Specials: Clint Eastwood not included, but he probably should be.
E3 2005 has come and gone. Like everything else, anticipation is half the fun, and lasts a hell of a lot longer. For Sony PlayStation enthusiasts, this show was even more appealing, since the gaming giant would be using this show to unveil the latest addition to its family, the PlayStation 3, in concert with a strong PS2 lineup and the first E3 the PSP would be available. Though it was a busy show all around, Sony had perhaps the busiest activity, and so much Sony goodness to cover that collective heads might explode. It wasn't all perfect in Sony land though, with some odd missteps to 'compliment' the steps forward, leading to a solid show that set many wheels in motion for the future, but perhaps will cause some major concerns in other areas. This is where we begin Sony @ E3: The Good, The Bad, and unfortunately, The Ugly.
The Good: Sony's Strong PS3 Unveiling
Just prior to E3, Microsoft took the initiative in the forthcoming console struggle by using the medium of television to unveil the Xbox 360, on MTV of all places. Most people looked at the show as an embarrassing disaster that was a bigger reach for the mainstream audience than anything Sony had ever done previously, with rock music and disinterested teenyboppers using the show as an excuse to party and minimal discussion of the console itself (this does not discount that I want one badly because it looks like a piece of killer gaming hardware). Sony, on the other hand, used a more traditional place to show off the PlayStation 3, in a much more professional, grown-up manner; even if it was full of tech talk gibberish and weird demos. Sony has delivered a beast with the PS3, full of power and possibilities for the future. With demos from nVidia showing the power of its GPU, an Eye-Toy demonstration that was extremely cool, and more than a dozen actual games (both sequel and original IP) set for release on the console, including oft-demanded cult hit Warhawk
, Sony used E3 to not drown the system in faux-hip, but instead deliver the information and upcoming software that actually sells consoles to serious players.
And Sony did it with nary a leak ? though MS has been using viral marketing and likely caused many of the mysterious leaks themselves, Sony has kept nearly everything about the console close to the vest, from the post-modern design, the redesigned Bluetooth wireless controllers (which resemble an old 3rd party PS1 controller whose name escapes me) that allow for up to 7 at one time, the dual-HD output with up to 1080p resolution, full and total backwards compatibility, amongst other things. Sony set no standard to expect, and thus over-delivered, especially considering their troubles with the PS2 that still haunt the console almost 5 years after release. The PS3 is a beast, and developers should be leaping all over the console leading to its 2006 release. In many ways, that 2006 release is still the lone mystery Sony left hanging; at the E3 conference it said Spring 2006, which could mean Japan in spring, US in fall, or some other crazy combination including a simultaneous worldwide release. With Xbox 360 due in November and the Revolution due in late 2006, perhaps Sony will release its next baby between them, at a time not traditional for a game console. Hey, it worked for the PSP.
The Bad: The No-Shows
The PS3 dominated the press-conference, with just a short trailer of Final Fantasy XII
during Square Enix's part of the presentation (which was overshadowed by the impressive and likely fan-wetting Final Fantasy VII PS3 tech demo). Which meant much of the other stuff for Sony was to be found on the show floor to get attention. That was definitely the case, but the amount of games that were once promised but ultimately not playable or even viewable was quite disappointing. Square Enix was one of the most notable culprits; who knew the FFXII trailer shown at the Sony conference would be the only kind of presence the game would have? Squenix continues to keep the latest entry in their most vital franchise hidden, with no playables on the show, a backpedal from last year where they made it playable to anyone who wanted to. Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII
, another game expected to appear, also made no presence, and that game likely shall slip into 2006 to not compete with the games that actually showed up this year, such as Kingdom Hearts II
and Dragon Warrior VIII
. Perhaps Square was too busy showing off Final Fantasy XI for Xbox 360 this year.
EA was also guilty of this practice, with many of their PS2/Xbox games being hidden away while they displayed their Xbox 360 versions instead. It's fine they want to show off Need for Speed: Most Wanted
on the 360 (which was extremely impressive), but the game is also coming out for current consoles, and if you're a Sony fan not into upgrading to the X360, this helps you little unless you count it as a brief look at what the games might look like on PS3. Many other of their most beloved licenses, like SSX, NBA Live, and Madden were also kept hidden aside from a nice PSP version of Madden that interacts with the PS2 version and the Xbox 360 edition. Granted nobody expects Madden to be radically different from 2005's version, but it's the thought of keeping PS2 fans patiently waiting for PS3 interested in the games that will be coming out this fall for the old boy.
With it being harder and harder to keep games secret in this era of the Internet, many publishers are keeping their best games hidden away from prying eyes, which can be beneficial to them but at the same time, it casts doubt upon the quality of the software you're using as critical releases for keeping business strong at times. A game could be delayed until it works, and a bad game can be rushed and ultimately unable to be repaired, but at the same time, efficiency is needed to keep interest. Keep hiding info about a surefire success like Final Fantasy XII and dodge a steadfast release date (aside from fiscal 2006), and even hardened fans will grow tired and turn attention to the looming beasts called next-generation consoles.
The Ugly: The PSP's Pitiful Showing
This should have been a banner event for the PSP; great games that take advantage of the hardware, aggressive strategies to topple Nintendo, and creating a feeling that the system is more than just a portable. Instead, Sony fell flat on its ass, with an almost invisible presence. Games like Gran Turismo 4 Mobile
and Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
couldn't be found anywhere. Publishers spent little time showing off cool games for the system. Rockstar finally revealed information about Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories
, but as usual the company kept everything cryptic aside from the September 1 UK/US release date. Namco failed to fill the RPG void by not announcing a US version of Tales of Eternia
. Aside from cool concepts like Daxter
, the aforementioned version of Madden NFL 06
, the impressive Burnout Legends, Metal Gear Acid 2
(with a crazy cel-shading style) and a couple lesser-known titles along with games that we've known about for a while, it was a dry event that reeked of uncertainty and maybe even Sony not being prepared to handle 3 different platforms at the show.
On the other side, Nintendo was almost all about their portables, with some great DS titles being shown off, and the cool Game Boy Micro redesign (even if it is yet another redesign with a teeny screen). Granted, the Cube is pretty much extinct aside from Zelda, and Revolution info is minimal at best, but Nintendo made sure to let people know what they'll be playing on DS and GBA this year regardless of the bleak outlook for the GameCube and secrecy surrounding the Revolution. For those who forked out $250 for the PSP and believe in its potential, it might have been a very difficult show to swallow with such a poor showing, especially in comparison to the competition.
Handheld systems have indeed always been secondary to the big boys, but Sony has attempted thus far to shed that label for the PSP and push it as something more than just a diversion on the road, but instead a serious, legitimate game console...yet the abysmal showing at E3 from 1st and 3rd party publishers alike is not that positive step. Perhaps post E3 we'll see more and more PSP games leak out once PS2 projects finish up, but until then the PSP is a huge question mark despite the positive buzz for the system, and ultimately is, right now, just another handheld system with some token support to keep the early adopters happy ? when it could have been so much more...it could have been the true revolution on display.
There was more happening at E3 this year than these storylines, but in a lot of ways this was a disappointing, quiet show that offered few real surprises and more hype than anything else. If you took away the hub-bub about the new systems, what was left is a show of predictable sequels, expected 'surprises' (Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence
was far from a surprise really, though the inclusion of a new camera and the original Metal Gear games is a nice bonus) and too many games MIA. I fully expect E3 2006 to be extremely impressive, with all three next-gen consoles getting into the swing of things (and hopefully Sony pushing the PSP much harder and not like an afterthought...hey guys, it's a $250 piece of hardware, let's support it better), but while this year's show was not hurting for quality software, it was not a very newsworthy or exciting show...merely predictable and in some places, quite disappointing. As Cubs fans say, there's always next year.