E3 2009 has come and gone, and it was quite the event. Although it wasn't without its share of disappointments, this year's E3 was certainly one of the best, and I'd like to first start by thanking GameSpot for its impeccable coverage. Despite frequent stuttering and freezing, GameSpot's E3 coverage certainly satisfied my gaming appetite. But you're not here to listen to me praise GameSpot (unless maybe if you're a GS staff member). No, you're probably reading this because you want to know my take on the biggest gaming event of the year. As such, I think it's only natural to start off with the "Big 3" Press Conferences.
Before I begin, I think it's important to note that I am a PC GAMER. Although I have played all three current-gen consoles, I do not own an Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 or Wii. I say this not only so you know I'm not a fanboy of any particular platform, but also so you realize where I come from. Being a PC gamer, I probably view the conferences in a different light than console gamers. What I want the Big 3 to show me is why I should buy their console. What benefit does their platform give over the PC? In that respect, despite what Microsoft and Sony want us to believe, in my opinion, if a game will be released on the PC, it is NOT an exclusive. The PC is a platform, and as such, if a game appears on the PC and at least one console, it is multi-platform. Period. With that being said, let's begin, shall we?
As usual, E3 was kicked off by Microsoft (MS), and as usual, they kicked off E3 with a bang. Microsoft always seems to have the star power, and this year was no different. MS started the conference off with The Beatles Rock Band and brought the (remaining) Beatles on stage. Sadly, there was no performance; how cool would it have been to see them play their own song(s) on Rock Band? lol. I'm not even a fan of the Rock Band and Guitar Hero games, but even I would have enjoyed that. Later in the show they had Tony Hawk on stage and even Steven freaking Spielberg! In reality though, us gamers could care less about the people on stage. We care about one thing; the games.
So after Rock Band, which doesn't appeal to me one bit (seriously, why are these so popular?), there were several games announced for the Xbox 360, some exclusive, some not. Exclusivity for the Xbox 360 was a rare occurrence. You had Halo 3: ODST, which everyone already knew about, so not much excitement there...but then a surprise unveil of another Halo game, Halo Reach. I've only played the original Halo for the original Xbox, but I'm not a stranger to how huge these games are. Another exclusive game, coming to Xbox Live, is Shadow Complex. Personally, I thought it looked really cool and wish I could play it on the PC. It's sort of like old-school Contra with updated graphics and in a much bigger, quasi-open world. Certainly looked fun, and at XBL prices, I'm sure will be more than worth it. The only other true exclusive worth mentioning is Forza Motorsport 3. Never been much into racing sims, plus Sony has its own big racing sim coming soon (more on that later), but I know this certainly appeals to a lot of people.
In addition to exclusives, MS showed off several other games that will also be available for the PC, PS3 or all three. Games we already knew about included Modern Warfare 2, Mass Effect 2, Splinter Cell: Conviction (wow, this looks sick!) and Alan Wake (looks very promising!). In a very un-Valve move, Valve unveiled Left 4 Dead 2 coming in November. Wait, I know what you're saying...the first game just came out, how can Valve already be deep in development for the sequel? Hell, we're still waiting for Half-Life 2: Episode 3. Though this hasn't been officially stated, I'm pretty sure you have the Xbox 360 to thank for this, for better or for worse. Surely if you're an Xbox 360 gamer who enjoys Left 4 Dead, this is great news for you. If you're a PC gamer? Not so much. If it wasn't for the Xbox 360's memory limit, I'm almost certain we would not be seeing a sequel, but rather updates a la Team Fortess 2 (TF2). I'm sure many of you are aware that PC gamers have enjoyed TF2 updates (for free), which have included new items, maps, gamemodes, etc. Unfortunately for Xbox 360 players, they've been left out in the dust. The reason comes down with Valve reaching the Xbox 360's memory limit for TF2. It's not a matter of not wanting to provide Xbox 360 players with additional content, it's a matter of them not physically being able to. I'm pretty sure they'd wind up running into the same problem with Left 4 Dead, and as such, decided releasing a sequel would be more feasible. The sequel essentially amounts to a few new weapons and maps; certainly something that would seem to fit in gradual updates nicely, no? Now I've always loved Valve, so I'm hoping they offer PC L4D'ers a break...maybe a discount on the sequel or something. I just don't like seeing PC gamers suffer because of consoles. Even console gamers should be upset about this; would you want a game on your favorite console hampered due to a limitation of another platform? Didn't think so. Okay...rant over. lol
The next big announcement out of the MS camp was a half-surprise. Leading up to E3, everyone expected MS to unveil that PS3-exclusive Metal Gear Solid 4 (MGS4) would make its way to the Xbox 360. Much to the disappointment of Xbox 360 gamers, MGS4 will remain a PS3 exclusive, but what they get instead is the next game in the series, Metal Gear Solid: Rising (MGS:R). This is big news for MS, but not as big as the MS fanboys initially made it out to be. I must say it was rather humorous watching it live and seeing comments from MS fanboys stickin' it to PS3 gamers. Why were they gloating and trash talking? Well it seemed like many of them thought MGS:R was an Xbox 360 exclusive. I guess that's what happens when bias clouds your vision (and hearing). In actuality, the game will be released on the PS3 as well, and probably most surprising of all (and my favorite part), it will also be coming to the PC. SCORE! In addition, another PS3 mainstay is making its way to the Xbox 360 in the form of Final Fantasy XIII. I've never been a Final Fantasy fan myself, so it wouldn't be fair for me to comment on the game, but this is a huge franchise, so certainly good news for Xbox 360 owners.
What many consider the real star of MS's conference was it's unveiling of Project Natal. Project Natal is a motion sensing controller...sans controller. All you do is move your body to control actions, whether it be in a game, navigating a DVD menu, or browsing Xbox Live. There are many words one can use to describe Project Natal. Xbox 360 fanboys would probably use such words as "awesome" and "amazing." Me? I'd use a few different words...like "gimmick" and "fad." In fact, any true gamer that doesn't have a bias toward MS should agree. In theory, Project Natal is indeed awesome. From a technology standpoint, this is a huge step in interaction. But the real use of this technology won't be found in hardcore gaming. Yes, this is a huge slap in the face to Nintendo, and I'm sure there will be countless casual games to take advantage of it, but as with the WiiMote, the fad will eventually fade. Also, the presentation for this made it look even sillier.
Lastly, MS announced several improvements to Xbox Live; instant 1080p streaming thru NetFlix, simultaneous viewing, last.fm, and facebook and twitter integration. The 1080p streaming is great news for anyone with NetFlix and an HDTV, but I really don't understand the simultaneous viewing. What's the point of you and your friend simultaneously watching a movie? Are you going to call him or her up and chat while watching it? "OMG, did you see that? That was hilarious!" Um, yeah, what? Facebook and Twitter seem to be infecting everything these days, so take that as you will. As for last.fm, what are my thoughts on that? Well personally I love last.fm. I use it on my PC all the time. I used to listen to the "radio" thru it, but now I mostly use it for tracking what I play; it's like X-fire for music. That being said, I just don't understand why anyone would use this on an Xbox 360. Is someone really going to turn on their TV and Xbox 360 just to play music? I thought company's are supposed to be getting greener? lol. Now if you'll be able to play music off of last.fm while playing a game, then I can see the appeal in that, but at least during the conference they didn't state that.
The next of the Big 3 was Nintendo, and I'm just going to get this over with now; once again, it was by far the worst of the conferences. Hell, I think I'd even rank EA and Ubisoft's conferences about Nintendo (though I'm not here to talk about them). There just isn't much about the Wii that gets me excited. Nintendo announced Wii Fit Plus, which is undoubtedly an improved version of the original Wii Fit, but, as a GAMER, I just don't see the appeal. I do not suffer from photosensitivity; if I want to exert myself physically, I'll go outside and do some real activities. I play games to escape. This would probably be why Nintendo showing off Wii Sports Resort didn't excite me either. And then there's the Wii Motion Plus; an extension you attach to your current WiiMotes that makes it more accurate and precise. Yep, the Wii Motion Plus essentially makes your WiiMote act like it should have acted when the Wii was first released. Considering Nintendo was completely showed up by Microsoft (Project Natal), the disappointment in Wii Motion Plus could not be fully expressed in words.
Now that I got the negatives out of the way, there were a few highlights. The game that excited me the most was the New Super Mario Bros. Wii (NSMBW). Yes, that is its name. Apparently Nintendo has exhausted all its creativity trying to stretch Mario into 200+ games that they've just given up on naming them. NSMBW brings us back to the cla.ssic 2D side-scrolling days of Mario, but what makes this version unique is its co-op play. NSMBW can be played in single-player, but you can also have three friends join you. Four-player co-op plus new abilities (such as the propeller hat and penguin suit) plus several different Yoshis is a definite win. NSMBW isn't the only new game Mario will be appearing in though. Toward the end of the conference, Nintendo unveiled Mario Galaxies 2, which is sure to please many Wii gamers. The other two big announcements were for a new Zelda Wii game and Metroid: Other M. If you're a fan of either franchise, you'll want to keep an eye on these for sure. These four games, however, was not enough to overcome the overall disappointment out of the Nintendo camp.
And then, there was Sony. Sony's struggles over the past few years are no secret, but I must say, you wouldn't know it by watching its conference. I'm going to start with the worst kept secret of E3; the PSP Go. First, I'd like to say that I found it pretty cool that the speaker joked about the leak. As for the PSP Go itself, it certainly looks sleek. Although when I first read about it, I was rather disappointed it didn't have the much-asked-for second analog stick, upon further consideration, I fully understand the decision not to include one. This is not PSP 2, this is simply a revision. PSP3000 will still be produced and sold alongside the PSP Go. PSP Go is simply for those that want a more mobile device. It's significantly smaller and lighter and does not contain a UMD drive. As such, digital distribution is the only way to acquire games using its 16MB onboard memory or an external memory stick, but it'll come at the benefit of a better battery life, as the UMD drive was the biggest power draw on the PSP3000. To go along with the PSP Go, Sony also unveiled a multitude of PSP games. There are way too many to list, but a few of the big names were Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, LittleBigPlanet, Resident Evil Portable and Gran Turismo for PSP. Oh, and there will be a ton of PSOne cla.ssics available on the PlayStation Store.
The PSP Go may have been a big part of Sony's conference, but there was a lot of other good stuff shown. Say what you will about Sony and the PlayStation 3, but it certainly has a lot of awesome exclusives. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is one of them, and holy crap, it looked good. Sony showed off a rather lengthy video of the game and I just couldn't believe I was watching actual gameplay. It looked good, it looked smooth, and the blend of cinematic moments looked seamless. Another huge PS3 exclusive is of course, God of War III, and really, does it come as any surprise that the game looks amazing? And then there's MAG, which stands for "Massive Action Game"...and it's just that. Although on the surface, MAG doesn't bring anything new to the table (a modern first-person shooter), the real appeal of the game comes from the "massive" part; 256 player battles. Even on the PC, the undeniable first-person shooter king, you don't often get to see 128 vs. 128. Sony didn't show very much, but at least they showed actual gameplay this time around. Surprisingly, PS3-exclusive Heavy Rain: The Origami Killer was not shown. Not really sure why, but it was on the show floor and GameSpot covered it later on.
Another highly-anticipated PS3 exclusive is Gran Turismo 5 (GT5). For those GT fans, the Sony conference probably left them a little disappointed. Yet again, Sony failed to show any gameplay, resorting to another cinematic trailer. With Forza 3 arriving on the Xbox 360 this Fall, Sony better show us something a little more on GT5 and/or announce a release date. Another big PS3 exclusive unveiled (in a rather interesting cinematic trailer) was The Last Guardian. Not much is known about the game, but seeing as it's from the same people that developed Shadow of the Colossus, this surely has great potential. And then there's Agent, the new game from Rockstar, developer of the Grand Theft Auto series. Apparently the game will take players "on a paranoid journey into the world of counterintelligence, espionage, and political assassinations during the height of the Cold War at the end of the 1970s." Sounds intriguing, but little else is known at this time.
All those exclusives are great, but the real star of the show for me was ModNation Racers (MNR). If Mario Kart and LittleBigPlanet had a baby, this would be it. It's premise is very much Mario Kart, but with the customizability and user-created content of LittleBigPlanet. It's hard to put into word how awesome and fun this game looks. You owe it to yourself to go watch the demo! Creating your own tracks looked so easy, that this has the potential to be the next big thing for PS3 gamers. I am truly jealous!
Before I get to the several other games shown at Sony's conference, I think this is a good point to talk about Sony's answer to Project Natal and Wii Motion Plus; the as-yet-unnamed EyeToy Motion Controller. Sony's motion controller is a wand with an orb at the end. As I stated before, I think this motion-control technology is a fad and doesn't have a real place in the gaming world. That said, I did find Sony's method the best of the three. Many people seem to think Project Natal is the best, but let me explain. I believe that some sort of controller is necessary. People like to say that Project Natal increases immersiveness and an interactive environment, but how does waving your arms around increase immersiveness? If anything, it decreases it. How does one actually apply this to non-casual games? Now I don't think either of the three motion control systems are good for first-person shooters, but at least Nintendo and Sony have controllers that will make moving easier. How exactly do you move your character forward using Project Natal? Do you run in place? Wow, yeah, that looks like fun. But I'm talking about Sony now, not Microsoft. What I liked about Sony's EyeToy Motion Controller was that it seemed very accurate and precise. Maybe it's not actually better than Project Natal, but the tech demo that Sony showed was far superior, and as of now, that's all we have to go on.
But now let's get back to the games, and let's start with one of the best gameplay demos of the conference, Assassin's Creed 2 (AC2). Ubisoft showed off a rather intriguing cinematic trailer at its conference the day before (about the only redeeming part of the whole conference), but no actual gameplay was shown. I guess we can now assume that Ubisoft held off on showing gameplay so that Sony could be the first to do so at its conference. Simply put, AC2 looks great! I didn't have a chance to play the first one, as I just could never find the time to squeeze it in. After watching the AC2 gameplay, I was intrigued. When I saw Steam had AC on sale for a mere $9.99, I snatched it up immediately. I'm too early on to really judge the game, but I'm enjoying it thus far. Lastly, there was of course some Final Fantasy lovin'. Everyone already knew about Final Fantasy XIII (FFXIII), but the big shock came just after FFXIII was shown; the announcement of Final Fantasy XIV (FFXIV). As if the mere announcement wasn't big, just like FFXIII, FFXIV is expected to be released some time in 2010. The difference is that the FFXIV will be a massively-multiplayer online game similar to Final Fantasy VII (FFVII). FFXIV will also be released on the PC, and if FFVII is any indication, we should expect cross-platform play!
So that is basically how the Big 3 kicked off E3. I watched the conferences live and am going mostly off of memory, so I'm sure I left a few things out. Most likely, if I left it out, it's probably because it wasn't memorable, so who really cares, right? lol. Overall, I give the slight edge to Sony, narrowly beating out Microsoft (sorry, Nintendo, but when it comes conferences, you just never seem to compete with the big boys). The main reason I give the edge to Sony is because it has more true exclusives than Microsoft, and that's not even counting PSP games.
Now I said I was only going to discuss the Big 3, but I do have to mention one quick thing. A cinematic trailer for Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) was shown during the EA press conference and it looked great. Of course, these days it's not surprising that a cinematic trailer looks good. Still, I'm really looking forward to this game. After Diablo III, Dragon Age: Origins and Starcraft II, it's probably the post-E3 game I'm looking forward to most. Speaking of Diablo III and Starcraft II, it was slightly disappointing that Blizzard was a no-show at E3. I know Blizzard holds its own event and E3's focus seems to be the console market, but I still would have loved to see more of those two sure-to-be-awesome games. Speaking of disappointing no-shows, though Valve announced L4D2, I was really hoping they'd make a surprise announcement about The Orange Box 2, containing Half-Life 2: Episode 3, Portal 2, and an as-yet-unveiled third game (maybe Counter-strike 2?). How freaking sweet would that announcement have been? Ah well.
Overall, E3 was fantastic. The media often likes to harp on negatives, but I really hope everyone took notice; gaming is hear to stay...and there's something out there for everyone.