E3 Conference: Our impressions

LOS ANGELES -- Jon Robinson and I spent this week running from appointment to appointment with video game and console developers at the E3 Conference, gathering information we’ll continue to roll out in the coming weeks.

But we certainly have some first impressions we’d like to get out right away, so here’s a roundup of what we saw, liked, didn’t like, and wanted to see more of at gaming’s biggest yearly event.

What sports game impressed you the most?

Jon Robinson: “Madden NFL 13.” The new physics engine got gamers reacting like I haven’t seen since the invention of the Hit Stick. People were jumping up and down after sending receivers helicoptering through the air, and the way the runners fight for every yard now that there are no longer pre-determined tackles makes a world of difference. Throw in the all-new connected careers where you can take over the virtual life of any player or coach in the league while trying to make the Hall of Fame, and “Madden 13” was by far the best sports game of the show.

Zach McCann: The nuances in gameplay in “FIFA 13” are noticeable, and in a good way -- your A.I. teammates act more like humans, especially in terms of moving toward open space and performing like real soccer players without the ball. And they’re also more humanlike in another way: poor players don’t touch the ball nearly as cleanly as star players, which frustratingly cost me a goal while playing at E3, but hey -- that’s real. And with the improved dribbling system and refinement of the physics engine that was introduced in ’12, this looks like the best “FIFA” yet.

What was the biggest surprise at E3?

JR: The UFC signing with EA Sports. If EA Sports was going to make an announcement about a new game, I would’ve bet my kid’s college fund that it was going to be a new deal with MLB to create the next line of “MVP Baseball” games. Instead, we get Dana White walking out on stage with EA Sports’ Andrew Wilson, announcing that the UFC has left THQ to sign with EA … yes, the same EA that White once called “pompous,” and “arrogant” as he bragged about kicking their ass with the THQ games.

ZM: I also would’ve bet Jon Robinson’s kid’s college fund that EA Sports’ announcement would be the return of “MVP Baseball.” Instead, with Take-Two Interactive unlikely to renew its MLB license that expires this year, it appears there won’t be an MLB game on the Xbox 360 this coming spring. While PlayStation 3 users can enjoy the always-great “MLB: The Show,” Xbox 360 players are left out in the cold -- and that’s not good for anybody.

What were you most disappointed with?

JR: “NBA Live 13.” Back in October 2010, EA Sports cancelled “NBA Elite 11” in order to give their new basketball team in Tiburon more time to create a worthy competitor to the “NBA 2K” franchise. But at E3 I’m told the new “NBA Live” development team wasn’t completely hired until November 2011, giving them actually less time as a unit to work on their new game than the guys at 2K. Am I missing something? The game is still only 60-percent complete, but from what I saw (they wouldn’t let me play), the game looks pretty rough. I thought after all this time, EA was going to try and blow gamers away with the new “Live.” Instead, it makes me think that maybe they should just stick to games they do well like “NBA Jam” and “NBA Street.”

ZM: The Wii U. Like with the Wii, the Wii U was a lot of fun to mess around with and play the unique, motion-based games. But new Wii U controller, which has a hi-def screen supplanted within it, felt obtuse and none of the games we previewed utilized it well (while playing “Mario,” for instance, the person holding the Wii U controller uses the screen to create blocks for Mario to jump on -- riveting). To be fair, the system is still being developed, and there could be some games that master the small screen. But at E3, I found myself just wanting to sit aside the big controller and play some Wii Tennis.

Which non-sports game are you most excited about after E3?

JR: “Assassin’s Creed 3.” This is a more brutal, vicious assassin than UbiSoft’s past games in the series, taking the American Revolution to places never before seen in gaming. One sequence saw the main character run up from behind two British soldiers, stick the knife of the musket in the first guy’s back, while then firing through the body to kill the second enemy. Add in naval warfare complete with cannonballs and boarding enemy ships to fight, and this is the game I’m looking forward to most this year.

ZM: “Gears of War: Judgment.” We didn’t get to play the game, but the behind-closed-doors peek made me want to grab the controller from the producers and start killing some locusts. The series’ fourth installment features a new multiplayer mode, called OverRun, a five-on-five battle in which the humans are trying to protect the COG generator from the locusts. Each human and locust possesses a specific skill -- such as the ability to heal others or reach high places -- that makes teamwork imperative. The game-makers didn’t offer any info on the campaign or co-op modes, but just seeing the gameplay in this mode had me itching for the game’s release in early ’13.

What game did you want to see more of?

JR: “Splinter Cell: Blacklist.” Sam Fisher is one of my favorite video game characters, and he returns to hunt terrorists in this new game hitting Spring 2013. Not only does the game look a lot more fluid and action-packed than past “Splinter Cell” games (Sam was jumping from ledges to rooftops similar to “Assassin’s Creed”), but there is some cool Kinect integration, where you can use voice commands to call out to enemies while hiding, then when they come looking for you, it’s time to pounce. Brilliant.

ZM: “South Park: Stick of Truth.” OK, most cartoon-turned-video games are pretty cheesy. But this one hardly seems like a cash-in as South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker wrote, voiced and oversaw the entire game. “Stick of Truth” lets you create your own character and roam around South Park (Stone and Parker, after 17 years, created the first map of South Park just for this game) while interacting with America’s favorite 4th-graders -- what South Park fan hasn’t thought about how fun that would be?