Sunday 28 June 2015

Belated thoughts on E3 2015

Alright, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? Turns out, if anything was gonna convince me to write a new blog, a major gaming event littered with big budget bombshells will. So, without further adieu, here are my belated thoughts on some of the big announcements from E3 2015:

Star Wars Battlefront
(Nov 2015 - PS4, Xbox One & PC)

It’s been years since we've had a proper Star Wars game. No, I don’t count Kinect Star Wars. I’m not sure if I even count The Force Unleashed. No, for me, I’ve always found the idea of piloting X-Wings and AT-STs far more exciting than running around as an overpowered Jedi. So here’s Dice’s big new Battlefront, and it looks almost too good to be true. Which may well be because all we’ve seen is an incredibly precisely choreographed slice of gameplay, with no context as to how well things will work out on launch day. Nevertheless, it’s Star Wars. It’s big and loud and pretty and it couldn’t be timed any better. It’s no secret that this isn’t the first time a third Battlefront game has been in the works, as the story of LucasArts’ downfall and Free Radical’s failed attempt is pretty well known by this point. While that previous concept was ultimately more ambitious, featuring massive seamless land to space battles, I’m not mourning that loss any more. This new game doesn't even feature space battles, but... man... I want it...

Pros: Extremely authentic and polished, no Star Wars game has ever been this spectacular.

Cons: Question marks around online performance and DLC / monetisation plans

The Last Guardian
(2016, PS4)

Yep, The Last Guardian’s back after being off the radar for a good 5, 6 years. I’m not really surprised that the game is still happening - I know it was rumoured to have been cancelled many times previously. I’m more surprised at just how similar it looks now to it’s original unveiling. That’s not a criticism by the way, it looked amazing back then… it must be a testament to that original design that after all the stops and starts that occurred over this game’s torturous development, the design of the creature and surrounding presentation was strong enough to survive it all. It’s clear that this game is essentially Ico again but with a much larger companion - a rather literal blend of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus that certainly shows Ueda’s intentions at making this a spiritual successor. And when those two games are considered among the greatest of all time, I think it’s safe to say we should be very excited indeed.

Pros: Great surprise to have this back right when people were writing it off. Looks beautiful. I want to pet the giant bird dog thing. 

Cons: Hopefully more than just heartstring bait. Does anyone remember how annoying Ico’s gameplay actually was?

Doom (Remake)
(Spring 2016 - PS4, Xbox One & PC)

Doom is back, once again proving that nobody does FPS gibs like id Software. Anything new from the studio that gave us the Wolfenstein - Doom - Quake lineage back in the 90s is instantly worth note. This time, they seem to have taken a cue from the popular fan mod Brutal Doom, that ups the gore to absurdity levels. The controversy surrounding the ultra-violence showcased in the demo is a bit amusing to me. Complaining that a Doom game is too violent is like complaining that a racing game contains too many roads. What exactly were you expecting? My main point of concern isn’t the level of violence, but the fact that so much of it seems to be shoved in your face, bringing the gunplay to a standstill while you wait for a preset animation to finish. Quick time events are not something I want in a Doom game. It’s a shame, and hopefully most of it’s completely optional, because in all other respects the pacing looks fantastic. While it’s a bit of a cliche that every single shooter these days features fast sprinting and double jumps, I love that circle strafing and speedy movement is back in the game; it’s absence from Doom 3 is what made the game feel… well, not like Doom. Add to that the extremely robust looking level editor tool that’s bundled with every version of the game, and I think id are on their way to a winner.

Pros: BFGs, super shotguns, fire imps, revenants, circle strafing, that E1M1 music…

Cons: Too start - stop with all the execution moves. 

Fallout 4
(Nov 2015 - PS4, Xbox One & PC)

I haven’t played a Fallout game before, which I guess makes me a nutter. But what I’ve seen of Fallout 4 looks really pretty spectacular indeed. Director Todd Howard’s demonstration of the game was quite something - my brother already described him as the ‘Steve Jobs of game presenters,’ (but that’s not exactly much of a compliment considering the competition). He even managed to make a ludicrously exuberant limited edition sound worthwhile. Anyway, Bethesda look to have put together something that’s a real generational leap over the likes of Skyrim, with loads of variety and depth (even managing to riff on Minecraft and the like). There may be no Liam Neeson on voicing duties, but the new dialogue branching sounds interesting, and the dog interaction sounds great too. Luckily, it sounds like the dog will be indestructible, so there’s no need to keep the tissues on standby in anticipation for that heartbreaking scene we all envisage when hearing the word ‘dog’ mentioned in the same sentence as a violent video game. So yeah, I may well break my Fallout virginity upon the game’s release this Winter. Oh wait, I already have, I’ve been playing mobile spin-off Fallout Shelter the past couple weeks. I don’t even like mobile games, what’s going on?

Pros: An open world game that actually stands out from the crowd. The dog can’t die.

Cons: I don’t know if I like Fallout games yet.

Rare Replay
(August 2015 - Xbox One)

I thought it would be nice if Microsoft acknowledged British studio Rare’s 30th anniversary with some kind of compilation, but I wasn’t expecting anything near this generous. Now excuse me for sounding a little bit overly excited here, but this is literally my entire childhood being pressed into a single disc. 30 games, consisting of almost all of the company’s hits (though no licensed games, GoldenEye is out) all in one place for an absurdly cheap price. Sure, the games themselves are likely to be rather bare-bones emulations, but it’s the thought that counts. The overarching interface is well presented, at least from what I’ve seen of the preview videos, and with some cool extra features like a snapshot mode that lets you chain together snippets of older games, NES Remix style. So consider me impressed. And I never, ever expected games as obscure as Blast Corps or Snake Rattle ’n Roll to get a rerelease. Definitely a labour of love for (what was formally) my favourite game developer of all, and as if that wasn’t enough…

Pros: Absurd value for money, nice theatre based presentation. They’re re-releasing Jet Force Gemini.

Cons: Well, obviously there’s nothing new here. Nitpickers will complain that the games aren’t fully remastered. Conker Live & Reloaded didn’t make the cut.

Sea of Thieves
(2016 - Xbox One & PC)

…Is it fair to say Rare is officially back now? Between this, Rare Replay and the recent Kickstarter smash hit for Banjo successor Yooka-Laylee, the stench of years of disappointing losses and mediocre Kinect games is starting to be washed away. Plus, it’s pirate themed, which is extremely fitting for a company that for so many years has insisted on putting pirates in games but never giving them a game for themselves. It’s a new IP, which is a great move, even if it’s effectively a reimagining of the old Project Dream concept. There’s not that much to go on so far, but the visuals are looking lovely, and if this can build on some of the big open world pirate game concepts that Assassin’s Creed IV toyed around with, there’s a lot of good that could come out of this.

Pros: There may not be much of the old staff around, but that’s definitely a Robin Beanland score I hear, and long-time designer Gregg Mayles is on board, judging by the fake usernames floating about in the trailer. Pirates!

Cons: It’s clearly got it’s ambitions in the increasingly worrisome ‘always-online’ arena. Let’s hope they don’t mess it up.

Star Fox Zero
(Q4 2015 - Wii U)

Nintendo’s online E3 event was surreal and shambolic, being mostly comprised of (admittedly entertaining) puppet antics, shockingly light on new game announcements other than ones that angered the entire core fanbase of the company. The one thing that stuck out for me was the game Nintendo decided to focus the most on, their new Wii U Star Fox. My first thought upon watching gameplay for Star Fox Zero was something along the lines of ‘that is definitely Star Fox.’ My next thought was ‘this is almost too Star Fox.’ Artistically and conceptually, Nintendo have adopted an incredibly old-school, almost backwards approach with bright, basic visuals, cheesy dialogue and a general quirky tone that’s right in line with the last ‘true’ game in the series, Star Fox 64. You know, 18 years ago. I loved that game. I don’t know what people without a nostalgia hat are going to make out of this, you know, if they had to choose between this and Star Wars Battlefront.

Pros: First authentic Star Fox game in decades. Platinum Games co-developing.

Cons: Almost too retro? Wii U control gimmicks might end up being a hindrance.

Other thoughts:

Super Mario Maker  - Now that’s a game creation tool I can really get behind…

Metal Gear Solid V  - It’s coming so soon that I don’t want to spoil it for myself, so no comment.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3  - Almost looks like a superhero action game now. Running out of ideas?

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate   - Another one. This time with Cockneys. Think I’ll pass.

South Park: The Fractured But Whole   - Brilliant title. That’s all I wanted to say.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End   - Flawless cinematic action. Except for the fact that it breaks every time they show it.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake  - Well that’ll shut the fanboys up at last.

Shenmue 3  - Ditto. But doing it via Kickstarter is a bit disingenuous, surely?

No Man’s Sky  - Is this ever going to come out?

Horizon: Zero Dawn  - Female Turok versus robot dinosaurs, or something.

Cuphead:  Oh my god, it’s beautiful.

Dreams - Okay. what is it again?

Halo 5: Guardians  - Pew pew pew. Locke is the most generic character of all time.

Destiny: The Taken King  - They won’t be ‘taken’ my money this time. Hur hur hur… Wait, are those new subclasses? Shhhiii…

Gears 4:  Uh… Too many games with guns. It’s melting my brain.

Rise of the Tomb Raider:   Nope, there’s no way she survived that.

Microsoft’s Hololens:  Waiting to see more of it. If I was into Minecraft, I’d have crapped my pants.

Final thoughts? All this virtual reality tech is certainly very intriguing, but I'm not sure this guy's really sold me on the new Oculus controllers.

That's all guys!