A malaise struck the gaming community’s considerable Internet presence just after the first day of the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the industry’s annual trade show famously known as E3.
Many who have followed the industry since before the current generation of systems has felt the dearth of creativity indicated by the glut of sequels.
A massive poster for “Assassin’s Creed 2” adorns the outside of the Los Angeles Convention Center, all but announcing the convention as a showcase for new iterations of popular franchises. Some fared the immediate amateur and professional critical onslaught on the Internet better than others.
Microsoft unveiled the latest in their blockbuster “Halo” series for the Xbox 360, subtitled “Reach,” in an oddly pleasing teaser trailer that revealed nothing about the game. The “Halo” sequel seemed to be the cause of the loudest cries for innovation from gamers, yet it is difficult to deny the excellence of such an expensive, beloved brand.
As if anticipating complaint about their sequel obsession, Microsoft trotted out one of the most engaging gameplay demonstrations of the show in “Alan Wake,” its horror-adventure game about a mystery writer who searches for his missing wife in a mountain town besieged by the supernatural.
“Alan Wake” has rightfully been compared to the classic “Silent Hill” series, but the gameplay Microsoft showed off has a fluid feeling reminiscent of “Resident Evil,” and the story and setting could just as well have been inspired by Stephen King or David Lynch. “Alan Wake” is currently slated for a 2010 release.
For those not obsessed with the legendary “Metal Gear Solid” or “Final Fantasy” series, perhaps the only pleasure in seeing new sequels was the perverse joy in seeing Sony’s anchor franchises being played on the Xbox for the first time. “Metal Gear Solid: Rising” centers ominously on a protagonist other than recurring hero Snake and “Final Fantasy XIII” looks like every game to precede it in the series: visually stunning and thematically familiar.
The other highlight from the Microsoft showing was Project Natal, a very high tech motion sensing camera that serves as a controller with capabilities at once similar and different from the Wii. The uses of this fantastic technology look amazing. In some ways, Microsoft stole the show with this potentially thrilling new innovation.
Combating the rather understated “Halo Reach” trailer was Bioware’s almost stupidly epic preview for its massively multiplayer online role playing game “Star Wars: The Old Republic:” an entirely cinematic affair showcasing epic lightsaber duels which years of “Star Wars” games have shown could not possibly be duplicated in actual gameplay. Regardless, a talented company like Bioware playing with a brand as popular as “Star Wars” might have the mettle to finally topple Blizzard’s currently unassailable MMORPG champ “World of Warcraft.”
Nintendo bounced back from their legendarily meager showing at E3 2008 with some interesting new hardware innovations and franchise titles. Its biggest push was the Wii Motion Plus, an add-on for the Wiimote that allows for more precision motion control. WiiFit Plus, another version of the WiiFit, was more a software than a hardware innovation, but a short look at a platform game that requires players to actually jump up and down to avoid obstacles was one of the most intriguing points of the presentation.
Company president Satoru Iwata made an appearance to give a sneak peak at the Wii Vitality Sensor, a pulse-measuring peripheral device that elicited groans from some gamers but undoubtedly had cash registers ringing in the heads of the large crowd of investors at E3, an orchestra inspired by the phenomenal success of the WiiFit in the past year.
Where old-school Nintendo-philes are concerned, the industry giant saved the best for last with two spectacular trailers for updates of classic series. “Super Mario Galaxy 2” looked about as staggeringly fun as its immediate predecessor, but the real shock was a gorgeous new third-person “Metroid” game from the brilliant minds at Team Ninja — developers new to the franchise. The game looks like a wild and thrilling departure in gameplay and theme from any that have come before, and after the trailer ran there wasn’t an unsoiled pair of underwear in the house.
Sony closed out the press conferences with a traditionally strong showing. Its two biggest announcements for the PlayStation 3 were “Final Fantasy XIV,” a new online adventure in the same mold as the massively multiplayer online “Final Fantasy XI,” and a prototype of a high-tech motion sensing controller similar to the Wiimote — proving that, like Microsoft, Sony has taken notice of the market strength of the Wii.
“Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” was undoubtedly the best-looking game — sequel or not — of the show. Sony followed this graphical innovation with live gameplay from “Mag,” a long-awaited first person shooter that allows up to 256 players to participate in a battle royale.
The tiny new PSP Go was famously leaked a full day before Sony intended to show it off. It doesn’t ultimately matter that the surprise was spoiled, the redesigned portable platform has some amazing new media features that made it one of the best revelations of the convention. Games announced include a new “Gran Turismo” title and “Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker,” a direct sequel to “Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.”
The Electronic Entertainment Expo is a festival tailor-made for professionals in the industry and yet consumed so totally by gamers. It is a strange brew of software and hardware demos. Even though the shows were somewhat dominated by sequels, many of the surprises unveiled by the industry giants may prove to be revolutions both small and big within a sea of mundanity.