As video gaming's largest annual trade show, last month's Electronic Entertainment Expo was just way too grand a feast to cover in its entirety. E3 is that time of year when gaming rules the world. Where all the new products are unveiled and we all get depressed at the months and months of waiting left to endure before we actually get to see any of 'em hit store shelves.
Due to the huge amount of news and info spunked forth by E3, don't expect a truly complete and exhaustive look at everything here. There's still a lot to talk about either way though, and I'd certainly like to run through some of the highlights, lowlights and my own take on it all.
This year's event in particular had the potential to be the biggest and best E3 yet. Along with the three main console giants all announcing their next generation of systems, there's also the increasingly heated handheld race, not to mention the good old PC and seeing what she has in store for us too.
And yet with all that in mind, with the event now long gone, it all feels a wee bit anti-climatic for various reasons. But it's not all bad news by any means though, and with that in mind let's start with the bigger news...be sure to check out the various links for some quality footage and trailers.
I dunno, as much as I love my Xbox, the X360 campaign of recent months almost backfired in its ability to psyche me up for its sequel. The less said about that Mtv unveiling the better, but arguably even worse is the fact that 90% of the X360 info from E3 was leaked weeks (if not months) prior to the event. As a result, Microsoft's E3 press conference itself provided little new info, compounded by the fact the games aren't looking anywhere vaguely near done, offering poor frame-rates and shoddy presentation.
|The Xbox360 is thankfully smaller than its predecessor, and can now be set to stand on its side|
The system is supposedly running on 1/3 power alpha kits right now, which explains a lot of this, and I'm sure in the long run we'll see some much more impressive stuff coming from camp Microsoft in the coming months, but as an E3 showing, there's no doubt it was a bit of a let down. Considering the machine is only five months away from launch, even somewhat worrying too...
Saving the day somewhat though, were glimpses of one or two specific launch titles that really revved my engine. Ghost Recon 3 particularly stood out for me, which I can't fucking wait for, and the newly announced exclusive Gears of War
also empowers me with wood. The latter is a third person futuristic shooter that looks good enough to pass for CGI, and it's worth mentioning for those who saw the Unreal III engine tech demos many months back, that models and levels used for that demonstration were indeed straight from this title.
Then there's two RPGs from Hironobu Sakaguchi heading for the system - original creator of the Final Fantasy series - which sound mighty impressive. Even if details and footage were conspicuous by their absence, at least these projects prove Microsoft's new and improved game plan at conquering the Japanese market this time around. When it came to the first Xbox' RPGs, beyond the BioWare titles and Fable, there wasn't really much else, and this looks to be one area Microsoft are improving on right off the bat.
Elsewhere there's Full Auto, which is basically the Burnout series with guns, Rare's Kameo
, which should provide some pleasing platform shenanigans and perhaps coolest of all, a violent bit of business known as Condemned, which looks to improve on that first person slug-fest style somewhat kick-started by the recent Chronicles of Riddick.
Despite knowing next to nothing about many of these launch titles though, one thing that impressed me is just how many of them are brand new properties. There's no rushed out Halo sequel to be seen and no KOTOR follow-up. It would seem the big name franchises that somewhat made the Xbox, aren't being exploited here at all, making way for a ton of brand new IPs that feel somewhat fresh and interesting.
Leaving the lack of info on these games aside and looking strictly at the hardware, things are somewhat surprising. In terms of specs, the X360 is much closer to the PS3 than many had originally estimated. Although the PS3 does seem to edge it out still, the apparent ease of development for this system should balance that out nicely.
I am somewhat intrigued by MS' announcement on integrating games, movies, TV and music so seamlessly with this system. The ability to plug in my iPod and have it scan and stream my music directly into games is a gobsmackingly cool idea, and they've hinted at a lot more of that sort of thing.
The tight-knit integration of Xbox Live within the console from the ground up looks impressive too, with awesome profile and stat features, video feeds and marketplace sales for episodic content, some of which will even be free to use without an Xbox live subscription. This will all be handled through the new Xbox live button on the controller, which pauses your game at any point, giving you access to this wealth of features as you need them.
|The new controller is almost identical in layout, with the black and white buttons now moved onto the shoulders. It's wireless, yet even with batteries is lighter than before|
Much like the current generation of Xbox Live though, your online experience all boils down to the players you're playing with at the end of the day, and god knows the majority of the ones I find on there can be cunts and a half. I hope some of the new match making and profile tracking features cut down on this.
As for the look of the system, it's grown on me and I kinda dig it, especially the concept of custom face plates. As a firm believer of the current Xbox controller "S" being the best pad ever created, and the fact this new one is not only lighter, but wireless, mean I'm reasonably chuffed with the aesthetics.
One thing we can certainly take from Microsoft's talk at the event is how customisability is at the forefront of their plans. It's no secret that a large part of the Xbox' success was it's modability after all. The PC-like architecture opened up a wealth of opportunities, from upgradeable hard drives, to hacked operating systems to multimedia functionality and beyond. While I'm sure the X360 will be considerably harder to hack, it looks like much of this functionality is being built into the system anyway. This will include both in and out of games. I like that.
The brand new properties along with the inevitable release of the many exclusive franchises cultivated by MS over the past few years such as Halo, Dead or Alive, Ninja Gaiden, Project Gotham, Fable and Jade Empire (a sequel to which was all but confirmed by BioWare at E3), mean I'm definitely on board for the X360, but I could still use some real blow your socks off examples of its power to solidify the deal, something sadly missing from E3. Gameplay wise, what we saw was actually a little feeble...
Sony's E3 presentation on the other hand felt a lot more "next-gen" than Microsoft's. They accomplished everything that a new system unveiling should do, showing off unparalleled graphics, incredible technology and awesome game trailers, all of which shamed even modern PCs.
|The PS3 will come in a choice of white, silver or black. It's worth noting that the controller isn't finalised, much to the relief of the world...|
It's the smoke and mirrors of it all which leaves a bad taste in my mouth, though. There's no doubt the various tech demos were all a sight to behold, but when pressed for details on how much of it was real-time and how much pre-rendered, developers become oddly cryptic and vague. The size, scope and sheer detail of the footage was incredible, but how these various graphical demonstrations will translate to every day games remains to be seen, and I would certainly advise anyone expecting gameplay quality to match the calibre of that Killzone 2 demo
to wake up.
I more or less like the look of the system, and am even a fan of the infamous boomerang controller (which before you ask, has been confirmed as not
the final design). As far as games go though, there's not a massive amount of exclusives I'm looking forward to (an underwhelming list can be seen here
I've had a bit of a grudge against the PS2 for a long time as I believe its financial success and popularity has resulted in a console industry that got stuck in time. Using the dated PS2 specs as a baseline for every single cross-platform title over the past few years, has resulted in developers pumping out game after game that hasn't made use of each individual platform's capabilities.
In particular I'm talking about the PC and Xbox, and the result is that both systems which are overly powerful, have essentially been reduced to PS2 specs on every single cross platform title (which let's be honest, is most games these days). The PS2 outgrew its lifespan a long time back, and for that reason I'm somewhat bitter about it still being around.
So for me, the long-awaited announcement of the PS3 is the light at the end of that tunnel. When this thing finally hits store shelves, long gone will the PS2 be. In fact, by many accounts the PS3 be the most powerful of the next-gen systems and subsequently be propelling the industry forward in the next generation. Thanks to this fact alone, consider me on board.
Plus the hints of PSP link-up features excite me hugely...
That said, one can't help but wonder what on earth happened to the PSP at E3. Where were all the titles? Grand Theft Auto - Liberty City Stories is a long way off judging by the lack of anything as much as a screenshot at the event. Alleged screens and magazine scans were since leaked, but it'll be tricky tracking them down on the web, and for all I know they're about as authentic as Jordan's tits anyway.
LucasArts did provide solid confirmation of Star Wars Battlefront II
heading to the handheld (including four player wireless functionality). How this'll translate to a portable is completely unknown, particularly on a system that lacks dual analogue sticks, but I can't help but be excited by the concept of flying X-Wings on the bus.
Similarly Battlefield 2 is also set for the PSP, although once again I kinda fail to see how a high octane shooter of this scale can be pulled off with those controls.
Elsewhere there's platformer Daxter and the supreme ass kicker known as Virtua Tennis
heading its way, but really...not much else is blowing me away for this sexy handheld of potential.
All in all E3 put a bit of a downer in the PSP's future as a games machine for me, and even though I continue to use the sucker daily for multimedia purposes, I wonder how much longer the four or five games I own will last with not a huge amount else on the horizon. The system has some wonderful racers, some amazing puzzlers and is decked out in sports games...but where are the adventures? I want my PSP to take me on a real journey.
|The site of a dead horse|
Going into E3, I had the Nintendo DS pinned down as dead on arrival. The PSP has so completely dominated it up until now, I would calmly sit here with a smug look on my face knowing I made the right choice in my handheld. Not so much anymore.
While round one most definitely went to the PSP, the DS is certainly striking back in full force, and the incredible line-up of titles on show at E3 are testament to that. Metroid Prime Hunters, Mario & Luigi 2, Advance Wars - there's some beauties heading its way, that's for sure. I'm even a little tempted to pick one up for Mario Kart alone. Whereas the PSP is lacking in follow-up titles, the DS is suffering no such fate.
And speaking of Nintendo, another Game Boy was announced at E3, believe it or not - the Game Boy Micro. It looks to be the smallest console ever - bordering on invisible - and many are comparing it to a mobile phone in size. Ultimately, it looks to be business as usual as far as the machine itself goes, and little more than Nintendo's answer to the casual gamer looking for portable fun without the price tag of its big brother. Not for me.
Unfortunately details weren't so forthcoming when it came to Nintendo's new full-featured home system, and their follow-up to the Gamecube. Rather than tackle Microsoft and Sony head-on, Nintendo just completely buckled it would seem. As a result, the machine was barely mentioned, let alone detailed.
|The Revolution is the smallest of the new systems, the size of 3 stacked DVD cases|
Here's what we know for definite. It'll be less powerful than the other two, and completely backwards compatible not only with the Gamecube, but also all of Nintendo's previous machines too. In fact it was announced that there'll be an online arcade where you'll be able download entire libraries of past Nintendo games from the N64, NES and Super NES. Even though err, you can already do that on a PC if you want to get pedantic.
A prototype has been sighted, which looks pleasing enough, but the final design is expected to have some further changes. The so called "revolutionary" aspect which Nintendo claim will blow our minds hasn't been spoken about in any way mind you, although my money is on touch screen control pads (how else can one system play games from five different systems?).
It's interesting to note that while the three big guns of the next generation all promise wireless multiplayer gaming and backwards capability as standard (somewhat scaled back in Microsoft's case), Nintendo is the only one of the three that admits high definition won't be included with its system. We're told the games will look so good, high-def "won't be needed".
Either way, it's starting to look like Nintendo might need to pull a rabbit out of a hat to stay in this race, and its the only next-gen system I'm not particularly interested in right now.
The Current Generation
|All signs point towards Link turning into a werewolf for this latest adventure|
I have little to say on the PS2 for the reasons mentioned above, but let's talk about the Gamecube. Headlining things (sadly all by itself) was Zelda - Twilight Princess. Watching the fantabulous 30 minute long video demonstration at E3, I'm struck by a number of things.
First of all, is just how damn fun the mount combat looks. Riding creatures will play a large part of this title apparently, the reason being the epic size of the game world.
Secondly is the tone, which looks much more moody and atmospheric since we last saw Link on the system (which wouldn't be hard).
Lastly though, is just how familiar it all feels still. Strip away the new face-lift and it essentially feels like Wind Waker all over. No bad thing really, and this is certainly a game that's headlining my wants list for 2005. Be sure to check out that sweet second trailer
if you missed it, although links to the full presentation currently evade me.
|Conker, starring Tom Hanks. The last big Xbox game we'll get?|
Apart from that, and perhaps the bizarrely surreal Killer 7 for which details are sadly scarce, there's unfortunately little else of interest going on with the Cube. The machine does feel like it's on it's way out, and in fact the same can be said of the Xbox if I'm honest.
looks set to provide Microsoft's debut console with a fitting swansong, but beside ports of Half-Life 2 and this week's San Andreas, there's little due out for the Xbox that isn't hitting the other consoles. With all this talk and effort being thrown into X360, its daddy has been left out to die from neglect it would seem.
There's the odd cross-platform title worth mentioning. Prince of Persia 3 is due out in the fourth quarter of this year, but looks to have more in common with Warrior Within than Sands of Time, so I'm not over the moon. Then there's a movie tie-in for King Kong
, all of which I know is that it's based on the upcoming Peter Jackson movie and is being helmed by he who created the fabulous Beyond Good & Evil. That's more than enough to get my juices flowing.
|Watch this space for more on Batman Begins very soon|
Brothers in Arms is receiving a sequel or add-on of some sort - the setting appears to be transported to more of a war-torn village vibe than the endless hills of Normandy, but will that be enough to spruce up the lacklustre gameplay of the original?
Batman Begins is a title I recently got my hands on, and will possibly be reviewing soon, but much more impressive on the superhero side of things is the upcoming Ultimate Spider-Man
. By utilising everything that was great about the previous adventure of the web-slinger - the massive world, the dynamic web physics and the open ended mission structure - coupled with a new X-Men Legends-style cell-shaded look, this could be an amazing title.
Then there's Matrix: Path of Neo
. The Matrix is a series I somewhat loathe, but this game looks reasonably solid. The original Enter: The Matrix title was one that had an awesome concept that got completely and utterly shafted by poor implementation. Without the killer deadline and immense hype, hopefully this Matrix title will provide a nice dollop of decent action.
Moving on to PC games, I have to start with Prey. In light of Duke Nukem Forever once again nowhere to be seen, are 3D Realms anything more than a joke these days? Hell fucking yeah, if their upcoming Prey has anything to say about it. This was easily
best of show for me.
Now admittedly this is a title they shitcanned many moons ago - a prototype DNF in its history - but its resurrection via the Doom III engine has all the making of a stunning futuristic FPS classic.
|Prey was actually conceived a decade back before disappearing into vapourware. What a fresh lick of paint will do, eh...|
It's easy to be numbed by FPS titles these days. While I still love the genre perhaps more than any other, the sheer amount released result in a constant feeling of deja vu. Titles really need to stretch and expand to wow these days, and that's precisely what Prey does.
The footage seen at E3 looks glorious. Not only is the engine in tip top shape, but the inventiveness in the design is almost overwhelming. Gravity appears to play a large part in the levels, with you constantly walking on walls and along ceilings, mixed in with some truly fabulous use of physics. I'm not talking the occasional chair toppling over either, expect mouth-hitting-the-floor kinda stuff.
There's some great examples of said physics to be seen in this
10 minutes of video feed from IGN, my fave moment of which being when the gravity keeps alternating direction. It's quite a site to witness all the loose boxes, dead bodies and other items go flying around (including the player) as the environment alters.
Also impressing are the special effects, with wormholes, huge destructive set pieces and massive, wide levels that upstage iD's at every turn. It even looks like you can leave your body and move around in a negative plain of some sort, neatly undercutting the cold sci-fi look with more of a spiritual edge.
This game has been a long time coming, but it really does look set to deliver. It doesn't seem to be wimping out in the blood and violence either...anyone up for some murdered children?
F.E.A.R. is similarly gonna take the PC world by storm this summer. I've played it, and can safely say this thing is gonna be glorious. The engine is special. The weapons feel great. The physics rock
. That same kinetic energy that drove HL2 is back, but amped up by a hundred and injected with steroids.
For E3 this year, info was surprisingly scarce, but the odd nugget was snagged. Along with the usual assortment of machine guns, shotties and the glorious plasma rifle, what intrigued me most was the mention of a nail gun - one that pins enemies against the wall on impact. Check out GameSpy's hands-on preview
for some more info on the E3 demo.
That I left this off my Games to Look Forward to in 2005
list is deserving of anal rape.
What's that you say? A first person RPG from former Blizzard employees Flagship Studios? Set in a post-apocalyptic recreation of my birth town of jolly old London? Yes please.
On a visual level, this ain't a patch
on the previously mentioned titles, but this is still one of the many new titles at E3 that looks genuinely intriguing to me. The mesh of first person action and RPG elements has always wowed me since Deus Ex, but with the exception of its sequel and the recent Bloodlines, little has capitalised on the idea. I'm hoping Hellgate does just that.
Think of this as a 3D Diablo more than anything though. There'll be randomised levels in fact, an idea that could potentially provide unlimited open ended gameplay, but could just as easily backfire. Also surprising is news that the game runs on a real-time clock, with certain quests being time based and NPCs offering new conversations and items depending on the day of the week.
The thought of blowing away Satan's minions in the Underground lights me up like a Christmas tree. This is another one to watch.
On the multiplayer shooter front is a strange beast from good old iD Software. For fans of the freeware classic Wolfenstein Enemy Territory, it seems Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
is its apparent follow-up.
That same objective based multiplayer carnage will return, but transported to the futuristic warzone of humans and Stroggs from the Quake series. What's most intriguing though is the conflicting rumours of this possibly being an MMO. Although I'll believe that when I see it, as a firm believer of Planetside being an unsung classic of the online FPS genre, I can't wait to see an iD powered incarnation of that basic concept. This could be the future of online shooters either way...Counter-Strike, your time may be all but over.
|Will Quake IV simply be a more squad-based incarnation of Doom III, or the long-awaited sequel we all yearn for?|
Speaking of Quake, the full Quake 4 trailer
debuted at E3, and it looks...good. Not great.
With this sequel somewhat skipping Quake III and continuing directly on from II, it promises brilliance either way. As a lover of both Quake II's single and multiplayer game I can't wait. When I think back those classic railgun duels, the blocky explosions, "Trespasser!", and of course those tortured prisoners screaming "The horror...!", it brings a smile to my face. Quake II houses some of my favourite gaming memories.
My only reservation with this sequel is the whole you-becoming-a-Strogg subplot showcased in the trailer. It wreaks of cliché, and Raven possibly lacking a decent plot. I eagerly await the inevitable being proven wrong.
Spore is a game many may not have heard of yet, but those of us who have are positively throthing at the mouth. As Will Wright's follow-up to The Sims, it's pretty much the ultimate god game. Plus a whole lot more.
Picture this. You begin life as a micro-organism swimming around in goop
. As you feed and grow, you'll eventually evolve into the beginnings of a sea creature. You'll sprout a head, hands, a tail perhaps. From there, you may eventually develop legs. You may even use those legs to run up out of the sea onto land. You may grow large and strong and start killing fellow creatures on that land.
Eventually you'll develop into a humanoid. Heck, you might even get lucky and reproduce. Perhaps you'll start creating a small village for your new family.
Centuries may pass, and you might find yourself creating a city. This city might wage war against other cities. This war may result in your civilisation being wiped out and forcing you into outer space in search of new planets to live on. And decades later you might develop a space fleet and seek revenge on those who did you wrong by blowing up their entire planet.
And that's basically what Spore is...a game that encompasses so very much and leaves out so little.
There's a whole lot more to it than that even, including an incredible online component that populates your world with other player's creatures and civilisations, but more than anything I advise you to let Will himself explain it all. In this
whopping great hour long presentation from this year's Game Developer's Conference, he gave us our first look at Spore and detailed its epic premise.
It's no wonder this has been hailed as the
game of E3 by so many.
Elder Scrolls IV - Oblivion
|Oblivion is one of the prettiest games I've ever seen, and Patrick Stewart's in it|
Possible RPG of the year? I honestly think there'll be no doubt...this baby looks absolutely incredible
. The graphics are some of the most glorious ever laid eyes on. The size of the world promises enormity, and the hints of advanced AI remind us of everything Peter Molyneux promised of Fable before the title got castrated. Everything's set for this to be an epic, monstrous open-ended medieval classic to rival the very best of them.
Considering this is an Xbox360 launch title, I'm sure PC owners can expect a simultaneous release around the same time in November...providing Microsoft don't pull a "Halo" and make it system exclusive.
And Speaking of Fable
Fable - The Lost Chapters is heading towards PCs soon. It'll be a spruced up port of the Xbox game, with some additional quests thankfully beefing up the length by a reported 150%.
As one of few who loved
Fable, I'll look forward to checking this out in all its high-rez glory, but still, I'm a little saddened that some of those promised features from the early days of its conception aren't being added.
Moving away from single player RPGs onto multiplayer variants is D&D Online. That said, listening to the developers speak about the title, it becomes immediately clear this isn't your typical MMO. Much like Guild Wars - a title I currently adore - D&D Online is more of an online RPG, minus the massively multiplayer element.
|D&D Online looks the shit, but with so much instancing, is it a true MMO?|
The game looks beautiful so far, with inventive and deep quests, and I absolutely love the fact that you won't gain any XP at all from killing creatures...it's all down to missions and exploring.
The big deal breaker for me though is whether or not this game will charge a monthly fee or not. If it doesn't, consider me amped and ready to go. If however, they expect £10 a month for an MMO that lacks the first "M", it'll be one to strike off the Christmas list.
The major MMORPG worth talking about at E3 though is City of Villains. As neither a sequel nor an add-on to City of Heroes, think of CoV as a concurrent project that integrates and runs seamlessly alongside the former. It'll add the much needed PvP system to the game, including base warfare and henchmen, and it all sounds rather splendid. This one could blow-up on release, and if you're a comic book fan, I'd start saving pennies.
Finally there's Lord of the Rings Online (formerly Middle-Earth Online) which sadly looks terrible. A new trailer can be grabbed here
, but considering the wealth of back-story and information they have to draw upon for this game, I'm underwhelmed.
|Alan Wake is a mysterious yet beautiful thriller from Remedy Entertainment. It'll hit PC, PS3 and X360|
As well as PC, this one's also due out on next-gen consoles. It looks to be an odd beast, but a gorgeous one never the less.
Taking inspiration from the likes of Twin Peaks and Stephen King, the creators of the Max Payne duology have taken things in a more surreal and psychological direction for their latest game it would seem. You play a horror writer visiting a remote mountain town in the middle of nowhere, when your nightmares start to spill over into the real world.
Expect a massive playing environment with driving abilities, inventive combat with heavy use of light and darkness. A teaser trailer is up on the official site
, and if nothing else, the engine looks pretty damn spectacular.
Empire at War
And finally I just have to plug this soon to be classic. While Star Wars games don't have the greatest history within the RTS genre, Empire at War looks simply phenomenal. Studying the footage
up at IGN, the scale and detail on the battles is staggering - particularly the space combat.
I'm not a big RTS guy myself, but much in the way that Battle For Middle-Earth gave me some long-awaited enjoyment from the style thanks to its license, Empire at War looks set to do the same ten times over. Do not
miss this one.
Now to Play the Waiting Game...
But while I could go on and on, I'll leave it there for now. If you want more coverage on this year's E3, including hundreds more reports and feeds, I can certainly recommend popping over to GameSpy
for an epic list of all the various updates and footage available for all systems.
It's a shame that with so many companies and developers looking towards the next generation of consoles, the ones we're currently lumbered with are starting to dry up somewhat. We'll always have the PC, but over the next year or so, one has to wonder how much longer it'll be able to stand up against the towering might of these new systems.
Traditionally, the release of new consoles has seen a slump in PC gaming, with it slowly but surely playing catch-up until the end of the console life-cycle, such as where we currently find ourselves. While MMO's and FPS titles will forever have a home on the PC though, looking at the power and wealth of features that these new consoles posses, I can't help but wonder how much life is truly left in the good old PC.
Time will tell as always, but one thing's for sure...the next 12 months promise some exciting times.