Electronic Arts showcases new games at E3

E3 is to gaming what I imagine fashion week is to clothing. Game developers don’t just present a single retail item, but entire lines of products that you’ll be playing for the coming years. Electronic Arts is one of the bigger names in gaming, capable of generating a crowd to rival the big three hardware developers in Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft. And unlike the other three, EA didn’t take time out of its presentation to take a swipe at Apple.

On Monday, Electronic Arts unveiled a whole slew of exciting new games for various platforms. In all, Electronic Arts presented ten games that will be released within the next year. Though none of the games have been confirmed for the Mac, many of the developers have brought their games to Steam in the past and EA’s partnership with OnLive suggests many of these titles may actually be playable on your Mac in the near future. Below are some of my thoughts on the games presented.

Medal of Honor

For the first time in the history of the franchise, Medal of Honor is moving out of the WWII setting. Instead, the theater of battle is moving to the modern Afghanistan war. EA LA is building the single player while DICE is helping with the game’s multiplayer. Sean Decker, a General Manager at EA, promised that this will be, “the most authentic modern war experience this year,” a perhaps not so subtle jab at Modern Warfare 2. Actually, there’s nothing subtle about what EA is trying to replicate. The profile of their protagonist looks like the load screen for Modern Warfare 2. MW2 has a protagonist with weird facial hair, well EA got a black ops guy with a beard like ZZ Top’s.

EA gave a sneak peek of the new Medal of Honor at E3.

To flex its muscle, EA trotted out 24 players onto the stage to perform a live demo of Medal of Honor’s team assault mode. The map is inspired by a real area of Kabul. Initially, the audience got to view a good 24 screens, but then the screen focused on one player who was basically whipping the others. It was interesting to see Modern Warfare conventions done through Medal of Honor’s lens. The player called intel to find enemies (like calling in a UAV in Call of Duty), earned a Tomahawk missile after completing a kill streak (similar to the predator drone from Call of Duty) and even finished off someone with a melee kill. Obviously, the 24 person live demo looked very scripted.

My question is where Medal of Honor will be able to differentiate itself. Medal of Honor has always been about great set pieces in WWII, but the look and feel of this new incarnation seems to mimic the Call of Duty series too closely. In order to stay competitive in the market, I wonder if they’ve thrown out the baby with the bath water. It’s great that you’ll be able to pilot vehicles, but the look of the characters is stiff and dated compared to the smooth organic feel of other first person shooters.

I’ve always been a fan of the Medal of Honor series, so I hope this does well. But the problem for EA isn’t making Medal of Honor a realistic, graphically stunning, multiplayer-focused combat simulator. The problem is doing something we haven’t seen before. And they failed to do that in the demo.

Dead Space 2

It’s not surprising that EA went ahead with a sequel to Visceral Games’ atmospheric and creepy sci-fi survival horror game, Dead Space. Steve Papoutsis, the Executive Producer of Dead Space 2, presented the audience with a sci-fi cityscape called The Sprawl. Describing it as protagonist Isaac’s new nightmare, the Sprawl resembles a thriving city reminiscent of Bioshock’s Rapture—both places would make terrible vacation spots.

The level Papoutsis showed us was set in a church. The game’s Resident Evil 4-esque over-the-shoulder aiming system enables you to see not only what is coming at Isaac, but what is surrounding him from the other sides. It gives the entire game a claustrophobic feeling, like you’re being overwhelmed.

Dead Space 2

In the demo, the enemies were your typical “evil baby” or “crazy bug” baddies, but there were some nice moments where they jumped out of seemingly benign walls. The entire area was full of scripted encounters with extra big baddies, but the weapons and frantic pace of the game ensured a manic and entertaining few minutes of gameplay.

Judging by both EA’s and Sony’s reveal of the game, Dead Space 2 is likely a candidate for Resident Evil 5 syndrome—the developers removed the scares and just cranked up the carnage. We’ll see if there are some quieter, psychological moments to compliment the intense “oh god that thing has me!” moments, but right now it looks to play like a creepier version of Gears of War.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2: Vietnam

Not much to say about this game. The teaser trailer opened with “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. I dare you to find a song more associated with an era of warfare. You play that song at the beginning of a trailer, you expect to see a Vietnam game.

Sure enough, the Bad Company expansion featured helicopters and army-green clad soldiers. We didn’t get to see any real footage of gameplay, but Bad Company 2 was extremely well received and the guy next to me shouted loudest about this game. I’m adding it to my “to play” list.

Madden NFL, EA Sports MMA, EA Sports Active 2

EA also announced some sports and fitness titles but I frankly don’t expect any of them to get ported to the Mac. The only thing of real note is that Joe Montana, who never met a product he wouldn’t endorse, came out and talked about how the new system in Madden will make thing simpler and faster. He didn’t play it in front of me, however, so I have no proof of either claim.

Crysis 2

Cevat Yerli, CEO of Crytek, has expressed his skepticism about streaming games, and though EA is partnered with OnLive, it’s still unlikely we’ll see this graphically-stunning sci-fi first person shooter on the Mac anytime soon.

If you're still interested, here's a bit more about the game. The demo of the sequel showed a shift in location from the jungles of the first game to the city of New York in the second. The game will be more of a sandbox experience. Explains Yerli, “We give you the weapons, the nanosuit, but we don’t tell you how to play.”

Once again, you play as the ultimate super soldier with the arguably most versatile armor ever designed in gaming. Your task is to save New York. The alien enemies won’t be easy though; Yerli boasts that they will be the “most intelligent enemies you’ve encountered ever in an FPS.” In the demo, a number of biped mechs invade Grand Central Station in a storm of bullets and shattered glass. You and the human resistance run behind cover and begin to fight back. The nanosuit once again shows off its impressive abilities: the player can turn invisible and sneak a blind side shot at the enemy, or accelerate for fast-paced running, or become tougher to withstand incoming fire. After several rocket blasts and the use of some cleverly placed C4, the big mech went down and the action continued onto the street.

The biggest innovation with Crysis 2 is that it will be in 3D. 3D gaming has definitely been the talk of the show, as both Sony and Microsoft talked in detail about presenting 3D games within the next year (Nintendo did as well but only in regards to its 3DS mobile platform). Crysis 2 will be available this holiday season. Mac gamers would do well to pay attention to the first wave of 3D games as they’re released; will this catch on and if so, how will this technology find its way to the Mac?

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit

Craig Sullivan from Criterion Games presented the most beautiful game I’ve seen this show. You play as either the police or the racers in high-speed, gorgeous, intense pursuits through lush locales.

You can play a full career as either a racer or as a cop and while that may seem lame for the law enforcement side, the cars they’re using aren’t old Ford Tauruses. These are Lamborghinis, Ferraris, etc. (I’d like to know what county has to pay taxes on those cars, because they’re just as impressive as the uber-cooler yellow and red sportsters driven by the racers.)

The game will also feature an impressive suite of connected features including being able to monitor your friends’ careers, read news feeds, see your achievements, buy things from the store, etc. The presentation concluded with a cops versus racers pursuit running on the PS3.

The graphics were simply fantastic. I’ve never been a fan of racing titles, but they always are able to push the visuals of a system forward in recognizable ways. I remember seeing an old Gran Turismo game on the PS2 and first thought, “Wow, I hope all the games look like that.” They didn’t, but it was still impressive.

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is due out on November 16th. We don’t get too many great racers for the Mac, but maybe if we ask really nicely EA will put this on Steam or OnLive.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Of all the games we saw today, this was the title I was most excited about as a Mac gamer. Bioware has a pretty decent record of porting its titles to the Mac, and I enjoyed Dragon Age and Knights of the Old Republic so much that I can’t think of a better development house for the title. The trailer was all EA had to show this time around though the representatives from LucasArts and BioWare did share that each player will get their own starship to travel around in. Each ship, whether it is Republic or Sith, can be customized to reflex the player’s unique personality.

This might seem like a trivial detail to reveal, but Bioware/LucasArts have been leaking content for months now. It’s hard to excited about a drop in the bucket—there’s been a fire hose of information about this game for those who know where to look. We’ll see if the game will truly let you experience the frenetic combat promised in the trailers, but at the very least we can be assured that Bioware will make another deep RPG with great voice acting and a couple of characters in your party you’ll want to murder.

Bulletstorm

An over-the-top first person shooter developed by Cliffy B’s Epic Games? Sign me up. Bulletstorm isn’t likely slated to hit the Mac anytime soon (though Epic’s Unreal series has), it’s an interesting game title nonetheless. Due out in February of 2011, the game encourages you to “kill with skill” and use combos to unleash mayhem. For example, you can use an energy whip to throw enemies in the air and then fire explosive flagellates at your hapless enemies. I believe that move is called the “Fertilizer” or maybe the “Fireworks.” Either way, you get more points for gruesome creativity.

I’ll also give Epic Games props for having one of the more memorable promotions at E3 I’ve seen this year. Outside the West Hall you could get free burgers and drinks at Burgerstorm, a burger shack with burgers named after the various combos you can find in the game. One combo involved throwing exploding tripwire at a group of enemies and was entitled the “gang bang.” This was also the name of the burger you could eat. Thankfully, the burger had onions instead of shrapnel. I think.

Electronic Arts is one of the bigger publishers out there, but the show is still only a day old. I’ll continue to be your reporter on the ground, giving Macworld readers a taste of the frenetic race that is E3.

[Chris Holt is a Macworld associate editor.]

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