It’s E3 again, which is like Christmas for gamers, if Santa told you about your presents a year in advance and then spent Christmas morning selling them to you in bits and pieces.
This year’s E3 represented a strong showing by the big three console makers. Each showed a variety of first and third party games at their media briefings, and that’s what we are looking at today.
The presentations went weirdly smoothly for everyone involved. Dozens of exciting titles were announced yesterday and this morning, and there’s plenty to look forward to over the coming year.
Some of us spent yesterday forgoing food and sleep to stay glued to the live streams, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that you have a life. What are the most exciting announcements so far, and who had the strongest showing at this year’s E3? Read on to find out!
Nominally, Microsoft is competing with Sony this generation, but for the most part, their presentation seemed to be squarely aimed at an unlikely contender: the PC. Microsoft announced a surprising number of PC-esque features for the Xbox One, and I’m kinda psyched about it.
But let’s start with the obvious big news.
Halo 5 Actually Looks Kind of Rad
Halo is beloved (and one of the few reasons to buy an Xbox One at this point), but its departure from the originally planned story and the loss of Bungie may have left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. To make matters worse, Halo’s gameplay is more about small refinements than sweeping changes. So, when a studio is told it needs to make Halo 5, how does it actually make that interesting?
The answer, apparently, is to start making sequels to other peoples’ games instead. Specifically, Left 4 Dead. The Halo 5 campaign stars a squad of four playable characters who can be swapped between, one of whom is “Buck,” Nathan Fillion’s character from Halo ODST. These characters can either be controlled by AI or friends. Notably, the game lacks an option for couch co-op. You may recognize this as exactly the core gameplay from Left 4 Dead. Other similarities include the ability to revive teammates, and a diverse set of enemies with special abilities. There’s also familiar-sounding banter and procedural dialog between characters.
In terms of online play, Halo 5 introduces “Warzone,” an online multiplayer mode featuring maps and matches larger than what we’ve previously seen in Halo. In one game mode, two teams of twelve fight over a number of capture points, using a wide array of weapons and vehicles while fending off waves of AI-controlled enemies. The result feels a lot more like Battlefield than it does traditional Halo matches.
Halo 5 represents a major changeup in the formula, and that’s a good thing. I’m actually sort of excited to play the game now, although dedicated Halo fans may not be thrilled by some of the changes.
Minecraft on the HoloLens
On a more innovative note, Microsoft is still trying to figure out what to do with their cool but seriously limited augmented reality headset, the HoloLens. In one E3 demonstration, they announced a version of Minecraft built specifically for it.
The first mode they show is simply playing Minecraft in 3D on a wall – which is cool, but probably not something anyone would use for more than five minutes if they already have a TV. The second mode is much more interesting and involves taking portions of existing Minecraft servers, and re-creating them, in miniature, on your living room table. Everything is reproduced, including monsters and other players. They also show off the ability to use console commands by voice, a feature that essentially gives HoloLens players a form of petty sorcery.
The HoloLens is still something that Microsoft is clearly feeling out. It isn’t clear whether or not their demo is actually something anyone would use in real life – and the problems with occlusion and field of view remain unresolved. Still, the demo was undeniably cool.
For the most part, Microsoft’s announcements consisted of rehashes of old franchises that we already knew or suspected were coming. However, they did announce one interesting-looking title, from the creator of Metroid Prime. The game, called Re-Core, is a post-apocalyptic game about weirdly adorable robots. Check out the trailer below!
While I wish Microsoft had pushed harder in this area, it was nice to see some fresh content for the Xbox One, and I’m really looking forward to the game mechanics implied by the trailer.
Limited Backwards Compatibility for Xbox One
Microsoft had another major crowd-pleasing announcement: there will be limited backwards compatibility for popular 360 titles on the Xbox One. Towards the end of the year, Microsoft will be releasing more than a hundred of the most popular Xbox 360 titles (including Mass Effect, Super Meat Boy, and Perfect Dark). If you own any of these titles on the 360, you’ll be able to play them on Xbox One.
This is a major change of direction from Microsoft, as they were dismissive of it early in the generation. The cynic in me thinks this may be due to the dwindling number of Xbox exclusives this generation. Backwards compatibility (with basic graphics updates like improved anti-aliasing) is a good way to bolster the stable of titles without spending a huge amount of money on development.
Early Access Comes to Xbox
And now we get to the ‘weirdly PC focused’ part of the presentation: Xbox is getting a limited stable of early access titles, starting with Elite:Dangerous, Shelter, The Long Dark, and DayZ. While early access has been a mixed bag on the PC – helping to fund indie game development, but also encouraging scammers – it may see more success on a console platform, where Microsoft can help to exert a stronger degree of control over which titles become available on early access.
This could be a really great way for Microsoft to encourage indie developers to build content for their platform, something that could prove a vital asset in the future. The first early access titles are already available with free demos to help users make an educated decision about what to buy.
Fallout 4 on the Xbox One Will Support Mods
Continuing in that vein, Microsoft also announced that Fallout 4 on the Xbox One will support mods. Bethesda games tend to accumulate a huge stable of mods. Some of them fix core elements of the gameplay. Others… do weirder things.
Either way, they’re a crucial part of the experience of Elder Scrolls games, and one that’s been conspicuously absent on consoles for a long time. Now, Xbox Director Todd Howard has confirmed that mods made for the PC version of Fallout 4 will be able to be “transferred, played and shared for free” on Xbox One.
The modding tools for Fallout 4, unfortunately, won’t ship until 2016, but mods will be available thereafter.
This is a direct attempt by Microsoft to compete for the attention of PC gamers, and I am loving it. Bringing more of the flexibility and freedom of the PC platform to consoles can only be a good thing, and is part of a larger trend of convergence that includes the SteamMachine lineup which I find very exciting.
New Tomb Raider and Gears of War
Finally, Microsoft showed two installments of major franchises: Tomb Raider, and Gears of War, releasing trailers for both. There are a few interesting things here: after the slightly icky-feeling of helplessness in the Tomb Raider reboot, we get a first look here at a more capable post-reboot Lara Croft, and some thrilling-looking climbing gameplay. And, in the case of Gears of War, we get a look at a Gears of War game that does not appear to star Marcus Phoenix.
PlayStation, which has sold a huge number of units this generation, is in a unique position to command exclusives, and they displayed some of that muscle tonight.
Naughty Dog has established itself firmly as not just the best PlayStation developer, but one of the best game developers in the world, with knockout titles like The Last of Us. However, Naughty Dog’s bread and butter is the Uncharted series, a game about gymnastic superman Nathan Drake hanging off of large objects under increasingly implausible circumstances. Think Indiana Jones meets Assassins Creed.
Yesterday, Sony showed more footage from the new Uncharted, subtitled “A Thief’s End”. The game features an older, retired Nathan Drake, dragged back into the fray by the appearance of a long-lost brother – and, of course, a lost city and ancient treasure.
The new gameplay video shows off significant graphical and gameplay improvements. The game looks gorgeous on the PS4 hardware, and the environments are wonderfully physical. The combat also looks very similar to The Last of Us. And, on the gameplay side, the game incorporates a climbing pike, driving sections, and a grappling hook, all of which sound great.
Dream (or, “Jan Svankmejer’s Minecraft”)
Sony wasn’t just showing off the same old franchises, either: they were also introducing some new IP. Dream, from Media Molecule (the studio behind Little Big Planet and Teraway), looks somewhere between delightful and completely insane. It’s a little hard to describe, so be sure to take a minute to watch the trailer.
Basically, Dream is a game about user content creation, which allows you to use the PS4 remote as a motion controller to ‘draw’ virtual clay in space. Your creations can be remixed, animated, and assigned properties and behaviors in an intuitive way (although the details of these mechanics aren’t totally clear right now).
Player creations will be seamlessly linked together in a vast ‘dreamiverse’ of player-created content. The game has a wonderful stop-motion nightmare aesthetic, and enough atmosphere to choke on it.
The Last Guardian
Do you remember seeing a cool-looking game about a little kid and a baby griffin a while back? Say, like, 2009-ish? Remember how nothing ever came of that? Well, it’s back, and it’s coming out next year.
The Last Guardian is an exploration and puzzle game, in which the player is partnered with a huge doglike AI companion who you can climb on, amidst mysterious, desaturated ruins. Needless to say, it’s being made by the team behind Shadow of the Colossus and Ico.
The game has been in development hell for years, but the gameplay video above looks great, minus some dated graphics, and Team Ico is assuring journalists that the game is on track for release in 2016.
This Completely Insane Robot Dinosaur Bowhunting Game
Another new IP, Horizon: Zero Dawn is a game about cavemen fighting robot dinosaurs in the post-apocalypse from the team behind Killzone. So, that’s pretty cool. I’m really excited that gaming has reached a point now where weird stuff like this game and Dream can be green-lit. The gameplay looks complicated and interesting, and the design of the robots is fantastic. The game is scheduled to come out sometime in 2016.
No Man’s Sky
Another gaming conference, another No Man’s Sky gameplay video — but still no release date. The video, which shows a developer picking one star from a sky of billions and landing on a planet to catalog a few life-forms, is definitely neat, but doesn’t give much of a hint as to how much staying power the gameplay will have.
No Man’s Sky developer Hello Games has successfully convinced everyone that their procedural generation technology is very cool. They’ve done a less good job at convincing anyone that the end result will actually be fun to play.
New Hitman and Street Fighter
Sony also took the opportunity to show off new installments of some long running franchises, including Hitman and Street Fighter. The new Hitman is titled, simply, Hitman, because video game developers hate and fear our ability to coherently describe which game in a series we’re referring to. The trailer looks pretty nifty, and seems to involve snow and some decidedly creepy fashion models.
Street Fighter 5 should be arriving March 2016, and the trailer showed its battle system, which will give fighting game fans an idea of what to expect from Capcom’s latest.
Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls PS4 Ports
In the same vein, Sony also announced that Quantic Dreams twin narrative-driven games, which follow a murder investigation and a psychic teen, respectively, will be getting PS4 ports. Heavy Rain was much better reviewed than Beyond: Two Souls, but both games tried interesting things, and both were graphically wowing. It’ll be nice to see the same graphics with the benefit of more processing power.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake
I’m going to be totally honest with you: I’m still not convinced that Final Fantasy is good. I’ve never been very impressed with JRPGs as a genre, and I’ve yet to see compelling evidence that the Final Fantasy franchise is an exception. That said, a lot of people really love the franchise, and I’ve had three different friends come up to me, practically salivating, to report that Square Enix is remaking Final Fantasy 7, which is apparently the best one. If you like that sort of thing, you can check out the trailer below.
Sony also announced a Kickstarter for a little game you may have heard of called Shenmue 3.
For this year’s conference, Nintendo once again ventured out of their burrow, saw the shadow of new intellectual property, and swiftly retreated. I am given to understand that this indicates three more months of Mario.
This year’s E3 presentation was almost entirely new iterations on old properties, which is disappointing if not surprising.
To Nintendo’s credit, they did have by far the weirdest presentation this year. I’m serious, there was a puppet show.
Yoshi’s Woolly World
To kick things off, Nintendo announced a release date, in October, for their new Yoshi game, Yoshi’s Wooly World, created in the same vein as the critically acclaimed Kirby’s Epic Yarn. The game takes place in an adorable world of loose fabric, which can be woven and unwoven for gameplay purposes. Plus, you get plushie Amiibo, if you’re into that sort of thing.
If you like Starfox, you live in a harsh and unfriendly universe. It’s been a long time since a decent Starfox game came out. Now, the long drought may be at an end: we saw the first gameplay trailer of the upcoming Starfox: Zero, which features mechs and drones, as well as the more traditional plane vehicles.
Super Mario Maker
Super Mario Maker is an interesting take on the idea of a side-scrolling Mario game. Basically, Mario Maker provides you with a whole host of mechanics and elements from a huge variety of Mario games, and lets you remix them using a simple graphical user interface. You can also choose which visual style to represent your level in.
Along with building your own levels, you can also play your custom Mario levels, or share them with your friends. If nothing else, I at least expect to see some people speed running absurdly hard levels on Twitch in a couple of months, which should be pretty entertaining.
There’s also an Amiibo tie-in, which lets you tap a variety of Amiibos to cause Mario to take on a new ‘costume’ when he picks up a mystery mushroom. Super Mario Maker is scheduled to release September 11th for the Wii U.
Metroid Prime: Federation Force
The new Metroid Prime game, for the 3DS, will be a bit of a departure from past entries, and will consist of a mix of four-player co-op, and three vs. three “sports battles,” including one called “Blast Ball.” Other sports battles are still up in the air. While the game looks pretty messy on the 3DS’ decidedly aging hardware, it also looks undeniably fun. Look for Federation Force sometime in 2016.
Legend of Zelda: Tri-Force Heroes
Another 3DS game, Triforce Heroes is a spiritual successor to Legend of Zelda: Four Sword Adventures, a largely forgotten title from 2004. The game consists of top-down dungeon crawler puzzle gameplay, designed to be played with two friends via local co-op. The game also uses a variety of outfits, which give characters special abilities.
Mario Tennis: Ultra Slam
Back on the Wii U side of things, we have a new Mario Tennis game, the most recent sequel to the original Mario Tennis on the Virtual Boy (seriously). The game has pretty much what you’d expect: Mario franchise characters, weird power-ups, and a somewhat vague grasp on the concepts of gravity and inertia.
Finally, Nintendo formed an interesting partnership with Activision, to incorporate Nintendo characters into its Skylanders franchise. Nintendo plans to release a line of Amiibo that will also function as Skylanders, allowing players to double up on the value of their purchases.
The first two characters released via the partnership will be Bowser and Donkey Kong, each with a custom vehicles, for use in the race-oriented Skylanders Superchargers, due out in September. This seems like a really clever move on Nintendo’s part, and a good way to raise the profile of their Amiibo line a little.
So Who Won?
Obviously, these questions are inherently subjective. If you’re a hardcore Halo fan, of course Microsoft won. If your only gaming platform is the 3DS, Nintendo rocked it. It all depends on what you’re interested in.
Personally, I mostly enjoy narrative single-player games, and I’m a sucker for new IP, so I’m giving this one to Sony. Sony had several genuinely interesting new franchises to announce, including some creative stuff like Dream. In contrast, neither Microsoft nor Nintendo strayed much out of their comfort zone in terms of IP and titles.
Halo 5 and Yoshi’s Wooly World are cool, but they aren’t going to blow my mind. Some of Sony’s new titles just might.
What did you think? Regretting your choice of console? Looking forward to a title in particular? Let us know in the comments!
Image Credits: asteroid impact Via Shutterstock