LOS ANGELES--I had to hold back a laugh or two as Electronic Arts' E3 press conference kicked off. Not because of its scale, which was quite large in LA's Orpheum Theater, but because it began with a video of Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, EA's latest vehicular "chase or race" title that features rural mountain police driving Bugatti Veyrons.
How a sleepy mountain town's police force got itself a $1.7 million supercar was never really explained. But the hiss of turbo, the wild revving of million-dollar engines, and the road signs that frequently went whipping by in a blur of yellow only made it easier to forget. After all, it's EA's world, and after sitting through enough of the company's trailers you just end up accepting it as its own form of reality.
As the video transitioned into a live demo of Hot Pursuit, EA's Craig Sullivan desperately tried to catch up with the bad guy in a Lamborghini Gallardo, who was eventually flipped, totaled, and presumably still alive, despite the epic slow motion crash sequence that sent bits of the car showering toward the camera. In other words, exactly the kind of thing you'd expect to happen when you mess with the boys in blue--and their car with tires that cost $25,000.
The pomp and circumstance of the event came just two hours after Microsoft had unveiled a smaller, more feature packed Xbox 360 hardware, and demoed a handful of motion-controlled games that will run on the Kinect platform. EA followed suite, showing off its Active series, which has been designed to get gamers off the couch by turning exercise into a series of mini-games.
The new version of Active (called simply Active 2) comes out in November and works on all three major consoles. However, on stage it seemed to have the best showing on the Xbox 360, which was using a Kinect unit to track the demo player's body movements. The players using Sony's PlayStation 3 and Wii, on the other hand, had to have sensors attached to various parts of their bodies--and even then, the movement looked a little artificial when rendered back on screen.
Casual fitness games were not what stole the show though. Ultimately what got the most applause were two first-person shooters: Medal of Honor and Bulletstorm.
Medal of Honor, which takes place in modern-day Afghanistan, is essentially a reboot of a series that has seen eight console releases going all the way back to the first PlayStation. EA demonstrated the new version's live, multiplayer matchmaking by lowering a set of 18 computers down from the ceiling, then projecting that match onto the theater's screen. The effect was a bit nauseating but was EA's proof that the game is ready for gamers to play test it in its multiplayer beta being released next week.
The other shooter that garnered hoots and hollers was Bulletstorm, which will miss this holiday season and ship in late-February. Developed by People Can Fly, a subsidiary of Epic Games (makers of the Unreal Engine), the game takes the idea of achievement points and applies it to how players take out enemies. The result is definitely a shooter, but one that blends elements of experimentation and improvisation. It also takes a few cues from fighting games where you have to learn combos, and rag doll physics generators.
Things that did not go over so hot with the crowd included EA's new rewards program that's been designed specially for players of shooter games, called "Gun Club." As described by EA's senior director of online, Katrina Strafford, Gun Club will give gamers "early access" to news, events, game betas, demos, and in-game weaponry. This is interesting given that EA frequently gives such perks to game retailers, who can dole out access to those who pre-order. However, it leaves out other genres EA makes games for, as well as titles that aren't upcoming.
Also getting a lukewarm reception was a presentation about the console-bound Sims 3 by executive producer Rod Humble. Humble detailed how after exhaustive testing, EA was not able to replicate the virtual going-ons in any two play-throughs of the Sims, and that how making an entire world of the same characters ended up with differences that would appear over time--just like in real life. To Humble's credit, it might have been a more interesting talk if it wasn't sandwiched between a cameo by football legend Joe Montana, who was promoting the latest version of the Madden series, and a 3D cinematic du jour of Crytek's Crysis 2.
To sum up, EA's E3 showing was--as expected, full of sequels, which is part of what makes new games like Bulletstorm and the Medal of Honor reboot two of the most interesting titles in the company's holiday, and early 2011 lineup.