Going into E3 2012, there was one thing we knew we weren't going to see: New game consoles. In the months leading up to the game industry's annual trade show, both Sony and Microsoft made it clear that they wouldn't be showing off any new hardware. The result was a largely predictable E3 with a number of standout games due out later in 2012 and in early 2013 - which is becoming even busier than this fall. Here's my take on some of the big news that happened at E3 2012 from the three major console manufacturers.
Microsoft's message at E3 was clear: Xbox is not just a gaming console anymore. Recent statistics show that many Xbox 360 users spend more time watching videos and TV shows on their systems than playing games. In other words, Microsoft sees entertainment as a big growth opportunity for its platform. So, you can look forward to new apps on the Xbox dashboard, new search functionality, and a new technology called SmartGlass that will let your tablet (even an iPad) interact directly with the Xbox. Imagine, for instance, designing a play for Madden on your tablet and then running that exact play in the game. SmartGlass is one example of a technology that will improve entertainment and gaming, and rest assured that there are many new games coming to 360 later this year and early 2013.
Master Chief returns in Halo 4 this November, which includes the innovative Spartan Ops mode.
The biggest PS3 exclusive at E3 was The Last of Us, a new game from Naughty Dog.
The biggest game release planned is Halo 4 - the return of Master Chief - from a new developer, 343 Industries. Going into E3, there were a lot of open questions about the first non-Bungie Halo game, but the 343 team delivered a demo that displayed a fresh take on the sci-fi universe. I'm particularly excited about two elements. The first is the in-game narrative and the way in which 343 is pushing storytelling in a new direction with cutscenes that feel similar to a Mass Effect game. We got a taste of the tone when Cortana is seen screaming in the E3 trailer. The second element that is a game-changer is the Spartan Ops online multiplayer mode. This co-op mode is a bold step forward for multiplayer - the missions actually tell a story. At first the Halo team plans to release 10 weeks of new episodes to fans for free, with each episode including four 20-minute mini-missions of new playable content. I'm very excited to see where this goes.
Beyond Halo 4 and Forza Horizon, the Microsoft press conference was focused on a number of new games coming in 2013, the biggest being Gears of War: Judgment, a Gears of War prequel that does not include Marcus Fenix. Instead, it focuses on the backstory of Delta Squad member Baird and includes a new class-based multiplayer mode, Overrun. Splinter Cell will also return next Spring with a new game, Blacklist, that has Sam tracking down 12 terrorists around the globe.
Even though PlayStation 3 may not be the most popular console this generation, there's no arguing that PS3 has some of the absolute best games on the market. Sony's E3 showcase was heavily focused on some amazing new games, the biggest of which is The Last of Us, the brand-new world from Naughty Dog, creators of Uncharted. This post-apocalyptic story of Joel and his companion Ellie turned a lot of heads because of its gritty tone and high stakes. Here, every fight feels like it's a real struggle. Very little is known about the game at this point, but already it seems clear that Naughty Dog is trying to push its cinematic storytelling in a new direction. Now, the intensity comes from close-quarter combat as opposed to epic set pieces like you'd see in an Uncharted game.
Perhaps the biggest surprise reveal at Sony's E3 showcase was Beyond: Two Souls, the next game from David Cage, creator of Heavy Rain. If you haven't rented Heavy Rain for PS3, I encourage you to try it, it's one of the most interesting and unique games of this console generation. In this thriller that deals with the afterlife, you control actress Ellen Page as Jodi, and also control a disembodied spirit named Aiden. The spirit can fly through levels and possess others. It's a surreal concept to be sure, but Cage's incredible storytelling is sure to intrigue players. The real question is how much 'game' is there versus 'interactive movie.'
While Sony has a significant lineup of PS3 games coming in the future, including their fighting title PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale this fall, the future software lineup for the PlayStation Vita handheld is a little more unclear. Sony's new handheld has a beautiful screen and controls, but so far the software has been lacking. The new game Gravity Rush is earning rave reviews and a new Assassins Creed - with a female Assassin - should turn heads, but there was a distinct lack of big first-party games for the PS Vita on display. Sony assured fans that more games are coming, and, to be fair, there are some very cool experiences planned for the Vita including Sound Shapes, an interactive music experience that I think is going to be a breakout hit (it's also now coming to the PlayStation 3).
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Nintendo was the one company with the most at stake at E3 2012. The Wii U is a massive new hardware launch for our industry, and Nintendo needed to prove to gamers at E3 that their system had killer new content that you won't get to experience on a PS3 or Xbox 360. Did they accomplish that goal? Not exactly.
The Wii U, with its touch-screen controller, creates some fun opportunities for new gameplay possibilities. I'm excited about the potential of NintendoLand, a theme-park of sorts with a bunch of mini-games inspired by classic Nintendo franchises like Zelda. And sure there are new games like Pikmin 3, Ubisoft's ZombiU first-person shooter, and a twisted new project from Platinum Games known as P-100. But overall, the Wii U has yet to show why an Xbox 360 or PS3 owner would want to upgrade to the system - unless, of course, you're a huge fan of Nintendo's first-party content. But, even there, Nintendo fans won't be getting a bold new HD Zelda game at launch.
Nintendo still has months until the Wii U launches, and the system may end up being a big hit with mainstream audiences. But, the core gamers I spoke with at E3 all agree that they are looking for more original and differentiated content to justify a purchase. Of course, we don't even know what the Wii U will cost yet, so any proclamations about its ultimate fate are premature. One thing is for sure though: The next Super Smash Bros. can't come quickly enough for Nintendo!