Sunday, 10 June 2012

E3 2012: Winners and Sinners

As we bow out of what was possibly the worst E3 in years, it's time to look back to find out just who had the worst showing over the last few days, and whether there's much we can salvage. Now I'm just speaking as someone who watched the five press conferences. From reports throughout the gaming press it's clear that there was plenty to enjoy on the show floor, and a lot to be taken from this year. But come on, this is E3! We expect a lot from the main press conferences, be it hardware information, amazing software reveals, or... er, miscellaneous.

So this year we might as well get the negative out of the way. I covered a lot of the whining in my previous posts, but Christ the big three messed it up this time around. Between Microsoft's contemptuous nonsense, Sony's magical AR faff, and Nintendo missing a bloody open goal, we were spoiled for choice. Hell, we were faced with the interesting prospect of a third-party publisher "winning" the show, so to speak. Very rarely has that happened. But hey, let's take each conference on its positive and negative elements.


What a way to kick off the conference. I can't say we were expecting great things; after the Kinect-fest last year, and the promise that there would be no new hardware this time around, there weren't too many directions Microsoft could take this one. Showing a demo for Halo 4, and a new Gears of War is all well and good, but I can't help but feel we're hitting saturation point for those series. We've now had seven Halo games in the last ten years, and Gears of War will soon be hitting its fourth instalment in seven. Tell you what: imagine if, instead of releasing six Star Wars films in thirty years, George Lucas had pumped them out over a decade? You'd be sick with boredom (arguably how you felt during the latter three anyway), and videogames shouldn't be any different.

A bright new dawn on... Nothing new whatsoever.
We got little else in the way of games, with Microsoft instead promoting the various multimedia features of their console. Their big reveal was Smartglass, a way of making all your media devices bombard you with useless information at the same time. I'm sure we've all sat there watching a film and, unable to contain ourselves until the credits, we just had to view the cast list then and there. Also, say you're watching the hilarious Jack Black vehicle School of Rock. Wouldn't it be amazing if you could, at the touch of a button, summon up all the scenes featuring the rotund star, and watch them at your leisure? Man, I thought watching films in the right order was cool and all, but I really wish I could pick and choose my favourite scenes without having to fuss about skipping and fast forwarding. 

Other amazing announcements included a version of Internet Explorer, everyone's favourite browser, for the 360, as well as various bits of fitness software that utilise the Kinect. The whole mess is fairly well summed up by this utterly hateful trailer, Microsoft's own. "It's amazing... when TV is something you can play!" Well hey I thought watching it was great and all but sure thing, take all my money. Large amounts of noise were made about being able to stream various American sports on the console, and after a while you sort of forgot you were watching a games conference.

Was there anything positive we could take from this? Well the South Park guys showed up for a couple of minutes, roundly taking the piss out of the Smartglass before being rushed off stage. That was kind of funny. I think some games might have been shown at one point, and they looked quite nice, but it was all sort of drowned out in the monotonous mulitimedia buzz that resonated throughout. Edge already put it better than I ever could, but by the end you were left in no doubt that this was one of the most boring and off-the-mark conferences in E3's history.

Smartglass: enjoy Jack Black's menacing glare in more ways than ever before.


On to the big third party publishers then, starting with EAzzzzzzzzz..... Oh sorry, I think I dozed off during the several hours spent announcing the latest editions in their various sports franchises. You know what you're going to get with EA. New FIFA, new NFL, NHL, whatever. They managed to claim the UFC license from troubled THQ, which I'm sure was exciting to some people. We get to enjoy an Activision-rivaling premium service for Battlefield, which I'm sure many thousands of people can't wait to shell out for.

Positives were some neat looking footage from the latest Criterion-developed Need for Speed. It's no surprise that it resembled Burnout in places. Dead Space 3 looked nice enough, though a new co-op mechanic seems to be pushing the series from horror roots to genero-marines in space. And we get not one, but two new Sim City games, though one is unfortunately played through Facebook. Not much to say overall, Ubisoft gave us more to talk about... starting their conference with some quite excruciating banter between the two co-hosts, a theme that would sadly run throughout the hour. There was a slightly worrying sexual element to proceedings as well; with constant references to "girl wood" intercut with bad CGI boobs (courtesy of Far Cry 3), and Ubisoft packing the stage with scantily clad gamer babes to participate in a confusing battle of the sexes between some suspiciously hunky Counter Strike "champs". I think it was something to do with a new E-sports shooter, maybe. Between that, Flo Rida's wailing, and the increasingly painful noises coming from the presenters, I was about ready to cave my head in with the laptop.

But credit to them, Ubisoft managed to save it. Some lovely footage of Assasins Creed 3 lifted everyone's spirits, as did the very interesting looking ZombiU, a zombie-themed shooter for the Wii U (the clue's in the name). Rayman Legends also got a showing, looking as lush as you'd expect, before Ubisoft finished the conference in exactly the right way: Watch Dogs. It was perhaps the most interesting thing shown anywhere at E3 this year, and had everyone talking after the show was over. It also gave a tantalising glimpse at what the next-gen might look like, with the demo seeming far in advance of what the current consoles are capable of. And with that, Ubisoft stole the show.

Getting your phone caught in a spider web is a pain.


Like Microsoft, Sony weren't showing off any flashy new hardware this year, leaving the current generation to lumber on for a while yet. But hey, maybe we'd get some Last Guardian news, right? Right?? No, as it happens. With many people seemingly buying a PS3 in anticipation of a new Ueda game, we're faced with the reality that instead of the lovely looking Last Guardian, we have to make do with Ico and Shadow of the Colossus HD. Well... Ok then.

What we did get was a stupefying amount of long gameplay demos, kicking things off with David Cage's latest, Beyond. Staring Ellen Page and her amazing staring, Beyond showed off some neat visuals, with its facial capture particularly impressive. We moved on to Sony Smash Bros, a game whose actual title is so long I can't really be bothered typing it out. Showing off all the mechanics of Nintendo's series but with none of the heart, it's sure to be a hit among those put off by Sakurai's meddling in Brawl. I wonder if Fat Princess is top tier? Anyway, also shown off was Uncharted lookalike The Last of Us, featuring the latest in brown corridors, questionable AI, and ultraviolence. The audience's bloodlust was evidently sated when a point blank shotgun blast to an enemy's face was met with deafening cheers. Lovely.

The notable thing was that the Playstation Vita seemed to have been left to just die in a corner, with Sony announcing almost nothing for the poor handheld. The lack of Vita news was especially strange given that the console is less than six months old, and is currently being outsold by Nintendo's 3DS at a rate of thirteen-to-one. Sony actually admitted that they should have given it more attention, but that was too little, too late. Vita owners definitely weren't winners here. All the time that could have been given to the handheld was taken up by Wonderbook, and augmented reality storytelling thing for children. For something so wonderful, it didn't really work that well, with the demonstration cocking up on more than one occasion. And that put an end to a hugely underwhelming conference.

If you thought books were great, wait 'til you see them on your TV not working.

So it was up to Nintendo to wrap up the show, and in true Ninty fashion they managed to exceed our expectations in the worst possible way. Being the only games company with actual new hardware to show off, you'd expect they'd make a song and dance of convincing us that the console was worth our time and money. Well after about four hours worth of conferences, pre-conferences, announcements, webcasts, and the like, I'm left with the impression that Nintendo really don't know how to sell the Wii U. 

It all started off so well. Pikmin 3 launched the show, giving off a good account of what an HD Nintendo game might look like. Colourful, as it happens. Miyamoto pranced around being adorable, and spirits were high. Then Reggie came out and promised that we were about to see a ton of games for the Wii U, so many in fact that the 3DS was getting its own conference the next day. Wow, well this wouldn't disappoint then! Er, amazingly it did.

What we got was an absolute shambles, to say the least. Nintendo lurched through a series of disappointing reveals (Arkham Asylum! Scribblenauts! New Super Mario Bros U!) and the audience became noticeably downbeat, as cheering and applause became a rare commodity. By the time we'd made our way through the torturously long Nintendoland presentation, and been treated to the most anti-climactic end to a show I've ever seen, the crowd was eerily quiet. It was as if they'd been stunned into silence. 

The black Wii U looks lush, pity we'll be waiting years for Nintendo to release it

It became clear that Nintendo seem to have no idea why we would want a Wii U. In years past they've been able to sell their new hardware, gimmicks and all, based on the strength of fantastic launch software. Super Mario 64 showed off new 3D graphics and was the perfect introduction to the pad's analogue stick. The Wii came with Wii Sports, and once the relationship between swinging the controller and your character swinging a bat clicked, we were sold. Nintendoland was meant to have the same effect, but something was missing. Another minigame collection just won't cut it. On the Eurogamer podcast the point was made that Steve Jobs needed an hour to introduce the iPhone, a device that changed mobile communication. Now it seems that Nintendo needs about four times as long to explain that their new pad has a touchscreen in the middle, a concept that shouldn't be hard to get across. And we still came away barely knowing anything about the machine: No launch date, no specs, no price.


Despite all my negativity there was plenty to take from E3 this year. Ubisoft's strong showing gave us something to look forward to, with Rayman Legends looking superb, ZombiU threatening to sell the Wii U to me, and Watch Dogs proving that interesting new IP will get people excited. Sony showed off a decent set of software, albeit in a fairly muted way. And Microsoft's SmartGlass tech looks to have a lot more potential than its trailers and demonstrations suggested. Pikmin 3 also showed us why it's great that Nintendo are going to be making HD games at last, a tantalising prospect. HD F-Zero anyone? Yummy.

You just wish that they'd showed us a bit more, something like F-Zero might have saved the show. This was a year of endless sequels, Uncharted clones, and frustrating conferences. The three hardware manufacturers were the worst culprits, each delivering shows that were either stupidly boring, cringeworthy, or just plain rubbish. It's a shame that Sony and Microsoft weren't even threatening to hint at new consoles. This hardware generation is clearly on its last legs, and the Wii U just doesn't cut it as next gen. Edge suggested that, in Watch Dogs, Star Wars 1313, and Agni's Philosophy, we might have seen what the next consoles will be capable of, raising my hopes that we'll see something announced next year.  Roll on E3 2013 eh?

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