E3 2010 Conference Review

It’s E3 again! That means broken promises, broken hearts, betrayal, disappointment, and that’s just when there’s a World Cup match on. For reference, check out my report cards for 2007, 2008 and 2009.

So without further ado, in chronological order…

Microsoft

To be honest, I got exactly what I expected from Microsoft. We all knew that there was going to be a huge focus on Natal Kinect and that was borne out. It’s undeniably technically impressive, but the lineup doesn’t interest me in the slightest so far. My antipathy towards the Wii is no real secret, and so it’s going to take something special, likely from an established developer known for great ‘normal’ games, but for the time being I’m happy to be an observer. I can see people who are in the intended audience being really impressed by it.

If we’re talking stuff outside hardcore games, ESPN was the most impressive thing. It’s almost certainly not coming here, but it’s potentially the definitive way to watch sports, and it’s included in an existing Xbox Live subscription. I’m a football fan, and having a library of classic matches as well as HD streaming live stuff with all those community features would be fantastic. Imagine getting a similar thing with the BBC iPlayer, for example.

As for the real games, there weren’t really any surprises for the most part, but what I saw impressed me. Gears 3 looked like Gears 3, and Halo: Reach really looked like a proper next-gen Halo game. Crytek is apparently making a God of War game as well, and MGS: Rising looked decent, albeit like it’s reviving something that should now be finished with. That interests me still, as even if it’s part of a genre that I don’t often get on with, those cutting mechanics look incredibly cool. Could be some real potential there.

Echoes of Sega’s E3 1995 Saturn announcement with the unveiling of the new machine, which perhaps isn’t the kind of memories to be dredging up, but you can’t deny the effectiveness of showing off the reduced size of your redesign by having it on stage inside the old one the whole time. It’s been much-needed on the technical side for a while, and I’ll certainly be tempted to upgrade at the next price drop. I’m liking the look of it, actually.

But the overall impression was underwhelming. Halo: Reach was the only game that really got me excited, and that’s… well, Halo. A Halo game that was announced over a year ago and that most of us have already played, in fact. I’m writing this section on Monday night before either of the other two conferences so I could be proven completely wrong here, but I expect Nintendo and Sony to blow away the paltry number of new announcements to appeal to gamers, and they’ll almost certainly be exclusives, which Call of Duty and Metal Gear Solid aren’t. There was a lot of flash there for really not that many new games for 2010 and 2011.

So a fairly unimpressive line-up of new games with some intriguing but unproven technology means that this conference scores a…

D

Nintendo

Low expectations have become the norm for Nintendo’s annual E3 showing, but I’m happy to say that this year’s offering was a pleasant surprise. Maybe there’s less lustre on some of Nintendo’s well-worn franchises – I’m surprisingly nonplussed about new Zelda games nowadays – but new announcements like the beautiful-looking Kirby’s Epic Yarn and the potentially great Donkey Kong Country Returns – that looks to have enough going for it to elevate it above DKC’s status as the red-headed stepchild of Nintendo platformers – left me with a positive impression of Nintendo’s upcoming slate for the first time in ages.

Previously announced games like Metroid: Other M and the new Golden Sun looked decent too, and some of those are coming out pretty imminently. With nothing as horribly embarrassing as the Wii Music announcement, even on the casual end of the scale – Miyamoto talking like he was in Wayne’s World 2 came close, admittedly – there’s very little to whip gamers into a fanboy rage about. Maybe it’s just the way that Microsoft hoovered up all that negative energy yesterday, or maybe Nintendo threw its base a bone by showing games with genuine universal appeal. Even if it’s too much to hope for that we’ll see a permanent return to the Nintendo of old, there’s plenty of reason for optimism there.

I should probably expand on Zelda rather than glossing over probably the biggest software announcement. Putting aside the technical issues during the demonstration, there was a dizzying number of nifty ideas on display in a short period of time – the usual Zelda drip feed of new abilities will be entirely necessary – and I really liked the art style, somewhere between the relative realism of Twilight Princess and Ocarina of Time and the cel-shaded look of Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass. I haven’t gone near a Zelda since Link’s Wii debut, but this will almost certainly change that.

And then there was the 3DS. Hardly a surprise and really impossible to make any judgement about without seeing it and the effectiveness of its primary gimmick, I’m nonetheless certainly on board. It seems like a proper hardware upgrade rather than the stopgap that’s been the DSi – I’m really regretting spending my money on that now – and there seems to be extremely strong software support and great potential applications with 3D movies and imagery. It’s pulling in names and developers that haven’t been associated with the DS, it’s got Ocarina of Time, and the fanboys can finally shut up about Kid Icarus. Also, with versions of MGS3 and Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, it’s surely the definitive system for stealth games, because it doesn’t get better than those two. Whenever demo kiosks start showing up I’ll be right down there to have a look. On current hype levels it could be the first Nintendo machine that I buy on day one since the original DS, and the first that hasn’t disappointed me early on since the GBC.

Nintendo left me really optimistic about its future, which is something that I haven’t been able to say for a while. It’s not going to make my Wii my number one system, but I’m definitely going to be hooking it back up soon. This conference gets a…

A

Sony

Sony’s was an odd one. By far the longest of the conferences and with a sizeable list of games, also easily topping Microsoft’s showing for hardcore gamers, there wasn’t all that much to get excited about unless you’re investing in a 3D TV. Killzone 3 looked like Killzone, but that comparison is not as much of a compliment as it was when similarly applied to Halo in my Microsoft roundup. inFamous also returned after a pre-E3 unveiling of its sequel by somehow becoming even more bland. All it lacked was Resistance 3 to complete the list of unlikeable Sony franchises that get me grinding my teeth with passive-aggressive dislike.

Even so, out of the HD twins, this was by far the superior conference. We had EA showing off some staggering-looking new games – Microsoft might have got the sales coup with exclusive Call of Duty content, but Medal of Honor is what I want to play more – and the Valve announcement was actually, in my opinion, one of the bigger ones of the show. Not that Portal 2 is coming because that wouldn’t have surprised me anyway, but that Steamworks and features like Steam Cloud were on the way: those are features that aren’t possible on a system as locked down as the 360, and if they work with the PC/Mac Steam client – Steam Play with the PS3 is surely too much to ask, but I’d love to be proven wrong – we could be a serious step towards the one console future, with Microsoft’s system firmly on the outside looking in.

Oh, and it showed the Top Gear Test Track with the Stig. Win.

Of course, Sony had its own motion-control solution, and it’s an utterly shameless design rip-off. Nothing on it that I wouldn’t prefer to play with a controller, and it’s not even as technically impressive as Kinect. It has buttons, you say? Nothing’s stopping developers from letting us use a controller while using Kinect, and a 360 controller doesn’t look like a sex toy. And that Sorcery game really needs to link up with EA and the Harry Potter licence.

I still liked a significant chunk of what I saw, so it’s just a shame that it was padded out with innumerable montages and unlikeable skits, some of which were up there (down there?) with All I Want For Xmas is a PSP, and a suspiciously enthusiastic crowd – it kind of lost me when a promotion with Coca-Cola was greeted with whoops and cheers – because what’s there was quite good. Chop half an hour out of it and let the games speak for themselves and you’ve got a very effective show with a lot less twattishness.

Twisted Metal was the big surprise, and although it didn’t make up for the notable absence of last year’s ‘one more thing’ The Last Guardian, I’m a big fan of that series and I’m looking forward to the PS3 one immensely. The on-stage presentation could have done with a bit more polish, perhaps, but it’s looking massive and is bound to be brilliant online. Time to seek out a US copy of Twisted Metal Black to put me in the mood, methinks.

Even so, I see more PS3 games that I want to play in the future than 360 games, so I’m giving this one a…

B-

It’s a pleasant surprise to be able to laud Nintendo’s E3 offering for once, and I hope that it heralds a long-term return to form. It feels so strange after all these years…

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