E3: EA Conference
This year at E3, EA had a smorgasbord of top tier games to show off. So let's dispense with the pleasantries and jump right into it, shall we?
To kick things off, a mysterious, unnamed trailer was played in which hyper-expensive cars, some in flashy racing colors, others sporting police paint, were chasing each other through a Twin Peaks-esque area of Washington state. The vehicles themselves were all supercars and I did catch that one of the police cruisers was a Bugatti Veyron. So that's the level of realism that the newly announced Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is going for.
I jest, but in all seriousness, this game looked pretty damn fun when two of the developers played a live demo, and I'm not even a big racing game guy. The game is divided between racers and cops in an epic game of cat and mouse. In the demo shown, the cop won the match by bashing the racer all over the road until he finally flipped his car. One would assume that the racer's goal is to simply get far enough through the course to outrun the cop. I liked this take on the racing game because the race itself seemed to be "about something". You aren't running a time trial or racing for the hell of it (though I'm sure those will be features, too). You are racing because you either want to escape prison, or lock some bitches up. Of course, no police force in the world would ever give government employees Bugatti Veyrons (well, maybe Greece would), but hey, why not? Coming out November 16th, racing fans will be all over this one.
Next up we were shown the next true sequel in the Dead Space saga. This time, Isaac is shipped off to a giant space city called "The Sprawl", since apparently when you have a Necromorph problem, you don't call the Ghost Busters, you call Isaac the space handyman. In the playthrough shown, Isaac started out in a church that fused the space theme with heavy gothic overtones. I guess even in space, you need to throw religious symbolism into your horror tales. Along with the usual assortment of mutated beasts we saw in the first game, there's the addition of little vampire-looking children that will scamper all over poor Isaac, obviously pestering him for a ride to the mall. His response is to jam his pistol barrel into their heads until they explode. I recommend that tactic with your kids at home, folks.
The lighting and atmosphere was all very appropriate for a survival horror game and a number of set pieces were shown where Isaac was either prone or holding onto the environment for dear life, with some quicktime events thrown in for good measure. Fans of the first Dead Space will undoubtedly be looking forward to this true sequel, out November 25th, rather than the on-rails shooter that Wii players got last year.
One of the bigger titles of the presentation was shown next: the reboot of Medal of Honor, this time based around the current war going on in Afghanistan. In a ballsy move, developers EA LA and Dice trotted 24 demo players out onto the stage and had them all engage in a giant, frantic deathmatch. The combat was, of course, quite visceral and gritty, with some really nice particle effects being thrown around like grenades that blew chunks of concrete into the air. Any fans of the Modern Warfare games or Battlefield: Bad Company 2 will likely be eager to get their hands on the multiplayer beta, starting next week, June 21st.
The gameplay and graphics are all fine and dandy, but I'm a little puzzled by the choice to base the game in a currently ongoing, and still very viscous and bloody, war in Afghanistan. While it might make sense to have a game that is subtly marketed by the daily news, I'm not sure you want the headline "10 US Marines killed today in Kandahar Province" to remind people of how much fun they had popping heads as a Taliban fighter the other day. One particularly vivid image was of an insurgent fighter setting off an IED with a cellphone. Now, I'm never one to call for censorship, but this just seems like one of those times when "too soon" might have come up in a boardroom meeting somewhere. I'm also confused why a game like Six Days in Fallujah would be run out of town on a rail but this game is welcomed with open arms.
Moving on, we had a very sweet, nervous girl (who probably hates the very idea of guns) tell us about EA's new "Gun Club". Because we needed yet another online community to sign up to, EA decided that they needed your personal information to allow you early access to betas, bug you about their all important news and remind you of events. I don't see many people leaving this conference saying "Man, I can't wait to join the EA Gun Club!" Although I'm sure the late Charlton Heston would approve of the name, wholeheartedly.
To cleanse the pallet, EA ran a short teaser trailer whose only purpose was to tell us that the upcoming expansion pack to Bad Company 2 was going to be based in Vietnam. From Afghanistan to Vietnam, EA sure knows how to focus on wars where America kicked ass!
Moving onto EA Sports, next up we were shown another game that seemed to do some really cool, new things. MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) delves into the fast-growing sport of all out, balls to the wall fighting. The game will feature a host of fighters from all different countries and, most importantly, all different fighting styles. No live demo was shown this time around, but one thing that did stand out was EA's plan to market live "main events" over the internet, as people can sign up to watch two regular schmoes battle it out for the entertainment of the crowd, all over the world. They are even hiring professional announcers to commentate on the events. Not since the Roman gladiator fights have people been so ready to cheer for blood, all from their living room couches.
Just like at the Microsoft conference, bringing out the exercise game, Active 2, had a real dampening effect on the audience's excitement. Shown on stage were all three consoles, with the Kinect on display again for 360. Routines involving pseudo-biking, squat exercises and punching bag games were shown. The heart rate monitors and such were all wireless and the...ugh. Does anyone really care about this? Let's get back to actual games.
The new Madden game was shown next. Or more correctly, the new Madden game was hidden from us next. In a bit of sleight of hand or misdirection, Joe Montana was shoved out onto the stage to blather on about god-knows-what while EA Sports' Peter Moore vaguely referenced the two selling features of the new Madden game which are "games in half the time" and "better play calling". From what little video was shown, the play calling seemed to revolve mostly around calling audibles and the "games in half the time" feature was never elaborated on. It seemed like either A) the features aren't even really locked down yet (they know they want shorter games, but haven't quite figured out how to do that yet) or B) they just wanted to move through this section quickly because they take their Madden sales for granted. The only thing I'm sure of is that Joe Montana was used as a (probably very expensive) distraction.
Next, EA sought to announce that in October, The Sims 3 will be coming to consoles. That's really the extent of it, though they did have some guy prattle on endlessly, asking us to question if free will is an illusion. No, guy, it isn't. We covered that centuries ago, move on.
Crysis 2 was shown next, with both a demo playthrough (pre-recorded) and a 3D CG movie. As before, Crysis is on the cutting edge of graphics, with the battle taking place in Grand Central Station in New York City. Some of it might have been due to low quality streaming video I was watching, but at points, the game tricked my eye into believing that I was seeing the actual train station being blown apart by giant mech warrior robots. Crytec promised that the game would be a "choreographed sandbox", in that it was linear, but still provided the ability to choose how you approach each situation. Of particular note were the outstanding lighting effects. And finally, seeing the Met Life building come crashing down was both cool, and haunting (post 9/11, that kind of imagery is just never going to be lighthearted popcorn movie fodder again). This was only given the vague release date of "Holiday 2010" which smells suspiciously like "next year sometime".
The last live demo game shown was EA's newest IP, Bulletstorm. Of all the games shown, this one had me the most interested as it seemed to have the most personality. The developers likened the game to a "symphony of blood and destruction" and the scenes shown seemed to live up to the claim. On display were a pair of gunfighters in a Borderlands-type environment blowing shit up and killing massive numbers of enemies for whatever reason. But what stood out was the humor ("I predict a 100% likelihood of GETTING THE FUCK OUTA HERE!") and the over-the-top scale of the action. At one point, the duo was being chased by a skyscraper sized mechanical spiked wheel. I didn't even know anyone was making those! This is a definite one to watch, scheduled to be released February 22nd, 2011.
To cap things off, Bioware wanted to keep people interested in Star Wars: The Old Republic. The game itself was nowhere to be seen. Instead they showed another Blur-produced CG movie. The movie was pretty good, but not as good as the "Deceived" one from last year. These movies don't do anything for my Old Republic anticipation, they just make me wish that Blur was making CG Star Wars movie or TV series. I know Bioware wants to keep people interested, but maybe showing off the game would do a better job of that. Maybe they've dug themselves a hole because next to these Blur videos, their graphics engine looks like a kid's cartoon.
That about wraps it up for the EA conference for E3, 2010. It was certainly more exciting than the endless waking nightmare that was the Microsoft conference, with the first person shooters and Need for Speed taking the top spots for conference highlights. As a closing thought, please, if you don't have an actual game to show off, don't use Joe Montana as human shield. He deserves better than that.