There was a time, perhaps not even too distant ago, where Electronic Arts was the big bad evil developer who works its employees too hard and pumps out annual sequels until they collapse from exhaustion. The Electronic Arts of E3 2014 wanted to show you a kinder, gentler side. If there was one theme of their presentation, it was “just give us a chance.”
A chance for what, I’m not really sure. EA filled their hour with barely anything. We saw games, sure, but there were almost no surprises to be had. If there was one clear message, it was that in the year since last E3, Electronic Arts has generated a lot of “concept prototypes” for games like Star Wars Battlefront and Mirror’s Edge 2, but not much else. All of their biggest, most interesting games were largely shown from over-the-shoulder developer shots, with flat textures and debug environments.
The games that got the most screen time were the annual franchises. A digital representation of Bruce Lee will be fighting in EA’s upcoming UFC game next week, which features two men punching and kicking each other without too many rules to get in the way. In the stage demonstration, Bruce Lee easily won the match with a devastating kick to his opponent’s face. NHL 15 brings the simulation of hockey to the next level, though most of what they described about the game honestly went in one ear and out the other. Expect the typical improvements to physics, animation, and realism, as one would expect from a next-generation sports game. The same applies to Madden 15, which is adding a more robust defense system that lets you push through and get to the end zone like never before. Madden 15 will also introduce new player emotions to the mix, allowing your fellow teammates to emote and celebrate victories in brand new ways. A similar system is being implemented in FIFA 15, where individual players will now be given memories of their accomplishments. A player that is doing consistently well, or being frequently bullied will remember and react accordingly, on top of all of the typical technological enhancements.
But the craziest of EA’s sports lineup is their new PGA Tour 15 game, which is running on the same Frostbite 3 engine that powers all of the Battlefield and Need for Speed games. That’s because in addition to regular golf, PGA Tour 15 introduces insane fantasy golf scenarios, like golfing during a Battlefield match on what looked to be Wake Island as a giant battleship crashes in to the beach. Golf is one of the few sports games I’ve actually enjoyed the most, and that definitely has my interest.
Dragon Age: Inquisition received a brief gameplay clip, showing a party of four as they fought against a dragon. If they so choose, players can switch between a more action-oriented combat system or a “tactical” view, which turns Dragon Age in to a top-down, almost turn-based RPG. Regardless of what mode you’re in, you can switch between four party members on the fly. I’ve never played a Dragon Age game, so while I know similar features have been in the other games, I’m not sure if they’ve ever quite looked like this.
The Sims 4 brings an added level of artificial intelligence complexity while also revamping character creation to provide a more natural, intuitive interface. Now, you literally drag and drop elements around a Sim’s body (almost sort of like Spore) allowing you to adjust and shape eyes, noses, mouths, and more. No word on whether or not you can create a three-legged space alligator, though. The biggest innovation is the introduction of a community space (not unlike Valve’s “Steam Workshop”) where players can upload, browse and share their Sim creations with the world. In the provided scenario, a dead party gets new life when they browse to the community marketplace and insert a new, fun-loving Sim to spice things up a bit. To be perfectly honest, I’m surprised that having this kind of functionality is something that’s being considered a new addition to The Sims; I would’ve expected something like this to have been added in years ago.
One gets the impression that EA’s conference would’ve been a lot more exciting if not for the fact that Battlefield Hardline leaked almost two weeks ago. An extended (and moderately confusing) gameplay demo followed a group of robbers throughout the city as they tried to get away with the loot before the cops could catch them. Even though this game supposedly deals with more domestic issues, that didn’t really stop Battlefield‘s trademark destruction from coming in to play. The city was turned in to a literal war zone as rocket launchers were used to bring the ceiling down on police officers, and wrecked helicopters spun in to massive cranes that ripped huge gashes in the sides of skyscrapers as it came down. One would expect that the police caused more damage than the crooks actually ended up stealing in the end.
EA tried to end the show by dropping the bombshell regarding how beta registration for Battlefield Hardline opened today, but the real surprise of the show for me was earlier on, when EA visited Criterion Games to showcase… well, it was so early it doesn’t even have a name yet. Years ago, Criterion said they were toying with DLC for Burnout Paradise that added airplanes to the game, but ultimately that never came to be. The game they showed appeared to be a vast expansion of that concept: a high-speed, combo-based, first-person racing game where you jumped between multiple vehicles and multiple terrain-types on the fly. The extremely early prototype footage showed players jumping out of helicopters and on to ATVs and back again, as well as watercraft like jet skis and speed boats. Between Burnout and their work on Need for Speed, Criterion knows how to make cool, interesting, and fun racing games, and whatever comes to fruition from this project, I have a feeling it could be awesome.
Unfortunately, that means that the most interesting game at EA’s presser was a game that doesn’t even have a name yet. Sure, we got another glimpse at both Star Wars and Mirror’s Edge 2, but it’s important to stress the “glimpse” aspect. Of all the untextured, “gray box” prototype footage they showed at this conference, Criterion’s looked the most like something I could understand beyond just being test footage for potential mechanics. One would also assume it’s also one of the most unfinished projects shown. If nothing else, this is just showing the state of next-generation development, and given how many recently announced games were delayed in to 2015, it’s no surprise that EA’s offerings were so lean.