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E3 2013 Reactions

E3
The 8th generation of game consoles has begun, and this was one of the most anticipated E3 conferences in recent memory. Microsoft and Sony put on two pressers yesterday to sell their upcoming new consoles, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and Nintendo released a digital presentation this morning to try to convince the skeptics that the Wii U is a next-gen console. These are my immediate reactions to those three presentations, with an eye towards which games peaked my curiosity and whether or not the companies convinced me that their consoles are truly a leap into a bold new age of gaming.



MICROSOFT

Ryse
So glad this isn't a Kinect-only title anymore
Microsoft, after showing a cool trailer for Metal Gear Solid V, began their talk by assuring Xbox 360 owners that they are still going to support the 360, a caveat that is obligatory whenever a company moves on the the next generation. They announced yet another version of the 360 that is being sold in stores now, and that Xbox Live Gold members will receive two free games a month starting in July, though the only games they revealed were Assassin's Creed II and Halo 3. Then they showed three new games being developed exclusively for the 360, World of Tanks, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, and Dark Souls II, of which only Dark Souls II looked even remotely interesting. Then they moved on to the Xbox One.

They showed several games that looked promising, including Ryse: Son of Rome, Killer Instinct, Quantum Break, and Titanfall. None of them are good enough to sell the console, but they did look fun. However, they also showed a few games that looked woefully disappointing. For example, they showed Dead Rising 3, which looks like all the fun was taken out of the franchise so that it could look as much like Resident Evil 5 as possible. Regular readers should know what I think of Resident Evil 5. They also cryptically teased the new Halo and showed several games that made no real impression on me whatsoever. One game worth spending a little time discussing is, believe it or not, Forza 5. It is by far the prettiest game shown during the presentation, but it also explains Microsoft's cloud-based strategy better than any other. If it does what they advertise, the game will learn your playing style with intricate detail and manage to copy you into a virtual version (a "driveatar") that will play alongside those in your friends list. It's a neat technological trick, but I don't think it's "the end of AI" as they claim.

Where Microsoft ran into trouble is when they actually tried to explain why we should care about the Xbox One. Gamers exhausted by all the gimmicky Kinect and Smartglass talk of years prior were given no reasons to think that Microsoft is finally streamlining and getting back to making a superior gaming machine. Quite the opposite, in fact. They also failed to address major concerns about the console, including whether or not it will support used games, whether or not it will be backwards compatable, and why it needs to be always on and always online. Worse yet, they announced a whopping $499 price point.

Bottom line: With no killer app games, no assurances about the growing controversies over the console, and a ludicrously high retail price, this was not a good showing. While not the most embarrassing Microsoft E3 performance, it is probably their most devastating E3 failure to date. Gamers, including this one, are not going to be kind, so Microsoft has some serious soul searching to do from this point forward.



SONY

Beyond: Two Souls
Here we see Sony standing over the broken body of Microsoft
Sony spent a lot of time talking about all the stuff they're doing with the Vita, which I honestly couldn't care less about, but then they got down to business by showing off a crapload of quality games, including The Last of Us, Beyond: Two Souls, Gran Turismo 6, Infamous Second Son, and The Elder Scrolls Online. They also played impressive live demos for Assassin's Creed IV and Watch Dogs (neither of which is actually an exclusive), which were dwarfed by an even better live demo for Destiny, Bungie's amazing new project that looks far more impressive than Microsoft's Halo tease. In addition, they showed brief trailers for Mad Max, Kingdom Hearts 3, and Final Fantasy XV.

Most of these games were more interesting than anything Microsoft had to offer a few hours earlier, and Sony wasn't afraid to make the comparison. They fired shots directly and boldly at Microsoft when they started talking about the PlayStation 4's features. They talked about streamlining with "a passion for games" as their driving principle, how the PS4 won't require online verification (thus there are no used game problems) or a need to be always on, and--most importantly--the fact that the PS4 will release for $399, a full hundred dollars cheaper than the Xbox One. As a bonus, the PS4, as a gadget, looks damn sexy. Still, no talk of backwards compatibility. They did get into their future cloud-based strategy, indie game support, and the future of PlayStation Plus, but none of that was terribly interesting to me.

Bottom line: I'm a 360 owner who was just sold on the PS4. I don't think I'll be able to afford it anytime soon, but Sony most definitely put the hurt on Microsoft at E3 this year. On one hand, you could say that Sony just puts on a better show--which they do--but on the other, you can't deny that the PS4 looks to be a better deal than the Xbox One in practically every way.



NINTENDO

Mega Man
Hell. Yes.
For starters, Nintendo ran into serious technical issues live-streaming their presentation. A lot of people were kept out by ridiculous lag issues and poor video quality, which is unforgiveable for a conference that is all about technology. Still, I appreciate how Nintendo didn't waste any time talking about the bells and whistles of the Wii U; they went straight into the games and never got distracted.

They started with 3DS games, but as I don't own a 3DS, I wasn't intrigued by anything except the sequel to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, called A Link Between Worlds. However, when they started talking about the Wii U, they showed off a lot of games worth getting excited about. The first party stuff all have a predictable Nintendo kiddie look to them, but I have to admit that Mario Kart 8 and Super Mario 3D World got my attention in a good way. I also thought the Wind Waker remake looked absolutely stunning, but only Zelda fanatics like myself are ever going to care about it. Oddly absent was Pikmin 3, but Nintendo made up for it by showing off Super Smash Bros., with the staggering reveal of Mega Man as the latest playable character to enter the fray.

The thing Nintendo really needs to bring itself out of the Wii era is third party support, and some of the most impressive showings at their E3 presentation were third party games. While the style of The Wonderful 101 is annoyingly saccharine and cheesy, the gameplay looks very cool and innovative; Bayonetta 2 looks as graphically beautiful as most of the games shown for the Xbox One and PS4; X is now officially the game I am looking forward to most; and the cross-platform demo reel--with games like Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Assassin's Creed IV, Watch Dogs, and Batman: Arkham Origins on offer--let me breathe a sigh of relief that many big name game designers aren't ignoring the Wii U.

Bottom line: Nintendo fanboys should be happy, but the company didn't knock it out of the park like Sony did. Given Microsoft's major fumble, however, Nintendo might get a second look from other gamers, and since their presentation was good, that second look should be enough to sell more consoles. I think Nintendo did very well for itself this year, and I for one am psyched for the company's future.



CONCLUSIONS

Sony handily won E3 this year, and I think you'll see almost unanimous agreement on that score, but Nintendo held its own admirably. The big games to watch this week are Watch Dogs, Destiny, and Super Smash Bros., and after that, we'll see if Microsoft can recover from such a harrowing defeat. The PS4 looks primed to take the world by storm, and Nintendo proves once again that, even though it may be the underdog, it's not going anywhere.


-e. magill 6/11/2013










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