Friday, 17 June 2016

E3 2016 Summary

So, this year's E3 event has now come and gone, and, like every year, I'm left feeling rather tired. Don't get me wrong, I get rather excited when a particular game I'd been hoping for is announced, or we get to see some actual quality gameplay footage of an imminent game release, but the whole incessant clamouring that the show typically causes, with click-bait articles and word-salad market speech that the presenters talk in, means I'm not always that sad when it's all over.

Likewise, my biggest frustration goes to the amount of cheering that goes on during the press conferences. I'll remind you that the vast, vast majority of the people at these events are game “journalists” or “industry insiders”. Yet, practically every announcement is met with a hollering and whooping more akin to a sports game than a supposedly professional press conference. These are people that are supposedly doing their jobs, objectively reporting on video game news, but act more like hyper-active children after eating a box full of sweets on Christmas Eve. It makes me cringe.

Anyway, negativity aside, I was thinking what way best to cover the event for the site and figured a simple, calm summary and assessment of the conferences would be the best way to handle it. So, without further ado, here goes.

Bethesda kicked off the event when it came to the press conferences, and, overall, it was about what you'd expect: some games got announced, some trailers shown off, but the presentation was equally about bolstering the releases they'd already had; such as showing off some additions to Doom (which, if you haven't played it already, do, it's great), as well as a look at the first batch of premium DLC for the game.

The big show-off was undoubtedly a look at Dishonored 2. I'll be perfectly honest in that, as good as Dishonored was, it never quite impressed me as much as it did other people. Its world was fantastic, and the mechanics made it arguably the best spiritual successor to the Thief games, but the characters and dialogue were so utterly bland that it severely hampered the immersion for me. And I've never gotten round to playing through the game's expansions.

Dishonored 2 does look really damn interesting. Again, the opening cinematic just left me feeling nothing, with stilted, dry dialogue, but, once the gameplay got going, there's no denying there were plenty of new ideas. The powers alone looked substantially more fleshed out than the original, and, whilst they didn't outright say it, I imagine playing as either Corvo or Emily will alter your options slightly, be it powers or equipment, in some way. And once again, the world design looks utterly fantastic and is by far the most compelling element of this series, mixing sci-fi and fantasy in a way that I don't think any other game really has done.

We also heard about a new Prey title, which means that the alien bounty-hunter sequel that was hinted at a few years ago is now 100%, unequivocally, dead. No gameplay was on show, unfortunately, but the trailer would seem to suggest a new survival horror slant for this reboot. Something along the lines of Dead Space in first-person, perhaps?

Fallout 4 continues its transformation into a creator's tool kit rather than an RPG, with the showcase of some new content. In all honesty, I think this is Bethesda playing to their strengths, Fallout 4, as with Fallout 3 and Skyrim, are more interesting when other people craft things with the tools that Bethesda gives them, than they are great games in their own right. When you have a studio that's far more skilled at crafting a proper role-playing game with those tools, you get Fallout: New Vegas.

Speaking of Skyrim, PS4 and Xbox One are also getting an overhauled version of the game, complete with mod support. Whilst I'm generally ambivalent about remastered games, giving console players mod support is definitely a nice idea, since it'll fix the flaws that the base game had, namely those dreadfully bland perk trees.

EA's conference was less about games and more about what they wanted to do as a brand. This meant Andrew Wilson and Peter Moore talking plenty of corporate waffle, and speaking lines that sounded like bad motivational posters.

It was a safe talk by EA all in all. Sports, shooters and Star Wars were the three pillars they focused on. Titanfall 2 was the big game that got shown off, and this sequel is also coming with a single player campaign this time around. I actually rather enjoyed the first Titanfall more than I typically do multiplayer shooters. Hopefully the single player will give the overall game a bit more substance  that the original was lacking. Oh, and its bound for the PS4 as well.

Titanfall 2 also dovetailed with the biggest focus of EA at their conference: eSports. They spent, I'd wager a majority, bigging up their dedication to competitive gaming. On the whole, competitive gaming isn't a major draw for me, but if it can bolster and support various strategy, shooting and fighting games, and help them last, then I'm all for it playing a bigger role. It's clear eSports are having a significant influence on gaming as a whole, you only have to look at Street Fighter V to see how publishers are releasing their titles with their competitive nature in mind.

Lastly, Star Wars. We got the tiniest, tinny tiniest, glimpse of the Amy Hennig-helmed Star Wars game that's coming sometime in the (quite far off) future. It was easily the game I'm most interested in. The Legacy of Kain series means a hell of a lot to me and that's largely thanks to Amy Hennig's work those games. Likewise, she made Uncharted what it was, so I have high hopes for this new Star Wars title.

EA's conference was fairly underwhelming overall, though. A token throw to indie games was the closest we got to seeing the publisher taking big risks, with no quirky or interesting ideas getting the big money push that saw Dead Space and Mirror's Edge take the spotlight in the late 2000s. Instead they doubled down on what works; shooters and licensed series. I'd complain, but this is EA we're talking about, and they're not going to abandon their money makers in favour of more risky concepts without good reason.

Microsoft's showing was a whole lot of everything, and I'm not 100% sure what to make of it all, but I'll give it a shot.

There biggest push was the new “Play Anywhere” initiative, which sees all the company's exclusives being playable across both Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs. It came with something rather consumer-friendly too, with games purchased on one platform being available for free on the other. This, naturally, comes with a catch and seems to only apply to digital purchases, but it's a nice addition nonetheless, and sees Microsoft try and wipe away that nasty, anti-consumer nonsense they were peddling a few years ago in regards to pre-owned games.

Everything about the talk seem to suggest that Microsoft are drawing their games library into something akin to a platform, emphasizing the fact that you can play on a multitude of hardware rather than being limited to one simple console. We're already seen this hinted at with the last minute ports of Xbox One exclusives like Quantum Break, so this seems like the new model for Microsoft in the years to come.

Xbox One is getting a slim model, the Xbox One S. Again, simple but smart move. The Xbox One has a ridiculously large footprint, especially compared to the PS4 and Wii U. Hell, even the 360 and hulking great PS3 are smaller by comparison. Shrinking consoles down over their lifetime is par the course during each generation to try and draw people in as the prices come down. The Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 all had different iterations after their initial releases so this was to be expected.

The big news, and the one that's got the internet jabbering incessantly, was the announcement of Project Scorpio; a new console that's due out late next year. Microsoft were keen to stress it was “the most powerful console ever” and said the word “pixels” god knows how many times during Project Scorpio's trailer. The main issue is that despite vaguely mentioning it, presumably to build up hype, they weren't clear what exactly the machine was. Is it a straight new console, an upgraded Xbox One, or a PC in a box?

I'm going to go out on a limb here, and I'll stress this is informed speculation at best, but makes sense if you think things through. Project Scorpio is NOT a new console, this I'm fairly certain of. Given that the vast bulk of Microsoft's talk was about bringing the console and PC experience together it would seem ridiculous to then pull them straight apart again in around 18 months time. It'd be impossible for Microsoft to justify a new console and not go and release any exclusive titles for it. Likewise, Microsoft have repeatedly stated that the Xbox One would have a longer lifespan than a mere four to five years that it will have had at around the time of Scorpio's release.

Now, you could make the case that Microsoft are jumping to a new console earlier than expected because of how much more successful the PS4 has been. People point to how they jump-started the seventh console generation with the early release of the Xbox 360.

However, it's easy for gaming fans to forget that a broad range of people buy games consoles. Sure, a gaming fan would likely pick up a new console earlier if it had some good new exclusives and features. On the other hand, are the people who buy a console to play annual shooters and FIFA really going to stump for a new piece of hardware so soon? I don't think so.

My money is on Project Scorpio being more of a rival to Valve's Steam Machines; encasing PC-level hardware in a more consumer-friendly console case. I suppose Microsoft's target are that middle niche of players that care about graphics, hardware and what have you (which the Xbox One doesn't fare well at when compared to the PS4) but don't want the complexity of putting together a high-end gaming PC. I'm sceptical whether that middle-ground is big enough to support Scorpio financially, and a lot hinges on what price the console will launch at. We'll still have to wait a while longer for more details.

In terms of games, Microsoft were keen to point out the number of exclusives that were coming to their platform(s) and, admittedly there were definitely a few to get excited about. Gears of War 4 and Forza Horizon 3 were safe sequels that were expected, and we've already had plenty of information trickling in for a while now about the new Gears game.

For me, ReCore was the game that had me most interested. Microsoft has always struggled to get away from the shooters, shooters and more shooters when it comes to their exclusives, and this genuinely looks like something new and fresh.

Moreover, we got a look at some Scalebound gameplay. If I was to compare it to anything, I'd say it looks most like Monster Hunter but with a dash of Platinum's usual style thrown in there. This is definitely a game that I'm more interested in because of the developer than anything else. Platinum know how to make damn good action games, so while the gameplay didn't show off anything too mind-boggling, the developer pedigree is enough to keep me intrigued.

The dance number to Queen's “Don't Stop Me Now” that opened Ubisoft's conference summed it all up; loud, convoluted, slightly obnoxious and a bit all over the place.

Watch Dogs 2 got shown off alongside a look at Ghost Recon: Wildlands. There was an awkward bit of deja vu at one point as characters in both games both stopped to deploy a drone to scout out a particular area, as if the games were indivisible from one another. Most of Ubisoft's output has melded into this bland open-world soup in the past six years and these latest outings don't (initially, at least) look set to change that.

In all fairness Ghost Recon: Wildlands doesn't seem completely forgettable, seeming to play around with some of the more open-ended strategy elements that were in Metal Gear Solid V. Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter was a solid tactical squad shooter, so there is at least a precedent for something good here. Likewise, the setting of Watch Dogs 2, a sun-kissed San Francisco helps alleviate some of the drab blandness that made Watch Dogs not all that memorable. Similarly the new protagonist being part of a hacker gang helps leverage the game's cyberpunk, anti-authority themes better than the original title did.

Ubisoft spent some time focusing on VR halfway through their conference and it only made me more convinced that the technology is going to primarily be a gimmick when it comes to video games. The two VR games on show were a bird football game Eagle Flight (just watch the footage, it'll make more sense than me trying to explain) and a Star Trek simulation game. Neither were all that impressive and the give away was the Star Trek game. When new tech has to leverage itself by playing off of pre-existing love for other mediums/franchises I think its applications are limited. Remember the creatively named Harry Potter for Kinect, anyone?

A few other titles were shown off, including the all-new Steep, a sort of more “realistic” SSX game that has you snowboarding, skiing and gliding across the French Alps. Not necessarily my cup of tea, but it's nice to see Ubisoft using their open-world games for something a little more novel and original.

Sony's conference was almost the opposite of Ubisoft's; simple and to the point, sticking up trailer after trailer and video after video, rather than have someone keep interrupting the flow by talking.

A new God of War sequel was the first big announcement, and despite being a sequel would also appear to be a quasi-reboot for the series. Kratos is now much older and training his son for what we can only assume is some new, violent clash with mythological creatures. There was a The Last of Us vibe to the father-and-son duo creeping through the snow-covered woods hunting a deer. Part of me likes this touch, making Kratos more human and likeable. Yet, part of me also had to laugh because this is meant to be the same muscle-bound, hate-filled hulk that spent the last five-odd games killing everything that moved. Regardless, it was nice to see a proper gameplay clip rather than simply a trailer and it was refreshing to seem them take the series in a new direction.

We did get plenty of those, mind. David Cage's new game, Detroit, got a new trailer, and I dare say it looks interesting. I'm being slightly sceptical here however, both Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain also looked great from a premise point of view, but failed when it come to the interaction and the writing. So, whilst this got me slightly more interested, and still not sure it's going to be as good as the trailer would attempt to make out.

We also saw some footage of Horizon Zero Dawn. No, there's no colon in that title and I feel like there should be. It's nice to see Guerilla Games being able to work on something other than endless Killzone sequels and there's no denying that the whole thing looked gorgeous, with the robot creatures having some terrific designs. My only worry is that this could be another bland open-world scrounge-a-thon with a few robot-based gimmicks thrown in.

There were a few more big surprises though. First, a new The Last Guardian trailer, which not only showed off a little more of the game but also announced that it was being released later this year. Then, there was a cryptic trailer for Hideo Kojima's new game, the bizarrely named Dead Stranding, that's also starring Norman Reedus. How much of this is built from the corpse of Silent Hills we have yet to find out, but from the trailer it seems that it's still some sort of horror game with perhaps a science fiction element to it as well. Given all the whale, fish and crab corpses that are washed up on the beach, something tells me it's got something to do with global warming in the same way that Metal Gear Solid was about the nuclear arms race.

Whilst The Last Guardian and Dead Stranding were both surprising, they were surprises that we sort of knew could come up, even if we didn't know what form they'd take. The one that could me off-guard was the gameplay clip for Resident Evil 7, which we were also informed would be playable from beginning to end in VR. The clip that we got looked less like Resident Evil and more like Capcom's take on P.T.; with the nameless protagonist skulking around a small, abandoned house in first-person.

If this is some kind of reboot for the series, I'll be sad to see the B-movie charms of Jill, Chris and Leon go. Part of what's made the series so enjoyable over the years is Capcom's staunch refusal to give it a hard reset. Various people on the interwebs have been poo-pooing the game for being a stark departure for the series, but I'd rather Capcom experiment than keep shovelling out the same tired old ideas. Being frightened of trying something new gave us Resident Evil 5 & 6. Being brave enough to experiment and take risks gave us Resident Evil 2 & 4. Go figure.

Sony did take some time to talk up VR, as well as announce that their VR headset is set to release in early October this year. If anything is to come of VR, I think it's going to be the way Sony is managing it. Whereas the Ubisoft games felt like gimmicks, Sony's conference showed off Resident Evil 7, which is fully VR playable, as well Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. I think the best way that VR will work is as an optional visual enhancement to other games, similar to how 4K gaming will likely start out. A tacked on novelty for those that want it, and something that can be ignored for the rest.

There was no talk of the long rumoured upgraded PS4, or PlayStation Neo. Again, like with Microsoft, I don't think Sony is in any state right now to go and announce a completely new console. More than Microsoft, they have an even bigger financial incentive to keep this console generation going for a good number of years with the PS4's hefty install base. The PS4K. or whatever it ends up being called. will likely be another console upgrade for those that have expensive TVs and the money to burn, but nothing as drastic as a brand new console with a unique line-up.

Nintendo don't really do proper press conferences at E3 any more, but their Nintendo Treehouse stream is always a nice palette-cleanser after the exhausting bluster and rigmarole of the rest of E3. There's something calming and a touch more genuine about Reggie Fils-Aime talking directly to the camera, which is so much more endearing than the awkward, buzz word corporate garble than comes from a lot of the other conferences. My body was ready and I was relaxed.

Nintendo only focused on two games during their stream, and most of that was taken up by just one of those: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. From the gameplay footage it definitely looks substantially more non-linear, and bigger, than Skyward Sword. It was interesting to note that the game's presentation was running on a Wii U rather than the NX, which the game has also been slated to be released for.

Pokemon Sun & Moon also got a look in, and we saw a little more of the world that the two games will take place in. As always, there's little new to say about Pokemon. It's more Pokemon. But the new Hawaiian-themed setting looks like an interesting visual change.

Going back to the NX, it was conspicuously absent from Nintendo's stream, which was surprising given its fairly imminent release date. Nintendo consoles have typically been showcased by now before they make their debut, so it was odd not to see it in action yet and get a sense of what it actually is. Thanks to Ubisoft's conference, we do know that Ghost Recon: Wildlands is slated to come out on the console, possibly as a launch title I imagine, given their respective release dates.

If I were to speculate what the NX actually is, I'd wager it's something of a console/portable hybrid. Nintendo have continually stated that the console is radically different than what's come before it and, given the 3DS launched in 2011, it would make the time frame about right for a new portable console launch.

Whilst Nintendo has done really well, financially, with the 3DS, the portable console market is being more and more tenuous. As people play games on their phones and tablets it becomes harder to sell them a piece of kit that's solely designed to play games on the go. By releasing a console/portable hybrid, Nintendo are able to kill two birds with one stone; release a new portable machine that's not exclusively portable, and shore up their suffering home console brand by replacing the Wii U. What they might do is ensure that the NX still has some compatibility with the Wii U controller, in order to soothe those Nintendo fans that picked up a Wii U after its launch.

Many Nintendo first party games like Zelda, Mario and so forth typically have one foot in consoles and one foot in portable devices anyway, so bridging that gap would be made easier. It'd also explain the company's decision to start putting some of their games on Android and iOS in order to further capitalize on the portability of many of their franchises.

Phew, that's it, my summary of E3 2016. This article has ran on way longer than I expected, so I'll be quick summing things up. Overall, it was a reasonable E3 with a few surprises, a handful of things to get excited about, and nothing too awkward to roll your eyes at.

Now I'm going to take a lie down, as well as try and ignore all those asinine articles telling me which company “won” E3.


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