Some thoughts, questions, and concerns as EA, MS, Sony, and Ubi wrap up their first day presentations.
Stop trying to get me to look at two screens
Microsoft's SmartGlass program seems like a direct threat to the Wii U's controller-with-a-screen, but neither is something I especially want when it comes to games. I like the stop and start media functionality they've promised (it's similar to when you use Netflix and resume a movie on another device and I'm down with that), but the invitation to constantly look down at my phone or tablet while I'm playing a game on my TV isn't all that interesting to me.
It's all about splitting the viewer's attention, which, from a philosophical I-like-people-to-pay-attention-to-movies-and-games standpoint feels heretical to me.
The EA/UFC thing
THQ: ouch. The loss of the UFC brand has to be a huge blow to the publisher, and while this probably happened months ago, it still has to feel like a major loss of face for THQ who supported the MMA league while it was still trying to get a foothold in gaming. And while we toast EA's acquisition of yet another sports license, I can't help but feel bad for the staff at THQ San Diego who were all summarily laid off yesterday in the wake of the announcement.
Actually, I'm unintentionally framing this as a big-bad EA and UFC did something wrong story, when that's not it at all. THQ was good to UFC, but this will probably be a better move for the license. I'm wary of exclusive sports licenses in general, but that's another conversation entirely, and the real question is what kind of future does EA have in store for the brand in the wake of their own generic offing in the MMA arena a couple of years back.
Vita owners left out in the cold?
In spite of the announced PSOne support along with some upcoming indie titles, the Vita didn't get a lot of love during Sony's conference. Assassin's Creed: Liberation and Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified will hopefully provide glossy, big-budget productions on the handheld, but they're also falling into the trap of making the Vita into the PSP, i.e. where ports go to not sell all that well.
The promise of a raft of indie titles is great (if I recall, it was something like a few hundred between the PS3 and Vita), but I would have loved to have seen some of those games in action, those smaller, out-there titles getting some love instead of a squished-down version of a big-budget console title.
Have you heard about Assassin's Creed III?
Ubisoft's Revolutionary War-set sequel seemed to be everywhere yesterday (I think it may have even popped up during the EA conference), and between the reveal of the Vita spin-off Liberation made it clear that Ubisoft has a lot of faith in Connor and new heroine Aveline. That and a full-throated support of the Wii U are the two big takeaways from their presentation (more on Watch Dogs in a bit.
One of the real virtues of Ubisoft as a company is to embrace new hardware right out the gate (even if they sometimes don't quite understand it or rush product to market). And it's got to be a relief to Nintendo to know that they yet again, Ubisoft has their back in terms of providing software with an upcoming hardware launch.
Smoke and mirrors
Two of the reveals that got some of the most traffic and started the most conversation yesterday were Quantic Dreams' Beyond trailer and Ubisoft's Watch Dogs demo, both of which promising visually arresting simulations which might be hard to live up to.
Let me start by saying that yet again, David Cage's studio is pushing the boundaries for facial animation and expression in CG, and maybe the most stunning thing about the trailer was the natural movement and reaction of the cop as he questioned Ellen Page's mostly mute character. At the same time, Cage wasn't really showing us what the "game" was there, making the video feel like an extended trailer for an upcoming CG movie. Now, we can all appreciate a good story trailer, but when Cage gets up on stage to talk about how his game will revolutionize storytelling (a claim that I find his studio has yet to back up over two releases), then he better come with some visible revolution.
As for Watch Dogs my skepticism is mostly piqued by how guided the experience felt, how hero Alex Pearce kept hitting his marks, triggering very precise reactions from the game, and I wonder how many points of interaction you have in the average encounter. This is really more of a case of my being (overly) suspicious about how smoothly the player will be able to transition between the hacking, storytelling, and cover-based shooting action that Watch Dogs seems to be offering up.
Putting my (possible excessive) doubts aside, Watch Dogs is near the top of my list of games that I'd very much like to get my hands on and experience for myself.
The death (and rebirth) or survival action
EA's reveal of co-op in Dead Space 3 make me less enthused about Isaac Clarke's third outing against the necromoprhs as the series gradually goes the direction of all-out third-person shooter. In far shorter time, it's followed the trajectory of the Resident Evil series which are now just straight-up action games featuring gore and occasional jump scares*.
Along come the gameplay demos of Crystal Dynamics' Tomb Raider and Naughty Dog's The Last of Us. Both games seem to frame their action as something like survival puzzles, featuring limited resources and weapons along with very vulnerable protagonists. It was also a surprise to see precisely how brutal both games are, although I have to agree with blogger David Brothers that the abuse heaped on Lara here might be a bit excessive in such a narrow gameplay window.
How well that will play out and how easy it will be to wrangle your NPC companion in The Last of Us are the two big question marks for me about those games, but right now it's good to see to titles which, on the face of it, are allowing the player to feel vulnerable and in constant danger.
*I'm more forgiving of RE in this case because the change was gradual while the first Dead Space offered (and delivered) so much promise in creating a sense of dread through gameplay.
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