E3 2016: Xbox, Ubisoft, and Sony Conference Impressions
The Monday before E3 features press conferences from some of the biggest names in gaming. Xbox, Ubisoft, and Sony all had 90-120 minute presentations, showing off everything coming in the next couple of years. Rectify Gaming was there at all three. Here’s what I thought:
Some of the biggest news of the Xbox conference centered around hardware. News of the Xbox One S has been out for a couple weeks now, but it was made official and with a price point yesterday. Another hardware reveal was customizable controllers, which, in retrospect, feels like it should have been done years ago. But the big reveal was project Scorpio, a high-end, 4K 1080p 60 FPS capable Xbox. Or, you know, a computer. Scorpio feels a little bit odd, given the other reveal of Play Anywhere – Microsoft’s effort to give gamers their Xbox games on PC and tablet as well. Depending on whether or not every title goes in on Play Anywhere, if you have a high end gaming PC, you probably won’t have any need of Scorpio. Still, having the latest and greatest on a console is nothing to cry about.
Some quick hits on the games that were shown:
- Sea of Thieves looks like an incredibly fun, cartoony high seas adventure – for groups of friends. Playing by yourself or with a group you don’t know and don’t actively communicate with in-game doesn’t look very fun. I had the chance to play it yesterday, and it delivers as promised. I was part of a crew of five, and we drank ale together, crewed a galleon together, and sunk a rival ship together. The developers have also promise a bevy of action and fun for the single player and the online with strangers players.
- Gears of War 4 delivers big hits, loud action, cheesy dialog, massive set pieces, and shooty chainsawy fun. So, Gears of War 4 delivers Gears of War. I don’t see the 4th episode adding or repelling fans.
- Nice to see Dead Rising not take itself seriously again. There’s more than enough darkly serious zombie games. Let Dead Rising be the fun-filled apocalypse again.
- Halo Wars 2 has a shiny new trailer. I want to see more gameplay that was shown yesterday, and apparently I’m going to get it today.
- A card game? Seriously, you guys wanted Gwent as a standalone? Ok, I guess. I hope you don’t have to pay more than $10 for that.
- Don’t ask me about Forza Horizon 3. It’s a driving game. Watch the trailer and make up your own mind. I neither have the experience nor the interest to accurately judge a driving game.
- “Guys, we need you to keep playing The Division. Seriously, we put a lot into this, and we can’t have you bailing out now. C’mon guys, we need this. Do it for us. Please.”
- ReCore is one of the most unique games coming out of the major developers right now. I’m hoping to get my hands on a controller this week to see what the gameplay is all about for myself. The support crew around the main character look incredible, with their different abilities and personalities.
- Look, if you’re going to demo Minecraft, just demo it and have actual conversations with each other. Don’t write down everything you have to say at a given moment (seriously, their dialog was on the teleprompter). You spend so much time as developers perfecting scripted events in games, and totally screw it up as a human being.
I’m impressed with the games lineup for the coming year, and there looks to be a lot of fun to be had. But I’m most intrigued by Microsoft’s efforts to bridge gaps between console and PC, and that makes since with them owning Windows and Xbox. I’ve long been a PC gamer, and only recent bought an Xbox to play games with my friends. I love the idea that I will have a choice in where I want to play a game without having to buy it twice.
There’s no question, Ubisoft rolls differently. Every other conference is professional, orderly, and all about the business of fun. While they’re certainly enjoyable, it’s nice to get the breath of fresh air that the irreverent, crass, and sometimes crazy atmosphere that Ubisoft brings to E3. Aisha Tyler has done a great job becoming a mouthpiece for the industry that gamers feel like they can relate to. I also appreciated that they got the awkward dance game out of the way right off the bat in the intro sequence, where we could then forget about it the rest of the day.
- Ghost Recon: Wildlands reminds me of a 4-player Far Cry cross with Clear and Present Danger. We got a glimpse of the overall storyline – Wildlands takes place in drug lord ruled Boliva, where the Ghost team is taking on the cartels. The demo covers a mission where the team attempts to infiltrate a small estate, finding one of the principle drug creators and taking him alive. There’s plenty of sneaking, shooting, explosions, drivable vehicles, and cheesy fake dialog between the players. I walked away a little unimpressed with the amount of innovation on stage, but Wildlands looks like a fun co-op.
- A lot of time was spent on the new South Park: The Fractured But Whole. Matt Stone and Trey Parker came out on stage to talk about it and show a huge amount of game footage. Aisha Tyler mentioned the F-Bomb drinking game for the Ubisoft conference right at the beginning, and I’m pretty sure anyone playing it would have died halfway through the South Park presentation. While South Park isn’t my thing, it looks fun and hilarious for those who enjoy it.
- Watch Dogs 2 set out to fix all the complaints with the first game. It takes place in San Francisco this time, and the demo saw the new protagonist hacking his way through a mission to recover a cache of data from a protected upper floor office. I must have missed the parkour classes and the magic hacking classes when I was getting my computer science degree, but as long as you don’t think too much about it, Watch Dogs 2 could be a lot of fun.
- A while back my friends and I played an indie game called Artimis – a spaceship bridge simulator. Looks like Start Trek took notice, and have created Star Trek VR – a Star Trek bridge simulation game. Artimis was a ton of fun, and Star Trek could be the VR party game of the year.
- The smaller game I’m most excited about is Trials of the Blood Dragon – a 2D semi platformer set in a ridiculous 80’s cartoon style with all the color and insanity of Far Cry: Blood Dragon. Looks crazy and insanely fun.
- Steep was not what I was expecting from Ubisoft to close the show. It’s a brand new IP, just like I thought, but I was well underwhelmed. I think the idea is solid, but it’s not going to generate more than a cult following. I had a chance to get hands on with Steep yesterday, and it was just a snowboarding game. Even the wingsuit gameplay doesn’t have me eager for more. I don’t expect it to do well.
Ubisoft was as fun as it always is, though the presentation felt a little long, clocking in at 2 hours. They do have a solid lineup for the coming year with three giant, open world multiplayer games to fill up the gaming hours.
Every year, Sony gets the majority of the “Who won E3?” votes in the online polls. There’s good reason for that. Sony knows how to blow the audience away, and this year was no exception. They came out swinging with a full orchestra, which performed during every game shown. Here’s what I thought of their showing:
- God of War blew the crowd away, drawing a standing ovation from a small group that gave several such ovations, though not to the diminishment of the Kratos reveal. It was a fantastic moment, and this so-called “reboot” of the franchise is taking things in a very positive direction. I spoke to the developers of God of War briefly yesterday, who mentioned there are still a few unfound Easter eggs in the trailer (though they’re not talking about the boy’s arm tattoos!) Sadly, however, God of War was not playable at E3, and attendees only saw the gameplay from the press conference repeated in a theater.
- The Last Guardian has a release date! The 11-year-old title, delayed continuously since its announcement in 2005, then brought back for good in 2014, is finally on the horizon, scheduled for release October 25th, 2016. Unfortunately, however, and in true Sony E3 fashion, there wasn’t much about the game shown. No gameplay, just a brief trailer. While I’m confident that gameplay is forthcoming, and that the follow-up to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus will be just as good as its predecessors, Sony has yet to demonstrate that.
- Horizon: Zero Dawn stole the show for me. One of the few games in the press conference to show significant gameplay, Horizon is as innovative as it gets. Wrangling synthetic animals, Horizon looks like a new and dangerous frontier. I haven’t seen that kind of innovative design since No Man’s Sky’s first reveal two years ago, and I’m excited to get hands-on with it today, if possible.
- For the love of all that’s holy, if you’re going to do Star Wars space battles, just go all-in and REMAKE X-WING VS. TIE FIGHTER! I got so excited during the VR segment to see a first-person view piloting an X-Wing, only to be completely let down when the word Battlefront popped up on screen. Battlefront has been a letdown so far, and X-Wing Vs. Tie Fighter (or X-Wing, or Tie Fighter) is a classic. People still adore and play the 19-year-old game, but meanwhile, 5-year-old Skyrim gets a remastered edition. I don’t get it.
- Kojima’s reveal was an Everest in a Himalayas of high points for Sony this year. The standing ovation section did their thing when the curtain raised. I was disappointed by the trailer of Death Stranding, a weird, confusing, zero-gameplay, zero-information surrealist motion picture. Sure, the trailer could have been a guy eating a stack of Pringles, and every would be praising the game as the most promising thing of the decade because Kojima, until there are no Ford Edsels and no John Romero’s Diakatanas, wait for information before passing judgement.
- Detroit: Become Human is the new IP I find most intriguing. Blurring the lines between humanity and artificial intelligence, combined with the promise of a vast array of choice and consequences, I’m not sold based on what I saw, but I’m certainly paying attention. Also, even though it was erased by different choices (watch the trailer to understand), a young girl was killed on screen. If that’s not a first, it’s a huge rarity. I’m surprised I haven’t seen more of a reaction to that.
- Several games were shown in the VR showcase, but Resident Evil VII blew me away. I’m not huge into scary games, but I do love the occasional one. How will it be, though, when I can’t put 4 feet of distance between myself and the screen? Mark my words, we will see one YouTube video after another showing people’s hilarious reactions to the scariest moments of this game. It looks incredible so far.
- I’m not getting excited for Spiderman until it’s out and good. Spiderman as a video game has been nearly impossible to do well. At least it’s not a movie tie-in.
- The most note-worthy thing about Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is how little it’s being talked about. I don’t know if they’re shooting for a set-in-future trilogy of Advanced Warfare, Infinite Warfare, and, um, Exponential Warfare?, but I won’t be surprised to see them abandon that idea after this year. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare will sell, no question, but I currently anticipate that it will be even more poorly received than Advanced Warfare. Modern Warfare Remastered might even be to the detriment of Infinite Warfare, dividing the Call of Duty fanbase. All that combined with a hugely impressive showing from Battlefield 1 are setting up a perfect storm for Call of Duty, much of it self-inflicted.
All things considered, I was a bit let down by Sony’s press conference. Sure, the spectacle was incredible, but there wasn’t as much substance as Xbox or Ubisoft. Sony suffered from a lack of free gameplay, choosing to go with cinematic trailers and highly scripted gameplay sequences, and only one concrete release date for the major releases with The Last Guardian.
I give the win for the day to Xbox for their dual front assault on the hardware and software fronts. Xbox has a huge number of games coming out this year, both AAA and Indie titles, cross-platform play, Play Anywhere, new Xbox One SKUs, and a long-overdue (for ALL developers) customizable controller. However, whatever platform you play, it’s looking like a good year for gamers.