Friday, 10 June 2011

E3 2011 - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) is the annual mecca/trade show for the computer and video game industry, where developers show off their biggest games and bestest hardware. The three top dogs (Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo) set out their stalls with a clearly defined offer of Kinect, 3D/Vita and next generation Nintendo. As a consumer this choice is wonderful, it feels like the industry has never been richer, so get ready for an uber digest as there’s a lot to get through.

Microsoft kicked off proceedings flaunting their forthcoming Kinect titles; Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier (allowing for major gun/weapon customisation), Kinect Star Wars (you are the light sabre) and Rise of Nightmares (Japanese horror with you punching oodles of zombies), however, Mass Effect 3 was the title that the people wanted and it did not disappoint.

With ME3, you’re able to use your voice to progress the story, as well as calling your fighting squad to “move up” and support you or retreat into cover and cower away. Sounds good? I'm not so sure. I understand the concept of Kinect in ME3 as it attempts to create a deeper immersion in the narrative with you “calling the shots” as Commander Shepard trying to save the galaxy from the Reapers, but I think  it will interrupt the flow and rhythm of proceedings.

As a player using the dialogue wheel in the ME and ME2, you read the choices on offer internally, decide which one you want and hit a button to determine your choice. With the addition of Kinect, you still have to read all the choices, make your decision and then speak your choice out loud, but this speaking out loud will add at least 2 or 3 seconds per dialogue sequence and there’s an awful lot of dialogue in ME3. Accumulated over the whole game and it may make it a rather stuttery experience. Kinect + ME3 will not be good; however, ME3 with a normal controller will be spectacular and rightly claims its place as the most anticipated title for Xbox360. It’s also got Mr Clint Mansell in charge of the soundtrack which will ensure audio brilliance. ME3 is slated for a March 2012 release.

Sony swiftly followed with a rather confused message, though it was a good confusion to have. Not only did they have numerous AAA and exclusive titles pouring out of the stable like Uncharted 3, they launched a brand new a brand new portable console, the PS Vita, pushed the adoption of 3D TV and gaming with a new “all in one bundle” of PS3, 3D TV, 3D glasses and Resistance 3 for under $500 and highlighted  Move titles like Starhawk and Dust 514. Four messages are not clear and it felt like they were trying to out-do their Xbox and Nintendo counterparts but ended up with little consistency to their conference.

The PS Vita was the major talking point and they’ll launch it at a very fair price point - $249 for the basic wifi model and $299 for 3G model. Some of the techno features include a 5-inch OLED touchscreen, 6-axis motion sensor, front and rear touch panels and front and rear cameras for augmented reality games. However, it seems to have been peeping over at the super socially successful Nintendo 3DS because the Vita is launching “Party” and “Near” modes. Party let’s you voice chat with other Vita gamers in the same game room no matter where they are and Near lets you connect and play with other Vita gamers around you. It had some surprise titles including Street Fighter X Tekken and Uncharted: Golden Abyss as well as Little Big Planet and ModNation Racers, all of which will be coming to some hands near you. But the most VitaL and exciting news came from Ken Levine from Irrational Games said they're working on a Vita exclusive Bioshock game. Things to look forward to me thinks.

...and so to Mr Ninty, oh how I’ve been waiting for official words from Messrs Miyamoto and Iwata after all the rumours flying around about “Project Cafe/Wii2/Stream”. They started their conference with news about not one, but four new Zelda titles coming out this year, including Skyward Sword on the Wii, as well as a series of worldwide Zelda symphony concerts and two CDs all celebrating the 25th anniversary of our little Link. Fans happy with multiple Zelda announcements? Tick.

A flurry of big Nintendo first party titles were announced for the 3DS including Super Mario 3DS (looking like a mini Super Mario Galaxy complete with Tanooki suit!), Mario Kart 3DS (the coins are back on track as well as in-air and underwater racetrack sections) and something we didn’t see coming at all, Luigi’s Mansion 2 (the Gamecube classic looks right at home on the 3DS). Alongside these there was a montage, and Nintendo love a montage, of a whole host of third party titles which are mostly coming out this year including: Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D, Ace Combat 3D, Tekken, Tetris, Cave Story 3D, Resident Evil: Revelations, Pac-Man and Galaga Dimensions and Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D. Gamers happy with first and third party quality titles? Tick.

What came next? It was a game changer, a fountain of innovation and a glimpse into the future. It was Wii U. Our man Reggie, President of Nintendo USA introduced the concept of Wii U and it’s incredible new 6 inch touch screen controller through another montage. Through the magical controller you can flip the footage from the TV screen to your controller and carry on playing the game (freeing up the TV to watch Ironside or Russia Today). You can draw on the touch screen and the image appears on the TV. You can put the controller on the floor, see your golf ball and swing at it like it’s really there. You can flick ninja stars from the controller onto the screen and chop down trees. It was an impressive demonstration of what is possible.

The two major flaws which have badgered Nintendo for years have also been answered, online and big third party titles. Darksiders 2, Batman Arkham City, Dirt, Metro Last Light, Ninja Gaiden 3, Ghost Recon with online multi player and Tekken are all coming to Wii U.

It’s slated for a July 2012 release and just when the crowd had died down they dropped in that Super Smash Bros will come to the 3DS and Wii U. Sony and Microsoft wondering what to do next? Tick.

E3 was spectacular, with surprises and revelations which we hadn’t seen coming. Sony faired well with mixed messages, Microsoft flogged their Kinect system to death and Nintendo stole the show with Wii U. I admire the vision and consistency of Nintendo, as a company it strives for innovation and puts the player experience genuinely at the centre. One screen bad, two screens good!

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