I know, I know – E3 is long gone. I should probably abandon my idea of reviewing the event and focus on writing something more interesting, but I have promised myself that I’ll finish publishing my thoughts on the gaming showcase and damn it, that’s what I’ll do. I’ve left out the Bethesda press conference here, partly because it wasn’t a particularly interesting showing and partly because including it would take up too much time and effort. And so, and I promise to stop banging on about E3 after this post, here are my impressions from Ubisoft, Sony and Nintendo from E3 2017.
Ubisoft relies on its big names to make a splash
With the exception of its opening reveal, the multi-tasking French video game giant didn’t seem to go out on a limb in 2017, with a big focus on known entities like Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry. Even the most surprising reveal, Beyond Good and Evil 2, is a prequel to a previous game and has been rumoured to be in development for years. I felt the conference ran a little too long overall, and there were a couple of games on display that I struggle to believe anyone really cares about. Here are a few thoughts about Ubisoft’s showcase:
- Far Cry 5 looks like… Far Cry. Keen insight, I know. It’s an obvious thing to say, but the last three Far Cry games seem to be fairly indistinguishable from each other, at least in terms of gameplay, and I worry that Far Cry 5 will fall into the same trap. The demo introduced some new ideas but the core experience doesn’t seem to have changed much. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it’s probably unfair to expect too much deviation from the solid foundation of gameplay on which Far Cry is built, but it would be a shame if the game turned out to be a Far Cry 3 or 4 re-skin. That’s the cynical view, anyway. On a positive note, I think setting the game in a fictional American county is bold and intriguing, the game and the environments look gorgeous, and you have a friendly canine pal to tear people’s throats out and bring your their guns. So, you know, not all bad.
- South Park: The Fractured But Whole. I think the title sort of speaks for itself, but I’ll offer a few thoughts on the game anyway. The Stick of Truth received praise for its hilarious writing and surprisingly decent combat system, and The Fractured But Whole seems to be building and improving on its predecessor in pretty much every way. I can’t really see a way that this game fails to succeed, and I’ll be eager to see how it comes together when it’s released.
- Michel Ancel is an insane person. I mean that in the most complimentary way: his vision for Beyond Good and Evil 2 is mind-bending in scope, and I applaud his ambition. The trailer shown in the press conference was a fully CGI, cinematic teaser, which was fun and surprisingly foul-mouthed, but a few days after E3 Ubisoft released a behind-the-scenes video in which Ancel showed off an early build of the game and detailed the enormous size of the world(s) you’ll be exploring. It was hugely impressive, but we’re in the foetal stages of development and I think it’s reasonable to doubt whether the team can deliver a cohesive game with such giant aspirations. I hope I’m proven wrong. Either way, we have a long, long wait to find out.
Sony doubles down on its exclusives
While I can’t blame Sony for going all in on its impressive roster of platform exclusive games, I was a little disappointed that there were so few surprises this year, especially after last year’s blockbuster show. I liked what I saw from games like God of War and Days Gone, but we’re still a long way from the release of any of those titles, and I’m not sure I got any desperately vital new information from the trailers or demos. I shouldn’t complain, because it’s always nice to see gleaming, never-seen-before in-game footage, but the lack of a big, shiny new reveal took away a lot of impact from the press conference. That said, I think I’ve watched the Spider-Man demo around twenty times since I first saw it, so the show wasn’t an abject failure. Here’s what I thought:
- Are we finally getting a great Spider-Man game? As much as I gushed about the Anthem trailer in my previous post, I may go into overdrive when talking about Insomniac’s Spider-Man. The demo closed out the show in spectacular style, with a breathtaking display of combat, web-swinging and eye-popping cinematic moments. I could talk for much longer about this demo, but I’ll keep it fairly brief: first, the combat looks great. Insomniac have clearly, wisely taken a page (or several) out of Arkham developer Rocksteady’s book, but that acrobatic style of fighting fits Spidey perfectly. Second, the web-swinging looks on point; anyone who’s read my post about the PS2 classic Spider-Man 2 will know how important web-swinging is in a Spider-Man game, and Insomniac seem to have an understanding of how the swinging needs to feel. Obviously it’s impossible to tell how good it is from a scripted gameplay demo, but I’m optimistic. Third, there was a generous sprinkling of QTEs that I think caught a few people off guard. I’m not opposed to QTEs, but it’s very easy for them to be mishandled and they can quickly ruin a game. That said, I think it can work in Spider-Man: in order to pull off some of the extraordinary feats that a superhero is capable of, you can’t rely on normal gameplay mechanics; you need QTEs to deliver some of those cinematic moments, and I think the trailer showed this off well. Finally, I think this version of Spider-Man is spot-on. The voice acting is pitch-perfect and the sharp dialogue is as much Peter Parker as it is Spider-Man. I have to keep reminding myself that this was a carefully-chosen slice of gameplay and that the final product may not look as good, but I think this demo gave me enough reason to expect that this will be a very good game. Let’s hope.
- More of the same from Days Gone, God of War and Detroit: Become Human. While Spider-Man’s demo was impressive because it showed us stuff we weren’t expecting, the other big-name titles on Sony’s roster didn’t really wow us or break any new ground. There were new nuggets of story from God of War and Detroit, but we didn’t really learn that much about how the games will play, and they’re both still a long way off. Days Gone branched out a little more and displayed some of its gameplay mechanics, including the use of a zombie hoard (I’m not calling them Freakers) as a weapon against large groups of human enemies. While impressive, it didn’t grab me in the way I’m sure the developers hoped, perhaps because the post-apocalyptic zombie genre feels a little stale in 2017. I’m still excited to see all three of these games when they’re eventually released, but the trailers in the press conference did little to change my opinion of them at all.
- Shadow of the Colossus gets a remaster. Widely held as one of the greatest games ever, and a shining example of video games as an art form, Shadow of the Colossus is being updated for 2018. There isn’t much more to say about this reveal, other than that it was a very pleasant surprise. I’m always conflicted when thinking about remastered versions of games: nostalgia is a powerful emotion and can influence the way we think about all kinds of experiences, and it’s not always rewarding to revisit them. We’ll have to see how this new version of the game compares to the original.
Nintendo expands on the Switch
Nintendo are giving me more and more reasons to invest in a Switch. There were a few welcome announcements of new and old games coming to their still-young console: some Nintendo exclusives, like Arms, Pokken Tournament DX and Splatoon 2, and some cross-platform titles like Rocket League and Skyrim. I think the latter will be more enticing for the casual gamer, and should help broaden the appeal of the Switch to the general public.
The main event, though, was a wonderfully bizarre trailer for Super Mario Odyssey, which as exactly as weird, charming and innovative as Mario is known for. We saw some of the ways Mario can use his new hat to inhabit just about anything in the game, including a Tyrannosarus Rex, because why not. It looks like insane fun and is sure to be the next great Mario game, alongside the likes of Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy. Between this and Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, I’m finding it very difficult to talk myself out of buying a Switch.
So those are my very belated opinions on E3 2017. Feel free to share what caught your attention if you like, and let me know if you agree or disagree with any of the things I’ve said. Now, I’m just going to watch that Spider-Man demo one more time…