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E3 2013: The winners and losers so far

Praising the best, naming and shaming the worst

With the press conferences done, Tim Clark pats the conquering heroes on the back and hands out wooden spoons to those who made a mess

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Winners!

PlayStation 4

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Cast your mind back to the conference and ask yourself what, for the first hour or so, actually stood out? The rebadged Final Fantasy XIV perhaps. Or maybe the admirable support for indie devs. (Seriously, try Don't Starve now - it's amazing.) The truth is, though, that Sony's showpiece had largely been a damp squib, freighted down by largely dull talk about PS3 and Vita, and men on stage blathering on about what the wider Sony group could offer. At times, it was openly boring. Then, almost at the death, Tretton sprang to life, coming off the ropes, Ali against Foreman style, to deliver a triple combo that instantly knocked Microsoft's Xbox One on its ass.

No DRM to prevent used game trading. BAM! No need to connect to the internet. BOSH! Priced a full $100 cheaper. LEAVE HIM, JACK, HE'S HAD ENOUGH!

[Editor note: Sony has since confirmed that PS4 pre-owned DRM is "up to third parties"]

It was a genuine mic drop moment delivered in front of a crowd that hadn't seen brutality on this scale since Game Of Thrones' recent nuptials. Such was the devastation, that he even got away with slipping in the fact PS4 players will need a PS Plus subscription in order to access online multimplayer without much complaint.

For people at a press event to be chanting SO-NY! SO-NY! is both embarrassing and telling. Microsoft hoped to make the furore around its terms of use policies a non-argument by blinding their audience with a meteor shower of exclusive games. But here's the news: it is an argument, people do care, and Microsoft has lost the debate. In fact, Microsoft has been handed its rear end.

To borrow from Google's mantra, all Sony had to do was: "don't be evil", and it won with ease, despite a slightly dull software showing and a hardware reveal that was uncomfortably close to the Xbox One's aesthetic - albeit sleeker and, we think, more stylish.

The advantage of being scheduled second for Sony was obvious. Its execs were able to watch the Microsoft conference, see that the company hadn't rowed back on DRM and had a higher price, then wait to deliver the coup de grace later. In doing so, Sony has taken a calculated risk that the likes of Activision, EA and Ubisoft won't abandon the platform. It is a gamble which already looks likely to pay off heavily. Last night's victory will linger in the memory as one of the classic E3 moments.


The Witcher III

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Presumably it's a result of so much cross-generation development going on, but the problem with some of the next-gen games shown so far is they don't look like much of a generational leap at all. Not so The Witcher III, which demonstrates the kind of results that can be achieved by focusing purely on PC, PS4 and Xbox One. In short, it's stunning, and with Bethesda currently focused on launching The Elder Scrolls Online, and likely to return to Fallout after that, there's a genuine opportunity for CD Projekt's series to steal a march in the fantasy RPG space. Which, thanks to a lot of Game of Thrones fans eager to perform virtual regicides, is set to be a very lucrative space for whichever studio gets the sexy/gritty vibe just right.


60 frames-per-second obsessives

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Having a buttery smooth framerate on the last gen consoles invariably involved visual trade-offs elsewhere, but it's important to note the impact which playing a game running at 60fps has in terms of how it feels. There's a reason why players gush about how 'smooth' and 'responsive' the likes of Modern Warfare 3, Street Fighter 4 and Gran Turismo 5 feel - and framerate is a big part of it. So: it's heartening to hear that graphically intensive games, and from series which haven't hit 60fps in the past, are already being benchmarked for it on next-gen. Battlefield 4, Forza 5 and the next Halo have all already been confirmed as supporting 60fps, and the latter will also run in 1080p. tl;dr version - we're going to need new eyes.


Mirror's Edge 2

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The final screen of the trailer reads: "Coming... When it's ready", but few would complain about waiting a little longer given that until now doubts persisted over whether EA would ever bankroll DICE returning to its critically-acclaimed but commercially-ignored first-person free runner. The trailer told us little, other than exactly what we needed to know: it's back, and it looks beautiful. Indeed, the gorgeous, clean, day-after-tomorrow design is a vital reminder of what next-gen engines like Frostbite 3 can do when used to depict something other than grim perma-war.


The Division

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It was testament to how fresh The Division felt that seeing the Tom Clancy prefix appear on the logo at the end felt like something of a letdown. Perhaps fresh isn't the right word to describe a post-flu pandemic world, anyway. (The apocalypse, and the kind of people who appear on National Geographic's Doomsday Preppers secretly hoping it will happen, are very much on-trend in gaming right now - see also The Last Of Us and Call Of Duty: Ghosts.) Although still ostensibly a cover shooter, the open world and RPG elements, combined with some fantastic sound design and visuals that actually looked like a generational leap, meant that The Division easily stole what had been a fairly underwhelming Ubi show.


CG studios

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Master Chief in a poncho, cars sashaying around each other in liquid silk slo-mo for The Crew, Dragons acting all dragony in Dragon Age 3: Inquisition - not since the arrival of the PSone, with its then voluminous CD storage, has there been such a golden era for CG nonsense. And look: there's nothing wrong with a little bit of conceptual sizzle, but when it's overlong or comes at the expense of actual gameplay, doesn't it all feel a little pointless? After all, a good CG trailer for a next-gen game looks much the same as a good CG trailer for a current gen one - and neither will tell you much about what the thing might actually be like to play. Still, nice work if you're a high-end animator specialising in space marines and/or booby sorceresses.


The Order 1886

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Further proof, were it required, that gamers are thirsty for new franchises. Not that you'd trust anyone who's watched the trailer to tell you exactly what this PS4 exclusive co-production from Sony's Santa Monica Studio and Ready At Dawn actually involves. But hey, they had us at steampunk Victoriana with a whiff of Arthurian myth, a splash of Jack The Ripper (note the Whitechapel sign), and werewolves. Always with the werewolves.


Cars! So many cars!

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Of the glut of new driving games, Ubisoft's The Crew looks the most intersting. There's little not to like about a co-op focused, sandbox racer from a development team which includes alumni from the Test Drive: Unlimted team. Driving games always enjoy a renaissance during generational crossovers, presumably as developers revert to giving trusted formulas a spruce up. The obvious paradigm this time is Burnout: Paradise, with Driveclub and Need For Speed: Rivals both taking heavy inspiration from Criterion's pioneering social features. Factor in a new Forza for Xbox One, and Gran Turismo holding the fort on PS3, and there can seldom have been a better time for motorsports fans. A nagging doubt, remains, though over whether there are enough of those to support so many franchises? To put it another way: Are publishers green-lighting driving games because they're what gamers want, or because they're what certain developers know how to make?


South Park: The Stick Of Truth
Why use a lengthy demo when one perfect fart gag will do just fine?

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Battlefield 4

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Hey, if you're determined to make a 'ghost train' shooter in which bleeding edge examples of graphics porn pop up in front of the player, you might as well make it a ridiculously good looking one. And that's what Battlefield 4's single-player will be: the Derek Zoolander of FPS games. Dumb, but in a beautiful, loveable, fighter-jets-sliding-off-an-aircraft-carrier sort of way. As for the multiplayer, well, judging by the demo at EA's conference, it's set to have depth to match the spectacle. One thing to note though: it's remarkable how unacceptable that collapsing building footage would have been even a few years ago. But if you're looking for a more thoughtful take on warfare...


Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
There probably isn't another AAA developer working who'd take on (or be allowed to make a game about) themes as thorny as race, blood diamonds, and child soldiers, with Afghanistan amongst its settings. Yet with Kojima you feel assured the results will be thought-provoking, fundamentally humanist, and if we're being honest probably a bit confusing to anyone who hasn't swallowed two decades of MGS lore. Big ideas aside, let's also note how much fun The Phantom Pain looks. From the Red Dead-inspired horse riding to the slew of almost certainly deranged new characters, Metal Gear is always a smorgasbord of inspiration and madness. Frankly, with a dearth of new ideas on show elsewhere, just the chance to dive into Kojima's latest brainspill is exciting enough.

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Shuhei Yoshida

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The Nicest Man In Games wouldn't have been high on the list of people we expected to deliver one of the E3's finest ever 'shots fired!' moments, but Sony's President of Worldwide Studios delivered an impeccable piece of executive trolling with his 22-second video guide to sharing PS4 games. Shut your eyes for a second and just imagine Microsoft's Don Mattrick watching it in his hotel room.


Mario
Nintendo's mascot remains the only plumber people are actually happy to see arrive in an emergency. Okay, so we didn't get a sequel to Galaxy, but Super Mario 3D World looked plenty charming, while Mario Kart 8 appears to be the biggest refresh the series has had in ages, and Super Smash Bros looked like - well, Smash Bros, but that's all it really needed to do. (Note to Capcom: please stop trying to make Mega Man happen. It's over.) Asking whether or not these games, which aren't going to be out as soon as many Nintendophiles would have been hoping, will be enough to 'save' Wii U is rather missing the point. The reality is that Nintendo's console is inevitably going to retrench around a core of first party games and an even slimmer range of third party exclusives.

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For the bedrock of Nintendo support, that will equate to a decent offering. For everyone else, unless Nintendo bottles lightning again and finds an equivalent to a Wii Fit or a Brain Training, the Wii U is likely to pass by unremarked. But dry those eyes: Nintendo's Smaug-style cash pile will dwindle slightly, though perhaps not cripplingly if the 3DS keeps performing at the current pace, and the true believers will get to play some great games. In the games industry the two stories that are easiest to tell are: unequivocal triumph and humiliating catastrophe. Look for the truth somewhere in between.


Titanfall and Destiny

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I dunno, you wait ages for an epic sci-fi shooter focused around persistent multiplayer to come along, then two arrive at once. The rivalry between Bungie's multiplatform Destiny and Respawn's Xbox One exclusive Titanfall looks set to be very closely fought based on the first gameplay of both. Only time will tell which of these elite new shooters is the Armageddon to the other's Deep Impact.


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