The big games, big gadgets, big surprises of E3

Brian Crecente

The promise of uncompromising gaming on the go, a
sexy new console from the makers of the Wii and a robust lineup of
must-have, must-play games topped this year’s celebration of all things
gaming in Los Angeles last week.

This year’s E3 kicked off early with a look at what
the makers of the Playstation 3, Wii and Xbox 360 have in store for us
over the next year or so, and ended with a surprisingly robust laundry
list of games everyone is going to want to play.

Sony’s biggest news of the show was the unveiling of the price and name of its next generation portable.

The Playstation Vita will cost a relatively low $250.
That puts it in direct competition with Nintendo’s 3DS, which sells for
the same price, at a time when the glasses-free 3-D device is
struggling to match the success of the Wii or DS.

While Nintendo spent a segment of its press
conference touting a long list of games coming to the 3DS, which
launched this spring, the 3DS can’t help but come off as slightly
over-priced compared to the hardware packed into the Vita.

At its heart, the Vita is a device aiming straight
for hardcore gamers. It has two thumbstick controllers, something that
makes games like “Call of Duty” and “Battlefield” easier to play,
high-end graphics displayed on a crisp 5-inch OLED screen and the
ability to play games against people on a PS3 or save your own progress
in game on a Vita and then continue playing on the home console.

While Nintendo launched its online store for the 3DS
during last week’s show, it still hasn’t delivered on some of the
device’s promises including activating Netflix, delivering movies or big
games for the device. Much of that is still said to be coming.

Instead, Nintendo spent a bulk of its press
conference talking about the next big thing, the replacement for the Wii
home console.

The Wii U, set for a release sometime next year at a
still undetermined price, appears to be a more refined Wii with one very
special controller. The Wii U will include MotionPlus Wii remote
support, the ability to deliver high-definition graphics and apparently a
more robust processor. But the key difference is the device’s
tablet-like master controller.

This special controller looks a bit like an iPad, but
features a white frame that sports an array of buttons, a 6.2-inch
touch screen, speakers, a microphone, motion sensing and a sensor bar.
Players can use the device as a full game controller, with the screen
showing things like a map, or secondary view in games, while they play
on a TV. But the device also allows gamers to play a game without a
television, meaning one could play a game entirely on the screen between
one’s hands without needing to ever turn the television on, or while
someone else is watching TV.

We’ve also been told that the device can be used to
play motion games, setting it up on its charging dock and standing in
front of it as one would a Wii and television.

Nintendo left quite a bit unanswered about its
console, not even revealing the detailed specs or price for the new
unit, instead concentrating on its controller.

While there wasn’t a full game to try, there were
quite a few demos and mini games. After spending a bit of time with all
Nintendo had to offer I came away with the feeling that as with the Wii,
this was a console that had great potential, but potential that would
rely heavily on third-party developers to be fully realized.

During its press conference, Nintendo showed off an
impressive, though apparently faked, reel of video game play from a
number of big third-party studios. One of those included Gearbox
Studios, which plans to bring “Aliens: Colonial Marines” to the device.

While “Colonial Marines” on the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360
looks like pretty standard fare, Gearbox says it hopes to use the Wii
U’s controllers to allow gamers to do things like sweep for aliens, weld
doors shut and manipulate 3D maps.

Lacking any new hardware to show, Microsoft stuck to
trying to reinvigorate interest in its Kinect Xbox 360 add-on, showing
off a number of new games coming to the device including a horror game, a
game based on the popular role-playing series “Fable” and another on
“Star Wars.”

The most interesting games of E3, though, were those
that stuck to the standard mechanics of play and instead focused on deep
stories and surprising themes.

By far, my favorite of the show came from designer
Ken Levine, whose last big game married a dystopian world with
commentary on Ayn Rand Objectivism to deliver a title filled with fun
gameplay and shocking moments.

In “Bioshock: Infinite,” the third in the series,
players take to a floating city in an alternate America on the hunt for a
woman imprisoned in a tower. This gaming trope takes on new deeper
meaning when blended with a troubling relationship that echoes domestic
violence and set against a seething backdrop of nativism versus Marxism.

An easy second place of the show is the surprisingly
deft reboot of the storied “Tomb Raider” series that examines the
metamorphosis of heroine Lara Croft from college student to action hero.
What I saw of “Tomb Raider,” and I managed to sneak in three
screenings, left me feeling that this could be the greatest
character-driver narrative of 2012 in gaming.

While “Infinite” and “Tomb Raider” were easily my
favorite two games of the show, there were plenty of other big,
surprising, enjoyable games that popped up over the course of the week.

Among them were Bethesda’s “Prey 2” and “The Elder
Scrolls V: Skyrim”; Square Enix’s “Hitman Absolution,” Activision’s
“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” and Electronic Arts’ “Battlefield 3.”


(c) 2010, (Gawker Media).

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.