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Hardware humdrum at E3 2010

E3, the annual showcase for all things video games held in downtown Los Angeles, Calif., is usually packed with hardware and software innovations that leave gamers salivating in anticipation.

E3, the annual showcase for all things video games held in downtown Los Angeles, Calif., is usually packed with hardware and software innovations that leave gamers salivating in anticipation. Tragically, this year’s E3 failed to pop for the most part, though a few refreshing novelties were unveiled that leave a glimmer of hope for the future of gaming.

Microsoft was to show off the far-reaching capabilities of their newest hardware, Kinetic (a.k.a. Project Natal). Last year when it was first revealed, we saw a camera-sensor system that would transform a player’s entire body into a controller. At that time, Microsoft promised an unparalleled level of interaction in a gaming world. Well, here we are a year later and what was seen was a lacklustre line-up of sports, go-kart racing and fitness games. It sounds more like Microsoft is aiming its hardware at the Nintendo Wii crowd, slicing a piece of casual gamer pie instead of appeasing its diehard fans.

Sony was also caught riding Nintendo’s coattails at E3 this year. For a company whose PlayStation3 was well ahead of its time, Sony is struggling towards true innovation, piggybacking instead on what Nintendo is doing. Their new remote, the Move, looks like a souped-up Wii remote and with its banal, predictable titles unveiled at E3, this new hardware did not make the intended splash. While their main focus in the years to come will be the gusty gamble of 3D games — Killzone 3, Grand Turismo 5, and Crisis 2 will all be playable in 3D — Sony could not steal the thunder erupting about Nintendo’s new portable console.

The Nintendo 3DS was not only the best handheld hardware unveiled at E3, it beat anything juggernauts Microsoft and Sony could pump out. Not only is it capable of playing 3D games but it can snap 3D pictures with its dual-lens camera. A built-in accelerometer and gyro-sensor means this little powerhouse and its diverse complement of games will supersede the mind-blowing popularity of the current Nintendo DS.

It would be wonderful to report that the shining light of innovation came from software at E3. No dice. When it comes to console gaming, this next year will simply see tried and true franchises pushing the technological envelope from the safety of their own comfort zones with fewer truly fresh games emerging.

Microsoft unveiled Gears of War 3, Fable 3, and Crackdown 2, which despite their polished, immersive game-play, took a backburner at E3 to Halo: Reach, a prequel that promises to be the pinnacle of the Halo franchise.

Sony, with their upcoming line-up of Little Big Planet 2, Infamous 2 and Portal 2, promises to have a killer year. Most exciting is the return of a game that echoes the old-school glory days of the first PlayStation: Twisted Metal. Since the original’s release 15 years ago, no game has captured its “twisted” take on vehicular mayhem. The return of PlayStation’s oldest franchise is sure to be viscerally beautiful.

From the Wii end of things, titles like Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Epic Mickey might have seasoned gamers wincing but the announcement of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is exciting. And like Sony’s renewal of a classic, Goldeneye 007 resurrects that pristine title from the days of the Nintendo 64, evoking golden memories of friends spending many nights battling through endless, adrenaline-fuelled matches.

Here’s hoping E3 2010, with its tragically trite hardware, is more of a calm-before-the-storm hiccup, rather than a telltale sign that this generation of console gaming is on its last limbs.

When he’s not teaching junior high, St. Albert Catholic High School alumnus Derek Mitchell spends his spare time attached to a video game console.