This is a "transformative year," Mike Griffith, chief executive officer of Activision Publishing, said during a news conference this week. And while he was referring to his own newly expanded company (Activison recently merged with Vivendi Universal), he just as easily could have been talking about the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the showcase of all things video games that concludes at the L.A. Convention Center today.
The annual gathering had become a giant spectacle of an event when it imploded in 2006. Too many companies were tired of spending a ton of money to show off new products in department-store-sized booths that produced little return.
Last year's reinvented conference, held all over Santa Monica and redubbed the "Media & Business Summit," was a logistical nightmare and also failed to successfully showcase the games.
So even though E3 returned to its convention center roots this week, the scale was smaller and the spectacle was gone. And because there were no surprising announcements or cutting-edge technology to play with, most of the convention elements we saw were disappointing. Some highlights:
The big three
In years past, Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony held news conferences full of special guests and "look at that" moments. Not so much this year.
* Microsoft's news conference lineup was made entirely of sequels. Gears of War 2! Fable 2! Fallout 3! Resident Evil 5! Even the new stuff they showed off was copied from elsewhere: The reinvented avatar system of Xbox Live is a rip-off of Nintendo's Miis, and You're in the Movies! is a new take on Sony's Eye Toy games from five years ago.
* Nintendo's big news was the addition of a new dongle for the Wii Remote that will add more play options to new games, and the introduction of the clever Wii Music (more on that later).
* With the exception of using the soon-to-be-released platformer Little Big Planet to show off its sales figures, the 65 flat-screen TVs that Sony used for its event were probably the most exciting thing at its show. (God of War 3 is coming for the PlayStation 3? With the success of the other installments, who would have guessed that?)
Best of the best
The most intense and original game at the show was probably Electronic Arts' Mirror's Edge, a first-person "runner" game.
Players assume the identity of a female courier whose mission is to make her deliveries despite the intentions of government troops sent to stop her. She must jump from rooftop to rooftop, climb fences and run along walls to get away. (Remember the chase at the beginning of "Casino Royale"? Same idea.)
What makes Mirror's Edge so spectacular is the lack of anything on the screen except what the character is seeing. Games don't get any more "first person" than this. Intense, exciting and realistic, Mirror's Edge is, we hope, a glimpse into the future of immersive gaming.
With the unbelievable success of the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises, music games have become all the rage. Leave it to Nintendo to make music accessible to anyone. Their Wii Music game uses the Wii remote as an instrument that is played simply by tilting it or poking at some buttons. And a drum mode was added, giving players a chance to make all kinds of racket when it is released next spring. This is more of the simple, intuitive fun Nintendo is known for.
But for those seeking something a little more serious, Guitar Hero World Tour offers the ability to actually create and share songs that can be played by others with the game. Using the guitar controller or the new drum set, gamers can program a variety of beats and lay down guitar and keyboard tracks as well. There's even an option for creating cover artwork for your song.
One of the better stabs at the somewhat tired first-person shooter genre is Far Cry 2 from Ubisoft. Sure, it's got the same giant, open-world setting and shoot-all-the-bad-guys action as other games, but the unpredictable artificial intelligence of the enemies and the changes in time and weather keep things interesting.
The developers themselves had no idea how the bad guys were going to react to a fire they started during their own demo. And the visuals are so well detailed, wisps of the grass in the African-set location swayed in the breeze. This one will definitely be on most of the top 10 lists at year's end.
Other titles that caught our eye during our visit: Quantum of Solace: The Game, the tie-in to the latest James Bond movie coming in November, looks like it could be the best Bond game ever with its seamless integration of first- and third-person action. . . . The sci-fi horror game Dead Space will be brutally amazing when it comes out right before Halloween. . . . The power of the force runs amok with spectacular results in the stunning looking Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. . . . We thought the 60-person multiplayer in Resistance 2 sounded bananas until Sony teased us with Massive Action Game and its 256-person online games. Sheesh!. . . . Want to re-enact a classic Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant wrestling match? Legends of Wrestlemania is a robust trip down memory lane, complete with the wonderfully cheesy on-screen graphics of times past. . . .
As soon as the brilliant creature creator Spore is released this fall, it will take over the universe (or at least create a whole new one of its own). . . . De Blob is a subversively fun way to stick it to the monochromatic "man": by adding color and music to his otherwise bland life. . . . Star Wars Clone Wars finally gives Wii gamers the long-overdue chance to have lightsaber battles using the Wii remotes. . . . A ton of games are coming that make use of the Wii balance board (like Shaun White's Snowboarding and All Star CheerSquad), but the best might be Rayman Raving Rabbids TV Party, which forces gamers to sit on the board and use their posteriors to steer. Now that's an original idea.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times