I might not be lucky enough to be over in Los Angeles like some of the Stevivor team, but I’m still sweating every little bit of E3 information and will be wrapping up the days news and events throughout the week. Today is perhaps the biggest day of all for gamers, day zero, or press conference day. Here we look at the most anticipated events of the entire show, the press conferences of Sony and Microsoft.
I don’t think I have ever seen a “non-console announcement” day of E3 that was as crazy as this one. After last years success it seems Microsoft has adopted the games driven presser full time, highlighting their exclusives and showing off Hololens in the best possible way. They progressed their system with backwards compatibility, early access and PC/Xbox mod crossovers and did a fine job at highlighting reasons why you should own an Xbox One. Sony on the other hand knows that gamers already own PS4’s and their significant sales lead allows them to pander to nostalgia as they did today. They shook the winged monkey off their back by finally showing and dating The Last Guardian while teasing the most anticipated remake of all time, Final Fantasy VII and throwing in some complete crazy by launching the Shenmue 3 Kickstarter.
Let’s start with Microsoft. A bleary eyed 2AM start was rewarded with some Halo 5: Guardians footage that certainly looks like squad based Halo. It retains the cinematic nature of Halo 4 but squad mechanics will add a new dimension to the well established formula. More significant was Microsoft placing Halo in their traditional “Call of Duty slot” starting the show, both a show of faith in the game and an indicator of just how much is riding on Microsoft’s flagship shooter. it is believed Microsoft were the ones to walk away from the exclusive maps deal with Activision, a position Sony has gratefully jumped in to, and giving away their position as “the Call of Duty machine” is a big risk.
The PvPvE multiplayer looks interesting but I’ve always preferred the tight arena combat of Halo over sprawling, vehicle based maps. I’ll reserve judgment and sit tight remembering how much I enjoyed the Halo 5 beta from earlier this year.
I was a lot higher on Recore before the main character pulled a rifle out, but the ‘power sphere’ mechanics could allow for some interesting traversal and puzzles to go along with shooting. The pedigree Inafune and former Metroid Prime developers bring is enticing and I can’t wait to see more. The Ubisoft conference had a similar “oh more guns” buzz for me, everything was shoot, kill, bang, it started to get a bit samey. Sony did a great job with variety and to be fair to Microsoft this was the only time I really felt that way during their show.
A pre-rendered Garden Warfare 2 trailer was a pretty weak exclusive to get from EA in exchange for letting them pimp EA Access for a few minutes, though Dragon Age getting a relatively early move to the Vault is a nice surprise. Titanfall for free dropped like a Titan, anybody who wanted to play that game surely has by now since it has been on sale so many times.
I’ll cover the Ubisoft games more in their conference, and Dark Souls 3 revealed just about nothing other than the game existing. I was surprised Microsoft got the reveal here, it doesn’t make much sense as Souls fans would be among the early PS4 adopters thanks to Bloodborne. Forza 6 got a nice photo op with Henry Ford III and the car coming down from the ceiling but they showed next to nothing, gameplay footage will be relegated to the Xbox Daily Show. Fable Legends didn’t get much of a run and frankly I was more interested last year. I just want to see the game in action now.
Gigantic looked wonderful but the trailer didn’t do much to show what the game is actually like. The indie rush was a nice touch, Tacoma is still very mysterious but the pedigree of Fullbright gives me complete confidence in it. Everything looked great here, Ashen, Cuphead, Beyond Eyes, and it makes me feel a bit for the ID@Xbox developers still trying to get their originally announced games out, games like Aztez, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime and Hyper Light Drifter. The bar is rising fast for independent Xbox One games and comparisons will be inevitable and graphically unfavourable for the older games.
Dean Hall has one heck of an accent, it borders on parody. His new game Ion will be very interesting, he is an ideas man and I just hope his ambition doesn’t stretch beyond his capabilities. The comparisons to No Man’s Sky are obvious but an open, Early Access development will mean we get to avoid the year of speculation about just what the heck the game is.
Rise of the Tomb Raider made some not so subtle digs about getting back to raiding tombs, which I am all for. The ‘action movie’ sequences of the 2013 reboot were probably my least favourite parts so the whole ‘Cliffhanger’ scenario shown here didn’t do much for me but it looks atmospheric and huge, I’m confident it will deliver.
The return of Rare was a welcome one. After years of neglect and being trapped in “Kinect Hell” Sea of Thieves is the perfect antidote, showing so much character and offering something genuinely new in a setting universally regarded as cool. The style was very Rare and I just hope it plays as good as it looks. The Rare Replay bundle is a nice touch though the understandable lack of several of the games most people would know Rare for, Goldeneye, Donkey Kong Country and Donkey Kong 64, stands out. I’m very impressed that their N64, Xbox and Xbox 360 catalogue are coming over, Blast Corps, Jet Force Gemini and even Viva Pinata I am very excited to get back in to. The pricing is good, the collection ridiculous and it is a timely reminder of Rare’s glory days, of which Sea of Thieves will hopefully see them return to.
Hololens made a truly spectacular debut as a gaming platform. Microsoft demonstrated the technology in the perfect way with the perfect game, Minecraft. Like most who were burned by Kinect, Move and even the Wii U I want to see a lot more practical gameplay uses for Hololens before getting too excited but this was one of those “holy shit” moments where new technology did something unexpected and impressive. If you haven’t seen it I can’t recommend looking at the show footage enough, if you can only watch one Microsoft press conference video make it this one, the way they pull a 3D Minecraft level out of a table surface is one of those moments you don’t forget.
Finally we have Gears of War. The remaster was mentioned almost in passing, with a multiplayer beta taking the standard Microsoft “available now!” announcement slot. Gears 4 itself was interesting, they focused a lot more on atmosphere and setting than combat, almost pushing this as more horror game than macho shooter. We are still controlling big, strong soldiers running around with chainsaw guns, so chances are it will be more shooter than thriller, but I was intrigued if not particularly overwhelmed. It was a relatively quiet way to end a show.
Microsoft also nailed their non-game announcements. Backwards compatibility was a massive shock, it may be too late to make a huge difference but the worlds it opens with pre-order bonuses (already Fallout 4 will come with Fallout 3, Rainbow Six: Siege with R6: Vegas and its sequel) are interesting and it gave them their first chance in two years to take a dig at Sony, showing off some restored confidence. Early Access/Xbox Game Preview is another great initiative, blurring the lines between PC and console but also offering unique opportunities with Xbox One that differentiate it from the Playstation 4. Bringing in both Day Z and the new game from the creator of Day Z will immediately bring attention to the program and forcing all games to have a free demo is a great workaround to the issues Steam has had with Early Access and an initiative Valve would do well to follow.
Fallout 4 also made an appearance but the most important news from the largely rehashed demo was the compatibility of PC mods with the Xbox One version of the game. Bethesda.net is starting to make more sense as a means for this cross-platform support and if Microsoft can make their console the go to platform for Bethesda games it will go a long way towards levelling the playing field with Sony.
Finally there was hardware. The new ‘pro gamer’ controller looked cool but full of completely superfluous features for me. While it was only a couple of lines Microsoft partnering with Valve’s VR solution was also another interesting development, Microsoft has jumped in with two of the biggest VR hardware providers now, Oculus and Valve, they have to be taking the Morpheus threat seriously and don’t want to be left behind in the VR battle.
In the end I went back to bed at 4AM feeling very content with the Microsoft show, after years of cringe worthy moments and boring sales talk this all games, all the time focus is working for them.
Phew, let’s move on to Sony. They went straight for the jugular with their show, starting with gameplay footage of The Last Guardian. A game that hangs over Sony every E3, they came straight out and showed it, put a date on it (2016) and confirmed to everybody that it is real. Will it be good? It looks very much like Ico, using your feathered companion to navigate the environmental puzzles while occasionally saving or guiding it yourself. I don’t know if it was just shock at finally seeing the game but I was a little underwhelmed. How will it possibly live up to years of hype? I hope it does, I loved Ico and frankly after so many years I just want this game out so they can move on to a hopefully less troubled project.
More impressive for me was Horizon: Zero Dawn, which is best described as Monster Hunter with robot dinosaurs. Coming from Guerrilla Games, best known for the Killzone series, here they have mixed combat complexity with an awesome premise and if Guerrilla can deliver on the promise Horizon shows this will be something special.
We finally saw No Man’s Sky in action, putting some gameplay and structure behind the vision. The game really is as simple as explore and fight, banking on the procedurally generated world to keep your interest. Watching the game played in real time was encouraging and we’ll get a release date announcement soon but this was a nice, short reminder of a hotly anticipated game that many needed to see as a game rather than just a trailer. For those not enamoured with the scope and scale of No Man’s Sky it will be a tough sell, we need to see more ship to ship combat for a start, but the audience is already there for this one and they only need confirmation that it is indeed a game before they are all in.
That was a lot of fanfare for another Destiny expansion, and I am very much on a ‘wait and see’ basis with that game. All the trailers in the world won’t mean anything if we don’t get some new environments with more variety and some proof that Bungie are listening to fans on issues like grinding, gear and matchmaking.
Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate looked better here than at Ubisoft’s own show, but again this is a franchise that falls into the wait and see category. The game has always demonstrated well and this setting shows potential and harks back to Brotherhood, one of the better games in the series. Similarly the Hitman series has never grabbed me despite recommendations, for a teaser that was a very nice trailer they had but we’ll see what the game ends up being. Firewatch I’m very much looking forward to and we are slowly finding out more on the story behind the game. I’m following that one too closely to be impartial.
Dreams I don’t know what to make of. Media Molecule are an important studio who make interesting games that I really don’t feel much desire to play. I don’t know that a teaser this vague works in this situation, if it is more than just another set of ‘create your own’ tools Sony should announce that. It will probably shape as good Youtube/Twitch fodder, an era that Little Big Planet just seemed to miss, which could be all it needs. Another cute Final Fantasy doesn’t really interest me but honestly all of that reveal is a bit of a blur because of what followed it.
After that we hit the twilight zone. I read the rumours before the show but it felt more like click bait speculation than anything else, too ridiculous to be real. Sure enough, coming to Playstation ‘first’ is the long anticipated remake of Final Fantasy VII. This was just a CGI teaser but that is all it needed to be, fans went delirious at this announcement. Personally Final Fantasy VII was very important to me when I was younger, my first RPG, my first gaming story experience, the first time I put hundreds of hours into a game. I wouldn’t commit that kind of time to a remake but like many, many gamers out there I’ll be checking this out just to see what they do.
If one crippling shot to the nostalgia wasn’t enough, Sony directed a punch straight at my kidneys by offering up the floor for Yu Suzuki to announce his Shenmue 3 Kickstarter. Sony made sure to point out this wasn’t their project but the Kickstarter is currently PS4 and PC exclusive, asking for $2 million USD to finally conclude the trilogy. It is a unique use of their show, almost like they are doing a favour to a legendary developer, and sure enough it worked, the game reached its goal within nine hours. I had long resigned myself to never seeing the conclusion of this series and the prospect of resolution thrills me. I twisted every drop of content out of those Shenmue games, multiple playthroughs finding every secret, meeting every character and hearing every line of dialogue. I hacked together Sega Net access to be able to use the online features of Shenmue, a bunch of character profiles and extended backstory. Heck, I own a 12 inch tall Ryo Hazuki statue, there is no announcement that could make me more irrationally excited than this one. I’m still in disbelief and probably will be until that pledge is deducted from my credit card in a months time.
That exclusive Batman: Arkham Knight content looks interesting but history has shown that platform exclusive missions are rarely brilliant. Black Ops 3 has just gone completely overboard but Sony will be very happy with the PS4’s new found status as “the CoD machine”.
Say what you will about Disney Infinity but John Vignocchi sells his product better than anybody in the industry. A few exclusives for the PS4 won’t sway many people, how many parents (or the target market, children) are paying attention to E3 press conferences and timed exclusives? Battlefront continues to look amazing, I just hope it does a good job of keeping you in the action. Long slogs on foot towards battles or getting picked off by AT-AT’s doesn’t sound like fun, and not everybody can be Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. The flight model looks particularly impressive though, I hope it isn’t hard to spend a lot of time in a TIE Fighter or X-Wing.
Then we have Uncharted 4. Some unfortunate early technical hiccups were soon forgotten as we dived into the adventure movie thrill ride Nathan Drake is known for. It looks incredible and if this is the end of the series (or at least the Drake storyline) then it will be a heck of a way to go out, learning from their three games experience and opening up a bigger game environment than ever before.
Sony wisely decided that the show floor was a better place than the press conference to demonstrate Project Morpheus and I tuned out the moment I heard Vue and television services, we are far better off waiting for a local announcement of what crippled version of the service we end up getting.
I don’t like to think about press events as having distinct winners or losers, though some years (such as 2013) it is clear one company left with a significant advantage. 2015 is not one of those years. Microsoft continued on their quest for redemption, showing more exclusives, offering more new Xbox One features and making a compelling case for their console to those who don’t yet own one. They have more exclusives up their sleeve with Scalebound and Crackdown and are seemingly content to let their games do the talking. Sony won the early sales war on the back of Microsoft’s mistakes, Microsoft are now rewarding their early adopters with a superior games lineup while trying to win over the sceptics with games. We’ll see if it works.
Sony had supreme confidence with their show, enough to come out and say flat they don’t have a lot for 2015, but the future is much brighter. They showed a lot more multi-platform games, even the big Final Fantasy VII remake is only Playstation ‘first’. They didn’t announce any bombshell services, they know they are in a good position and put together a lineup that warmed gamers hearts, played to their nostalgia and made sure Microsoft could make no dents in the current good will gamers have for Sony. They see the console war as theirs to lose and played it relatively safe here, but Sony did show some strength in exclusives; the battle between Sea of Thieves and Horizon: Zero Dawn for best debut will be fierce.
It was a sensational day of press conferences, both Microsoft and Sony nailed the format and presented with minimal filler and no lulls. Sony spent surprisingly little time bragging about sales figures and I would have given long odds on Microsoft taking the sole shot at their opposition at the start of the day. Sony are confident, Microsoft are contrite, and both are delivering. 2015 and 2016 look to be sensational years for gaming.
The show floor opens and the media gets hands on with a lot of these games. Ubisoft has been particularly vocal about giving hands on time with their big releases ‘on console’ while Halo, Gears and Call of Duty will all be playable. Nintendo start the day with their big Nintendo Digital Event at 8AM EST while Square Enix will do their showcase at 9AM EST. The PC Gaming Show also takes place but it probably won’t be a spot for AAA announcements. We’ve all made our first impressions, now trusted (and plenty of not so trusted) media get their hands on and the chance to tell us how these games play rather than how they look. Plus there are always some surprises from the show floor that you don’t expect. I can’t wait.