The lights are on
At the end of last year's E3 conference, I was left feeling a
little underwhelmed. In hindsight,it was worse than it seemed at the time. E3
2012 will likely be remembered (if at all) as one of the most uneventful shows
in the conference's history.
The Sound of Silence
A year later, E3 2012 is more defined by what wasn't there
than what was. While many thought that Sony and Microsoft would use the
conference to reveal their upcoming next-generation consoles, both
manufacturers opted to hold out for one-off reveal events in 2013. As a result,
there was a palpable vacuum of excitement at E3. With no shiny new boxes to
show off, both companies focused on a (limited) number of current-gen titles,
as well as online services and peripherals. It was all fine and good, but not
the type of announcements that gets the faithful's juices flowing.
The lack of next-gen excitement coming from the Sony and
Microsoft camps should have (in theory) cleared the decks for Nintendo to steal
the show with its new Wii U However, that wasn't really the case. While
Nintendo did show off some quality titles, it was lacking any real information
on new 3D Mario, Zelda, or Metroid games - the "big three" franchises that
have always been the cornerstones of Nintendo's success.
Nintendo Lacks Punch
As I said above - unlike this year - Nintendo didn't have to
contend with new systems from Microsoft or Sony at E3 2012. Looking back, the
company didn't seem to have a clear vision on how it was going to establish Wii
U in the eyes of consumers - something that it's struggled to do in the
months to follow.
The highlights were the announcement of two games in familiar
franchises: Pikmin 3 and New Super Mario Bros. U. While we're still waiting for
Pikmin 3, New Super Mario Bros. U came out to solid review scores, but didn't
really seem to have much of an impact on the larger gaming audience. Perhaps
Nintendo has gone to the retro/2D well on Mario one too many times? Hopefully,
the rumors of a new 3D Mario game at this year's show are true. As for Pikmin
3, it did generate some excitement, but it's hardly the kind of blockbuster
title that will move hardware.
Interestingly, a couple of third parties (Warner Bros. and
Ubisoft) made nearly as much noise as Nintendo with games like Lego City
Undercover, Scribblenauts Unlimited, and ZombiU, though none of these games
ultimately proved to be commercial successes.
Outside of that, there were some solid titles for the 3DS
(including a Luigi's Mansion), another Wii Fit game that hasn't come out yet,
and a karaoke Wii U game called Sing that is still missing in action. To top it
off, the conference ended with an overlong segment on the minigame collection
Nintendoland, which the company hoped would serve as the public's introduction
to the Wii U, just as Wii Sports did for the original Wii. This, obviously, was
not to be the case.
Sony Stands Pat
Sony didn't make a lot of waves at E3, with a presentation
that had some solid titles, one big announcement, and a confusing
The company's conference was hardly devoid of good games, but the
fact that two of them (Ubisoft's Far Cry 3 and Assassin's Creed III) had been
shown just prior at the Ubisoft press conference did somewhat diminish their
Thankfully, Sony did have its strong internal development
studios to fall back on, and was able to show off single-player footage of God
of War: Ascension for the first time. It also demonstrated Naughty Dog's
brilliant The Last of Us, which probably got the biggest reaction from the
crowd. As it turned out, this was for good reason.
The debut of Quantic Dream's Beyond: Two Souls, featuring
actress Ellen Page as a girl possessed of powerful psychic gifts, also
impressed, making it one of the few standout new IPs at E3. Throw in some
exclusive Vita games in big franchises like Assassin's Creed: Liberation and
Call of Duty: Black Ops - Declassified (though neither turned out to be
entirely satisfying) and it wouldn't have been a bad showing for an E3 off-year
- as long as Sony didn't squander its momentum on any misguided, weird
piece of technology.
Oh wait...Wonderbook...damn. As it turned out, Sony did manage
to confuse the crowd for what seemed like forever, with Wonderbook, an
"interactive storybook" that works in conjunction with the Move controller and PlayStation
Eye camera. Basically, it puts a bunch of weird stuff on the screen while you
flip the pages of a special storybook, and...well, you can check it out for
yourself. Basically, it was a colossal disaster for Sony, despite a partnership
with Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling.
Microsoft Comes Up
Microsoft's first-party publishing has dried up considerably
in recent years - though the company does claim to have over 15 new titles
in development for the first 12 months of Xbox One. However, in 2012, this
atrophy was pretty apparent at the company's press conference, which offered
new entries in familiar franchises and then proffered new technology and
services that weren't aimed at E3's hardcore gaming audience.
On the game side, Microsoft continued to rely on its small
stable of hits, and showed impressive new footage of Halo 4, plus announcements
of Gears of War: Judgment and Forza: Horizon. In keeping with the theme of the
show as a whole, it was solid, if not particularly surprising or inspired,
stuff. Still, three strong titles in three big franchises is nothing to sneeze
Third parties also continued to support 360 with trailers or
demos for Resident Evil 6, Black Ops II, Tomb Raider, and the announcement of
Splinter Cell: Blacklist - one of the small handful of exciting new
announcements at the show.
From there on, it was a punchless parade of technology and
services, which failed to excite the core audience - a mistake Microsoft
would repeat at its recent announcement of the Xbox One. The bells and whistles
included the tablet-and-smartphone tie-in tech SmartGlass, enhanced Bing
search, new Kinect functionality, a streaming music service, a Nike Kinect
sports training game, and...wait for it...Internet Explorer! You should have
heard the crowd roar.
Few Big Announcements
Sony and Microsoft's decision to not reveal their new consoles
at E3 2012 effectively put much of the new development in the industry
off-limits for the show - as companies weren't able to talk about games
that were destined for systems that didn't officially exist.
That said there were a few highlights. Ubisoft, which has
evolved into one of the industry's most dependable publishers, showed off the
aforementioned Splinter Cell: Blacklist, along with Rayman Legends for the Wii
U, ShootMania Storm, and ZombiU. It also debuted one of the only games that
really seemed to cause a stir at the show - the high-tech spy game Watch
Dogs. While we'll have to wait to see if it turns out, it was clear that
attendees appreciated the appearance of a new game with some level of
innovation and ambition. Sadly, its Rainbow Six: Patriots, which seems to have
fallen by the wayside, was not on display.
While we've already mentioned some of the first-party
announcements, the game that seems to be emblematic of last year's E3 is the
one we'll likely never see again: LucasArts Star Wars 1313. The title, which
was rumored to be a Boba Fett game, was one of the few next-gen titles shown
during the conference, and seemed to put an appealing, Uncharted-style spin on
the Star Wars franchise. It was easily the game that generated the most talk.
However, like E3 2012 itself, all this hype didn't come to much. As we all
know, LucasArts was sadly shuttered after Disney acquired the company, and the
future of Star Wars 1313 seems dim.
With two consoles and the promise of a host of new next-gen
game announcements, this year's E3 is shaping up to be an exciting one. Let's
hope so; as E3 2012 was a year when the venerable warhorse of a gaming
convention seemed to be over the hill and out of breath.
Email the author Matt Helgeson, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.