It's early June and we're in Los Angeles, and that can only mean one thing: it's time to get our game on at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. The show is now in full force, the floor having opened up yesterday at noon Pacific Daylight Time. But even though the convention just kicked off, much of the big news is already out of the way. Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo have each had their time to shine with pre-show press conferences. So, how did the big console makers perform? Is this an E3 for the record books or just a year of lackluster demos? Our editors sound off after the break.
It's hard to get past the painfully long demo of the Wonderbook, something that should have been a footnote.
I hate picking "winners" at these things because E3 isn't quite so simple -- he who has the flashiest presentation today may not have a console that's in the best position six months from now. He who has the most success during the holidays is, of course, the true winner. But still, it's hard not to compare each of the big three pre-show events and think about which was most impressive. Sadly, Sony was the least. Its event ended with a thrilling demonstration of The Last of Us, and Beyond (from Heavy Rain developer Quantic Dream) was visually stunning. But, it's hard to get past the painfully long demo of the Wonderbook, something that should have been a footnote.
Nintendo was only slightly more engaging. What should have been a thrilling demonstration of high-quality launch titles instead degraded into a tedious slog through NintendoLand mini-games. Such tiny titles may be fun to play, but none are fun to watch. It was Microsoft, then, who impressed the most, but even that presentation lagged at times. Still, the demos of SmartGlass look like they could establish cross-device gaming in a new way. The only question, then, is what the developers will do with it. I'm optimistic they'll make some magic.
I can't say for sure that any of the big three "won" or "lost." That said, I can say that this year's E3 excited me like none in the past ever have, and it's largely because the directions of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo have changed significantly compared to just a decade ago. Granted, Sony tried to pivot towards home entertainment by shoving a Blu-ray player into the PlayStation 3, but it was clearly a console delivered ahead of its time. Now, however, the world has caught up, and there's no better proof than Microsoft's keynote.
I've never seen so much genuine life squeezed out of a seven-year-old console.
I've never seen so much genuine life squeezed out of a seven-year-old console. The Xbox 360 is perhaps even more compelling today than it was back when I was minor. How is that possible? While Sony and Nintendo have both impressed me -- Sony with its fantabulous title roadmap and Nintendo's plans to finally embrace high-definition televisions -- Microsoft has done the most to move the home console forward. The ecosystem plays with Xbox Music, SmartGlass and Windows 8 cannot be understated, and Xbox gamers who may have found it easy to brush off Windows Phone and Win8 just months ago are likely rethinking their loyalties.
Now, if only that 24/7 WatchESPN offering on the 360 were available as a standalone monthly purchase, separate from a pay-TV subscription, I'd be happy to hand out a gold medal.
All eyes on Nintendo. That was theme of the show's first two days. After all, the Mario-maker was the only member of the big three expected to roll out any major hardware, with new consoles by Sony and Microsoft still a ways down the road. And, as expected, the latter two didn't pull out any big tricks this year. Microsoft's SmartGlass certainly shows a good deal of promise, and Sony's WonderBook is interesting (even if the demo wasn't).
For a company with too much to say for a single keynote, Nintendo ended up not saying a heck of a lot
After promising a blanket of coverage, Nintendo didn't really give us a lot at its pre-show event. We got a broad "holiday" date for the Wii U's release and no pricing. The new console's hardware was glossed over, and no trailers particularly managed to "wow" the crowd. Nintendo spent even less time showing off the 3DS, announcing yet another press conference to discuss its titles. For a company with too much to say for a single keynote, Nintendo ended up not saying a heck of a lot -- a turn of events that doesn't bode well for the company's future.
If we learned one thing from this year's E3, it's that one big screen in the living room may no longer cut it
If we learned one thing from this year's E3, it's that one big screen in the living room may no longer cut it -- or so the big three game companies hope. Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo each showed off their own spin on the "second-screen experience," offering three decidedly different takes on the same basic concept. Nintendo is, of course, opting for the all-in-one approach with its Wii U console: the controller is the second screen. Sony is going in-house, but not all-in-one, relying on its PlayStation Vita handheld as a second screen. And Microsoft has chosen to go the bring-your-own-device route with its SmartGlass technology, which lets you use any smartphone or tablet as the second screen.
Each option has its advantages and challenges, but Sony's certainly seems to face the toughest road to widespread adoption -- and, indeed, it is placing the least emphasis on it of the three. Nintendo is arguably making the biggest bet, and it's also the hardest to judge at the moment, with its success largely dependent on things still unknown -- namely, price and some truly must-have games and applications. That leaves Microsoft, which has already turned the Xbox 360 into a full-fledged media device, and now seems set to make it an even more connected one. Its less-integrated approach may reduce the number of unique gaming experiences, but it's rolling it out to a large base of existing Xbox 360 users, many of whom already have a smartphone or tablet. That's an advantage that's tough to ignore, and gaming may prove to only be a secondary consideration for SmartGlass if it's also able to make the Xbox 360 even more of a hub for other activities than it already is.
Who "won" E3? Well, I can tell you for sure it wasn't the anti-violent video game advocates. In fact, it's hard to remember a more stomach-turning set of teasers, trailers and tech demos. Logically, the Wii U's innovative controller should have stolen the show at Nintendo's keynote, but NintendoLand was simply overshadowed by the darkness of Batman Arkham City and the gore of Ninja Gaiden 3. Trying to keep track of the number of zombies, aliens, terrorists and just plain fellow human beings who were blown up, shot or shanked in the neck (and whoa, was there a lot of neck stabbing) was an exercise in futility. Even Quantic, the makers of Heavy Rain (a landmark, plot-driven title) crammed an unseemly amount of explosions and crashes into the Beyond: Two Souls trailer, which started with a perfectly pleasant police interrogation of Juno.
The Last of Us, like its protagonist Joel, kills not for joy, but for survival.
Without much new hardware to speak of, perhaps that's was what this E3 was all about -- breaking through our thick layer of desensitization and making violence shocking again. If that's the case, then the winner is clear: The Last of Us. While some games (Halo, Splinter Cell, Far Cry) seem to relish in a bit of the ol' ultra-violence, The Last of Us goes there because it has to if it wants to collect your gaming coin. It, like the protagonist Joel, kills not for joy, but for survival. And it makes sure you know just how tough of a decision that is. When you choke out an enemy the camera spins around and zooms in on the face of your victim, who claws and thrashes as you squeeze the last bit of life from his body. From there things only get more intense. When he runs out of ammo, Joel charges at another (presumably) bad guy, slamming him into a wall, crushing his windpipe with his forearm -- producing a crunch that made us glad we hadn't eaten recently. A little later in the trailer, another man is burned alive with a molotov cocktail and yet another has his head literally blown off in gruesome detail by a pointblank shotgun blast, while he begs for his life.
The problem for me is not so much the violence, but the lack of context. I'm sure that at least some of these games have perfectly legitimate (or at least logical) reasons for the extreme levels of savagery, but I'm not seeing that in the trailers. Instead every game simply looks like a mindless blood bath, and the winner is whoever most successfully taps into our destructive urges and proclivity towards bloodlust. So, with that in mind, I'd like to crown Nintendo the "winner" of this year's E3. The continued focus on fitness is, if nothing else, admirable and the company produced the only vaguely interesting-looking title that doesn't involve putting a knife through someone's throat: Pikmin.
My PS3 shuffles toward its
eBay listing final resting place and my Wii remains a long-distant memory. So, I excitedly waited for what Sony could offer its main console in its twilight years and how Nintendo's next adventure into family's lounges was going to look like. Unfortunately, Microsoft stole the carpet from underneath both. While Sony wheeled out plenty of big-budget (and aggressive) new titles -- ones that seemed to please the crowd of assembled fans and journalists -- I grimaced. The idea of some magic-wielding silliness piqued my interest, but I'm never going to stump up the cash. (Perhaps more honestly, I'm just glad that Sony's trying to eke something more from its underwhelming motion-sensing armory.) Despite a pre-pre-E3 warm-up, Nintendo didn't truly announce all that much about its next big thing. No date beyond holidays and no pricing --which could prove important given all the components the company's trying to shift with the Wii U. Instead, we had presentations waxing lyrical about social engagement and mini games that made me snore. Why not show off more of that hulking new controller and any features already baked into the hardware? The biggest tell that Nintendo wasn't winning anyone over? A stoic crowd. Of games journalists. At the biggest global games event of the year. That should make some Nintendo execs a little hot under the collar.
The biggest tell that Nintendo wasn't winning anyone over? A stoic crowd. Of games journalists. At the biggest global games event of the year.
Despite the appearance of South Park creators and Usher on stage, Microsoft still came up with the most cohesive collection of reasons to get an Xbox -- in its seventh year. Canny subscription model or not, SmartGlass chooses to be platform-friendly, sharing its AirPlay-esque wealth across platforms -- whether iOS, Android or Windows Phone. Even at this early stage, it's an intelligent move for Microsoft to gear it toward all users. The tie-in with Nike+ is inspired -- working with a sports company that seems to get technology, although the idea of a phone-based reminder sounds both useful and infuriating. On a final (pretty selfish note), where are the price-cuts? If Nintendo shaves a few notes off that 3DS, you might get it added to the rest of my portable family. Likewise, the PS Vita remains a pricey curio that isn't grabbing all that many gamers -- something that's unlikely to change any time soon.