Last week, the big game studios showed up for the 2012 Electronic Entertainment Expo, better simply known as E3, to give us a taste of what’s to come in the next few months to a year. I didn’t go, because I am not press or a developer. I can only write as someone whose relationship with these companies extends to me handing them money for their product. Spike TV and its associated web site Game Trailers were nice enough to broadcast all sorts of game demos as well as the major press conferences themselves.
I honestly wasn’t sure how I wanted to approach this piece. Even after the official first day of E3, I had talked about the conferences to death on Twitter and message boards. With the exception of Ubisoft, who showed some great-looking content, none of the conferences did anything that ‘surprised’ me or grabbed my attention. After Halo 4 footage that does its best Metroid: Prime impersonation, Microsoft began to sell the idea of the Xbox as an entertainment brand, beyond playing a game and paying for extra content. Watch television shows and movies on Netflix and Hulu Plus. Catch up on Game of Thrones and Veep on HBO Go (which requires paying for a cable subscription, HBO, and then an Xbox Live Gold membership). Their big moment came when they introduced Internet Explorer and their Smart Glass app, which serves as a sort of PDA for entertainment. Get cast biographies for the movie or show you’re watching. Turn your tablet (iPad) into an interactive map for an adventure game. While this may sound convenient or fun, the way it was demonstrated indicated that Smart Glass seeks to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. I’m not sure I need an interactive Westeros map while I’m already trying to remember names on Game of Thrones. I’m already using GameFAQs to get help with games, and also I’m not using my tablet with my entertainment as frequently as Microsoft wants me to.
The real stars of the show were South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone who took the stage to quickly talk about the upcoming South Park: The Stick of Truth, developed by Obsidian Entertainment, but delivered the conference’s only major highlight with this quote:
“How many times have you been watching an episode of South Park and thought, ‘I’d like to be able to watch this on my television, while hooked into my mobile device, which is controlled by my tablet device, which is hooked into my oven,’ all while sitting in the refrigerator?”
Somewhere in the conference was an Usher performance and a Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 demo where people shot things and were shot at. It was everything I was already expecting from Microsoft after their terrible conference last year and it delivered for all the wrong reasons.
Last year, Ubisoft delivered upon the world Mr. Caffeine, a manic gentleman who informed us of upcoming “Tom Ca-lancy” games and used Wayne’s World references to do it. Survivors of the conference refuse to talk about it to this day. This year, Aisha Tyler took the stage for Ubisoft, and I’m not sure if ever a huge upgrade took place than having her host, because she was great and very enthusiastic. Her only crime honestly was having to share the stage with a Tobuscus, a YouTube ‘personality’ who went by Toby where silly, scripted back and forth banter ensued, and then we saw games.
Ubisoft had probably the most solid line-up with Far Cry 3, whose demo was one of the strangest, drug-fueled demos I had ever seen. Rayman Legends, which is exclusive to Nintendo’s upcoming Wii U system, is looking like a solid follow-up to the fantastic Rayman Origins, which I talked about earlier this year. I’m hoping Rayman Legends will feature as great a soundtrack as its predecessor. Ubisoft also showed new footage of Assassin’s Creed III, which I have ordered from Amazon despite its October release date. Perhaps the biggest and most talked-about surprise is the new game coming titled Watch_Dogs. The demo showed a man walking around a huge virtual recreation of Chicago and proceeding to gather information about its residents with a device that allows hacking of mobile devices and also jamming communication signals and even manipulate traffic lights as he sees fit. The demo concluded with this man in a shoot-out with his antagonists, which honestly presents a slight concern over how much taking cover and shooting I will actually do in Watch_Dogs. Regardless of this, although I’ve never visited Chicago, the world was stunning and was also impressed by the number of NPCs walking around the town without a hint of frame rate dropping. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on it.
The evening of “Day Zero” closed out with Sony’s press conference which, aside from Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, Quantic Dream’s Beyond: Two Souls, and footage of the Vita game Assassin’s Creed: Liberation, did very little to catch my interest. We got a demo for God of War: Ascension, the next title in the seven-year PlayStation series, where Kratos kills more things in the same way he has for the last seven years. I’m sure the fans have already eaten it up, especially when Kratos killed an elephant minotaur by cutting it in half. One thing I was looking forward to was Sony’s plans for the Vita. It’s almost common knowledge at this point that the PlayStation Vita isn’t off to a particularly strong start across the globe, with its predecessor the PlayStation Portable outselling it in Japan. I’ve seen more doom and gloom comments than positive ones despite the device being four months into its launch in the United States. Sony unveiled… a Call of Duty logo and an Assassin’s Creed spinoff game. In fairness, I do think the Assassin’s Creed title has plenty of potential to get major use of the device’s hardware, but E3 is the center stage to show people what you’re up to and what to look forward to and to get the folks excited for it (a point I will reiterate with Nintendo). Instead, we got Wonderbook. Wonderbook, from what I understand, is an augmented reality software that utilizes the PlayStation Eye Toy device where you have interactive experiences with storybooks. It might sound fun for the kids, but it didn’t look “explain this product for 15 to 20 minutes” fun. While I think SCEA President Jack Tretton did a decent job onstage and successfully got the crowd excited for God of War and The Last of Us. Quantic Dream showed footage of their newest game, Beyond: Two Souls, which stars actress Ellen Page. I’m not sure what kind of game it will be. Will it be another “interactive experience” (i.e. quick-timer event) game like 2010′s Heavy Rain?
A few nice details here and there about games, mostly lackluster, and then there’s Nintendo, which I will talk about tomorrow because there’s a lot to address.