Once upon, there was something called the Electronic Entertainment Expo, mystically referred to at times as “E3″. E3 was the gaming conference of the year, drastically altering an industry’s fiscal year within a period of three days. Some hiccups caused it be diluted down. The booming growth of gaming, however, showed we needed an E3 more than ever. However, when it meant one-upping the competition, systematically pushing forth innovation, sequel and block-buster titles, E3 was tough to beat.
Not having followed the proceedings and rumours leading up to E3, or even tuning into the live press conference screenings, I simply digested some of the bigger happenings. Is it possible I missed out on a couple of things? Definitely, but that’s one of the magical things of E3. Something special lays hidden, if you care to look for it. Conversely, a literal storm of suffering could be awaiting in the next booth.
However, this year’s E3 was different. The Wii U was more detailed this time around, but I was focused on the games. So it was some trepidation that some of the titles I laid eyes on seemed all too familiar. God of War: Ascension, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Medal of Honor: Warfighter, Dead or Alive 5 – there was definitely a “been there, done that” feeling (one the Call of Duty series has lucidly mastered). Do I harbour apprehension that they won’t be great games? Not at all. Did they wow me enough to do more than just move on to the next trailer? Not really.
Of course, the big names were relatively new. Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, Quantic Dream’s Beyond: Two Souls and Ubisoft Montreal’s Watch Dogs all had the proverbial buzz surrounding them. But again, it didn’t feel like there was something compelling and fresh enough.
Initial impressions pegged The Last of Us as a mixture of The Walking Dead meets Uncharted with more nuanced character motions and expressions, Beyond is a mix between Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain, and Watch Dogs as, well, Assassin’s Creed. In fact, Assassin’s Creed 3, Splinter Cel: Blacklist and Watch Dogs all bore the brunt of looking a little too similar for my liking. They’re not the kind of titles that I’ll be looking back on two years down the line as the ones that defined E3 2012.
Each game in one way or another builds upon a previous generation’s mechanics, hooks and innovations. However, over the years, it’s begun to feel like a dilution in favour of cinematic and graphical immersion. But in this AAA blockbuster-hinging industry, anything less would be a disaster. Do what you gotta do, but it’s gotta be big and it’s gotta be a hit.
This is not to say this dilution and encompassing of features is hurting all titles. Look at Quantum Conundrum. On the surface, it seems like another Portal-esque switch-hitter. Deep down, it embodies a simple yet distinct art-style, a fun narrative with intelligent story writing and sense of immersion, distinguished by it’s own brand of reality-altering shenanigans. So games can be fun, innovative and familiar, without pandering too much to cinematic sensibilities. They can do more of the same but do it differently.
Heck, even something that just reaches out and grabs you, like seeing Zelda: Twilight Princess for the first time, or the Halo 2 target gameplay footage (smoke and mirrors controversy notwithstanding), or even with Uncharted 2’s unveiling. Or we can rehash the same icon-prompting kills and QTEs of years past and still be fun. Just not memorable.
I fully expect many of these titles to be on my must-play list for the year, particularly Watch Dogs and The Last of Us. And initial impressions show they’re quite strong in their mechanics and design.