That’s that, then. Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft fired their best shots at E3 in Los Angeles last week, and we sat through every minute of every presentation. Some of it was awesome. Some of it was baffling. All of it was gradable out of ten and putable into a meaningless list.
Who won? Who cares? Hit the link, sucker.
The idea of Nintendo “winning” E3 in recent years has been something of a joke. While Reggie and the rest of the firm’s top team struggled painfully to balance the needs of an exasperated core at E3 with an obvious intention of “making a massive money hat,” Wii and DS have ploughed on to record success despite some frankly awful LA showcases in 2008 and 2009. No one can take away the quality we saw this year, though.
It was a banner showing for the company’s entire portfolio. E3 hardware launches are always the stuff of history, and it’s hard to remember one more stunning than 3DS. To be fair, the actual conference unveiling was fairly muted: as admitted to us in an interview after the fact, showing the 3D aspects of the machine was an impossible ask on the Nokia Theater’s stage, hence the army of stiletoed women in the crowd with units at the end of the presentation. The legacy of the reveal, though, is already shocking. Ask anyone that’s watched the handheld’s screen in action. 3DS was the story of the entire show. When asked the obligatory, “What have you seen that’s good?” through the following days, it was surprising to hear anything other than a breathless “3DS” as the first call.
It wasn’t Nintendo’s only conference trump, though. Wii enjoyed a similar rebirth to DS, showing a stream of software that apparently showed a lesson learned. There is such a thing as “too casual”.
Nintendo announced the Skyward Sword subtitle for the next Zelda and delayed the game into 2011 straight off the bat. Ironically, this was the weakest showing of the whole conference, and that’s saying something. Miyamoto complained of “wireless” problems and couldn’t get things moving properly, but the game looks pretty much like Zelda with a focus on MotionPlus combat. You’re unlikely to be swayed unless you’re already a fan.
From there, though, Wii started to look more interesting than it has in years. Both the new Donkey Kong and Kirby games showed smart reinvention, and pleased the crowd hugely. GoldenEye was announced, and features OddJob. You can’t say fairer than that. Epic Mickey got a big showing, and while Disney must be petrified at the thought of non-existent third-party Wii sales – which Nintendo, obviously, make a large point of denying early on in the conference – you’ll probably be buying it if you’re invested in the system. When Reggie added up Wii’s incoming software at the end of the show, it was hard to not be impressed.
3DS stole it, though. Nintendo showed a ton of footage of the Kid Icarus reboot, which looked for all the world like a Wii game. Snake Eater on 3DS was serious business, as was confirmation of a brand new Resident Evil title. Third-party backing for the machine looked immense, and even showing a stupid video of Miyamoto shaking a plastic dog hand through a screen right at the end couldn’t spoil an excellent showing.
There was no Cammie, no prancing around to a bloody orchestra and no virtual dog catching a pretend Frisbee. Nintendo aced E3 with proper videogames, stunning hardware and an oil-slick pitch. Winner.
Kinect’s E3 reveal has was nothing if not a, “Were you there?” moment. Held the day before the main 360 conference, the event, created by Microsoft and Cirque de Soleil, began with forcing attendees to step into a family’s living room wearing a white poncho. What followed, when combined with jetlag, was basically ridiculous. You all saw it. Natal’s final name, which leaked just before the show, was the big piece of information, with a long software showing bearing no titles, date or anything else. We saw a string of very casual games, some Star Wars, some final hardware shots and got harassed for sending back info on iPhones and Blackberries. For the record, Cliffy B nearly got thrown out for tweeting. While the “Natal Experience” was spectacular nonsense, attendance was unforgettable.
With the dust settling on Natal’s rebranding, Microsoft started its main 360 conference the following day with a bang. There are bad ways to open a console’s near-future intent; announcing a three-year Call of Duty content exclusivity partnership isn’t one of them. From there on in the headlines just wrote themselves. MGS: Rising looked amazing, shown for the first time. Fable III got a surprisingly quick slot and a date, before Molyneux just vanished. Halo: Reach, however, got a campaign airing and confirmation of Firefight and space combat. You’re not going to see many “shooters” surpassing Reach this generation, if promises are upheld. Gears 3 was just stunning, with Epic now unshakable in its content and tech this hardware round.
The presser’s Kinect portion wasn’t as convincing, but it wasn’t without its merits. The standout software shown was Harmonix’s Dance Central and, weirdly, Ubisoft’s YourShape fitness title. The dance game is perfect for the system’s opening wave, containing all the tap points that made Guitar Hero so successful. Everyone’s danced in a mirror, right? The music was great, the multiplay looked awesome and the whole concept can easily cope with a bit of lag. Excellent stuff.
YourShape impressed for one moment. The lady demoing took off her sweater and the camera mapped the cloth in real-time. We saw the future. The camera saw the cloth. It was a new thing, right there. The game itself looked far more interesting than you might think, containing trippy yoga bits and fascinating full-body mapping.
The Rare content was what you expected it would be. The sports stuff looked like Wii Sports Plus Plus, in a nutshell. There’s nothing wrong with that, and the system needs it, but we’ve seen the concept before and there was no shellshock as a result.
Forza Kinect was shown, but this appeared to focus more on looking at cars rather than driving them, although that was part of the announcement. There was a lengthy showing of Kinect dashboard control, and it was pretty much amazing, even if you do have to say “Xbox” before every command. An ESPN deal was announced in a “comedy fashion” that wasn’t funny. You can’t have everything.
Mattrick announced the 360 Slim at the end, giving a unit to everyone in the crowd. Built-in wifi at the same price as a current model is a significant upgrade, and the casing’s a yummy black. It’s a real shame this leaked the previous day as it took the edge off it, but there was no denying this was a move in the right direction for a machine now five years old and counting.
Lots of boxes and lots of ticks. Mattrick, yet again, had the best exec hair at E3. Some of the casual stuff was too flaky and there was no Kinect price or date, but this was still epic shit. Good kill.
Pro tip, Sony: shut up. The Sony conference was too long, with Peter Dille and Jack Tretton saying “precision” in relation to Move more than 100,000 times. We get it, already. After seeing Nintendo and Microsoft, Sony’s presentation style just looked dated. While Nintendo was traditional in its approach, its presser was concise and never dull. Microsoft did the right thing by breaking the back of its Kinect reveal in a second event, meaning the main conference rarely lacked pace. Sony, however, tried to cram in too much with too much marketing speak, leaving too many eyes rolling in the crowd.
It was dull for the wrong reasons. PS3 really is coming into its own now, and Sony has so much to talk about and so many exciting incoming products that the run-in to E3 has been dominated by large first-party PS3 titles and the ever-present Move. Killzone 3, LittleBigPlanet 2, InFamous 2 and MotorStorm 3 were all unveiled before the show and rightfully grabbed a large amount of attention. 3D Killzone 3 gameplay footage opened the core offering and looked amazing. That will be a very awesome videogame. There was some more big core showings, with EA announcing exclusive PS3 content for Dead Space 2 and Medal of Honor, both of which were smart signings on Sony’s part. The machine will also get exclusivity on Assassin’s Creed 2: BrotherHood and Mafia II content. All good.
That Portal 2 was coming to PS3 was a real shock, especially as Valve’s Gabe Newell himself walked out on stage to tell the crowd the Sony version will be the best one to buy. Gabe didn’t look very happy about any of it, to be honest. A bit like a dog with a broken leg begging for food. It wasn’t pretty. The game, however, really was. If there really are advantages to owning the PS3 version this is a major Sony coup; don’t be too shocked if a slew of sites name it game of the show.
Gran Turismo 5′s section was disappointing. There was no Kazunori. There wasn’t even any gameplay. There was, however, a date, and we can be thankful for that. Yet another trailer looked amazing, but surely this should have been a proper reveal? It’s one of Sony’s most important games for the entire generation: why aren’t we seeing it as a focus?
The rest of it simply could have been better. The Move stuff was a bit eyebrow-raising. Sorcery was Harry Potter without the Harry Potter. You use the controller like a wand. The EA Tiger Woods demonstration was a golf game. You use the controller as a club. Hilariously, the first swing the guy took with it wasn’t even registered by the camera, which was fairly ironic given all the talk of “precision”. There’s a ton of Move software we didn’t see that’s charming, innovative and even radical, but there was no sign. It was an opportunity missed.
There was a price, though, and that’s a good thing. The $50 for the solus stick got a cheer. The $30 for the other bit got an, “Um.” The bundle prices didn’t get that much of a reaction at all, which is probably why Microsoft didn’t announce the Kinect price. “Kinect is expensive” maybe wasn’t the E3 headline the MS exec team was hoping for.
The Kevin Butler bit was funny. More of that.
Then there was 3D. The team did a good job of talking it up, but it no matter how you look at it you still need a TV upgrade. Thankfully, though, the rewards are there is you do decide to take the plunge. There’s a lot of 3D software coming in the near future, including GT5, MotorStorm, Killzone 3 and more. If you’re going to do it, it’ll be because of PS3.
The PlayStation Plus announcement was just weird. For such an important proposal, Tretton made remarkably little song and dance. There wasn’t even a bulletpoint list of subs features on the screen. If it was easy to forget what you got for your $50 a year when you’re sitting in the E3 press conference audience, how is the consumer supposed to get it? Very odd.
Jaffe and Twisted Metal were wheeled out towards the end, with the “shock” of the announcement more impressive than the game itself. Maybe it’s an American thing.
There were some deafening silences. There was no Ico bundle or PSP2. There was no Last Guardian or Resistance 3. There was no Agent. There was a bit on Home that got Tretton literally laughed at. Why was he talking about the fact Sony had created a virtual representation of its E3 booth on PSN? No one in the audience seemed to know.
Focus on the good stuff next time, Sony. There’s plenty of it. Why include a massive Sorcery demo then gloss over GT5? We’ll never know. And please, in the name of God, keep it shorter. You might want to watch your competitors for pointers on that score.