E3 2015: EA Press Conference

Let’s be frank, EA’s showing at E3 last year was abysmal. Wheeling out a collection of concept footage and tech demos does not a press conference make. This year, while an improvement, only highlights that EA needs to modernise their stage shows a little, and guys handle the sport differently, please.

They opened strong with a tantalising glimpse of some Mass Effect, now subtitled Andromeda, albeit only in short pre-rendered trailer form with a Johnny Cash soundtrack. It didn’t give away any real details, except for a dude in N7 armour and the Mako looking to make a return. Now confirmed to be Holiday 2016, that’s all we got this time around.

Speeding ahead, they showed footage of the next Need For Speed game, simply called Need for Speed. Like most of the games talked about at the presentation, running on the Frostbite engine gives the game a really sharp look, and the level of tuning and customisation on offer looks genuinely impressive. Personally, the coolest moment was the showing of FMV based story sequences that transitioned effortlessly into in-engine scenes. It needs to be seen to really appreciate. It’s a dumb little thing that really worked.

While we expected an update on Star Wars: The Old Republic, their now Free to Play MMO, what we got was pretty surprising. They appear to be returning to their KOTOR font of storytelling with a new expansion, Knights of the Fallen Empire, coming free to subscribers. They evoked traditional BioWare storytelling as a feature multiple times, really emphasizing that this is the closest you will get to a new KOTOR. It does provoke the pure speculation that this is the game that Amy Henning of Naughty Dog fame left her previous company for. For me, I was hoping it would be something that I would actually be interested in playing, but I’m sure that it would make some people happy, and might actually bring people over to their game

Since the EA Partners program imploded in on itself, I didn’t expect them to have any mention of indies, but I was pleasantly surprised with the announcement of Unravel. A game made by a team of 16, it’s a puzzle platformer with a gorgeous visual style. The Creative Director appeared on stage, possibly as the most nervous person I have ever seen at E3, and produced the main character Yarny out of his coat pocket and told a charming story of how he conceived the game while camping. It’s a puzzle platformer, but it looks gorgeous and charming, definitely one to check out.

I checked exactly what had been put in my drink when a dude in a superhero zombie costume burst onto stage and pointed at the crowd getting corralled backstage and hopefully taken out the back and shot. Turns out it wasn’t a hallucination, and actually the introduction to a new Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare game, with the Zombies as playable characters. It continues to look charming and will probably play as well as the last one did.

This is the point where the conference got infuriating. What started as a promising quick blast of the yearly “here’s how this years sports games are better”, thinking that it would get it out of the way and back to cool shit. Alas, it was not to be. They instead decided to interlace the sports nonsense with stuff that I wanted to see, the whole time dangling the carrot of Star Wars gameplay in the lower third. The EA presser ran over by 20 minutes, and most of that was taken up by them bring out Pelé (yes that Pelé) to not actually talk about FIFA, and appeared to just be there because the interviewer just really wanted to meet him. I actually couldn’t tell you a single thing they talked about. The saving grace was that during the NBA16 section, we did get to meet “Tha Hoop Gawd” (sic) who invited us to “up your swag” and “get fresh like the Hoop Gawd”.

No thank you Mr. God, I shall pass.

At long last we got to see some Mirrors Edge in action, and that thing is glorious. Now subtitled “Catalyst”, it focuses on the origin story of Faith in a corporation controlled world. Running on Frostbite, the game is fully open world with Assassins Creed style tasks dotted around the world. Promising no levels, no loading and no guns, the game looks completely gorgeous and exactly what I want to see from that game.

To round off the conference, we finally get to see gameplay of Star Wars: Battlefront and I could practically hear the hardcore Star Wars fans squealing in joy. Come to think of it, it might actually have just been Calum next to me making the noises. It showed an amazing recreation of the Battle of Hoth, complete with AT-ATs, Snowspeeders taking them down with tow cables and all the sound effects and visuals you want to see. It genuinely looks and sounds impressive, taking what looks like the best bits of the Battlefield games translated to this universe. Super excited to see what happens.

No real surprises from EA, and that’s a little disappointing. I’m glad that Mirror’s Edge looks like it’s on track, and Unravel looks awesome, but they need to start handling their more showy elements a lot better. Everyone else appears to be valuing slick presentation over rolling out stars, and EA needs to start playing catch up. Bringing out someone like Pele for 10 solid minutes is ridiculous enough, but having him not talk about the game he is supposedly here to promote is downright insane and a waste of everyone’s time. The only result is that it shows weakness on their part. Here’s hoping this improves next year.