With Sony and Microsoft keeping their next-gen announcements under wraps until next year and Nintendo staying relatively quiet for a company whose new console comes in a few months, E3 2012′s press conferences turned out to be decidedly more tame than fans are used to. That doesn’t mean the conferences weren’t without their strong points however, and there were even a few welcome surprises this year. With the event still going strong, we are likely to see plenty more coverage by Friday, but here are the Top 5 Demos presented at the press conferences this year at E3.
Halo 4 Campaign Demo
Halo 4 was on rocky ground for a while to everyone but diehard devotees. It was the revival of a franchise that had already ended its trilogy, without Martin O’Donnell doing the series’ enduring musical score, and with The Covenant playing the enemy… again. To weary fans, it seemed like more of the same, with a side dish of unwelcome changes. When Microsoft showed the game at their press conference on Monday, it began with a live-action film, as has become tradition for the series (apparently the UNSC happened to accidentally find the exact uncharted world that Master Chief landed on) and proceeded to go through the motions. Chief engaged in a small Covenant firefight and just as he’s about to be overtaken by an Elite, what’s this? Some new life forms appear and dust it (literally!)
The new robot/alien beings add an exciting level of variety to the game’s formula, and leave behind a few badass weapons as well. Their tech has the ever-impressive “build itself as you pick up” feature, and they disintegrate into flamboyant bursts of particles when killed. It’s like “Grunt Birthday Party” is on at all times! Not only that, but many of the enemies seem to be direct counters to former sure-fire strategies in the Halo series, like the flying drones who catch your grenades and throw them right back at you. By the end of the demo when the thrilling story trailer began to play, it was clear that Halo’s fourth official outing won’t be phoning it in.
Tomb Raider Demo
Lara Croft’s upcoming origin story/series reboot has been dismissed by many video game fans as “Uncharted: Croft’s Fortune,” and that’s probably true. But you know what? The Uncharted series has produced some of the best games this generation, and if Square Enix wants to make a game that plays just like it, that’s alright by me (even if it is, ironically, the series that originally inspired Uncharted). Comments about “abuse porn” aside, the Tomb Raider demo was absolutely thrilling throughout, as it chewed the scenery at a breakneck pace. It looks like a solid blockbuster action game, and with the Uncharted trilogy tied up in a bow, it’ll be nice to see another franchise take its place.
Assassin’s Creed III Naval Demo
Earlier on Monday, Ubisoft had their own press conference where they showed off Assassin’s Creed III which, while plenty polished and impressive, was comprised mostly of things fans had seen before. A few hours later, Sony’s press conference featured the same game and unveiled a new feature: naval combat. Assassin’s Creed is famous for taking typically mundane video game tasks and making them unbelievably awesome, and the demo for fighting at sea, something usually slow and methodical, did not disappoint. As our hero took the wheel of his boat and the weather changed to an appropriately choppy oceanic storm, complete with epic music swelling and shipmates barking directions at each other, players were transported right into the time period. This demo took a game that everybody already wanted desperately to play and made us want it even more, and that’s what made it one of the best of the show.
The Last of Us Demo
Speaking of Uncharted, series developer Naughty Dog packed a hell of a wallop with its showing of The Last of Us at Sony’s press conference Monday night. Holding off on the more introspective, character-driven moments we’ve come to expect in favor of an itchier trigger finger, this seven-minute taste featured some of the most intense, brutal violence seen in a video game of recent memory. With their uncompromising vision of what the post-apocalypse would actually be like, the Santa Monica-based studio showed us the lengths a man would go to in order protect himself and
Ellen Page his loved ones. There are moments in this video that would make even the most seasoned Gears of War player cringe, all tied up by the knowledge that these enemies aren’t even necessarily bad, they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Based on this demo, we get a great vertical slice of an experience that doesn’t hold your hand, and doesn’t judge your actions, no matter how questionable they may be.
Watch Dogs Announcement Demo
In a land where hardware announcements are slim, the software developer is king, and nobody took advantage of that sentiment more dramatically than Ubisoft. When they rounded out their conference with a surprise reveal of new IP Watch Dogs, jaws dropped across the entire theater. After a brief cutscene introduction, we were introduced to our trenchcoat-clad hero, walking hands-in-pockets through a windy Chicago street in classic film noir style. He took out a device, showing visual links to all the different people he’s standing near, foreshadowing his appearance at an art gallery across the street where he used the device to cause a mini-blackout, creating enough of a commotion to get past the building’s bouncer. As he made his way into the gallery, he could scan everyone inside, finding out information about them (some a bit more sensitive than others) eventually hacking into a character’s cell phone to covertly listen to her conversation. After a striking sequence in which he manipulates traffic lights at an intersection to cause a huge multi-car pile-up, it’s clear that hackers are like superheroes in this increasingly digital universe, a sentiment whose not-so-subtle real-world implications surely weren’t lost on viewers.
Some stylish gunplay ensues, and as the demo was drawing to a close with police closing in- surprise! The camera pulled out to reveal another character on a rooftop who’s been monitoring our original hero (this does not appear in the Youtube version), showing just how vulnerable tech users’ information can be in the game’s world. We got a few seconds with this new character, only to be catapulted even farther out to see hacker IDs peppered all over the city, which is speculated to represent some sort of always-on multiplayer.
What really shines here is the strategic denial of information. We see just enough to capture our imaginations but are left wanting more in all departments. Each encounter is a puzzle, with what seem like endless solutions throughout an entire open world. This demo is what E3 is all about: announcing an exciting new property and getting even the most jaded video game fans salivating, making it the best of the bunch this year.
Nick Hawryluk is the senior producer, director and editor of Press Play the Webseries. He also runs and contributes articles to the Press Play website.