E3 2015 Sentiments

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

E3 has rubbed me the wrong way for a while. I don't know if my perception of the event has changed over the years or if E3 itself has warped into the hype-fest it is today. It is now a place where Microsoft, Sony and, -to a lesser extent these days- Nintendo square off to "win" the expo. What I remember as a showcase of the latest and greatest games seems now to no more than a large corporate pissing match. If recent years have been any indication, the previews we see there should be taken with more than a grain of salt.

Yesterday, four of the biggest press conferences took place and numerous games were revealed or teased. The big announcements made it hard to keep a level head. As exciting as the gameplay reveal of Star Wars Battlefront, the "in engine" trailer for Mirror's Edge or the showcase of Halo 5 may be, it is important that we don't give in to the hype at first blush. Let's go through a few of the announcements and look at both sides of the coin.

Let's start with Microsoft's conference. There were a couple things that I can't find any downside to. The addition of backwards compatibility for 360 games on the Xbox One is something fans have been clamoring for. When the Xbox One was first released, it was said that backwards compatibility wasn't possible without integrating hardware from the 360. While hardware integration is one way to accomplish the task, it is most certainly not the only way.

The Elite controller was a surprising announcement. I know that the custom peripheral market has grown in recent years but I hadn't thought it large enough that Microsoft would want to break into it. With remappable buttons, swappable parts (included with the controller, not sold separately) and the ability to change the sensitivity of triggers and sticks Microsoft has built a first-party-third-party controller. The $150 price tag may be a bit much for the average player, but competitive and professional gamers who may be used to paying  over $300 for a custom controller will be happy for the less expensive option.

Among the games demonstrated at the Microsoft briefing, only a few showed actual gameplay. Among those was Halo 5, a title I've been looking forward to for a long time. The campaign glimpse we were shown looked incredible and I was so happy to hear Nathan Fillion's voice again. While much was said about co-op play and the more tactical, squad based style, the presenters of the stage demo neglected to mention one thing. There will be no split-screen play for Halo 5. For longtime fans, this is a huge blow. I feel that split-screen is absolutely at the core of the Halo experience. 343 Studios has said that split-screen was cut because "60fps had to take precedence." I speak for a lot of people when I say that I'd much rather be able to play through the campaign with my wife than play alone at 60fps.

I'm nervous about the early access program for Xbox One. While many games on PC have made excellent use of this system, including Minecraft and Kerbal Space Program, many others have soured the idea considerably by issuing few and/or insubstantial updates or shutting down entirely with no reimbursement to players. Hopefully, Microsoft will be more diligent about policing this system.

Moving along, let's review the EA and Ubisoft conferences. I'm lumping them together because the majority of their briefings were assurances that they are still working on this game or that game with only a few new games popping up. Yes, I know that they announced a new Mass Effect game, but the trailer was devoid of any real details.

EA showed off the first gameplay from DICE's Star Wars Battlefront which looked very impressive. While the clips assured viewers that all the footage was captured from gameplay on the PS4, I'd like to note that it also noted that it was "pre-alpha footage." In pre-alpha stages, a game is still missing a number of its systems. Items, interfaces and textures may only be placeholders, and any footage displayed cannot be reasonably described as representative of the final product. I hope that the finished product looks that good, but I'm not about to hold my breath.

The EA announcement that I thought was really interesting is Unravel, a clever looking platformer about a little creature made of yarn. The art is really interesting and using the yarn to climb, bind and lasso objects in the environment looks like a lot of fun.It also holds a special place for reminding me so much of the film Kooky.

Ubisoft didn't really have any announcements that thrilled me. We already knew about Rainbow Six: Seige and The Division and the new details revealed about them weren't exactly earth-shattering. I'm still trepidatious about trusting Assassin's Creed: Syndicate. I looked at For Honor and I'm curious but I see a number of similarities to Chivalry, an innovative and entertaining multiplayer game that's been out for almost three years.

Closing out the day was Sony. Their briefing opened with the first glimpse of The Last Guardian we've seen since 2010. Originally planned for release in 2011 on the PS3, The Last Gaurdian has had a long and very troubled development. Even after yesterday's trailer, the release date remains a nebulous "next year." As worried as I am about the game, I was happy to see it again after being out of the spotlight for so long.

Media Molecule's announcment of Dreams absolutely stunned me. As best as I can explain it, it centers on allowing players to animate and/or play their dreams with an incredible amount of freedom. Sculpting objects and characters with the PS4 controller seems difficult but fascinating, and I can't wait to mess with the "digital puppetry" involved with animating the characters you can create.

No Man's Sky showed a very straightforward gameplay demo, laying out some of the systems for exploring new worlds and systems. The scale of the game still amazes me, with what I can only guess to be millions of star systems ready to be explored. As I expected, there is still no official release date, but a game of this scale with such a small team is bound to take a while to complete.

I'm sure to be raked over the coals for this, but I'm nonplussed by the Final Fantasy VII remake trailer. I enjoyed the original game, but it is the latest in a very long line of Final Fantasy remakes. I think a part of me is excited, but I can't help feeling like it's a few years too late.

Every year we are bombarded by coverage from E3. It is very easy to be taken in by the hype train. I hope that more outlets urge caution and ask more important questions that "how cool was that?" As gamers, we need better coverage of the games we love (or hope to love) E3 has become a place for publishers to milk gamers for pre-orders and for news outlets to pump up their hits with so much fanfare. By all means readers, be excited, but be aware. E3 isn't about the players, it's about business.