Clash of the titans

The gloves were off at this year’s E3 Expo, as Sony and Microsoft lifted the veil on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles.

There were few surprises from the PS4 reveal: a black box, reminiscent of the PlayStation 2. Nevertheless, in the battle for the hearts of gamers, not to mention the multi-billion dollar games industry, Sony commanded and conquered.

Xbox One and PS4 are like brothers from a different mother. Both sport AMD graphics processors and Blu-Ray Drives. Both have motion-sensor cameras. The Xbox One’s Kinect transforms the console into an integrated entertainment system. Users bark orders at Kinect to change channels and pause gameplay. Kinect’s 3D scanner recognises faces and voices. All very impressive, as long as you don’t mind a nosy robot sharing your living room space.

Both consoles offload a portion of processing and memory to web-based servers in the cloud, giving games extra graphical oomph. PS4 games can stream direct from the PS3’s Gaikai service, a creation of Co Down-born boffin Dave Perry.

Gaming’s influence on the entertainment industry — game sales now surpass cinema box office — continues as Sony has lined up a smorgasbord of exclusive film and TV content for PS4. Microsoft, meanwhile, is teaming up with Steven Spielberg for a Halo TV series.

After E3, Microsoft withdrew its Xbox One restrictions on second hand games and requirements for a constant online connection. This levelled the playing field, although the price difference — €399 for PS4, €499 for Xbox One — suggests Sony’s black box could be first choice for Santa’s stocking this Christmas.

Watch Dogs PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, PC, PS 3, Xbox 360 (Ubisoft)

Everyone is connected. Everyone is open to surveillance. Ubisoft’s tech-noir thriller feeds into the paranoid notion of an interconnected world where every device can be hacked.

You play Aiden Pearce, a whizz-kid spy roaming the streets of an open world Chicago. Hack CCTV cameras to spy on opponents, listen to mobile phone conversations, open electronic locks, disrupt traffic signals, even swipe cash from ATM’s. The city is your playground in Watch Dogs, an open world adventure that plays like Grand Theft Auto with a PhD, and looks like a million dollars. Top dog of the next generation.

* Release: November

Titanfall Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC (Microsoft)

Giant robots, jetpacks, and ridiculous weaponry. What’s not to love about Titanfall, an Xbox One exclusive from the crowd who brought us Call of Duty? At this year’s E3, multiplayer war game Battlefield 3 set geek hearts aflutter, but Titanfall introduced something new. In a futuristic frontier, players become elite assault pilots on large open plan battlefields, soaring above the world like angry pigeons. The ace up the sleeve? Agile, armoured 24-foot tall Titans. Slip into the driver’s seat and bring out big guns like the Vortex Blocker, a magnetic shield that stops missiles in mid air and lobs them back at the enemy. Big, bold, and brilliant, the Titans make Star Wars AT-AT’s look like Bananas in Pyjamas.

Release: 2014

Forza Motorsport 5 Xbox One (Microsoft)

Microsoft’s next generation car simulator has plenty of junk in the trunk — it is arguably the best looking racing game ever produced. Forza 5 delivers 1080p resolution at 60 frames per second, so the driving is smoother than margarine. The graphics, lighting and sound effects, are so realistic that the game should come with a peripheral safety belt. Featured cars include Aston Martin, McLaren, and Lamborghini, so players can live out their vehicular fantasies before commuting to work in their 2001 Ford Focus.

* Release: November

Super Mario 3D World Wii U (Nintendo)

Nintendo kept an unusually low profile at E3, stepping aside for Sony and Microsoft’s battle of wills. A few of the titles for the flagging Wii U console did not go unnoticed. Nostalgia geeks were charmed by Legend of Zelda Wind Waker HD, a remake of the GameCube classic. Super Mario 3D World sticks to Nintendo’s failsafe ethos. Nintendo fans can expect familiar blue skies, pipes, angry mushrooms, and the sweet tinkle of coin collection from the most famous moustached plumber on the planet.

* Release: December

Mad Max Xbox One, PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, PC (Warner Bros)

Numerous Irish voices were heard over the crowd at E3. In particular, Belfast boys Ian Shiels and Pete McKay from Iceland-based CCP Games, who are heralding the return of virtual reality with a science-fiction space shooter. Drogheda’s John Fuller, producer at Sweden’s Avalanche Studios, brought us back to earth with Mad Max, based on the Mel Gibson movie trilogy about a man losing his marbles in a post-apocalyptic world. Players drive through a dust blown desert, upgrading their vehicle as the game progresses. Mad Max is just in time for a Hollywood reboot of the series (starring Tom Hardy) and features innovative vehicle combat, stealth sequences, and a grumpy protagonist.

* Release: 2014

Thief PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, PC (Square Enix)

Theft is not advisable, but when performed in the guise of a medieval scoundrel you can’t help but pick a pocket or two. A reboot of a 1990’s classic, Thief is a first-person thriller in which the protagonist’s hands do the talking. Sneak around gorgeously-designed urban environments, lock-picking, assassinating, and robbing the wealthy of their golden goblets. The night-time sets are moodier than a Nick Cave album. Dogs bark and guards keep a watch as you prowl about the rafters. The goal? To disappear into the dark.

* Release: 2014

The Evil Within Xbox One, PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, PC (Bethesda)

Halloween may be months away, but a number of E3 games promised scare tactics for the year ahead. While Dead Rising 3 and Dying Light resurrect the zombie genre, The Evil Within is an unnerving trip into the heart of darkness. From the twisted mind that brought us Resident Evil, the game tells the story of Sebastian, a detective investigating a strange incident at an insane asylum. The Evil Within presents an unnerving experience, grisly visual effects and sound design, and should come with a complimentary pass to a therapist.

* Release: 2014

FIFA 14 PS3, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, PS Vita, Nintendo 3DS (EA)

FIFA put a ball in the back of the net for football fans with this year’s FIFA 13. The next generation of sport simulations promise higher scores. FIFA 14’s E3 demo revealed better player animations, improved Artificial Intelligence, and souped-up graphical surroundings. The stadium environments feel more lifelike than ever. Across all next generation EA Sports titles — whether FIFA, NBA, NFL, or Tiger Woods golf — the games will feature real-time updates, so online gameplay changes according to real world sport events.

* Release: September

Beyond: Two Souls PS3 (Sony)

With all the talk about next generation consoles and games, it’s easy to forget that most Irish households have an Xbox 360 or PS3 under the television. A host of current generation titles were announced at E3, not least superhero adventure Batman: Arkham Origins. Sony’s The Last of Us, released last month, proved that the best story-led videogames are now equal to great TV drama. Beyond: Two Souls promises to take game scriptwriting and acting into Emmy-winning territory. The game stars a motion-captured Ellen Page (Juno) and Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man) in a tale about a young girl and her supernatural companion.

* Release: October.


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