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Controller Freak

Chad Sapieha leads you deep into the world of games, covering gaming trends

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Chad Sapieha for Globe and Mail (The entrance to the L.A. Convention Center)
Chad Sapieha for Globe and Mail (The entrance to the L.A. Convention Center)

Pre-E3 events may hold the biggest surprises Add to ...

I’m heading into this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles with 26 scheduled appointments. I’ll see dozens of upcoming games demoed by developers wearing baggy shorts and braided beards and conduct countless hard-hitting interviews with grey-suited executives.

But before any of that comes the pre-show announcements. The L.A. Convention Center’s doors open on June 5, but Monday June 4 is where much of the real action is, with four of the five big pre-show press conferences laying out what attendees can expect to see on the show floor.

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As usual, Microsoft will kick things off at 9:00 a.m. PST (noon ET) as it draws the world’s attention to its Xbox wares. Chief among them this year will be the Master Chief, who is set to return this fall in Halo 4, putting an end to his five-year hiatus. We’ll have to wait a few more months to find out if the franchise’s new steward, 343 Industries, will be able to maintain the series’ mojo, but I suspect we’ll be treated to a long and juicy trailer that may provide a few more details on our space marine’s new story in a star system far, far away.

Also expect lots of talk about the company’s industry-leading hardware sales, a parade of major non-exclusive third-party titles – chief among them Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, I would think, though probably also the likes of Tomb Raider and BioShock: Infinite, among many others – and an announcement of at least one major Kinect game.

What you probably won’t see is much, if anything, on Microsoft’s next console. Despite some persistent rumours, I don’t think this will be the year that Microsoft unveils its next-generation system. Don’t rule out a tease, though. Maybe: “The future of gaming arrives Holiday 2013.”

Following Microsoft’s presser the world’s gaming media will make their way down the road a few kilometers to Electronic Arts and Ubisoft’s events.

EA will strike first, focusing its attention on three high-profile shooters: Medal of Honor Warfighter, Crysis 3, and the already-released (and still going strong) Call of Duty competitor Battlefield 3.

We’ll also see some talk about Star Wars: The Old Republic as EA tries to convince the world that its hugely expensive MMORPG experiment isn’t as dead as many think it is, as well as some chatter about its social and casual gaming strategies (expect social gaming to be a minor theme at this year’s show). I also imagine some celebrity athletes will take the stage at some point to talk up the publisher’s extensive sports catalogue.

What not to expect? Any word on the once-promising Amalur IP. After publishing and promoting the franchise’s first game – Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning – this winter, this deep and delightful new high-fantasy universe all but died when its developer, Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios, laid off its entire staff a couple of weeks ago.

Once EA’s conference wraps up, my colleagues and I will trek a few blocks north to Ubisoft’s event, which will undoubtedly centre upon Ubisoft Toronto’s Assassin’s Creed 3. The third numbered entry in the French publisher’s historical action series promises a new time period (colonial America), a new hero (the half-English, half-Mohawk assassin Connor Kenway), and loads of new ways to silently (and not-so-silently) kill those nasty templar fellows.

We’ll also see more on the soon-to-arrive Far Cry 3 – a game set to take the epic shooter franchise back to tropical locales – as well as next year’s big-budget military bang-bang Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Patriots. Count on at least a few words on an Assassin’s Creed game made exclusively for PlayStation Vita, too.

Without doubt, a large portion of Ubisoft’s conference to be devoted to the Wii U. I attended a breakout session at last year’s E3 at which Ubisoft revealed details on several games it was working on for Nintendo’s new console, the most interesting of which, I thought, was the bloody-but-comical shooter Killer Freaks from Outer Space, which made neat use of the Wii U tablet controller’s screen in multiplayer games. Also look for some details on a Wii U Rayman game.

The day will wrap up with an evening press conference from Sony at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. The Japanese game giant’s events generally start a bit late and drag on a little too long, but they almost always deliver at least a few big E3 highlights – plus a concert by a surprise band at the end.

The most exciting PlayStation exclusive game we’re likely to see is The Last of Us, the new post-apocalypse action adventure game from Naughty Dog, makers of the blockbuster Uncharted series. This deeply cinematic-looking game was teased last year to a roaring crowd, and we’re sure to see a lot more of it at this year’s show.

Other games likely to cause a stir include the next God of War title, PlayStation All-Stars (think Nintendo’s Smash Bros., but with Kratos and Ratchet stepping in for Mario and Link), and LittleBigPlanet Karting (think Nintendo’s Mario Kart, but with…well, you get the idea).

Will there be word on new games for any of Sony’s many other exclusive properties, such as Killzone or Jak and Daxter? Hard to say. However, smart money is betting that we see a new game from Heavy Rain developer Quantic Dream.

Since Sony is no more likely to announce its next console than Microsoft, expect the company’s hardware talk to centre on PlayStation Vita, which has suffered middling sales and needs some serious parental encouragement right about now. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a big Vita price drop (below $200?), especially since a similar strategy did wonders for Nintendo’s 3DS last summer. A PlayStation 3/Vita bundle may be in the works, too.

Nintendo will finish up the pre-E3 announcements with its own press conference – an extravaganza of all things Wii U – on Tuesday morning. But that’s a story for my next post.

Follow on Twitter: @chadsapieha

 

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