I think I look at E3 differently to most people. I’ve been reading other people’s impressions after getting and recording my own and I can’t help but feel that people sometimes miss the point. More than anything else, it seems to me that E3 is about the companies setting down their identity for the coming year, both as a gaming location and as a corporation. Two years ago it was all about setting down the start of this generation of consoles. Last year was – for Sony – about bigging up the future (and boy they needed to, since not much was coming just round the corner) and for Microsoft is was all about convincing people to change their minds. Unsuccessfully, as it turns out.
This year is, I think, the most divergent year I’ve witnessed. For me, Microsoft clearly set down their vision as being about innovation, almost tacitly admitting that they’ve ‘lost’ this generation, and at the same time trying to create a new start by debuting new hardware next year, and new software via their innovative PC and Xbox One gaming platform. Or at least, theoretically innovative. We’ll see how it works. This time, it seems, its Microsoft with the big promises for tomorrow, while sprinkling in a good show of games. Some have described Microsoft’s conference as feeling more like a shareholders’ phonecall than a traditional E3 conference, and I can see the comparison.
And Sony? Well… Sony are always at their best when they’re confident. Some people have criticised (mystifyingly) how little discussion there was at Sony’s conference, with only a couple of execs and Hideo Kojima talking, whereas to me, I saw no need for it. What could they possibly say? Yah, boo, sucks to you, we’re the best again? More vague corporate speak about the power of Playstation? E3’s awkward executives are always among its worst qualities, horrendously in the shadow of more dynamic and natural personalities like PewDiePie, Totalbiscuit, Yahtzee Crowshaw and Jim Sterling; people embraced by the gaming public as the ‘real’ voices to whom they turn for the real perspective on things. The less we see of these people, the better.
Sony’s conference had the effortless confidence of a market leader who don’t feel that they need to preen and preach about it, a PS2 mid-era Sony rather than the bloated and arrogant early PS3-era Sony, ready to get a nasty shock from Microsoft. The one and only message from Sony, the one and only message they needed to deliver, was this: “Whatever it is you play, whatever it is you even vaguely want to play, we’ve got something for you on PS4.”
For me, the Sony pre-show was maybe more exciting – if not more spectacular – than the main stage event. It also highlighted the downside of people trying to seem natural and excited while delivering nothing but hype. They failed at this.
For example, they hyped up last year’s E3, neatly sidestepping the simple truth that none of the big reveals last year have even been released yet. Two of them, arguably the biggest and the ones that earned Sony’s ‘victor’ plaudits, Shenmue 3 and Final Fantasy VII Remastered, weren’t even mentioned.
From here on out I’ll discuss, briefly, the games that came up in sequence and my brief thoughts on each.
First thing displayed was a game from Giant Squid, called Abzu, and due for release August 2nd this year. It looked to me like a more complete version of Endless Ocean on the Wii, a scuba diving game or sorts that caters to a strange audience and could be very interesting. Pretty looking at worst.
Bound came up next, a platformer where you play a ballerina with a visual style based on modern artistic movements, and is surprisingly exciting. It’s from the same studio who brought us Flow and Journey, so if you’re a fan of those games keep an eye on this one. It looks weird and memorable.
They had a trailer for Hawken next, which is a FPS cooperative PvP mech game. I have so little interest in this that I’m trying to find a scientific scale capable of measuring my lack of interest, but I don’t think mankind has yet invented one with enough precision to measure it. However, it looks pretty competent and might be worth checking out. On the other hand, that’s a very glutted market right now, with Garden Warfare 2, Siege, and cooperative modes in every major FPS game. We’ll see.
Supergiant games showed off Pyre, a party-based RPG game. They brought us Transistor and other games as well. Lovely art style. Trailer revealed very little, all told, but it could be promising. Definitely one to watch, but not to get excited about yet. Due 2017. So here we see four very different games back to back, clearly setting out Sony’s vision.
After that, Eagleflight was shown. This is a VR game, wherein you play an eagle… IN FLIGHT! Clever name there. You fly over Paris. In VR. As an eagle. In flight. There is also multiplayer for some reason. Seems to me to fall squarely into ‘tech demo’ as games go, but it could be interesting I guess? I imagine this is intended to be a launch title for Playstation VR, but I don’t know if it’d be worth paying money for.
Continuing their theme of variety, they showed off Watchdogs 2, their first AAA game on the pre-show. It looks slightly less painfully average than the first game. But I remind all who read this that Watchdogs come to us from Ubisoft. You will be excited until it is released, and then painfully disappointed six minutes later. There are many iconic hats on display in this trailer. There’s just something about Ubisoft games that brings out my inner Vorhees MURDERDEATHKILLMURDERDEATHKILLMURDERDEATHKILL.
And then they end the preshow with the giant turd known colloquially as… what is that? In… fie… nait… whorefur? I don’t know what this is, but it’s a gunsight simulator in space. Hilariously, the three talking heads have a long awkward pause when they call for the trailer, it then doesn’t play, and they run into the main conference. There were then more awkward pauses.
The pre-show was pretty good overall, but who the hell thought ending with Infinite Warfare was a good idea? Clearly someone in productive realised the same thing that I did and nixed the idea of running The World’s Most Hated Video ™ as the bookend for their otherwise really positive, upbeat, eclectic preview show. Well done, unknown saviour.
Main conference opens up with Bear McCreary coming out to lead his orchestra (which is an excellent addition throughout) in a live rendition of the music for Parenting With Kratos, mistakenly called God of War 4 by some pundits. Classy. They aren’t saying this, but I keep mishearing the chanting guys as chanting ‘XBOX SUCKS, XBOX SUCKS’. My amusing mishearing aside, it’s a pretty epic bit of music, and some nice, raw showmanship out of Sony. I can’t help but smile as Kratos comes looming out of the shadows. GoW 3 was too much in some ways, and I was glad they ended it there… but I’m actually quite happy to see the miserable git return to our gaming screens. He’s one of Sony’s most recognisable original icons, after all. Awesomely, we get an actual demo of the opening to the game rather than a simple trailer. Parenting With Kratos has great potential. It’s not just a basic sequel, there seems to be some real evolution in the graphical presentation of combat and the like, while retaining that meatiness which made the series legendary. It’s unclear what links there are to the previous games, if any, but no doubt a long introductory cutscene will clear all that up. The demo of Parenting With Kratos ends with SPAAAAAAAARTAN RAAAAAAAAAAGE and Kratos’s maybe son shooting him in the shoulder, then successfully shooting and killing a deer. I’ll admit my inch-thick layer of icy cynicism thawed a bit for Parenting With Kratos, and it was a very good opening choice. It’s good to see Kratos has moved on from ‘murdering my children’ to ‘shouting at my children’. Character development!
After this bold opening, the presenter took some moments aside to address the Orlando shootings. Not sure that doing it after the introduction of Captain Rip And Tear’s Exciting New Adventures In Rip And Tear was the best choice… but a nice moment nonetheless.
Next up we get Bend Studios’ Days Gone trailer. Wasn’t blown away. Lacked something, not sure what. I came out of it not exactly sure what the game is about, other than ‘apocalyptic survival game no. 45643556’ and ‘boy this protagonist looks bland’ and ‘they sound like they want to be a bit like the Last of Us but aren’t even close to that level of competence’.
Right after that we get another look at The Last Guardian. Some people have lost their excitement over this, but not me. Might not be the revelation it would have been had it come out back then, but I still think it’s going to be awesome and unique. October 25th release date is a really nice announcement. So a good sequel to last year’s reveal.
Oh, and here’s Horizon: Zero Dawn. More actual gameplay this time, so that’s good. Some ropey voice acting straight off though. You’d have thought by now that people would have gotten the hang of simple lines of dialogue. The main lady seems pretty cool. Gameplay looks fantastic. I think it is now appropriate to be excited for this game, if you were on the fence. The fight with corruptor robot at the end of the demo is really very exciting. Strongly advise everyone to check this out.
And then Detroit! Hurray! I’m a big fan of Quantic Dream’s output. If you liked those past games, this looks like a linear progression from their past games. Hard to draw too much from the short gameplay bitlet we’re given but I’ll buy this anyway. Looks beautiful (of course), and has Quantic Dream’s usual flair for presentation and (at least superficial) drama. I think of their stable of four games, this has the potential to be the best, and I hope it will be.
Next up, we get a VR horror game, I think. Oh. It’s Resident Evil 7. Well. That doesn’t look shit. January 2017 release date and a playable demo. Turns out its not VR only, but you can play it entirely in VR if you like. When VR was first announced I always said that you need games people actually play on it for it to work. And this… this is a game people actually play. Resident Evil 7 could be that killer app VR needs. If it’s not shit. Please remember, Capcom is responsible for this, and adjust expectations to match. But I’ll allow some cautious optimism here, and the buzz around it is very positive.
Next up we get promises! 50 games are coming to Playstation VR, promising a bunch of proper titles, and apparently some live kiosks available that night. So go them. Obviously I don’t know how that lot plays, but they’ve done what they need to make PSVR make a splash. The titles they showed looked at least a bit interesting. Farpoint is a very gamey game, an FPS for VR, won’t be surprised if it has non-VR modes as well. Arkham VR is an exclusive Rocksteady Batman game… there’s some serious chances there, too, given how big the Arkham games have been (despite the stink Arkham Knight’s created for a lit of people). Next up we get FFXV VR stuff. I think this looks appalling. STABSTABMURDERKILLALLOFTHEM. *ahem* PSVR wasn’t a massive presence at E3, but it was shown with confidence and with plenty of promise for its release. Now we’ll see if the reality lives up to it. And fly with eagles, apparently.
Then, out of the shadows of the gaming aether, Activison’s personal iceberg came shambling into view, managing to look utterly unique and original and yet obnoxiously tired and overdone at the same time. Funny thing is I think people might have been sort of excited for this if it wasn’t a Call of Duty game, allegedly. Though ostensibly interesting, I found myself bored of it the second the bit on the outside of the ship was over. The response to the footage seemed a bit muted as well. Footage for Modern Warfare remastered stirs mixed feelings in my chest. Part of me thinks ‘man, this was one hell of a goddamn game and I loved it’. Another part thinks ‘MOTHERFUCKER, YOU DID THIS!!!!!!!’ when I look at the state of the FPS genre. Still… what they’ve shown of Infinite Warfare suggests that they are indeed doing something new with their setting. But seeing it in play, I was bored by about the halfway mark of the footage, and I haven’t played a Call of Duty game since Modern Warfare 3. I don’t know if it’s better or worse for people who play them every year.
After that they pulled a nice trick of having the presenter’s shadow look like Crash when he presented the remaster of Crash Bandicoot. Crash 1, 2 and Warped remastered fully for the PS4. And, randomly, Skylanders Imaginators trailer. You can’t say Sony aren’t actively trying to appeal to everyone because they’ve got EVERYTHING at this conference. I’m waiting for Kitchen Sink, the Game at this point. That’ll probably be a thing for VR. And now Lego Force Awakens. Looks fantastic, honestly.
And then… Kojima arrives, completely out of sync with his own funky floor-appearing presentation. Silly man. THE POWER OF ENGRISH COMPELS YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Death Stranding trailer. Who cares? It’s Kojima’s first game freed from the apparent hell that Konami has become. Naked Norman. Oil baby. Disappearing oil baby. Dead whale. Floating guys. Death Stranding. God knows what it’s about. Who cares? KOJIMA!!!!!!! It’s impossible even to speculate what this thing’s going to be like. It’s Kojima, it’s on PS4, everyone wants it to be amazing, it probably will be, we’ll be seeing it at E3 for at least three more years. Question is, will it be relevant when it finally arrives or will it be swept away by whatever the Playstation NEO is doing at that time? Honestly, cynicism aside, Kojima has an established reputation for gold-standard games, and he’s earned our trust after decades of stellar contribution to our hobby. So get hyped. Just… you know. It won’t be around for a long time.
More or less finally, we get Insomniac trailering a new Spiderman game, exclusive to the PS4. Doesn’t interest me, but it looks quite nice, as trailers tend to. I wouldn’t trust it as far as I can throw an extremely large bus, though. Still, Spiderman is an enduringly popular franchise, and if the game is anything but goddamn awful it’ll be a good game for them to have. Kids love Spiderman.
And… that’s about it. I have to say, that actually flew on by. Oh. Days Gone gameplay. Allright, let’s see what it’s about. Hmm. Seems a bit like World War Z the videogame. Zombie Apocalypse but with fast moving zombie hordes that you have to shoot down rather than evade. Unfortunately it has exploding red barrels, which somewhat ruins the immersion. In and of itself though, looked good. Potential on that one, though I can’t raise too much excitement for it. It had the feel of being highly scripted. No way those zombie hordes can come at you at random times, despite the game having the look of an open world. Vaguely pay attention to this one, and see how it develops.
And there we go. I can’t say Sony knocked it out of the park like last year, but there was more substance to this year’s E3, and the sheer variety on show was pretty spectacular. I think it’s impossible to watch this E3 and not see SOMETHING that you’d enjoy playing, unless you literally don’t enjoy games. And in that regard you can’t fault the conference. Sony don’t need to win the war, that’s not just won, but Microsoft appear to have signalled that they’re no longer interested in fighting it, with a conference full of reasons not to buy an Xbox One and wait for the Scorpio next year. All Sony had to do was show everyone that watches that there’s a game for them on Sony’s console… and they did it. The showmanship was quite classy, very carefully put together, nicely directed, and they kept awkward pointless talking and even more pointless corporate speak to a minimum. And it was two hours that flew by, so check it out. But don’t skip the pre-show. For my money, the most interesting games were on display there.