‘Next-gen’ news from E3

By , 10/11/2018 22:15

Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain.E3 2013: press conference round-up – part 1
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The Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, is officially over, and what a week it was. Many of the games mentioned here will have longer stories coming, as I got to sit down and either play them or see a behind-closed-doors preview.

The first official day kicked off with four press conferences in a row from 9am to 8pm. It can be a bewildering experience, as publishers bombard you with new products, videos and buzzwords such as “innovative”. I was there to sort through the mess and find out what these releases mean for the “next-gen” consoles.

Microsoft

The day started with Microsoft’s highly orchestrated and expensive-looking show. Amid a few technical hiccups, it showcased some interesting prospects for a company many pre-emptively bemoaned as having no games.

Microsoft specifically said it would be showing the majority of its titles and E3 and delivered on the promise. Project Spark was a delightful surprise, but the technology on show in Battlefield 4, Forza and Dead Rising was particularly interesting.

The long, detailed trailer for Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain made some very large promises. It also already looks like it will be able to deliver. For the first time in a MGS game, they’ve added an open-world. Story details are still a little sketchy but we saw some characters and locations that would feature. A huge world with dynamic lighting, emergent stealth gameplay and open play-styles: yes please.

Microsoft was quick to mention that it would be continuing to support the 360, with several games still in development for the console. It also announced that World of Tanks, the popular PC game, would be coming to 360. And, long-time gold users would be getting free older games for their support of the platform, the first two being Assassin’s Creed 2 and Halo 3. (I have to mention that this is a service that PlayStation already have in effect.)

The first next-gen game shown was the long-delayed Ryse, which now looks better than it ever did while it was supposed to be on Kinect. You play as Roman legionnaire Marius Titus and the combat looked brutal and interesting. It’s a shame it was riddled with quick-time event finishers, though. As an example of the Xbox One’s processing power, the number of elements and characters on screen at one time was impressive, but it will need to be more than a tech demo to make a lasting impression.

Another flashy trailer was for the newly announced Sunset Overdrive. A bright, orange-hued cinematic trailer showed a lanky character free-running across rooftops and fighting mutant monsters with a variety of weapons. The trailer also featured players working together, which would hint at multiplayer. It’s hard to say how it plays, but I will keep an eye out for it on the show floor.

The classic fighting series Killer Instinct will also be coming to the Xbox One. Some gamers will already know what to expect from the previous games, but for those that don’t, it’s a fantasy-style fighting game with a violent, cartoon-y bent. Somewhat along the lines of Mortal Kombat, but without the brutality.

Xbox also mentioned that it would release an arcade stick peripheral to coincide with it, as many gamers prefer the classic arcade controls. I got to play a demo of the game with the arcade stick at an Xbox One event later that night. The two characters on display were fine but the arcade stick felt flimsy and not responsive enough to make it worthwhile for a fighting game. These were prototypes, but if the final iteration is the same, expect some annoyed fighting-game purists.

Predictably, Forza Motorsports 5 was on show. As a tech demo, the game looks amazing, with cars looking more car-like than ever before, but once again, it all depends on how it plays. I didn’t get time to play the game throughout the week as the Microsoft booth was obscenely packed, but expect more on this in the lead-up to the Xbox One’s November launch

Unsurprisingly, Minecraft will also be coming to the Xbox One. We didn’t get many details, but the trailer looked predictably block-shaped. It also promised “bigger maps” and “more multiplayer” – whatever that means in a Minecraft context.

Finally, we started to get into some new IPs. Quantum Break was flagged at the first Xbox One conference, but this was the first time we got any idea about what it is. Presumably a shooter, but with time manipulation elements. It will also tie into a television aspect. The trailer shown looked to be a cut scene from some point in the game, with our protagonist walking into a room that had an explosion frozen in mid air. There were a massive number of individual parts hanging in the air, which all began to move when the explosion started up again. Expect some next-gen explosions – but we will have to see about how it plays.

If one of the more interesting games announced works like they say, it’ll be amazing. Project Spark got a short gameplay video to show off what it can do. The premise is making your own games with the tools available. At first there wasn’t much to get excited about apart from some simple environment control tools. But soon the demonstrator had given a rock some simple AI and made it start fighting goblins he generated. To take it up a notch, another player joined the game and together they fended off a goblin invasion by throwing fire around and turning the rock companion into a rock mech and blasting those filthy greenskins. If it can deliver the level of user-generated experience it seems to promise, this might actually be a big plus for Xbox One.

Finally! Another Dead Rising game. This time with a different protagonist in a different setting. Technologically, the gameplay shown was a great way to illustrate the number of elements the Xbox One could handle running at one time. Seeing thousands of zombies shamble towards me gets my chainsaw arm itching. Seemingly, weapon combinations and co-op are making a return as well.

A new trailer for the Witcher 3 was shown. It wouldn’t mean much to those not familiar with the series, but check back soon as I will be writing a full story about the 40-odd minutes of gameplay I got to see upstairs in the tiny CD Projekt Red booth. RPG fans should start getting excited now.

Though not an Xbox One exclusive, Microsoft showed off some of Battlefield 4’s single-player campaign. While the single player was not the highlight of Battlefield’s third entry, this one at least looks like it will put its new engine to good use. Fighting their way out of a ship as it broke in half, DICE look like they’ve really upped their game on the grandeur of destruction they hold so dear. (I got to play some of the BF4 multiplayer later in the week, so keep an eye out for a story on that.)

Microsoft brought up the name Black Tusk studios and did a teaser for a nameless, sci-fi game running on the Xbox One engine. The demo certainly had the visuals down, but didn’t give us any details about gameplay, character or setting, besides the fact that it’s at least partially in a city. It’s a bit of a cop-out, frankly, to show one minute of tech demo when you’re asking players to invest long-term in your product.

Possibly the biggest, but least surprising, announcement was a short CGI trailer for a new Halo game in the core series. Oddly, it didn’t have the number five after the name, meaning it could be given a secondary name instead. Expect impressive graphics but a familiar gameplay experience. I couldn’t help but wonder why a man in a Spartan armour suit would need to wear a cloak in the desert, but maybe that will be explained later. (Perhaps sand gets stuck up in his cracks?)

As a last nod to next-gen games, Microsoft showed a trailer and some short gameplay from their new exclusive Titanfall. The footage at EA’s press conference was longer and had more details, but as an indicator of the tone, the footage seemed very exciting. Giant, agile mechs squashing puny humans is all right by me.

Microsoft certainly knew that gamers were perturbed about its television focus at the announcement event, and filled the press conference with trailers. Though there wasn’t much in the way of surprises. Halo, Quantum Break, Dead Rising 3 and Project Spark were nice to see, but in terms of wow-factor, Quantum Break was the only game there to seemingly be trying something new.

Microsoft seems very comfortable in the niche it has cut out for itself, but in wilfully ignoring its fan-base to implement always-online DRM, then not addressing it, it seems bull-headed. Expect to see some retractions or changes in policy before release, especially after the reaction at the Sony conference.

EA

EA, the home of almost every sport game known to man, showed 11 titles in the beautiful Shrine Auditorium with a ruthlessly unforgiving light-show at the beginning and accompanying brain-melting dubstep. However, nothing can diminish the enthusiasm and relaxed charm of Peter Moore, EA’s chief executive, and he led with a new entry into the hugely popular Plants vs Zombies series. EA did a good job showcasing its games with trailers and a comparatively small amount of PR buzz words.

In contrast to Microsoft’s sound cut-outs, EA had its speakers set to 11. Then 12 through to 15, occasionally making some of the trailers’ moments hard to discern from one another. Still, EA obviously know it’s at the mercy of its fans and finally took this moment to announce a long-awaited, new Star Wars: Battlefront game and the sequel to Mirror’s Edge.

In a pleasant surprise, the guys from PopCap games came out to announce a third-person sequel to their hugely popular iOS game Plants vs Zombies. Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare is a four-player co-op third-person game. It showed a horde mode where players acted as the plants with different specialities, like melee or long-range, but we didn’t see if there would be a story mode or any other.

Even for a game with stylised cartoon-y visuals, you can see the difference in a next-gen engine. It certainly looks fun, but I’ll have to seek it out on the show floor to say for sure. PopCap’s chief executive also popped back out to briefly announce Peggle 2, but didn’t give any other details. How much more can you do with Peggle?

After a well-publicised split from Infinity Ward, Jason West and Vince Zampella founded Respawn Entertainment. At the EA press conference, they announced their new company’s first game, Titanfall, an FPS mix of human and mech combat. At first, the video they showed didn’t seem too different from the FPS games we’re used to, but the footage soon ramped up the madness.

Taking cues from modern military exo-skeleton technology, Respawn have made super-agile, gigantic robots that come up against other robots and their human pilots. It looks like an interesting combination of sizes and abilities to make both experiences look different. It also looks like it will heavily encourage team-based tactics.

Andrew Wilson, the head of EA Sports, came out to introduce the new engine all of EA’s next-gen sport games will be running off, the Ignite Engine. He touted human-like AI, dynamic player motion and a living world as the most exciting features of the engine. I couldn’t help but feel like he was liberally applying the marketing spiel of the next iteration of a similar engine to what already exists. The games certainly look nice, but all the next-gen graphics I’ve seen seem to look pretty as standard. A little more gameplay and fewer jump-cut laden trailers might have helped sell the idea more.

On the subject of EA’s sport games, we saw NBA Live 14 (introduced by Kyrie Irving), Madden NFL 25, Fifa 14 and UFC. I understand it’s hard to sex up the footage of a new NBA or Madden game, but dragging out reluctant sports stars is not the way to do it. Hopefully, you can show the game in some form and the gamers you’re aiming at will be sold.

NBA Live 14 touted the hilariously named BounceTek as the newest form of dribbling technology. Making the ball an independent AI from the character (as opposed to the current NBA games where it is locked to the player holding it) will probably help create some exciting randomness to the ball physics. EA also claimed that its online stat service would gather up-to-date player stats hourly so that the game reflects changes to the players as soon as they play. This feature is for the hardcore basketball fans and will probably go down well with them.

Madden NFL 25, on the Xbox One and PS4, certainly looks nice. But nice graphics alone won’t be enough to impress. Both Madden and Fifa seem to be concentrating a lot on the physics of the players and their animations. Their players now react realistically to unexpected situations and can jump around and slide past others. For some reason, Microsoft felt the need to wheel out musician Drake to say how much he likes Fifa. It seemed like an odd decision and he was the most out-of-place of the celebrities brought out on stage. The games still stand up for themselves though, and giving the characters intelligent decision-making abilities and a fancy new engine is more than enough to sell them.

The UFC trailer didn’t have too much in the way of gameplay, but the same principles apply from its other sports games. Visually impressive and highly detailed, my only detraction would be that they repeatedly said the full body “deformation” was 100 per cent authentic and as close to a real punch as has ever been possible. I certainly hope not.

The other interesting engine that was introduced was Frostbite 3, the next-gen sequel to the existing Battlefield 3 engine (and many other games). One of the best teasers for it was a very short trailer for Star Wars: Battlefront. Hugely anticipated by gamers, we didn’t really get any details apart from the fact that it would presumably feature the Hoth level the trailer was set on. Here’s hoping it’s not a mobile game, because EA really have the time and budget to make something that trumps the first two. Especially if it’s on next-gen.

Inevitably, there was a Need for Speed announced for next-gen too. We even saw some gameplay from “Rivals”. Seemingly, it will take advantage of the seamless multiplayer integration a lot of the next-gen games are aiming for. From what we saw, it pits players against each other as one controls the racer and the other a high-powered police car. We’ll need more details about how it all works, but once again, it was a visual treat.

As a side-note, EA also brought out Aaron Paul, star of Breaking Bad and the upcoming Need for Speed film, to show a short clip of the film. You guessed it, cars were driven fast and some of them crashed.

Aaryn Flynn, general manager at Bioware, came out to show the first trailer for the highly anticipated Dragon Age: Inquisition. Though the trailer was purely CGI, with none of the huge open worlds they’ve promised, it still did a good job of conveying a certain tone and teasing some story elements. The creature design was, as we’ve come to expect from Bioware, fantastic, and the world seems delightfully different from what we’ve seen before. This will be one to watch for RPG fans in 2014.

Even though Microsoft showed some single-player content for Battlefield 4 at its conference, most players will be picking up a copy for the multiplayer. In what was quite an interesting stunt, it pulled up the curtains to reveal 64 players all on stage playing BF4. It’s hard to know if they were actually all playing, but if they were, then certainly what occurred was rehearsed. It had none of the spontaneity that makes Battlefield so fun, but it showed the destruction and mayhem possible on the Frostbite 3 engine well.

In a map called The Siege of Shanghai, the players worked together to take down a tank by blasting the support columns underneath so it crashed into the subway. This sort of gameplay hasn’t been seen before in BF and the destruction is looking tastily chaotic. To illustrate their point, the demo ended with a skyscraper coming down towards the player. This was purely because the other team blew up the supports of the building. It gets me all excited about the possibilities in-game.

As a signing off note, EA released a trailer for the long-rumoured but oft-denied Mirror’s Edge sequel. Although it’s potentially a reboot, as the name doesn’t sport a number, there’s a lot of opportunity for a beautiful game on next-gen.

All in all, EA’s conference was a good one. Although they love to talk a big game, the publisher are certainly delivering exciting games to their fans. With some new faces and some established franchises, plus the inclusion of Star Wars: Battlefront and Mirror’s Edge, there was something for everyone.

The writer travelled to Los Angeles as a guest of Ubisoft.

Twitter: @CalumWAustin

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