E3 2011 Thoughts & Reviews

In this article, I provide a long analysis of some of the latest games and hardware being shown, and why various sequels  have left me wanting more while others inspire dread.

This E3, we’ve seen another slew of games and hardware.  I’ve already talked about how the Wii U shouldn’t be tainted by the Wii’s reputation, but there were a couple of other things I wanted to talk about.  More than simply hyping or bashing products, I’d like to give some insight into what makes a series appealing to me and what doesn’t.  Allow me to review the previews, starting with Sony’s upcoming handheld…


The PS Vita

PlayStation Vita handheld

As a PSP owner, I have very specific concerns about the PS Vita, but also a greater appreciation for actual analog sticks on both sides of the device and some other features. Unlike the PSP, the PS Vita seems to take itself seriously, which means it doesn’t try to be everything. To make the analogy, it’s like a full-sized laptop instead of a tablet or a netbook that doesn’t really know what it’s trying to be, and thus fails at everything. It’s big, full of buttons, and every inch (including the back side) is dedicated to functionality.

I read that the PS Vita is difficult to hold (here), and that’s my biggest concern. That writer’s idea of deeper grooves on the back is actually really smart, and although I know it’s too late for such a major change by this point, but it’s worth considering. Would anyone really complain if the device was thicker, I wonder? Considering the massive trend of making everything as “slim” and “sexy” as possible, I’m sure it would be controversial. But who cares? If it really fit an adult’s hands properly, perhaps that controversy would change to respect. Companies and consumers both like to show off how their millimeter-thick smartphone is as powerful as a desktop computer or whatever, but where does that end? Are we going to carry around blade-thin supercomputers? Great in concept, but realistically: not the future I want to see. Ergonomics will only become more important (I hope) as people have to deal with handheld devices more often. There’s a kind of fetishist ignorance surrounding slim designs nowadays, and it seems to be getting worse, so I understand why, from a corporate perspective, it’s a suicidal risk to bulk out a portable device. Maybe if I was an insecure 13-year-old with friends to impress instead of a 24-year-old loner, fashion would matter more to me than comfort.

But still, the question remains: at what point does a customer feel more stupid using a device that hurts their hands than they do carrying a bulky device? The PS Vita may very well put a point on that.

Otherwise, the Vita has the following features:

  • SIXAXIS tilt control
  • Front facing camera
  • Rear facing camera
  • Multi-touch front screen
  • Multi-touch rear pad
  • GPS
  • Wi-Fi, and a 3GS version

Most of which is awesome if you’ve never had a smartphone or tablet, but is otherwise just normal. The rear touch pad is the biggest innovation, and it may be a double-edged sword. Time will tell how developers use that functionality, but considering how uncreative game design is nowadays I’m afraid it will never become really interesting. We can only hope that Kojima will teach us what it’s really for.

The operating system, meanwhile, features some cool/normal stuff too. This trailer shows how the Vita has respectable social functions which (if I’m correct,) far surpass anything seen in other handheld gaming devices. RSS-type updates on different games and your friends; a party system that links friends together constantly even while gaming, possibly while playing other games; tracking where your friends are so that you can be a creepy stalker; “Cross Play” which allows some Vita games to be played simultaneously with PS3; and it’s all connected with the PSN.

However, none of this great social functionality matters if the adoption rate is dismal; which is why the $250 price is so great. That’s cheap considering you get a ton of stuff, so I expect it to kick some ass in the market. More importantly, having lots of customers means that developers might actually bother to create quality content. How wonderful to imagine the PS Vita becoming a true contender.


Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

Having just recently picked up Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, my suspicion about the series has been confirmed: they’re the kind of games that desperately need to be made and enjoyed, but which I remain on the verge of hating anyway. I respect Uncharted, much like I respect the United States Army: with only occasional pleasure or agreement. (I’m Canadian, screw you.) I know the Army needs to exist, and I know it needs to operate more or less the way that it does. Most of the time it does its job very, very well. I respect that. But that’s only when you think of it as a whole. In reality, it’s mostly composed of things that I don’t like or respect much at all, and with plenty to criticize. Although, like the Army, you’re not really allowed to criticize.

Without stretching the analogy any further, let me just say that Uncharted is what may be called a “big experience” game. The pleasure of the game comes more from the grand feeling you get when things are rolling along steadily than from the actual second-to-second gameplay itself. The gameplay is sexy, solid (yet fluid!), but still generic. The room-puzzle-solving, ledge climbing, cover-based shooting, automatic health regeneration, is all quite boring to me. And please, allow me to emphasize: to me. There was a time when I would have loved a big shiny roller-coaster ride, but nowadays I would rather have freedom, customization, and an “open experience”, even if it’s not as sexy. Some originality would also be appreciated. (See below for examples of games I am excited about.)

Uncharted 3, then, looks very respectable. It looks gorgeous. I mean, hell, have you seen the sinking tanker gameplay? Of course you have. Kojima’s vision for the Tanker Chapter in MGS2 is finally going to be realized by Naughty Dog. However, for those of us who have grown more frustrated than excited about highly intense scripted action sequences, it’s more cool to think about than personally look forward to.


Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

In some ways, Elder Scrolls games are the opposite of the Uncharted series. They’re open-world, slow-paced, and feature tons of customization; they’re often ugly, often buggy, and often hilarious in the wrong way; no matter how beautiful it may look at times, on closer inspection it’s got that rugged charm that comes from packing way too much stuff into a single game. Cheesy voice acting and broken enemy A.I. are so lovable compared to diamond-polished blockbuster movie games.

Featuring more action-oriented gameplay and streamlined leveling systems, there is a chance that Skyrim will have cut some meat along with the proverbial fat; and that’s a real concern. Much of the game is still a mystery, but my fingers are crossed for a true Elder Scrolls experience. I want to steal forks with telekinesis and jump thirty feet in the air, not just chop and burn everything around me. The developers are showing a real “Duh-you-know-what-to-expect” kind of attitude, but there’s always room for unpleasant surprises.



In case you didn’t know, the original X-COM games are in my Top 3 favorite of all time. I encourage everybody who reads this to get them off of Steam right now. Imagine your favorite turn-based isometric tactics game combined with the Mother Base system from Peace Walker, except truly dynamic, in-depth and more fascinating than you thought any modern game could possibly be. It’s the kind of game design that you just can’t get anymore, giving you total freedom while still demanding that you, the player, actually make good decisions if you want to be successful. It’s the kind of weighty empowerment that’s terrifying to players who are only used to hand-holding and ass-kissing found in contemporary bullshit. Although I only discovered it in 2007 on Steam, it destroyed my notions of what a game could be, and I can’t thank it enough.

So naturally, when I heard that they were making a new one, I had the same anxiety as all the other fans. A First Person Shooter game set in the 1960’s? Could it be further from what I remember? Then again, they always did like to explore the different aspects of the X-COM world, even making an old-school FPS and flight simulator.

However, after digging around for more information, it appears that the developers want to stay true to the series in some respects:

The E3 demo I saw reflected the effort to lay groundwork for being more than just a run-and-gun shooter with around the first third of it taking place at a hidden top-secret base. This section brought in some of the planning and strategizing to be done before heading on a field assignment that was a core part of the old games. Research looks like it will play an important role again in being able to combat the superior alien forces. Observations and samples collected while in the field can be brought back to scientists who then need to be directed on what to give their attention to.

In another nod to the earlier games, there are different types of missions to choose from like a police dispatcher off a giant map wall in a large situation room. They include elerium recovery, protect civilians, recover artifacts, and conduct research. Choices matter, too, because during the time spent on one run, some of the other situations may get resolved. And though not explained during the demo, each state shown on the wall map also had a sort of satisfaction rating that presumably relates to some form of support resource in the game. (Source)

Like the Elder Scrolls series, X-COM is the kind of series that has more substance than style, and that earns them points in my books. Innovation, not graphics, is what keeps me playing videogames. Not that the graphics look bad by any means. I agree with those who’ve said that the pixel-like blockiness of the alien design has a refreshing, quasi-retro feeling to it; more importantly, it’s respectable science fiction, instead of a comical stereotype.

If this game turns out to be half as dynamic and satisfying as the original, it will easily become a legend in my books. There’s obviously a more story-based aspect to it, but I’m hoping for a long and unpredictable journey and lots of replay value. Compared to all the action-flick garbage that I see in most major titles.



Assassins Creed: Revelations

Assassins Creed has always appealed to me, but I can’t seem to get over the real life portions where you play as some nobody. I also found myself getting frustrated by the combat, although I wouldn’t say it was bad. I never had real complaints, but there’s always been something more interesting that’s kept me from being willing to buy a copy. Like the Uncharted or God of War series, I feel comfortable jumping into the series later than everyone else, so I plan to get a cheap copy of Brotherhood soon.

The new Assassin’s Creed looks to continue all of the old traditions, while promising an epic conclusion. For this reason alone I’m considering buying it, but I’m also interested to see how far the series has come since I borrowed a copy of the original years ago. Developers keep squeezing more out of the hardware and listen to fan feedback, so now might be a good time to get interested in the series. Then again, I also recently picked up the latest in the God of War series and found it incredibly boring, so I’ll guard against hype and try before I buy.


Halo 4

This is a video of Norm Macdonald doing the moth joke. Notice how it’s a terrible joke that seems to go on forever? That’s the point of it. Norm Macdonald is a genius who can flip all comedic conventions on their head and still make it totally worth it.

Halo is also a terrible joke that seems to go on forever.


Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Deus Ex, like X-COM, desperately deserves a good sequel. Human Revolution looks like it will deliver. Emphasizing customization, freedom, a sense of humour, and agood old shadow-conspiracy plot. I’m already in love with this game, honestly. They’ve managed to narrowly escape The Matrix in terms of fashion, and it looks like what Metal Gear Solid 4 should have been in terms of technology and enemies.

As I mentioned in my Brink Sucks article, I love how the camera shifts from First Person to Third Person when doing melee attacks and taking cover. The weaponry, techniques, and stealth aspects look like they’re going to work together seamlessly to eliminate that awful “do what we want you to do” gameplay of so many action titles. Freedom!

Again, there’s huge potential for failure, but everything I’ve seen has been great and I’ve already pre-ordered it. If this game is a success, I would love to see more sequels and an industry-wide reminder to get away from shlock and shtick.


That’s pretty much all that’s worth talking about in this year’s E3, so thanks for reading!

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