E3'03: Pre-Game Blowout part 1
E3 2003 is less than a month away. The time for gamers to find out what their favorite game makers have planned for the next year, and especially for the fall, is upon us. What should we expect? Any surprises? Who will walk away King of E3?
Last fall the current pecking order of consoles was set: PlayStation 2, Xbox, and lastly Gamecube. This comes as some surprise because the last two E3's have been dominated by Nintendo. While GC may have fallen to last, it's not out. The only thing certain is PS2's HUGE lead over the other two. Will Nintendo once again rule E3? Or will someone else step to the plate and garner the most 'wows' from gamers? In general though, E3 is a good indicator of what to expect from these three consoles over the next 12 months. Let's look at just a few of things we might see at this year's E3, May 14th - 16th.
•• Sony ••
There probably won't be too many surprises out of Sony's camp, so instead expect them to focus on their huge upcoming blockbusters. This fall will be the first in two years that they don't have a Grand Theft Auto to sell truckloads of systems (not to say that they won't keep selling PS2's, just no new version). That said, this coming year could be PS2's best lineup yet. At E3 Sony is sure to push games like Gran Turismo 4, Final Fantasy XI, and Final Fantasy X-2 along with sequels to the popular Jak & Daxtor, Ratchet & Clank, Arc the Lad, and Siphon Filter. These alone are such huge games that PS2's dominance is sure to continue. Last year Xbox Live did wonders for Microsoft, so look for Sony to put quite the focus on online games this year. GT4 and FFXI alone should help push online console gaming into more homes. There should also be Resident Evil Online, Bomberman Online, EA Sports (Madden, Live, ect.), and many more to keep online gamers busy. One question that will hopefully be answered more concretely is how much will it cost us to play FFXI online.
As usual, 3rd parties are big for Sony. Besides Square's new Final Fantasy's, there should be Konami's Castlevania and DDRMAX2, and from Capcom; Onimusha 3, Maximo 2, and MegaMan X7. Another set of games certain to interest gamers are the old-school Sega games just announced for PS2: Vectorman and Altered Beast. I'm sure many are eagerly awaiting to see what these games are like. There is also a strong possibility we will see footage of MGS3. Don't expect it in playable form or to be out anytime soon though. What you also shouldn't expect is the rumored RE0 for PS2. Yes sales on GC disappointed Capcom, but the exclusive contract with Nintendo probably still holds, at least for this next year.
On the hardware end, Sony may release more information on the 'new' model of PS2, including whether or not we will see it over here in the States. The biggest difference is that it will play DVD-R's (and will no longer have a firewire port). We may also hear information on a price drop. With PS2's selling so well it's unlikely, but if Xbox drops their price, Sony may do it just to 'one up them'.
•• Xbox ••
Their lineup of games in a way is a mystery. We should see the long awaited Fable ("Project Ego") and see if the hype, and wait, was worth it. We should see if Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic really is the best Star Wars game yet. We should see Tecmo's awaited next installment in the classic Ninja Gaiden series. We should also see Halo 2. The problem for Xbox here is that Halo 2 is no longer slated for release in 2003. I think both PS2 and GC breathed a sigh of relief when they heard that. Still, Xbox could have a very strong lineup with these games plus the likes of BC, Arx Fatalis, and Brute Force.
One major question to be asked is the future of Xbox Live. For starters, how much will it cost gamers once their initial one year $50 'trial' is up? Another is to show that Live will get the games it deserves. In recent months all we have heard from developers is how much MS controls Live with an iron fist. Right now EA isn't even going to make their prized EA Sports franchise online on Xbox. The super popular Counter-Strike should help, but compared to PS2, Xbox's online offering doesn't seem to be nearly as strong.
If Xbox has a surprise for us it will most likely come in the form of Rare. Since MS acquired Rare last fall, we have heard nothing from them. Kameo was supposed to see an early 2003 release (since it was completed for GC just needed to be ported over), but we have heard nothing about it. Rumors maintain that MS asked Rare to move their resources to Perfect Dark 0, partially to offset Halo 2's delay. So we could see that at E3. Other possible games are Conker (which has been rumored to be online), Ghoulies, Banjo-Kazooie 3, and the reworked version of Donkey Kong Racing rumored to be Sabreman Stampede (yes that's the same Sabreman from the 8-bit days). What you shouldn't expect are the rumored Killer Instinct and Battletoads. It does seem Rare is interested in doing these games, but the rumor hints that they may be in the early stages for launch with Xbox Next (Xbox 2).
The last big thing to come out of Xbox's camp at E3 is whether or not Xbox will see a price drop. Some reports have sighted a drop to as low as $99 (highly unlikely), but there is a good chance it will drop to around $150. Which in turn could cause similar price drops with the other consoles, maybe. We should also see what the newly (and smaller) designed Xbox will look like (Xbox S?).
•• Nintendo ••
For GC there is no question about it, its lineup IS a mystery. There are a few known big Nintendo games like Mario Kart and Pikmin 2, but little is known of these even. Therefore, this E3 might see a major change in strategy for Nintendo. A big focus of E3, if not the biggest, for GC might be on 3rd party games. Nintendo has seen how much GTA has done for PS2, and with developers always complaining that Nintendo's games overshadow theirs (maybe if their games were as of high quality that wouldn't be a problem;), 2003 could be the year of the 3rd party on GC. So I wouldn't count on any major surprise game out of Nintendo. We might see what Mario 128 is all about, what the new Donkey Kong is, and maybe even a rumored next Zelda based off the original E3 footage (ie not cel shaded). But even if we do, they won't be coming out this year (at least not here in the US) and so the focus will not be on them. Other games to look for though are Star Fox Armada (Namco-Nintendo), Mario Tennis/Golf, F-Zero (Sega-Nintendo), and hopefully at least one game from Silicon Knights (Too Human anyone?).
With the focus on 3rd parties, what might they show off? From Sega we shall see the DC port of Sonic Adventure, but we should also see Sonic Team's new project, Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg. We might also see a totally new Sonic and AM2's Virtua Fighter Quest. A big focus should be on Resident Evil 4 and some of the so-called 'Capcom 5': Dead Phoenix, Killer 7, PN.03, and Viewtiful Joe. Soul Calibur 2 with Link in the GC version could be big. But the biggest focus might be on two games. First, Square's Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, and second, we might see what Metal Gear (new or rerelease?) the GC will be getting (MGS: Twin Snakes?).
There have been many rumors regarding the sequel to Metroid Prime coming out this year. Retro is very likely working on the sequel, but could they really get one out this year already? And if so, would it matter? They could just reuse Prime's engine, but would it then feel like so many other generic 'sequels'? Hopefully if it is there, it's just a video teaser of a game a ways off yet. And if Retro isn't working on this, what are they working on?
Obviously there should be a good number of GBA games including Advance Wars 2. A big push here might be on GBA-GC "connectivity". Expect to see many more games use this 'gimmick', including games from 3rd parties like EA. Pokemon Box (an 'add-on' for the two new Pokemon games on GBA) will be shown which requires the GBA to play. But I think we all hope this 'connection' isn't too much of a focus.
On the hardware side, the biggest news might be LAN. (This of course allowing you to hook-up a number of GC's, and TVs, to play multiplayer games.) The biggest surprise about this might be that it's wireless (wi-fi). Could be very interesting if true. But almost certainly we will see Mario Kart using LAN is some way (rumor has it you can connect 2 GC's for 8-player racing). I guess the big question then is how will GameSpy use this to play the games over the internet? And if it's not easier (and more fun) then what they did for Xbox LAN games like Halo, will anyone care? Of course we might also hear of a GC pricedrop, but dont expect one unless Xbox does, and even then Nintendo might be fearful of dropping GC's price to a point where it could lose money off the sales of GCs.
And for those still hoping Nintendo will show off online games, stop. Nintendo themselves will not be showing off any online games (unless they have been flat out lying to us all, doubtful) and most likely it seems they won't ever (you'll have to wait for GC2 sadly enough). It is possible that we could see a 2nd party online game, but that's highly doubtful. There may very well be 1 or 2 3rd party online games (Capcom's multiplatform Ghosts & Goblins and maybe one from Zoonami), but at best it will be 1 or 2. GC owners will just have to learn that besides the super rare game like PSO, GC is staying offline this generation.
•• Multi-Platform ••
Besides everything mentioned above, there are a number of very big multiplatform games to look out for. Blizzard's Starcraft Ghost. Namco's long awaited Soul Calibur 2 (with Link in the GC version, Spawn on Xbox's, and Heihach for PS2's). Silent Hill 3 (PS2/XB) that will supposedly reinvent the survival-horror genre. From Midway there is Spy Hunter 2 and the hyped ESPionage. Can you say Tony Hawk 5? Also don't forget all the EA Sports games (maybe even Big's SSX Tricky 2?). And who knows what else may show up, or become multiplatform (Sonic?). Look for more and more games headed for 2 of the 3 consoles.
Also watch to see how the newly merged Square Enix fairs at the show. Or if there are more signs of the supposed Sega Namco merger.
•• Outlook ••
If recent E3's are any indication, most news will come out before E3 in the coming month and E3 itself will be left for them to show off what they have planned. But who knows, they may have a surprise or two they will leave to announce at E3.
The two biggest things to watch are first, how well is online gaming received? Xbox Live did well last fall, but will it continue? Can PS2's online games increase its online userbase, or will it remain just a small part of PS2? Will then PS2's online games like FFXI have poor sales? Will Nintendo's offline stance hurt it or will it make no big difference in sales? This will probably be the biggest question answered this fall. Are online games already here on consoles, or is it still just for the hardcore gamers?
The other is Nintendo. Nintendo has the most to lose since it is in 3rd place and its sales in 2002 were 44% off what they predicted. If this continues, Nintendo may once again have to start looking to the next generation to regain its selling power. Last fall Nintendo pinned its hopes on a few games like Sunshine, RE0, and Metroid; but their sales were very disappointing and a big reason GC slipped in sales. This fall Nintendo is taking a page from Sony and seems to be pushing well known 3rd party franchise games, along with a few of their own, rather then have a blockbuster Mario or Zelda. Will it pay off? Or will bigger 3rd party games on other consoles outshine them? Or will Nintendo shock everyone with a new game? Because Nintendo is in such a precarious position, it could be the best fall yet for them and the best of any console. You know the saying, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. We shall have to wait and see.
Many questions will be answered at E3... but I'm sure many more will pop up.