As much as we smash on EA (and as easy as they make it sometimes) for their poor business practices, addiction to microtransactions, and penchant for making bad situations worse. But I have to admit: EA put on a great show at E3.
Strategically, EA played their cards exactly as they should. They needed to detach themselves from the cancerous growth from Microsoft, Xbox One; as such, they really limited how much they married themselves to one system or another. Most highly touted were their multiported games, and Sony exclusives got a wink and a nod. Microsoft exclusives were… well… not really discussed. Bad for Microsoft, smart for EA.
EA’s booth traditionally is one of the larger booths at E3, and EA traditionally is one of the largest showcasers, so while I didn’t have time to see everything, I got a fairly good swath of what they had to offer.
One of the instinctual thoughts when discussing EA focuses on the sports line of games, and with the new Ignite engine, this year’s offerings – Madden 25, NBA Live 14, FIFA 14, and EA UFC – present real stats in real time. And one thing EA does consistently better than the rest is realism in sports titles.
I had some eyes-on time with Madden 25 and hands-on time with EA UFC. The graphics on both were exceptional. From the sheen of the helmet paint to the blades of grass to the dirt on the stitched on name on the jersey, not a detail was missed. The intricacies of football were represented in Madden 25 with the War in the Trenches system where AI teammates instinctively know when to drop a block and go on to another play. The game also features a more intelligent footwork design that forces players to think about each and every foot placement.
EA UFC, in addition to its realistic graphics, also has advancements in the game. MMAi is a new AI structure which allows CPU fighters to realistically change strategies mid-fight like actual fighters. The Full Body Deformation advancements, for once, actually deform. Cuts open and flow based on their location. Kicks form welts and internal bleeding and bruises. Jaws move when impacted, eyes swell shut. Players will deal with the same issues actual fighters in the octagon contend with.
EA is more than just sports, however. Two other titles I was able to get eyes-on re-emphasized the fact that EA’s capability for realism isn’t limited to their sports line-up, and the fact that even EA can get a little silly from time to time.
I got some hands-on time with the latest in the Need for Speed franchise, Need for Speed: Rivals. For those who are familiar with the franchise, Rivals plays along the same lines as Hot Pursuit and Hot Pursuit 2, focusing on the rivalry between street racers and cops in the fictional Redview County. In Rivals players have the opportunity to either play as a racer or a cop, each with their own set of missions, risks and rewards. Racers and cops have weaponry at their fingertips, including non-nuclear electromagnetic pulses and spike strips. During my playtime, I was set up as a cop, along with five other members of the press, with six other people as street racers.
This is important, because we all started with singular missions: racers had to find and win an illegal street race, for example, while I had to cite two speeders, for example. But quickly their single-player mission intersected with mine thanks to Rival‘s AllDrive, which blurred the line from single-player campaign, couch co-op, and multiplayer online. A racer starting a race turned into a pursuit I had to complete by incapacitating the racer; turns out that racer was the ghost of the demo race we had just witnessed, as categorized by Autolog, another franchise device that lets players race against friends even when they’re offline. As soon as that was done, I saw a racer from across the room and another pursuit was on. Missions intersected constantly, and it was all done randomly: no set patterns, no predictability. The chase felt fresh and unpredictable throughout the ten minute hands-on demo. Teamwork was encouraged, as I teamed up with the cop next to me to help with a bust, prompting a lot of strategy and even a fist bump at the end.
The last title I had time to see from EA was something that I might have expected from Ubisoft or Naughty Dog or even Nintendo, who’s not afraid to be a little silly from time to time. But no, this in fact is from EA (partnered with PopCap): Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare.
Yes, it’s a real thing, and it looks like goofy fun.
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare moves the flora and feasting undead out of the tower defense genre and puts our plants to work as they try to plant a garden around the home of Dr. Zomboss in the level demoed for us. Players can take control of one of the four main plants, each with specific abilities: Peashooter, who can be used as a Gatling gun when planted; Chomper, the giant purple Venus Flytrap-looking plant, who, apropos to his name, chomps; Cactus, the long-range shooter who can set up barriers; and Sunflower, the delightfully-cheery plant who can heal the others as well as fire a devastating laser beam. Players can also utilizes the infamous potato mines as well as corn missiles.
Featuring four player co-op, the demo ended up with our plant team taking on one of Zomboss’ minions, Disco Zombie (complete with his own theme song, “Boogie Your Brains Right Over Here,” and back-up dancers). For a studio that prides itself on realism, it’s nice to see them take a goofy twist with this one.
EA, I still hate myself for loving you. Gamers love you, please promise us after this year’s E3 you’ll love us back.