Arguably video gaming’s biggest event of the year, E3, has wrapped up after four days of Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo plugging their products with a little help from their third-party friends. To say that this year’s E3 was high on expectations goes without saying – high expectations are inherent in E3 itself. Were those always-lofty expectations met? Aside from a few bright stars, it’s hard to answer that question with a yes. But, an underwhelming E3 (and there have been plenty others in the show’s history) doesn’t mean the show was totally bereft of tantalizing new games, hardware, and features. Here’s the best of the best from E3 2012. It’s worth stressing that these are in no particular order.
Microsoft’s big E3 announcement this year was SmartGlass – and that’s not a good thing. Microsoft had a notably poor showing at this year’s E3, leading to the SmartGlass receiving an unfair amount of derision. SmartGlass is an app that will link content playing on the Xbox 360 to the user’s smartphone or tablet. We’re not just talking about Windows Mobile devices, either – Android and iOS devices will be supported, as well.
SmartGlass will offer up extra information about the game being played or the movie or television show being watched. That means that how, exactly, SmartGlass will be implemented in individual cases is up to developers and producers. For television shows, a demo of SmartGlass working with Game of Thrones was shown off, where SmartGlass gave the user a map of Westeros, showing character movement in real-time along with the television show. Madden ’13 was the clearest example of SmartGlass for video games – the demonstrator used a tablet as a playbook, navigating formations and calling plays. It’s somewhat similar to what the Wii U controller aims to do, with the caveat being that the tablet will not be used as the main controller – you’ll still be using your Xbox 360 controller to actually play Madden ’13, for example. That leads to the one big knock so far on SmartGlass – many think juggling a tablet or smartphone and a video game controller might not be worth the hassle.
SmartGlass can also be used as a remote control of sorts for Xbox Live – a function that was announced in tandem with the reveal that Internet Explorer will be coming to Xbox Live.
Again, SmartGlass doesn’t look bad – it could add a few cool new features to whichever third parties decide to take advantage of it. It also doesn’t exactly inspire awe, which the big three, fair or not, are expected to do come E3.
Nintendo’s showing at E3 was also less than stellar. The presentation raised big questions about the Wii U hardware – particularly the projected 3-5 hour battery life of the controller and the fact that using two Wii U controllers at once with the console will halve the frame rate of the game being played. Nintendo did take steps to assure fans with content, partly by announcing that Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, and YouTube will all be available on their new console.
It’s understandable that few were wowed – Netflix and Hulu are already on the Nintendo Wii, and adding Amazon Video and YouTube still doesn’t bring Nintendo anywhere near Sony or Microsoft in terms of online services offered through consoles. It’s great that Nintendo fans will be able to enjoy access to those services, but in terms of making the Wii U more competitive on the market, the announcement falls short.
Nintendo played it safe with these two, and for good reason – Nintendo’s never gone wrong with Mario. The original New Super Mario Bros for the Nintendo DS was a huge hit, as was the Wii version that came out in 2009. The two newest games in the franchise look to continue that success. New Super Mario Bros. 2, for the Nintendo 3DS, will feature a new twist – power-ups that make coins much more readily available, opening up challenges like collecting a certain amount of coins as fast as possible. More importantly, it features the return of Raccoon Mario.
New Super Mario Bros U will introduce a flying squirrel suit for Mario, as well as Tiny Balloon Yoshi, who can inflate to carry you across tricky stretches of the game. It will also add your Mii as a playable character. That’s a little more important when it comes to the Wii U, which will feature the Miiverse, where players can view their Miis, their friends’ Miis, and the Miis of others playing the same games in the player’s library, among other groupings. From within New Super Mario Bros U, you can view other players’ comments and achievements through Miiverse. That sounds nice, but it also makes it abundantly clear that in the realm of online services, Nintendo is grievously behind Microsoft and Sony.
Surely, if Nintendo and Microsoft failed to make a big splash, Sony could pick up the slack, right? The product above might not give you much confidence, but don’t worry – Sony had more than enough to put on an impressive show, even though they seemed to have all but forgotten that the flagging PlayStation Vita exists. We’ll get to the most exciting stuff later.
Don’t take that as a knock on the Move’s Racing Wheel peripheral, though. It’s pretty ingenious in terms of flexibility, and might pique the interest of racing game enthusiasts. The wheel isn’t exactly in a wheel shape, mostly because the wheel can be converted into handlebars for motorcycle racing games. Both modes will feature force feedback and precise motion tracking. The best feature might be the twist throttle controls activated when you use the wheel in handlebar mode, which should provide a level of immersion not seen until now for motorcycle racing games. I’m sure Sony is hoping that the new peripheral will move a few more Move units, too – another Sony product, that, like the Vita, has failed to meet sales expectations.
Now, for something completely unexpected. Sony unveiled the Wonderbook, which looks nothing like any product we’ve seen before. The Wonderbook is an augmented reality book that contains 12 pages. When playing a Wonderbook game, kids (for whom the Wonderbook is presumably being made) will use the Move controller as a wand, pointing it at the Wonderbook. On the television screen, the book will come to life, depending on which part of the book the player is “illuminating” with the Move controller. Kids can then be prompted to complete physical actions, which will be picked up by the PlayStation Eye. If you’re keeping score at home, yes, that’s four devices that have been listed. You’d be forgiven for thinking this is another attempt on the part of Sony to sell more peripherals.
To be fair, the Wonderbook does look intriguing. The Wonderbook was demonstrated using The Book of Spells, created in part by J.K. Rowling as an extension of the Harry Potter universe. In The Book of Spells, kids will practice 20 spells from the series. The book unfolds as if the player was a student at Hogwarts, taking a class in those ancient spells. Players can also earn house points by completing various challenges. The games will be separated into chapters, which will make use of all 12 pages. Starting a new chapter will simply mean starting again from page one.
The only knock on the Wonderbook is that it requires so many other peripherals to function. That’s a lot of money, but it’s also a fairly big production to get all of those devices working together – something a lot of kids might not have the patience for. But, with possibilities open for real-world educational applications, it might be worth keeping an eye on the Wonderbook.
Finally, we come to the announcements that made Sony’s E3 showing really stand out – the games. We could get excited about God of War: Ascension, or any number of multi-platform games, but the real stars of the show were a couple of exclusive PlayStation 3 games in the works based on entirely new IPs. Beyond: Two Souls and Last of Us look to be brutal, beautiful, and a testament to what next-gen games could be. In fact, though the official company line is that these are PlayStation 3 games, there are more than a few whispers going around that these could be early PlayStation 4 games in the making.
Beyond: Two Souls stars Ellen Page. That’s a bit of an odd sentence when talking about a video game, but that’s where we are now. The game’s main character, Jodie Holmes, will have Page’s likeness and will be voiced by the actress. Developers Quantic Dream (Heavy Rain) have been light on details about the story, but have said that the game will deal with questions about life after death. The trailer suggests that telekinetic powers will be a big part of the gameplay. The big story here is the graphics. It seems like we’ve been saying for the better part of a decade how lifelike animated faces are getting, but this trailer really takes it to another level. To sum it up nicely – that really does look like Ellen Page in the trailer.
Last of Us was announced well before E3, but this is the first time we’ve seen a gameplay demo, and it is impressive. Resist the urge to groan at the sight of yet another zombie game – this isn’t what you’re used to seeing. The Last of Us gameplay demo focused not on battling zombies, but on other bands of survivors who aren’t exactly warm to the idea of cooperation. The two main characters – a man named Joel and a young girl named Ellie – are shown progressing through a ruined city (which keen observers have identified as Pittsburgh), on the run from zombies that are not shown in the demo. The graphics are stunning, but the cool part here is how the characters react to the environment so naturally. Dialogue is tailored to little details, like a movie poster on an old bus stop. It’s the closest a video game has come thus far to sounding unscripted. Enemy AI will also react intelligently, changing tactics depending on whatever makeshift weapon Joel happens to be toting at the moment. Granted, that’s only applicable for the other survivors. I don’t know if the zombies can make those same adjustments – hopefully not, because intelligent zombies are pretty much the worst-case zombie apocalypse scenario.
Watch_Dogs was a crowd favorite at E3 this year, a multi-platform game from Ubisoft that will see release for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC sometime this fall. It’s set in the future, but a future that isn’t too far removed from the present. The main character, Aiden Pierce, looks like he’ll be able to hack into just about anything, giving him access to traffic lights, other people’s cell phones, personal information, and anything else with an electronic component. This allows the player to manipulate the environment to create tactical advantages for when Pierce needs to shoot people, which, judging by the end of gameplay demo, seems like it will be a frequent enough occurrence.
It’s not a game, but it’s impressive nonetheless. Agni’s Philosophy is a tech demo from Final Fantasy makers SquareEnix, showcasing the new Luminous Engine. This was purely a graphics demonstration, and a very impressive one, at that. The new game engine, which SquareEnix will likely use in future Final Fantasy games, features incredibly detailed faces and realistic movement. Uncannily realistic emotions are displayed throughout, along with a gorgeous environment in the background. Like the burgers you see in fast food advertisements, Agni’s Philosophy probably looks far better than what you’ll actually get with future games running on the Luminous Engine, but it’s hard to complain – anything even approaching what was shown in Agni’s Philosophy is going to be more than enough to knock a few socks off.
Last, but not least, we have Samsung’s Smart TV feature du jour – Samsung Cloud Gaming. Owners of 2012 Samsung Smart TVs will soon be able to access a beta of the new streaming service, which gamers can use to access high profile titles without the need for local storage. The service promises smooth streaming of games, as well as free trial periods for all games on sale in their store.