In this corner: The reigning champ, Microsoft
Microsoft’s press conference had its ups (the live-action Halo 4 trailer) and downs (the new Xbox Music service, Internet Explorer for Xbox), and it introduced Xbox SmartGlass, which earns my vote for this year’s award for quirky-feature-that-sounds-neat-but-may-not-ever-be-used-by-anyone. However, the event did do one thing very well: It showed off lots and lots and lots of Xbox games, both first- and third-party. Tomb Raider, Resident Evil 6, South Park: The Game, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, Halo 4, Wreckateer, Forza Horizon, Gears of War: Judgement… the list goes on. The message? If you dig games, Xbox has you covered for the next year, and then some.
In this corner: Electronic Arts, the Gunslinger
EA’s event could have been subtitled Good Times with Guns. Sure, the publisher chatted up a new SimCity and some sports games (the crowd roared at the announcement of a multi-year deal to produce UFC games), but the focus was unmistakably on things that go pow-pow and pew-pew. Battlefield 3’s new Premium service, a new Medal of Honor game, Crysis 3, and even Dead Space 3 – my personal favourite game shown at EA’s event – all centre on new ways to shoot people (and aliens) dead.
In this corner: Ubisoft, the French mad scientist
Ubisoft did a good job of piquing my curiosity about Wii U with Rayman Legends, and it convinced me that Assassin’s Creed 3 is going to (finally) meaningfully evolve the French publisher’s premier action franchise. However, the game that stayed with me long after the lights went up is Watch Dogs. It explores themes of digital identity and privacy, suggesting that our own personal data can and will eventually be used against us – as evidenced by the game’s star, whose cell phone seems just as potent a weapon as his pistol. This one’s a long ways off, but it has exceptional potential in terms of both narrative and play.
In this corner: Ex-champ on the comeback trail, Sony
Like Microsoft, Sony did well by its existing customers by focusing on games. More importantly, it showed great depth in its exclusives, including the crowd-pleasing PlayStation All-Stars for Vita and PlayStation 3, J.K. Rowling’s family-friendly Book of Spells, which will be the first of the PlayStation 3’s new line of “Wonderbooks,” and God of War: Ascension. Then there’s Quantic Dream’s Beyond, another of the British developer’s interactive movie-style games, which stars Canada’s own Ellen Page as a creepy and terrifyingly powerful girl. And, of course, Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, which looks to be a wonderfully realized vision of life after the fall of civilization. It’s centred on the relationship between a father and his daughter (inspired by The Road, perhaps?), who work together to survive bands of opportunistic thugs. Amazing action, gorgeous graphics, memorable characters and dialogue – it’s the holy trinity of modern games.
And winner is… Sony
While many of the games shown at Monday’s pressers looked exciting and will surely be lots of fun to play, only three seemed really fresh and original: Watch Dogs, Beyond: Two Souls, and The Last of Us. Two of those are first-party PlayStation 3 exclusives and both are strong contenders for best game of E3 2012. From where I stand, that’s a clear victory for Sony.