Reflections on E3 2011

Having taken the weekend to recover, I figure it’s time to write up my E3 experience. I headed out to Los Angeles on Monday and was able to work through pretty much the entire show floor in both the South and West Halls. There were a few things that I missed out on, but for the most part I tried to at least watch everything there.

I hopped in the line for Battlefield 3 right when the show floor opened and managed to see some of the multiplayer firsthand.  The Paris maps that were being shown weren’t great showcases for the destruction or vehicles but the visuals were extremely impressive. It seems that if you’ve played Bad Company 2, you pretty much know what you’re going to get from Battlefield 3 (only prettier). Even the interface is very similar and familiar.

After watching some paid people play Dance Central, I headed over to see that new Driver game with the crazy car-swapping mechanic. I played a multiplayer mode that was pretty much a game of tag where the player who was “it” longest wins. The interesting thing about the mode is that you can use the car-swapping mechanic to hop out of your car as what is pretty much a disembodied camera and zoom way, way out of the action. All of the other players’ cars are marked, so all you have to do is pick a car in traffic near the guy who is “it” and take control. It’s actually a pretty fun feature and jumping from car to car fit the mode pretty well. It’s just too bad the actual driving controls felt really floaty and imprecise.

Next to the Driver booth was a big demo of the new Ghost Recon Future Soldier. I stopped to watch a bit but the guy demoing it ended up falling through the world and crashing the demo. It was pretty sad. I then headed over to Square-Enix and managed to catch a place to sit while watching the new Final Fantasy XIII-2 trailer. That game just looks like more anime melodrama and I’m not certain that I care about it at all. There were more interesting things at Square’s booth, though. I briefly played a little bit of Deus Ex: Human Revolution and very much enjoyed it. I kind of got Mass Effect 1 vibes from it, though I actually really liked trying to be stealthy.  I love games that make use of inventory tetris, so that was neat.

On the opposite side of the Deus Ex kiosks was Dead Island. The game feels like some weird hybrid of Left 4 Dead and Dead Rising. I’m curious if anyone will ever make a zombie game without “dead” in the title (other than Resident Evil). Dead Island is first person and the demo they were letting people play was very much melee focused. As such, I found it difficult to judge distance and often swung at the zombies with poor timing. The ability to throw your melee weapon for a quick kill was fun at least. The trailer they showed made it look like you do eventually get guns.

Next door to Square-Enix I had a brief experience with the new Ninja Gaiden game. It feels very button mashy and I was never quite sure what I was doing. The game doesn’t do a particularly good job pointing you in the right direction (even the “click the stick to be shown where to go” doesn’t work quite right, especially if you’re near a wall). Once I found the basic light-light-strong combo that ended in a quicktime event, I was pretty much just using that to kill everything over and over. The camera was a mess and being near walls or objects while you slide around to different enemies was an exercise in frustration.

After getting fed up with Ninja Gaiden, I wandered over to Konami to check out Silent Hill: Downpour. The demo was being offered in 3D and regular and since there was no line for the regular, I went with that. The game looks and plays like Silent Hill. It’s tough to make a judgment call on that alone when so much of the quality behind a Silent Hill game relies on its story. The atmosphere was good and the area I explored was plenty creepy. Combat felt like what I remember of Silent Hill 2; you typically lock on and circle-strafe enemies’ attacks.

After that, I moved over to Microsoft to get a look at Forza 4. There was no line for the controller version of the game, so I gave it a try. I got to drive an STI on some sort of snowy mountain track and it was a ton of fun. I’ve never been great at racing sims and Gran Turismo always frustrates me, but I had no problems here. Also, the number of options and tweaks you can do to the settings is very impressive. Not to mention the game looks really sharp. They also had a wheel-controlled version set up with three TVs giving the player a panoramic view. I snapped a picture of it (next to this paragraph).

Before finishing up the first day, I went over to EA to see Need for Speed: The Run. Control-wise, they seem to be ditching the Burnout-esque scheme from Hot Pursuit. The first thing I tried to do was press X for boost and it ended up pulling my e-brake. The Run is a really weird game. It features lots of on-foot quicktime events to propel the story along, but they aren’t fun at all. Even more annoying, the game loves to take control away from you while driving to show these big setpiece moments. This almost always happens on turns, so a lot of the time it just feels like it’s playing the game for you. The chase I played also ended in a very specific way, which makes me worry that this is going to feel like the driving equivalent of the Black Ops campaign: you’ll never feel like you’re really controlling anything.

The next day, I headed over to the West Hall to take a look at Sony and Nintendo. I figured Nintendo would have some crazy lines for the Wii U, so I headed for Sony first and got in line to try some Uncharted 3 multiplayer. The joke was on me because I stood in that line for nearly an hour and a half. The game was as fun as ever and there were some seriously impressive sunset effects on the airstrip map I played. Gameplay-wise, it felt like Uncharted, but I think the guns have a little more recoil in them than the previous game. It could be so that you can add parts to reduce the recoil but that’s just my guess.

Around the corner was Resistance 3, but it didn’t really look worth standing in line for. I love Insomniac, but that series has always had a strange feel to it. The sci-fi guns had this really bulky look to them and they took up too much screen space. The gameplay itself just seemed very generic. Across the aisle from there was a very small kiosk for Dark Souls. Only a few brave people seemed to be interested in trying it. The interface is almost identical to Demon’s Souls and the art style is very similar. One nice thing is that there’s a lot more color now, but the world’s atmosphere still seemed moody and bleak. I’m glad they were able to keep that feeling without making us stare at various shades of gray.

I wondered if they would make the public demo easier for us but was pleasantly surprised when the guy ahead of me in line ran across a bridge toward a dragon only to be promptly roasted. Having learned his lesson, he found a different path that led further into the demo. When it was my turn, I picked a knight sort of class (I forget the name) that could also throw lightning bolts Zeus-style. I eventually made my way to the roof of a church where I was faced with two giant gargoyle bosses, not unlike the double gargoyles in Demon’s Souls. These guys could fly and spit fire but with some circle-strafing and careful hits I was able to kill them. When I finished the demo, it told me “You have completed the purpose.”

After that, I had a chance to try the Vita Uncharted spin-off and it was pretty impressive. The dual thumbsticks on the Vita feel good and I doubt that anyone would rather use the touchscreen controls for such a traditional game. I tried them and I can’t say I agree with the Sony press conference’s statement that tapping the screen to shoot a dude is “fun.”

Tucked behind Sony was Bethesda, easily found by the giant freaking dragon popping out of their booth. I got a chance to see some Skyrim, and the new engine that they’ve developed is very, very pretty. It’s so nice to be rid of Gamebryo. The dragon AI was pretty cool; they seem to just fly around doing whatever they want and it pays to be constantly aware of whether or not there’s one nearby. I’m still certain that the game itself won’t be able to draw me in, though. Something about the Elder Scrolls games just always makes me feel lost and bored. That aside, I can say with certainty that if you liked Oblivion then you’ll probably like Skyrim better. I was pleased to see that they got rid of the focused-camera conversations.

Across from Sony’s giant black walled booth was Nintendo’s giant white walled booth. While I didn’t get in line to play it, I watched some people mess around with a couple different Wii U tech demo-type things. I’m just not sold on that console. All of the things they were showing seemed like things they could probably achieve with the Wii. There was a Mario side-scrolling platformer and a number of minigame things involving Miis. There was a very DS-esque game where you draw on the controller’s screen. The one interesting thing I heard about the Wii U is that you can use the controller screen as your motion detector in Aliens: Colonial Marines.

Nintendo was also showing off Skyward Sword and it looks about the same as it has for the past year. That game really just needs to come out already. Past the Wii stuff were a bunch of 3DS kiosks with various games. I got to see some of the Kid Icarus: Uprising multiplayer which was really confusing and fast-paced. It was my first time seeing a 3DS and I definitely preferred it with the slider completely off.

One of the last things I took a look at was coop on Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City. I really wasn’t expecting much from the game but it really impressed me. While at first I thought it might have been better to name it something new and drop the Resident Evil license, I actually enjoyed the nostalgic feel of returning to Raccoon City. The coop gameplay was very satisfying and the idea that you can get turned into a zombie and have to be put down by your team always makes for a cool dynamic.

All in all, E3 was a lot of fun. It was incredibly crowded and exhausting; the first day especially made my legs feel like jelly. It was worth it, though, and I’m glad I got to go. I saw a few other things briefly, like Modern Warfare 3 and Twisted Metal, but I don’t really feel like I saw enough to pass any sort of judgment on them. I’ll say that Twisted Metal definitely has some promise, though I hope it’s not just nostalgia talking. By the way, all of the pictures in this article I took myself while I was there, so apologies in advance that I’m not the best photographer. That’s it for me; I’m still pretty wiped out from the trip.

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About heyitsthatdog

I love video games, even when they don't love me back.
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