We came, we saw…then we came again at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo. Now the dust’s settled, here’s what we learned.
THINGS WE LIKED
At the end of console generations we often see the most graphically beautiful game offerings. By now developers have learned the ins and outs of every system and they’ve learned to push to the utmost of the hardware. In fact, the final games of a console’s era generally look and feel better than the debut titles of the succeeding system. Titles like Chrono Trigger for Super Nintendo came just as development began on CD-driven games for the Playstation and Saturn. Which do you remember fondest, this or this? We thought so.
Bioshock Infinite: recreating your first day at school in pixel-perfect detail.
Now here we are: Certainly the last E3 before Sony and Microsoft announce their new (non mobile) hardware. Why is this exciting? Because we’re about to see the greatest games of this era, before the inevitable transition to the hit-or-miss launch titles of unproven tech. Deus Ex, Skyrim, Battlefield 3, Bioshock Infinite, Uncharted 3, Mass Effect 3, Forza 4…a two word phrase sums up these best-of-show titles nicely: Fucking Gorgeous. Also: Awesomely Stunning. Also: Nut-Fuck Jangly-Aces (it’s an Albany expression). While sequels aren’t necessarily better than originals, when you combine the natural progression of perfecting the winning formula of a franchise with the systemic knowledge of gaming platforms at the end of their life spans, you get the very best of the best.
The Wii U: destroying a relationship near you very soon.
The big news, of course, was the Wii U. Despite the continued reliance on lame, Mii-driven group titles, Nintendo’s latest hardware offering features stats that should please hardcore gamers: 1080p graphics, a standard controller layout, and Dreamcast-style controller screen that can replace a TV in a pinch. While Sony and Microsoft continue to swing for the casual fences, Nintendo is pulling a 180 back to fans long since abandoned by the Wii and, to a lesser extent, the Gamecube. We don’t know enough about the Wii U yet to know if this will be a successful gambit, but we admire Nintendo for, once again, being a few steps ahead of its competition (and sticking with giving their consoles really, really silly names).
THINGS WE DIDN'T LIKE
Lack of agency. Demo after demo featured cut scene after cut scene or, more insidiously, “gameplay” that used smoke and mirrors to hide that the player really wasn’t doing shit: in other words, less “playing a game” than "watching a movie." Why, as games have gotten more advanced in every way are we, in fact, “playing” so much less?
“We’re being overrun! Quick – hit A, A, Left, B, Y twice!” Uncanny - it’s just like Grandpa’s description of D-Day.
A lot of the problems come from the belief that we want “realism” from our games. Most developers seem to subscribe to the idea that with the increasing ability to almost replicate our world precisely, we should replicate our world precisely: over and over again. The core idea here is simple: Everyone wants to be a superman in his own universe - a world we know, with licensed cars and recognizable (and fully destructible) landmarks that exist just for you to destroy or save, depending on your mood.
So what’s so bad about all this? Well, take a step back and really examine the games you’re “playing.” What did you do in them? Past the lacquer (the really, really pretty lacquer), what did you do? Hit the left shoulder to pull up iron-sights and press the right shoulder to shoot…and that’s it? That’s just a very well produced, very “realistic” rollercoaster. But where’s your participation? Where is the very feature that makes a video game a video game and not a movie?
The fact these games make bazillions of dollars is reason enough to explain the glut of Call of Duty clones on the market. And hey, fuck it – they’re fun, right? But the downside is, it means there are very few games reaching beyond these extremely old tropes - games like Minecraft or Sound Shapes - an amazing title for the Playstation Vita that combines platforming with music creation.
Minecraft: where joyous creativity meets feeling like you need an eye exam.
These are the kinds of games that dive past action movie hero fantasy and “realism” into the realm of pure imagination or pure creation. There’s very little, if anything, “real” about them: The graphical presentation, in fact, is deliberately unreal. The core gameplay is fantastical. And, most importantly, they’re fun, involving and completely reliant on you immersing yourself in a world you have total control over: not just taking a back seat.
THINGS THAT CAN EAT A DICK
Can we Grinch out here and plead for an end to motion controls? If it’s not Dance Central or Wii Bowling, and we’re not drunk, motion controls can continue to suck a fat one. Fable: Journeys, you make us sad and angry. Sangry. Ooh, what’s that? You have a Star Wars game where you get to control a lightsaber through Kinect? Great! A lightsaber that responds to our flailing arms! Except…except now our character just stands there, moving forward automatically now and again, and all we can control is the lightsaber. Sigh. Good one, guys. That’s what we wanted. *facepalm*
Can we please just stop all this crap so we can get started on Spaceballs: The Video Game?
There’s one thing you can say for the video game industry: they’re always shooting for that big, exploding, zombie-infested rainbow. Halo 4, the Vita, the Wii U…good or bad, this year’s E3 had some huge announcements. It also had its fair share of awkward convention bathroom dumps. We ate, we loved, and we caught nerd boners. And really, what more can you ask?
Thanks to the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel for putting us up, letting us sleep off our gaming binges and generally treating us like we were royalty, rather than a group of drunk, sweaty geeks.