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Game On: E3 Wrap-Up!

06.03.2009

Once again I'm sitting in front of my computer watching what's going at E3, just like the Schmo I am. Like last year, I am in the cheap seats absorbing all of the news and digesting four and a half hours worth of corporate BS and pre-rendered graphics. Why? Because a) I love games; b) I love insulting my computer as some suit tries play video games; and c) because I need something to look forward to playing.

With that said, let's take a look at the highs and lows of each of the consoles - feel free to disagree with everything I have to say.

MICROSOFT:

Watch The Microsoft Press Conference

Microsoft has been first on the playing field for a couple years now and 2009 was no difference. The guys and gals in green spent a lot of time on their presentation, focusing more on games and innovation and less on sales figures and statistics. While there was no sign of a new console or handheld, Microsoft brought out a new peripheral and highlighted an endless array of new software. Because they go first, Microsoft is unable to adapt to the competition. Nevertheless, they do have the opportunity to set the tone and the bar for then entire show.

WHERE DID MICROSOFT EXCEL:

Innovation in online connectivity and gaming. Hands down, Microsoft owns the realm of online gaming. This press conference only cemented that further as they revealed some cool software tie-ins with Twitter, Facebook, and Last.fm. While the social networking aspects have a chance to breakout, the real winner here has to be Last.fm. This new service, if it works correctly, should rival Netflix in the time used on the console. This allows Microsoft to expand beyond being a gaming and movie console and ease into being the entertainment center piece of the living room. Plus, they're working with an established content service and not trying to shoehorn more internal desk jockeys into the mix.

Working well with third party developers. On the gaming front, Microsoft has some great looking partners in BEATLES ROCK BAND, TONY HAWK: RIDE, and MODERN WARFARE 2. However, because these games will all be available on other consoles, the exclusives are what is really important. Featured on stage were demos of ALAN WAKE, HALO 3: ODST, and FINAL FANTASY XIII. For me, ALAN WAKE was the only real interesting one in the bunch. This game has been in development for quite a while and it's great to finally see some progress. The control looked a bit tight, but the chills and graphics are polished enough to keep me happy.

The last sign of good news from Microsoft was the appearance of LEFT 4 DEAD 2 and CRACKDOWN 2. While LEFT 4 DEAD seems to be getting a sequel incredibly quickly, it is fantastic news that this series is still sticking with just the PC and the XBOX. Keeping this series away from the PS3 will keep the system strong and maintain its presence as the go to system for shooters. The appearance of CRACKDOWN 2 is a personal victory for me because the original games was such a breath of fresh air. Even if this game takes two more years to develop I will be the first in line. The pre-rendered preview looking very cool and shows Microsoft is committed to the property.

WHERE DID MICROSOFT FALTER:

I am not convinced that the world needs Project Natal. Having played with the current Microsoft camera games and spent hours with the Wii, I am not convinced that active play is necessary for video games. Is the modern game controller a bit too complex for the average person? Sure. Despite that, I don't think we need to pander to non-gamers to be successful. To me, active gaming is a fad just like 3-D filmmaking. There are some cool tech demos out there; however, nothing has me convinced that what we're seeing here is that important. Until a killer app arrives, I'll consider this project to be a simple diversion that will disappear alongside Virtual Boy and R.O.B. the Robot.

New IPs. During the entire press conference there wasn't a single new IP announced that wasn't an XBLA title. Everything was either a sequel or previously announced. Sure, it was great to see that ALAN WAKE isn't a dead project. But that doesn't make up for the company's utter lack of creative or innovative AAA titles. It would have been nice to see a glimmer of the future that didn't entail the purchase of new hardware or playing yet another sequel.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Microsoft knows how to present a kick ass press conference at E3. The corporate talking heads all delivered pitch-perfect speeches and mostly flawless game demos. Sure, there were some silly proclamations made (FORZA MOTORSPORT 3 is the "definitive" racing game?!). And indeed, the celebrity cameos were pretty shallow (could Ringo and Paul care any less?). Overall, though the real reason we're watching is for the games. Microsoft delivered enough to sate the fans and left plenty of room for dreamers to keep dreaming. Even if my cynical side says that Project Natal is a glorified bullet point, I can still see how a product like this might get you fired up.

NINTENDO:

Watch The Nintendo Press Conference

Nintendo is coming off of the worst press conference of last year's E3. Beyond that, the company is severely lacking credibility with core gamers. Sure, they are selling boatloads of workout steps (aka Wii FIT), but are they an exercise company or a gaming company? With that identity crisis can Nintendo hit the reset button (ugh) and save their console from being just a fad?

WHERE DID NINTENDO EXCEL:

Nintendo has recognized their failure at last year's E3 and made some distinct adjustments to their press conference to better appeal to hardcore gamers. The press conference opened with an all ages, but still hardcore, new version of Super Mario Brothers. The press conference closed with a new look at Metroid that should appeal to the hardcore gamers with even the most jaded of perspectives.

Mario. Nintendo was incredibly smart to trot out more Mario this year. Both NEW SUPER MARIO BROS. Wii and SUPER MARIO GALAXY 2 look fantastic. Whether you like co-operative old school gaming or new school waggle and spin Mario, Nintendo has something for you. Both SUPER MARIO GALAXY and NEW SUPER MARIO BROS. are the flagship games from the company and it is great to see that they're keeping them fresh and new.

Kingdom Hearts DS. I've yet to play the original KINGDOM HEARTS games on the PS2. Nevertheless, having the series on the DS is quite a coup and worth giving it a shot. The DS is often over-looked because most of the games are designed for kids. It is good to see a series like KINGDOM HEARTS, a game that appeals to all age groups, as a major release on the platform. Let's hope the translation from PS2 to DS goes well.

WHERE DID NINTENDO FALTER:

The heavy emphasis on Wii Motion Plus. While I respect the boatloads of cash that Nintendo has made on peripherals, the never-ending parade of add-ons is getting nauseating. Wii Motion Plus reminds me of the old days when Nintendo released a memory expansion pack for the Nintendo64. This is yet another piece of technology they should have included at the offset and, instead, they're trying to suck more money from me. Morseo, they're probably not going to support the peripheral and my investment will be a waste.

Vitality Sensor. Further along the line of shitty peripherals, Nintendo is now going to release a Vitality Sensor. "What's that?" you ask. It's a heart and vital signs monitor that you place on your finger. An obvious add-on for Wii FIT and the other workout games, this silly thing shouts cheap plastic crap. The tie-in to gaming is tertiary at best. Nintendo should just release a Wii TREADMILL and get it over with.

WOMEN'S MURDER CLUB. I get it, Nintendo is trying to get little girls and women to play on a DS. But shit like this is just embarrassing. While I am cool with games like this being made and released, showing them off at E3 is just sad. Who, exactly, do they think is watching this press conference?

FINAL THOUGHTS

Unfortunately for Mario and family, Nintendo once again was worst in show. While they showed some good new ideas with SUPER MARIO GALAXY and NEW SUPER MARIO BROS. Wii, they couldn't make up for silly peripherals and a misguided focus on non-game related products. In addition, Nintendo just didn't reveal enough in the realm of actual games that could get me excited. They are sitting on a cache of classic games and it seems that they're only interested in Mario, Link, and Metroid. Why not a new KID ICARUS game? Why not another DUCK HUNT? Hell, I'd even play ICE CLIMBER. Nintendo is making a boatload of cash. Unfortunately, they've forgotten the core gamers that started the ball rolling.

SONY:

Watch The Sony Press Conference

Sony is back with another big E3 press conference. After claiming best in show last year it's going to be tough to repeat. Worst of all, a bunch of the secrets that they've been trying to pop on us have already been leaked. If they have no secrets to tell, how could they possibly top the competition? With no celebrities in tow and only Jack Tretton at the helm, this E3 won't be easy.

WHERE DID SONY EXCEL:

UNCHARTED 2: AMONG THIEVES. Early in the presentation Sony showed off the sequel to UNCHARTED: DRAKE'S FORTUNE and it looks amazing. This high res tech demo looks gorgeous and plays as smoothly as the original. Developers Naughty Dog seem to have yet another hit on their hands and Sony has a great launching pad for the rest of the press conference. The included multiplayer is a much needed addition and this was easily the best looking platformer from the big 3.

MAG. One of my favorite new announcements from last year, this game was live demo'd and appears to be living up to its potential. With 256 possible players in a match at a time, this game might just be one of the coolest technological advances in the current console cycle. The challenge is making sense of that many players and insuring that many players are online at a time. This game has incredible potential and I was psyched to see it in action.

PlayStation Motion Controller demo. While Microsoft and Nintendo talked up their new peripherals, Sony put their's to the test and demo'd their newest gimmick. Warts and all, Sony showed some of the cooler new uses of their innovation and showed up Microsoft by presenting a much more intuitive device. The new Motion Controller doesn't abandon the controller, it embaces the simplicity that made early games more appealing. It advances on the Wii-mote design and shows that complexity of movement can translate into simplistic gameplay. In demonstration the product out-plays the Wii-mote and out-smarts Project Natal.

Finally, a set of new Sony IPs show that the company won't be resting on the heels of its franchises. Specifically, MODNATION RACERS, AGENT, and THE LAST GUARDIAN all show amazing promise. Fans of ICO and SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS can rejoice in THE LAST GUARDIAN; meanwhile players looking for the customization of LITTLE BIG PLANET applied to a racing game will dig on MODNATION RACERS. It was also nice to see Rockstar Games is interested in developing new franchises, and AGENT appears to have plenty of potential.

WHERE DID SONY FALTER:

PSPGo. Also known as the PSPNo. The new, smaller, PSP looks kind of slick but doesn't seem to a better deal than the current model. In fact, the unit costs $249 and can play less games than its predecessor. The unit is lighter than the original and utilizes a slide component to make it fit in smaller spaces. This new piece of hardware does not make the console better than before and is a distraction that this struggling piece of hardware does not need.

No Price Cut. With all of the good news in PlayStation land, a price cut was noticeably absent in the midst of all that was going on. I believe that Sony will remain behind the XBOX as long as the PlayStation 3 is $400. The value of the system is nowhere near that high and the exclusive games are not as good as Microsoft's exclusives. What makes this even more bizarre is that Sony is showing off a casual game gimmick on a system that is nowhere near affordable to the casual gamer. While Nintendo and Microsoft are offering an affordable system to casual gamers, Sony is still trying to sell themselves as the Rolls Royce of video games.

Lilac PSP. Not that I really care how Sony promotes their products to teenage girls, but I found Jack Tretton's mention of a special Lilac Hannah Montana Edition PSP to be endlessly fascinating. Good luck with that fellas.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Sony had a fantastic showing and was only hampered by the weak new version of the PSP. This iteration is not as drastic or as welcome as Nintendo's shift from the DS to the DS Lite. Nevertheless, the PlayStation 3's fantastic new games were a great demonstration of the power of the platform and the future of the library.

OVERALL:

Now that all of the ballots are counted, Sony has once again walked away from E3 victorious. Without a doubt, their collection of games and innovative peripheral demos stole the show. While Microsoft brought out some solid titles and new online features, they promoted themselves far too much as the company for celebrities and dreamers. Meanwhile, Nintendo brought out some cool new Mario games... and that's pretty much it. Sony has obviously corrected a lot of the problems from the Ken Kutaragi era. Now they just need to get their console in a decent price bracket so normal gamers (and teens) can actually buy one.

THE JOBLO GAMERTAG:

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Source: Cool Columns

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