Its always difficult to come to a consensus on an E3, but if there is one for this year its that it was a bit flat. The bluster of last years Kinect launch was gone, so Microsoft’s conference was about consolidating on the unexpectedly huge sales success of Kinect while trying to convince fans that there might actually be a good game on the system one day. Sony’s apologetic tone was essential as they tried to atone for a catastrophic few months with the PSN debacle, and although they recovered well, the overall tone of their conference was uneven. Nintendo meanwhile introduced a console that even they didn’t fully understand, hoping that confusion from the press and fans would eventually be overcome with innovative game ideas by the time it’s ready to launch. That beings said, it wasn’t all business as usual. There were some genuine surprises. Here’s my top 5:
5. The Mass Effect 3 demo was really bad
This was the E3 of cinematic spectacle, on-rails sections and turrets. The Mass Effect 3 trailer had all three, while having none of the stuff the series fans wanted to see. Fresh ideas were in short supply, there was no signs of the conversation system or actual roleplaying of any sort, no exciting scenes of space-lothario Shepherd getting funky with aliens and few exciting story events to get excited about. Instead, we saw what looked like any other another cover based shooter. It would have taken so little to win the fans of the series over. Just a few of those classic conversation interrupts (like punching reporters or throwing dudes off buildings) would have appeased the fans. Instead, EA and Bioware seem risk averse as they try and tempt the Modern Warfare crowd with big booms and grizzled soldiers solemnly gunning down insurgent aliens. Considering how much they have riding on this, its surprising how badly wrong they got it. With feedback from press and fans overwhelmingly negative, lets just hope the game proper is more fun than this buzz-killing demo made it seem.
4. The Vita price tag
Crap, they finally got something right! I mean, its a largely irrelevant release as smart phones continue to decimate the handheld gaming market while Sony seem to have learned nothing from the technologically mighty but creatively moribund PSP, but come on! For the tech that’s crammed into the device straight out the box, that’s a really competitive price. Really, this should have made much more of a splash than it did. Games fans massively overreact to expensive hardware and under react when its cheap. We’re all a bit negative like that, so most press and fans made a mildly impressed “mmmMMMM” noise, then quickly forgot about this.
What’s impressive is that the Vita clearly outmatches the 3DS technically while competing in the same price range. Industry observers will point out that this didn’t help the PSP defeat the DS. While true last generation, the same may not be true this time around. The 3DS is receiving ports of N64 games while the Vita is getting PS3-quality releases. That’s 3 hardware generations worth of difference.
Don’t get me wrong, handhelds aren’t ever going to be big like the DS was, not for a long time. Considering that the PSP was successful despite being very poorly treated by Sony, the surprisingly cheap Vita may just carve itself a niche as a viable handheld platform.
3. Deus Ex: Human Revolution looks awful
The chat before E3 was that the developers had played the original Deus Ex repeatedly to try and capture the magic of the original. After their E3 demo, it seemed more like they had made a sequel to the much derided second Deus Ex game instead. Technically rough, disappointingly unambitious and playing little like the original, the game ranks as possibly the biggest disappointment of E3. There’s still time for Square to fix this, but it would now be a bigger shock if Human Revolution was actually any good.
2. Prey 2 looks awesome
And from one underwhelming title that’s disappointed everyone to a game that no one expected much from. With an alien-chasing bounty hunter in an utterly bizarre sci-fi setting, Prey 2 couldn’t be much more different to the original. While some story elements cross over (you play as one of the survivors of the crashed jet from the original), it looks and feels like a completely new game. That the same developer could create a game so different is great, but what’s truly impressive is how much better this sequel seems compared to its progenitor. With some amazing verticality to its levels, strong visuals and great gadgets like grappling hooks and jet boots, Prey 2 is just what you want from E3: a game that comes from nowhere and surprises everyone.
1. Ubisoft’s Mr Caffeine shows E3 can still be terrible
So in my list of E3 Fails I got a lot of heat for leaving this guy out. He’s surprising not just because he’s painfully, horribly bad, but because publishers don’t seem to learn. You would think Ubisoft would hire a proper comedian or presenter, but instead we get something so bad it makes a Konami press conference look good. Publishers make the same mistake year-on-year: they misjudge the audience and say or do something that becomes an internet meme before the event is even over. In the run up to this E3 I thought the amount of money behind major software releases mean that every conference would be professional, slick and convincing. Surprisingly enough, E3 this year managed to be as chaotic, embarrassing and hilarious as ever.
Oh well, at least they spawned a new phrase for when something’s painfully, horribly bad. “This years E3 was really Cal-ancey!”