LOS ANGELES – We came, we saw, we played way too many video games. But now, the big Electronics Entertainment Expo of 2013 is in the books, and it’s time to see how it will impact our gaming future.
FIVE GAMES TO WATCH
Eidos’ reimagining of the great PC franchise was one of the finest games of E3. The new Thief isn’t exactly a showcase piece for the power of next-gen consoles (hey, it’s been in development for several years), but it utilizes the hardware solidly, especially near the end of the E3 demo, when the mansion you were once tasked with sneaking into begins to burn.
Thief promises to be as much about stealth as it is about options, and the influence of Eidos’ previous work, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, seems strong. While stealth seems prudent in most circumstances, returning protagonist Garrett could easily try to fight his way through the Barron’s mansion, and he can enter the mansion in at least three very different ways. The camera even switches to a third-person view for certain interactions, and while there’s no hacking here, a lockpicking mini-game plays much the same role.
Eidos wants you to feel like a thief, though, and to that end, it’s crafting a different game from other spectacular stealth titles such as Dishonored. There’s little focus on killing, and far more focus on sneaking and traversing undetected. To that end, Thief’s A.I. strikes a unique balance, displaying enough intelligence not to seem like a mere A.I. but enough stupidity to allow you to have some fun.
It’s a subtle but exciting difference in the stealth genre. And most of all, it promises to be fun.
NEED FOR SPEED: RIVALS
There were several other racing games at E3, but none stood out like Need for Speed: Rivals.
Several other companies – including Ubisoft, with The Crew – are promising unique, connected racing game experiences chock full of seamless online options. But NFS: Rivals’ execution stood above the rest. Racers and drivers can jump in and out of races with ease, and skirmishes between collections of cops and collections of racers are tremendously satisfying.
Other games can do this, sure, but the NFS franchise has a decided edge, in part because it’s been crafting such games for years. The height of the series was Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit in 2010, and that game showcased near-flawless race-and-chase mechanics. Rivals seems to build on that, enhancing the way you use weapons and traps, and delivering an incredible racing experience to boot.
On top of all that, this is one of the finest racing games you’ll ever see, with spectacular draw distances and detailed backgrounds.
BATMAN: ARKHAM ORIGINS
The sexy new next-gen titles certainly stole the show, but that didn’t stop Arkham Origins, a current-gen title due out later this year, from earning some acclaim. Developer RockSteady Studios has a great challenge on its hands as it tries to top 2011’s absolutely brilliant Batman: Arkham City, of course.
But Arkham Origins is off to a good start. A 25-minute demo level showcased a new martial arts enemy who quickly changed the pace of traditional Arkham combat, and several other improvements. There are new gadgets to play with, Detective Mode has grown a bit more elaborate, and the open world of Arkham remains alive and brimming with enemies and side quests.
Much of Origins success, however, will likely step from its story; we’ve seen much of this gameplay before, after all. But the third game in the Arkham franchise is off to a spectacular start.
If you’ve never played a Pikmin game (and until my E3 hands-on, I certainly hadn’t), you’re in for a treat. Shigeru Mayamoto’s pet project is a tremendously unique game, one that has you managing a hefty collection of insects and racing the clock to collect pieces of fruit. It all takes place in beautifully and brightly colored worlds, and cutesy effects underlie the entire experience.
That experience is unlike anything you’ve experienced before. Essentially, this is a cleverly built resource management game, one that forces you to strike a careful balance between micromanagement and delegation. You’ll give your Pikmin orders to pick up this fruit, attack that wall or down that enemy, and your Pikmin always carry through.
But the moment they’re done with a task, they stand still, and in a race against the clock, that’s never a good thing. Tracking your Pikmin becomes critical and moving quickly is crucial.
It’s an experience that could only be had on the Wii U as well. Traditional controls would likely not afford you the speed needed to assign and target your Pikmin (although Sony’s PS4 Dualshock might have a chance), but the Wii U GamePad is well-equipped for the challenge, and the nunchuk-and-WiiMote combination works well, too. This is the class of this year’s Nintendo Wii U games, easily.
We’ve already written plenty about Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs, but the game still stood out again at E3. Ubisoft’s hacking open-worlder showed more of its connected side at E3, and its use of a companion app is particularly promising.
Not familiar with Watch Dogs? Here’s a superquick primer: This is a next-gen sandbox game that casts you as good guy Aiden Pierce, drops you into a futuristic Chicago where technology permeates our lives even more than it already does, and gives you the ability to hack just about anything.
That hacking reaches another level when you call for “help” from somebody using the companion app. Imagine you’re sitting on the couch with your brother, and you’re being chased by the cops. Your brother could give you a hand by pulling up the app on a tablet or smartphone and essentially “hacking” various points of the city. In a hands-off demo, one dev bailed out another by using a temporary power outage to give Aiden a chance to shoot some cops.
The potential could change the way we think about cooperative multiplayer, and it could redefine the role of the tablet in our mainstream gaming experience.
SONY’S MOMENT IN THE SUN
Just in case you missed it, it was Sony that came out on top in Round 1 of the just-started next-gen console war. As we wrote Thursday, the PlayStation 4 was the clear winner over the Xbox One. And we can even pinpoint the exact moment when that war was one.
It was the night before E3 officially opened, on Monday, at the tail end of Sony’s annual press conference. That’s when company big wig Jack Tretton, in front of a host of media and plenty of gaming fans watching on live stream, promised that Sony would continue to let users do what they want with the games they purchase. That meant no restrictions on trade-ins, no efforts to keep gamers from selling their titles on eBay, and no other such restrictions.
Tretton said it simply and clearly, and, just in case anyone misinterpreted him, Sony released a YouTube video later that night in which two of its execs showed just how easily they could share games with each other.
It was a strong shot fired directly at Microsoft, and that’s a rare thing these days. Most every year, these press conferences are filled with soft declarations, as companies tiptoe around each other and avoid strong statements that could be nightmares later.
Not this time. Tretton included no spin or corporate disclaimer, and there was no talk of reserving the right to change his mind. There was no fine print. Microsoft’s already pages and pages into such fine print with its own unwieldy, confusing policies, and that makes Tretton and Sony stand out even more. And that is truly special.
Truth be told, Sony could have easily joined Microsoft as another big company looking out for more companies, insuring profits to developers and leaving gamers to simply deal. After all, Microsoft’s policies aren’t inane or draconian; the company is adopting many of the theories that have been successful for iTunes and Steam.
But Sony chose another far more consumer-friendly way, and it announced that method on the biggest stage it could find, just hours after Microsoft had done little to soften the blow of its own used-games policies. The performance, while likely calculated in its own way, was something for gamers to celebrate, and it firmly positioned PlayStation as an advocate for the little guys.
Score one for the PlayStation 4. A very, very strong one.
Didn’t get to E3? Don’t worry, because Nintendo’s bringing E3 to a handful of locations near you. On Saturday, from 1-5 p.m., the less heralded member of the Big Three game companies has set up E3 Experience centers at a slew of Best Buy stores around the country, including the Best Buy in Long Island City, Queens.
Each of these Best Buy locations will showcase four games that were part of Nintendo’s E3 lineup: Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Super Mario 3D Worlds and Mario Kart 8. It’s a shame there’s no Pikmin 3 here for you to try, but it’s still a nice move by Nintendo, and an important one.
Sony and Microsoft owned the stage at E3 this year, but you can only read about their games. Nintendo, meanwhile, had to accept second billing at E3, but it has first billing at Best Buy for a few hours on Saturday.
TURBO BOOST: E3 EDITION
In a few brief minutes with Microsoft’s New Kinect, I found it to be surprisingly accurate at tracking heart rate, and that pleased a dev team that was obsessed with accuracy. How much so? One dev told me he wore a $300 finger monitor every day for several months . . . Can we please not all get too excited about the Xbox One’s NFL app? It’s easy for any app to look good in a preset demo format, and this one has some limitations: According to one Microsoft dev, it currently only works with NFL.com. ESPN and Yahoo! players need not apply, although things could change before release . . . Coolest superhero in Nintendo’s upcoming The Wonderful 101? The Toilet-Man. And the rest of the game is shaping up very nicely as well . . . Best display of E3? Try Capcom’s Dead Rising 3 setup, which included a fenced-in group of hired folks pretending to be zombies. Oh, and the game wasn’t bad, either . . .
A CONTEST TO DIE HARD FOR
Haven’t gotten your dad anything for Father’s Day? Well, here’s a gift absolutely brimming with old-school goodies that you can give him right after: In honor of the early-week Blu-ray release of “A Good Day to Die Hard,” the System Update is giving away one overloaded Die Hard prize pack.
The gift pack includes a Blu-Ray copy of “A Good Day to Die Hard,” a copy of the “Die Hard” 25th anniversary collection, a pack of “Die Hard” band-aids and some T-shirts, just for kicks. To enter for a chance to win, simply retweet this System Update link and include @ebenezersamuel in your Tweet. You’ll automatically have a chance to be randomly selected to win. We’ll DM the winner on Monday, one day after Father’s Day.
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