X Looks Utterly Amazing!
One of the least publicised games of E3 looks to be one of the absolute highlights. We saw a brief gameplay snippet of MonolithSoft's Wii U-exclusive JRPG during the Nintendo Direct presentation, and it utterly blew our minds. We saw an enormous open world. Massive monsters roaming the plains, free to engage or ignore at leisure. Bustling towns and wide open vistas. Xenoblade Chronicles taken to the next level, but with the addition of massive great mechs that let you experience the world from the skies.
And multiplayer? If you keep an eye on the GUI, you'll see allusions to 'Players 1-4' (though this could well just be character name placeholders to avoid spoiling the story).
X could well be a system seller if Nintendo market it enough. It's clear that 2014 is going to be a killer year for Nintendo's console - not limited to the outrageous Bayonetta 2 - but they need to get boots on the ground and shift some consoles first.
Microsoft's Game Lineup Is Deceptively Strong
Microsoft promised that E3 2013 would be all about the games, and they weren't wrong. Despite Sony utterly crushing them on the issues, Xbox One is coming out to bat with many more exclusive titles than its rival, which mainly revealed a tiny handful of core franchises, multiplatform titles and indie games (most of which are also already slated for PC).
Conversely, Microsoft locked down Ryse, Titanfall, Dead Rising 3, Quantum Break, Forza 5, Below, Crimson Dragon, PvZ: Garden Warfare, Sunset Overdrive, Project Spark and Killer Instinct just for starters. On multiplat side of things, we've got Destiny, Kingdom Hearts III, Final Fantasy XV, MGS V, Watch Dogs, Assassin's Creed IV and... well, most of the games we saw at Sony's (admittedly better) press conference.
We're still railing against system-wide DRM and online check-ins, but us gamers have a long and illustrious history of accepting pretty much anything to play great games. Will we roll over again?
Wait & See
Having started out exclusively reviewing indie games, I'll support any console that opens their doors to independent development. I'll almost certainly be buying a PS4 at some point (that £349 price is just too tasty to pass up, as is the legendary Planetside 2), but as far as I'm concerned, neither the Xbox One nor PS4 have made a watertight case for our money this Christmas. With so many current-gen games left and slated to enjoy, not to mention the fact that almost every third-party big hitter slated for the holiday season is also coming out on PC, our money and time are already going to be stretched thin.
It's easy to get factional and fanboyish, but remember this: no-one is holding a gun to your head and forcing you to buy a console this Christmas. As things stand, I'd perhaps suggest waiting until the Spring, when things have calmed down and we can start judging the machines on the quality of their games. Not their hype.
On the other hand, after Gamescom and TGS, my lust for cool new gadgets may impossible to ignore.
CD Projekt Are Firing On All Cylinders
I'm a huge fan of the Witcher series, and indeed of CD Projekt in general. They epitomise an ideal in this industry: a team not necessarily afforded the gargantuan budgets of some outfits, yet they are resolutely consistent in their output of games that push the medium forward in terms of mature, open-ended storytelling. With the third instalment looking to expand the game world to ten times the size of its predecessor, with past form utterly exemplary, with Cyberpunk 2077 to look out for on the horizon, as well as two smaller projects from the new Warsaw studio, CD Projekt are on track to have a stellar year, and we will only benefit as they continue to achieve more and more.
And then there's GOG. The rise of GOG from an online portal into the past to a platform for indie games and (increasingly) larger titles without compromise, without online necessity, without DRM. There's much more to come from Good Old Games this next year, and it serves to once again remind us exactly who CD Projekt have at the front of their minds: gamers. They reliably buck the trends of big business and continue to excel in waters teeming with much larger sharks.
Frankly, they're an inspiration.
Some Things Never Change
For all of the talk about next-gen, I was left disappointed at the lack of innovation. A new wave of consoles is about to come crashing down, but the games were so relatively banal -- by which I mean that we'd seen them all before in some form or another. I'll admit, I was wowed and dazzled by the prettiness of Destiny and Titanfall and Killzone, and those games all look fun, but I found the whole carnival to be rather muted. Microsoft's press conference set the tone for what followed: next-gen is more of the same, but shinier. And with EPIC QTEs! (Seriously, go home Ryse, you're drunk).
Sony's indie showreel was a breath of fresh air with the likes of Transistor and the wonderfully offbeat Octodad. But we'd hoped that we might see the two extremes -- safe triple-A games and innovative indie titles -- bleed more into once another. With that in mind, Nintendo's eventual appearance was facepalm after facepalm.
There were a few exceptions, though. Murdered: Soul Suspect, a game where you go about solving your own murder as part-detective, part-poltergeist seems awesome. X, Monolith Soft's follow-up to Xenoblade Chronicles, looks jaw-droppingly good. Seriously, dinosaurs and mechs. SAUROPODS AND TRANSFORMERS!!! Project Spark and Disney Infinity look like they could be truly enormous, truy creative timesinks that push what has been Sony's mantra of Play Create Share even further thanks to a more connected generation of consoles.
But, ah yes, about that...
We're Not Ready To Embrace Our Digital Future Yet
E3 wasn't really about the games in the end. The dialogue that had been bubbling up for months all came out, mainly coalescing into a thunderstorm over at Microsoft. The message was signed, sealed, and delivered with their flip-flopping over the Xbox One's controversial approach to creating a digital ecosystem: this industry is not yet ready for its digital future yet.
Microsoft's approach was incredibly confusing, and wildly reductive. Unable to put across the positives, the Redmond company floundered and ultimately bolted. They were abandoned by their chief competitors, and no doubt lobbied incessantly by retailers (as well as us disgruntled consumer worried about our rights of ownership) to maintain the status quo for a little longer.
It's clear where we're heading, but Microsoft's methods weren't the answer, and talking in binaries -- this all or nothing situation that Microsoft have presented -- won't help either. Going all in and telling people to deal with it might have worked, but it would be better if we found a way to move forward and fully embrace the digital age in a fashion that benefits everyone: devs, pubs, platform holders, retailers, consumers.
At some point, someone will have to prise open the strangehold that GameStop hold on this industry. But it's clear we're not ready for that just yet.
I find hype trains to be frustrating beasts at the best of times, but you can consider me on-board for this one.
Before SWTOR, before Guild Wars, before World of Warcraft, before Star Wars Galaxies, there was Everquest – the virtual behemoth that swallowed the lives of hundreds of thousands, and after many years of having a rather sub-par sequel as its more recent incarnation another sequel is on its way. Right now there are precious few concrete details about the upcoming MMO, but we have been teased that it will be the biggest virtual sandbox ever made.
The only other known fact about the game is that it will utilize the Forgelight engine currently used by PlanetSide 2 (meaning glorious huge, glorious vistas capable of hosting thousands upon thousands of players at the same time) but other than that, we have zero to go on. So why is this game on the list when nothing was shown at E3? Well, the thing is that it actually was at this year’s event… but behind closed doors. Although anyone who laid their eyes upon it has been sworn to secrecy, the incredibly vague reports that are materialising are touting something incredibly special, and that when it does get its grand reveal at the SOE Live event in August the gaming community will impressed… apparently.
Considering PlanetSide 2 managed to exceed my expectations, I have some faith SOE can deliver with this one, and with news that PlanetSide 2 is making its way to consoles, it’s not far-fetched to think that EQN could make the jump to the PlayStation 4 as well. In short, colour me excitedly intrigued.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
After months of teasing, misdirection, wild theories and intense debate of voice actors, we finally got a look at Metal Gear Solid V in action at the top of the Microsoft press conference. Open world exploration, weather effects, and day / night cycles, along with a much more fluid movement and combat system, made MGS V’s reveal an impressive way to show the world just how powerful the Fox Engine can be.
And the stealth horses. OH, THE STEALTH HORSES!
Of course, there is a lot of expectation riding on this next iteration of the Metal Gear franchise, and the appointment of Kiefer Sutherland as the main voice actor of the game has split opinion within the community (although conspiracy theorist are already suggesting ways David Hayter will still be involved... somehow) but I came away impressed and excited at what will surely be yet another entertaining stealth title from Hideo Kojima.
Mirror’s Edge 2 was almost my third pick, but it got shunned for PopCap’s surprise reveal of Planets Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare. Like many others, I did not see this one coming.
Not only is it commendable that Popcap decided to move away from their comfort zone of simple puzzle games and into the First Person Shooter genre, but what they demonstrated on stage looked like ridiculous fun on a bun that had me wanting more. Class-based mechanics to deal with waves of zombies, topped off with familiar foes that act as bosses, made it one of my personal favourite moments of this year’s E3.
And then they went and announced Peggle 2, winning E3 in the process. Forget Sony and their used game stance – this is the defining moment you will all remember for years to come. Yes, yes, we didn’t see any gameplay, and all we got was a developer jumping around on stage as Ode To Joy played over the PA, but come on, I can’t be the only one who rejoiced at the fact the gaming crack that is Peggle is returning, right?
Right?! Pffft, you’re no fun.
New Mirror’s Edge
I’ve been desperately awaiting a new Mirror’s Edge game for years and I’m still reeling that EA and DICE have started work on one. With DICE being so busy with the Battlefield series and now the new Star Wars: Battlefront I was surprised to see that they even have time for Mirror’s Edge.
I’m really stoked to see that it’s going to be developed in the Stockholm studio rather than the unproven US branch, as I want this to shine. Sure, EA are taking a bit of a gamble with such a niche title, but I’m glad that the early footage shown at E3 shows a game sticking to its guns (by also not having guns so far) with a squeaky-clean aesthetic design and first-person perspective. If DICE can tighten up the controls this time and give us a less linear playground then this could be one of the most-innovative next-gen titles around, hopefully leading to a more open approach to player movement in the first person genre in general – I probably said this last time too. As long as it inspires something better than Brink, we’re on to a winner.
Blind Faith in Square Enix RPGs
I can’t help myself; I desperately want to love Square Enix’s RPG output, even though they’ve been screwing over fans for years. I adored the characters and story in the FFXIII games, but hated playing them and because I’m not fussed about Ninty handhelds I’ve not been able to play the Kingdom Hearts since II on the PS2. Kingdom Hearts III for next-gen consoles though, about damn time, as long as it’s not all new Disney bollocks.
I’m glad to see that XIV: A Realm Reborn will be coming to PS4 at some point too; otherwise, I’d be playing the PS3 version and sulking because I knew PC gamers were getting maximum-prettiness on the graphical front. This could all be a mute point if the game isn’t up to scratch again though. To be honest, they really need to drop the monthly fees and go free-to-play. Warcraft lost 1.3 million subs last month. The times are changing.
The rebirth of Versus XIII as Final Fantasy XV seems like the best move seeing as it bears no resemblance to XIII any more. While we’re yet to get our hands on the game, I’m going to stick my neck out and say it’s going to control in a similar manner to the originalKingdom Hearts games, which I think would be pretty cool to be honest. I think we’re going to have to look elsewhere for traditional RPGs for now (Ni No Kuni for example). As long as it’s not the awful ‘just press X’ system from the XIII series, it’ll be an improvement.
E3 was Sony’s for the taking and despite Microsoft’s recent backtracking over DRM and pre-owned, they utterly smashed it. Even the usual price-differences between the US and us couldn’t hide that the PS4 is going to launch at a very friendly price. The likes of Killzone, Knack, DriveClub and Infamous show the most-diverse and impressive line-up of exclusives by a long shot and we’ll be playing most of them at launch.
I’d still like to see someone actually use the new controller’s trackpad for something useful, but the new share button is going to be excellent for gamers to share content, create guides, show off and so on. Even the sneaky announcement of mandatory PS Plus subscriptions for online play didn’t damped my spirits as let’s face it, the damn thing pays for itself after a month and will cover your PS3, Vita and PS4. Sony have learnt their lesson since launching the PS3 and Microsoft should be very worried indeed.