“Play.” That was the motto of EA’s press conference for Gamescom, which is funny given how little of it actually happened. There was an awful lot of fluff and very little substance, some truly cringe-worthy moments, and a big “fuck you” to Mass Effect fans. Andrew Wilson started things off by framing for the audience what the “Play” motto was supposed to represent. “Play brings out the best in all of us,” said Andrew, “it’s about inspiration, competition and escape but, most of all, play is about having fun.” It’s important to note that this is essentially “feel good” gibberish designed to help you forget that this was supposed to be a press conference and not an hour long promo reel.
Things started out pretty great, for once, and there was a brief moment where I thought EA were going to pull themselves together and not screw things up for a solid hour. Need For Speed (NFS) and Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst were up first, with a decent look at each game. Though framed with some fairly awful montages, the presentation of NFS showed off some pretty neat features of the game, including a career mode that feels like a “Best of Need For Speed.” It was kind of awkward when no one applauded (or reacted at all) at the announcement of the Need For Speed competition but I mean, come on, that’s hardly surprising. EA are running a poll on the NFS Twitter page for a car that they’ll end up building. If you vote, you could go into the running to win… A ride in the car. In Vegas, though, so… That’s cool?
It was weird and lame, but it wasn’t the worst thing to ever happen on a conference stage (that would come later), and the show rolled onto Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst. The presentation gave a fairly detailed view for the short amount of time this title received, including some fantastic looking pre-recorded alpha gameplay footage. I played the original Mirror’s Edge and didn’t feel drawn into it, I found it to be a great idea but not a great game. Catalyst looks to have fixed that, with a much more intriguing narrative premise and what will hopefully be an improved, tighter control scheme. For a game I didn’t previously care for, EA did a good job of hooking my interest in its sequel with this segment.
Plus I’m sensing the potential for some Faith Connors/Sam Fisher slash fiction. That can only be a good thing.
James Ohlen was trotted out to read the blurb of the new Star Wars: The Old Republic expansion (Knights of the Fallen Empire) and play us its trailer. This is the point where the conference started to derail because after listening to Ohlen talk for about five minutes I’m no wiser about the expansion than I was before. There was a lot of talk about how it’ll have more focus on narrative and character interaction but not a lot of showing and that’s kind of concerning given release is two months away. He concluded with a cinematic trailer that showed no gameplay, and the announcement of a pre-order bonus follower for subscribers. So for those reading at home, that’s no specific details about the game but a decent flog for some pre-order content in a three-minute segment during a “press conference.” This would set the theme for pretty much the rest of the briefing and otherwise clear the stage for the new high score holder of the awkward convention moments leader board: Sims 4.
The Sims 4 currently only has one released expansion pack with a slew of nickel-and-diming “Game Packs” that sell off content piecemeal. If the “Get Together” expansion pack’s main feature wasn’t something that probably should have been in the base game to begin with then this might have been exciting for Sims fans. A cursory glance across the comment sections of the internet, however, would show that fans aren’t exactly thrilled at the announcement of this expansion. There are a lot of questions about what exactly the expansion will include with the consensus being that it had better be a damn decent amount of content. EA might have been able to tell you themselves but instead opted to have Rachel Franklin declare the press conference to instead be a dance party, and then this happened:
DANCE! DANCE, MINIONS, OR WE WILL SHUT DOWN ANOTHER STUDIO!
That is a couple dozen hired extras prancing about the stage having a “you rule” moment, whatever the hell that means, for the cringiest minute of my entire life. Again, no actual, factual information or specifics about the content of this expansion pack that was announced only moments prior. Just some bad decisions making a stunned, captive audience emanate a field of awkward discomfort so strong that I could feel it through my monitor. This moment was then made perfect when Jeremy Vanhoozer walks out onto the open stage and sheepishly utters: “Well that was awesome, I kind of feel like dancing… but… I won’t.” Dancing might have been inappropriate for the disappointment he was about to deliver to Mass Effect fans.
If you watched the EA press conference for E3 back in June, then you may be painfully aware that Mass Effect Andromeda received nought but a teaser trailer, leaving fans out in the cold. Well, if you were one of the disappointed then get ready to double down on that dourness because you’re going to be waiting a while yet. Don’t worry, though, Vanhoozer and Garden Warfare 2 were there to tide you over with a Mass Effect themed costume (as another pre-order bonus) for one of the zombie classes announced during E3. While we’re briefly on the topic of Plants VS Zombies, what the fresh hell happened to this franchise? I remember when it was a charming, funny lane TD. This hideous CoD clone that it’s been warped into is completely bereft of the same appeal, originality, or even just the humour of the original game. This is EA’s attempt to be hip with the kids and it sucks out loud. Ugh, I need some eye bleach.
I’m coming up to the end here and before I put one more well-deserved kick into EA’s side, I want to commend them for at least sharing with us what’s left of their heart. There was a moment during the conference that was genuinely heartwarming and that moment came from Martin Sahlin of ColdWood Interactive, developers of Unravel. Here is a guy who showed some actual emotion on stage, nearly in tears from the overwhelmingly positive response that his team had received from the community. He gave a fantastic outpouring of dev appreciation for the fan community that had built up around this title since E3. The game was even played on stage, showing how the puzzles will work, what the in-game visuals will be like, and what players can expect from Unravel in general. The mascot for Unravel, Yarny, is also pretty dang adorable, with his physicality being central to the games mechanics. All in all, this was likely the greatest moment of the conference – if not for the awe inspired by the game then at least for the level of presentation.
Now, EA, I want to address you directly here because what the actual fuck are you doing with Star Wars Battlefront? Are you trying to piss people off? You lead us through one of the worst press conferences that I’ve every watched so that you can give us this? Additional content for Star Wars Battlefront – check. Dogfighting and aerial combat with famous ships from the movies/shows/etc. – check. Forced 10v10 player limit with 20 bots added in to “fill out the space.” No. NO! BAD EA, don’t even try to tell me that this arbitrary player limit makes the gameplay “more intense,” when you’re cramming bots down our throats! Battlefield manages to get 64 players into an online match, so why would you think that forcing crappy limits like this is okay? God, just… You couldn’t do it, could you EA? You couldn’t just once make it through a single conference without something like this happening.
Just make a decent SW:BF game! When two already exist, it shouldn’t be so hard.
Of course, this all was a combination of gamescom, Germany, and EA, so it wouldn’t have been “complete,” I suppose, without Fifa 16 making an appearance right at the end. While watching this last segment, it occurred to me that this was the first and only sports sim game that had been shown the entire conference. For all your blunders, you at least managed to not fill the entire hour with wall to wall sports and remember the rest of your demographic for once. I guess you’re learning a little, EA. Grade: C+, for effort.