E3 this year has been massive, more than in previous years. I’m still digesting all the news as of writing this entry, but I’ll try to share some thoughts on the most interesting game announcements in my opinion.
First off, the big one. Bethesda’s first ever press conference was really well done, and Fallout 4 is without question the biggest game shown off at E3. It’s been a while since Fallout New Vegas, and with the new console generation now 2 years in, it’s great to see what Bethesda’s development studio can come up with. Fallout 4 is plainly overwhelming. It’s got a voiced main character (male and female). There is a range of common names for the MC that are recorded into the dialog of the NPCs. There’s a dog that you can command around. VATS is back. The game is looking great. But the kicker, the feature I did not expect is the deep crafting system. You can pick up any old junk lying around in the world, break it down into its raw materials and then reuse it to build physical assets for your own use. You can build buildings and decorate them. It’s so good to see Bethesda take ideas from other, fresh games like Minecraft. It just makes sense for an open world game like Fallout. The only downer for me is that I don’t have the hardware to run this game. Must think of something.
This was the game I was very much looking forward to see announced. Dishonored was a great title, because it did so much right. It took some of the best parts of the original Thief games, Half-Life 2, Bioshock, Hitman and mixed it all up while carving out a place for itself alongside those games. It was also commercially successful, so a sequel was to be expected. I assume the trailer was CGI, but the idea is clear. You play an assassin, with some new powers. It reminded me a bit of The Darkness, how you can attack enemies with these dark tentacle-y arms. They seem to be used instead of the original blink ability. Not much is known yet, but it seems to keep to the essence of the original. The big surprise was that now we can control a grown up Emily. Badass females seem to be a trend across the games at the show. We’ll see more of Dishonored 2 until release (which is set for 2016) I’m sure. Of course, to me it was more of a stealth game than an action game, so I’m waiting for stealth gameplay footage especially.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst
Mirror’s Edge was a special game. A unique game. In a time when FPS company tried to land their own Call of Duty, when game production budgets were getting out of control and creativity in the industry was at an all-time low, a triple-A company comes out with a completely new kind of gamedesign concept. First-person platforming, where movement and timing was the focus instead of running and gunning. It’s kind of a miracle that this game was released at all, and even more so because it was made by a triple-A company like Dice. Mirror’s Edge had flaws, but the things it got right, it nailed amazingly well. I was pleasantly surprised when I heard the news that EA decided to give this game another shot, even though the original didn’t sell too well. Its cult status must have played a factor. Catalyst is an origin story of Faith, fleshing out the world and probably invalidating the story of the first game. The trailer shows a much different looking city from the one we got in the original. It’s darker, much more Blade Runner-esque. I hope Catalyst stays faithful to what made Mirror’s Edge so great. All it needs to do is build around it, showing us a more interesting world, more characterization for Faith and her companions. With all that I think it could become a surprise hit.
Mass Effect Andromeda
We are getting a new story in the world of Mass Effect, a long long time since the events of ME3. It seems like it’s much more focused on free exploration, which is a great thing. Mass Effect, for all it’s grandeur and interesting backdrop was still quite a linear game (which isn’t bad). It always whet the appetite to go to unknown places and see you might find, without really giving us the freedom of movement and the relatively small size of the locations made the games feel weirdly constrained. Apparently you can build settlements now too. It’s crazy how much the big companies are taking from games like Minecraft or No Man’s Sky. Indies really are at the frontier nowadays, driving innovation. The industry is in a good place these days. There still a lot we don’t know yet, and there’s still time until holiday 2016.
The Last Guardian
Fucking hell. Is this a dream? The Last Guardian is back on the radar after years in a state of limbo. There are very few officially announced, unreleased games that have garnered such hype in the entire history of gaming. Why? Well, only because Team ICO are legendary. Their only two games are “ICO” and “Shadow of the Colossus”, both of which were very, very special games. The symbiosis of pushing technological boundaries, extremely strong, free-thinking artistic intent and satisfying gameplay are what elevated these two games above 99% of other PlayStation 2 games. They’re games everybody should have played once at least.
The Last Guardian was first revealed in 2009, when the PS3 was in the middle of its life cycle. The console didn’t have its own Team ICO title yet, and many were wondering what that game would look like. After all, this is a first party studio. The trailer then shown was breath taking, not just graphically, but again, because of how unique, how fresh it looked. Turns out, the PS3 was a difficult system to develop for, even for a first party studio. It became a hot mess and at some point internal conflicts were rumored of. The lead designer even left the company, only to be brought back as a contractor. Then it was rumored the game was put on hiatus. It all looked very bleak for a game that promised so much. But now we are getting confirmation that it’s back, and this time its for PS4. Sony made a point of applauding Fumito Ueda who was seated in the audience at their conference. It was all very heart warming and laid to rest any of the old concerns we had.
The game as it is shown now looks remarkably like the one in 2009. Almost nothing changed, and that’s just testament to how amazing the original reveal was. We even go to see actual gameplay footage, and it looks great. There’s going to be a lot of environmental puzzles, but with a huge dog-creature that you cooperate with. I don’t know how much of the creature is scripted and how much is dynamic. If it is actually dynamic (which isn’t out of the question, it’s just the kind of craziness Team ICO would attempt) then this is an amazing accomplishment. The Last Guardian will release in 2016.
Horizon: Zero Dawn
Looks like some kind of Monster Hunter in a post-machine uprising North America where people have adopted a Native American life style. You are basically hunting mecha-dinosaurs. The visuals look astonishing. Color me interested. The trailer shows more and better than I can be bothered writing about.
Sony was very cheeky here. They don’t have ownership of Shenmue 3, and aren’t funding the development. Instead, they decided to give Yu Suzuki the spotlight to bring attention to his Kickstarter. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I love Kickstarter and I feel that getting directly funded by your audience is the purest way of making creative works. But Shenmue 3? This is a known quantity, an established franchise with an established audience. This isn’t some plucky production doing something so daring that no publisher would touch it with a ten foot pole. Sony, by including Shenmue 3 in their press conference make it look like this is their game which it isn’t. I would’ve felt better about it if they just offered Yu Suzuki a studio and made it a first party production.
I haven’t played any of the Shenmue games. I wasn’t a Dreamcast gamer back in the day, but it’s one of those series that I hope will get resurrected for modern platforms now.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake
At some point in this press conference, it seemed like Sony was just obliterating its competition, and this was the high point. A Final Fantasy 7 Remake. Are you kidding me? A lot of my colleagues were wondering why this is such a big deal. You know, Final Fantasy 7 is only the most influential JRPG in history as it started a huge blooming of not only the genre in the West, but was also one of the big factors in Japanese culture spreading out into the wider world. It’s one of my favorite games of all time. It was part of the best years of my childhood (not a coincidence) and of millions of other’s too I’m sure. Final Fantasy 7 was also the first Square JRPG (not counting Tactics) using a 3D engine. It’s weird and dated for the younger generation, though I don’t have a problem with it myself. All these are reasons why the single most requested game for Square Enix is a remake for FF7.
Now, as happy and excited as I am about this, I’m also horrified. If they botch it up, it could be a huge stain on Square Enix, something they might never recover from. Forget about FF14 bad launch, or FF13’s bad, bad reception. This could be on a whole other level. Square Enix isn’t Squaresoft form the 90’s. A lot of the main people behind Final Fantasy have long since left the company. The obsession with making fluent, bombastic action gameplay is worrying me. For titles like FF15, that is acceptable. But FF7 is a game that in my opinion is defined by it’s world (map), it’s simple but deep turn-based combat, the hunt for secrets and the comedy as well as the emotional aspects of its story. Can Square Enix faithfully preserve all that? Are they even willing to? If they turn this into some kind of Crisis Core style game, I’m probably going to be extremely frustrated. Honestly, I don’t have much hope that they will make the game that I wish for. We’ll see, this game has just been announced and there’s a long time until release. Fingers crossed.
Rising Storm 2: Vietnam
I really really liked Red Orchestra 2 and Rising Storm as you can read about here. It’s interesting that we haven’t had a proper Vietnam war shooter since…Vietcong? I suppose this conflict isn’t as comfortable to make games about as WW2 is. There’s a lot of interesting gameplay potential though, and if there is a company that can pull it off, it’s Tripwire.
Buried beneath all the big announcements and not even having a showing at the PC Gaming show, this is still a big, big game, and it’s coming out this year. I’m currently doing a campaign in Enemy Within (which I’ll write about more in later blog entries), and I’m majorly looking forward to this title. Firaxis know their stuff, even when considering the mediocre reception of Beyond Earth. Trust in Jake Solomon, I say.
Other noteworthy coming games
Well, there’s a lot more cool games coming out, of which deserve mentioning:
- Deus Ex Mankind Divided – after the very good (but not great) Human Revolution, I’m interested how they take the sequel forward in terms of story and game play. The trailer we saw really showed us an Adam Jenson going rambo, so similar to Dishonored 2, I’m looking forward to stealth gameplay footage.
- Tacoma – the next game from Fullbright Studios who made the very good, very interesting indie darling Gone Home (My review is here). I’m down to exploring an abandoned space station. Fullbright don’t seem to go in the direction that I’d have liked seeing them go, but this still looks very interesting.
- Dark Souls 3 – I’m just getting into Dark Souls after picking it up on the Steam summer sale. My gamepad is busted (not because of this game) so I’ll wait to play this until I get a replacement. From the little I played so far though, I get it. FROM Software have a special kind of game only they seem to be able to make well. Dark Souls 3 is going to be the last in the Dark Souls games, and it’s probably going to be great.
- Anno 2205 – It’s a new Anno. I love Anno. The futuristic setting goes further down the path that 2070 set (which I didn’t play though)
- Firewatch – Oh my oh my. The guys who wrote The Walking Dead Season 1, and who I listen to regularly in their podcast Idle Thumbs. I really enjoy the art style, and how that contrasts with the seemingly sinister mystery plot. Very much looking forward to this one, and have a lot of confidence that it’ll be great.
- No Man’s Sky – just bring out the game and let people play it. Amazingly ambitious concept, though I suspect in reality, it’ll be a familiar feeling game in terms of gameplay systems. It’s about exploring a procedurally generated world, looking for materials to gather and things to build, fighting natives and other players. The thing that makes it so special though is its presentation.