the excitement.

To find out that this project is just a sequel to Donkey Kong Country Returns (and make no mistake, this is the only game Retro is currently working on) is incredibly underwhelming. Far from the ambitious, exciting game that the Wii U sorely needs right now, this new game is just another playing-it-safe platformer under Nintendo’s belt. I’m glad Retro is doing what they want, I just wish this project wasn't hyped up so much. Does that make it the current internet culture's and my own fault for being disappointed? I suppose, but the damage is done and knowing that doesn't make this news any less of a let-down.

Runners-up: Nintendo replacing its press conference with a laggy, terrible-quality Nintendo Direct stream, still no The Last Guardian

Best-Looking Game (Graphically): Tom Clancy’s The Division

I wasn’t really convinced that the games I was seeing were truly “next gen” until I saw Ubisoft’s ambitious new title The Division. Set in a dying, sprawling modern day city, The Division’s gritty environment truly comes to life in a detailed, life-like ecosystem built with the newest technology developers have at their disposal. Seeing the game is action is really something else and taking into account the fact that the game is boasting a massive, seamless online RPG environment hits the message that this game can only be done on next gen hardware home.

Runners-up: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Most Ambitious Game: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

In addition to being a gorgeous-looking game, The Witcher 3 sounds like the most ambitious next gen offering out there. Featuring a multi-region open world that is supposed to be 35 times the size of The Witcher 2’s world (I've never played The Witcher 2, but that's gotta be pretty big) and that features living, breathing communities with NPCs going about their daily lives, a dynamic night/day and weather system where the player can die if they take a boat out onto stormy seas, and vibrant, beautiful visuals, The Witcher 3 truly feels like a project that is the poster boy the next generation of interactive worlds. The game will also have a morality system that isn’t completely black and white and one where actions can have consequences that aren’t felt unil much later in the game. I can’t wait to see what can be accomplished in the video game medium in the coming years and The Witcher 3 sounds like an exciting step in the furthering of interactive narratives and universes.

Most Unique Game: Octodad: Dadliest Catch

Ok, so I recently found out that Octodad: Dadliest Catch is actually a sequel, but whatever, the concept of this game is so ridiculous and original, I can’t not pick it. You play as an octopus who is pretending to be a human and your goal is to keep your family from finding out what you really are. Gameplay involves controlling Octodad like a marionette as he fumbles around and struggles to use his tentacles to carry about normal, everyday human tasks. The more awkward and clumsy Octodad becomes, the more suspicious the humans become of what he really is. Quirky and funny, Octodad is a game I’d just really like to try for myself.

Game That I’m Most Excited About: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Nintendo 3DS

Much of Nintendo’s line-up, while full of fun-looking and solid games, is very safe. Smash Bros. isn’t particularly an exception since its gameplay looks very similar to past games, but Super Smash Bros. games are always a massive event and garner lots of hype surrounding them. Super Smash Bros. Brawl was one of the hypiest games of all time thanks to the Super Smash Bros. Dojo website that revealed a new feature from the game every single day leading up to the game’s release. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS is looking to continue this trend of hype and I’m already much more excited for the game than I thought I’d be. The inclusion of Mega Man, the upgraded, beautiful HD graphics, and the promise of another feature-rich, expansive game have me full of anticipation and I just can’t wait to see how the game will turn out and what the team behind it is planning on adding to the Smash Bros. universe.

Runners-up: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Game of the Show: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Even though only select journalists got to see the game running behind closed doors at E3, from the way they describe the game, The Witcher 3 has my imagination on fire more than any other game I’ve seen at E3 this year. Described as having a beautiful, massive open world to explore, both horseback and boat exploration, lively NPCs with their own routines, a story with deep moral consequences, dynamic weather and day/night cycles, and engaging combat, The Witcher 3 sounds like the Zelda game I might never get. I’ve never played a Witcher game before, so I can only hope I won’t be lost if I try to play this one. In any case, the game sounds ambitious and engaging and if it can live up to half its promises, it still seems like it’s going to be something really special.

It’s clear which games stood out to me the most this year, but there are also many more that I’m looking forward to. The more I see of and think about Nintendo’s line-up, the more excited I become about their games even though it still seems like an incredibly safe roster of popular franchise iterations with a couple of new gimmicks added in and not the ambitious reinventions I expect from Nintendo. I will say that HD graphics had given Nintendo’s old games new life in a sense, and the brand’s colorful worlds really pop in games like Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart 8, Pikmin 3, and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. These games almost can compete with the other developers’ hyper-realisitc next-gen offerings because Nintendo’s virbrant, whimsical aesthetics don’t need to have photo-realism to look pretty (and we’ve also never seen Mario and Link in HD before now). There are also other games like Beyond: Two Souls and The Witness that I’m keeping my eye on.

All in all, this year was a great show. It wasn’t the best E3 I’ve ever seen, but it had far more memorable moments than last year, and its line-up of games also offered more variety than just a slew of shooters and bloody neck-stabbers (although those games were still present). I’m excited to see what the next generation will bring and how video games will continue to evolve on their road to unlocking their true potential. There are tons of brilliant games coming this year and into next year, and I for one am excited and optimistic for the gaming future.

The long wait for next year’s E3 begins and the dates are already set. See you Tuesday June 10 through Thursday June 12, 2014, my favorite, hypest week of the year.

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