posted by Thom Holwerda on Tue 7th Jun 2011 20:45 UTC
IconSo, the E3 is well under way, and all the major players have had their press conferences. To summarise. Microsoft: Kinect. Really. Kinect. Please Kinect. We'll do anything. For the love of god, Kinect. Sony: wait, what is this? What am I doing here? Oh, here's a 24" 3D TV for $500 and yet another PSP. Nintendo: we slapped every possible shiny object onto a tablet and made the Wii capable of rendering halfway decent graphics. Here's another load of Mariozelda Kart, and a bunch of EA games that Xbox/PS3 players already own. Yes, this year's E3 has been a massive letdown - save for a few exceptions. Update: Epic fail for Nintendo. The company has admitted that it has used footage from the Xbox 360 and PS3 to spice up the press reel for the Wii U.

I was afraid this year's E3 was going to be a bit of a letdown. Now that everyone's Wii is collecting dust in the closet and Sony and Microsoft jumped onto the me-too!-bandwagon of motion controls, it was inevitable that this year's E3 would focus on those toys. Other than that - cows. Lots and lots of cows.

Cows? Yes, cows. You see, cows re-chew their food. They basically eat stuff, puke in their mouths, chew some more, and then swallow it again. This, together with their complicated digestive tract, makes it possible for cows to digest difficult types of food. Well, this E3, we got to see lots and lots of re-chewing going on. Basically 95% of all content we got to see, game-wise, were either sequels, sequels to sequels, prequels, prequels to prequels, or remakes.


Microsoft: KINECT DAMNIT.

Let's start with Microsoft. As I said, the basic gist of their entire press conference was their motion controller camera Kinect thing, Kinectifying a whole load of games. As was to be expected, EA is all over this thing, and several of its yearly cash-in games (i.e., their sports games) will all be Kinectified. Forza Motorsport 4, a racing game of which there apparently have already been 3, will also be Kinectified. There's also a new Kinect Tom Glancy game coming up, Ghost Recon (don't let the lack of numbers fool you - this is technically Ghost Recon 9, if I'm counting right), and in fact, all future Tom Clancy games will be Kinectified.

So far, a big snore, since none of these games are even remotely interesting. They're the CSI of gaming - it's bad, but I can see how it can be mildly entertaining after a hard day of work where you just want to sit down, shut off your brain, grab a beer, and relax.

But then.

Fable IV: The Journey. A Kinect-only game that only shares the setting - Albion - with its somewhat entertaining predecessors. Instead of an action-RPG-heavy-on-the-action, it's now a rail shooter controlled by Kinect gestures. Or something. But hey, I was already sick of the Fable franchise about ten minutes into Fable III, so I won't really be missing anything here.

No, the big shocker for me was my beloved BioWare. My number one games studio, creator of my best game of this console generation (Dragon Age) and second best game of this generation (Mass Effect). Now that EA has firmly entrenched itself into BioWare, the faeces have hit the fan hard. Mass Effect 2 was already somewhat of a letdown, with its non-existent story (compared to the first one), and dumbed-down, sightly repetitive and incredibly simple combat.

The final drop for me, however, was Dragon Age II - a game I looked forward to more than anything, but it turned out to be a rush-job, with no story (except for the last 30 minutes in order to sell you DA III), billions of repetitive encounters with the same dudes in the same three locations, and several gameplay alterations that favoured button mashing over the careful, tactical, party-based, almost RTS-like approach of the first Dragon Age. On the other hand, Merrill. It was one heck of a boring game.

And now we have come full circle. Or at least, BioWare has. They announced that Mass Effect III, too, will be Kinectified. Instead of selecting your dialog options with the dialog wheel, you can now speak them out loud. Instead of a button to send your squad mates forward, you can now use voice control. Instead of carefully ordering your squad mates to use certain powers on specific enemies, you can now blindly let them use powers on whoever's standing closest. Of course, you'll still be able to use the old ways, but this Kinect nonsense is inevitably cutting into the development time and money of other aspects of the game - which, if ME2 and DA2 are any indication, probably means even less RPG elements, and even more Gears of War.

Speaking of Gears of War, there's a part 3 coming out later this year, and it's basically more of the same. Gears of War is clearly one of those CSI games I mentioned, but I have to admit even I found part two pretty functional, and quite enjoyable with a friend in co-op. Sure, there's no depth or any form of sophistication, but it works, and this time around, I can finally be a girl Gear too. It won't set the world on fire with innovation, but it'll sell like hotcakes. And, it means I'll finally have a shot again at getting my hands on a red controller.

And Minecraft is coming to the Xbox, with Kinect support. I have no idea how that's going to work, but if you were to apply Kinect arm flails to Minecraft's general control scheme, single boys will have been practicing for this a few times a week for years. Also, the original Halo will be re-released, and a new Halo trilogy will be started with Halo IV. Eh.


Sony: OKAY FINE, HERE'S YOUR DAMNED TOUCHSCREEN.

Sony, still reeling from getting hacked every other day, came to E3 with two pieces of new hardware. First is the new PS Vita. The PSP has sold 70 million units, which is pretty decent, but not even close to the DS. Feeling the pressure from casual mobile gaming on iOS and Android, Sony has now added a touchscreen to the PSP, another touchpad on the back, six-axis motion controls, and real thumbsticks. It's got some impressive fire power under the hood - a quad-core processor and a quad-core GPU. With a relatively low price of $249 for the WiFi version, they're on the offensive.

The other piece of hardware is a 24" PlayStation-branded 3D television and goggles. This way, you can spend $500 to wear funny goggles and look at a glorified shoebox diorama but with a PlayStation logo!

Game-wise, it's all about cows at Sony, too. For the Vita, there's more Uncharted titles, Streetfighter vs. Tekken, Wipeout, Modnation Racers, and another LittleBigPlanet. Of course, there will be a Ridge Racer for the Vita too. There is some new IP here: Ruin, a hack-and-slash RPG which uses save games on the internet so you can play the game on both your Vita and PS3, and Dragon's Crown, a side-scrolling platformer little is known about yet.

As for the PS3 - two old PSP God of War games will get the HD and 3D makeover, and be re-released on the PS3 later this year. Sony also mentioned the re-releases of the fantastic Shadow Of The Colossus and ICO, both in HD and 3D (but we already knew about those). The PS3 is getting an exclusive too: Dust 514. While this looks like Call of Duty: Space Warfare, it will sport a persistent, MMO-like world with territory control and a functional economy.


Nintendo: Last year's games, coming to a Nintendo console in 2012

Nintendo is in somewhat of a hard place. The 3DS has seen disappointing sales, and the Wii, too, sees dropping sales. With barely any third party support, an underpowered console, and Apple breathing down their neck on the mobile side, they had to do something. And do something, they did - it's just too bad that what they did sucks.

Nintendo announced a new console, the Wii U. It's an HD version of the Wii, slightly fatter, but far more powerful, capable of putting out some decent graphics, bringing the console on par with the Xbox 360 and PS3. The big thing, however, is the Wii U's controller: a tablet-like device with game controls on the side, and a camera built-in.

This new controller enables some cool tricks, that's for sure. In multiplayer games, you can have individual players having different information on their screens, and different players can play different roles. They also showed other ways for the controller's display and the TV to work together, such as swiping a shuriken from the controller onto the display. You can also continue to play games on the controller's screen when the TV is turned off. Pretty neat.

Game-wise, Nintendo had the biggest herd of cows of the entire show floor. Several Zelda games (both remakes and 'new' ones, for 3DS, Wii, and Wii U), a new Mario Kart (3DS), Luigi's Mansion 2 (3DS), two new Mario platformers (3DS and Wii U), a new Kid Icarus (Wii U), another Mario Party (Wii), and more of these remakes. Third party support for the Wii U basically amounts to Xbox 360 and PS3 games from last year which will be available on the Wii U once it launches next year. Nintendo had zero new IP. Nothing. What a disgrace.

And while they didn't announce it, my extraordinary powers of clairvoyance tell me the Wii U will get a Metroid game or two as well. Don't hold me to this though!


So, was there anything interesting at E3?

Yes, but none of these were actually announced at E3 itself. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim absolutely blew my mind visually, and the gameplay improvements look genuine too - but only time will tell. Saints Row 3 saw some CGI trailers, and, while not a focal point at E3 since it'll be released June 14, Alice: Madness Returns is my number one must-buy this year. Pre-order is ready and waiting. Other interesting titles we got to see more of were Assassin's Creed Revelations and BioShock: Infinite.

We also got some more footage from Dead Island, Deep Silver's zombie apocalypse-themed role playing game which looks a lot like a cross between an Elder Scrolls game, Condemned, and Left 4 Dead. This game has me incredibly excited due to its massive co-op potential and focus on 'realistic' melee combat during a zombie apocalypse.

There was probably a lot more stuff going on, but none of it registered on my personal radar (feel free to use the comments). All in all, this was a massive cowfest, and clearly shows that the industry is pretty much dead in the water. Most of the even remotely innovative stuff is happening in the indie-scene, but those games tend to be short and/or badly broken (Magicka comes to mind).

Maybe next year.

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