With the figurative smoke still settling from some explosive press conferences, anticipation was at an all-time high this year at E3. 2016 was a year of thrilling returns, like the return of God of War, Halo Wars, the more remarkable returns of Resident Evil and The Legend of Zelda, and handfuls of other franchises making their way back in to the minds of gamers. Previously announced games made their way in to the fray vying for players attention, captivating new titles like Sea of Thieves for Xbox One or Bound for Playstation 4, while previously unseen games like We Happy Few were unexpected, show floor stunners. And, VR in the form of Oculus, Playstation VR, and countless other companies was virtually everywhere. Following some generally impressive press events, three days in the E3 showroom didn’t disappoint. Here are my impressions from my time at E3 2016.
A lot of showroom space at E3 is dominated by the “Big Three” of the gaming industry, Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft, but a lot of individual developers had a great showing this year. One of the most popular residents of the show was Capcom with Resident Evil 7: Biohazard starting with the captivating reveal trailer during Sony’s press conference ( a presentation reminiscent of PT, the playable teaser for the since-canceled Silent Hills). Capcom pulled a wicked twist on Wizard of Oz and dropped a hellish house in the middle of the show floor. The eerie atmosphere of Resident Evil 7: Beginning Hour (the name ascribed to the demo) has many people hoping that this is a return to form for the more action-over-atmosphere direction the franchise has taken recently. Either way, their presence at the expo was unreal and featured one of the longest lines of the conference, second only, perhaps, to The Legend of Zelda. Not far from them, Bethesda opted for less hands on experience, exhibiting trailers amidst cool props throughout the majority of their display. Square Enix aimed for the best of both worlds with multiple kiosks toting a decent collection of the developer’s ridiculously wide selection of games as well as a theater-sized screen advertising an equally wide spread of projects and products.
Seeing some exhibitor booths was enough fun without actually playing the demos. WB Games went all out when advertising LEGO Dimensions, LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and, most notably, LEGO Worlds, for which there was enormous LEGO display featuring many of the key environments from the Minecraft-esque, procedurally built world, brick builder due out sometime next year. Hangar 13 and 2K Games also had a lot of fun advertising for Mafia 3 with their entire booth dressed up like the New Orleans in the 1960s. Some things, however, need to be seen first-hand and experienced to truly understand what all the hype is about.
Virtual reality falls into that category, where seeing is literally everything. The Oculus exhibit, in particular, had plenty to show. Featuring one of the largest displays of the entire show, Oculus offered a multitude of different VR experiences, from Samsung Gear VR, powered by a Samsung Galaxy phone, to standard Oculus Rift single and multiplayer, and even offering players the opportunity to try out Oculus Touch, VR which simultaneously utilizes the Touch motion controls, supposedly releasing by the end of the year. While Gear VR didn’t thrill me, with graphics comparable to the early polygonal arcade age and gameplay similarly reminiscent of titles like House of the Dead, I was pleased that a multitude of titles didn’t require a controller (and therefore didn’t require additional spending), instead making use of a touch sensitive dial and button on the side of the headset, giving players the Cyclops from X-Men treatment. I was far more pleased with the other Oculus experiences, in particular, the Touch, which reminds me of the early Wii days, for better or worse. Admittedly, however, some experiences, particularly the top-down games featured, didn’t necessarily feel like they benefitted from VR, and in the end reminded me of smaller, arcade titles that might be handed out for free by the likes of Sony and Microsoft, played for a while, and then forgotten forever. Again I was reminded of the Wii, weighed down by innumerable, insufferable, hackneyed mini-game collections, wondering how many true, full-fledged titles will actually make their way to the Rift over sensation-driven, one trick pony party games taking advantage of the latest tech trend. All that said, what Oculus offers is often creative and fun, in particular, its motion-based games, and is worth giving a try, assuming the opportunity actually presents itself.
Of the Big Three, Sony is the first to truly enter the VR foray, and I wish I could share my impressions of Playstation VR, but that typically requires actually experiencing something first. In an attempt to mitigate traffic and wait times, Sony opted to make its largest experiences, VR and theater experiences for its biggest upcoming titles, a by-appointment-only operation where attendees used an app to reserve time slots to come back at to play each game. In theory, this sounds very respectful of attendees’ time and patience, in practice it favored larger media outlets who took priority and limited those who got to experience anything to a small percentage of overall attendance. What was particularly grating was that even when I used the app on multiple occasions and was convinced that I’d reserved a spot for myself at a select time, I’d arrive to find that the app hadn’t actually reserved my spot because, according to the Sony representative, thousands of people were all using the app at the same time and vying for the same time slot. So, instead of being able to simply wait in a line for the sake of experiencing something, the option to experience something was completely removed, so I experienced something else, in this case primarily things from Microsoft’s demo area. It was severely disappointing that Sony, who may very well have “won” E3 in terms of press conferences (not actually my opinion, nor something truly measurable,) consequently lost the show floor competition in my book for implementing an unnecessary, and broken system while overlooking or simply shrugging off the consequences.
While that experience marred my overall impressions of Sony’s show floor presence, it wasn’t all bad, and Playstation has some genuinely exciting titles coming that aren’t reliant on a
gimmick headset. I was particularly impressed by Bound from Santa Monica Studios, a gorgeous game which transpires in a vibrant world comprised of broken, polygonal pieces which fluctuate and undulate, emblematic of the thought process of a woman recalling the past. The protagonist is a graceful princess who dances to solve problems and to solve the games platforming challenges. Surreal, imaginative, and captivating, Bound was undoubtedly one of the best games Sony had to offer. Right, alongside it was Gravity Rush 2, which, although not featured in the Playstation press conference, deserves any and all attention it’s getting elsewhere. The sequel to a PS Vita title, Gravity Rush 2 for PS4, known as Gravity Daze 2 in Japan, is an action, adventure game that allows players to manipulate gravity to fly or fall in any direction amidst an imaginative setting among the clouds. Graphically, the game looks stellar and feels like playing in an anime show. Mechanically, the game seemed seamless in my time with it and was perfectly polished and outrageously fun. Look out for the original Gravity Rush remaster on Playstation 4 and its sequel’s release later this year.
Sony’s rival, Microsoft, had a lot to counter with, including the latest iteration of their console and granting fans the ability to design controllers. Outside of maybe my golden, Zelda-themed Wiimote I can’t think of another time when I was more excited about a controller. And trust me when I say they look great in person. Mostly, however, Microsoft brought games. Where Playstation has a very limited, timed exclusive in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Xbox has Battlefield 1. The Battlefield franchise has never particularly appealed to me, but, just like the Central Powers threatened the Allies in World War One, Battlefield 1 threatens to change that. The breathtakingly life-like graphics aptly capture all of the gruesomeness and profane beauty of war, the diverse grounds covered in WWI, and new features like dynamic weather systems and hyper-destroyable environments, add an enormous amount of immersive detail while ensuring that no two matches will be the same. Not to mention that developer DICE has the franchise primly ironed out, and this may be the smoothest shooter I’ve ever seen. Add in war planes, zeppelins, and a wide spread of classes and guns and you’ve got a winning recipe for an impeccable shooter. Here’s to hoping this one panzers out. Get it? Like pans out, only using the name of a tank from World War…2…. Well, that pun fell apart.
If World War is not your thing, Xbox also has a promising series of exclusives racing to get out. Forza is making its return with Forza Horizon 3, notable not only for the quality this racer brings to the track, but also for allowing friends to hop in an play seamlessly at anytime. Shared between Steam and Xbox is Cuphead, a punishing platformer in the disguise of a 1930s cartoon, featuring fun run and gun gameplay on top of its phenomenal art direction. Or, We Happy Few is a procedurally generated game inspired by a time thirty decades after Cuphead. Reminiscent of Bioshock, We Happy Few is a startling new title in the vein of A Clock Work Orange, featuring a 1960s, English society dependent on a new drug called Joy, and a protagonists revelations when he stops taking his. This unexpected, sinister title from Compulsion Games is already shaping up to be a rare treat for Xbox owners. Speaking of Rare, the recently acquired company for Microsoft is working on perhaps its most ambitious title yet, and that’s Sea of Thieves. First revealed at E3 last year, the title is essentially a pirate simulator, complete with accordions, rum, cannons, and walking the plank. The demo had three teams of five try to lay claim to the sea in a three way fight. The teams were entirely responsible for manning their pirate ship, from someone steering, to someone in the crow’s nest giving direction. Teamwork is critical, and this demo was literally sink or swim…er…float. Firing cannons at an enemy vessel was loads of fun, but maintaining the integrity of the ship below deck was equally vital. Rare deserves credit for tackling a title so unique alone, but more so for how fun the demo actually ended up being. This is a childhood’s dream come true, and I can’t wait to see more.
Also revealed at E3 last year, ReCore, from Comcept and Armature was everything the tagline “from Keiji Inafune and the Makers of Metroid Prime,” would lead you to believe it was. Throughout the brief demo I was reminded of The Legend of Zelda, and especially Metroid Prime, and so far the level of craft on display deserves a comparison to some of the best Nintendo has to offer. The action adventure puts you in the place of Joule and her companion “Corebot” dog, Mack. Central to the game are Corebots or robots powered by cores, and by switching Mack’s core into other robotic frames, new companions are born with their own distinct abilities which can be utilized in combat and to solve puzzles. Combat itself is crisp, clean, and fun, complete with a color matching system to maximize damage output when shooting. Movement is just as critical but equally as enjoyable and felt something like third-person Metroid Prime platforming. This game is incredibly promising and was easily one of the most polished entries in all of E3.
Which leaves Nintendo, the studio that opted to bring one, and only one, playable demo to E3. Despite very vocal dissent from the gaming community leading up to E3, that decision could not have been more justified throughout the course of the event as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was the most popular demo of E3 2016. From social media, to the show floor itself, everyone was talking about Zelda, and waiting in lines for any other game, one could help but over hear rave reviews for and positive impressions from the demo. I heard not one single negative thing about Breath of the Wild my entire time at E3, and rightly so, The Legend of Zelda completely stole the show. On Tuesday morning, Nintendo began their Treehouse Live event, which would continue throughout the day. Three hours later, at 12pm, thousands of curious gamers rushed the demo when the floors opened, myself included. Wait times for the demo varied, but from what I gathered, most people waited at least three hours or more for the demo. I got off easy with a two-and-a-half hour wait. Nintendo was wise to bring only Zelda, the length of the line and the popularity of the demo necessitated it, and any other demo would have gotten in the way. Not only so, but by foregoing a press conference, much more effort and attention was drawn to the Treehouse event, where Nintendo showed off generous amounts of footage, primarily from Zelda, but also from a handful of other games as well, opting for satisfying amounts of information over terse trailers packed into one thrilling hour. While Nintendo might not have “won” the fan voted press conference competitions, their demo station was an unrivaled success, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was the most talked about game from E3 on social media, nearly doubling the amount of mentions of the runner up, Battlefield 1. Quite frankly, if anyone states that Zelda didn’t win E3 they didn’t play the demo, didn’t watch enough footage, are in denial, and most definitely are wrong. But you’re entitled to your (wrong) opinion.
After making it through the enormous line, attendees entered through a glowing cave mouth, which looked similar to the new Guardian enemy type announced this year. From there, players were treated to a movie in a darkened cave introducing the game, some new features, and setting the stage. The screen the trailer was played on raised revealing the demo area, a shaded forest scene, the floor covered in grass-like turf, and complete with Bokoblins on wooden towers, enormous pieces of meat being warmed over a faux fire, barrels, treasure chests, trees, a forest in the distance and a castle on the horizon, and a statue of Link aiming an arrow at an enormous Guardian. In the center were the kiosks where the games could be played. The only thing that rivaled the quality of the demo area, which could go head to head with any theme park, was the demo itself (my extended impressions of which are here!)
To say Nintendo went all out is certainly an understatement. Nintendo took a risk and leaned entirely on the quality of one playable demo at the show and completely crushed it. An intoxicating breath of fresh air and a stirring call to exploration, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was the best that E3 had to offer, but only the cherry on top of an already amazing show. Never have I been more legitimately excited for the future of Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo collectively, each one with unique, promising new titles that are sure to draw in newcomers and satisfy consumers who already own these consoles. While much of E3 is thought of in terms of competition by the fans, the winner this year is undoubtedly the audience. Crazy, new co-op experiences like Sea of Thieves are bound to put smiles on millions of faces, arresting new directions from games like God of War are certain to thrill and chill old and new fans, and games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild already threaten to be the best game of 2017. Happy E3 2016, here’s to the golden future of games!