E3 2011 Conference Review

Every year, at about this time, the gaming world comes together to show us why it’s going to deserve our money this year, and as happens a couple of times a decade it seems like we’re in a generation running on fumes. Indeed, one of the big three has shown its hand already, and such a bold statement of intent will surely mean appearances for the next Xbox and PlayStation in the next 12 months.

And for reference, here are my reviews of 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. This year I’m adding the stipulation that I won’t factor in multiplatform showings, since as impressive as Modern Warfare 3 and BioShock Infinite looked, that has no bearing on the relative fortunes of the consoles on which they were demonstrated.

So, in chronological order…

Microsoft

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Last year, I wasn’t happy with the first look at real-life Kinect stuff, but I gave it a pass because I was confident that Microsoft knows its market – the people who made the Xbox a success where other ventures had failed. Now, I’m not so sure. How many times during that conference was something that looked interesting unveiled, only for someone to come out and sacrifice their dignity by squatting, hopping, waving and – shudder – fist-bumping in front of thousands of people? Ryse (formerly Codename Kingdoms), which was last year positioned as something new from Crytek for the Xbox core audience has suddenly become an on-rails Kinect game. Fable? An on-rails Kinect game. Ditto Star Wars, Sesame Street… and I have to say I’m nervous after seeing the Master Chief floating through an exploding ship in a fashion not far removed from what a bunch of avatars were doing in Disneyland Adventures not long before.

I’m probably just being paranoid on that one. There’s no way that Microsoft would risk a valuable and popular franchise with that kind of nonsense, is there? Wait… what was that Fable game again?

Back in my territory, Gears 3 looks good, but it’s Gears 3. It’s not going to blow any minds after anyone who’s interested has already played the beta, if not the two previous games, and let’s not forget that this is the second E3 for a game that was originally going to have been long out by now. It’s not new.

So with Halo 4 only present in CG form and a remake of the first Halo hardly likely to win over anyone, I guess it falls to Forza 4, then. In fairness it did look gorgeous, with nary an embarrassing Kinect demo in sight, and after Gran Turismo dropped the ball there’s a big opportunity for Microsoft and Turn 10 to nab that ‘real driving simulator’ label. Not that it matters to me, though. As I’ve said many times in the past, I couldn’t care less about driving simulators and need my virtual driving heavily diluted with arcade action. Bring back Bizarre Creations and Project Gotham, I say.

D

Sony

Sony’s offering was better than Microsoft’s, sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to sound excited. On the PS3 front, putting aside re-releases and Move games, I make it Uncharted 3, Ruin, Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time and Starhawk. The former and latter are looking excellent and I loved their respective predecessors, but we already knew about them. The others? Meh. I’m sure they’ll be perfectly good but I can take them or leave them.

Coupled with Microsoft’s damp squib, it seriously seems like this generation is running on fumes. Whenever the PS4 and next Xbox turn up, we don’t appear to be in danger of having another PS2, still receiving significant games after the release of its successor.

But of course, the big deal was the first E3 for what was formerly known as the NGP: PlayStation Vita. Strange name, but it makes a break from the PSP and it’s of secondary importance to what is an impressive piece of hardware. The graphics it’s pushing look superb, and the cloud functionality brings the niche connectivity features between the PS3 and PSP into a realm where they might actually get used, as long as its utility isn’t going to be predicated on buying two versions of the same game.

It’s said, however, that the definition of insanity is┬ádoing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, and that’s exactly what Sony is doing with the Vita. Even as someone who likes the PSP and still buys games for it, and with the 3DS not so far setting the world alight, it’s an extremely powerful handheld that’s hosting pocket versions of big-console games, and it didn’t work last time. Looking at Uncharted: Golden Abyss, we’ve even got the banner franchise being farmed out to a minor first-party studio. I’d like to be proven wrong, and I’d like to be able to play it for more than three hours without charging, but I’m not expecting either prediction to go my way.

Based purely on the fact that Sony’s conference wasn’t entirely focused on utter shite, it gets bumped up two grades. Then gets one taken away for not featuring The Last Guardian.

C

Nintendo

If big hopes were on Nintendo with the knowledge that it was to unveil new hardware, they were only enhanced by the other platform holders’ failure. And like many people, I came away disappointed here as well.

First, the other stuff, though. It generally takes a lot for Nintendo to get me excited because I’m a bit bored of another Mario Kart, another 2D Mario, and so on. And don’t get me started on bloody Smash Bros. I’m not yet burned out on Star Fox and I’ll always love Zelda – especially when I’m getting a free one for my under-utilised DSi – so I’ll give them those two.

To be honest, I’m still digesting the Wii U and wondering what to think. I’m generally positive, which may surprise some, even if some subsequent revelations have dampened its gloss somewhat, but we’re going on the press conference, and that was disappointing. I don’t know anyone who didn’t leave with questions, including whether or not it was even a standalone console. It was a failure of communication and, to be honest, the aforementioned disclosures have left me with questions over how much of the omitted information was deliberate. Time will have to tell because it’s certainly not coming this year, but it’ll be nice to have the option of playing Nintendo games alongside half-decent third-party offerings. Until the new Xbox also comes out in late 2012 and restores the console power status quo, of course.

Sadly, the announcement that I’m most looking forward to trading for my hard-earned currency is the Zelda symphony CD. That makes it extremely underwhelming, but that’s one more new announcement that I’m excited about than the other two, so Nintendo comes out on top by default.

C+

This has to be the most disappointing E3 in years. The three conferences were average at absolute best and I struggle to think of one new announcement that interests me. Also, gone seems to be the pleasure in finding obscure new announcements hidden away in the nooks of the gaming news sites, because there aren’t any – maybe we’re finally seeing the impact of every studio that doesn’t make nothing but million-sellers closing down. Running on fumes doesn’t even begin to describe this generation from the looks of things.