Wednesday, 8 June 2011

E3 2011: Conference reactions

The three big conferences at E3 have been and gone, showcasing very different approaches to the future from Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo. There have been new games, new hardware and big surprises for fans of each console. More will almost certainly be revealed today and tomorrow, but it's the conferences that everyone remembers E3 for, so let's dive in and take a look at who had the best showing...

Last year, Microsoft came under heavy fire for their focus on titles for new gamers in a clear attempt to capture some of the market Nintendo monopolised with the Wii. There were promises before the conference this year that they would prove Kinect's worth to the traditional gamer and that everyone would come away satisfied. 

The reality? Not so much. Considering how Microsoft's success with the XBox brand has been built on the most mainstream games for the most mainstream gaming audience, apart from a few exclusively tidbits for games that had already been announced and a leaked Halo 4 reveal, their 2011 E3 conference leaned heavily towards the new market they were gunning for last year. Disney World and Sesame Street (though the latter did look amusing) are not exactly the stuff that traditional gaming dreams are made of. Whilst a conference showing off big titles like Gears of War 3, Modern Warfare 3, Mass Effect 3 and Halo 4 can never be considered a true gaming washout, promises for 'hardcore' Kinect games turned out to be a shambolic assembly of embarrassingly limited minigames (the Ghost Recon gun lab), on-rails shooters and shoehorned-in voice-recognition capabilities. Why Child of Eden wasn't given an outing remains a mystery.

Microsoft themselves barely seem to know what to do with the Kinect. A huge variety of functions was shown off, but not linked by any singular vision. Creating your avatar using the camera in Fun Labs and scanning your real-life stuff into game is fine, but a distraction at best. Announcing partnerships with various media companies certainly makes the 360 an impressively mutipurpose piece of kit, but undermines it as a gaming console first and foremost. As for the Kinect integration with these features, waving your hand around or using voice recognition to tell the console what you want it to do seems a more arduous way of doing what would be easier and less intrusive with a remote control.


By contrast, Sony gave a strong show of themselves in the aftermath of the PSN outage debacle. Jack Tretton started the conference by offering a dignified and sincere apology to players and third-parties alike for the difficulties, before moving on and not looking back.

Whilst the PS3 might not have had any particularly big titles to reveal - the MMO shooter Dust 514 was probably the most notable, though only shown in a brief and unhelpful video - the PlayStation Move was given some much-needed support (rather painfully in the case of Ken Levine, who had to backtrack on his earlier assertion that BioShock Infinite wouldn't use the device) and made the most of an exciting new trailer for Uncharted 3 and the long-awaited reveal of the Ico/Shadow of the Colossus HD collection. God of War also got a PS3 collection of the PSP games Chains of Olympus and Ghosts of Sparta, but playing handheld games on the most powerful home console on the market isn't exactly the stuff of gaming dreams.

Handheld content was where Sony really hit it out of the park though, with the reveal of the PlayStation Vita - an odd name, but hardly the games industry's first - and its unexpectedly 'low' pricepoint of $250 for the non-3G model. Many anticipated that Sony's palm-sized powerhouse would have to retail considerably higher, putting it at a disadvantage to the 3DS, but by having a model available for the same price as Nintendo's device could well be a tipping point for many gamers. The range of games on offer was also impressive, most notably a new Uncharted game, ModNation Racers and BioShock, though it's unclear whether the latter will be a port of the original, the upcoming Infinite or a PSV (?) exclusive.

The focus for what felt like quite a large portion of the conference on bringing 3D to the masses was a bit of a damp squib, in part because it's a technology which a lot of people remain unconvinced by and also because it plays into Nintendo's hands of being able to offer glasses-free 3D on their 3DS. That was a minor blip though on an otherwise excellent presentation, proving without a shadow of a doubt that Sony are back in the game.


Nintendo's was the conference that drew the most interest beforehand, as it had been announced that they would be showing off their successor to the Wii. Disenchantment with the 3DS' mismanaged launch also meant that all eyes were on the company to prove that their new handheld was still on course to justify its heavy pre-release hype.

On both counts, Nintendo left the stage with what might be considered a tempered success. The Wii U (apparently that's the official, slightly inelegant punctuation) had strong third-party support in the 'core' genres where the Wii was found so lacking, yet the oversized tablet controller was given a mixed reaction despite its impressive range of abilities. Those who have gone hands-on claim it works wonderfully, but then, isn't that always the case? There was a fair bit of confusion for a while as to whether the tablet itself was the console, but Nintendo rectified that afterwards by releasing images of the hardware proper, which resembles a larger Wii with rounded edges. Not a long way away from a white 360, in fact.

Much as Microsoft suffered with not knowing what to do with the Kinect, Nintendo had the same problem communicating a clear vision for their tablet to punters. The concepts underpinning the Wii and 3DS were apparent from first sight, yet this hybrid of game controller and iPad, for all its potential, seems neither here nor there. It's not even clear if it's to be the console's main control method, given how all the Wii's controllers (except the GameCube pad) will be compatible with the Wii U. On the plus side, this does mean a great deal of money will be saved on having to buy a new set of Nintendo's always-overpriced controllers. The console will launch at some point between April 2012 and the end of December.

The 3DS was given a notable push, with more details revealed on the likes of Mario Kart 3DS, Super Mario 3DS (complete with Tanuki suit!), Kid Icarus, Paper Mario, Starfox, a Smash Bros announcement (both for the handheld and Wii U, but a very long way off)... yet a worrying lack of compelling third-party software. Resident Evil: Revelations was the only game to fill that remit, but we've known about that one for a long time. After third-parties provided the most exciting software in the handheld's launch library, let's hope that Nintendo aren't slipping back into old habits. As for the Wii, there was only a new Skyward Sword trailer to be found. More games may be announced as E3 progresses (we already know that Kirby is on the way), but it seems that Nintendo's (first) little white box is going to suffer a rather desolate final year. Still, if you haven't picked up these five games yet, now would be the time to do so.



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Xander Markham said...

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