james debate
james debate

Friday, 18 July 2008

Well, another year has passed, and with it has come and gone another big E3 show in Los Angeles. For those of you who don't know, E3 (the electronic entertainment expo) was known as THE big event for videogames companies, with thousands of journalists and videogame fans convening in one location, presenting an opportunity for the big companies to hold press conferences and have a gigantic warehouse full of various gaming machines and displays, with each company renting up a small amount of space, and filling that space with as much glitz, games and girls in bikinis as they could manage. Sadly this is all in the past as the powers that be decided that this was too expensive and much bigger than the biggest companies could bother with (nintendo, microsoft and sony all hold their own events now, so why bother with this?), and now E3 is merely a shadow of its former self, invite only, much smaller, less girls, less games and less excitement.

As you can see they had a lot to prove this year. Could they prove wrong the doubters and throw an exciting and kick ass show? Here I will detail all the major developments at the show and evaluate, beginning with a summary of each of the main videogame console's showings this year.

Nintendo is famous for being the kings of E3. As a company that values pure fun and childlike joy with all its games, it should not surprise that they should put on a similarly wonderful showing at a major event such as this. In past years they have shown us the DS, the wii, big releases like Zelda and Mario, all here for the first time, all blowing away the competition.

This year was a bit low key by comparison, but that is not to say that there were not a number of awesome things on show here.

The most surprising announcement was that of a new installment of the Grand Theft Auto franchise coming to the handheld DS console soon. So far all that is known about this game is that it is called Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, and that it features online connectivity of some form. This comes as a big shock as one of the most controversially violent and abhorrent games series in the world comes to a console from a company renowned for shying away from such things and aiming towards 'fun for all the family'. On top of this a head honcho at Rockstar, the dev team behind GTA recently remarked that the Wii was not powerful enough for a GTA game, which makes you wonder what they could possibly do with the DS then.

In other news Nintendo showed off Wii Sports 2, now featuring a wave race style jet ski game, frisbee catch, and an awesome sword fighting game, all utilizing a new add on for the wii remote called motion plus that increases sensitivity and accuracy. This is all awesome, but let's face it wii sports is essentially a fun tech demo. It will captivate us for ages with how cool it is, but it's never going to generate the kind of excitement they could have generated with a new 'killer app' title announcement. Wii Sports 2 was joined by Wii Music, a game in which users can use the wii remote to play drums, keyboard, saxophone, guitar, cowbell... pretty much every intsrument, and also includes modes such as 'conductor' mode where you conduct an orchestra and 'choir' mode. Again, this is kinda neat, but where's the game? it looks like a fun diversion for a few minutes mind.

The other main highlight for Nintendo was a game I have recently become aware of called The Conduit. This is a new first person shooter for the wii that frankly looks pretty awesome. I'm not getting ahead of myself just yet but people who have played it say that it's the shooting game that the wii was built for, that the wii has been waiting for.

Meanwhile for the DS, it was recently announced that legendary, genre defining RPG Chrono Trigger will be getting a port to the handheld by the end of the year. If you're not a fan of Squaresoft's unique brand of FInal Fantasy games then you won't like this, but if you are, then you've probably already played this game, and if not then you should because it is really the epitome of the genre.

Verdict: Not up to the dizzying heights of E3s past, but still a pretty strong showing from Nintendo here, especially compared to some of the other major players in the business this year.

When the Sony press conference starts talking about killer apps like buzz (a gameshow style quizz game) and eye toy mini games, you know they're in trouble.

It's no secret that it has not been a good year for Sony and the Playstation 3. The wii has been running away with the home console industry and the DS has been significantly outperforming the PSP despite being technically inferior. Meanwhile even microsoft are leaving sony trailing in the dust, with the xbox360 having had a very big head start, a much more established online community, and due to the larger established user base, much greater support from developers. There in lies Sony's most worrying problem, are there any games worth buying the system for? And the answer at the moment is sadly a big 'no'.

The killer app for the PS3 has until recently been the frankly mediocre Resistance. The fact is that the only reason this game is selling even half as well as it has been is that there is simply no competition. This game would never sell on the 360 for example. Last month however Metal Gear Solid 4 was released and seems to be the saviour for the console. However with sales still not meeting expectations, and the fact that other recent metal gear solid games have been ported to other systems, it may not be long before mgs4 ends up on another system. This will not be enough to save Sony, and it keeps getting worse. For the PS2, Sony had several exclusive killer apps, most notably Grand Theft Auto and Final Fantasy, but both these massive franchises have jumped ship to the Xbox360 now, which could end up being the nail in the PS3 coffin unless something is done.

The fact is that Sony is far too dependent on games that are now going to be available for other consoles, so why would anyone bother with a PS3? The only exclusive big games coming in the near future are Resistance 2, which will have to improve on the original a lot to justify it's presence as a 'big release', Killzone 2, which is the latest installment in a franchise that so far has failed to meet expectations with every release, and God of War 3, which appears to be a big hope. Brand new IPs such as Little Big Planet, the ingenious and cutesy festival of user created wonders, and MAG, a frankly bitchin looking action game, have a lot resting on their shoulders at this rate, but they look pretty cool so far.

Verdict: The press conference started embarrassingly, but picked up towards the end showing off a bunch of games that are also on the xbox, few killer exclusive titles, so sony fans better keep their fingers crossed that some of the new franchises pick up the slack.

It was a fairly big year for Microsoft who look to consolidate their position above Sony in the industry in the coming business year. Indeed they did impress a fair amount, but the whole thing was somewhat marred by poor decisions on their part.

First of all, the porting of Final Fantasy XIII to xbox360 is another major coup for microsoft and a big middle finger at sony, especially after stealing grand theft auto from them as well. Then they showed off some new updates to the online Xbox Live set up, with a new avatar system that quite frankly is an embarrassing carbon copy/rip off of the mii system on nintendo's wii, but is pretty cool nonetheless.

Moving on from this, microsoft proceeded to show off Fallout 3, the new game from the makers of Oblivion, a massive hit last year... or was it two years ago, either way it was a thing of pure genius and this looks very much in that mold, a massive open world where you guide your uniquely customized character along his adventures... with added cuddly dog as a friend. looks sweet. This was followed by some Guitar Hero 4 action, which looks absolutely gobsmacking, with the ability to play drums, bass guitar and sing, added to the mix, along with an amazing song creation studio, fully customizable rock stars and instruments (in ABSURD detail) and promised frequent downloadable songs. Also shown was Sonic Unleashed, a game which looks to take the franchise back to its glory days of, you know, being 'good'; Resident Evil 5, which is just plain badass; a new Wolfenstein game for those of us who miss blasting zombie-raising-satan-worshipping-nazis with various explosives; and a videogame adaption of upcoming bond flick Quantum of Solace, which I hear will also cover the events of Casino Royale, should be awesome.

Then came the big error. Microsoft chose to focus the main thrust of their show on Gears of War 2. Which is good, don't get me wrong, but then it transpires that bungie were preparing to announce a brand new halo project, but were ordered by microsoft to keep it under wraps so as not to take the attention away from gears of war 2. A poor choice, gears of war is good but will never be as big as halo, and certainly unveiling both of them at once would have made it an even more kick ass event. One can only assume theyre waiting until the specialized microsoft show later. However, bungie were still present to show Halo Wars, the upcoming real time strategy game based off of the halo series.

Verdict: A very good showing from Microsoft, just sadly not as good as it could have been if they had been a little less lame.

The Sims 3 is coming, and looks to connect all the individual homes with a seamless community neighborhood, joining everyone together in the game for the first time. This comes along with much more refined sim designing tools and a much more in depth personality defining system. This is joined by a Sims Online store where one can buy new items and things for their sims. Electronic Arts also whipped out details on the soon to be released Spore, a game which allows you to design a creature from scratch like a lump of clay and take them through evolution from the single cell stage, to cruising through space in a spaceship, blowing up planets, messing with and confusing primitive life forms, you know, whatever you feel like.

Further more we have Call of Duty: World at War, a return to call of duty's roots in world war 2, an add on pack for crysis called cryysis: warhead, and quite awesomely we have Dead Space, a frankly terrifying looking game that's popped out of nowhere and follows your protagonist as he explores various places with aliens who like to jump out from around corners and scare the buhjesus out of him.

More on all of this as it develops.

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