The first day of E3 2014 was like watching a heavyweight title fight, as both Microsoft and Sony came out swinging with a bevy of new titles. Microsoft made some waves with its Halo announcements, while Sony delivered a one-two punch with its $99 PlayStation TV device and showing of "Infamous: Second Light." We also saw top-shelf games debut from EA (" Dragon Age Inquisition") and Ubisoft ("Assassin's Creed: Unity", "FarCry 4"). Here's our report card for E3 2014 press day.
During the Xbox press event, Microsoft gave the fans what they wanted: games, games and more games. The company filled its hand with aces, kicking off the event with the futuristic "Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare," transitioning to such strong sequels as "Forza Horizon 2," "Dragon Age Inquisition" and "Halo 5."
Speaking of Halo, Microsoft received rousing applause with "Halo: The Master Chief Collection" that bundles Halo titles 1-4 for faithful fans who are playing again, or the first time, on the Xbox One. Throw in new IPs like the bombastic "Sunset Overdrive," the visually stunning "Ori and the Blind Forest," the foreboding "Inside" and the promising (and existing) "Project Spark," and it seemed like Microsoft had dealt itself a full house.
There were a few missteps though, such as the cheesy dialogue audience members were forced to endure during the pre-show interviews on Microsoft's green carpet. The announcement that the popular mobile game "Threes" would be making the jump to console also fell flat. But Microsoft's biggest mistakes were the things it left out.
Outside of the new achievement app, Microsoft didn't mention any new entertainment apps. We also expected to see a few trailers from the robust cache of original shows from Xbox TV, but were left wanting. Even though the company announced two Kinect-compatible titles ("Fantasia Evolved" and "Dance Central Spotlight"), neither title is enough to justify spending the extra $100, leaving the pricey peripheral withering on the vine.
Overall, in trying to please everyone, Microsoft delivered a solid but safe presentation that fell far short of the console's original premise – one box to rule the living room.
Electronic Arts delivered a lively presentation that was a good mix of yearly releases and updated or new IPs. Titles like "Dragon Age Inquisition" were visually impressive, but it was the innovative battle system that enables players to switch between multiple characters that was the true star of the show – whether you're a strategic player or an action gamer, you're covered by "Inquisition."
"The Sims 4" also had a strong showing, adding the interesting wrinkle of shaping your Sims' personality and influencing its emotions. We saw the new innovations put to darkly humorous effect, as the audience watched a Sim literally laugh himself to death.
And the hits kept coming from EA – literally – as the company unveiled the latest entry in its "UFC" series. Not only can gamers play as current stars like Ben Jones, the youngest UFC champion in history, they can also play as mixed martial arts legend, Bruce Lee, who developers call the father of their sport. The company ended the show with a bang, debuting "Battlefield: Hardline." Audience members sat through an action-packed 15-minute demo complete with a bank heist, a white-knuckle car chase and explosions that would make Michael Bay jealous.
For all those new and relatively updated titles, EA is still locked into to its sports titles with their annual release schedules. The problem with annual releases is that you have to tweak the gameplay enough to convince consumers it's worth plunking down $60. In the case of "Madden NFL 15," the company is promising fans a smarter defensive line with the ability to push blockers off and tackle ball carriers with conservative or aggressive force. Compare that to "PGA Tour" and NHL 15," which offer prettier backgrounds with somewhat better physics, and you might start to see the making of a rut.
Oh look, a new "Mass Effect" game and "Star Wars: Battlefront." The thought of either of these two titles would send many fans into throes of esctasy. But not so fast, 5 seconds of prototypical renderings does not a game or a happy fangirl/boy make. The same goes for you, "Mirror's Edge 2." Come back when you have at least a solid minute of gameplay.
EA unveiled some interesting titles, but the yearly release schedule can get a little boring. Also, a tease does not a show-worthy trailer make.
Attending Ubisoft's conference was like sitting through a Hollywood blockbuster, complete with its own celebrity host, comedian Aisha Tyler. There were plenty of oohs, ahhs and "OMG did you see that?" moments. The company started strong, showing off five solid minutes of "FarCry 4." The clip culminated in a bloody meeting with the game's main villian as he stabbed a minion to death. The resulting blood splatter on his shoes was his only regret.
The press conference took an odd, but compelling, turn with the unveiling of "Just Dance 2015." A dance ensemble performed to Pharrell Williams "Happy." Ubisoft also announced "Just Dance Now" a smartphone/tablet app that enables an unlimited number of dancers to join in on the fun, competing to get the highest score.
From there, the event took on a somber mood as the latest trailer from "Tom Clancy's The Division" played. The audience watched as a contagion decimated New York City, turning it into an every-man-for-himself battlefield. However, a group of survivors come together to fight back the lawlessness and take back the city. Speaking of cities in states of unrest, "Assassin's Creed: Unity" showed off its impressive 4-player multiplayer system at the height of the French Revolution.
The feather in Ubisoft's cap was another Tom Clancy title, "Rainbow Six: Siege." Absence definitely makes the heart grow fonder, as the audience went into a frenzy over the tense hostage extraction, complete with the trademark teammate chatter in 5-on-5 team action.
As media days go, Ubisoft made few mistakes. However, the audience reception for the statewide driving bonaza "The Crew" received a tepid response. We're also not sure how many people would tag fitness game "Shape Up" as a must-have title. That push-up contest was epic though.
Ubisoft receives high marks for an interesting variety of games and the ability to add innovative mechanics to otherwise familiar gameplay. However, gimmicks do not a great game make. See "Watch Dogs."
Sony was swinging for the fences at this year's media day. The company showed off a healthy mix of new IPs, remakes and long-awaited sequels. But Sony also showed off notable new hardware, such as the Alpine White PS4 and the $99 PlayStation TV. Sony showed off another eye-popping "Destiny" trailer, the action-horror title "The Order 1886" and a follow up to the fan favorite creative saga in "Little Big Planet 3."
Fans of "Infamous: Second Son, can return to the Seattle, and play as Fetch, the glowing neon Conduit in "Infamous: Second Light," a prequel to the game that stands alone. Groans, squeals and grunts filled the auditorium as "Mortal Kombat X" visceral gameplay filled the screen. The "Arkham Knight" trailer has solidified our need to take the Batmobile for a spin.
In an effort to keep up with the Microsoft Joneses, Sony announced the debut of the comic-based "Powers" series. When it debuts in December, the first episode is free for everyone. However, PlayStation Plus subscribers can watch the entire series for free. PS4 users will also get first crack at the media streaming PlayStation Now platform when it enters open beta July 31, with support for PS3, PS Vita and select Sony TVs to come later in the year.
Sony had plenty of games to show off, but the company is relying too heavily on third-party content and timed exclusives. The company has yet to make a solid case for owning a PlayStation Vita. While we appreciate the Instant YouTube feature, the addition of a YouTube app was long overdue.
For the second year in a row, Sony has managed to beat Microsoft at their own game. Where the Xbox One only showed one facet of its abilities, Sony made a stronger case as to why the PlayStation 4 should be your console of choice.