Monday, June 20, 2011

E3 2011: After The Dust Has Settled

As the dust begins to settle on E3 2011 and the masses who made the journey to L.A. for the three day event return to the normality of everyday life, which to be fair, having followed the adventures of a number of these lucky folk via Twitter for the last few months is probably far from normal, either that or they're in possession of vivid imaginations with which to embellish the everyday humdrumness (is that a is now!)...where was I? Ahhh yes, as the dust settles and the fervour is gently diminished let's take a look back at the big announcements and see what future delights Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo and co have in store... Then we can all update Twitter about our alligator wrestling and naked bungee jumping sessions.

The biggest talking point at this year's E3 came courtesy of Nintendo with the announcement of their new Wii U console and it's revolutionary controller. Wii U is to be the successor to the massive success story that has been the Wii and despite not giving too much away about the machine's innards and performance, and despite the fact that the 3rd party games coming to the Wii-U were shown running on the PS3 & 360, Nintendo still managed to get the gathered tongues wagging. Upon unveiling the now much discussed controller they managed to pique the curiosity of all and sundry. What became apparent with regards this weird and wonderful controller was the fact that Nintendo are still the company that will push the boundaries of design and ideas in gaming. The controller seems to have more in common with a handheld gaming machine or tablet looks wise, and boasts a 6 inch touch screen.

To be brutally honest, as nice as the new Wii-U controller looks and although it's undeniably another great example of Nintendo thinking outside the box, it's the console itself that I yearn to know about not the controller and unfortunately there wasn't a great deal of information forthcoming in that respect. It will be HD, Nintendo's first HD console to be exact, so that's a bonus. It'll be backwards compatible with Wii games and possibly Gamecube too, and will also be happy to accommodate Wii-motes, and'll walk the dog, I'm grasping for anything here!

I imagine it'll be more powerful than both the 360 and PS3 but I would also expect it to be surpassed once the next gen Microsoft and Sony beasts are released. At the end of the day a console is only as good as its games and I'm certainly going to be watching closely to see if Nintendo will continue along the Wii route of a more family orientated experience or turn tail and once again attempt to grab the waned attentions of more serious gamers - well, of gamers after a more serious experience at least.

Time will tell but early signs are promising as Nintendo did highlight a few core third party titles destined for its new baby (Ghost Recon, Batman Arkham City, Assassins Creed etc...) as I mentioned earlier but, in my opinion it's going to take some serious work to persuade anyone to ditch either Sony or MS in favour of them. Even taking them seriously as a competitor in terms of what I myself look for in a game won't be an easy feat. But as ever, I, and hopefully the majority will embrace the next chapter in Nintendo's life with an open mind.

Nintendo also showed off a number of first party 3DS titles such as Star Fox 64 3D, Mario Kart, Kid Icarus: Uprising and Luigi's Mansion 2 but it was the announcement of Wii's successor that had people talking and will undoubtedly continue to keep them talking for some time yet.

To be honest most of the titles on show at this year's event had already been the subject of much drooling and had their first glimpses scrutinised and pondered over by gamers worldwide, thus rendering the offerings at E3 a little underwhelming to say the least.

The games on show, by and large, look stunning and give me the belief that we have now reached the pinnacle of this generations power. Unfortunately, there's little we gamers not fortunate enough to have had a hands on with the mouth watering titles due to release over the next few months can honestly ascertain from a brief trailer or gameplay vid. In the same way a deeply average footballer can be made to seem like the next Maradona or Messi via a few well selected You Tube minutes, a game can be made to appear like the must have title of the year or the biggest adrenaline rush in console history thanks to clever use of in your face marketing and fleeting snap shots of the game in action.

So, while E3 certainly whets the gamers whistle for future titles and is also a great platform for developers to generate massive interest and excitement in their wares, it's also true that for most of us this excitement and anticipation is all we really take from the event. We haven't been served up any new demos on the marketplace for a quick hands on of our own and until we do get our mitts on a game there's little judgement that can be realistically made.

The newest installment of Tomb Raider manages to look both classic and fresh at the same time, and I live in perpetual hope that the series may find a little of the magic that cemented it's place in gaming folklore in the first place. Certainly Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics appear to be heading in the right direction if the trailer and gameplay demo are anything to go by, it's not a lot to go by of course but it's all we've got right now.

The game looks superb, the fire and water effects are quite spellbinding, there's a great attention to detail and wonderful use of shadow and colour during the demo. In a perfect world the latest adventure in Lara Crofts life will be good enough to slug it out toe to toe with Uncharted 3, a big ask I know, but if there's anyway Tomb Raider can achieve this then we the gamers can look forward to two of, potentially, the most epic and thrilling adventure games ever to grace our consoles. Come on guys, don't let me down, the Tomb Raider franchise has long needed a shot in the arm and just maybe it's finally going to get one.

The other games that impressed most were by and large the usual suspects, the ones we'd already spent time admiring, games like Bioshock: Infinite which still looks utterly incredible and manages to stretch the imagination to previously unknown limits. I personally felt a little let down by Bioshock 2 but on first impressions Bioshock: Infinite could be a game to even surpass 2K's first venture into Rapture.

Battlefield 3 continues to look fantastic and this time around it may even wield the power to dethrone Call of Duty from it's position as King of the FPS, but it's also now at a point for me were I don't need or want to see any more videos and I don't want to read any more about the game, I just want to play it and make up my own mind. Optimism's high for this one, please let it deliver.

Halo 4 was announced by MS of course, along with a brief trailer, forgive me for being less than enthusiastic but after ploughing through all the previous Halo titles and feeling an overwhelming sense of deja-vu each time. I'll wait and see what's being served up here before getting amped up for it.

Uncharted 3, Forza 4 (with added Kinect), Skyrim, SSX.....the list goes on and on, games that look like they hold the key to new realms of splendour and enchantment but again until we get up close and personal with them there's little solid we can actually say about them. 2011 looks to have a lot of quality in store but equally there's a lot of hype to live upto, and we all know how hard that can be.

Elsewhere Sony announced the new name and pricing details for it's follow up to the PSP and PSP Go. Introducing PSVita, retailing at a fairly reasonable £229 for the wi-fi version and £279 for the 3G model, it's sure to be top of many gamers must have list. No official release date has been set as yet but it'll almost certainly be on Japanese shelves before the end of 2011 with other territories not too far behind. Of course, that's just me speculating.

The other Sony announcement that particularly grabbed my attention was that of the new and exclusive game Dust 514. The game is classic FPS fare but also crosses over into the massive world of EVE online, quite how it'll all come together remains to be seen but it's certainly one to watch and it's a bold move by CCP to make it PS3 exclusive. A beta is expected to hit before the end of the year in anticipation of a Spring 2012 release.

What I Wanted To See
The only thing I really wanted to see become a reality at E3 2011 was Microsoft giving me a few good reasons to feel happy to own Kinect...It didn't happen.

Star Wars Kinect, Dance Central 2, Kinect support for a few core titles and voice activated internet search... well, colour me disappointed. I honestly couldn't care less for voice activated 360 features, it wasn't what I shelled out my hard earned for, I was hoping for new and intriguing gaming experiences, what I got was the equivalent of a Wii add on for my Xbox... and after E3 this shows no signs of changing anytime soon.

That just about wraps E3 2011 up and pops a neat little bow on top to boot. I'm sure everyone had their own highlights and low points of the event but all in all for myself the 2011 vintage was just a little bland and sterile, particularly in terms of Earth shattering new announcements. Roll on 2012!