The video game tradeshow Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), which quietly wrapped in Los Angeles last week, was uncharacteristically light on bombast this year. Much-anticipated developments – including the PlayStation 4, Xbox 720 and Grand Theft Auto V – were noticeably absent. However, the dearth of new hardware announcements and publishers’ renewed focus on promoting successful franchises gave familiar software titles the chance to hog the spotlight, a rarity in recent years.
With 45,700 industry insiders in attendance, slightly down from 2011, a calmer and less crowded show floor – albeit one still awash in big-screen LCDs and colored spotlights – managed to captivate bystanders with its high-tech innovations. Among them was Nintendo’s Wii U, a new next-generation console with motion-sensing tablet controller, which will support 1080 pixel high-definition graphics on games for the original Wii, as well as popular first-run debuts like New Super Mario Bros U and Pikmin 3. Users can also enjoy social networking with cartoon avatars via the “Miiverse” virtual world and a dual joystick-equipped Pro Controller, which resembles traditional gamepads.
Microsoft redoubled its efforts to reach traditional and core gaming audiences, breaking from prior years’ focus on family-friendly offerings and casual software for its 19 million-selling Kinect body-tracking camera. SmartGlass, a new service for smartphones and tablet PCs that adds Wii U-like functionality (an obvious response to Nintendo’s gambit), will allow users to interface with Xbox 360 and enjoy a second-screen experience while watching TV. Due by fall, one obvious use includes surreptitiously calling plays in popular sports titles like football simulator Madden NFL by selecting them directly on Android, iOS, Windows Phone or Windows 8 mobile devices. During the company’s press conference, television viewers were also teased with the prospect of exploring an interactive map of George R.R. Martin’s world on their tablet while his top HBO series Game of Thrones played on an actual set.
This E3 had a host of novelties, as well. New song streaming service Xbox Music hopes to rock skeptical audiences where prior failure Zune left off, while motion-sensing workout program Nike + Kinect aims to get couch potatoes up and sweating. Notable game selections include sci-fi first-person shooter Halo 4 (which features a comeback by celebrated hero Master Chief), Gears of War: Judgment (latest in the bloodthirsty futuristic run-n-gun franchise) and popular hip-wiggling simulator Dance Central 3, whose presentation included a live performance by R&B star Usher. Bolstered by high-profile third-party software such as Tomb Raider (now rated Mature and starring a more lethal Lara Croft) and military stealth action opus Splinter Cell Blacklist, expect the system’s supporting cast to be largely a bloodthirsty, smack-talking one.
Last year, Sony aimed at reaching wider audiences with its gesture-tracking wand the PlayStation Move and the high-powered handheld the PlayStation Vita. Now, it turns attention back to traditionalists. Family-friendly launches will include Wonderbooks, motion-powered children’s storybooks (including the activity-filled manuscript The Book of Spells by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling), and animated brawler PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, a cross-platform play showpiece illustrating the PlayStation 3 and Vita’s interlocking powers. Regardless, it’s new offerings such as Beyond: Two Souls (a supernatural thriller starring actress Ellen Page by the creators of Heavy Rain), God of War: Ascension (a prequel to the gruesome series of Greek tragedies) and the Last of Us (a gripping post-apocalyptic survival tale by Uncharted inventor Naughty Dog) that will underpin the company’s game plan.
Acoustically-inclined Vita title Sound Shapes, a side-scrolling platform-hopper where you create your own music and levels, was the brightest star in the music gaming end of E3. Aside from UbiSoft’s dance simulation Just Dance 4, being promoted by Flo Rida, and Majesco’s NBA Baller Beats, which sees players dribbling a real basketball in front of their Kinect in time with hip-hop tracks, sonically-styled games were largely an afterthought. This year, jaw-dropping tech showpieces like Assassin’s Creed 3 (in which you play a hitman during the Revolutionary War) and Watch Dogs (a free-roaming hacker odyssey) owned the near future. Paired with this holiday season’s best-known offering, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 – now with futuristic overtones – it’s obvious that teen and twenty-something males are being embraced into the fold again. They’re just in time for South Park: The Stick of Truth, an unlikely role-playing epic set in the show’s crazy, crude cartoon world.
Obvious pandering to baser instincts and retail publishing interests aside, the Electronic Entertainment Expo still puts on one hell of a show. This year, it revealed what the average player on the street will be buzzing about by year’s end.