E3 2012 - His and Hers Best Bits
Welcome to the Pleasuredome!
The annual pilgrimage to Los Angeles for E3; the world’s biggest videogame show case and cash splash, is over for another year, now SFL brings you all the good things from this year’s gaming line-up.
There was some obvious positioning going on this year: Microsoft is marching ever onwards into the social gaming and entertainment sphere, aiming to turn the Xbox console into an “Entertainment Centre” and Nintendo were unleashing the Wii U with multiple GamePad possibilities and a decent set of launch titles. However, we think Sony absolutely flawed the competition this year with a series of uber innovative software reveals which are almost moving into the realms of interactive cinema and heavily influenced by Sci-Fi goodness.
Micro (sequel) soft
A glut of dreary sports and FPS sequels emerged with Splinter Cell Blacklist, Now That’s What I Call Fifa 13, Madden 13, Gears of War Judgement, Call of Duty Black Ops II and Forza Horizon given lots of screen time. Ultimately all big titles that will bring home the bucks, but do not really stimulate the grey matter or get our SFL heart a pitter-pattering. Halo 4 is looking great with much better lighting and attention to detail. It’s set to have a darker tone than previous titles in the series and the trailer hints at a giant new threat for Master Chief to take on in a brand new story with shiny new armour. The early trials and tribulations of Lara Croft are the subject of the new Tomb Raider game whilst the latest zombie outbreak in Resident Evil 6 sees the return of fan favourite Leon Kennedy – keep your eyes on the SFL games section for full previews coming soon. Non-gaming news brought out Xbox SmartGlass, a service that will connect any smart device (tablets, mobile phones) to an Xbox console and TV. As well as potentially using handheld devices as controllers, SmartGlass will provide extra content, having the ability to bring up lists of characters and their locations on maps whilst watching TV or playing games. Elsewhere, also announced were Xbox Music with over 30 million tracks available (watch your back Spotify – Microsoft are coming to get you) and Nike + Kinect Training with fitness tips and exercise programmes as Microsoft further invest in the Kinect. With the final announcement that Xboxers will be able to access Internet Explorer via the dashboard, there was a sense that this year, it was time to enjoy pre-existing ideas like the dying embers of a roaring bonfire before the crackling round of next generation fireworks light up E3 2013.
Clarity and consistency of information was curiously murky as Nintendo attempted to give the Wii U some fleshy bones. It can support two GamePad controllers (but we didn’t see any examples of that in the presentations) and some happy changes have been made, most importantly, the circle sliders as seen on the 3DS have been replaced with Vita-style analogue sticks which should make for better gaming control. Nintendo also introduced the Wii U Pro Controller (which looks like a traditional control pad) as well as a continuing exploration of online capabilities with the Miiverse; a browser based social interaction section of the homescreen where gamers can chat about games on message boards or text/video friends. Of course, with a huge family market, Miiverse will be heavily moderated but the good news is that it will also eventually be available on the 3DS as Nintendo finally add value to their online community. No prices and no official launch date, it feels we have some way to go before we can feel genuinely excited about the Wii U, though there are plenty of games planned for the launch window. Ubisoft are working on ZombiU – a survival horror Wii U exclusive that looks to make the most of the new touchscreen Wii U GamePad. Set outside the gates of Buckingham Palace, the player is dropped into the heart of a zombie apocalypse. The GamePad enhances play with some nice touches, like when looking through the inventory on the touchscreen, the character on the TV screen is rummaging in their backpack. Weapons can be switched with the quickest of touches or you can point the GamePad at the screen to use it as an environmental x-ray scanner, hunting for ammo in plain boxes. Whether it is truly scary or if it becomes more like a walking collision course down Oxford Street whilst tweeting remains to be seen, but it’s certainly a title to look forward to. We also like the look of Project P-100 (working title from Platinum Games) where superheroes including Bonzai Man, Vending Machine Man and Toilet Bowl Man must join forces to repel an alien attack. Every citizen you rescue gets recruited into your ever growing army of heroes, which can then morph into powerful weapons like a giant fist or a massive pudding in order to crush or defeat the invaders.
Also announced were Mass Effect 3, Darksiders II and Batman Arkham City from third party developers all offering an olive branch to core gaming market as well as plenty of family friendly offerings from inside and outside the Nintendo stable: Rayman Legends, Lego City Undercover (exclusive), Pikmin 3 (yay, finally!), Super Mario Bros. U, Just Dance 4 and Wii Fit U. Finally, NintendoLand (which sadly isn’t a new Japanese theme park) was also demonstrated. A compilation of a dozen mini games from some famous Nintendo faces including The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest, Donkey Kong Crash Course, Animal Crossing and Luigi’s Ghost Mansion all showcasing the multiple gameplay possibilities of the Wii U. Could these miniature, bite sized addictive gaming experiences be new the Wii Sports, hooking the wide Wii demographic by celebrating key Nintendo characters? Nintendo certainly have a knack for creating special products, interfaces and experiences, specifically for the family audience but tend to lack that slick PR communication that modern audiences have become familiar with. If they want to really conquer Christmas with the Wii U, they have to be glass bauble clear and make sure the launch line up is strong, exciting and ready to ship.
With The Last of Us, (developed by Naughty Dog of Uncharted fame on the PS3) already causing a buzz in the run up to E3 with gamers gagging for more footage and details about the wide-linear, post-fungus epidemic, apocalyptic spectacular, surely there couldn’t be more super interesting things heading to the PS3? With no new hardware announcements, Sony went all guns blazing with a hot line up of titles. Not only did they launch Beyond: Two Souls, from Quantic Dream (developer of critically acclaimed Heavy Rain) starring Ellen Page in the lead role with a mature supernatural driven narrative, as well as delivering more info on Dead Space 3 and Dust 514, Sony also sprang two PS Vita exclusives - Assassin’s Creed 3 Liberation (starring the first ever female lead) and Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassfied. There was hugely innovative PSN exclusive indie titles like The Unfinished Swan (developed by Giant Sparrow) where an entirely white world is brought to life and explored by throwing black paint balls to reveal the geometry of the spaces in front of you. Following swans footprints across 4 chapters with different art styles, this looks to be a totally unique gaming experience and will be compatible with and without PS Move. Also coming to PSN, we like the look of Papo & Yo (developed by Montreal based studio Minority), a fantasy adventure title that takes inspiration from creator Vander Caballero’s fear and pain of growing up with an alcoholic father. Caballero looks to the magical realism of authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who took normal, everyday situations and added a layer of unremarked fantasy as a way to "take control of the world and the situation that is so difficult." The young protagonist Quico can manipulate favelas in amazing ways: picking up and moving a small box will re-position an entire house for instance, building a bridge across a gap with Inception aesthetic results. Talking of literature, Sony have also announced they have teamed up with JK Rowling for a new augmented reality Wonderbook which ties in the PS Eye’s digital camera. After all the hullabaloo of 3D last year from Sony, there wasn’t a peep about it this year but it was great to see a focus on high quality games and a lot of them exclusive to Sony. In our opinion, they boshed Microsoft and Nintendo out of the convention centre.
Ian’s Game of the Event
…and so to something which came from nowhere. Everybody loves a surprise, especially a new IP surprise. Watch_Dogs (developed by Ubisoft who played a blinder across the whole of E3) introduces us to vigilante Aiden Pierce, a hacker who chooses to invade his victim’s privacy, hack their phones, learn their dirty little secrets and blackmail them to hell and back. A naturally paced, open-world hacker’s delight where players must negotiate the city, scanning AI. Wielding technological control of everything from traffic lights to cause pile ups or jamming mobile phones to stop incoming transmissions are key gameplay elements. You can also hack your friend’s games to pick up tips or compete for information. In Watch_Dogs, the player is able to visualise data and how it connects between AI, exploring pertinent modern issues like data privacy then combining this with tense and stealthy action. Totally intriguing and one of the games I want to see much, much more of. The biggest question is will it be released on this generation of consoles or a spectacular launch of the future…
Tracey’s Game of the Event
Metro Last Light and Watch_Dogs both look superb and present unique sci-fi visions of the future but The Last Of Us by Naughty Dog really gives me goosebumps of excitement. Inspired by the host-tissue attacking Cordyceps fungus, featured on the BBC documentary series Planet Earth, Naughty Dog have extended the modern plague concept on a world wide scale. 20 years after an outbreak, The Last of Us stars Joel, a black market dealer and 14 year old Ellie who not only have to survive attacks from those infected with the growth-inducing, brain invading fungus but are on the run from the military after they escape a strict Boston quarantine zone in an attempt to rescue a dying friend. Masters of cinematic-esque, interactive experiences, with Naughty Dog at the helm, a strong, tense, emotional storyline with stunning visuals is to be expected with nature slowly reclaiming the USA as Joel and Ellie kill and scavenge their way across the country.
By Ian Abbott and Tracey McGarrigan