A few surprises at Electronic Entertainment Expo
The annual video-game gorge is going on in Los Angeles this week. The three-day Electronic Entertainment Expo, which wraps up Thursday (June 7), is always prefaced by media briefings staged by some of the biggest players. In the months leading up to this event, both Microsoft and Sony quashed rumours that they would be revealing new consoles, which left little room for surprise. But there were a few announcements that astonished.
Having teased Halo 4 at the close of last year’s happening, Xbox led this year’s show with what gamers have been waiting for since then: more. A new trailer for the game provided some context for the story being told in the game and transitioned seamlessly into single-player gameplay which had Master Chief taking on a new, tech-based enemy using Forerunner weapons.
Microsoft is leveraging Kinect to keep the Xbox 360 feeling fresh, and a good chunk of June 4’s press conference was spent showing off games that include support for the interface, most using the voice-activation feature.
What was not expected was the announcement of SmartGlass, a new service that will deliver additional and supporting content across devices, including those that may be running competitive operating systems, like iPads and Android phones. For example, users can watch Game of Thrones on their television and scan an annotated map of the world on their tablet. It will also allow mobiles to be used as remotes to navigate Internet Explorer for Xbox, coming this fall.
Sony is bringing cross-platform functionality to the Vita handheld and the PS3. At its Monday-night event, the company revealed All-Stars Battle Royale, a brawler featuring characters from the PlayStation library, and which supports four players on either the PS3 or Vita. And later this year, Little Big Planet 2 is getting an update that will allow players to use their Vita as a controller for the PS3 game, giving each player their own perspective on the Vita’s screen.
Two games exclusive to PS3 were also revealed. Beyond: Two Souls is a supernatural thriller starring Ellen Page as Jody Holmes, who has some manner of connection to the afterlife. Gamers will play as Jody through 15 years of her life. “If you make the right decisions,” said creative director David Cage, “you might discover what lies beyond.”
Also interesting is Wonderbook, which supports a physical book with augmented reality. The first title to come to the library is J.K. Rowling’s Book of Spells. Using the PlayStation Move controller, gamers can read new writing from the Harry Potter author and learn to cast the spells from that world.
But perhaps the biggest surprise from Sony was that there was no mention at all of 3-D, despite having promoted it heavily in the past couple of years. Breaking with convention, Nintendo’s global president Satoru Iwata appeared in a web broadcast on Sunday, two days before the company’s E3 briefing, to provide more details about the HD-enabled Wii U console that was announced last year, including a summary of the modifications to the game-pad controller since last year’s announcement. That meant that its June 5 event could focus on more than a dozen Wii U titles. “It’s all about the games,” said Nintendo of America’s Reggie Fils-Aime.
Ubisoft and Warner Bros. announced titles designed for the new console. The former is bringing versions of its Assassin’s Creed, Just Dance, and Rayman franchises and a new title called ZombiU, while the latter has versions of Batman, Scribblenauts, and Lego City in development. For its part, Nintendo is bringing Mario Bros., Pikmin, and Wii Fit to the Wii U. Also coming is NintendoLand, a collection of smaller games based on classic franchises and referred to as “attractions” in keeping with the amusement park theme.
The popular Zelda series, however, was not mentioned. Also notable by omission were release dates for anything related to Wii U.
Electronic Arts and Ubisoft also held media events the day before E3. The bombshell from EA was the publisher’s multiyear, multiproduct partnership with UFC, which until recently had been paired with THQ. Said UFC president Dana White: “Here it comes, fans. Finally, EA Sports.”
Ubisoft, meanwhile, ended its press conference with a demo of a new franchise from its Montreal studio. Inspired by paranoia and an always-connected world where people have become nothing more than data nodes, Watch Dogs is an open-world action game in which players can hack into any networked system to fight corruption. What makes it special is how it seems to have come up with a new way of delivering multiplayer co-op gameplay. Watch Dogs is one to anticipate.