Troy Rawhiti-Forbes reports back from the cutting edge of gaming at E3.
The annual Electronic Entertainment Expo is where the gaming industry gathers to share the latest news and experiences in the world of interactive entertainment.
This year took the drama to HBO levels, with a power struggle between the new Xbox and PlayStation consoles almost threatening to overshadow the fun stuff.
An actual game of thrones
Sony easily won the console battle when it turned its PlayStation media conference into a public flaying of Microsoft over its lack of clarity on Xbox One's game licensing policies and internet connection requirements.
The PlayStation 4, Sony promised, would give gamers what they wanted right now: freedom to share and offload their game discs as they pleased. Microsoft, whose own policies for Xbox One gamers aren't nearly as evil and restrictive as naysayers have made them out to be, polished their own floor and executed an unseemly glide across the lino.
Early this morning, Microsoft executed an Xbox 180 in response to the criticism by announcing that it would not require Xbox One owners to have an internet connection to play offline games, and that they'd be able to trade, share, and sell their game discs as they liked.
For getting the information out immediately, PlayStation 4 easily takes round one. Round two begins when the consoles reach the shelves. Xbox One is set for a November release in New Zealand at $749. The PS4 will retail for $649 at a date yet to be confirmed.
A Wii problem
The Nintendo Wii U launched late last year but is still stuck at the start line. At E3, the granddaddies of modern console gaming in effect said "We got nothin'," which would be all right if they were in a strong position. The Wii U is tanking and the new line-up sent to rescue it includes the eighth iteration of Mario Kart, another Donkey Kong Country title, and an HD remake of Zelda: The Wind Waker from 2002. The company's reputation as a developer of legacy titles is all but assured now and though things aren't so dire as to warrant a shift to software only as Sega did, Nintendo can't continue to wound itself with its own hubris and expect to survive.
The handheld 3DS is faring better, with the already-announced Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and Animal Crossing: New Leaf (available now) capturing imaginations worldwide.
Give that game an Oscar
Announced at E3 last year, Quantic Dream's Beyond: Two Souls is shaping up as a potential game of the year. It is scheduled for release on PlayStation 3 in October but executive producer Guillaume de Fondaumiere told TimeOut it's neither entirely a PS3 game nor exactly a PS4 game at this point. It's looking like a superbly paced and deeply emotional experience that might leave its forerunner, Heavy Rain, far behind.
Apparently David Cage's 2000-page script was so emotional that it brought stars Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe to tears. Yes, I said script. I said stars. Get used to this. After LA Noire, Beyond became only the second game to receive recognition at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Don't scuff the paintwork
Forza 5 (Xbox One) and Driveclub (PS4) are top picks not just for being great driving games but for being perhaps the titles best able to demonstrate their consoles' new controllers and cloud-based community interactions. I wasn't much of a driving game fan but both of these made a believer out of me.
Calling Michael Bay
The first-person shooter market gets more and more saturated every year and the industry has to work harder than ever to halt the spread of FPS Fatigue Syndrome, a condition I just made up but, nevertheless, expect to see in psychiatry manuals very soon.
343 Industries wisely chose to give players only the slightest hint of the Master Chief's next adventure - we don't even know what the next Halo game will be called when it goes on sale for Xbox One in 2014, but we'll have plenty of time in which to speculate over why the Chief was hanging out in the desert, wearing a cloak and looking like the universe's most menacing Jawa.
This year though, Halo fans will be served by Spartan Assault, a top-down mobile game for Windows 8 tablets and phones that looks like a modernised version of a standard 1987 arcade shooter.
The Xbox conference closed with the announcement of Titanfall, an FPS for the One, 360, and PC that brings giant battle mechs into the fray. It's not wholly original, but from what I've seen so far, it is "Holy crap!" in terms of its cool gameplay mechanics and highly-polished graphics.
At the Electronic Arts booth, Battlefield 4 created a choke point at the front door of E3's South Hall. The multiplayer sessions, which included dozens of live players battling simultaneously, were so popular that hopeful fighters had to book first thing in the morning, even for late-afternoon sessions. Two words: worth it.
Call of Duty: Ghosts takes a new angle on the top war franchise but needs to do more than introduce a new kind of drone (one that looks and acts a lot like a German shepherd) and an underwater level to distinguish itself from the pack.
Bungie must know something about pressure. After handing Halo to 343 Industries, the talented team got to work on their new game, Destiny. A full reveal at E3 proved it has its predecessor's spirit and the features we were permitted to see were enough to have observers drooling.
If the finished product doesn't revolutionise the FPS genre it won't be for lack of trying.
Fighting a good fyght
Crytek almost stole the show at the Xbox briefing when they unveiled Ryse: Son of Rome. The swords-and-sandals slash-'em-up became a quick and firm favourite at E3 with its rich graphics, fresh fighting mechanics and strong adherence to historical accuracy. As a commander of a unit in the Roman army under the loopy emperor Nero, you and your men will be limited to the standard arms of the period: a short sword, a spear, a shield, and the support of the men at your side.
Media Molecule's Tearaway is the original title that PlayStation Vita owners have been waiting for. Fun for all ages, the poke and pull adventure from the team behind LittleBigPlanet is not only all-new but respects the handheld console's user by squeezing in not a single function - that I've seen so far - that doesn't use the rear touch screen for its own sake.
On the Xbox platforms and on Windows 8 look out for Project Spark. It will let you create your own worlds, develop all sorts of games and adventures within them, and mould everything to your liking. It could be a must-have for budding game designers of any age or skill level.
E3 was a world-class bunfight at the hardware level, but if you take a deep breath and look around, you'll see some fantastic games on the horizon. It's time to get excited.
Troy Rawhiti-Forbes travelled to E3 in Los Angeles courtesy of Xbox.