Electronic Entertainment Expo: 7 – 9 June 2011 – Los Angeles

The Electronic Entertainment Expo descended upon the Los Angeles Convention Center once again earlier this month and brought with it first-looks at upcoming products from tech giants Sony and Nintendo, along with giving the video game industry hands on time with anticipated upcoming titles.

The biggest buzz of the show was undoubtedly Nintendo’s reveal of the successor to the Wii, dubbed simply the Wii U, a name that garnered mixed reactions on the show floor yet didn’t detract attendees from lining up for hours to get to try out the system. The company’s vision behind the name stems from the concept of having a focus on the player in addition to their friends and companions, which the original Wii was designed around. The most unique feature of the Wii U is its tablet-like controller which integrates a 6.2” touch-screen right on the front.

This new controller once again makes me excited for a Nintendo console, as long as developers choose to utilize it in fresh and innovative ways, and from what I’ve seen it looks like things are on the right track. I found myself getting used to its size rather quickly, and it felt more comfortable than what I initially expected. There were eight different Wii U experiences showcased on the floor, mostly being proof of concepts and not necessarily representing future titles, although it is a sure bet that those small samplings of games could be packaged into future minigame compilations.

Sony’s booth was consistently filled with attendees waiting in long lines to get a hands-on look at their new portable handheld, the PlayStation Vita. The Vita features a high-resolution 5” OLED touch screen as well as a rear touch panel. Internally it’s outfitted with some impressive processing power, enabling it to run graphics comparable to the visuals of the PlayStation 3. Playing titles like Virtua Tennis 4 and Uncharted: Golden Abyss left me pretty impressed with the capabilities of the handheld, however the question that remains to be seen is if consumers will be interested in a high-tech portable device when they can have similar experiences in their home on a much larger screen, or when they can kill time with games on their smartphones.

Microsoft did not have any major announcements in store this year aside from their reveal of Halo 4. It seems the company is very much focused on supporting the millions of Kinect units currently in consumers’ homes, revealing voice and gesture support for upcoming titles such as Mass Effect 3 and Tom Clancy’s Future Soldier, plus announcing sequels to Kinect hits like Dance Central 2 and Kinect Sports: Second Season. Microsoft also announced entertainment content additions for the Xbox Live service this fall, with support for YouTube as well as plans for live TV.

Dancers at the Microsoft booth try out Dance Central 2 for Kinect

Along with the two new system reveals, the show floor was packed wall to wall with publishers’ booths showcasing upcoming titles. Unsurprisingly, a big focus this year was on shooter games, with Activision displaying its much-anticipated Modern Warfare 3, EA showing the multiplayer-focused Battlefield 3, and Ubisoft working on yet another entry in the Tom Clancy series with Future Soldier. While there’s currently a huge audience for the shooter genre and publishers will keep on saturating the market until demand drops, these games are starting to feel pretty stale. While cinematics and storylines are getting more grandiose and over-the-top, the core gameplay tends to remain mostly unchanged and without many tweaks most series in the genre seem to be turning into annualized franchises that bring nothing new to the table.

Adventure and action fans should be pleased by upcoming titles such as Square Enix’s Tomb Raider reboot, which was one of my top titles of the show. The reveal for the game showed a completely revamped Lara Croft, no longer the sassy, unrealistically voluptuous archeologist, and instead painting a picture of a young, frail girl that gets shipwrecked and stranded on an island. The grim intro gameplay sequence left a bit of an emotional impact on me as I watched an agonized Lara emitting screams of pain as she attempted to free herself from a cave in which she was being held captive. Sony also showed off their action-packed Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, which takes protagonist Nathan Drake through deserts and lost cities around the world. Another one of my personal show favorites was EA’s Mass Effect 3, the closure of the critically acclaimed trilogy, which pits Commander Shepard against invaders that are attacking Earth. While the demos of the game showed a bit too many shooting sequences for my liking, the sci-fi story seems to be as engaging as ever and the gameplay seems to still provide hours of exploration of unknown galaxies.

Aside from the big budget releases, downloadable titles also had a strong showing on the floor with WB Games’ independently-developed action-RPG Bastion, Sony’s aesthetically gorgeous desert exploration adventure title Journey, as well as puzzle-platformer Papo & Yo, which includes a personal take on the story fueled by the creator’s experiences of growing up with an alcoholic father.

This year’s E3 also had the usual random celebrity appearances scattered throughout the show, some on hand to promote various accessories and games, and others to simply get a look at titles in the works. Hulk Hogan made a bit of a strange appearance when he walked through the concourse from one show hall to the other in an attempt to promote his involvement with the upcoming Kinect game, Hulk Hogan’s Main Event. The NOX booth held an appearance by T-Pain, who is a spokesperson for their line of Admiral headsets, and Yoostar held a mini-press conference with Snoop Dogg to promote the upcoming Yoostar MTV, which lets you record video of yourself and superimpose it into clips from MTV shows.

Hulk Hogan and his son Nick attended the expo to promote his upcoming Kinect game, Hulk Hogan’s Main Event

With video games turning more and more into grandiose cinematic experiences, it’s apparent that they are gradually becoming more of a relevant storytelling and entertainment medium. From seeing some samples of upcoming titles at this E3, it’s certain that the next year has a lot of engaging and enjoyable experiences in store for everyone.

Snoop Dogg watches a scene he recorded in the upcoming Yoostar 2: In the Movies, while promoting the announcement of Yoostar on MTV, which lets you record video clips of yourself and insert them into MTV shows