E3 2014 is one of the best in years. In terms of the sheer volume of brilliant, exciting games shown at the conference, it’s an absolute bonanza of excellence. Doesn’t matter that many of them are skipping 2014, doesn’t matter that a bunch of expected games were missing: this E3 is vintage. But who impressed the most? I’m sure you have your own opinion, but here are some of my observations on the show so far.
Microsoft kicked things off on Monday, and showed a whopping 36 games in 90 minutes. It was a breath-taking display of eagerness from a console maker desperate to reclaim its core audience from Sony. And many of the games it showed are class acts: Rise Of The Tomb Raider, COD Advanced Warfare, Crackdown, Assassin’s Creed Unity… even Halo: Master Chief Collection is exciting in an ‘already-played-it’ kind of way.
So all good, right? Well, not quite. Microsoft showed so many games, so fast, that it’s tough to recall any real highlights. The common consensus seems to be that ‘Microsoft showed a load of games’, not that ‘Microsoft really impressed with X, Y, and Z’. I absolutely applaud the Xbox One owner for showing such a strong dedication to ‘proper games’, but I also worry that it has ignored forward planning and strategic vision in favour of quick-fix thrills. Microsoft said nothing of how Xbox One will evolve over the coming years, and it ignored Kinect entirely. I’m no fan of Kinect, but it’s worrying how fast Microsoft is willing to abandon key aspects of its console strategy to satisfy the vocal corners of the Internet.
Still, a strong showing from Microsoft, and it looks like the company has (so far) avoided the clangers that plagued its E3 2013… Not sure the same can be said for EA. The home of Battlefield and Mass Effect had the most inconsistent showing of all the press conferences. Battlefield Hardline and Dragon Age Inquisition are both resounding ‘thumbs up’, but EA was far too vague on Mass Effect and whatever the hell Criterion is working on. Its sports line-up looks strong, but its tough to get excited about the slight improvements most seem to be making in this new console generation.
Ubisoft, however, really impressed. For me, they’re right up there with Sony as one of the ‘winners’ of E3. The French publisher has a fantastic mix of games, and showcased a slick combination of well-produced trailers and impressive gameplay demos. Assassin’s Creed Unity and Far Cry 4 are nailed-on hits for 2014, and Rainbow Six: Siege is one of the most exciting reveals of the show. Plus, Aisha Tyler continues to be the Ace up Ubi’s sleeve when it comes to presentation. There wasn’t even an attempt to get us excited about endless Rabbids spin-offs this year: it was all quality games. Ok, maybe the bearded hipster dancing thing was a bit weird…
Next-up was Sony--the second of the ‘big three’ console conferences. Confidence is sky-high at Sony, and that was perfectly reflected in its balanced, exciting show. Core games impressed (hat tip to LittleBigPlanet 3, Bloodborne, Mortal Kombat X, and GTA 5), indies were well represented, and we got a good feel for where Sony is taking the whole PlayStation console family.
And that really is crucial. It’s obvious that Sony has a plan, and it isn’t just about games--it’s about VR, PSN, Vita, TV and all kinds of other things. However, this vision doesn’t come at the expense of games; they live side-by-side, complementing each other. Hey, I’m not saying everything is going to be brilliant. Project Morpheus could be a total flop like PS Move, and Vita is essentially just a peripheral for PS4 now--it’s not all smiles and sunshine. But Sony’s show left me with the biggest feeling of confidence that console gaming is in safe hands.
Finally, Nintendo showed its hand via digital event on Tuesday. It’s clear that there’s a huge cultural and technological divide between Nintendo and the other console makers (and PC). There are positives and negatives to take away from this. It’s apparent that Nintendo is laser-targeted at its own zealous fanbase: from the introduction of Miis and Palutena to Smash Bros, right through to the Captain Toad and Yoshi spin-offs, Ninty is out to please hardcore fans. However, that comes at the expense of variety, and the kind of games likely to win them new Wii U buyers. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to understand Nintendo’s appeal unless you have a long, loving history with its consoles--they’re becoming ever more inward-looking, and detached from other game makers.
New Zelda was the highlight of Nintendo’s show but, frustratingly, it lacked the kind of solid details and exciting features to make a massive impact. Plus, 2015 seems an awful long time to wait for a killer game on a struggling console… Perhaps the most promising idea from Ninty was Amiibo, the Skylanders-style NFC toys designed to corner the ‘Mummy, can I have a Mario figurine, pleeeeeease!’ market. They could well bankroll Nintendo until a new console arrives to compete with PS4 and Xbox One… if that’s even a thing. Nintendo is becoming so detached, it may eventually eschew traditional console gaming entirely.
So, who ‘won’ E3 2014? It’s such a massive cliché, but we--the players--have won by a mile. Pretty much every digital preference is catered for, from whimsical indie games that defy categorisation, to meat-and-potatoes shooters. There are great games for 2014, 2015, and beyond because the focus really has been placed on the players this year. Yeah, don’t worry--I know that’s a bit of a cop-out, here comes the stuff you can all grumble about in the comments…
Putting on my personal-preference hat (which looks a little like a posh, jazz-era top hat), I’d say that Sony and Ubisoft absolutely smashed it. Of all the conferences, they were the most confident, balanced, and forward-looking. With real verve and swagger, they showed the titles that really made me sit up and pay attention-- Far Cry 4, Rainbow Six: Siege, Uncharted 4, Bloodborne, LBP3--the ones that made me truly excited for the next 12 months of gaming.