E3 is the stuff that gamer dreams are made of, even nearly a month after all the announcements. It is never too late to report on hype, so here I am sharing the E3 experience, as told by some guy watching from his couch. I have been following the event for 14 straight years now, and it is customary for me to been write out my thoughts and reactions to all of the announcements. This is my gamer holiday, my gamer Christmas…E3 is my gamer Mecca. Allow me to take you through my journey of E3 2016, and why I think it was one of the most successful trade shows in the history of the business.
Living Through the Hype
There is nothing quite like the Electronic Entertainment Expo for a passionate gamer like myself. Every year E3 acts as a temperature check for hype of the industry, but more importantly it proves that this industry isn’t going anywhere. It is as healthy as it has ever been and while a trade show like E3 may not be around forever, it will take a new form in terms of being a hype generating machine. We need trade shows and press events like this, and while more and more studios, companies, and developers drop out in turn of trying out their own personal conferences, one thing is for sure, there is nothing in this world quite like the week of E3.
This year there weren’t any “next gen consoles” to announce, it was just all about the games, and boy howdy were there some interesting looking experiences. Sure Microsoft tried to sneak in a few words about their slim line system as well as their .5 step up labeled the Scorpio, but they did it with class and it took up minimal time of the press conference. You would think Sony would have spent so much time on showing VR games that are near impossible to show in a press conference setting, and while they did show up with some news, it was such a small fraction of time that they took up. Everybody who showed up for E3, including EA, Ubisoft, Bethesda and Nintendo, came to win. They came to murder the competition and explain why their games are the experiences you should be playing this fall and going forward. I think all of them had strong showcases (with a few major stumbles from EA) and delivered on the one currency that matters in this industry…hype.
As an agent of hype, I go out of my way to be overly excited about any and all games. Pushed release dates, games that won’t come out for another 3 years, and completely out of context CG trailers do not put me off. Speculating on these games that are not out yet is one of my favorite activities to do. I like to build my own story and elevate my own hype on these experiences that are years out, and then the payoff of getting them when they finally do arrive is unmatched to any feeling this industry can evoke. Has my hype ever turned against me? Sure every once in a while, but I don’t let that ruin future potential to be excited about something. I’d rather be excited and let down than spend the road to launch being pessimistic and worried. Gosh that just seems incredibly draining; I’ll take the hype any day. So we all get it now right? We are on the same page? E3 gets me hyped and now it’s time to break this year’s conferences wide open. I just want to focus on my personal High and Low of each conference.
This was the first conference of the week and by far the weakest, but I think it set expectations correctly for my mind (and hopefully yours) to be efficiently blown by the coming conferences. What was not lacking however was how they started the conference. That first game announcement is the hook, and blowing out Titanfall 2 at the top of the show was an amazing idea. That game showcased so well, and the single player trailer got me more than hyped to get back into this series. I really enjoyed the first game, and it is quite easy to tell we live in a post Titanfall FPS world now that all games have taken their locomotion mechanics. It’s hard to find a shooter nowadays that you aren’t jet-packing, double jumping, and wall running around, and that’s totally okay but just remember who pioneered it! Titans seem to have personalities and characteristics now, and I have a feeling that will be on full display in the story mode. It is very hard to top the new whip though, which adds to your maneuverability as well as works as a melee weapon. Gosh, the end of that trailer where the two pilots are in the sky and whipping towards one another…that’s how you evoke mass excitement!
Unfortunately I have some negative things to say about this conference. A few things really rubbed me the wrong way, and the biggest offender Mass Effect. This was the year to show that game; this was the time for a blowout. Mass Effect Andromeda is coming out next year and we already suffered a delay this year. After the trailer showed, we knew nothing more than what we did a year ago and that is a MAJOR issue. Did I enjoy the trailer? Of course I did, I will enjoy anything with Mass Effect in it. Was it a tease? Overwhelmingly so. We need to know more about this game, and this little trail of breadcrumbs is just not enough. We need facts, we need gameplay…we need some real news Bioware.
The upsets did not end there however, EA was nice enough to bring up the Star Wars games and that is pretty much all they did with them. They might as well have just had somebody come on stage and say, “They exist!” I love seeing Amy Hennig with Visceral talk about Star Wars, and I love seeing dudes in mo-cap suits playing with lightsabers with the Respawn logo in the background. Seeing glimpses of in engine screen shots is always welcomed…but I just needed more to get that level of hype I love to dwell in. If wanting more is the worst thing I can say about this conference, then to me I’d say they still did pretty well.
Bethesda really knew how to pick up where EA faltered. They came out strong with a Quake announcement and then it never let up until the conference’s end. The high point of Bethesda’s hour for me was the new Prey trailer. I had no idea I was watching a Prey trailer until I saw the title reveal. I was never a big fan of the first game but was excited about the idea of the sequel announced a few years back. Well now that’s out and this reboot/rebrand is in. The narrative that the trailer showcases is awesome. I was so drawn in by this man who ends up speaking to himself by the scene’s end while living a Groundhog’s Day experience as he relives the same day over and over. Who is this man, what is happening to him, and how does he fit into the real story? I don’t know, and I don’t need to know. The trailer sets a tone that I am interested in and I cannot wait to see how it all pans out.
I wanted to give Skyrim Special Edition as my high for this conference but I have put 300 hours into the original, and despite me being the one of many who feverishly asked for this game, I would feel bad to give it a highlight spot when something new and fresh like Prey should get some of my much deserved limelight. So while Skyrim SE is probably what I am most excited for, Prey is the real show stealer here.
It is hard to nail down a low point for this conference, and heck pretty much every conference going forward. At gun point I would have to say there was a bit of a stumble with announcing the Fallout 4 DLC. I thought it showed well, but it was too quick, and I guess I figured there would be a much bigger announcement. Perhaps those expectations are unfair because Far Harbor DLC did just come out, but for a conference I guess I just hoped for something a bit more than adding working conveyor belts to your settlements. This just comes off nitpicky and that is because it is. The conference was great and it is hard to find anything negative about it. For the new kids on the conference block (this is only their second year at E3) they really knocked it out of the park.
Microsoft was up next on Monday and just like the last few years, they really came out swinging. Sure they opened with an announcement of a slim model which is good, because it just gets it out of the way so the focus can turn to what matters, games. After watching this conference I thought there was no way that Sony had the lineup to usurper Microsoft this year. More on how that turns out later.
Microsoft had so many highs that it’s hard to pick one. It is so easy to go with something like We Happy Few which felt like a completely Bioshock inspired game. Every fiber of my being is shouting at me to write about Scalebound and their awesome presentation…but deep down I know that what wowed me the most was Sea of Thieves. During the entirety of it’s on stage demo (and its following hands on impressions from trusted industry types) I was just thinking of how many friends I knew who owned a Xbox One…and how do I get them to buy this game so we can all go on swashbuckling adventures together. Luckily it will take no convincing because the game speaks for itself. Want to meet up in a tavern and drink with friends? Go for it. Find a treasure map on the island you are on? Go look for it! Want to rob people coming out drunk from the local tavern? By all means do it. The real meat and potatoes is boating up with a crew and hitting the high seas. Out there you can run into sea monsters, or worse, other ships with their own crew. Each crew member has a function. One needs to man the sails, the other the anchor, somebody needs to be in crows nest navigating, and a trusted pirate friend needs to be at the helm. Everybody has a function, and everybody must be communicating to ensure that the dangerous ships and crews you face out there will not lead you to a watery grave. The first thing I am doing? Loading up my boat with booze, pals, and instruments, and we will sing sea shanties all the way to Davy Jones’ locker.
There were next to no low points in this conference. I feel that I do have to point out that I thought ending with the big Scorpio reveal (Microsoft’s .5 console) was a misstep. Really Microsoft? This is the thing you were most excited to show us? Well, I was not excited and while I understand why these .5 systems exist, I do not care to upgrade at this moment in time, especially if all games will continue to work on the current versions of the consoles. Was it a bad announcement? By no means, I thought they did a good job at giving us the information…but I just don’t feel it was the announcement to end on.
Ubisoft, Ubisoft, oh where art though Ubisoft? Seriously this is the Ubisoft I have always wanted. No annual Assassin’s Creed to slow the conference down, and the weird ecstasy filled dance party at the top of the show was their only “weird moment.” Never before has Ubisoft came out so strong at E3, and that is probably why they are suffering form a corporate hostile takeover by Vivendi. You’re looking too good these days Ubisoft! In any case, Ubisoft focused on all the right things and ended their conference with a big new IP. Sure at surface level Steep seems just like a snow extreme sports game, but is much deeper and you have a community enriched experience filled with so much freedom in terms of traversal and activities. While this was a big moment, it is far from game of the show material.
The moment of hype comes in the form of, South Park: The Fractured But Whole. Not only is this an insanely fun title to say and type, but it also showcased wonderfully. Trey and Matt (the creators of South Park) came out and discussed their heavy involvement in the game. They gave us a very funny trailer which completely satires the blueprint of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase system. If that wasn’t enough, we get three awesome gameplay snippets. The demo itself was filled with great South Park jokes, and Matt and Trey themselves just seemed so excited to show off this game. It was such a treat to see them so passionate about this project. They were very vocal about how demanding The Stick of Truth was and it seemed like they would never do a game again…yet here they are. Guys and gals, it is more than we deserve as gamers!
The low point was hardly low. If anything this is just another positive masquerading around as a negative. I am not a big Watch Dogs fan, so there was not much the sequel could do to get me on board. I thought the first game was hollow, the main character to be as interesting as a wet rag, and found every single mechanic to be less than a game like Grand Theft Auto V. However, this showcasing of the sequel actually has me looking at the game in a much more positive light. The game seems fun, the new character comes off as interesting, and all the little mechanical gripes seemed to have been fixed. Am I back in? Nope, but I can and will recognize that this game does seem to be in good shape. I feel the demo went on a bit long but in the end it did what it set out to do, and that was showing off that they were indeed listening to the fans and their complaints of the original. That is classy as hell Ubisoft.
Sony my Sony, my sweet and fair Sony…you had so much riding against you this year. You have constant lack of first party games, and all of your delays on properties announced last year are more than noticeable. I had little hope you would take the W this year. Well that’s what I get for thinking. I had figured that they would come out; talk too long about VR and their new .5 system upgrade. Instead you pulled the rug out from underneath us all, and proved why you are still leading this generation.
Where do I even begin in breaking down the major highlight of this conference? How do I choose one? Heck, I could not even choose a game and instead talk about their incredible pacing of their showcases, or even their choice of not resting on their games announced last year. Hell I would even love to gush about the live orchestral performance that lasted through the entire conference. Instead of hearing about Kingdom Hearts 3, Final Fantasy 7, and Shenmue 3, we get a totally new roster of awesome announcements. Some we knew of, while others were major surprises. Is it worth me dwelling on how much God of War rocked me? Never been a fan of the series, but what I saw had me caring in a big way. What about the Heavy Rain inspired game Detroit: Become Human? Sure it was impressive but it was just validating what I already knew.
The show opened up with Syphon Filter’s developer Sony Bend studio and their new game Days Gone. While the trailer itself had a very Last of Us feeling, the real bread and butter came from the end of conference gameplay. Wow what an impressive stage demo. The game’s enemy, whom can only be described as the zombies (don’t call them that though!) from World War Z, moves like cascading water in tandem with one another like a wave of bodies. Well look at that, it seems this may have been my highlight of the conference. Sometimes you just have to work these things out on paper before realizing what really wowed you the most. It would have been so easy to talk about how awesome Horizon showed, or talk about the big Resident Evil 7 reveal with a PT like marketing demo. While all of these announcements are game of the show worthy, I truly feel that the surprise of Days Gone landed in a big way for me. The fact that so many people did not feel the same way alarms me, but we like what we like.
It is hard for me to pick out any moments where I felt the pace of the show was hindered. The show was nonstop trailers with minimal talking or presenting, so when those slow moments came with the Skylander’s reveal and the minimal VR…it was necessary to slow that heart rate. The amount of excitement that they built through the run-time of the show was so intensely satisfying that the down time ensured our poor little hearts wouldn’t breakthrough our rib-cage. Do I care about Skylanders? No I do not; I could not even begin to care less. Do I want stage time on VR? Not particularly, but they didn’t dwell on it long and moved right past it and back to their original pacing. What I am trying to say is, that I had little to zero issues with this conference and it should be the defining mold of E3 press conferences moving forward.
Living Post Hype
So with E3 now in our rear-view mirror, a lot of us have that post E3 depression. We’ve all heard so many good things about so many games that aren’t even close to being out. So you may ask, Kyle, how do we even cope with knowing we are so far away from so many great experiences? My answer, give into the hype. I am not saying blindly love and be excited for all of these things until they reach unobtainable levels of interest. What I mean is just give into the excitement, ride the wave of hype all the way to release. The excitement you get from pondering on a game on the horizon is unlike anything else. You will never have this road to excitement other than now, so why even fight it? Excitement and hype are good. For me there is no such thing as “over-hyped.” It is a term I see thrown around all too often. While the game may not have lived up to expectations, nothing can take away those moments of pure concentrated excitement that you felt all the way up to launch. It is a good feeling, so embrace it. E3 is a time where we all as gamers come together and get excited for our healthy industry. I feel that pessimism is in low reserves during this week. Of course it is re-birthed the week after and the internet goes right back to its awful self, but in that moment…we all have E3…we all have the hype.
Supergiant Games’ sci-fi action/strategy game Transistor has arrived! Is it a Badass Jammin’ Title (BJT) or a Monster Of Supreme Fugliness Exemplifying Terribadness (MOSFET). I’m an EE and this has been jokes about transistors, thank you everyone goodnight.
If all of the waxing poetic about the game wasn’t an indicator, I like it. Superficially, Divekick is a joke. Obviously. One of the characters is a doctor named Dr. Shoals who has rocket boots and its looking for a cure for a foot disease called Foot Dive. Of course it’s a joke.
As Divekick matured, its roster grew, and with more characters, things to distinguish between characters needed to be added. As a result the roster is significantly expanded, allowing players to choose a character to fit their playstyle. With that comes a certain degree of having to learn a character and I was initially scared that this would mean the end of what I enjoy most about Divekick—its transparency. But as I played, I found that these fears were unfounded as it’s as complex as it is understandable. The metagame of Divekick—trying to figure out when your opponent will attack, how high they’ll jump, etc…—is incredibly complex, but the controls and movesets are so limited, you’re always in control and your opponent’s moves are never an unknown.
The game features single player mode, which has exactly as much story as you’d expect—somewhere between five and six panels of moving comics plus three dialogue banter sessions. Of course there’s a local versus mode, even on the Vita, but there’s also an online portion which boasts the best netcode of any fighter out there. To be fair though, I’ve had more than one match with a little lag, and one in which the loading screen came up for a few seconds before the battle resumed.
The art style is hand drawn and can be a little amateurish at times, but it all fits with the themes of the game. The music is unobtrusive and the backgrounds aren’t distracting, lending to the idea that in Divekick, combat is king. Just like in most fighters, you can complete story mode in about half an hour per character if you’re bad. Matches are completed in anywhere between 15 seconds and the absolute maximum of 3 minutes, meaning it’s as quick as it is intense.
Verdict: Come on, have I not gushed enough? Divekick is hands down the most simple, elegant, fair, and accessible fighter I’ve ever played. To fighting game terri-bads like myself, it’s perfect since the investment to get proficient is so low. And to fighter pros, it’s also perfect since the movesets are so simple, you’re forced to be creative and quick thinking to pull off a victory against a seasoned pro. Or lucky. That’ll work too.
Just go buy it, come on man.
As a side note, Iron Galaxy was kind enough to give me a review code for the game the day before its release on a far too late request from me. Even though he wasn’t in the office, the CEO himself handled my request quickly and got me the code very quickly, so thanks so much to Dave Lang. Also for the record, I bought the game on Steam just so I could support them with my dollars. You should too!
Indie titles have been gaining tons of traction lately. With titles like Minecraft and Bastion showing AAA companies and gamers that you don’t need a staff of hundreds to create high quality products, more people have been willing to give good ole indies a try. And that’s how I stumbled upon Guacamelee. I needed something to play on a plane ride and after downloading Final Fantasy VI for the fifth time, I decided I wanted a change. I’d heard the name before, but only knew it was an indie title having something to do with luchadors. On a $15 whim, I downloaded it and played it on my Vita. Is it as entertaining as the title suggests, or would I wish I had just said nah-chos?
Guacamelee stars Juan Aguacate, an agave farmer with a magic luchador mask on a mission to save his childhood friend and possible love interest, who also happens to be El Presidente’s daughter, from the evil undead skeleton Calaca. The story not only features Mexican folklore, but embraces is wholly and gives its own take. From the land of the dead to the building architecture and casual Spanish, this game really takes on the culture of Mexico and makes it accessible by having fun with it.
This game not only pulls from Mexican folklore, but from internet and video game culture for its jokes. With luchador posters featuring the likenesses of Bane and Batman to Super Meat Boy and Mega Man, and even Grumpy CAt, this game has so many in-jokes, you’re always looking for more. In fact, the primary way you get new moves is by destroying Choozo statues. If you’re a fan of the Metroid series, you’ll spot the similarities immediately. The most impressive thing about these references is that none of them feel gimmicky or out of place. In the same way that Guacamelee takes on Mexican culture by integrating it into the game, so too is the culture cultivated by the gaming community.
The gameplay is excellent. It’s basically a platforming puzzle-ish game with bosses. Think Metroid, but with melee only weapons. Well-balanced enemies along with a snappy and intuitive combat system make fights challenging, but never overly frustrating. After pummeling an enemy enough, you can pick them up to throw them at others, adding another dynamic to play in that you may want to focus on a group of enemies quickly just to pick up one and throw him at the rest, leading you into a tossing parade of baddie carcasses across the screen.
Another interesting aspect about the combat is that your special moves are not only utilized in fights, but also just to navigate. The first move you get is a punch that sends you skyward and it acts as a sort of second jump when you need just a little extra height. In the same way bombs in Metroid can let you ball-hop, the versatility of moves in Guacamelee aren’t just limited to combat, a design choice I quite enjoy.
The art style, as you can tell by the images above, is relatively simplistic. It looks almost hand-drawn, like Samurai Jack. The simple art style means that variations in color mean much more. For example, when the hyper-colorful splash screen that means you got a power-up appears, it feels really visually satisfying. The less intense graphics also mean that the frame-rate is buttery smooth all the time.
The game also features co-op, letting one other friend join in on the baddy smashing action. Though you do have to be connected to the same system, meaning no luck for Vita-only owners, you can connect the Vita to a PS3 to jump in.
Another quick point to note is that the power-up controls felt sloppy on the PS3. I had no problems selecting what move to use on my foes on Vita, but when I switched to my old Sixaxis, I had to be more precise with my motions.
Verdict: Overall, Guacamelee is a fantastic game, especially for the price. It’s funny without being annoying, the combat is fluid and dynamic, and it has enough replay value to warrant playing a few times. If you like games like Metroid or the enemy-juggling of Devil May Cry, Guacamelee is the next indie title you’ll fall for.
Half rhythm based and half shoot-em-up, Retro/Grade is the bastard result of leaving Guitar Hero alone in a romantic room with Galaga on a starry night, a lot of champagne… and potentially acid, as well. We’re not too sure. And all the while, the space-time continuum just happens to be falling in on itself outside of the grimy hotel window.
Retro/Grade, the bundle of intergalactic joy brought to PSN by indie newcomer 24 Caret Games, is the Shepherd’s Pie of concepts – a bunch of ingredients that no one in their right mind should put together, yet somehow ends up being edible. A side scrolling shoot em up timed to music that can be played with either a guitar controller or normal d-pad, and manages to keep your head bobbing all the way through? Color me intrigued. And hungry.
Rick Rocket has just saved the universe! Unfortunately, the massive destruction he left in his wake has caused a temporal anomaly that has reversed the flow of time. The player must assume control of Rick’s spacecraft and fight through the epic space battle… in reverse!
The opening cinematic of the game begins by having the player fire a single shot to end the climactic boss battle and immediately rolling credits. While it may fool you for a moment, the credits then speed up and suddenly evaporate into a primordial black hole of names and titles, only to be spit back out and rewinding with the urgency of a VHS on crack. The player watches the big baddie boss once more, again having no control over the ship, until just moments before the anticipated bad guy battle and everything starts working backwards down from the perfect score you achieved in that last detrimental blow. Suddenly, the shots fired at previous enemies are hurtling back towards you, and now the object of the game is not to kill the final boss, but to make sure that every shot you initially fired throughout the game is “unfired.”Please enter the url to a YouTube video.
Imagine taking the vertically running mechanics of Guitar Hero (You know. The type that make the walls move after too many hours trying to 100% on Expert.) and flipping them horizonally to the gorgeously rendered backdrop of space. With that concept in mind, Retro/Grade deviates from other traditional rhythm based games and creates a niche for itself in that your spaceship is stationary in the center, with the ability to move only up or down, while the timed beats come at you from both sides. The game then throws you for a loop, as not only must you unfired the blasts you originally shot as you rewind through time to the beat of the music, but also avoid the previously-missed-and-now-timewarped enemy fire that you initially dodged from the opposite side. Don’t worry. Retro/Grade sounds more complicated than it plays, due to all the timey wimey factors involved.
In addition to the fun quirks, such as playing backwards through a perfect score and manuvering your ship through the path it once took, another well thought out feature of Retro/Grade is the time reversal power up. Since you’re already moving forward through the timeline in reverse, you can “rewind” certain objectives by using the fuel you collect for your rocketship. This allows the player a quick retry for certain sequences that were not mastered the first time around, and a Game Over occurs when the continuum takes too much damage to sustain itself and collapses. But as lovingly crafted as the gameplay is, the area where Retro/Grade really delivers is it’s shiny soundtrack, so masterfully designed that even the rhythmless can stay on the same beat as the dubstep-bumpin’ Captain Rick.
Once you get over the initial gameplay, Retro/Grade does little to deliver on new challenges and at times can seem to be simply a dizzying bunch of trippy lights and pew-pew sound effects. Adding together the smaller annoyances like repetative challenges, no Platinum trophy, and only 10 songs means that Retro/Grade‘s fresh take can become spoiled rather quickly.
Despite being a rhythm based game along the lines of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, Retro/Grade pales in comparison to the more adult forerunners of the genre. While it is a fun game with an inventive concept to put in the quick rotation mix, Retro/Grade is one that probably wont stand the test of time or replay value. Nevertheless, for the music and intriguing system, it is definitely worth checking out for only 9.99 via the PlayStation Network.
If you already bought Batman: Arkham City a little over a year ago, nothing I can say will make you shell another 60 smackeroos for the Game of The Year edition with a few more bells and whistles. Thankfully, the great minds over at Rocksteady Studios aren’t money hungry enough to make us by another copy of the same rereleased game to get our daily DLC on.
Harley Quinn’s Revenge is a story-based DLC pack adding two hours of all new gameplay. Most recently released trailer footage follows the Boy Wonder taking orders from the Oracle on a quest to find the Bats, though it looks like the two will be interchangeable at some point. (Kudos if you can tell me which of the five Robin’s it is!) Harley Quinn’s Revenge will be available on May 29th for $9.99 on PSN and XBOX, or you can part with the cash for the GOTY edition, which includes all of the DLC and releases the same day!Please enter the url to a YouTube video.