It began with Andrew Wilson: EA CEO and de facto Mayor of the Uncanny Valley.
Words flashed on a red background in a manner evocative of Talking Heads’ live performance of ‘Making Flippy Floppy’, only with the intrigue turned down and the disingenuousness turned way, way up. The word ‘REBEL’ appeared a fair few times, and of course rebelliousness is to EA as hand is to glove: completely smothered. It was a neat idea to actually colour code the stage, too. Before the festivities began it was green for ‘Go!’, and when Andrew walked on it became red for ‘Stop! Stop! Please for the love of God, stop!’.
Wilson asserted that EA were ‘kicking things off with a new kind of show’. It later became apparent that it was to be the kind of show where precious little happens and precious little is learnt. That’s not a ‘new kind of show’, as Arrow fans can attest.
We then cut to Peter Moore who, in spite of working at EA, somehow still displayed all the mannerisms of intonations of an actual human being. He talked about the “iconic Hammersmith Apollo”, thereby causing a frenzy in Ubisoft’s offices as instinct kicked in and they desperately started chiselling little Apollo replicas.
The first reveal was Titanfall 2, and, annoyingly, there’s not a lot at which to feign annoyance. It looks a bit more-of-the-same, but that’s by no means a bad thing when we’re talking about Titanfall; maybe now people will play it for more than a week. Speaking purely as a spectator, it was a fine reveal. Plenty of gameplay footage – or at least a passable representation – and a sizeable announcement concerning single player. In what a will become a running theme throughout E3: shame about the leak, though.
It’s when we went back to London that things took a turn for the worse. For reasons that I simply cannot fathom, EA chose the London audience to talk to at length about their newest Madden release. Peter said that we can ‘take our team all the way’, thereby suggesting some kind of romantic visual novel where you attempt to get past second base with the Dallas Cowboys.
The discussion shifted from the game to e-sports, or, to be more precise, sport e-sports about sports with all sport in it. We were unnecessarily shown a protracted video about two major competitors including Eric ‘Problem’ Wright. Quick tip: if you want to get the upper-hand on Eric, simply call yourself ‘Solution’. Later, we were also shown Eric holding aloft an oversized cheque with ‘PROBLEM’ written in the recipient’s box, in what I have chosen to view as a poignant piece of anti-capitalist imagery.
Thankfully the coverage moved on to what many had been waiting for. Mass Effect: Andromeda. In the end, it could have been condensed to one sentence: “We can’t wait to share more with you this fall.” We got a few general platitudes concerning ‘how far they will go’, further confirmation that it’ll be a whole new adventure with new characters, and a behind-the-scenes trailer which showed less than many had hoped. I mean, we did at least see that the Mako will be returning; let’s hope it controls like an actual vehicle this time around, rather than a bouncy castle on wheels.
A quick bit of Andrew Wilson asking the crowd how they’re doing, ignoring the cries of disdain from the Mass Effect fans, and we were back to London with FIFA 17! It’s a bold move as a drama recital is used to introduce us to ‘The Journey’: a new story mode for FIFA, with characters and cutscenes and everything! “You’ll live your premier league story through the player we just met, Alex Hunter,” Peter Moore begins, referencing the soliloquising football chap who was previously on the stage, “That is the power of Frostbite, FIFA 17’s brand-new engine.” It’s a remarkable claim: apparently this new engine lets you play as a person. I can scarcely get my head around the concept.
Oh, and then Manchester United manager José Mourinho wandered on, mumbled, looked confused, and left.
There was some more about FIFA, but, as there was a mildly interesting cloud outside my window, I didn’t take any of it in.
An adorably nervous indie developer talked about his adorable indie game shortly before ear drums were shattered because STAR WARS. This involved multiple tidbits from the developers working on various Star Wars games, alongside certain behind-the-scenes stuff and – in case you hadn’t already guessed – miniscule nuggets of actual gameplay.
Finally, we had the pièce de résistance: Battlefield 1. The trailer was once more pretty sparse in terms of actual gameplay, but it didn’t really matter as immediately afterwards came an hour of competitive Battlefield 1, giving fans all the gameplay they needed and giving me all the doobie-brandishing Snoop Dogg I never knew I needed.
So, EA Play. Not a whole lot of gameplay and far too much extraneous nonsense, but it has to be said that it also fought back against a lot of those money-grubbing, shady stereotypes with which EA has quite rightly been assigned over the years. With EA Originals promising indie devs all of the profits for EA published games (though I suspect the devil will be in the details), and Play To Give offering charitable donations to accompany specific in-game achievements – could this be EA setting out their stall as one of the nice companies? Best of luck to them if that is the case.
As for the conference, though, I would have welcomed a whole lot more gameplay and a whole lot less Zac Efron, José Mourinho and Wiz Khalifa. And that isn’t a sentence I thought I’d ever type.