E3 2013: Final thoughts, a long rant, and some (blurry) pics from the showfloor

Posted By: In: Console News, Gaming News, Handheld, Nintendo DS/3DS, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, PSP / Vita, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One On: 17 Jun

E3 2013: Final thoughts, a long rant, and some (blurry) pics from the showfloor

The best week on the gaming calendar has come and gone. There was no shortage of great games at this year’s show, and when all is said and done, I think we’ll look back on E3 2013 in a few years and remember it fondly as one of the best years in the expo’s history.

(note: I apologize for the crappy quality of the pictures: for some reason the image stabilization in my camera decided to stop working, so I had to resort to using the even crappier camera on my phone for a lot of these pics.)

All eyes were on Microsoft and Sony this week, and while Sony’s decision to maintain the status quo on used games and offline play definitely gave them an edge, I think both companies brought their A game to this year’s E3.

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The Xbone is bigger than looks. If I had to estimate, I’d say it’s about the size of ┬áthe original “fat” PS3 model or the original Xbox.

Microsoft’s ridiculous and completely unnecessary, anti-consumer DRM definitely cast a dark cloud over all of their E3 announcements, which is a shame, because I actually liked a lot of things about the Xbox One — it’s got a pretty solid line-up of exclusives (most notably Titanfall,) its new controller is excellent, and despite rumors that the Xbox One would be significantly weaker than the PS4, I thought that the games on Microsoft’s new console looked just a little prettier than the games that Sony was demoing on the PS4. There were a lot of “next gen” games on the E3 show floor that didn’t look that much better than most of the current-gen offerings (you should expect a lot of half-assed PS3/360 ports to fill out the next-gen library for each system’s first year or two,) but a handful of Microsoft’s exclusives, such as Ryse, Forza 5, and of course, Titanfall (which may or may not be an exclusive in the long run, but for now it still is,) were some of the few next-gen games that didn’t just look like upscaled 360 ports.

Of course, all the great things about the actual Xbox One hardware and its games might not matter, because Microsoft pretty much gimped themselves by confirming that all the worst rumors about the Xbox One were true: the system will allow publishers to restrict or even ban the ability to trade or resell their games, and the system will require players to “check-in” to Xbox Live every 24 hours if they want to maintain access to their games, even the single player ones. I was actually at Microsoft’s E3 press conference on Monday, and while I was impressed with the system’s line-up of games, the threat of Microsoft’s Big Brother DRM policies has ultimately kept me (and a lot of other people apparently) from pre-ordering the system. I own every major console from every past generation, and I’ve tried to buy each one as soon as I could afford it, but I’m definitely going to wait on the Xbox One, despite the fact that it has some games I want.

Microsoft tried to dodge questions about the Xbox One’s DRM all week, but Sony wasn’t shy about the topic: a good chunk of Sony’s E3 press conference this year was focused on how Sony is dedicated to not screwing over their customers. The near unanimous praise that Sony has been receiving ever since should definitely send a strong message to Microsoft: don’t treat your customers like criminals and they’ll reward you for it. The PS4′s lower price and lack of DRM has effectively torpedoed the Xbox One’s chances of success before either system has even launched: a whopping 95% of Amazon customers polled after E3 have said that they’re more likely to buy the PS4 than the Xbone. While I’m not going to make any grandiose (probably wrong) Pachter-style predictions about the Xbox One being dead on arrival at launch, it’s clear that Microsoft is going to have to backtrack on the Xbone’s DRM policies at some point if they want to compete with Sony.

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The PS4 is smaller than looks. Again, I didn’t have a tape measure on hand, but it looked like it was only slightly bigger than the original model PS2′s.

Speaking of Sony, they absolutely nailed it with the PS4 this year. Tradition be damned, because the new PS4 controller already feels like a substantially better controller than any of the old Dual Shocks, and while the PS4 line-up has as many sequels as… well, every other system ever, it’s the system’s new IPs that got me the most excited: Bungie’s Destiny looks like it may manage to beat Borderlands in the whole RPG/FPS mash-up genre, and Knack, the latest mascot game designed by Mark Cerny (who previously worked on the good, classic Sonic and Crash Bandicoot games,) seems like its guaranteed to be a hit as well.

With Microsoft shooting themselves in the foot and Nintendo struggling to find an audience for the Wii U, it looks like Sony may take the lead in the next generation without too much effort. A lot of fanboys are praising Sony for “saving the industry,” but really, all they’ve done is maintain the status quo — the PS4 simply plays used games without any restrictions and allows you to play offline — things that every console before it has done. Sony does deserve a fair amount of credit for not stooping to Microsoft’s tragically greedy level, but really, Sony is just doing the minimum of what’s expected of them while Microsoft is actively stirring up trouble for themselves. It’s honestly kind of sad that we have to award companies for not shoving DRM down our throats instead of just expecting them to do the right thing without question. If the announcement that a new console will let you play offline and used games (“features” we took for granted with every previous console generation) is now deserving of a standing ovation, then our expectations for how companies should treat us have definitely reached a new low.

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Representatives from Bungie giving a surprise presentation about Destiny at the Sony booth.

But even if Microsoft’s whole DRM mess hadn’t happened, I still think the momentum would still be in Sony’s favor this generation: they’re a very different company nowadays than they were in 2006 (back when they were telling gamers to “get a second job” instead of complaining about the PS3′s $600 launch price.) Their old hubris has been replaced by a humble respect for their customers, and while Microsoft is doubling down on big budget triple A exclusives, it seems like Sony is taking the riskier (but potentially far more interesting) route of courting indie developers instead. The PS3′s rough first few years have definitely taught Sony a much needed lesson, and the PS4 now definitely seems like it has the potential to put Sony back on top.

Speaking of companies learning a lesson: Nintendo has definitely struggled for the last few years, and while the Wii U’s future prospects still remain bleak, it does seem like Nintendo is at least doubling-up on their efforts to bilge the water out of their sinking ship. As much as I love Nintendo’s software, there’s no denying that every Nintendo console since the N64 has been the type of system that you only use once or twice a year (usually when there’s a new Zelda or Mario game) — My PS1 and even my Saturn collections are substantially larger than my N64 library, you could have superglued the Smash Bros. Melee disc into my Gamecube and I probably never would’ve noticed, and I don’t think I’ve played a single Wii game since I finished Mistwalker’s The Last Story almost a year ago.

Nintendo seems to be aware of this unfortunate pattern, and they’re trying to ensure that there’ll be more than one or two Wii U games worth playing in the next few months: Super Mario 3D Land, Pikmin 3, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, and of course Wind Waker HD are all coming before the end of the year, and in 2014 Nintendo will finally grace us with the next Smash Bros. (starring one of my favorite video game characters of all time,) as well as Bayonetta 2, Mario Kart 8, and the extremely pretty, untitled follow-up to the original Wii’s underrated RPG masterpiece, Xenoblade Chronicles. Of course, you could fault Nintendo for relying on sequels to their big franchises (as they always have,) but it was hard to complain about all the sequels and remakes when all of them played so damn well — generally, the Nintendo games I played at E3 compensated for their lack of originality with Nintendo’s trademark polish, tight controls, and thoughtful design. If Sony and Microsoft PR is to be believed and they’re dedicated to giving us new, potentially revolutionary new experiences, then Nintendo is giving us the videogame equivalent of comfort food — familiar but satisfying.

With that said, I’m still not completely optimistic about the Wii U’s future. Nintendo definitely showed off a line-up of games that are all potential hits, but they still haven’t done a great job of differentiating the Wii U from its competition or justifying its $350 price (just $50 below the much more powerful PS4.) Nintendo managed to turn the 3DS’ fortunes around when the system launched to a cold reception, and they need to take even more drastic measures to save the Wii U — the system needs a massive price cut, and they need to take a cue from Microsoft and pony up some of that Pokemon money in order to entice third parties into making some games for the system. Bayonetta 2 and Sonic Lost World were both excellent, but they’re going to need some bigger third party franchises on the system if they don’t want the Wii U to replace the Gamecube as their least popular home console.

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The walkway between Capcom and Konami’s booths. Capcom’s booth had a fenced off area filled with actors playing zombies (who’d try to grab people walking by,) and Konami’s booth had a giant, movie theater sized screen that played the MGS5 trailer on a loop.

While the newer consoles grabbed all the headlines, I honestly think that the Xbox 360 and PS3 were still the real stars of this year’s E3: the Xbone and PS4 may have had (slightly) flashier graphics, but the 360 and the PS3 still both had a better and more varied line-up of games: Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII might be good enough to salvage the Final Fantasy XIII franchise, Killer Is Dead is on track to be Suda51′s most playable game ever, Diablo 3 has made a surprisingly graceful leap over to the consoles, and Atlus’ Dragon’s Crown proved that there’s more to the game than a few pairs of ridiculously huge mammaries.

The transition period between console generations is always an exciting time: besides the new possibilities afforded by the upcoming next generation of hardware, the very end of the current-gen hardware cycle is often when its best games are released. Developers have learned to push the older hardware to its absolute limits, and this is the period in a console’s life when the most creative and technically impressive games are released.

In terms of games that were playable on the E3 showfloor, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 and Bayonetta 2 were definitely my favorites this year. Lords of Shadow 2 took everything I loved about the original game, tightened up the controls, fixed the camera, and generally made everything bigger and badder — I was worried about where the series’ future following the release of the lackluster Mirror of Fate for the 3DS last March, but now I don’t have any doubts in my mind that Lords of Shadow 2 will completely eclipse the original. Besides playing better than the original game, it also looked a hell of a lot better as well; if it weren’t the PS3 sitting in front of me at the demo station, I think I would’ve assumed that Lords of Shadow 2 was an Xbox One or PS4 game.

Ditto for Bayonetta 2: Nintendo’s surprise exclusive hasn’t lost anything in the jump to Wii U, as Bayonetta’s action was just as fast, smooth, and gloriously over the top as it was before. Bayonetta 2′s demo level was just as insane and crazy as the best moments in the original game, and it only represents the first stage of the game — I can’t even imagine how crazy the game will get later on. ┬áThe game is being developed by the same team at Platinum Games who created the first Bayonetta, and many of those same people also worked on the original Devil May Cry — the game that basically defined how games in this genre should look and play. With Bayonetta 2, they seem determined to not just remind people that they weren’t just the pioneers of this genre, but they’re still its undisputed masters.

Handheld releases always get overshadowed by their big budget cousins on the consoles, and this year it seemed like the handhelds were especially neglected, but there were a handful of great PS Vita and 3DS games on the show floor: Media Molecule’s Tearaway was definitely the most charming and underrated game at the show, and the demo for Capcom’s Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright Dual Destinies proved that gaming’s favorite lawyer hasn’t lost his touch, even after a few years off.

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Part of Square’s booth is always dedicated to their line of Play Arts action figures. These Square style Justice League figures were especially bad ass.

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Just to show off — here’s a print from Shin Megami Tensei IV that I got at the show. It’s signed by the game’s character designer, Masayuki Doi.

It’s impossible to talk about E3 without hearing some fanboys argue about who “won” the show, but honestly, it doesn’t matter — Sony is definitely riding high after this year’s show, but while they both had their issues, I don’t think Microsoft and Nintendo completely dropped the ball this year either; despite the DRM mess, Microsoft had some great games to show off, and Nintendo had a respectable lineup of first party software as well. Every company at the show — no matter what console, whether they were casual or “hardcore,” Japanese or Western — had at least one or two worthwhile titles on display, and the amount of fantastic games at the show this year was astounding. I’ve been going to E3 for the last few years, and usually I’m pretty bored of the show by the time the third day rolls around. But this year, I found myself having to pick and chose the games that I really wanted to play, as there were more interesting games there than their were hours in the day.

There will always be fanboys who prejudge games (that they haven’t even played) and make false assumptions based on whose label is on the box or because it’s on the “wrong” console, and video game execs will always take passive aggressive jabs at each other during interviews, but at the end of the day, E3 isn’t about some insipid fanboy “console war” — ultimately, E3 is about the games, and this year’s E3 had a best selection of games that I’ve seen in a long time. With games like BioShock Infinite, The Last of Us, Tomb Raider, Fire Emblem: Awakening, and Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm, 2013 has already been a great year for games, and it seems like it’s only going to get better. So instead of asking pointless questions like “Who won E3 this year?,” a better question to ask yourself is “How am I going to afford all the great games that are coming out this year?”

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I live near Los Angeles, but honestly, I kind of hate that city so I try to avoid going there if possible. So hopefully I won’t have to come back until next year’s E3. So long, LA! Stay classy.

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