Monday, June 10, 2013

E3 2013 Day 0 Impressions (Press Conferences!)



Wow. 

So, what started off as a fairly tame E3 featuring lots of fancy cars, some shooters, and even some throat-rending violence ended in two hours of genuine excitement for this medium. I haven’t felt this pumped about an E3 since Nintendo’s beautiful Zelda symphony in 2011. Speaking of Nintendo, even if they rehire Cammie Dunaway and she comes out to play frisbee with a dog in Wii Sports Resort U and Reggie shows off a fireworks show in Nintendo Land 2, I’ll still be more pleased with this year’s E3 than last year’s, where almost nothing memorable (except Watch Dogs) happened.

But before we get to Sony’s E3 triumph, I want to go over all the news that stuck out to me and the games that I found to be the most interesting from today’s line-up of press conferences from the big publishers.

Microsoft

Honestly, after watching Sony’s show, I’m having a hard time even remembering what Microsoft showed off. They definitely showed video games, so that’s good. But unlike Sony, who not only displayed a passion for the games appearing on their past and future platforms and their developers, and also directly addressed pertinent fan concerns, Microsoft chose to rush through game reveal after game reveal hoping that all these shiny video games would make people forget about all the other controversial stuff. They opted instead to include that sort of clarifying information in a press release beforehand so they wouldn’t have to deal with it at the show.

This said, Microsoft did deliver on its promise to fully focus on video games at E3, but honestly that’s not much of a triumph at the world’s biggest annual video gaming event. Of the titles they showed off, there were a couple that stood out to me.

First off, I was very pleasantly surprised that the conference opened with Metal Gear Solid V. I had no idea what the game was at first, then suddenly the Kojima Productions logo flashed on the screen and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I always love it and commend the developers when footage that looks like it could be pre-rendered CG smoothly transitions into actual gameplay footage, and man, that game looks gorgeous! The gameplay looks solid as ever, it looks like the game will have all the quirky characters I’d expect from a Metal Gear game, and Kiefer Sutherland doesn’t sound half bad as Snake (although I’m still mourning the loss of David Hayter, and still think it was really disrespectful the way Kojima let him go, with nary a thank-you for the man who shaped his Snake into such an icon).

Call me a Metal Gear fanboy, but nothing else in the conference really matched that level of excitement for me. I think Quantum Break looks interesting, if only because the graphics tech, especially with the character models and facial animations, was really impressive. Of course, that demo, while I’ve heard it was “in-game”, wasn’t actually gameplay. I watched an interview with the developer and he fumbled over answering a question about whether the game would look that good while playing it, basically implying that the demo we saw was running on some high-end PC and that they were going to try to achieve that quality on Xbox One. I’m not crazy about the marriage of a TV show and a video game though. It just seems like one step closer to trying to get video games to be more like Hollywood movies, which isn’t the direction I want the industry to go in.

Despite the fact that I groaned at the mention of a “new zombie apocalypse game”, Dead Rising 3 looks pretty cool. I’ve never played the other games in this series, but I was impressed by the sheer number of zombies crowding around the player, and the game seems like it will provide a great sense of tension like that seen in Resident Evil 4, while also providing open-ended ways to survive and get out of tricky situations.

There were a few other titles like Project Spark, Below, and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt that looked interesting to me. The colorful Sunset Overdrive also holds promise. I’m sure a number of people are excited about Dark Souls II, Crimson Dragon (the spiritual successor to Panzer Dragoon), and of course, the big Rare reveal of the return of Killer Instinct. None of these games really excited me though (although I do want to get around to playing the Souls games one day). Also, am I the only one not impressed with Titanfall? Sure, it has mechs and it’s a new IP, but it just blends in with all the other gray shooters to me. Halo 5 (?) had a cool teaser, but it was just that, a brief teaser.

At the end of the conference, Microsoft announced the price of the Xbox One would be 499$, which seems a little steep for me, especially for a console with so many annoying hang-ups, few exclusives that interest me, and possibly lower overall horsepower than the PS4.

EA

Plants vs. Zombies. Cars. Sports. Sports. Guns. Mirror’s Edge 2 (I really should try to play the first one). 

Ubisoft

I’m surprised we made it through the whole conference and only one hushed mention of “girl wood” (despite it being displayed on Aisha Tyler’s shirt). I was looking forward to Ubisoft’s press conference this year because they not only had a solid showing last year (arguably the best at the show), but they also try to have a little fun and their show is usually entertaining, if often for the wrong reasons (Mr. Caffeine, girl wood). Well, I thought Ubisoft had a solid showing again this year, but certainly not a show-stealing one. Rayman Legends looks fantastic of course, even though it should have been out by now, and Watch Dogs once again impressed. Although, I have to scold the Watch Dogs presence at Ubisoft’s show, because even though the footage shown was compelling due to the game’s strong concept and very impressive tech on display, it still wasn’t gameplay footage. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag also looked very pretty, but again no gameplay. We’d of course get impressive-looking (although not quite as good-looking visually) gameplay for both of these games later at Sony’s show, so I suppose I can give Ubisoft a pass in this regard.

I also just have to mention that at this point in my day-long marathon of all these pressers, I was quite tired of looking at shiny cars. Quite. Seriously, what’s with all the driving sims this year?

Ubisoft closed with the big reveal of its new IP, Tom Clancy’s The Division. This game was the “Watch Dogs” of this year’s show (what Watch Dogs was for last year). Similar to Watch Dogs’ initial reveal, they set up the game’s narrative and setting in great detail before showing a lengthy live gameplay demo. Although the actual gameplay and concept of the game wasn’t anything super captivating for me, I was extremely impressed by game’s visual design and atmosphere. Honestly, the earlier Watch Dogs demo and this game were the first games I really saw at this year’s show that looked “next gen” to me, or at least looked like something I probably couldn’t see on my PS3. The Division simply had a very smooth look and a greatly detailed environment with a minimalist HUD that made me excited for the future levels of realism and immersion that video games will provide.

Sony

I was pretty hyped for Sony’s show and somewhat surprisingly, they didn’t disappoint. Before Sony’s conference, I just wasn’t feeling the magic of E3, the genuine excitement for new video game reveals and trailers and the overall energy the show has brought me in past years. Especially after an underwhelming show last year, I just wasn’t overally enthusiastic about what I’d seen so far.

But Sony had the upper hand after Microsoft confused and angered video game fans around the world at their Xbox One reveal and they came in swinging. Opening the show by talking about the Vita, a handheld console that Sony seems to have forgotten about recently, they followed this up by showing a sizzle reel of a great lineup of games coming to PS3 by the end of the year, including The Last of Us and Beyond: Two Souls, two titles I’m very excited to play. They unveiled the PS4 itself, showing off a much sleeker, smaller box than Microsoft presented. After this, they smartly reserved only a brief amount of time for four titles they had previously revealed back at the initial PS4 reveal event, Killzone: Shadow Fall, Infamous: Second Son, Drive Club, and Knack, leaving plenty of time for new video game reveals and demos to come.

I kept waiting for Sony to take a break from talking about games so I could take a pee break, but they just didn’t stop. They reiterated their support of indie developers and their ability to self-publish on PS4 by first giving the stage to Supergiant Games’ new title Transistor, followed by a parade of unique indie title after title, of which more than a few looked like something I’d want to play. There was even a joke about Giant Enemy Crabs!

When Sony took the stage and started talking about how they’re using technology to better display emotion and further story-telling in video games, they were speaking directly to my heart. This is the kind of thing I want to heart at E3, not simply see how new hardware is going to make a lot of more realistic-looking shooters and ultra-violent action games. I want to hear how video games are going to fulfill their potential of being interactive stories and how new tech is helping these games better display atmosphere and emotion. Sony followed this talk by showing a portion of a tech demo from Quantic Dream, showcasing the life-like animations and emotions that can be presented using PS4.

Sony also showed an intriguing new IP called The Order: 1886. Then there was the genuine surprise return of Final Fantasy Versus XIII, which has now morphed into Final Fantasy XV, followed immediately by a teaser for the very long-awaited Kingdom Hearts III. I’m not even a huge Kingdom Hearts fan, but I was getting chills at this point and realized that I was getting caught up in some genuine E3 magic. Ubisoft brought live gameplay demos of Watch Dogs and Assassin’s Creed IV. Watch Dogs again looked great and I even found myself excited for Assassin’s Creed. I’ve never played an AC game before, but this one is about pirates!

It was just interesting game after game after game, toss in a few surprises, some live gameplay, some demonstrations of what the next gen will look like, and Sony simply delivered a winner. And this was all before Jack Tretton took the stage and told us all, up-front, directly, with no bullshit and mixed messages, that the PS4 will play used games, that you can continue to share and trade your games, and that the PS4 will not always have to be online. This direct response to Microsoft’s shenanigans was later followed by the announcement that the PS4 would cost $399, a full $100 less than the Xbox One. That’s almost as much as a Wii U deluxe bundle for what appears to be the most powerful next gen console, which looks to have a great upcoming library, and allows the same level of user freedom we’ve come to expect.

If Sony had capped all of this off with The Last Guardian, I might’ve pre-ordered a PS4 straight away (like many have) and would’ve planted a big ol’ smooch on Jack Tretton had I been there. Instead, Sony ended the conference with the first gameplay footage of Bungie’s ambitious new FPS Destiny, which was still pretty cool, and out of all the FPS games I’d seen so far at this year’s E3, looked like one I might actually want to play.

The only time the conference really slowed down for me was during a brief bit in which A Sony rep. talked about the movie and television side of Sony’s business. I was a bit annoyed when this guy talked about offering movies that catered to “gamers”. Hm. What sort of movies are we “gamers” supposed to like? I was under the impression that people who play video games have a wide variety of tastes and interests, and like all sorts of movies, TV shows, and media, just like anyone else. Speaking of “gamers”, I got really sick of hearing this term by the end of today. I personally never liked the term “gamer” and try to never use it myself. I don’t consider myself a “gamer”; I’m just someone who loves video games. I also love great books, movies, and music, but I’d also never call myself a “booker” or a “filmer” or a “songer”. I don’t understand why people who enjoy playing video games on a regular basis need this identifying term.

Anyway, I’ll forgive ya, Sony, ‘cause you really nailed it. Maybe your show wasn’t the best press conference ever, and maybe this year won’t be the best E3 ever, but I’ll always remember this show as being the first in a while that really got me stoked for E3 and video game hype in general, and also for the way that Sony demonstrated respect towards its fans, consumers, and developers. An affordable price, diverse lineup, ability to play any kind of game I want to, and no need to worry about a console that might not be able to play games due to an internet connection makes me completely on board for the PS4…after I finish my huge backlog of PS3 games that is.

Wrap-up

Whoosh. Quite a day, and there’s still Nintendo tomorrow. Nintendo and the Wii U haven’t really been mentioned once all day and third party support isn’t looking good for them as usual. But honestly, I bought a Wii U to play Nintendo games, so that’s really all I need to see tomorrow; some great Nintendo games. I already know that we’re getting a new 3D Mario for Wii U, footage of The Wind Waker HD remake in action, and something of the next Super Smash Bros., but I hope Nintendo still has some surprises in store. I’d love to see some more of Monolith Soft’s Xenoblade Chronicles follow-up, as well as see the reveal of Retro Studios’ mysterious project.

If Nintendo unveils a gorgeous new HD Metroid that will focus on exploration and atmosphere instead of cruddy writing and poor story-telling tomorrow, then, well, I’ll be happy. Very, very happy and I’ll call this year’s E3 a great success. 

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