In 2008, it reached a turning point as it branched out into new IPs like Mirror's Edge and Dead Space, while leaving behind the movie tie-ins and quick cash grabs. At the same time, several other companies — Activision, Ubisoft — started up a few questionable practices of their own.
The modern EA is still a behemoth, and it still takes very calculated steps. It has a few juggernaut franchises — Battlefield, Need for Speed, Madden, and, of course, The Sims — but they've made some smart moves, like hiring Peter Moore. For want of a better term, they are a different EA than the one we were making fun of five years ago.
This year's E3 lineup is one of its strongest in quite a while, albeit also one of their most risk-averse. They're featuring 10 games, eight of which are sequels to historically strong franchises. The ninth is a collaboration with two proven developers, and the 10th is a Star Wars MMORPG from BioWare, which is the unholy union of two different kinds of crack cocaine. EA will make a brain-meltingly insane amount of money in 2010 and 2011 unless the apocalypse hits on or around Aug. 1, which raises the fascinating question of why I'm here at all.
John Riccitiello, EA's CEO, was the MC for EA's pre-E3 conference, which began with a look at the next Need for Speed game: Hot Pursuit. Developed by Criterion Games, Hot Pursuit's big draw is a high degree of online interactivity — you can see when people on your friends list have broken your records and proceed to seek revenge — along with head-to-head, Burnout-style versus mode. One player is the usual brand of high-speed scofflaw outrunning police sedans in a tricked-out Ferrari; the other player is in a police-painted muscle car of his own, trying to find ways to convince Player One to crash and burn.
Next up is Dead Space 2, which moves Isaac Clarke from the Ishimura to a sealed colony called the Sprawl, which looks like Tokyo under a yellow sky. Isaac is up against another crop of corpse-infesting, spiky-toothed necromorphs, which spent most of the sample of gameplay beating the crap out of him. Stasis makes a triumphant return to the game, allowing Isaac to temporarily slow down enemies, and at least one new weapon was shown. This gun, which is presumably called the Javelin, spikes necromorphs to the closest wall, rather like the stakegun from Painkiller. (I don't immediately remember impaling anything in the first Dead Space, and one of the babies that Isaac bashed open dropped an item labeled "Javelin ammo.")
Over the course of the gameplay, Isaac fought a bunch of demon babies in a Unitologist church, then found himself being fired upon from outside by an unseen gunship. This ruptured the window and nearly sucked Isaac outside, but instead, he tumbled through an emergency hatch and wound up facing off against a giant necromorph. Dead Space 2 will arrive in stores on Jan. 5, 2011.
After that, general manager Sean Decker came onstage to show off 24-man multiplayer for the next, subtitle-less Medal of Honor game. Inexplicably, this is not another World War II shooter. Instead, it's set in Afghanistan during recent military actions, with one map set in the ruins of Kabul. Features included the ability to call in an attack via an unmanned drone, which devastated most of the street the players were fighting on.
Medal of Honor's currently set to debut on Oct. 12, 2010, with a multiplayer beta arriving on PC, 360 and PS3 on June 21.
EA then announced its new "Gun Club," a player community that rewards gamers for membership and participation. Members gain early access to EA's betas, as well as in-game unlocks (a sniper rifle in Medal of Honor), news, and word of events. Access to the multiplayer beta for Medal of Honor is also a planned preorder bonus for the game.
In other EA shooter news, they proceeded to show a brief trailer for an upcoming expansion to Battlefield: Bad Company 2. Called simply Vietnam, there's not much that can be said there, as the trailer consists largely of shots of rice paddies and straw huts.
Peter Moore came out next to talk up EA Sports' big offerings for the year. EA Sports MMA is an attempt to make the traditional video game MMA play more about strategy and reaction time than the mastery of a complicated control scheme. After playing UFCa few weeks ago, I can see the merit in a less complex system, but Moore didn't elaborate.
Most of his time was spent discussing the Live Broadcast feature. You will be able to record your own smack-talk sessions and upload them to the Internet, where thousands of people can watch online MMA bouts. The winner of those bouts actually receives real, albeit unspecified, prizes. I was almost thinking Moore was pitching a TV show, some kind of virtual MMA league, but it didn't quite go that far. Yet.
With the introduction of Kinect and PlayStation Move, EA's Active fitness game is getting a cross-platform sequel on Nov. 16. All three versions of EA Sports Active 2 willcome with a high-quality heart rate monitor, which can be used to help you track your progress online. Modes shown included mountain biking, free weights and boxing, each on a different platform.
Finally, Madden 2011's watchwords are "simpler, quicker, and deeper," with matches apparently taking half the time as they once did. Joe Montana came onstage to talk football with Moore, and this is the part where I spaced out. Sorry. It didn't help that the next game in the lineup was The Sims 3, which apparently takes Sim AI to the next level, to the point where even its developers cannot predict what Sims will do in a given situation.
Crysis 2 was next, which made me sit up and take notice. It's coming to the 360, which helps with the issue of finding a machine that will actually run the game, and is being pitched to consumers as a sandbox-style FPS. Set in New York City, you can apparently explore the entire town and blow up robot aliens in whatever method works best for you.
The gameplay shown involved a pitched battle in what was left of Grand Central Station, using the nanosuit's cloaking device, a mounted gun, a rocket launcher, and C4 charges to take out a particularly large bipedal battle tank. Independently of the fight, a nearby air strike took out a skyscraper overlooking the train station, forcing all the surviving humans and the player to evacuate before the building crashed on their heads. It's a big, loud, graphically spectacular FPS, as you might expect from the name.
Crysis 2 will ship in a full 3-D version, requiring 3-D glasses to get the full effect. They showed off the 3-D trailer, which looks ... well, honestly, it looks a little generic. We're not exactly hurting for examples of armored space marines fighting pitched infantry battles in the ruins of a modern city.
On the other hand, there's Bulletstorm, the result of a collaboration between Epic Games and the Polish developer People Can Fly. The (para-)phrase that leapt out at me during the conference was that it makes you the "conductor of a blood symphony"; sort of like the obscure game Total Overdose, you have a wide variety of ways to kill opponents, many of which involve an energy tether that can be used to throw people into the air, and you're rewarded for chaining together as many of them as possible.
The kill methods I saw during the briefing included Vertigo, for knocking people off of cliffs; Bullet Kick, for kicking someone into the air and shooting him before he lands; Bad Touch, which seemed to involve kicking dudes in the face, thus propelling them into live wires or open flame; Fire in the Hole, obtained by blowing up an enemy's fuel tank; and Full Throttle, for running over somebody. The entire time, your character's swearing like a drunken trucker. It doesn't sound like much now that I've written it down, but in action, it's entertaining as hell, and I have a lot of faith in People Can Fly after I've spent way too much time playing Painkiller. This might wind up being my game to watch this year.
The final point of EA's show this year was to mention that Star Wars: The Old Republic is playable on the E3 show floor. All players will be receiving their own starships in OldRepublic, and the PVP system will involve a battleground set on Alderaan. A new trailer, "Hope," depicts a bloody battle between what's left of a Republic squad and a full team of Empire troops, including a Sith Lord.
All in all, it's difficult to imagine any of these games not succeeding. The entire press conference was a fait accompli; we, as the gaming press, could've come out of there with unquestionable proof that the games cause epilepsy and spontaneous human combustion, and they'd still sell like mad bastards. I have nothing more to say on the topic except that I want to play Bulletstorm.