I’ve endlessly protested like a bleating little ewe that I don’t, contrary to the declarations of fanboys, have any kind of petty personal grudge against whatever popular thing they like that I’ve been niggling away at lately. But I’m going to partially retract that, now. There is something I’m automatically and mindlessly against sight unseen, and that’s E3.
The reason for this is that E3, more than anything else in the world, exists in a totally antagonistic position to my line of work. This might sound like oversimplifying things, but E3 is an event in which it is generally agreed that publishers will get us all together in one place and lie at us en masse. By a similarly unspoken agreement consumers are expected to all sit there and take it, occasionally braying like circus seals when they see a logo they recognize. The reason why I can’t stand hype is that it all seems so basically and inherently dishonest. Demos, fine, they’re still cherry-picking the good bits to show you, at least we can get some kind of feel for the essential experience, but trailers? Especially entirely pre-rendered trailers? They might as well just pass around morphine syrettes.
Yes, I understand that there are people who don’t review games professionally and aren’t going to be buying every single title, and that they need at least something to go on to inform their purchases. Yes, I should just not watch any E3 hype material at all if it’s just going to make me cross. But sometimes I wish I could remember what it was like to not be jaded, and I do like to follow up an E3 video with a column running down the things I didn’t have space for, so to those ends, I’d like to talk about a few things from E3 that did make me feel positive in some way. “In some way” being the major qualifying words in that sentence.
Beyond: Two Souls: You know what I hate? Titles that look like sequels but aren’t. Usually created by taking two words or phrases that could both conceivably be a title and separating them with a colon. As in Chasm: The Rift, or Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. The intention being, I presume, to imply that this is just the first title of an epic franchise, but without the overt fate-tempting that is sticking “Part One” on the end. Sorry, I was supposed to be being positive, wasn’t I? So let me say right now that I like David Cage. Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain were both very flawed, but held a perverse charm for me, and not just because they both had fetishistic amounts of pissing in toilets. I think Cage is one of those big-picture rather than fine-details kind of guys, has good ideas but can’t write for shit. So it’s rather unfortunate he’s trying to be some kind of game storytelling pioneer, but the premise of Beyond: Two Souls (so … three souls, then?) surrounding a lone girl with superpowers makes me think he might have finally realized that a game needs to have gameplay in it. Plus it makes me think of Second Sight, which was an underrated PS2 game I quite enjoyed in which you could smear soldiers across walls with your mind.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown: X-com? More like U-turn, am I right? It is heartening to see that they aren’t going with that 1950’s Bioshock rip-off FPS thing they were teasing a while back, but at the same time, less so to see it replaced with power armor space marines, which are to the games industry what pigeons are to Leicester Square. But it’s nice to see that alien autopsies are back, something I took a weird pleasure in in the original, and the promise of “permanent death” twitches my ears a bit. Did you ever play Cannon Fodder on the Amiga? Every time you enlisted new uniquely named soldiers you were forced to look at a big green hill just outside your headquarters where there was a single white cross for every soldier who’d already fallen in your name. It was great ‘cos it worked on two levels: if you had a soul it was an emotional wrench that forced you to think about your actions, and if you didn’t it keeps score.
Halo 4: The prospect of a new Halo game does give me positive feelings, because I said there was no way in hell this money-printing license was going to get put out to pasture just because Bungie was done with it, and it’s always nice to be proved right, even if one didn’t have to be Nostradamus to see this coming. It is nice to see that they seem to be starting a new story in the same universe rather than trying to put an extension on the existing one, which is why it’s odd that they’re calling it Halo 4 when it’s not really a continuation. Come to think of it it’s odd they’re still calling it “Halo” at all, actually, considering how much of the franchise has actually had anything directly to do with the thing it’s named after. They should rename it Master Chief And Some Blue Lady In A Onesie.
Farcry 3: Firstly, shagging in the trailer, awesome. Secondly, the “hunt/eat/fuck” thing made me wonder if the game will have some kind of survival aspect, which would be cool ‘cos I’ve been really getting into Minecraft‘s hardcore mode lately. But most importantly after setting the tone for a gritty intense psychodrama the trailer instantly cuts to an advert for some kind of preorder bonus involving wacky monkey suicide bombers, which made me laugh if nothing else.
Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance: I didn’t watch the trailer for this one, I just wanted to point out that the title is fucking stupid. It sounds like a term used in engine programming. “Yes, our texture renderer gets a pretty good drop distance now, but our dream drop distance would be around 8.7”. I’d also like to challenge readers to say “dream drop distance” ten times fast.
The Wii U (again): But after all was said and done, to me there was no greater gift offered by E3 2012 than one picture I saw of the Wii U in action. A picture in which the player was fiddling around with the touchscreen controller while in the background, gloriously, a TV screen had its image blacked out and the words “Look At The Touchscreen Controller” superimposed across the middle.
In one succinct image, evidence for the entire Wii U concept being completely mishandled. I could maybe see a use for having two simultaneous screens in a hardcore title if you want an inventory screen or something without having to pause the game for it, but what’s the point of operating the screens asynchronously? What is being shown on the touchscreen in this instance that cannot be shown on the main screen? You see, my problem with the Wii U touchscreen – and with motion controls to a lesser extent – is that for whatever they might add to a party game, in hardcore games they are a solution looking for a problem. It’s gimmickery of the highest order, meaningless, decadent innovation rather than any attempt to address an actual issue with gaming, like controllers requiring both hands or lacking some kind of secret compartment that dispenses rum.
And yes, I do feel positive about all this. Innovative new games are one thing, but at the end of the day, nothing makes me feel more positive than something I can get really pissed off about.
Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn’t talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.