A convention centre bursting at the seams with more than 40,000 video game professionals might seem an unlikely place for a fight beyond the quest for a decent Wi-Fi connection or the last sandwich at the cafe. But at the E3 conference recently concluded in Los Angeles, battle lines between two titans in the electronic entertainment world were clearly marked, kicking off a billion-dollar showdown likely to last the rest of the decade and shape the future of the gaming industry.
Microsoft and Sony had already unveiled their forthcoming next-generation consoles in separate events to much fanfare. But with both the reveals of Xbox One and PlayStation 4 coming under fire from critics for their lack of focus on actual gaming, many expected this year’s E3 – the biggest gaming trade event in the world and described as a “violence-obsessed Disneyland” – to be one of the most important in its 18-year history.
And amid two halls reverberating from the near-deafening sounds of explosions, gunfire, engine roars, chirpy Mario-esque pings and dance soundtracks being pumped out of hundreds of elaborately constructed booths, where attendees queued for hours to get a few minutes of playtime on the latest titles, one question was being shouted above the din: who was winning?
Holding the first keynote event the day before E3 kicked off, Microsoft landed the first punches, offering an impressive line-up of exclusive Xbox One-only titles and showcasing exactly what its next-gen can do.
Among the first games displayed were Dead Rising 3, which is like Grand Theft Auto with zombies; Forza Motorsport 5 (for which one of two McLaren P1s ever built arrived on the stage); the Roman-era third-person fighter Ryse: Son of Rome; and Project Spark, a LittleBigPlanet-style world builder.
Perhaps the biggest cheer from the crowd, however, came for a sighting of Master Chief in the next Halo. Alongside the game came an exciting glimpse of how the future of gaming might look. Via voice commands, you can control your legions in Ryse, build worlds in Project Spark or, perhaps, for Xbox Live Gold subscribers, have your game recorded and uploaded online via a new link-up with the gaming broadcaster, Twitch.
Then there’s Smartglass, Microsoft’s second-screen technology available as a downloadable app for your tablet that can significantly enhance gameplay, offering features such as maps, achievement progress reports and videos.
While Microsoft may have impressed with the games, Sony scored points during its flagship presentation with specifics of the PS4 console. For starters, it will come in at a base rate of US$399.99 (Dh1,469), some $100 cheaper than the Xbox One. Then there was the news that it wouldn’t require a persistent online connection (Xbox One requires a check-in every 24 hours), and – perhaps most praiseworthy – wouldn’t restrict the sharing of games in any way, unlike the Xbox One, which only allows sharing through selected retailers.
Two black, rhomboid boxes might have been the most talked-about guests of the entire event, but it’s really all going to come down to the titles being produced for them. And judging by the crowd’s response to the smallest of preview clips, a couple of forthcoming games should do rather nicely.
Arguably the biggest “whoop” (of which there were many) came from a snippet of Electronic Arts’ Mirror’s Edge 2, the hotly anticipated sequel to 2009’s parkour actioner scheduled for release “when it’s ready”. It was closely followed by a 30-second trailer for a Star Wars: Battlefront reboot set on the snowy planet Hoth and featuring the foot of an All Terrain Armored Transport Walker.
Among the most breathtaking previews was for the developer DICE’s first-personer Battlefield 4, for which 64 gamers engaged in a vast, on-stage multiplayer battle set in Shanghai. Thankfully, none of these games will be exclusive to individual gaming systems.
“This year is a great year for gamers,” said Electronic Arts’ charismatic chief operating officer Peter Moore.
Absolutely. And with both the Xbox One and PS4 due out in November, it’s going to be a year with a somewhat climactic ending.
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