G3 Tech

Gaming, Gadgets & Gizmos (And Music, Movies & TV)

The Top 10 Things Learnt At E3 2007

Posted by g3tech on July 14, 2007

1. It will be the best holiday ever.

…this is according to Microsoft honcho Peter Moore, but we’re not going to argue. The bulk of the games shown at E3 07 are due out within the next six months, including a dizzying array of triple-A blockbusters. No matter what console you own or plan on buying this holiday, there’s bound to be a game or five easily worth your Christmas bonus.

2. Sony fights back.

Sony made quite an impression with their quietly confident press conference. It was the favorite among those who also attended Microsoft and Nintendo’s briefings, and the positive reception has already helped turn back some of the backlash against Sony and the PS3.

While the other two hardware companies focused more on numbers and describing their influence, Sony unveiled several new games, like InFamous from Sly Cooper creators Sucker Punch and intriguing new PlayStation Network games like Echochrome and Everyday Shooter. Sony seems to realize that great games are the fasted way to legitimize the PS3, and steps have obviously been taken to deliver them.

In addition to obvious first-party exclusives (Gran Turismo, Heavenly Sword, Warhawk), Sony came out ahead of Microsoft and Nintendo with respect to third-party exclusivity. The company has made a deal with popular PC MMO company NCSoft (Guild Wars, City of Heroes) to create exclusive content for the PS3. Could we see Tabula Rasa or a brand new MMO property on the system soon? Unreal Tournament III will also make its console debut only on the PS3 (an Xbox 360 version will eventually follow) and for the time being Konami’s Metal Gear Solid 4 is also a Sony exclusive.

The only real letdown was the unveiling of the new PSP. Now, the new system is actually quite nice. It’s thinner, lighter and powered by a better battery than the original, though it lacks the one feature many hoped for: a second analog stick. But bundled with a game and 1GB memory stick for $199, the October release is a much better buy than the first generation handheld, and could provide crucial competition for Nintendo’s DS.

3. Nintendo keeps it casual.

Riding high on the runaway success of the Wii and the steady dominance of the DS, Nintendo came into the show with little left to prove. While Sony and Microsoft slugged it out over cutting-edge third-party exclusives, the company that Mario built is keeping its bright, cheery eyes on the prize: your mom’s wallet. Casual fare like Brain Age 2 and Flash Focus aim to make you a better person, not a better gamer, and the just-announced Check Mii Out Channel blends the social networking of Facebook with a somewhat unnerving Mii avatar version of “Hot or Not.”

But Nintendo biggest hopes rest on the scales of Wii Fit. Targeting the expanding waistlines of the expansive Wii audience could be the company’s shrewdest move yet, provided people are content working out when it isn’t dolled up in Dance Dance Revolution clothing. So long as obesity remains a hot-button issue, expect Wii Fit to remain a hot-button game.

Really the only disappointment from Nintendo’s camp was the limited showing of new software. While first-party behemoths like The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Super Mario Galaxy are destined for success, all were already announced and shown at last year’s show. Mario Kart Wii is a nice addition, but what about more new games for that huge mascot roster? Starfox, Kirby, Luigi and Donkey Kong must be getting a little lonely warming the bench.

Still, E3 07 was another good for Nintendo. So long as they start getting some Wiis on (and then immediately off) retail shelves, consider it a safe bet that the beloved industry workhorse will continue its staggering ascent to the top of the pop culture mountain.

4. Microsoft lays low.

E3 07 started off on a very quiet note, thanks in large part to Microsoft’s unwillingness to divulge much new information about much of anything. Xbox 360 price drop? Nope. A fourth version of the console? Sorta, if you count the Halo 3 special edition, which you probably shouldn’t. We’re happy to hear about a few new games like Viva Pinata: Party Animals and the PC port of Gears of War, but that’s not exactly earth-shattering stuff. Suffice to say, Xbox fans who watched the press event on Xbox Live were left scratching their virtual heads.

However, look a little closer and you’ll see a platform entering its prime. Games like Mass Effect demonstrate a combination of depth, detail and polish simply not found on the other systems. Microsoft is gaining ground left and right, enjoying a growing user base and a flourishing online marketplace. Why show your cards in the middle of the game?

Because everyone’s dying to see what you’re holding, that’s why. The real losers are the fans of the system hoping to get a peek at the first-party future of their newly-warranteed rig, though they’re about to forget about that pain entirely when a certain first-person shooter washes the canvas clean in a few months. Maybe we’ll see more fight from Microsoft once they finish that one.

5. Potent portables.

With the introduction of a new PSP and Nintendo’s continued commitment to games on the go, the portable space is really heating up for the 2007 holiday season. Here are three games to watch from each platform.

Nintendo DS

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings

Brain Age 2: More Training In Minutes A Day

Sony PSP

God of War: Chains of Olympus

Syphon Filter: Logan’s Shadow

Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron

6. Rock Band hits all the right notes.

We knew something big was coming when the stars aligned around EA, MTV and Guitar Hero developer Harmonix, but the result of their combined musical prowess, Rock Band, literally blew everything else off the stage. Sterile meeting rooms became sold out arenas as waves of journalists waited patiently to test their “metal” on the guitar, bass, vocals and – drum roll please – uh, drums. Without question, it was the talk of the show.

But the game itself is just the beginning of the jam. During the show EA announced heavy-metal powerhouse Metallica’s contribution of not only the seminal track “Enter Sandman,” but also access to a selection of other songs from the band’s lengthy catalog. Those will be distributed digitally alongside hundreds of other tracks.

And that’s not all. Fresh from his questionable death on The Sopranos, Little Stevie Van Zandt (otherwise known as Tony’s consigliore Sil) has signed on to chair the newly formed Rock Band Music Advisory Board, which will help guide the selection of weekly downloadable songs and, for the first time, full albums.

Will this groundbreaking partnership between industry giants pay off? If the incredibly fun, accessible gameplay is any indication, take our word for it and don’t stop believin’.

7. The PS3 comes home.

One of the main highlights of Sony’s showing this year was Home. Introduced in March at the Game Developer’s Conference, the online service is, in some ways, Sony’s way of combining The Sims and Xbox Live. Now in beta with many user suggestions and comments reflected weekly in updates, Home is becoming a very interesting take on the online social space.

The basics are simple: visualize your Home space through powerful graphics tools that build high-tech mountain retreats or serene Japanese structures for your digital avatar to occupy. It’s a 3D version of the basic online space Microsoft has dominated with Xbox live, and theoretically PS3 users will be able to interact not only with each other, but seamlessly with their digital worlds.

For instance, you can now gather friends together in your digital pad instead of an online game lobby to start a multiplayer session. Game titles can be launched directly from the Home interface. You can also access digital media like photos and video clips.

Another neat feature of Home is the ability to snap a photo with your cell phone and upload it directly to a virtual home environment. Unfortunately, you’ll have to have a compatible Sony Ericsson phone to do so, but in the future perhaps we’ll be able to download a client for other cell phones that will interact with Home.

It’s not such an outrageous idea. Phil Harrison (Sony’s head of worldwide game development) and Sony have obviously taken the popularity of MySpace and FaceBook to heart. With the option to create your own ‘social networking’ web page based on your Home content they’re very keen on creating not only a virtual space for your PS3 games and media, but through which you could keep in touch with anyone via the web. It’s a much more ambitious project than Xbox Live. Now we just have to see if Sony can follow through, and if the masses take to more complex digital living.

8. Quirky is the new cool.

When we first saw the original Katamari Damacy at E3 several years ago, we knew immediately that it would have an effect on the American game market. In fact, the runaway (or is that rollaway?) success of the Katamari series and games like Loco Roco has created a whole ‘quirky’ subgenre. This year’s E3 sees the small but influential corner of gaming populated by many offbeat new titles hitting a variety of platforms.

Surprisingly, Sony’s PlayStation Network is the home for several of the standouts. We’ve loved LittleBigPlanet from the moment we first encountered it at GDC. Now that we’ve had a chance to play the irrepressibly cute and bouncy game, it’s obviously more than a physics showcase, and with the ability to endlessly customize characters and create worlds, it’s one of the coolest game building tools to arrive in a long time.

The PlayStation network will also host Echochrome, which looks like the old-school classic Lode Runner crossed with M.C. Escher’s art. You rotate worlds drawn in simple but attractive black and white lines to help a little hero navigate physically impossible puzzles. Everyday Shooter, meanwhile, is a brilliant mix of Geometry Wars style shooting, vibrant line art and music.

Dewey’s Adventure for the Wii may be a pretty obvious take on Sony’s Loco Roco, but it’s still fun, and offers a kid-friendly game space with a focus on an intrepid drop of water, which can be frozen, liquefied or changed into gas to navigate levels. If you want a more legit follow-up to the blobby PSP game, there’s Patapon (another PSP title) which in a short introductory video looks like Loco Roco infected with Worms gameplay. THQ brings the fascination with goo home in De Blob, which mixes Katamari Damacy gameplay with a coloring book — roll up colored characters then literally paint the town to restore vibrancy to a black and white world. Quirk has finally come full circle.

9. The end of Metal Gear?

We’ve heard it before. Hideo Kojima, the revered creator of Metal Gear, wants to finish the series, retire anti-hero Solid Snake and move on to other projects. Years ago we thought Snake Eater might be the last chapter, but in 2006 we were blasted with the trailer for Metal Gear Solid 4, with Kojima in full form.

The question for people who don’t follow the series is probably, ‘OK, it’s over. So what?’ But for the gaming universe, the end of Metal Gear is akin to Marvel Comics announcing that the X-Men are done. Not only because both are fiercely loved by a devoted fanbase. No, Metal Gear and X-Men have a kinship that go beyond fandom. Both have a wide roster of singularly strange and frightening characters, and both series are constructed on a series of labyrinthine plot lines that take a reference manual to decode.

The density of Metal Gear’s plot is what makes the potential final chapter so interesting. Kojima promised that Solid Snake’s story would end and that all secrets would be revealed, answering all of the many lingering questions. That means a story that effectively began over twenty years ago might finally be wrapped up, leaving an empty space for a new bizarre mythology to preoccupy gamers.

With efforts leaning more towards storytelling than gameplay innovation, Hideo Kojima has arguably been lapped by Ubisoft and Tom Clancy in the stealth department, but the end of the series would be a great time for Kojima to unleash a last masterstroke of stealth and action. We can’t wait to see what he comes up with.

10. And that’s not all, folks…

The best part of E3 is the secret part, the behind-closed doors, hush-hush looks at games that won’t be due out for at least a solid year. Sure, it’s a lot of hype, but if your pulse doesn’t quicken when you hear about these upcoming heavyweights, you might want to see a doctor. Keep an eye on:

Fallout 3

Resident Evil 5

Killzone 2

Starcraft II

Mario Kart Wii

LittleBigPlanet

The Agency

Infamous

Silent Hill 5

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

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