After 8 hours of press conferences, its once again time to evaluate each of the big four at E3; this year however Im adding an analysis of trends of the biggest show in gaming. All four companies did have their own strengths and weaknesses as usual but when stacked against each other it seems pretty unanimous with the majority of the gaming community that Sony took the crown by a mile this year. The general objective at E3 this year was to make the next gen consoles as exciting and attractive as possible and the companies met this to differing degrees.
The preconceptions I had before about Quantum Break being too similar to Sonys Beyond Two Souls were slightly alleviated with the trailer at Microsofts E3 conference this year; in fact it seems to borrow more off Inception with its manipulation of time and space. The game has a fair amount of potential for puzzle gameplay and given the developers previous experience with the Alan Wake franchise, elements of mystery and suspense could be woven into the narrative to create a much needed imaginative and intriguing story that has been missing in Xbox games in the past.
Titanfall was arguably the best Xbox One game shown off at the conference, marking the debut of Respawn Entertainment who has risen from the troubles with Infinity Ward to make a multiplayer only game that looks highly dynamic and action packed. Mechs and infantry units battle on the ground, receiving orders on the fly from mission control whilst enormous battle cruisers fly overhead. Many gameplay options are blended together in Titanfall including mech combat similar to Hawken, parkour style traversal of the environments like 2011s Brink and the infantry combat of Call of Duty. On top of this theres sure to be a huge suite of customisation options of both the mech and soldier varieties. All things considered Titanfall could be Xbox Ones first hit, but theres one problem; itll be out on Xbox 360 and PC as well. With all the negative aspects of Xbox One, buyers may well go with the PC version instead, leaving the Xbox One version a wasted opportunity.
We dont know if its Halo 5, we dont know why Master Chief is clad in a simple brown cloak but what we do know for sure is the inevitable; Microsofts most popular franchise will be coming to Xbox One sooner or later, along with a TV series and mobile game Spartan Assault. The trailer was meant to tease of course but with all the other less exciting demos at Microsofts conference, it would have been wise to debut Halo 5 (which probably would have caused much more excitement and applause than the other games). Well probably have to wait till next year to get a proper look at the new Halo.
Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain
Of course Microsoft had to have gaming celebrities on stage and this year was no different as Hideo Kojima once again took to the stage to show MGS5 for the Xbox One. A gameplay trailer saw Big Boss infiltrating Afghanistan on horseback to rescue McDonnell Miller. The desert environment was quite reminiscent of Red Dead Redemption but there were also new gameplay features including better climbing mechanics, commandeering vehicles and hiding on the side of a horse to sneak past guards. New characters were also revealed including antagonist Skull Face. Metal Gear Solid 5 is another great looking game for Xbox One but unfortunately it suffers from the same fate as Titanfall; it will be released on PlayStation 4 and PS3 also.
Dead Rising 3
The only proper Xbox One exclusive that had a gameplay demo, Dead Rising 3 had me asking several questions; what happened to all the colour and charm? Why is the protagonist avoiding the zombies rather than charging straight through them like in previous games? Why were the zombies being taken out more by explosions than created weapons? The grim truth was revealed as Capcom explained it was targeting the gamers who play Call of Duty games, and what better place to do it than Xbox One where most Call of Duty players go and nowhere else? A rather disappointing debut across the board and now it seems that another franchise has been butchered into what sells best rather than what the fans want most.
· No Kinect games or demonstrations: A breath of fresh air at this years E3 was to see a Microsoft press conference without any sort of awful, poorly acted Kinect demonstrations; Kinect will be a part of the Xbox One but by not showing any Kinect games at all, they put across that the so called 15 new exclusives would not all be lacklustre motion sensing titles that few long term fans want. It placed Microsoft in the right place to deliver on actual games (even though they didnt do very well at this in the end!)
· The return of Killer Instinct: After several years of being reduced to making Kinect games by Microsoft, Killer Instinct is returning exclusively on Xbox One and in doing so Rare is going back to what it should be doing and what it was originally known for through the nineties. Its refreshing to see that Microsoft isnt controlling its owned companies and is listening to what the fans have wanted for many years
· Benefits to XBL members: Another welcome change came when Microsoft mentioned the free games program for Xbox Live; taking a cue from PlayStation Plus, beginning with Assassins Creed 2 and Halo 3, games will be made available digitally for free. Its good to see Microsoft actually giving something back for once, although its one small hurrah in a sea of controversial decisions at the moment
· Little support for indie games: At a complete opposite to Sony, Phil Harrison stepped up during the conference to talk about Xbox Ones support for indie games; except there was no support at all. Case and point; with Minecraft Xbox One Edition, they practically cried buy this game again!, proving that Microsoft will only go after indie games that make millions without any regard for innovation or unique experiences in the indie sector of gaming.
· Lacklustre demos: Microsoft needed to deliver on its 15 new franchises at E3 and it did show off most of them to the world; unfortunately most of these showings were pretty basic and genuinely unimpressive. Ryse ditched the Kinect support in favour of endless QTEs to instantly kill enemies, Project Spark was made redundant by the fact that it is doing what Little Big Planet has done already, only in 3D, and Sunset Overdrive and D4 only showed initial trailers. Microsofts focus into games was apparent but it just wasnt put across very well throughout the conference.
· No quelling or debunking of various concerns regarding Xbox One: Applause and cheers were rather muted through most of Microsofts conference, mostly down to the fact that people already knew about all the negative aspects of the system. Microsoft did little to address these issues, instead resorting to vague and contrived lip service to wade off the still-burning fires. Even Phil Spencer announcing the price point and release date of the console looked positively awkward to hear no applause from the audience. If Microsoft had been clearer, both journalists and consumers would get a better idea of what the system was about.
The Verdict: Microsoft had a lot to prove at E3 this year and whilst the focus was definitely in the right place, the overall result was quite lacking; few games drew intense applause from the audience aside from the new Halo and Titanfall. The Xbox One remains at a significant disadvantage and Microsoft may be getting desperate as they have been sticking advertising everywhere in an attempt to boost interest; Gamesmaster, a UK magazine that I regularly read was seen to discover this form of advertising in their hotel room yesterday, not knowing how it got there (This image was taken by Gamesmaster and can be found on their Facebook page, check it out here https://www.facebook.com/officialgamesmaster?fref=ts).
It seems a little late to rectify their mistakes with the Xbox One now but perhaps Microsoft may just cling on if it keeps rolling out the games, innovative ones at that.
Final Fantasy 15
Another long awaited title Final Fantasy Verses 13 was changed to Final Fantasy 15 at Sonys conference and will come to both PS4 and Xbox One. As always the computer generated trailer was gorgeous to look at and the story itself is said to go into more realistic and emotional depth this time around. Hopefully the fans wont have to wait much longer for the next major instalment in the long running series.
Kingdom Hearts 3
For many a fan of the Kingdom Hearts series the wait for number 3 has been a long one, and now the third entry in the popular series is finally coming to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Indeed the debut trailer proved to be a massive leap forward technically although little else is known about the game currently.
A demo of Watch Dogs conspicuously absent from the Ubisoft conference made its way into the Sony presser instead delivering gameplay of both single and multiplayer. The hacking mechanic saw Aiden Pearce guide an informant to safety before escaping from the police by killing the lights and stealing a boat aided by another player in the vicinity of the main protagonist. As with Assassins Creed 4 and Destiny Watch Dogs is primed to be the best on PlayStation 4, adding to Sonys list of exclusive deals.
Assassins Creed 4 Black Flag
In another demo absent from the Ubisoft press conference Black Flag was instead shown at the Sony conference beginning with an explosive attack on land and ending with a battle at sea between Edward and numerous privateer ships. Despite not functioning perfectly the live demo put across the combination of land and sea combat quite well and with exclusive content secured, the PS4 version of Assassins Creed 4 looks to be the best version.
Towards the end of their conference Sony showed the first gameplay of Destiny, Bungies foray into multiplatform development and it proved to be both heavily social and dynamic. Players all inhabit one massive world and can join forces to take part in events, and share loot to customise their character. What sets Destiny apart from other shooters thus far is its amazing environments. The vistas and landscapes are simply vast, sights to see and behold, a memorable environment holds potential for exploration and with social integration other players will always be with you to journey loot and shoot with. Destiny may be out on the Xbox One as well but its clear from the press conference that Bungies sights are set on Sony at this point.
· Huge support for indie developers: At their conference this year Sony showed that they were king of indie supporters on consoles; over seven games were announced for Sonys system including Dont Starve, Transistor and Mercenary Kings. Sonys welcoming of indie developers reaffirms the PlayStation 4s focus as a gaming console which in turn will attract even more developers to the system in the future.
· Blunt and simple facts: Sony did brilliantly in pushing its focus towards doing the exact opposite of its main competitor and towards the end of the conference they gave us the hard facts clearly and efficiently. There was no faffing around, no rephrasing of information and no lip service. By doing this Sony proved much more honest, and thus earned the trust of potential buyers everywhere.
· Migrating PC games: In addition to all the indie games coming to PlayStation 4, Sony also had many announcements of PC games coming to the system, after all it is technically a super powered PC itself. These included Planetside 2, Warframe, Primal Carnage and even The Elder Scrolls Online. All of these games will allow the PS4 to compete with PCs and serves another outlet for developers to port their games over at later dates.
· A slow start: Sony has become known for drawn out conversations and it continued this year as Jack Tretton again talked about sales figures and how big the PlayStation brand has become. They should have kept this brief and gotten straight to what the press and public wanted to see, games which they eventually did
· Flashing through games we already know about: A minor gripe with the conference came with Sonys insistence on focusing on PS4 games we saw at the reveal event and even The Last of Us at one point; it ate into time that could have been used to show off more PlayStation 4 games. Perhaps in a year or two Sony wont need to mention any more PS3 bits, allowing for a full focus on the new generation.
· Paying for PS4 multiplayer: Its one small but ultimately immensely frustrating issue; Sony is putting faith in the fact that all the good things PS4 does will be enough for consumers to overlook a required subscription to PlayStation Plus. The game sharing trailer released by Sony reveals in the small print that Sonys once optional subscription plan has become a requirement for going online for the new system. Already people are not happy about this which may affect Sonys sales in the long run; surprisingly it hasnt been officially confirmed by Sony or many major publications yet but if the small print was in an official trailer then its probably true.
The Verdict: It was slow to begin with but Sony eventually proved that it held the monopoly on indie games, exclusives and a solid console; towards the end they practically spat in Microsofts face and put across bluntly and simply that they would not fall into the same greedy strategies as their biggest competitor. The PS4 could now be truly in the lead and looks set to sell brilliantly come launch this year and the addition of exclusives like Final Fantasy 15 and Kingdom Hearts 3 puts it over the top of all other companies at E3 this year.
Trends of the show
By far the biggest trend of this years E3 was the inclusion of mobile device support; Microsoft, EA and Ubisoft all showed off additional features that could be accessed using devices such as tablets and smartphones in games like Battlefield 4, The Crew and Dead Rising 3; at first I thought Oh this is just some gimmick to make us buy mobile devices but now looking back its clear why theyre pushing this feature. Mobile gaming has been touted as the biggest threat to console gaming for several years and the companies are now doing everything they can to blend the two together. Only time will tell whether gamers will pick up on these new gameplay features.
Overall E3 2013 saw mostly competent showings from Microsoft, Ubisoft and EA with Sony leading the charge for next gen; by next year hopefully the issue of generation overlap will stop and the companies will be able to focus on the eighth generation of gaming.