E3 2009 - EA: The Highlights

by John Constantine

EA is a big company. Huge. Sprawling even. Their many branches are hard to even fit into the human consciousness. EA Casual, EA Sims, EA Games. Heck, EA Sports is the only one that’s easy to remember because they have their own catchy phrase about it being in the game (they have, strangely, never explained what ”it” is or what it’s doing in the game.)

So considering that Electronic Arts is a multi-tendril-ed beast, it’s no wonder that their E3 press conference was a bit all over the place. For example when the lights finally dimmed, a gory explicit rendered trailer for the highly highbrow “Dante’s Inferno” was shown. Then John Riccitello came out and introduced “The Sims 3”. Then “Charm Girls Club” with its hair-teasing Wiimote action. Yeah.

EA Games had a good show. In addition to trailer fodder like “Dante’s Inferno”, Tom French from Pandemic treated the crowd to its first look at a playable “The Saboteur” for the first time in over two years. The game’s come a long way with the black, white, and red Nazi-occupied Paris looking significantly improved than last year’s “Mercenaries 2”, Pandemic’s last game utilizing the technology. The two games share quite a bit with their open world structures. You couldn’t, however, hide from bloodthirsty Nazis by ducking into a brothel in “Mercenaries 2”. That’s a feather in “The Saboteur”’s cap for sure. Tim Schafer also showed up to give us another brief taste of “Brutal Legend” albeit in gameplay trailer form. He revealed Ozzy Osborne’s appearance in the game, reconfirming what Blizzard proved in last fall’s “World of Warcraft” ad campaign: digital Ozzy Osbourne is even more unsettling than real Ozzy Osborne. Designer Patrick Soderland showed off a demo of “Need for Speed: Shift” while discussing its expansive Driver Profile features. It was hard to get a clear sense of the game from the demo. Its crashes were spectacular.

Peter Moore showed up to talk EA Sports, and while Pete Sampras dropping in to demo the WiiMotion Plus enabled “Grand Slam Tennis” was certainly a pleasant surprise, the big news was the new Online Franchise mode in “Madden 2010”. Letting players customize their entire team and take them on the road, the new mode will be accessible anytime, anywhere via an iPhone application and the new EASports.com. The new online portal for any and all EA Sports games will also feature the streaming, browser-based “Tiger Woods Online” as well as the Team Builder tool. Team Builder is live as we speak and will be integrated into “NCAA Football 2010” when it’s released early this summer. Moore also announced, but didn’t show, the Tiburon-developed EA MMA, the company’s new mixed martial arts game.

The EA Partners program also got ample face time at the conference. Cevat Yerli of Crytek came out to announce the CryEngine 3 and “Crysis 2”. The bonafide sequel to 2008’s graphical powerhouse will be seeing release not just on gargantuan futuristic Pcs but on home consoles as well. Hopefully this means that ports of “Crysis” and “Crysis Warhead” will make their way into console gamers’ hands in the future. EA also announced they’re teaming with Realtime Worlds to release “APB”. The “Grand Theft Auto”-styled MMO was only shown as a trailer but we did get a look at its impressive character creation tool. When “APB” is finally released, you too will be able to make yourself a crazy punk-rock chick with a machine gun and go play online with ninety-nine other players.

The star of the disjointed show was certainly Bioware. “Dragon Age: Origins”, “Mass Effect 2”, and “Star Wars: The Old Republic” managed to wow even just as trailers. As you could see from the Multiplayer exlusive trailer posted up earlier today, Bioware’s already delivering “The Old Republic” as raw, unadulterated “Star Wars” fan service. The game will also be the first MMORPG to feature a fully voiced script. Considering the sheer number of NPCs in an MMO, that’s pretty impressive. The “Mass Effect 2” trailer was also suitably dramatic, showing off familiar faces, some fresh and speedy gunplay, and a promising lack of elevators.

Truth to tell, EA’s simply too big to fit all their goodness into a two hour stage show. We’ll know much much more about their wares as the week goes on.