June 26, 2013

E3 2013 Final Grades

Console war. Console war never changes. When you were a kid, you were either Team Nintendo or Team Sega. These days, you're either rooting for Nintendo, Sony, or Microsoft. Except Microsoft has lost most of its supporters recently. Who will dominate the next generation? Whose side are you on? Who won E3? Take a guess...

MICROSOFT did exactly as expected. They said it would be all about games, and it was all about games. The showing was actually pretty good, especially in terms of exclusives. They kicked off with a new trailer for Metal Gear Solid V, something no gamer would have ever imagined would happen last generation. Then they briefly touched on the Xbox 360 and announced that World of Tanks would be coming to the system in a free to play form. From then on, it was all about their new box. Many, many Xbox One games were announced

Things kicked off with a gameplay demo for Ryse, the formerly Kinect-only action game from Crytek that was first announced a few years back. It's now an Xbox One exclusive, and it looks pretty alright. The game seemed to have an excellent sense of scale and accuracy as far as Roman battles go. It seemed to be a QTE (quick time event) fest, though, with button prompts left and right. The execution moves were pretty cool regardless, and there's supposedly 100 of them, but it looks like it'd get pretty repetitive eventually. The game also lacked color of any kind, which doesn't appeal to me at all. The game seemed like a pretty average overall, although the subtle use of Kinect voice commands and gestures to order the troops seems cool.

Because there were so many games, a lot of the time was spent simply showing trailers for them. Killer Instinct was the worst kept secret of this year's show, since news broke last year that Microsoft renewed their KI trademark and just weeks ago settled a dispute with Fox over the use of the Killer Instinct name. The game looked pretty great though, and returned later in the conference to demonstrate the new video sharing and streaming options in the XB1. This also provided the best moment of the show when the guy on stage, fighting against the only woman in the entire thing, beat her at a fighting game and then said, "just let it happen, it'll be over soon." Many took this to be a rape joke. I'll admit I laughed at it but that didn't even occur to me at the time. The whole context of the match was clearly staged (she threw the first round and he threw the second), but I'm not sure that little gold nugget was on purpose.

Anyway, other trailers included Dark Souls 2, another look at Quantum Break, Below (from the Sword & Sworcery guys), The Witcher 3, and Crimson Dragon. This last one was lacking sound of any kind and provided the second best moment as the crowd tried to cheer anyway and fill in the void of silence. There were some surprises in trailer form, though they were completely underwhelming. Sunset Overdrive was announced as an Xbox One exclusive from Insomniac, the developers of Ratchet & Clank, Resistance, and Fuse. Notably, Insomniac was partnered with Sony for many years and recently announced plans to go multiplatform from now on. Obviously they've had a change of heart. The trailer was pretty vague, but it's obvious this is where the charm and style of Overstrike (released as Fuse) went. It's apparently an open world co-op game that features many colors and an Insomniac-typical wacky assortment of weapons, like a gun that shoots records and another that's powered by energy drinks. The new game from Black Tust was teased and literally told me nothing about the game at all. Forza 5 was also shown, and they brought an actual car on stage for some reason. Finally, a new Halo game was teased. We all knew one was coming, but I wasn't expecting it to be announced so soon. Oddly, they didn't refer to it as Halo 5, but simply Halo for Xbox One. They basically just stated that it existed and then moved on. That's not how you get me hyped for your game that I already knew was coming.

The rest of the presentation was spent on a few other live game demos. Dead Rising 3 was announced as an Xbox One exclusive set to launch with the system. It's not often that a once-exclusive franchise that goes multiplatform returns to exclusivity status. The only other game I can think of is Soul Calibur, where the 3rd game was a PS2 exclusive for some reason. Regardless, Dead Rising 3 definitely looks next gen. Or should I say current gen. I mean there's no color. Or personality. See, what was fun and cool about Dead Rising was how wacky it is. Now, they've made an open world zombie game that looks like every other post-apocalyptic game in existence. The neat weapon crafting system is back and it looks like you can combine anything together– like a sledge hammer and a buzz saw. This game, like basically everything else at E3 this year, included tablet integration. Here, it was used to call in an air strike.

Revenge of grey.

Project Spark was one of two highlights from the Microsoft presser. It's a game building tool that appars to be LittleBigPlanet on steroids. It seemed like pretty powerful stuff that'll let you create pretty much any type of game and share it online with others. It was later announced the game would be free, and would also be coming to Xbox 360 and PC.

Finally, Microsoft wrapped up with one of the best games of the show: Titanfall. It's a multiplayer shooter from the former founders of Infinity Ward who were driven out from Activision and struck a deal with EA. In it, you'll play as a soldier with unique parkour abilities like wallrunning and double jumping, who has the ability to call a Titan mech suit into battle. Basically, there's guys battling on foot and guys battling in mechs and everybody is fighting everyone else. The game is multiplayer only, but does have a campaign and story. How exactly this works hasn't been revealed yet. This would definitely be a system seller... if it was exclusive to the system. PC and Xbox 360 versions will also be released, which I find especially odd when you hear the developers constantly saying how the game wouldn't be possible without the power of cloud computing. Interesting also that this was paired with a look at the (really forgettable) campaign of Battlefield 4. EA seems to be pretty friendly with Xbox these days.

This is something that really speaks to Microsoft's larger problem this year. Yes, they had tons of games, and yes they looked good... maybe. At this point, there's nothing on offer that makes the XB1 look all that compelling. I don't even have to buy a new Xbox to play the games that interested me most. More than anything, though, it's the air of vaguess about most of their games. Yes, we get that you've got a lot of games coming out and that you needed to actually prove that to us, but I feel like too much of the press conference was spent not explaining those games in any way. Quantum Break, Sunset Overdrive, and Black Tusk's game have the potential to be great, but couldn't they spare a few more details? They basically came out and said "We've got games." but didn't provide anything beyond what is essentially a list. And then the final blow: $499. The Xbox One was already on thin ice with it's always-online and anti used game policies, but this was a punch in the guts. At this point, we weren't sure what Sony was going to do with the PS4, but that price is hard to swallow regardless.

Although they did exactly what they stated they would do. Lots of games, lots of exclusives, but nothing that looked all too wonderful. I would have strongly considered an XB1 if they had announced Banjo-Kazooie or a remake of the original Fable. They did the latter, but for the Xbox 360, shooting themselves in the foot yet again.

Final Grade: C-

NINTENDO's conference worked out strangely similar to Microsoft's. This year, they did a 45-minute Nintendo Direct video instead of a longer press event. We already knew most of what they'd show off– Mario Kart, Super Mario, and Smash Bros– for the first time. And that's exactly what they did. The video consisted mostly of trailers. First we got some new Pokemon X&Y footage along with the announcement of the first new type since Gold and Silver (finally!) which is fairy type. Then, the new Super Mario was unleashed upon the world. Finally, the follow up to Galaxy! The 3D Mario we've been waiting years for! The... wait, it's Super Mario 3D Land with a cat suit? Yes, Nintendo went with Super Mario 3D world as the first non-sidescrolling entry on the Wii U. I'm excited and disappointed at the same time. 3D Land was great... almost. See, 3D Land makes you hold down a button to run which makes no sense when you can move in three dimensions with an analog stick. 3D World apparently does the same thing, so I'm skeptical. Holding down Y to run while pressing B to jump with my thumb joint was incredibly awkward. The game is designed with both a time limit and precision jumping in mind. The control scheme is just a big "fuck you" because it's so awkward. Couldn't run at least be a shoulder button? Ah well, I digress.

Back on track, we got some great gameplay from Pikmin 3, The Wonderful 101, and Bayonetta 2, plus a new trailer for Monolith's X that somehow shows less gameplay then before (but it still looks awesome). Sonic Lost World for 3DS got a new trailer and it's actually hard to tell it's not the Wii U version. The game looks great! Mario Kart 8 was announced and now you can drive on walls and ceilings. It also looks crazy beautiful in terms of detail. The first footage of Wind Waker HD debuted and it looks like Wind Waker in HD. Nintendo ended their direct with something we all saw coming: Smash Bros. But they showed way more of the game at this E3 than I thought they would. Two new characters were announced in the forms of an Animal Crossing villager and Mega Man, the latter of which was a big surprise. Both versions of the game are looking fantastic!

Monolith's new game has mechs that turn into tanks!

The only real surprise was the announcement of Retro's new game. Another DK Country. Don't get me wrong, the last one was great, but I thought for sure it'd be a 50-50 chance of either Metroid or StarFox since DK just got a refresh. According to Retro, though, they went with DK because they had a lot of ideas left over from the last game and they wanted to run with them Mario Galaxy 2 style. I can respect that. Also, Dixie's back so that's something, right?

But that's not all! Nintendo also had Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, and Yoshi's New Island playable on the floor. There was a special roundtable event about Pokemon X&Y, plus Nintendo uploaded their own developer interviews for each of the Wii U's playable E3 games as well as Smash Bros. At an event on the showfloor, they had the developers talk even more about their games and announced a third character for Smash Bros, the Wii Fit Trainer, that literally nobody saw coming. We also got a release schedule for most of these games. There's a steady stream coming from August to December with at least one Wii U game a month in addition to several 3DS games. Net year, they've got Smash Bros, Mario Kart, Bayonetta, and X. Although there was a brief montage of 3rd party games, it's paltry compared to the competition. The indie lineup is looking strong, though, with a number of exclusives and others like Oddworld. If you bought a Wii U (or are planning on it) then you're probably buying it for the exclusives anyway, and Nintendo continues to deliver.

Final Grade: A-

It looks like... well, kind of like the Xbox One...

SONY destroyed everyone this year, which you've probably heard by now unless you're visisting from off-planet. Looking back, it probably wasn't the best showing ever. But because it its timing, Sony absolutely killed it. Things started off slow and about how I expected. Montage. The PS3 is still a thing and it's got The Last of Us and Beyond: Two Souls. The Vita is dead, but we're making a bundle anyway with the Walking Dead the you can literally play on any platform. Then, the good stuff. It was time for the PS4 to dominate. Of coures, Killzone: Shadowfall, Knack, inFamous: Second Son, and DriveClub were shown again. Exclusive The Order: 1886 was announced in a cinematic trailer that looks like steampunk London with werewolves. A Mad Max game teaser developed by Avalanche (Just Cause) was shown. Then, new trailer for Batman: Arkham Origins, gameplay of The Elder Scrolls Online (newly announced for consoles) and the announcement of an exclusive beta for PS4, and Transistor were also shown. 

Ubisoft continued it's PlayStation loving by demoing both Assassin's Creed 4 and Watch Dogs. AC4 froze several times and actually crashed before the demo was over. It looked like a faster paced AC in the tropics. Having the ability to jump straight from land to naval combat was pretty cool, though. Watch Dogs looks just as good as it did last year. In this year's demo, our hero used a number of hacks to avoid the police and guide his friend safely from his apartment. It seems pretty stealth-heavy, which isn't really my thing, but cool nonetheless

Then, it was "fuck you, Xbox" time. Because the PS4 allows indies to self-publish their games, developers are flocking to it (and Wii U) in droves. Games here included Oddworld, Octodad, Don't Starve, Mercenary Kings, and many more. The applause grew bigger with every game announced. There was a prerecorded message from the director of Final Fantasy Versus XIII introducing a trailer for the game that few of us were expecting to see. And there was gameplay. A lot of it. And it looked amazing. Surprise! It's FFXV now! But wait, there's one more thing. That's... that's the Disney logo... Could it be? OH MY GOD IT'S KINGDOM HEARTS 3. OH MY GOD IT'S A SHORT GAMEPLAY SNIPPET OF KINGDOM HEARTS 3. That's it, Sony has won! 

And then it happened. No used game restrictions. No online requirement. $399. Boom. Checkmate.

And just like that, thunderous applause. Rapture. I haven't heard this kind of reaction since Twilight Princess was announced. It was a magical moment, and the highlight of the whole expo. But Sony had more in store for this show. They snuck in a little backhanded change to PS+ that makes it a requirement for online play, just like XBL. But they aren't raising the price, they're keeping the free game library, and it won't be required for free to play games like DCU Online, Planetside 2, Warframe, and Blacklight Retribution– all console exclusive to the PS4. On their YouTube channel, Sony had a similar thing to Nintendo where they had interviews and behind the scenes videos with developers to give you a better look at the PS4 games. I came away with a very clear sense of the games that'll be available on the platform around launch, unlike Microsoft who focused too far into the future. Sony did a great job of selling me on the PS4 from day one. I feel like the Xbox One might be cool in the future, but the PS4 is the thing I want now. 

Perhaps as a final insult, Sony had the world-premier gameplay demo of Bungie's Destiny which looks like Halo married with Borderlands in an MMO package. That's a pretty great description, actually.

Final Grade: A+

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