The dust settles, scores of press and PR people crawl out of the rubble with therapists’ phone numbers in hand and E3 comes to a close for another year. This year’s convention was just as important, if in a slightly less dramatic sense than 2013. Last year was all about impact, with the console manufacturers striving to sell the public the next generation of console hardware with as much bombast as possible. This year, with the new-gen machines reaching the end of that awkward transitional process that comes at the start of each generation, the crux was placed on how the last year’s promises were going to be realized. This year, the new generation had to have its true arrival.
By and large, the mission was a success. The games highlighted this year are starting to look a lot more like what we all wanted from the new generation, with The Witcher 3 and the open-world Zelda in production for the Wii U dropping jaws in particular. That said, indie games also stepped up to the plate, and remastered versions of classics new and old had a surprisingly strong showing, with The Master Chief Collection shaping up to be a Halo fan’s wet dream and Tim Schafer getting to bring Grim Fandango back for another well-deserved bite of the cherry.
If last year was an abundance of chest-thumping and lofty promises that got the adrenalin pumping but left a lot of unknown quantities, this year was all about giving everyone reasons to look forward to what’s shaping up to be a great year of gaming. But naturally, everyone walked away with their own highlights, and these are ours:
Best Media Conference – Sony
Sony by a hair. Microsoft and Nintendo both had strong showings and had a lot to prove, but Sony came in not wanting to give an inch of the ground they gained last year. The only company to announce new hardware, they made an impression with the announcement of the Western release of the PlayStation TV and new PlayStation Now-capable TV sets. However, they didn’t shirk on games either, the trifecta of No Man’s Sky, Grim Fandango and Bloodborne proving unassailable.
Every E3 needs its ‘who’da thunk it?’ moment, and this year’s came with the announcement that Tim Schafer’s Double Fine will be producing a remastered version of Schafer’s classic LucasArts point-and-click adventure game. The game’s just as famous for being a flop than for being good, which has always exacerbated the unfairness of the whole situation as it truly is one of the greats in adventure gaming and a landmark title in character writing and worldbuilding in games. Now people finally get to revisit the game – exclusively on PlayStation for consoles, but the wording of the announcement and subsequent comments from Schafer suggest that Manny Calavera’s true homecoming to PC may well still be on the cards.
The ‘Must Do Better’ Award -Rise of the Tomb Raider
I’ve gone on record as feeling that the Tomb Raider reboot, while an excellent game, is a something of a tonal mess of a story. Seeing Lara in therapy as we get a highlight reel of her Sweet Killz doesn’t reassure me one bit that Crystal Dynamics are going to be any less heavy-handed next time. Anyway, if she’s ‘rising’ now what the hell did she spend the whole first game doing?
Runner-up: ALL THE FEELS. Christ on a fucking camel.
Most Promising Rerelease/Remaster – Master Chief Collection
I‘m not even a huge Halo fan, but the prospect of this compilation-cum-universal playlist of Master Chief’s first four adventures even had me chomping at the bit. Microsoft seem determined to give this series a life that spans generations which is kind of refreshing in these reboot-crazy times, and the sheer scope and customizability of the multiplayer, not to mention the preserved Halo 2 multi, makes for what’s probably going to be Xbox Live’s bread and butter for years to come.
Runner-up: Grim Fandango
No two ways about it, Hello Games’s ludicrously impressive-looking space exploration sim didn’t just lead the indie pack this year: it practically took The Next Gen and rubbed it in the AAA crowd’s faces. The scope, the discovery, the seamless planet-hopping: no generation truly begins until the gameplay starts evolving, and Hello have come up with a shot across the industry’s bow that can’t be ignored. Even if the game doesn’t live up to expectations in and of itself (Which Crom willing, it will), it’s reminded the industry that it’s time for new ideas to match the shinier graphics and whatever frame rate people can or can’t abide this week. This is what ‘next-gen’ is all about.
Runner-up: Planetside 2 on PS4
Most promising AAA Game – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
CD Projekt Red are perhaps the only developer left who can put out an extravagant CG trailer for a game, and still earn gamers’ trust that the game itself will live up to it. The Witcher has become one of the most exciting franchises out there, especially on PC, and the dazzling trailer shown at Microsoft’s press briefing shows that they’ve lost none of their skill at providing sheer, gobsmacking spectacle. There can’t be an RPG fan out there who isn’t keenly anticipating Geralt of Rivia’s long-overdue return, and if that trailer was a sadistic tease you can’t deny that it was a damn sweet one.
Game of the Show – No Man’s Sky
Everyone loves a comeback story, and for NMS to come out so strongly after Hello Games almost lost the game to an office flood last December is a truly impressive feat. It dominated the conversation around this year’s show, and if that trailer alone wasn’t enough the more reports that came through about the game the better it sounded. Put simply, I can’t wait.
Runner-up: The Witcher 3
THE RAIN DOG
Best Media Conference – Ubisoft
Flashy and somewhat obnoxious, Ubisoft’s conference brought the good where it mattered most: the games. Between Assassin’s Creed Unity, the first five minutes of Far Cry 4, Tom Clancy’s The Division and open-world online racing epic The Crew, Ubisoft made it clear that regardless of your platform, their major releases were going to be front and centre in gamers’ minds over the next twelve months.
While I’m not a driving game guy per se, I always like having at least one go-to game in the genre when I’m feeling in the mood. With Ubisoft’s The Crew, it’s possible I may never need another game in the genre again. With a truly massive open world that’s a total remodelling of the continental United States – yes, all of it – and a jaw dropping amount of missions, challenges and races both short and long in both single player, or with your ‘crew’ of friends online in team based challenges, The Crew simply looks incredible. This could potentially be this new generation’s Burnout Paradise.
Runner-up: Dying Light
The ‘Must Do Better’ Award – Too many cinematic trailers, not enough gameplay.
Not much more to say really, while E3’s conferences are what the majority of gamers around the world are exposed to when it come to this yearly LA shindig, the trend of them featuring as little actual gameplay as possible and simply showing off slick mini-movies instead is beginning to ear seriously thin. Cinematic trailers are all well and good and some of them can be downright great – hell, Ubisoft’s cinematic trailer team deserves a raise this year – but at day’s end, they’re as useful as tits on a bull when it comes to showing you, ya know, the game itself. We don’t need twenty minutes of gameplay per game at a conference, but hey, two minutes would be nice.
Hard to look past this – improved AI, more realistic weather conditions, and super super shiny. Oh yeah, and the game’s pretty great too. This will be a monster.
Runner-up: The Last of Us Remastered
Most Promising Downloadable/Indie Game – No Man’s Sky
Vibrantly colourful, first-person, procedurally-generated open world gameplay where you essentially have space and all its planets at your disposal. If this game can live up to its promise it could be utterly jaw-dropping in scope. The idea of having what is essentially an open galaxy to get lost in could be amazing in the right hands. This is the indie to watch.
Most promising AAA Game – Tom Clancy’s The Division
For all my trashing of cinematic trailers above, Ubisoft really blew their competition away with the trailer they released at their press conference for this one. Luckily, the game looks as engaging as its marketing, with third person real-time tactical combat in a post-apocalyptic New York City gone to hell. If this title is half as emotionally engaging as its trailer, we could have a truly great game in the pipe with The Division.
Even though it debuted at last year’s E3 and a majority of content including the latest trailer was released days before E3’s beginning, it’s still hard to look past CDProject’s RPG trilogy-capping epic as game of the show. With an open world and wealth of content that looks like it could out-Bethesda Bethesda and character driven stories with actual weight to player choice that aspires to out-Bioware Bioware, CDProject are looking to become one of the big players in CRPG’s on the world stage and The Witcher 3 could just be their landmark game to do it.
Runner-up: Alien: Isolation