By Greg Butts
Ahh, E3. Most see it as a time to get acquainted with all the new games coming out and surprise announcements, and others see it as yet another industry circle-jerk, where everyone clamors to make the most out of their time in the limelight. The 2015 edition of E3 is really no different, but it did hold a few surprises.
The conferences ran from Sunday through Tuesday, and were basically headlined by the industry's heavy hitters; Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo made appearances. Nintendo's return to the fold was a little surprising; they eschewed an appearance last year, stating that they would be rolling out new title announcements via their own system of "Nintendo Direct" video releases throughout the course of the year, as well as their "Treehouse" events. For what was announced, they may as well have kept to that system.
They elaborated on known titles, such as Yoshi's Woolly World and Super Mario Maker, and announced underwhelming teasers for new entries once-proud series such as Star Fox and Metroid; Star Fox Zero will be coming out on the Wii U, as a sort of reboot, and had many people scratching their heads at the control gimmick they decided on. Not only will a player have to use the Wii U Tablet for gyroscopic control (i.e. you twist and turn the tablet to fly the ship) you will also have to perform fine aiming by touching the screen. Most early comments center around how the game feels slow, and trying to do both of those actions at the same time didn't feel quite right. Metroid Prime: Federation Force, in Nintendo's latest effort to kill the series, is a light-hearted multiplayer romp in the vein of Legend of Zelda: Four Swords. Fan outcry was immediate.
Microsoft's show was well-received by XBox One (AKA XBone) adherents, but mostly nothing new for those weary of the platform's biggest franchises; we saw footage from Halo 5, Gears of War 4, Forza 6, etc, which surprised nobody. Sort-of-exclusive-kind-of-for-an-indeterminate-amount-of-time Rise of the Tomb Raider was also shown, and did at the very least feature more tombs than the previous game in the rebooted series.
Notably absent from MS's conference were previously-hyped titles such as Remedy's newest IP, Quantum Break, and Platinum Games' Scalebound. New titles which could have some bite to them include ReCore, which is headed up by former staffers of the Metroid Prime games. Another new title was Sea of Thieves, what seems to be a cartoony pirate-themed MMO being done by Rare.
Microsoft also attempted to convince everyone that they are still behind their latest campaign for indie developers, now called ID@XBox. Major pushes for games from that campaign included Cuphead and Below.
Last but not least, Microsoft announced that they were instituting backwards compatibility for XBox 360 games on the XBone. However, from all indications, this will be emulated compatibility, and the games will not be running directly off the disc when you insert it into the console. Rather, it will read the authenticity of the disc and then download the emulated copy. In doing this, Microsoft will be controlling which titles are to be added to the list of backwards compatibility. Currently, they are also controlling which users have access to the program, which is currently called the XBox Preview Program. It's currently set up as an invite-only program, so only users who currently have access can invite other users.
Finally, some of the larger software publishers had their own conferences this go-round, including Ubisoft, EA, and Square-Enix. Ubisoft trotted out the holy Assassin's Creed cash cow, and showcased a new title called For Honor, which looks almost exactly the same as Chivalry: Medieval Warfare, which has been available on the PC for about 3 years. The crowd's disinterest was palpable during the trailers for PC-focused titles Trackmania Turbo and Anno 2205. Rainbow Six: Siege made another appearance, showing off co-op PVE gameplay, and then it was time to show off how much The Division has been downgraded since its initial presentation.
The presentation was capped off by the announcement of Ghost Recon: Wildlands, an "epic immersive cinematic gritty open world mutiplayer experience." Maybe if they get another one of their development studios in on it, they can add another adjective and/or buzzword. Expect new footage in approximately one year showing how much it's been downgraded. Sadly, no new titles from their smaller arm, UbiArt Framework, were showcased.
EA shockingly had no new Battlefield titles to showcase; they instead focused on worldwide-except-for-the-US cash cow FIFA, US cash cow Madden, a basketball game literally nobody cares about (NBA Live), and then focused on titles for so-called "core" gamers.
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 was announced, inexplicably featuring a Titanfall game mode. They also announced that your character unlocks and progress from the original title would carry over, prompting some to believe that this is more of an expansion pack being sold for full price, rather than a fully new title. During an incredibly painful-to-watch presentation, they announced a new 2.5D platformer about a little dude made of yarn, called Unraveled.
Additionally, they devoted time to a cinematic trailer for the new Star Wars: The Old Republic expansion, as well as a full gameplay reveal for Star Wars: Battlefront....which looked exactly the same as the old Battlefront titles. The first details for Mirror's Edge: Catalyst were finally revealed, as well as a short gameplay montage. This is a game where the antagonist is literally the CEO of EA...has DiCE finally had enough?
Probably the best-received announcement from the EA conference was the cinematic teaser for Mass Effect: Andromeda. This will basically be the first Mass Effect game where Shepard is not involved, so it'll be interesting to see if the series can maintain its momentum without its iconic cast of characters.
Overall, this year's E3 was a huge improvement over the 2014 rodeo; I'm looking forward to No Man's Sky, The Last Guardian, Cuphead, Below, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and Uncharted 4. What are you looking forward to? Drop us a line on our message boards!
Sony's conference began with a title that people have been demanding for years; The Last Guardian. In development limbo for nearly 8 years, we have confirmation that the game will be released in 2016. Another property arising from the dead was Shenmue 3, which strangely was more of an advertisement of the Kickstarter that had just gone up for it. The original Shenmue title came out on the Dreamcast, and Shenmue 2 came over to the US on the original XBox. Sales were never particularly impressive, so the final game in the trilogy was never funded...until now....mostly by Sony, but hey, if you guys also want to donate to our Kickstarter to show that you want the game, we won't turn it down!
Seriously though, it's funded, don't donate any more to it.
New IPs shown by Sony included Horizon: Zero Dawn, the latest effort from Guerilla Games of Killzone fame. Horizon appears to be a game about well-groomed future cavemen who hunt robo-dinosaurs. If that doesn't intrigue you, you might be dead. Uncharted 4 looked characteristically over-the-top, and the cryptic No Man's Sky made another appearance, still avoiding showing anything of substance. While Final Fantasy XV was ignored, they did officially announce a Final Fantasy 7 remake. Debate is currently raging about how much of the game will be changed.
Approximately zero games were announced for the Playstation Vita, so if you weren't sure whether or not it was dead, it's definitely dead at the end of 2016.