E3 2015: EA Conference Recap: The Usual Suspects... and a Couple of Surprises

E3 2015: EA Conference Recap: The Usual Suspects... and a Couple of Surprises

Jaz reports from the EA conference, where familiarity was largely the name of the game.

Broadcast from the Shrine Auditorium in LA, and featuring a vocal crowd swelled by students from the local area, EA kicked off its E3 with a dozen announcements that mostly felt familiar. Which is no real surprise coming from one of the largest companies in the business, and one that is essentially built on the concept of gaming franchises.

First up was a quick tease of the upcoming Mass Effect Andromeda. There wasn't much to see here, apart from a quick-take CG trailer, but it was more than enough to elicit a huge cheer from the audience. Watch out for it during Holiday 2016 is all we're told. I imagine we'll see more of what the game actually looks like in 12 months time.

Need for Speed was up next and it looks very good. Featuring an open world that's twice the size of Need for Speed: Rivals, and gameplay centered around the concepts of speed, style, build, crew and outlaw, the demo showed a night race on wet roads that looked near photo-realistic. Featuring a Subaru BR-Z engaging in a frenetic drift battle on busy surface streets, I couldn't help but be impressed. It definitely looks like a next-generation racer: sophisticated, colourful and very, very fast.

The familiar face of Star Wars: The Old Republic followed the breathtaking demo of Need for Speed. A new expansion is coming - Knights of the Fallen Empire - and it'll be taking the series back to its Bioware storytelling roots, with meaningful choices and new characters to join in battle.

But then, a surprise. Something new! Unravel is a physics-based puzzle platformer featuring a character made of wool - who I believe is called Yarny. Designed and created by a Northern Swedish developer, it features photo-realistic backdrops that are really quite jaw-dropping. The game basically has you running around attaching bits of yarn to the landscape and using it to swing and jump around the environment. I'm definitely looking forward to playing the game, and it was a really welcome surprise in amongst so many familiar franchises.

I'm a big fan of Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare, so the not unexpected news that there's soon to be a sequel to the silly, but highly entertaining shooter made me happy. This time around, there are six new character classes, you're able to transfer your existing PvZ: GW characters across to the new game, and it'll be supported by multiple free content updates. Good news indeed.

After a dose of PvZ: GW2 gameplay footage - which looks plenty entertaining - EA moved into sports territory, with details about NHL 16, PGA Tour Golf 16 and NBA Live 16. All look very impressive, especially NBA Live 16, which will be compatible with a phone app that'll let you scan your face so you can create a player that is very much you. It looks like it works quite well, and I imagine it won't be long before it becomes standard on all of EA Sports games.

To a rather muted response, EA then touched lightly on its mobile offerings. Nothing much to see there, but the announcement of a new mobile CCG game, Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes does pique my interest. Details are scant, but it sounds like EA are jumping onto the Hearthstone/CCG bandwagon with a franchise that'll certainly carry a lot of weight. Especially since the game will feature well-known characters from the storied series. I'm not sure whether it'll be shown at the EA booth, but if it is, I'll have more news on this tomorrow.

After that second all-new game announcement, it was back to the familiar with FIFA 16. World famous veteran player Pelé was trotted out as part of the presentation, and talked a little bit about the beautiful game, which just happens to be the marketing message for this year's product. Still, the game does look as good as ever, and this time out will feature AI that has better defensive shape, a more considered midfield buildup, and new skills motion captured from the current greatest player in the world, Lionel Messi. The addition of female players brings about the biggest cheer for the game - and quite rightly too. It's long-overdue and much welcome.

Those cheers continued as Mirror's Edge Catalyst was demoed. Featuring a fully open world and a story based on the origin of heroine Faith, the game looks clean and stylish. I'm interested to see how it plays - I'll be testing the game out tomorrow at a hands-on - but it looks very similar to the first game with some refinements; first-person parkour with plenty of martial arts action.

The penultimate game announcement was Madden NFL 16 - which features the usual roster of fettles and tweaks. There's a new way to draft fantasy teams, the passing game has been overhauled, and the defensive game has new refinements. Pretty much what you'd expect.

Then it was time for the a the loudest cheers of the conference, as Star Wars: Battlefront was rolled out. We're shown in-game PS4 footage, and it looks very, very impressive indeed. The level demoed was a battle on Hoth scene, with the imperial forces accompanying an AT-AT walker to the base, while the rebel forces tried to repel the invaders. It's fast, frantic and furious, with imperial soldiers and the rebels fighting tooth and nail in close quarter combat, and with Snow Speeders and Tie Fighters zooming across the battlefield at zero feet. The demo ends with both Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader entering the proceedings and facing off against one another. It almost looks like the movie come to life, and I just can't wait to play it!

With that, the conference comes to a close - and why not. Star Wars: Battlefront is clearly looking quite stunning and it's obvious EA has saved the best 'til last. That said, EA's general lineup, while familiar, does look pretty impressive and ticks all the right boxes. With a full roster of sports games coming this year, two flavors of shooters in the form of Star Wars: Battlefront and PvZ: GW, a high caliber racing game, Mirror's Edge and Unraveled, it feels like the company has something for almost everybody.

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