The E3 Expo is a lot like a roller-coaster. There’s the anticipation of that first hill (the build-up to the show with hints of what’s coming), the sudden drop into the exciting parts (the actual announcements and reveals) and the slowing down as the ride comes into the station (wading through discarded goodie bags and leaflets to the exit).
But the worrying thing is that the industry as a whole seems to be on rails, heading in one direction and with very little opportunity for change or an unexpected twist in the layout. You know what you are going to get, because you can look ahead and see what’s coming. There’s another first-person shooter, another open-world driving game with online challenges, and another action game with button-bashing combos and QTE’s. Is that what we really want?
There were three major trends at the show – motion control, 3D and artistic style.
Nintendo had arguably the best showing, thanks in no small part to the new 3DS with its display that does not require special glasses and long list of familiar franchises for launch day. There are many fans that argue that Nintendo is not doing anything innovative by relying on Zelda, Starfox and Mario, but dig deeper and there are some interesting ideas in there. Skyward Sword on Wii relies on MotionPlus, Pilotwings is making a welcome return after a long absence and the same with Starfox. Of course, the Wii already has motion gaming, but the much-vaunted Vitality Sensor seemed to make little or no impression. But Kirby’s Epic Yarn did on me – a clever combination of how the game looks (everything is made of fabric) and taking that a step further to change how the game plays (with areas hidden by zips that can be opened, or gaps that can be crossed by pulling a thread to “gather” the background up).
Microsoft concentrated on Kinect and its take on motion gaming, the previous name of Natal falling by the wayside. As commentators continue to dissect whether the interface works with a seated player, the actual line-up seems a little underwhelming. A virtual pet game, sports, dancing… nothing grabs the attention as much as the Milo demo from last year. Gears of War 3 and Halo Reach will be big sellers, but do they really add much that is new?
Sony tried to set up a smokescreen around its Move controllers, quoting prices from a low level to make it sound cheaper than Kinect… which it will be if you already own a Playstation Eye camera. If you don’t then that will be an extra expense, along with the Sony nunchuck equivalent. Killzone 3 had one major gimmick to offer, one of the first console games to be playable in 3D – but as Nintendo pointed out, it does require the player to wear special glasses and possess a 3D ready TV. How many people will be in the same boat as early HD adopters, unaware that they cannot get 3D pictures without an appropriate 3D source? This is something the PS3 can do thanks to a firmware update, but it’s down to how it is used. One disappointment for Sony was the lack of further detail on The Last Guardian, from the team behind Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.
But for me, there were some interesting games that intrigued me with their art. As well as the aforementioned Kirby, thegamecompany’s Journey and the XBLA game Limbo (with its silhouettes) looked very different. Gruesome scrolling beat ‘em up Shank has a good pedigree, but the one I really took to was Rock of Ages. A strange combination of art history, Katamari Damacy and real time strategy, this is one I will be following in the coming months.
Christmas sales will be all about Call of Duty, Medal of Honour, Rock Band 3 and familiar names, plus people in the UK scrambling to beat the VAT hike. Like last year there will be titles slipping into the first quarter of 2011 – for example, id Software’s Rage – to avoid the heavy hitters, and they could be overshadowed even then. And of course the countdown to another E3 will begin.