The back-and-forth bickering about whether this year's show was a "good E3" or a "bad E3" is one of the most pointless things I may have ever followed. But, for whatever reason, I followed it. And I come down on the side of it being a pretty good E3, actually, but that's mostly because I went in with realistic expectations. This is a transition year, one where everyone wants hints of the next moves from Sony and Microsoft, but won't actually get it. It was Nintendo's show to lose, and yet they somehow managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
I don't actually believe in that whole "winning" or "losing" E3 thing, but you get my point.
Sony managed to baffle show attendees by trying its hardest to forget that the Vita exists during its press conference, but everyone else forgot about Sony's forgetfulness because we were too busy talking about Ellen Page. With the press conferences out of the way, we were left to fend for ourselves and focus on the part of E3 that we always claim really matters in the first place: the games. And again, it's a bit of a weird year for those, with a few sequels showing up that look a bit more like business realities than creative endeavors. EA picked up UFC, Ubisoft picked up steam, and I picked up a nasty head cold that made driving home from the show some kind of mobile spirit quest. Even now, I'm waiting for my spirit animal to reveal itself so that I might strangle the power right out of it. I'm pretty sure it's going to be a diseased weasel with a bum leg.
With all that hardware stuff out of the way, the air was cleared to talk about games. Actual games. Games that will probably ship over the next 18 months or so, because otherwise they'll be shipping on "old" consoles. That provides a certain air of immediacy to the proceedings that I like. We got very little of that drawn out "here's a game, we'll talk more about it next year" stuff. Instead it was a fat list of games you'll be able to buy soonish, some of which I'm pretty excited to see more of.
The top of my list is Need for Speed: Most Wanted. People are often quick to write off games that aren't super story-heavy when it comes to doling out these sorts of accolades. It's something I've felt a little guilty of in the past, like we're shortchanging certain games merely because they focus more on raw mechanics than on telling some sort of moving story. That's probably something for a longer conversation about the nature of all award shows, not just gaming awards. Anyway, Most Wanted looks like it's combining elements of my two favorite racing games of this hardware generation. It's got the cops, the chases, and the cool down spots of the original Need for Speed: Most Wanted. And the rest of it is practically a sequel to Burnout Paradise that's been better-informed by the work Criterion has done on its "Autolog" concept. It's got Road Rules, there are billboards to crash through, gates to smash through, and from the look of the map, plenty of events to go around.
I primarily saw the game's multiplayer mode, which uses a sort of playlist mentality to keep players in a rhythm of driving to a meet up, where one of a number of events starts, then you drive off to the next meet up spot to get another thing going. Those events can be races, but they might also just ask you to hit a specific jump and get more distance than anyone else. That sort of light, fun multiplayer kept Burnout Paradise stuck in my Xbox... and my PS3... and installed on my PC... for hundreds of hours. The notion that Criterion is producing something that even resembles those past works is enough to let me forgive them for not including some sort of amazing/awful/amazing FMV-based story mode.
Here's an interview I conducted at the show:
I probably don't need to tell you about Borderlands 2. If you're anything like me, you already know you want to play Borderlands 2 and you don't really need to see any more of it prior to its September release. But, for the purposes of due diligence, I went and played what Gearbox was showing at E3 anyway. The other two starting classes were in, so I went with the Commando class, since it seemed to be the closest to the Soldier I played in the previous game. (Also, I already played a Gunzerker back at PAX East.) The sequence being shown had me and a company spokesman playing on the kiosk next to me rushing through a city area and guarding a large robot as it went from spot to spot, destroying statues of the game's bad guy, Handsome Jack. It played like Borderlands. Sign me the eff up.
That's not to say that there's nothing new worth saying about Borderlands 2. The version I played was running on a PC and it looked outstanding. It's really making the most of its high-resolution and every single edge on every surface, enemy, and item just looks outstanding. It really makes the Borderlands art style pop out even more than it did previously. As for the PC version's interface, I can't really say. We were playing it with a controller, so it worked just like the console version. Speaking of console version, the 360 version was on display over at Microsoft's booth. It looked fine, as well, but it clearly needs some more optimization work, as the frame rate wasn't as solid as it probably should be.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown was another case of a PC game with a 360 controller attached, which is a pretty interesting choice for a turn-based strategy game. When I played it prior to the show, I was a little skeptical when I walked up to the kiosk and saw a PC with no keyboard and mouse available. But after playing it, I get what they're going for. Look, it's turn-based. Obviously it's going to play fine with a mouse and keyboard. But forcing people to try it with a gamepad is pretty smart, because it actually controls pretty well that way, too. I ran through a tutorial level or two that showed off the cool side-view home base, where you promote and equip your soldiers, research new technologies, and so on. In-mission, the game turns into exactly the sort of isometric turn-based thing you'd want out of a modern X-COM. On top of that, the developers have found a way to prevent that high camera angle from getting old by adding different views when you're aiming weapons and little vignettes that show your crew kicking down doors or performing other maneuvers as they execute their turns.
Oh, and Sid Meier's in it.
There's more, of course. The non-playable duo of Watch Dogs and Star Wars 1313 certainly caused quite a stir as people tried to determine when they'd be released and which platforms they'd appear on. The answer--unofficially, anyway--seems to be that they'll both end up straddling the line between the generations. Both are capable of scaling down to fit onto our existing consoles, but they're both clearly being developed with the next Xbox and PlayStation in mind. Of course, the specs for those things aren't exactly common knowledge amongst developers just yet, so everyone's playing it safe by just making high-end PC games. In other words, if you've already got a high-end PC and you're planning on keeping it that way, sit back and relax. The next set of visually stunning games is already heading your way next holiday season.
As for everyone else... well... there's always E3 2013, right?