Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo focus on Games at E3

It was look now, play (much) later at this year's premiere gaming Expo

Sony unofficially “won” 2013’s E3 with a presentation that saw the eagerly awaited reveal of the PS4, as well as its $399 starting price – $100 lower than the price Redmond had announced for the Xbox One earlier that day. Some amusing barbs at their rival’s flip-flopping over the One’s features and price, and a worked-up crowd created an energy that was undeniably powerful. This year? Everything kind of fell apart. Perhaps it was the absence of Jack Tretton, who stepped down as President and CEO of Sony’s American operations. Perhaps it was the apparent absence of any kind of editing. Sony’s two-hour conference dragged, particularly during a middle segment focused on facts and figures and a presentation about an upcoming TV show exclusive to PlayStation that offered absolutely nothing beyond a premise and some concept art. Why it got at least five minutes on stage is anyone’s guess.

Perhaps Sony has earned the right to consume two hours and gloat about its successes. The PS4 has now topped American sales charts for five straight months, and is the undisputed leader of this current generation. Microsoft failed to announce any sales figures – they didn’t even touch upon a new Kinect-less bundle for the One which retails at the same price as the PS4 in an attempt to boost sales. Sony reveled in taking a break from games to discuss Project Morpheus, a highly-anticipated virtual reality headset which they claim will come to market some time in 2015, while PlayStation TV was announced, a $99 device akin to Apple TV that can stream movies and TV shows, as well as PlayStation games through Sony’s PS Now streaming service.

That’s not to say that there weren’t plenty of games, though. The creators of Dark Souls announced Bloodborne, a violent, horror adventure which tasks players with exploring a city cursed with an endemic illness. Like Dark Souls, expect to die. A lot. Keeping with the gruesome, The Order 1886 showcased some more of its horror side, with another violent trailer giving gamers a deeper glimpse into what they can expect. Initial media reactions to the game were mixed, but the team behind it are said to have made a lot of improvements to the gameplay. Here’s hoping it pays off when the game launches in February. Sony offered another look at The Last of Us, which has been buffed from its already-beautiful PS3 version for a PS4 release, though those that have already played through the incredible game will find little new to enjoy here. If you need something a little more… horrendously violent? Enter Let It Die, from Suda 51. Not a great deal is known, but the trailer and subsequent chatter detail a free-to-play, asynchronous online game, which will feature brutal combat. Should a person die in game, their soul will be uploaded to the game’s servers and used as enemies in other players’ games. Expect more details on the PS4 exclusive at the Tokyo Game Show.

LittleBigPlanet 3 (PS4)

LittleBigPlanet 3 (PS4)

If you’re not one for horror or zombies – yours truly included in that group – then Sony had you catered for with LittleBigPlanet 3. The latest installment in the series sees adorable protagonist Sackboy joined by three friends, Swoop, Toggle and Oddcloth, to add greater depth to an already stellar platformer. What’s more, any user-created levels from the first two games will work here, so it’ll launch with thousands of additional levels out of the box (and via the Interwebs). Abzu, meanwhile, is a spiritual successor to Sony’s beautifully ethereal Journey, created by the art director of that game and featuring music by Austin Wintory, who gave Journey its incredible score. It offers a similarly striking art style and setting — an underwater world ripe for exploration – and should offer more mellow-yet-engrossingly emotional gameplay. Fans of ‘90s cult classic Grim Fandango were offered a surprise when Sony announced a re-mastered edition for PS4 and PS Vita, bringing the acclaimed dark-comedy adventure game into the modern era.

Two announcements, arguably, stole Sony’s show – though both were far from surprises. Sony’s “and one more thing” game was the highly anticipated Uncharted 4, the first edition of the franchise on PS4. Set to launch at the end of next year, little is known about what adventures Nathan Drake will be undertaking, though he will be on the hunt for pirate treasure this time around. Rumored to be Drake’s final outing, the gorgeous trailer was confirmed after its debut to be running in-game – a clear sign that this latest game will continue its predecessors’ claims as some of the most beautiful games ever made. Even with big-budget sequels and fresh IP, though, there was one game that generated more buzz than any other, at any other conference. No Man’s Sky, an indie game developed by a studio of just ten people, is an incredibly ambitious sci-fi game. Dropping players onto their own unique planet, it gives them the tools to take their adventure into space, where a procedurally generated open universe offers potentially unlimited gameplay and exploration. With dreamy visuals and gameplay that includes deep exploration and altercations with planet-based predators and other spaceships, its sheer scope is reason enough to be excited.

Nintendo once again eschewed the “big conference” mentality of its competitors, opting for another digital event, with a pre-recorded broadcast featuring a highlights reel of what Nintendo fans can expect over coming year. Unfortunately, while Super Smash Bros. should offer some compelling party action when it launches later this year, Nintendo failed to offer any other compelling reasons to buy a Wii U now, which is what it really needs. Sales are in the toilet and consumers are apathetic at best.

Legend of Zelda (Wii U)

Legend of Zelda (Wii U)

However, hold off until next year to buy a Wii U and you’re in for a treat. First up is Hyrule Warriors, a game combining the lore of the Legend of Zelda series with the frenzied, massive-scale combat of the Dynasty Warriors franchise. Expect over-the-top special moves, hoards of Zelda enemies and playable characters including Link, Zelda, Midna and Impa, with more to be announced. Continuing with the Zelda franchise, The Legend of Zelda Wii U is an all-new Zelda game for, well, the Wii U. Kind of obvious, really. Hyrule was the main focus of Nintendo’s presentation, with beautiful graphics and an impressive sense of scale to world. This new game seeks to break from the constraints of recent Zelda games, removing the strict dungeon-crawling nature of past titles and moving to an open, freely traversable world. Even Link has been overhauled, eschewing his green tunic for a new blue number. Expect to see both Zelda games next year.

One surprise from Nintendo’s camp was Splatoon, a fun twist on the competitive shooter that removes the violence and gore and pumps in heavy doses of fun and color. Players take part in 4v4 matches, armed with paint guns and tasked with coating as much of the world in their team’s color before the round is up. Want to take out a member of the opposing team? Shoot them and they’ll pop like a paint-filled balloon, which means this is one shooter playable by both adults and kids alike. A unique twist is the ability to transform into a squid at any time, using the paint to scale objects and offer new vantage points on combat. Expect it to launch… well, next year. Just like every other game you want to play now. Nintendo rounded out its presentation with a surprise announcement: Star Fox. The 3D scrolling classic gets a gorgeous update, with the GamePad’s motion sensor used to steer the Arwing fighter, Landmaster tank and a new helicopter vehicle. Shigeru Miyamoto is directly in charge of the project and it’s assured to be everything fans of the series expect it to be. Sadly, it won’t drop until 2015. C’est la vie.

E3 is always a case of looking to the future of gaming, but this year’s conference seemed all too focused on games releasing in 2015 as opposed to this year. The new generation of consoles has been criticized for a lack of content to justify upgrading from the PS3 and 360, while the Wii U continues to struggle to offer any compelling reasons at all for jumping ship. Next year is shaping up to be a great year for gaming, though, with games from third-party manufacturers including Far Cry 4, Assassin’s Creed Unity and Rise of the Tomb Raider all expected to launch alongside the first party titles announced at the various hardware manufacturers’ conferences. That’s not to say that it wasn’t an impressive show. There really was something for everyone on display, spanning all genres and running the gamut from mainstream to indie. It’s just a shame that so much teased to those in attendance was a case of: look, but don’t touch. At least for another year, that is.

Rhuaridh Marr is one of Metro Weekly's contributing editors and covers cars, technology, gaming and world news. He is usually found with a game controller in one hand and a smartphone in the other and can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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