2012 E3 Assessment: Yea or Meh?

By Alexandra Geraets in Serious Infotainment
Monday, June 11, 2012 at 10:00 am

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As we bid adieu to another Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), it occurs to me that this year's offering was a bit on the boring side. There were a few shining moments, some nifty tech demonstrated, and a few pleasant surprises, but no one thing that really jumped out at me. I've seen some internet grumbling that this was the 'worst E3 ever' ('ever' in all caps, naturally), but it didn't strike me as that bad, just predictable, and ultimately, too safe.

Watching the footage this week, 2012's E3 looks like it was a fair to decent show. That isn't to say that nothing piqued my interest, but this year's offerings were far from knocking out of the park. While some the new technology coming our way was interesting, as I followed this week's coverage of the event I did not notice many video games that grabbed my attention. If I could sum it up, this year's E3 seemed more about where video games are at right now in the current generation, and the uncertainty of the future of the industry.


Where does this year's E3 tell us developers are? They're still playing it safe, relying on sequels and reboots, and they're still showing off a few social button pushing attitudes that games really need to step back from. While the Hitman 'Attack of the Saints' trailer made some gamers uncomfortable, the Tomb Raider actually made me irritated. Despite watching the new footage that emphasized the by any means necessary survival mode of the game, I found the story trailer from the previous week so off-putting that this game has fallen off of my radar.



Why did this game fall off my screen? It's not just the gratuitous level of violence inflicted towards women by men, it's the fact that there isn't a single woman on the development team, or at least, if there are any women, nobody's speaking up. The Tomb Raider franchise was never exactly the pinnacle of female empowerment, but Lara Croft never struck me as a weak, fragile doll of a character, whose only reason for existing is to get beaten up and threatened with violence by bearded men in bad plaid. That's what I took away from the story trailer, and it's a shame, because Tomb Raider is one of those few games I knew about when E3 started that almost had my attention, and I was looking forward to the reboot. This was easily my biggest disappointment of E3.

 

E3's other offerings included a brand new Gears of War game, Judgment, that seems to be serving as a prequel to the trilogy we know and love, and the out-of-nowhere offering Star Wars: 1313, a game that seems to be equal parts L.A. Noire, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Gears of War. It's like those three series had a bizarre baby, but that baby might be just the thing to pump some much needed excitement into the Star Wars gaming franchise.


 

Even these two announcements are still playing it safe, however. They reflect the current trend of sequels and reboots. Star Wars needs fresh blood, it's true, but Gears of War 3 only hit last September. I don't think that trilogy has reached enough people to warrant another game, let alone a prequel. It's too soon, and it suggests safety. It sounds cynical, but announcing a fourth Gears of War game, a prequel, is unoriginal, and it suggests an attempt to cash in on an existing franchise, as opposed to a genuine attempt to make something new and interesting.


The PS3-exclusive The Last of Us showed its stuff, and it is a gorgeous world with some interesting set ups, a narrative with an emphasis on survival, and two seemingly compelling characters. While post-apocalyptic settings aren't new to video games, this one seems more post-human than post-traditional apocalypse. I'm curious to learn more about the story, the world it's set in, and how things got to this point.

 

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This game has been pushed for quite some time now, and with the strength of the Uncharted development team behind it, it should have no problem finding an audience. Not to mention that, when it comes to production values and environments that really stick in the mind, nobody can touch Naughty Dog. What they're capable of doing with the current generation graphics technology is incredible, especially with nature run amok settings. For sheer strength of presentation, for showing off just how far they can push the graphical limits, nobody touches this company's products.

 

In spite of Naughty Dog's successes, though, I look at The Last of Us, and all I can see is Uncharted. It feels, much like Epic deciding to make a Gears of War prequel, like Naughty Dog is piggybacking on their prior games. It doesn't feel unique; it doesn't feel like something new and exciting. It's my inner cynic talking, but, again, it feels too safe, like no one wants to take a risk.

 

Personally, from following along at home, there was only one game that stood out from the crowd and got me to pay attention. There was one game that reached out and suggested that the industry was looking ahead and had something special in their hands, that someone was willing to take a chance on something new, and I hadn't heard the slightest hint about this game beforehand. It was a truly pleasant surprise; the kind of thing gamers look forward to every year, the little surprises that remind them why console games continue to dominate the market.



The game that really stood out for me was Watchdogs, a third person game that screamed under-the-radar, and utilized an interesting hacking system to control technology around the player while he goes about his business. Impressive graphics, gorgeous rain effects, a fluid third-person shooting system, and the use of the hacking mechanic to manipulate the surrounding world definitely caught my attention. Watchdogs looks like a slicker, grittier version of this year's reboot of Syndicate, and it's something that I'll definitely be keeping a close eye on.

 

Was E3 a failure? No, I wouldn't say so. Was E3 weak, and not nearly as exciting as previous years? I'd say definitely. This was the big moment, and instead of an 'A' game being brought, the industry brought a 'C' game at best. I think we hit a year where the biggest potential game of the show - Bioshock: Infinite - made no impact because we knew it was already pushed back to 2013. Without a strong centerpiece, E3 did not fail, but it certainly floundered.


The Last of Us is slated for next year; Star Wars: 1313 is in the baby stages of development; Gears of War: Judgment is far in our future.  All of these games are probably releasing in the next year or so; there was no one game up for release in the next six months that stands out from the crowd.

 

There was a decided lack of excitement this year, as if people have grown complacent, or even bored with the current generations and game offerings. We need a good kick in the pants, something to really get people excited again. Watchdogs certainly showed off something different enough to grab attention, and if the presentation of the upcoming Resident Evil 6 is as good as it looked, it could win a whole new legion of fans for that franchise. That said, there was no one thing to get really excited about, there wasn't anything that really reached out to gamers and said 'you must pay attention' or 'check out what we can do!'


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(This. This is what we can do. Next year.)

 

E3 is supposed to pump us up for the upcoming year in games and gaming technology. It's supposed to renew any lagging faith we might have among the community and even among the industry professionals. In this case, 2012's E3 gave us its 'meh' game, and, as gamers, we expect more. We don't need all the bells and whistles thrown at us - there are a few things we want to discover for ourselves - but E3 is supposed to get us excited and eager for the future. Instead, it's stuck in neutral, or at least idling on the roadside, contemplating direction.

 

I think the game industry's in a weird place right now, but let's see if it can pull itself out and wow us in the next year. I have some hopes; they aren't high, but they're leveling out. Let's see where the remainder of the year brings us.

 

Serious Infotainment runs on Mondays.


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