The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the annual trade show for the video-game industry held last week in Los Angeles, felt like a placeholder. Nintendo is releasing a new system in the fall, but other-wise the home console business is stagnant commercially and creatively. With aging technology and the rise of tablet and smartphone gaming, Micro-soft and Sony are playing out the string on their current consoles, most likely waiting to announce new hardware next year or in 2014, when the economy has hopefully recovered.
Of the three main console makers, PlayStation 3 had the most interesting software lineup. Scheduled for next year, “The Last of Us,” from the makers of the “Uncharted” series, looks like a beautiful combination of post-civilization survivalism (in Pittsburgh, of all places) and open-ended gameplay that lets you rush forth with guns blazing or avoid combat through stealth and strategy. Upcoming downloadable game “The Unfinished Swan” is a clever and utterly engrossing arthouse spin on the 3-D platformer. “Beyond: Two Souls,” starring Ellen Page, is the latest, almost-real fever dream from French provocateur David Cage. One only can hope the story will hold up better than the embarrassing “Heavy Rain.” Oddly enough, Sony barely discussed the Vita, the expensive new handheld that was released in February.
Microsoft emphasized the Xbox 360’s multi-media offerings and cross-platform interconnect-ivity. That makes sense, as most of my friends use their 360s more for Netflix or HBO Go than playing games. SmartGlass, a new program that lets the 360 interface with tablets and smartphones, could revolutionize how we consume and interact with our enter-tainment. It’ll probably just confuse and distract us even more than we already are, though, with pointless information and enhanced “experiences” cluttering up our visual field as we try to watch TV.
Microsoft’s featured games consist primarily of sequels, including this fall’s “Halo 4” and “Dance Central 3” and the unsurprising announcement of “Gears of War: Judgment.” Microsoft was more concerned about letting us know how to use our smartphones to learn more about “Game of Thrones.”
Nintendo focused on its new console, the Wii U, which launches in the holiday season. It’s basically a high-definition Wii that supports the Wii remote, a traditional game controller, and a new dedicated tablet called the Wii U GamePad. The company boasted of 23 Wii U titles arriving in the launch window, with the first-party releases including the long-awaited “Pikmin 3,” “New Super Mario Bros. U,” the oddball superhero game “Project P-100” (a convention highlight), and “Nintendo-Land,” which explains how to use the Wii U’s various control schemes through minigames based on such Nintendo properties as “Legend of Zelda,” “Animal Crossing” and “Donkey Kong.” A few of the games on display integrate the GamePad and the television in thoughtful ways, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that the Wii U is an awkward combination of a Wii, an Xbox 360 and an iPad.