BY ADAM BONANNI The annual E3 (Electronics Entertainment Expo), lasting from June 1st to the 4th in Los Angeles, blew by us way too fast yet again. In what has been hailed as a return to form for the gaming industry’s largest trade show, this year’s E3 allowed much of the flash and pizazz missing since 2006 when the suits decided that the elaborate showmanship on the expo floor cramped the “business” aspect of the show. Part of the joys of gaming is that people have fun making, playing, and reporting on them, so it only makes sense to have fun showing them to the public! Attendance was up, and dozens of new games were announced at the show, so many to talk about in one post that blogs would have to impose space limitations. Titles like Super Mario Galaxy 2,Wii Fit: Plus, Mass Effect 2, Final Fantasy XIV (enough, already!), Rock Band: The Beatles and many original titles such as the 256 player online shooter MAG andRockstar’s new adventure, titled Agent barely scratch the surface of what was revealed. The big three press conferences from Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo were energetic and packed with great reveals to the press and public. Choosing the best was difficult, so without further ado, we present I,GAMER’s top 5 picks of E3 (plus other goodies).
Left 4 Dead 2
Exactly one year after the launch of Valve’s widely acclaimed make-your-own zombie movie video game Left 4 Dead, the absurdly titled Left 4 Dead 2 will be upon us, descending swiftly as the zombie invasion itself. If you’re not familiar with Left 4 Dead, it parodies the zombie survival film genre by allowing up to four cooperative players to take on the roles of survivors, scrambling across town in a desperate hope to reach a ride out of town. The unique twist is that it allows another four players to control “special infected” whose objective is to prevent the survivors from reaching their destination. All in all, a good way to lose friends, if you and your buddies happen to end up on different teams. This announcement came as quite a shock. One year between series installments is a little uncharacteristic for Valve studios, who’s development teams are known for toiling away in what the Internet dubs as “Valve Time,” working under numerous “it’ll be done when it’s done” deadlines. Also, after gradually implementing free new content in their other multi-player shooter Team Fortress 2, so much so that it has almost become an entirely new game, many expected the same treatment would be given to Left 4 Dead so it would have a strong set of legs into the future. The basic formula for Left 4 Dead will remain intact in the sequel, and minor changes to the series will be implemented, such as melee weapons, at least one new “special infected”, a new cast of survivors, and new locations set during daytime around New Orleans. The computer controlled “Director” is set to receive the largest update, now becoming your worst enemy in its ability to change weather conditions, terrain layout, and generally play God by sending more frequent zombie horde rushes at the battered survivors, like some demented puppeteer. Information is slowly trickling out about this title, but a release date has been set for November 17th, 2009. Let’s hope it won’t be subject to “Valve Time” and end up launching in the first quarter of 2013.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 and New Super Mario Bros. Wii
In all truthfulness, Nintendo had a pretty awful and disappointing press conference in 2008, delivering the utterly pedestrian Wii Music and a sequel to Wii Sports, clearly gunning for the casual gamer. The only way to make up for it was to announce games, games, games this year, and that’s what they did. New Super Mario Bros.Wii opened Nintendo’s presser this year, and immediately everyone could breathe a sigh of relief. The most successful games out there are ones that appeal both to casuals and the hardcore by easing players in and giving them depth instead of holding their hand all the way to the end credits, and New Super Mario Bros. looks to do just that. The game looks to be a re-imagining of the New Super Mario Bros. title released for Nintendo DS in 2007, adding four person local multiplayer, and secrets abound in the more elaborate versions of returning levels that can pull just about anyone in with their appealing visual style. Super Mario Galaxy 2 came as a bit of a shocker. The original Super Mario Galaxy is but two years young, and, as even admitted in their press conference, Nintendo rarely develops two installments in one of their main franchises per console. The trailer showed gameplay similar to what we saw in Super Mario Galaxy, Mario running and jumping to collect stars in outer space, but the thought of expanding the universe of Mario within the Galaxy series is pretty exciting. The development team absolutely had the creative juices flowing full-on for the first Galaxy, and it looks like the creativity behind the level design for the sequel is just as tight. Also, Yoshi! Super Mario Galaxy was one of the freshest entries in the series in years, and Galaxy 2 will have a lot to live up to when it launches.
When Ken Kutaragi took the stage at Sony’s press conference and announced they were revealing “E3’s worst kept secret,” we knew exactly what he meant. Leaked images surfaced a week before Sony’s E3 press conference revealing the newPSP GO; a redesign of the PSP, the third one in four years, that sets itself apart by cutting out the need for UMD discs on which all games ship. No need for a disc drive here, we’re going all digital, baby. So all those PSP gamers who have been buying their titles on discs from 2005 onward? Sorry gents and gals, this one ain’t for you. Although Sony still plans to support theUMD format (ignoring their 50 million UMD-clamoring PSP users wouldn’t be the best idea), the PSP GO places an emphasis on downloadable media with 16GB of internal flash memory. No word yet on how games will be delivered to the device. The Playstation Store has been up and running for some time, but it remains unseen if the PSP GO will support full game downloads from the store to the device. The PSP GO’s redesign emphasizes portability by bringing it more in line with the design of a slider phone. The controller area looks tighter, and buttons are more firm and responsive; a problem I had with the original PSP’s squishier and less precise directional pad. PSP GO will be retailing for $250, the original price of the PSP when it launched in 2005. Kotaku has a gallery of PSP GO images from the show floor. Ah, the joys of fingerprint smudges on such a sleek device…
Metroid: Other M
You’re reading this from a huge, huge, Metroid fan, so I’ll try to gush as briefly as possible and deliver the straight-up facts, although the brief reveal of Metroid: Other M leaves more questions than answers. Aside from being the recipient of the Adam Bonanni best announcement of E3 award, the brooding, atmospheric Metroid series is looking to get an even darker and more mature re-imagining courtesy of the collaborative efforts of Team Ninja and Nintendo. Although the trailer was too brief to show much gameplay, the game appears to consist of a blend of classic style 2D Metroid , as well as transitioning into the series’ later 3D first person perspective in certain instances. Once again, you’ll be stepping into the space boots of interstellar bounty hunter Samus Aran in this perceived prequel, running, gunning, and bounty hunting through the galaxy. Nintendo bringing another studio in for co-development is always a good way to sit back and look at how to give a series a fresh shot in the arm. Retro Studios successfully helped bring theMetroid series from 2D to 3D, no small feat, and Capcom even lent a hand developing two excellent Zelda titles for the Game Boy Color way back when. Pay close enough attention the trailer, and you’ll spot the recurring bossesRidley and Mother Brain (not seen since the Super Nintendo days!). Also, sounds like Samus isn’t the silent protagonist she once was anymore. A few elements characterize the Metroid franchise: A dense, solitary, and dangerous atmosphere, as well as non-linear environments, fostering an emphasis on exploration. If Team Ninja can pull these together with the greater focus on the epic scale of Samus’s universe that they appear to be going for, I have no reason to doubt they will have an absolute masterpiece on their hands.
This tentatively titled technology touching down in the near future is big. No, man, I mean this is frakkin’ huge. Taking Nintendo’s approach to deconstructing the (perceived) barrier of complex controllers alienating much of the casual gaming audience, Microsoft is set to launch Project Natal, a peripheral that records the player’s movements, facial features, voice, basically the entire person, and implements it in-game. It is designed to make you (yes, you!) the controller. Some rough tech demos were shown at Microsoft’s press conference, the usual disposable minigame fare, but the feature that caught much of the audience was the project that partner Lionhead Studios was cooking up. Known for their highly experimental game design and emphasis on creating an organic bond between software and player, their working “game” for Project Natal, workingly titled Milo, is a simulator that allows the player to interact with an AI controlled child entirely through voice recognition. Instead of barking simple orders into the microphone to elicit reaction, a necessity to make this imprecise kind of game work in the past, Milo actually has the ability, through the hardware of Project Natal, to learn a human’s personality. In the tech demo shown during E3, he is able to recognize faces, and, in a move that solidifies the fact that technology will devour our souls in the next five years, Milo is able to have a fairly coherent, believable conversation with a human. Completely and utterly creepy, but a marvel to behold. The device displayed some pretty authentic motion capture of individuals onstage, but was prone to the occasional furious spasm. Since Microsoft is driving hard at the Xbox 360 being a complete living room media center, Natal can be used to navigate through your stored music and movies with the motion of your hand. Think scrolling through album art on an iPhone, except it’s more like bitch-slapping the air. Peter Molyneux of Lionhead Studios and Steven Spielberg appeared briefly onstage to express their interest in developing for Natal. Peripheral add-ons usually fight an uphill battle to gain popularity. Sony made a pass at this type of device for the Playstation 2 with their Eyetoy, but it was under-supported and quickly lost steam. Also, Microsoft’s wishes that this will replace the use of a traditional controller for Xbox need to be squashed right out of the gate. You’ll still need a controller to play the vast majority of the Xbox games announced at E3, as well as the hundreds released since the system’s launch, so it comes down to their commitment to furthering Natal. No price has been officially announced, but the device will be sold separately, as well as bundled with futureXbox 360 systems. A good way to raise that rate of adoption. Don’t expect those stand-alones to come cheap, however.
Rock Band: The Beatles
So burnt out on this music genre, I am. DJ Hero? Come on! However, the opening cinematic to this latest iteration of Rock Band spanning the career of The Beatles from the Cavern Club to their Sgt. Pepper wave of psychedelia influenced years filled me with such awe, and I really saw the attention to detail Harmonix put into this game through vocal harmonizing and the authenticity in recreating the performance arenas. Then Paul and Ringo got up onstage for some “promotion,” giving off the impression they don’t give a flying fuck about this game, and brought the whole thing crashing down.
The Last Guardian
This latest Playstation 3-only offering from the team behind Ico and the masterful Shadow of the Colossus is one that can easily slip under anyone’s radar among such huge announcements at E3, but the soul and emotion at the heart of the game is poised to offer something that few development studios could attempt.Gameplay details are non-existent at this point, but the game looks to focus on a relationship between a young boy and some Chihuahua-chicken thing that ferries him around Clifford-style. Reminiscent of the imaginative adventures between innocent boy and misunderstood creature in movies like The Iron Giant, The Last Guardian looks to be shaping up nicely and hopefully can deliver the same powerful storytelling as the studio’s last offerings.
Well this was a nice surprise. Crackdown was released for the Xbox 360 early 2007 and became a huge success thanks to a revolutionary new feature that allowed you to pay to be a beta tester. Included with early copies was a key that allowed the recipient to test the beta of Halo 3, almost ensuring that screechy Halo fankids would make Crackdown the best selling game of all eternity. Thankfully, Crackdown actually turned out to be a fun game. Think Grand Theft Auto, except you’re a cyborg cop who has super powerful weapons and can leap over buildings. A brief proof-of-concept trailer was shown, so expect more information on this title in the coming months.
More Metal Gear Solid
Metal Gear Solid: Rising, announced for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, and Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker for the PSP were two new titles revealed at E3. Rising stars Raiden, who made his debut in Metal Gear Solid 2, and was quickly shoved out of the spotlight for being a whiny man-child. So bringing him back as the star in an interesting move for the studio. Metal Gear Solid: Rising also promises Lightning Bolt Action in its information-absent proof-of-concept trailer, whatever that means. Shifting gears to Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker, it looks to be a full fledged Metal Gear title, not some weak spin-off, which is always a good thing. The trailer revealed the series’s tried and true sneak and assassinate gameplay, set in the Cold War as a direct sequel to Metal Gear Solid 3.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Wow. This was certainly a highlight of the show. Harnessing the spirit of Indiana Jones on crack, the newest trailer for treasure hunter Nathan Drake’s latest adventure showed him in an adrenalin fueled chase, scaling buildings and dodging helicopter mini-guns, among other things that treasure hunters probably never do. But that’s what makes video games awesome! Not to mention thisPlaystation 3 exclusive is one of the most stunning visual feats I’ve ever seen.
I was only going to make this list five games, but huzzah! Alan Wake is resurrected from the recesses of forgotten development, which is enough cause for an exception. Also, I have a soft spot for anything starring a writer. First announced during E3 2005, Alan Wake is the latest offering from Remedy development studios, responsible for the excellent Max Payne 1&2. Starring a writer who vacations to a peaceful lake with his wife, only to have things go terribly wrong (do these lake cabin stories end up any other way?), Wake has to uncover the mystery behind his wife’s disappearance, as well as find out why his story he can’t remember writing is coming to life. The footage shown at E3 consisted of an atmospheric and terrifyingly foggy stroll around the lake, with an unknown enemy attacking Wake as he continued searching for his wife. Armed with only a flashlight which seemed to keep his enemies at bay, Alan Wake calls to mind the psychological horror conveyed so well in titles like Silent Hill, and looks to be a memorable entry in the genre whenever it gets around to launching (Remedy is calling, finally, for a Spring 2010 launch)
Much thanks to Joystiq, Kotaku, GameTrailers, and G4TV for their fantastic coverage of the show