Looking Forward from E3

I fancy myself a bit of a gamer. Here on our world tour, I’ve allowed myself a PS Vita as my luxury item. It’s helped feed the addiction in between sight-seeing and eating/drinking. I check the game sights every few days to keep up with the latest news, releases and reviews. But in my most significant Geek Out moment of the journey, I tuned into the live stream of Sony’s and Nintendo’s E3 press conference and watched replays of Microsoft’s and a handful of game developers. Along with getting excited about several games I won’t be able to play until returning to the states…and a few I can play on the Vita while on the road…I was left with strong impressions of the serious themes addressed by the more popular (and promising) games. What follows is a brief summary of sorts of the games and tech developments that grabbed my attention.

1. Beyond: Two Souls.  Developer Quantic Dreams, the geniuses behind the 2010 genre creating/bending hit Heavy Rain, returns with what appears to be another narrative-driven game, but one that contains much more action. David Cage’s address revealed that Beyond will address life after death and the connection that it’s lead heroine, Jodie Holmes, played and voiced by Ellen Page, has with it. The religious/spiritual/theological connections are readily apparent. In a genre built on death, it’s interesting to see another game daring to imagine, and pushing us to imagine, what follows…aside from pressing restart.

2. Watch Dogs. Ubisoft is bringing the heat this year with multiple must-play sequels (see below). They’re releasing a new IP later this year called Watch Dogs. It’s an open world game in the style of GTA or Infamous. However, in this case, the city itself, or more specifically put, Aiden Pierce’s (lead character) control of it, is the weapon. In the not-too-distant future setting of the game, everything is connected under one Central Operating System. Fears of loss of control, hacking, spying, etc. are at play here. Other games give us Divine control, but this time around, Watch Dogs lets us take control of Big Brother.

3. Assassin’s Creed III and Assassin’s Creed: Liberation. Ubisoft’s award-winning, action-packed assassin’s take on world history has drawn heavily on religion (the Knights Templars, Christianity, and Islam), morality, and ethics. Of course the very basic questions have always been centered on who the assassin’s serve, whether they are doing good or evil, and the limits to the knowledge of their missions. In the third installment, we are brought, relatively speaking, into a more recent era, the American Revolution. It will be interesting to see how religion (and politics) function in the narrative and who our new assassin will be “forced” to kill. Liberation is a completely separate take on the Revolution and features the series’ first female assassin.

4. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and Medal of Honor: Warfighter. Of course, the requisite war games were on display at E3. A central theme of the first look into Black Ops 2 is drone warfare (advances in warfare technology) and the threat of the enemy taking the keys. It’ll be interesting to see the role and portrayal of U.S. forces in another imaginary conflict. It seems that Medal of Honor is turning its attention to global special forces and basing the events on real-world battles. Again, what will be the U.S. role and how will gamers be able to re-enact it? 

5. The Last of Us. Few things (entertainment-wise) get me as fired up as a good post-apocalyptic narrative. There’s not much info on the story behind The Last of Us, but if the setting’s any indication, some massively destructive event has taken place. The game follows two characters Joel and Ellie, a middle-aged man and a teenage girl. Trailers have revealed human dmore monstrous “enemies,” but the E3 gameplay footage revealed an intimate, brutal level of violence that makes one of its lead characters a force to be feared as well. It will be interesting to learn what “they” are the last of and what or who “they” are surviving.

6. The Playstation Network’s commitment to indie games. There was, albeit brief, attention paid to the indie games on offer through the PSN later this year. While gamers can enjoy indie games in a variety of networks, many of them on PSN are more lengthy, substantial experiences whose artistic design frequently enhance rich emotional and thought-provoking experiences.

7. Tech Changes. There are some minor and major hardware changes that are interesting. The PS Vita/PS3 connection is an attempt at making gameplay even more ubiquitous and constant. If you’re playing on the PS3 and need to leave the house, you can keep playing on the PS Vita. While it’s been used almost solely on sports games so far, it could be interesting to see what developers could do with more narrative-driven gameplay. PlayStation also unveiled their new Wonderbook, a large piece of Augmented Reality hardware that is set to make reading a more visual and immersive experience. I’m really skeptical of this, but it is getting at something that I think the Kindle and iPads are missing out on. Will it enhance or distract from reading? Based on the presentation at E3, I’m unfortunately leaning toward the latter.

The Nintendo Wii U is also building on the “always connected” theme. They are continuing to push gameplay innovation with a completely new controller (don’t even compare it to the Dreamcast controller!). Nintendo President and Chief Operating Office Reggie Fils-Aime, who always sounds like he’s on the verge of curing cancer, had this to say about the new platform: “The new controller and gameplay will change your life. […] It’s the tool of together. Family’s distracted by their personal devices will be brought together. […] The promise of Wii U is simple. Together is better.” If you didn’t know that he was talking about a video game controller, you could have easily thought it was something much more meaningful like faith.