Even though the doors to E3 don’t officially open until Tuesday morning, there was still plenty to do and see Monday in downtown Los Angeles.
After landing at LAX at around 8 a.m., I checked into my hotel, wandered over to the Los Angeles Convention Center to check in and pick up my badge holder and registered early for Sony’s press conference on Tuesday morning. After that, it was off to see presentations from Electronic Arts and Ubisoft at a couple of movie theaters on Broadway.
I’m feeling a bit guilty for RSVP’ing yes for Activision’s massive event at the Staples Center and then not going, but it didn’t get under way until 9 p.m., and by 7 or so, I had a raging headache and was pretty much wiped out from my day of travel, wandering around in the sun and not eating enough. So I opted to nap for a few hours and then blog. Judging by what I can see on Twitter, I missed live performances by a lot of great bands. But nobody’s talking about playing any games at the Staples Center, and I’m set to see some of Activision’s offerings on Wednesday and Thursday.
For a lot of folks, Monday’s big highlight was Microsoft’s press briefing. Despite my best efforts, I didn’t make it inside. It was the only press briefing I wasn’t able to get into, and now that I see that many of the briefing attendees got free Xbox 360s, I can see why. That’s bound to be expensive. Still, it’s something to keep in mind when you see people’s articles about “who won E3” at the end of the week. While I’m sure many game journalists are capable of remaining objective, you’ve gotta think that any ties will go to the company who showered everyone with $300 gifts.
Anyway, here’s a breakdown of some of what I saw on Monday. Apologies for the lack of screenshots. My blogging software requires me to do a bit of compression with raw assets, and it’s late and I’m tired. I’m also working off a new netbook, which means I’ve gotta install some software before I can edit pics. I’ll try to get some up on Tuesday night.
Game that’s got me most excited: That’d be “Dead Space 2.” I was a huge fan of the first game, which tapped into the horror story at the heart of derelict space ship sci-fi like “Alien.” I’d already read a few previews of “DS2,” but it was stunning to see the game in action. We watched as an EA employee played through the title on stage, showing off weapons from the first game such as the line gun, pulse rifle and plasma cutter. But I also observed at least one new weapon, a javelin gun that pinned enemies to walls. There were a couple of massive, ridonkulous boss fights and these hideous-looking creatures that resembled oversized, bipedal infants. They attacked en masse and at one point swarmed the guy demoing the title. They appear to have the vibe from the first game down cold but for one thing. The part of the game I saw appeared to be a bit more of a bulletfest than the first game. Now, it might have just been the sequence of the game they showed us, or that they just gave the demoer more ammo because they didn’t want us all watching while he frantically searched through crates. I’ll try to ask about this when I tour EA’s booth on Thursday. In any case, the game and its mining-colony setting The Sprawl looked fantastic.
Guns before butter: EA showed off the next title in its dormant “Medal of Honor” series, unveiled an add-on for “Battlefield: Bad Company 2” that’s set during the Vietnam War and trumpeted a new initiative called “Gun Club,” which lets shooter fans earn rewards such as special weapons for use in EA’s games and early access to betas. Ubisoft trotted out “Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier,” in which special ops soldiers are outfitted with the kinds of gear the Pentagon is only fantasizing about. All this stuff looked fantastic, but I’m not exactly an expert on the more realistic, military-themed shooters, so that’s all I’ve got until I see more. I thought the use of anti-war song “Fortunate Son” in the trailer for “BF:BC2’s” Vietnam add-on was an interesting choice. Not sure if it was meant to be a political statement or if the person who picked it was unaware of the song’s message, like Ronald Reagan with “Born in the USA.”
18-player demos rule: Actually, I just remembered I do have more to say about “Medal of Honor.” The EA guys pretty clearly signaled their intent to throw down the gauntlet in their push to be named the premiere “modern warfare” (their words, not mine) franchise. To prove it, they invited what they said were 24 people on stage to take part in an online match for our enjoyment. Honestly? I only counted 18 folks, and when they showed every player’s view on screen at once, there were 18 of ’em. There may have been six folks squirreled away off-stage, but it’s semantics and not important. The point is that this was an amazing way to demo a title. At one point, the top player’s view took up the biggest part of the movie screen and we got to watch them call in an aerial strike. Fun times.
Year of the exergame?: Both EA and Ubisoft showed off workout-oriented titles designed to be played with Microsoft’s upcoming Kinect accessory, which lets you play games without a controller. At both its briefing and Microsoft’s, Ubi showed us a game called “Your Shape: Fitness Evolved,” a hilarious (unintentional?) homage to “Halo’s” subtitle, “Combat Evolved.” Both “Your Shape” and the next title in EA’s “Active” franchise will let you use Kinetic to work out without the use of props. We saw players jog, run obstacle courses and perform other workout mainstays and the only prop that ever came into play was a pair of free weights. The fitness games were met with a little less hype than the more traditional “gamer”-oriented titles, but I could see myself getting into this a bit. One of the reasons I was never sold on “Wii Fit” and its sequel was because it required use of the Wii Balance Board, which wasn’t used with very many titles. But if “Your Shape” and “EA Active 2” work with an accessory people I’m already going to be using for non-fitness functions, I could see giving one of these games a look.
What the heck did I just see?: As interested as I was in the fitness stuff, I was perplexed and somewhat bored by Ubisoft’s “Innergy,” a title that uses some biofeedback thingamabobs to get you to try to regulate your breathing and find your peaceful, zen center. Yeah, I didn’t get it either. Maybe it’s just a case of poor explanation of concept, but I could see this game flopping hard if it retails at $60.
EA Sports’ cool idea, but will it work?: With an upcoming mixed-martial arts title called simply “MMA,” EA is trying to take spectator modes to the next level. Players of “MMA” will have a chance to play online with, in a move reminiscent of Microsoft’s “1 vs. 100,” live announcers calling the action. Basically, the best players will throw their names in a hat and EA will pick matches to showcase with live announcers. Then, other players can tune in and watch it like a TV show. This is an incredibly cool idea, but if you’ve ever played a sports game online, you know that losers’ quitting before the match is over is rampant. EA will need to have some incentive to keep losers around for the duration of the match or every bout will end abruptly, with the announcers forced to pick up the pieces and salvage the telecast once it falls off a cliff.
I’ve gotta catch up on “Assassin’s Creed”: I’ve got both the “Assassin’s Creed” games, but as both have come out in the middle of huge game gluts, I’ve barely played ’em. So with that in mind, I’m not the most qualified guy to talk about what’s new for “Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood.” The gameplay we saw, however, looked fantastic. My favorite bit involved Ezio trying to take down a siege tower with a cannon. (In a nice twist that highlighted Ezio’s privileged origins, he had a little helper guy who reloaded the cannon for him.) This one’s slated for “Holiday 2010.” I assume they’re not talking about Flag Day, which was today, so that means the game will once again arrive in a crowded release window. I’m stressing just thinking about it.
I obviously saw a lot more stuff and have a lot more thoughts, but I’ve gotta write another post previewing what I’m seeing on Tuesday and need to catch some more z’s. Thanks for reading and feel free to follow my day on Twitter or to chime in with questions on the comments. Be patient while I approve them. I’m obviously not spending every second of my week approving blog comments. Rest assured, if you comment and keep the language clean, I’ll approve it.