From its comparatively humble trade show beginnings nearly a decade ago, the yearly Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) each June has arguably become the largest spectacle for video games media in the United States, if not the world. Whereas events like the Game Developers Conference in March highlight the digital craftsmanship behind interactive media, E3 prides itself in the hyperbolic abundance of media coverage and revelry in fan hype.
For most fans the show really begins the morning before the Los Angeles Convention Center opens its main show floor for playable demos, both booth-side and behind closed doors. Beginning at 8 am PDT, bodies are packed into auditoriums in front of towering monitor displays and all eyes are transfixed on the often boisterous annual press conferences from two of “The Big Three” console manufacturers, Microsoft and Sony, as well as some of the industry’s largest development/production companies, Ubisoft and Electronic Arts. While the tantalizing reveals of the latter leave little to be desired, the showcase performance of “The Big Three” sets the industry’s tone not only for the following days but the remainder of the year to come.
Whether you’re a newcomer to E3’s offerings or just in need of a quick recap, here are a couple noteworthy highlights from Microsoft’s press conference:
In the weeks leading up to E3, Microsoft representatives announced that their presentation for this year’s press conference – and future strategy – would focus on the games. While great news, this announcement at first carried the weight of skepticism. Bad memories of last year’s cagey explanations concerning a controversial and unfriendly new business model for the recently announced Xbox One have lingered prominently in the gamer zeitgeist for the past year. But following the reversal of the damning policies in subsequent months, newly appointed head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, has delivered on his promise. True to their new direction, Microsoft’s press conference contained not a single distraction for peripheral hardware, tedious business metric charts, or promises of services not on display.
Of all games that were confirmed to have a presence at E3 in the days leading up to the convention, I was anticipating none more highly than the gameplay reveal of Assassin’s Creed: Unity. From debatably “leaked” footage weeks prior to the event, it was clear that Ubisoft had big changes in mind for the annual franchise.
About twenty minutes in to Microsoft’s press conference, Ubisoft answered the mystery of its new project with more questions about the future Assassin’s Creed, one of its key franchises. Hanging by one arm from a chimney, protagonist Arno Dorian made his way down to the thronging Revolution Paris streets, where he met with other assassins, controlled by three other live players through a live co-op instance. They stealthily hunted their target through a palace in a coordinated effort to silently dispatch the Marquis’ guards before they cornered the noble in a ballroom with windows overlooking the murderous rabble below.
The demo concluded as the four assassins unceremoniously threw the Marquis out the window into the crowd, where he was promptly relieved of his head, which was then mounted on a pike alongside those of other former members of Parisian high society. Though a shocking end to the demo, the Assassin’s Creed series has never shied from the historical truth of brutal conflict.
Perhaps more than the actual gameplay, what held my attention throughout the demo was the presentation and artistic rendering of the characters and city itself: the unparalleled character animation as Arno quickly descends and climbs a building must be seen to understand the subtlety of Ubisoft’s craftsmanship. The same can be said for the richly detailed environments, whether in the smoke stained stucco buildings on street level or the filigreed and gilded opulence of the palace interiors.
Also worth mentioning was the opening debut gameplay of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, which will no doubt achieve the same level of explosive action and valiant machismo the series is known for. What sets this game apart from the many before is the futuristic sci-fi setting and combat focused tweaks to its acquired tropes: chunky laser guns, a bleak and crumbling cityscape crowded with swarming drones reminiscent of The Matrix, and soldiers suited up in limb reinforcing exoskeletons that can assist the operator to rip off a car door when you’re in need of a riot shield — but these games oftentimes seem to have a tendency to get caught in cumbersome early 1980s sci-fi machinery, as demonstrated in the fatal final scenes of the demo. Though I have never considered myself a fan of the series, I cannot deny the demo’s entertainment value, even if that entertainment factor relied on curiously un-self aware and questionable taste.
Microsoft arrived at E3 with something to prove, and while most of what they delivered was no more than a further acknowledgment and display of previously announced games, the focus of their new mission is at this time bold and clear, and left me hopeful and reinvigorated about the future of the Xbox One as a games centric console.
Photos via: Rick R.1 — Ubisoft