Words by Eoin Monaghan
E3, or to coin a new moniker – Leaky 3, has been an odd experience this year. One of my favourites on record, it toyed with our preconceptions of not just what an E3 is but even what a console is. We had hardware, a lack of hardware, games that may or not be games and some of the most unquestionably naff protagonists on show, not to mention some of the superstars of the industry showing why they are held as such. I can’t start without mentioning the incredible work done on site by our industry’s journalists too. Whether you were watching Giant Bomb’s amazing live streams, Danny O’Dwyer’s stellar interviews or reading Neogaf’s heroes spoil everything before it happened, the community at large has never felt bigger or more inclusive. Juggling Euro 2016 and E3 has been a treat, all thanks to the dichotomy between the games industry’s incomparable commentators versus Michael Owen who doesn’t like movies.
In the lead up to the floorshow we have enjoyed a seriously mixed bag of press conferences. Let’s pull apart the good, the bad and the Norman Reedus.
EA kicked off our pre-show conferences. EA’s Star Wars Battlefront nearly stole last year’s show but if anyone would be kind enough to indulge the memory of Pele’s agonising speech, also played with people’s ability to refrain from insomnia. This year was an entirely more adroit affair and they brought their A-game with another bevy of Star Wars titles, this time presented beautifully with a short video showcasing their various studio’s work to bring the universe to our screens and into our hands. Seeing Amy Hennig at work is always a joy and I cannot wait to see what she brings to a beloved franchise.
Franchises are what EA are all about however and this is where they made real strides. Titanfall 2 ramped up what was an incredible E3, and year by the way, for the FPS genre. Their campaign trailer brought exactly what was missing from the first entry. I never felt any connection to why I was fighting in that world and I hope that a campaign can fix that this time around. Heavy focus was put on the Titans and their role in the world and that is something that excites me. I have heard reports from the floor, where a playable version was available, that traversal is even better this year. In this, the year of the grappling hook, they have apparently added a new dimension of verticality and it looks smooth, simplistic and stunning once again. October 28th is the release date.
To break from the big guns for a moment, Fe looks beautiful. I am a huge fan of Journey, Hyper Light Drifter and the upcoming Abzu (watch this space) and Fe continues the recent tradition of gorgeous, affecting Indie gaming. I’m eager to see more from EA Original’s indie support following this year’s Unravel. They seem to root out innovative studios who have a connection to nature and the world around us and I commend them on that.
Back to the big guns. Literally. Battlefield One is a ballsy move for a studio who had begun to stagnate and rest on their laurels. Their announce trailer was one of the best in years and to see the follow-up at E3 evoked a passion for this series I have not felt for a long time. Their stupendous set-pieces look bigger than ever. That zeppelin take-down – oof. I reserve judgement for now purely because I think, as has been said by better people than I, to handle a war with such casualties and world-affecting outcomes is a very tough ask. Do they go deep into the set-piece territory they are so good at or tell smaller stories about a war that had such far-reaching consequences that people don’t know a lot about? It’s a conundrum but one I feel they can rise to. We’ll know soon enough anyway. A week before Titanfall 2 in fact, October 21st for this one.
Sports! Sports happened and having learnt from last year’s diabolical announcement it was much tighter. There’s not much to say apart from 1. They’re taking a leaf out of the Spike Lee Joint in last year’s NBA 2K16 and 2. You’ll buy them anyway won’t you?
My highlight though was the obvious one. Goosebumps rose all over me as we saw our first real footage of Mass Effect Andromeda. I am a gigantic fan of Bioware’s trilogy (yes, even the ending) and seeing our new hero, appropriately named after the first woman in space just as Shepard was named for the first man, was nothing short of astounding. The vehicles! The Krogan! Everything! We’re a while off yet but this is extremely high on my hit-list. I need it. I thought they played it perfectly with a mix of cinematic and what appeared to be gameplay and no doubt Gamescom, TGS and everything in between will bring more footage. The Mass Effect Hype Train has left the building with me on it hanging my head out the window like an ecstatic dog.
Watch all EA’s E3 2016 trailers here:
Full Press Conference (Courtesy of IGN):
One year ago we were marvelling over Fallout 4 and what it could be. One year later I’m lamenting the fact that every time I reloaded my favourite gun I died. I’m not joking. I quit that game after giving it a respectable 25 hours totally disillusioned with Bethesda’s shtick. Do not launch a game broken. Do not launch a game that I need a high-end PC to get the most out of. Or do, cause you’re Bethesda and I love you. I’ll forgive that one.
Speaking of Fallout 4, Bethesda had built the game off the back of porting Skyrim to learn the new consoles’ architecture and the worst kept secret in gaming was finally announced as a Special Edition that’s coming this Autumn. They haven’t just ported it however. New shaders, foliage and assets are going to bill this as a worthy alternative to the PC version and full mod support rounding out the package. Skyrim is still very much a thing on PC and while super fans might have liked Morrowind or even Oblivion to be remade, this is free money to Bethesda and will hopefully fund the next entry in the series.
Prey is back. Sort of. Prey is being remade? I don’t know. Bethesda are using the name to create what seems like an entirely new IP and Prey is a great name so why not? The trailer was excellent and while far removed from what the original game was I’m happy to see anything new from the team behind it.
Hang on. QUAKE IS BACK. Doom is one of my favourite games of the year. Having taken down the beta on this very site it blew me away with its brutal and bizarrely nostalgic campaign. To take a game so beloved by so many and throw it in the face of the “oh no I’m dying better hide for 12 seconds” tactic of modern FPS’s was a breath of fresh air. To make players attack rather than hide was so obvious but so brilliant. For a release so recent, to answer the prayers of the internet and bring back the final iD IP was something they had clearly expected and made everyone’s dreams come true with the announcement. They’re two for two with Wolfenstein and Doom and if this is a straight-up arena shooter with classes ala Overwatch and its influences I would expect it to be big on the eSports scene and the clamour of support from its old-school dyed-in-the-wool fans will help the everyday gamer get involved. Can’t wait to see more.
We got some Doom DLC plans. Ultimate Doom wasn’t announced but it’s just a month-ish past the game’s release so I can hold out for that.
The main focus of Bethesda however was Dishonored 2. Up to this point in the conference, we had seen surprises but nothing much in terms of meaty gameplay. Dishonored changed that. Every time I thought they were done we just got more. I loved the first Dishonored and seeing Emily and how her new abilities can change the way we see that game is so exciting. Also, its beautiful. The art style in the first game was stunning and to see the power of the latest consoles show off the dirty lines and shadowy textures is something to behold. Their switch to a sunnier, Mediterraenean-esque climate will only showcase their ability to create world’s even more and on top of that, we’re getting more Dunwall. The game will start and finish in the seedy town we grew to love in the first game. We haven’t seen anything of Corvo’s gameplay yet and if they build on what they showed in Dishonored then we are in for a treat. I can’t suggest enough that you watch speedrunners and streamers play it enough. The players have taken that game to a level that the developers are constantly surprised by and that’s the best thing about a game like this. The franchise helped create the emergent gameplay movement and to get another spin at it can only be good in the long run. We’ll all get a shot on November 11th of this year.
Watch all of Bethesda’s E3 2016 trailers right here:
Watch the entire Bethesda E32016 press conference right here (Courtesy of IGN):
Let me open by saying that Ubisoft are their own entity. They have a style to their games’ that is their own. I adore Child of Light and the recent Rayman reboots but I have to admit that I despise most of what they’ve done in recent years. Their conference did nothing to alleviate that. Aisha Tyler is a wonderful presence at E3 each year but even her passion for what Ubi are doing cannot help what I think is a garbage developer.
No Assassin’s Creed in game form meant we got the most PR bullshit video from the team who are working on the movie. They trotted out the party-line and the less said the better.
Moving on. We got the most forced “gameplay” of Ghost Recon: Wildlands I’ve possibly ever seen at a conference. This is a developer who last year showcased Rainbow Six: Siege with players on stage genuinely running a mission. What Wildlands showed was, and on good authority, not the game that we will all play. Forced, overplayed, scripted “interaction” from the team pushed it into mortifying territory and nothing I have seen has suggested that the game itself will have any semblance of what we saw at E3.
Speaking of mortifying. My God. Watch Dogs 2 is supposedly fixing the worst of all the original’s problems. Well, they haven’t looked at their script or character team as the gameplay on stage showed a cutscene between protagonist Marcus and his masked mission-giver contained some of the worst dialogue I have ever seen in a videogame. “It’s going to be hard turning them all back into people” – response: “Fucking A dude!”. Not to mention the fact that this super-secret hacker is wandering around wearing a tee-shirt and hat combo displaying the logo and name of his “super-secret” hacking team. Way to be indiscreet, bro.
For Honour won some plaudits but to me it genuinely looks like a derivative Dynasty Warriors/Dark Souls crossover with shockingly bad graphics and gameplay. I have zero idea why this was their, or anyone else’s, focus for the conference as to be honest, it looks so dull I cannot understand how the amount of money being pumped into it continues to be pumped into it.
South Park was shown. Matt and Trey were marvellous as always but a game that focuses on taking pot-shots on the easiest target of all, the by-the numbers, boring fare Hollywood is churning out is neither big, nor clever. Just like FIFA though, it has its audience who will lap it up. This is not a shot at South Park. This is a shot at a developer who is increasingly alienating an audience to what good games are. People will buy these IP-driven cash-ins and give Ubisoft more money to create AAA games that undercut the talented games producers that have been showcased elsewhere.
I love that we’re getting another Grow Home, entitled Grow Up, but I realistically can’t say it saved the show in any way. I’m looking forward to getting another few hours with our little robot pal all the same.
Ubisoft finished up by celebrating their 30th year making games by announcing Steep, an open-world, exploration based extreme winter sports games. Yes, that did happen. I have no idea who the target audience is for this yet. While the mountains on show were very pretty, there wasn’t much variance in terms of landscape and it appeared to pull bits of their other games into one. There’s a little bit of Far Cry in the wingsuit for example. I think if a developer is going down the route of 2000’s throwback genre games, you have to go full SSX and give us open-world Tricky, not Shaun White Snowboarding. This could end up looking very nice however and if the exploration is fun, then I might be wrong. I just feel if people want to wander around beautiful ice-caps and mountains, they’ll still be doing so in Skyrim.
As a weird aside, there was no Beyond Good & Evil 2 though we know it’s being worked on and wanted and also no Wild at Sony’s show? Is that a thing still? It looked good…
Watch all of Ubisoft’s E32016 trailers right here:
Watch the entire Ubisoft E32016 press conference right here (Courtesy of Ubisoft US):
The strange case of Microsoft continues. Having being soundly beaten by Sony in hardware sales, hardware power and games available this console generation their line has always been that they’re just focusing on keeping their own house in order. There is no console war according to Microsoft. What is fascinating about the idea of a console war is simply put that the console as we know it is dead. Rumours, leaks and suggestions have persisted for months of an upgraded Xbox One, not just to match Sony’s now confirmed PS4K but to iterate on the current generation just as iPhones, tablets and PC components have been doing for years. We are now in an iterative state when it comes to home gaming. Every Xbox game will play on whatever Xbox you have, it’s just that some games are more equal than others. Microsoft pushed this message hard with its two main hardware announcements – the Xbox One S & Project Scorpio and also “Play Anywhere”, a conjoining of Windows 10 and Xbox which means when you buy an Xbox game, you get to play it on a Windows 10 PC or whatever box is plugged into your TV, 4K or not. I’ve never brought an Xbox to the park however so perhaps more work on the slogan would have been advised.
Let’s take the hardware first. Project Scorpio, the 4K ready, 6 teraflop touting upgraded Xbox One won’t be with until Christmas 2017, a full 18 months from now. The Xbox One S, a slimmer more refined looking version of the current console, will be released this year. So can anyone tell me why someone would buy an Xbox One of either variant in the next year given the faster, better console’s arrival? Microsoft obviously feel that in the long-term they need to not just catch up to PS4 in terms of power but to outstrip them also. I think the question in the meantime is how much are they going to sacrifice in doing so. An interesting and exciting 18 months await.
Microsoft also brought some actual games to the show too by the way. Unfortunately, like Ubisoft, nothing much hit the mark.
Gears of War is a series desperate for a reimaging, a reboot, a return to some sort of form but as far as I can see from the fourth entry not a lot has changed. Living in a post-Uncharted 4 world has put extra pressure on developers to shake up the third-person genre but it looks like more of the same here at least. The trailer they showed was dark, unimaginative and uninspired. The draw of the series has often been its grim setting but even its violent tendencies has been lessened and made more palatable by the cartoonish gore of Doom and Mortal Kombat’s latest kill-fests. A case of a studio being left behind as times move on perhaps. October 11th is coming soon so they better get polishing.
Scalebound, where to begin? The headphone toting protagonist has to be one of the worst in recent history. I just do not see how anyone could possibly connect to him in any capacity. His constant shout-casting, lame moves and super-naff Beats-esque musical equipment has destroyed any hope this game had with me unfortunately. Luckily enough the gameplay looks crap too. We saw 4 variants of our player-character pepper a giant crab with bullets, spells and dragon fire for a while until it eventually subsided. At no point did the crab appear to do anything in retaliation or be particularly bothered about anything happening to it until it perished. JRPG, control a dragon, giant bosses, what could possibly go wrong? See here for answer.
Sea of Thieves continued the theme of underwhelming attempts at creating new things influenced by old. This might to be a deathmatch type MMO? A Destiny-esque clan based exploration game? I don’t think anyone knows yet. The world looked fairly empty which leads me to believe that it might be a type of arena battle match in which you can also build your own ships. It’s on the show floor anyway so we’ll have more reports in the coming days but for now this has, for me, only confirmed Rare’s sensational fall from grace. Keep your eyes on Yooka Laylee for the real team that worked on all our N64 favourites.
One game that blew me away however was We Happy Few. This looks simply beautiful. A striking visual style contrasting cartoonish long-line sketches with splashes of colour makes this stand out head and shoulders above the rest of Microsoft’s show. Set in a dystopian otherworld, the inhabitants all take “Joy”, a drug created to mask the horrors of everyday life and keep grotesque smiles torn across their faces. It all goes very 1984 however when you, the hero of the tale, decide to stop taking it. The reveal of what is actually happening in the city leads to a chase and on to what looks like a first-person survival game. Keep your eyes out for a release date soon. This could be a modern classic.
To round up a few more of the mostly insipid show; ReCore has me interested. Its Keiji Inafune so tick there but if Mighty No. 9 is anything to go by that star may have fallen somewhat. I look forward to seeing more however. Forza Horizon 3 looks extremely pretty. Expect a solid driving game, it will have its fans marked already. I’ve heard very good reports on Crackdown 3 although very little of the game has been shown. Judgement reserved till I can see more. State of Decay 2 was a surprise and looks pretty if nothing else. Halo Wars has its fans; I feel they will welcome a second. Finally, Dead Rising 4 was a badly kept secret and was expected to make a showing, the first few games were distractions and this doesn’t look to change the formula drastically. Christmas theme and release date for that one, expect it to be boxed with the One S for sure.
All in all, the first of the Big Two didn’t fare too well on their report card. They did what they had to do in terms of hardware and they especially pushed the idea of the new architecture being easier for developers to work with given reports that the Xbox One wasn’t exactly that. Their software continues to be a serious downfall however and will do nothing to swing anyone away from Sony and their stellar IPs. When you’re up against the Final Fantasy VII remake, The Last Guardian, whatever Death Stranding is, God of War, No Man’s Sky and Horizon Zero Dawn you have to make sure your release calendar is stacked. Microsoft’s looks bereft of ideas, innovation and most importantly; anything to get excited about.
Watch all of Microsoft’s E32016 trailers right here:
Watch the entire Microsoft e32016 press conference right here (Courtesy of Gamespot):
Once again, Sony have stolen E3. They are simply the masters of this show. Sony’s conference was short, sharp, devoid of any filler or pomp and while it’s nice to see developers get their moment on stage to fumble over their lines, Sony skipped that and just hit trailer after trailer mixed with live gameplay and a grand total of 2 people on stage (including one very special guest).
The show opened with a live orchestra introducing the latest God of War. Set in a generally Scandinavian area, we saw Kratos and his son making their way out into the world to hunt a deer and inevitably get caught up with some evil dudes and a troll. They have shifted the camera to a fully controllable over-the-shoulder model and it seems to have added a huge amount of freedom to a franchise that had begun to slow after so many entries across Sony’s various platforms. It looks sensational. The attention to detail on the troll enemy is especially worthy of praise as every time Kratos swung his axe into its shins it left a cut or injury in that exact place. How the world will expand and the role of the son will be incorporated but this was a perfectly pitched opening to the show and the emotion elicited by Kratos and his son plunging their late (?) wife/mother’s knife into the deer was something I have not found in a trailer for a long time.
Following up was an intro to Days Gone, a new IP. I have to admit I found the trailer a little hard to swallow. It was just the wrong side of cheesy for me. I think zombies have to be approached with such care these days as the genre is getting so played out but when we saw the extended gameplay at the end of the conference it certainly won me back to neutral if not a little positive. The hordes racing at the main character look so well rendered and I can’t wait to see that physics engine perform in all sorts of situations. Like Watch Dogs 2 though, if you can’t nail down the characters and script without coming off like bad TV then I’m going to jump ship. Videogames should be at the point now that meaningful or at least well-constructed dialogue should not be too much to ask. #
We got another glimpse at The Last Guardian and a release date. October 25th. Book it off and invest in tissues now.
Horizon Zero Dawn got to stretch its legs in a whole new setting and show off its range of combat options, dialogue trees, flora and fauna in an extended gameplay demo, again live. I could not be more excited for this game. The world they are creating just looks so flush with life, both mechanical and organic. One of the cardinal rules of videogame combat is that ‘bow vs fast melee’ is bad but this looks so responsive and just downright fun. We’re starting to see and hear where they’re pushing the story on this one and I’m intrigued by it too. I want to know more and more about this world and that appears to be the crux of the narrative. Stunning preview footage and bravo to Guerrilla Games for taking such a huge leap following the Killzone franchise.
To wrap up a couple of the other games we got Spiderman, by Insomniac not Sucker Punch as had been rumoured. Insomniac know good traversal and action and should create a worthy Spiderman game. They’ve released the likes of Sunset Overdrive, Ratchet & Clank and the Resistance series and come with a strong pedigree. Detroit is David Cage’s new game. He of Heavy Rain, Beyond Two Souls & Fahrenheit fame. Cage’s games are not for everyone, and I include myself in that, but he always creates something innovative and boundary-pushing at least. How naff were those trailer instructions though? Wow. Call of Duty looks interesting! Those games trailer so well though. We’ll see.
We got a little preview of PlayStation VR which launches in October. It’s hard to show this is in a press conference and the show floor is where VR will really sing but we saw Batman among other things including a horror game that looks genuinely terrifying. The gameplay showed a first-person view, someone walking through a darkened, creepy-as-hell house. It set up some beautifully atmospheric scares and chills and then the title card hit revealing it as Resident Evil VII. I stood up, mind racing as the crowd went wild. They then announced that the entire game will function in both VR and normal mode (just…R?) and I tried to stand up again causing a complete brain meltdown. With so many rumours flying around this was one that I just didn’t believe would hit E3. Capcom had already announced something big this E3 and if Resi Evil came back at all 6 had ruined expectation in a lot of ways anyway. Then they gave us something totally unexpected and fresh and scary and exciting. There is a playable demo on PS4 right now and its out January. That’s how you announce a game.
The biggest moment of the conference however is what I’m going to finish with. If Resident Evil VII had announced a game perfectly, I’m not sure what to even call this. A game? A studio? A concept? There’s a theory about this that I’ll delve into but first of all, welcome back Hideo Kojima. There have been many column inches devoted to his acrimonious split from Konami following last year’s MGSV and even more inches devoted to Konami’s split from the games’ industry entirely bar Pachinko and Pro Evo. Sony were quick to back one of videogames’ most enterprising and brilliant minds and Kojima-san set about creating a new studio. A smaller, tighter studio. He embarked on a world tour of other studios trying to find an engine for his new game. This was mere months ago. And here he is, standing on the E3 stage as gaming’s biggest rockstar. People stood in the aisles whooping and hollering at his return, I’m getting goose bumps writing this just thinking about it again. He introduced Death Stranding and the video played. A naked man, played in mo-cap by The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus lay beside a baby, a baby with a metallic umbilical cord torn away from him. He proceeds to cradle the baby and wail, the music rising with the camera. Beached whales and creatures (a stranding, geddit?) lay around him and 5 figures hang in sky, Evangelion like. Much has been made of this signifying not a game but his baby, Metal Gear Solid, being torn away from him by Konami. The hand-prints all over the body of the man, a substitute for Kojima himself, becoming a metaphor for how he felt leaving Konami, with everyone grabbing at him trying to hire him, to get his side of his story, to tear him down. Of course, this could all be nonsense but it was THE moment of the show and the conference. Here’s hoping there’s a game in there somewhere too.
Rarely does an E3 conference have even one jaw-dropping moment anymore, Sony in 2016 was one hour-long jaw-dropping moment. They reign supreme for another year at least.
Watch all of Sony’s E32016 trailers right here:
Watch the entire Sony E32016 press conference right here:
By Eoin Monaghan