2011 is looking to be a banner year for gaming, and, for the most part, this year’s E3 only confirmed that. The press conferences, the highlight of any entertainment expo, were quite strong, with each of the headliners — Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo — catering to their core fan bases by highlighting that which we care about most: the games.
Note that this article, the first in a two-part series, highlights the expo’s three main press conferences. The second part, which will focus on the best (and worst) games of the show, will be posted sometime later this week.
This E3, Sony had to strike a delicate balance: certainly, they had to apologize for PlayStation Network’s recent (and now infamous) security breach, but, simultaneously, they had to deliver in terms of games and hardware. Unfortunately, that attempt at balance resulted in a very bland and rather unexciting conference. Yes, we did get an in-depth look at Sony’s PlayStation Vita (formerly known as the NGP), but even the excitement of that reveal was severely dampened by uninspired demos and developers who seemed to have little interest in their games. While the announcement of competitive pricing and launch titles — like Bioshock — did spark some life into the conference, this reveal was, for the most part, a rehash of the same unveiling we saw earlier this year in Japan, only with a new name and a few more games.
Where Sony did deliver, however, was in its exclusive titles. Both Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception and Resistance 3 look absolutely fantastic, and appear to be sporting the landmark features that each series is known for. That a new Sly Cooper title is also on the way only sweetened things further. All of this reaffirmed that Sony’s flagship console still has plenty of longevity in it, and that, even in the aftermath of the PR disaster that was PSN’s outage, there is still plenty of reason to stick with Sony’s PlayStation and its impressive 2011 lineup.
The barrage of gimmick-heavy (and, in my opinion, utterly pointless) Kinect titles notwithstanding, Microsoft’s showing at E3 this year was, surprisingly, quite strong, and featured a much-appreciated emphasis on exclusive and exciting titles (for the first half, at least). The announcement of a high-definition remake of Halo: Combat Evolved was nice, but what was perhaps even better and more surprising was the exposition of Halo 4, a new title in the series that, once again, features Master Chief starring as the figurehead in a new trilogy. Modern Warfare 3 is… well, just another Call of Duty game, but this time set in New York. It’s flashy, but, really, nothing awfully exciting or new for the series, either. Gears of War 3, on the other hand, looks rather fierce, and, fittingly, is as over-the-top as anything. With compelling gameplay and gorgeous graphics to boot, Gears 3 will, from the looks of it, be as much of a hit with critics and fans as the previous two entries were.
And, nicely enough, Microsoft spent a good deal of time underlining some of the upcoming features for Xbox LIVE, including the exciting announcement of live TV streaming, YouTube support, and a partnership with Ultimate Fighting Championship, which, effectively, will offer users the ability to view live events — at a fee, of course.
But then, unfortunately, Kinect took over and put a damper on the remainder of the conference. Each remaining title, including Fable: The Journey and Kinect: Star Wars, appeared to be little more than on-rails action games. Simultaneously, all appeared to elicit very little interest from the audience, all the while demonstrating the limitations of such an awkward control scheme. While Microsoft may be confident in Kinect’s success, I, frankly, see no appeal in the device; to me, it remains little more than a gimmick, and I don’t see Kinect moving beyond that realization any time soon.
The definitive winner of E3 2011, Nintendo’s press conference could have survived only on shock value alone, but, thankfully, the big N had a heap of exciting first-party titles as well. From Zelda to Mario, Nintendo made certain that each of its consoles had a slew of exciting titles to look forward to in the coming year, including a new Mario Kart for 3DS and, of course, Skyward Sword for the Wii, to be released this holiday. Especially exciting was the announcement of a new Luigi’s Mansion for the 3DS, which, for me at least, is reason enough to purchase the handheld outright. What’s more, however, is that all of these games looked great, regardless of the system. But such is to be expected, really, for unmatched polish is quite par for the course for Nintendo’s in-house developments.
Without a doubt, though, it was Nintendo’s announcement of a brand new console that not only was the headline of their press conference, but, quite possibly, the biggest news of the entire trade show. Though the name, Wii U, is terrible, the concept, if utilized effectively, could be rather compelling. Boasting improved resolution (a massive upgrade to 1080p from the original Wii’s paltry 480p output), the new console is delivering what both core gamers and third-party developers want. However, the Wii U is more than that. Its most striking feature is, unquestionably, its controller, which is either an exercise in innovation or excess; the answer to that will come soon enough. With a 6.2” touchscreen display dominating much of the face of the controller, there is reason to be skeptical here, especially as we’ve yet to see what such an implementation could be beneficial for. But third-party developers seem optimistic, including EA, whose president John Riccitiello claims that the new console’s unique controller will “transform gaming.”
These new features don’t end at screen. Indeed, the Wii U’s controller is also capable of streaming the console’s video output right to the controller. So, if you want, you can play your game on either the TV or the controller itself. Interestingly, for a company who pioneered the gameplay method, motion control seemed to be an afterthought of the Nintendo’s conference. While the Wii U’s controller features an accelerometer and gyroscope, its control scheme also harkens back to traditional input methods, where dual-analog sticks and dual-triggers reign. That, to me (and many other gamers), is good to know.
Thankfully, Nintendo isn’t forgetting about third-party support, and announced an impressive lineup for the Wii U, with series such as Alien, Ninja Gaiden, Ghost Recon, Assassin’s Creed, Darksiders and DiRT all confirmed to be in the works for the new console. While the footage shown for these games was sourced from their PS3 or 360 counterparts, it does appear that the Wii U will appeal to a more hardcore crowd, a characteristic which Nintendo has lacked for a long time now.
Check back later this week for part 2 of this series, which will discuss some of the best — and worst — titles of this year’s E3.