[23 June 2013]
While usually being a bustling and entertaining experience, annual video game convention E3 hasn’t really felt a much needed air of excitement for a while, and it seems like this year things have finally changed. With all of the console reveals out of the way a day prior to the start of the show, E3 began fully prepared to kick start the next-gen of games with the upcoming PlayStation 4, Xbox One and already available Wii U consoles.
As much fun as getting a look at the video games of tomorrow sounds, the show itself can be as much of an exercise in calendar management and convention survival as anything else. Like most other trade shows, E3 is broken up between two massive halls interconnected by a concourse, which is filled with even more meeting rooms showing private behind closed doors presentations to select few media journalists, industry analysts and retail execs who publishers are still trying to win over, despite a slow progression into a digital medium.
Within its two halls, E3 is filled to the brim with booths from the major players in the industry, small-time companies looking to pitch products from third-party accessories to strategy guides, indie devs hungry for some media attention as well as the scantily clad booth babes posing with an endless line of attendees. Once you get accustomed to the pounding bass mix of music and sound effects emanating from the hundreds of game stations, as well as massive throngs of people filling every corner, navigating the show floor can become somewhat a bit more comfortable.
Despite the convention’s recurrent use of celebrity appearances, booth babes and massive imposing character statues, upcoming games still certainly remain the prime focus, despite all the noise surrounding the whole point of the show. Within the walled off and secluded booths, numerous game stations line up every square inch, giving attendees a chance to check out what’s in store for the following year.
Not surprisingly, first-person shooters are still a huge portion of the market, and given the industry is as much about bringing in revenue as anything else, developers will continue churning these games out each year. This time around there is at least some sense of innovation thrown into the mix.
Respawn Entertainment’s Xbox One exclusive Titanfall looks to be a promising futuristic take on the genre, incorporating massive “Titan” mechs that can be controlled during battle. Players can choose to fight in massive online battles on foot or by taking control of a Titan, sacrificing speed and agility for pure power.
Bungie, the development team formerly behind Halo, gave a first look at gameplay of their upcoming Destiny, which combines a standard FPS formula with slight RPG elements. Destiny heavily integrates online gameplay, providing instanced story elements along the lines of MMOs. Players can freely jump in and out as various events take place within the persistent world, and according to Bungie, new story occurrences will take place frequently.
There were some pleasant surprises in the action-adventure genre as well, one of them being Airtight Games’ Murdered: Soul Suspect. In the mystery/detective/survival-horror hybrid, players assume the role of the ghost of a murdered detective who uses his newfound abilities to solve his own murder. It serves up some unique mechanics such as walking through walls, transmitting your spirit onto other people in order to listen in on conversations and other ghostly affairs.
Another much darker title being shown was The Evil Within, and you really shouldn’t expect anything other than the darkest of dark from Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami. You also take on the role of a detective, who after investigating a gruesome mass murder in his town is captured, and upon escaping awakens to find a strange world filled with vile creatures lurking at every turn. It definitely looks like a return to form for Mikami, and will serve up the tension and terror that we expect from him.
Sony had a hands-on demo for Quantic Dreams’ upcoming game, Beyond: Two Souls. The cinematic game stars Ellen Page as Jodie Holmes, a girl somehow connected with a mysterious supernatural entity named Aidan. The demo sends Jodie into Somalia to assassinate a warlord with Aidan’s help. As with Quantic’s previous title, Heavy Rain, the game uses somewhat unconventional controls, which can hopefully be tightened up a bit prior to release. However, it seems that the story will once again be an integral part of the experience, so hopefully David Cage and his team have an interesting plot to keep the whole package together.
Among all the massive, big-budget, and sometimes rehashed AAA titles that can be so common to see around E3, were some engaging indie games, which were mostly situated in the IndieCade booth. While Microsoft has not shown much support to indie devs with its Xbox One, Sony has really pushed for indie games on their platform and made indie devs far more welcome on their turf. In fact, during their press conference, they featured a segment with numerous indie games being showcased on stage, which was great exposure to the titles that few people actually get to hear about.
One of the games that was featured was a unique, abstract and delightful game called Octodad: Dadliest Catch. Getting a chance to try it at the show, I have to say it might have been the most fun I had with a game at the show. Despite its simplicity, the sheer uniqueness really brought on a sense of joy while playing through the game’s beginning stage. In the demo, you take on the role of Octodad, who is on his way to his wedding ceremony. Octodad awkwardly staggers about, which results in a very loose control mechanic as you attempt to find your tux and make your way to the wedding hall. It’s not an easy one to sell, but it will definitely be a title to look forward to when it launches next year.
Another unique offering at IndieCade’s booth was Hohokum, a non-linear visual experience, which is as much about relaxing as it is about playing a video game. Paired with an ethereal soundtrack provided by artists from label Ghostly International, you control a serpent creature as you fly around and explore a vivid, colorful world, encountering other spry creatures that join you on the journey.
These indie titles really stood out to me and proved that games don’t necessarily need a massive team of developers to be enjoyable. If the creativity is present, the end result can be as fulfilling, despite the simplicity of the product. And that’s something that I personally hope can be more commonplace as the industry evolves. While the AAA titles will always be present and still entertaining, support for indie devs will be as important as they are the ones that always put their vision and dreams ahead of their pocketbook. Let’s just hope that that creativity and drive seeps into the other segments of the industry.