Let’s be honest: The economy is in the shitter. Mom and Pop stores aren’t the only ones permanently shutting their doors while the unemployment rate is at record numbers. Shit man, Six Flags just filed for bankruptcy. The land of roller coasters and log rides can’t even catch a break. You would think that every industry was a turtle lying on its back in the sun (fucked), but such is not the case when it comes to the world of gaming. That impressive fact was proven time and time again at the 2009 Electronic Entertainment Expo (a.k.a. E3) at the Los Angeles Convention Center. In times of economic woes, the world wants–scratch that–demands entertainment. Communities require something that allows them to escape the horrors of everyday life, and the endless rows of E3 exhibitors and vendors were eager to showcase their future products to satisfy those incessant cravings.
The three-day extravaganza began on June 2 in the City of Angels’ newly renovated downtown district. On a side note, I have a theory that whenever an ESPN Zone eatery or a Starbucks move into a neighborhood, the area in question can no longer be considered a “ghetto” or “dangerous.” For the past two years, the world’s largest video game convention had been closed to the general public, only allowing fellow industry members and the press the opportunity to partake in the festivities, but this year marked the reopening to any and all gamers desiring to witness the impending future of the video game trade.
Day One – A Stranger in a Technologically Strange Land
As I stepped off the Los Angels Metro, I was confronted with a towering inflatable Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and a perfect replica of the Ghostbusters’ vehicle, Ecto1, promoting the June 16 release of Ghostbusters: The Video Game (see complete review in SLUG’s Video Game Reviews Section). The convention is separated into two massive exhibit halls, West and South, with the larger corporations in the latter wing. I decided to start on the smaller end of things to avoid crowds and gain somewhat of a grasp on this massive gathering of technology.
The first stop on the shoelace express included an exclusive hands-on demonstration at the Bethesda Softworks booth with two of their upcoming titles, Wet and Rogue Warrior.
Wet, slated to release on September 8, is a third-person shooter that follows Rubi (voiced by Eliza Dushku) a freelance transporter that’s been double-crossed by her employer and is out for bloody, gory revenge. Surrounded by effects and environments offering several homages to 1970s action flicks, this shoot em’ up, chop em’ up, massive piles of corpses everywhere adventure is the closest to a Kill Bill video game as you can get—and it’s fantastic!
As for Rogue Warrior, the story follows excerpts from real-life Navy SEAL Richard Marcinko’s (voiced by Mickey Rourke) fictional military actions during the Cold War. This first-person shooter feels all too familiar and only attempts to separate itself from the pack by presenting horrifically violent death scenes, which become increasingly tiresome after 10 minutes of gameplay.
After getting my feet wet (pun intended) with E3’s offerings, I moved onward to the Playstation 3 arena, which embodied the largest chunk of the West Hall’s floor space and operated more like a douchy nightclub than a company displaying their upcoming titles. Due to the amount of games available in this section, I’ll provide you with the title and my initial reaction after witnessing their presentations:
Ghostbusters: The Video Game – I’ve always wanted an expansion to the Ghostbusters saga, and now with a feature film planned to release in 2012, this captivating venture provides a provisional bridge allowing players to become a recruit in the field of paranormal extermination.
SingStar: Queen – It’s a well-known fact that nobody can sing like Freddy Mercury. The game’s demonstrator and I proved that wholeheartedly with our rendition of “Under Pressure,” but this additional chapter to the home karaoke franchise should make for some fun drunken “Bohemian Rhapsody” nights. Scheduled to release on August 18, 2009.
Tekken 6 – I remember playing the first Tekken over a decade ago, and after five additional episodes, it still feels exactly the same. Why pay $59.99 for a few new characters and stages? Save your cash and locate something more innovative and enjoyable. Scheduled to release on October 27, 2009.
Across the walkway, SLUG’s friends from Sony Online Entertainment (who showed us how to officially rock out at the 2008 Comic Con last July) were making history with the Guinness Book of World Records as the Burlington, Vermont pop-rock band The Dares performed the first ever live/cyber concert simultaneously at E3 and inside SOE’s newest MMORPG, Free Realms. The band provided a 30-minute performance that concluded with the game’s theme song “It’s Your World.” Nothing like being a part of technological history.
As the convention center’s security began clearing the exhibition hall as the first day came to a close, the party was just revving up at Sony Online Entertainment’s cocktail hour (I told you these guys know how to have a good time). Who could turn down complimentary sandwiches and free drinks? Ok, fuck the sandwiches, hand over the drinks! It was an eye-opening experience as I met game designers and developers and constantly thought to myself, “Fuck, I’m getting old.” The majority of these people look like children, but have a firm grip on the world of video game development. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the future. After moving the party to The Brass Monkey, a local karaoke bar in the heart of L.A., until 3:00am, it was ultimately decided I should return to my barracks and prepare for a second day of battle.
Day 2 – Another Crack at the West Wing … Not the TV Show
As the day began with another round of thunderstorms (I thought I had left that crap in Salt Lake City), the gracious individuals at SOE invited my friend and L.A. host, Cory, to join the celebration with the second day of events. Because time was limited and I had already ventured the West Wing’s offerings, we decided to revisit its inviting corridors since I knew exactly what else I wanted to examine.
Our first stop was at the extremely crowded Capcom booth that was boasting a plethora of forthcoming titles. We were provided with an intimate look at their two larger titles, Dark Void and Lost Planet 2, in Capcom’s calmer private section backstage.
As the sequel to the 2007 smash-hit, Lost Planet 2 refocuses the game’s attention to center more on the multiplayer gameplay aspect creating the need for more intensified battles and magnificent enemies to fight, which is great as long as you have three other friends to play with. Cory and I were repeatedly slaughtered because we lacked an additional two members to our squad. (When I was younger, video games were my escape from dealing with other people, but now they force you to have friends to benefit from their contents … not sure I’m a fan of that.) The visuals are absolutely spectacular, but the mission objectives confused the majority of players, which made me feel a little less retarded. Scheduled to release in the winter of 2009.
Dark Void is a third-person shooter, dizzying aeronautics flight epic that embodies a beautiful mixture of 1930s flying superhero and futuristic enemy robotics. Think Disney’s The Rocketeer set in the year 2250. As the game’s protagonist, Will, you’ve been marooned in a parallel universe after crashing into the Bermuda Triangle (good job, Will) and must fight an alien race in order to return home. Equipped with a machine gun-mounted jet pack, the ordinary gun fights become extraordinary as you soar into the sky evading enemies with twists, turns, and inverted loops in the vast nonlinear environments. I seriously had to look away because I was getting nauseous. Scheduled release date is TBD.
Before I threw up all over Capcom’s controllers from being too queasy, we made our way over to Activision’s area and received an in-depth tour of their three largest approaching games:
Tony Hawk: Ride – As the tenth and most revolutionary game in the series, players will put down their controllers and hop on a motion-sensitive board that allows them to manage the game by leaning from side to side and performing subtle tricks and grabs. Perfect for when the unfriendly weather ruins your outside skating antics, however the gameplay is harder than it appears which may detract the lethargic and apathetic gamers. Scheduled to release in the fall of 2009.
Blur – The best way to describe this vehicular combat racing simulator is that it’s a Super Mario Kart for adults. Forget the cartoonish spinouts from green and red turtle shells, Blur allows players to drive battle-ready automobiles from BMWs to Dodge Vipers equipped with a slew of offensive and defensive weaponry including electromagnetic pulse, nitrous oxide, and land mines. The online multiplayer allows up to 20 racers the ability to duke it out for the gold in realistic and fictitious racing environments. This is undoubtedly one of my favorite games at E3. It’s as though Activision has been following the span of my life and knew exactly when to introduce me to the next level of racing in order to stray away from Nintendo’s childish escapades. Scheduled to release in the winter of 2009.
Prototype – As time progresses, the blend between video game story arches and feature films is becoming more and more similar, and the captivating storyline of Activision’s Prototype had me at “You start out the game by waking up in a morgue.” As Alex Mercer, you soon discover that not only has New York City been stricken with a biological virus mutating its citizens into violent beastly creatures, but you’ve gained the ability to morph into several types of killing mechanisms. The game is all about pure destruction, and where better to start the adventure but in the heart of Times Square. The demo was brief but provided just enough intrigue to force me to want another dose. The cinema cutaways are fantastic and look incredibly realistic. Scheduled to release on June 9, 2009.
As the second day came to a close at the convention center, Cory and I made our way to Genius Products and Genco Media’s celebration to promote their new game, Scratch: The Ultimate DJ. Hoping to profitably ride the wave that the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises have created with their widely successful interactive labels, Scratch provides gamers with the ability to become a mix master in the comfort of their own living room as they use the turn table controller to lay down various mixes and mash-ups. This sounds like an inventive notion, but the only problem with the scenario is that the Hero franchise has already developed an identical concept with DJ Hero. So, the question is, will the market allow two identical games reign supremacy, while one already has the branding factor? I wish both of them good luck.
Day 3 – My Thumbs Hurt from Too Much Playing
For the final day of E3, rather than being overwhelmed with hands-on demonstrations, I chose to put it on cruise control and schedule appointments with the head honchos in the South Hall in order to have them present the games that they were only permitted screening presentations. In other words, use your eyes not your hands. This is where the top secret information was revealed.
MTV Games and Electronic Arts went all out with their booth that resembled the Fab Four’s recording studio in an effort to promote the latest edition to the Rock Band phenomenon, Beatles: Rock Band. Granted, it’s great to see another music sensation join the realm of gaming, but there’s one fact that bugged me incessantly as the programmers attempted to spark motivation into the crowd … doesn’t Michael Jackson own the rights to the Beatles catalog, and if so, aren’t I just contributing toward his attorney fees for yet another destined courtroom appearance? (Editor's Note: This article was written in early June 2009, when it was still feasible that Michael Jackson could appear in a courtroom) It was just a thought, but,hey, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is a great song, right? Right? Anybody? Scheduled to release on September 9, 2009.
Moving along … Have you ever wanted a game where the basic concept was to create utter chaos and all you do is blow shit up causing mass hysteria? Well, the gang at Eidos Interactive has the perfect journey to reduce your stress levels, or horribly intensify them, with the sequel to the 2006 epic Just Cause. The second chapter continues the story of Rico Rodriguez as he takes his fight to the other side of the globe to the tropical island of Panau. In standard sandbox style, players are free to roam about the island initiating all types of destruction in-between missions and objectives. Feel like tying a henchman to a drum of gasoline and tossing a grenade between his legs? Go for it! He probably deserved it anyway. This hysterical display of demolition and anarchy is definitely another E3 favorite of mine. Scheduled to release in 2010.
Another impressive setup smack dab in the middle of the South Hall was the Xbox booth, which appeared to be more like an exclusive nightclub. However, instead of being douchtastic like the people at Playstation, the Xbox crew was absolutely fantastic at welcoming me into their exclusive programming. I knew I bought their console for a reason.
Inside the booth, three games were being previewed inside intimate spaces that felt as though we were all kicking in someone’s living room:
Forza Motorsport 3 – The art of racing games has hit a level of excellence that was once thought impossible ten years ago. Besides the fact that the third Forza installment will include approximately 400 vehicles and over 100 tracks, the amount of detail that is put into each car is astonishing. Everything from the individual leather consoles to the specific odometers is taken into consideration. The online multiplayer mode will allow gamers to get in touch with their artistic side and provide an opportunity to upload custom paint jobs that other players can download and use. In a bold step, game director Dan Greenawalt announced a new feature that will allow players the chance to instantly rewind a race should the gamer disapprove of his/her actions rather than resetting an entire race. I don’t know about you, but this feels too similar to the notion that all children should be winners rather than accepting the fact that some kids suck with particular skills (i.e. racing games). Maybe it’s just me. Scheduled to release on October 27, 2009.
Alan Wake – Remedy Entertainment, the folks behind Max Payne, have concocted a suspenseful thriller video game in the tale of Alan Wake. As an author suffering from writer’s block, Alan’s wife, Alice, convinces him to relax in the seaside village of Bright Falls, but once Alice goes missing, Alan finds himself walking through the nightmarish pages of a novel he can’t remember writing. As evil apparitions inexplicably bear down on Alan, he soon discovers that light is his best weapon. I never would have guessed that a game where your strongest weapon is a flashlight would be so entertaining. Told in the format of a primetime television drama, each chapter begins with “Previously on Alan Wake,” inviting players to continue guessing what’s around the corner in this stimulating narrative. The overall tone feels eerily like a Stephen King novel— if you’re going to emulate someone for a gripping horror mystery, why not the master himself?
Halo 3: ODST – Alright, to be quite honest, I am a huge fan of the Halo series, and I couldn’t think of a better way to end my first E3 experience than to witness the newest addition to the franchise. I walked into that room with a grin from ear to ear, and guess what? I wasn’t disappointed one bit! As a human ODST (Orbital Drop Shock Trooper), you’ve crashed landed into the hostile territory of New Mombasa, East African Protectorate (formerly Kenya). Rather than traveling from several environments as it’s been done in earlier experiences, New Mombasa is a vast landscape that grants players the nonlinear capability to roam the streets seeking refuge in stealth mode or going out in a blaze of glory against members of the Covenant in endless scenarios. The design team from Bungie has outdone themselves in the area of artistic design and has utilized the Xbox 360 processor to the best of its abilities. Furthermore, an additional multiplayer mode entitled Firefight has been added to the menu where players must survive wave after wave of enemies that become increasingly more difficult (similar to Gears of War 2’s Horde mode). Scheduled to release on September 22, 2009.
The 2009 E3 Convention was definitely an experience that has opened the doors a little wider for SLUG and its readers to the elating world of video games. The unimaginable innovations and unworldly advancements in the industry continue to leave me speechless and yearning for more. One can only guess what next year’s industrial gathering will bring, but if the sales statistics continue to rise even in these difficult times, it’s sure to be something unbelievable. Now, it’s time to head back home and play some good ol’ Contra on the original NES. What can I say, I like it old school. See ya next year!