Wednesday, 11 June 2014

E3 2014 Impressions

Another year, another E3. Being as the PS4 and XBox One are now out in the wild, this year was never going to be as exciting as the last, but I for one was pretty interested to see how Sony and Microsoft would follow up the blowout that was E3 2013. For most people, this year was probably about Nintendo. The Wii U has been struggling for almost 2 years now, and is only now beginning to pickup steam. Mario Kart 8 is a big success, Smash Bros 4 is rapidly building excitement, and there were a lot of big Nintendo franchises people were hoping to see this year. Ubisoft and EA were there too, as they always are. For some reason. I saw it all, and even took notes this year, so here are my thoughts on E3 2014.


Unfortunately for Microsoft, it seems like they are still battling the perception that there is nothing to play on the XBox One, and thus no reason to buy one. I think this is expected so early in a consoles life, now that multiplatform releases are so prevalent, but Microsoft seems to be struggling with it a bit more than their competitors thanks in part to their focus on non-games during the consoles reveal. Microsoft put on a pretty good conference though. They focused on the games, showing a good 20 or so titles, including some interesting exclusives. Sunset Overdrive still looks like a wonderful collection of color and smarm, Platinum Games' Scalebound is sure to be a hit (because they are Platinum Games and they cannot fail) and Ori the Blind Forest is intriguing to me. I'm sure the Halo Collection and Halo 5 were very exciting to people, too.

My biggest complaint though, is that I don't think Microsoft really managed to break their image of generic games for college guys. Not a lot of what I saw in this 90 minute presentation deviated from "shoot and race and stab people with up to 4 players!". I'm also becoming rapidly more annoyed by phrases like "available first on system x!" or "exclusive console release on system y!". I don't really want to watch a trailer of a game that is going to be included in another conference, I don't want to watch cinematic trailers, and I don't want to watch fake gameplay footage wherein some shmuck walks on stage and pretends they are actually playing the game. Microsoft definitely isn't the only one doing these things, but somehow it annoys me more when they do it. I suppose perhaps I am just biased against Microsoft, but there you have it.


I seriously doubt that anyone went into EA's conference with very high expectations. They aren't a very well liked company on the whole, and being known as the sports/sims guys who buy other companies doesn't really help. I will say however that their conference started out very strongly. Showing Star Wars Battlefront before saying a word was certainly heartening. I'm not usually a fan of musical presentations at E3, but following Star Wars up with a lady with a Cello playing to the Dragon Age Inquisition footage was pretty awesome, too. In fact all of the Dragon Age footage was pretty awesome to see, and I'm sure a lot of people are very hyped about it. Unfortunately after Dragon Age EA's conference changed from a decent show, to what was in my opinion, the worst this year.

But then EA started saying words, and it was all over. They managed to talk about a lot of games without actually saying much of anything about them, and they said a lot about their annual franchises which, let's be honest, there really isn't much to say. Bioware announced that they are working on a new Mass Effect and an unannounced game, Dawngate was confirmed to exist, and there was a lot of talk about sports, which I've always assumed the demographic for E3 really does not care about. I think my favorite was GOLF WITHOUT LIMITS on the Frostbyte engine, with no loading between holes! Mirror's Edge 2 was officially unveiled but again, we didn't get much out of it except that it is in fact Mirror's Edge 2. That said, it's good to see, as Mirror's Edge is a well loved game with a very unique and refreshing aesthetic and concept. Then we got a good look at Battlefield Hardline, which looks a lot like it did last year when it was Battlefield 4.


Following in EA's footsteps came Ubisoft. Historically their conferences have been about little more than Assassin's Creed + awkward live performance + something, and has hinged on being quirky and French as well as the divisive Aisha Tyler as host. This year had seemingly more games than others, but still delivered on it's MO. Probably the thing that has stood out to me the most about Ubisoft at E3 this year as well as last, was the immaturity of their conference. E3 is the biggest platform video games have, and I think it reflects poorly on us when the face you choose to show to the media and investors is Aisha Tyler saying things like "It's hella fuckin smokey as shit, apparently it's 420 in this bitch". I held the same opinion last year when we opened with a trailer containing nudity. I'm definitely not trying to say these things aren't ok to have in games, but trying way too hard to be edgy isn't exactly the best way to legitimize our favorite pastime.

Anyways, rant aside, Ubisoft's conference was at least a bit better than EA's but not by much. Far Cry 4 had no gameplay, but there was a very engrossing intro cinematic that I liked a lot. Conversely, Assassin's Creed Unity had both cinematic and gameplay, but a worse showing than in the Microsoft conference. Just Dance is yet another annual franchise, The Crew has yet to give me a reason to care about it and Shape Up seems like a mediocre exercise game, despite seeming better than what's already out there. The Division and Valiant Hearts win the award for most depressing trailers ever, which made me lose interest in the game and conference both. Ubisoft closed with Rainbow Six: Siege, which seemed like a decent enough game, but was so staged it's really hard to judge. I find it amusing that Ubisoft is also catching a lot of flak this E3 because of their use of a female hostage in the Rainbow Six demo, and the lack of playable females in Assassin's Creed. Oh Ubisoft. Maybe one day you will learn how to present yourself.


Ahh Sony. The defending champion. They wrecked Microsoft last year with their cheaper, more powerful console and less restrictive feature list. This year the race is much closer, and Sony's conference much more complacent. There were a lot of subtle little jabs at Microsoft that came across as a bit distasteful to me, like throwing a punch after the bell has rung. Sony's conference was also really poorly paced, opening quite strongly, and then transitioning into boring PSN features and weird pieces of hardware. These new things may well be things people care about, but we aren't going to know until they are released, and as cool as YouTube is, it's not a great way to build E3 hype. The show ended with should be some pretty exciting games, but after the boring middle, there was no hype left.

On the whole Sony showcased a more colorful selection of games, thanks to the likes of Entwined, Abzu and No Man's Sky. It had it's own share of exclusives too, with the likes of The Order 1866, Bloodborne and Uncharted 4, though none of their presence were very surprising. Unfortunately they were also stricken with PS4 ports of PS3 games (Grand Theft Auto V and the Last of Us), a trend that I find somewhat annoying. I also really enjoyed the tongue in cheek introductions that Magicka 2 and Grim Fandango got. I think a lot of people were hoping for some kind of showstopper from Sony, as well as some Kingdom Hearts of Final Fantasy. Unfortunately we didn't really get any of those. I think the closest we got to a showstopper was No Man's Sky, which is a game we saw at VGX and, despite being really pretty, struck me as kind of ephemeral.


Finally, we have Nintendo. They have always kind of done their own thing both in and out of E3. As I said at the beginning, there were a lot of eyes on Nintendo this year, especially after the previous 4 conferences all ranged from mediocre to straight up awful. I don't think Nintendo knocked it out of the park. I think a lot of people are still waiting for a lot of things from Nintendo. But I think they did well enough. They wasted a lot of time trying to convey just how much love and care goes into creating the games they showed. It is a sentiment that is important, but one that I think they conveyed without the diatribes, and one that doesn't really engage the viewer. What I will say is that this year Nintendo really made great use of the digital medium through which they were presenting, with Robot Chicken sketches and CG Reggie/Iwata.

As expected, games like Hyrule Warriors and what little there was to say about Wii U Zelda generated a lot of hype. Smash Bros was surprisingly excited to see, despite there already being large amounts of information about it out there. I'm a really big fan of what Nintendo is doing to stylize their graphics in games like Yoshi's Wooly World and Kirby and the Rainbow Curse. Even if it's done to mask the Wii U's inferior graphics capabilities, it makes for a really cool aesthetic. Xenoblade Chronicles X is a game that I was really excited for going into this E3 (and still am) but the footage they showed during the presentation I found to be ugly and uninteresting. The clear surprise act here was Splatoon, though. A third person arena shooter wherin you control a squid trying to cover the arena in more ink than your opponent. It's a surprisingly clever and elegant game, I'm a little dubious as to how well it will actually sell though. The whole Nintendo aftershow kind of killed the hype for Splatoon though. In fact the multiple day long after show is pretty lame on the whole to me, but to each their own I suppose.

In Summary

So who won? What are the standouts? After the first day, this was Nintendo's E3 to lose. They definitely pulled it off in my mind. I didn't see as much as I wanted to from them, but their conference got me excited in a way that none of the others did. This E3 made me feel like soon my purchase of a Wii U will be justified, and there are at least 3 games that I definitely want to own ASAP, which is 30% of the games in Nintendo's presentation. Also Nintendo's Smash Bros Invitational is probably the most hyped I've ever been about E3, but that wasn't a conference so it doesn't count, ok? I think Microsoft had the second best presentation, but I find I am more interested in the games that Sony had to show. I didn't see any "must have"s out of either of them, but about 3-5 "would play"s out of each. On the whole I would say this E3 was pretty mediocre. But then every E3 seems to end up more mediocre than I hope. I would say that this year was slightly ahead of the average. I saw some cool games, I saw some cool presentation ideas, and I didn't see too much that actively offended me.

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