Video Games

E3 2013.

This past week (or three weeks ago for all who are just reading this now) was big in the world of video games. Real big. It signalled the official beginning of the imminent eighth generation console war, of which Nintendo have already opted out and Microsoft find themselves in a similar position to Sony eight years ago: on the back foot.

Eight years, you say? Yes, that’s how long the Xbox 360 (Microsoft) and PlayStation3 (Sony) have been going at it in the gaming world. The announcement of the PS4 back in February came as somewhat of a surprise and a real statement of intent by Sony, something that said they weren’t going to let the same thing happen as it did last time out. Back then, Microsoft got a whole year’s head start on their rivals and the PS3 had a disjointed release schedule, with a limited range of opening titles and complaints about design difficulties from some developers holding back what was in reality one of the most powerful and impressive pieces of hardware on the planet.

The result was the PS3 found itself lagging behind before the race had really begun, and it took almost a year and a half to find its first essential title in Metal Gear Solid 4 – with it being a PS3 exclusive as well, perhaps Hideo Kojima hasn’t quite got the credit he deserves (if one can justifiably say that about a developer who’s already close to Hollywood status) for winning over a large portion of doubters and kick starting what soon turned into a Sony revolution that included the debut of Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series and Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain.

Out of the two big dogs, E3 2013 was arguably biggest for Sony precisely because of the interesting position the now-overshadowed PS3 currently finds itself in. Upcoming releases look more suited to a console just hitting its stride than one that will soon be playing second fiddle to a bigger brother in late Autumn. The Last of Us and Beyond: Two Souls have already made their two aforementioned predecessors look like the warm-up act to the main event. Added to these are numerous other big titles such as Grand Theft Auto V, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, Metal Gear Solid 5, HD remasters of Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy X, Batman: Arkham Origins, Gran Turismo 6 and Dark Souls II. You could make the argument that these titles are merely a sign of the console’s last grand hurrah and things will dry up soon after, or that it’s fitting for a console to go out on such a high after gradually building momentum throughout its seven-year life span. Considering how long it took developer’s to learn how to actually develop for the console, though, I find it a shame that it’s now preparing to go the same way as its forefathers (the PSOne and 2) and will soon cease production. Then again, that may just be my dislike of change in a period when I feel I haven’t had the time or the finances to be able to fully enjoy this generation as I did the last.

As exciting as the PS4 looks (and it does), I can’t help but feel it will outshine what would otherwise be the greatest, most profitable year yet for the PS3. Of course, the opposite could also be true if the PS4 doesn’t have an equally strong release line-up, but given the media coverage it has received so far, and the desire of consumers not to be left behind, I don’t see that happening.

Sony, though, will surely welcome this kind of positive problem over the kind that now greets Microsoft following the harsh critical reaction to the curious Xbox One, or the ‘XBone’ as it has been christened by some. E3, for them, came on the back of a furious outcry from previously loyal gamers who felt cheated by some bold declarations that would change the industry, including one that said games would require a constant internet connection (or at least a ‘sign-in’ once every 24 hours) to use. This year, when I’ve lived in an apartment with no internet, it would have meant I was unable to enjoy any possible single player experiences that Microsoft’s new console would have had to offer (however, one could justifiably ask why exactly you would then splash the cash on a game console costing more than £400 when you could not even afford internet at your home; because I certainly wouldn’t have done that this year either).

On that ‘online sign-in’ topic, let me be clear about one thing right now: regardless of which direction the industry is set to take us, away from single player games is not one of them, no matter how big online multiplayer experiences become. I know this because the actual game announcements that got the biggest, most exciting reactions were ones that promised amazing single player experiences with multiplayer as a possible bonus. Very few games have had this order reversed and still managed to leave a legacy behind them; TimeSplitters 2 being one of the best exceptions. It seems, though, that Microsoft may have had a different opinion on what gamers want, judging by their early marketing campaign for the new console – and in fact, their entire approach since challenging Sony in the console wars.

I say they may have had because, of course, Microsoft have since given in to the cries of fickle gamers who don’t like change (I have proved that theory myself in this post!) and backtracked completely on the restrictions they had previously placed, both on playing games and trading them. While this may win back some of the undecided, much of the damage has surely already been done to Microsoft’s Xbox One campaign.

So what of those actual games that were on show? Well, a new ‘fairy’ type was announced for the first fully 3-D Pokemon games, X and Y version, due out in October for the Nintendo 3DS, along with ‘Sky Battles’, which together sound like the most gimmicky (not to mention nonsensical) features they’ve added to the series yet. If Pokemon has any sort of future post-nostalgic remakes, something tells me it will have a bit to do with how this new iteration is received by the generation below mine.

The AFC Champions League (basically, the Asian version of the Champions League) is set for inclusion in PES 2014, whereas Fifa 14 gets both ‘graphical and gameplay’ changes that include ‘crowd improvement’ and ‘realistic movement from the players’… I’m sorry, but is this really what footballing gamers pay full price for every year; a football game that doesn’t yet have these vital features? Having played Fifa 13 and come to the conclusion that it is glitchier than a PS3 version of Skyrim, yet still a game that got high ratings and equally high sales figures, I’m forced to admit that yes, you guys are happy to buy an updated and even slightly broken version of the same game every October, and I’m equally happy to continue playing someone else’s copy on multiplayer because, much as I hate to admit it, it is sort of enjoyable when it works. We’re an interesting bunch.

Confirmation that Kingdom Hearts 3 is ‘officially in development’ got some over-excited (and therefore extremely funny) reactions from fans who weren’t expecting any more after the equally exciting Final Fantasy XV announcement from Square Enix. Developer Tetsuya Nomura has since claimed that it has been announced ‘too early’, so don’t expect it any time soon… but at least we have the upcoming HD version of the original game to keep us going. Only another two months to wait for that one.

Final Fantasy XV, then, while exciting, was a pretty anti-climactic announcement once people realised that it was actually the same Final Fantasy Versus XIII that has been in development since 2006, a game that’s making progress through what is set to be the longest development period for any console game, ever. I estimate a summer 2014 release date, meaning it will eclipse Final Fantasy XII’s previous record of a five year development cycle, but it does at least exist and fans should be thankful for that. Yes, I too remember fondly Square’s best days, when they released their three classic PSOne titles during a four year peak period between 1997 and 2001, but also bear in mind that the guys working on these games aren’t superhuman (at least not in the sense that they can perform at their best constantly, without being negatively influenced by fan reaction and the changing culture around them); they are simply very talented humans who have the ability to get a reaction, whether positive or negative, out of you all.

As for the game itself, it seems from the most recent trailer that Square Enix are once again trying to break some pretty big rules of the universe here. The game looks closer to realism than fantasy at the moment, not to mention more Japanese than previous titles, which has gotten a rather mixed reaction in its home country (expect a little more controversy if the game is in fact set in Japan – or a fictional place very similar to it – but the character design remains distinctly Western, as is looking like the case at the moment). Despite being a Final Fantasy admirer since those golden days on the first PlayStation, I wouldn’t exactly say I’m sold on it quite yet. But it’s safe to say I’ll probably still be playing it, unless they do something too crazy like make it an MMO. In that case, it’s just a simple no.

Joining the list of big announcements that got a mixed reaction was the fact that Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain is no longer a PlayStation exclusive. Okay, so by ‘mixed reaction’ I mean PlayStation owners feeling scorned that it’s not exclusively theirs anymore and Xbox owners thankful that they won’t have to either fork out the money for two consoles or miss out completely. Those who own both consoles already probably won’t be all that bothered, while those who weren’t interested in the first place will probably remain that way and concentrate on having a life outside video games instead. For the rest of us, this is the kind of news we like to sometimes call ‘big’. Admittedly though, I’m just making an unnecessary big deal about this because I remember bragging to Xbox owners after getting MGS 4 – then a PS3 exclusive – and enjoying it on release day.

The pick of the other reveals (i.e. those outside Japan) would have to be Mirror’s Edge 2, a sequel to one of the most original PS3 games to be released in the console’s first few years. I played the first one and thought it was beautiful but tough (sort of like my dream woman…), so I spent more time admiring its textures and lovely bright lighting effects than actually trying to beat the game. If the second one manages to be at least as pretty as its predecessor (and judging from what I’ve seen so far, it could be even more so), then expect high sales and, thankfully, something a little different from Call of Duty.

Speaking of that series, what iteration of the shooter are we up to now? It looks like Call of Duty: Ghosts is set to be the next in the long running FPS series. Apparently the game takes place in a universe where the United States is no longer a superpower, which actually sounds interesting enough to be worth a look… Of course, how this will affect the actual game play remains to be seen. I’d wager ‘not very much’.

We’d be here for yet another week if I was to go through every detail of this year’s E3, but I feel I’ve thoroughly scratched the surface of what is already one of the greatest years to be a gamer. Unfortunately I’ve not been much a part of the world recently. Let’s hope I get the time in the near future to catch up. In the meantime, my advice to you all would be to savour these moments. Because if Microsoft have their way, the gaming industry is going to be a very different environment one day, all digital and scary; something that requires you to live exclusively in the 21st century to enjoy.

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