I'm growing older all the time. It's getting to the point where it's embarrassing.
I think Dark Souls is a work of art that belongs in a museum. The Royal Ontario Museum disagrees, but I think I'm starting to wear them down.
When I was in grade 5 I went to school as Robin for Halloween. The costume was basically a pair of green lady tights and a tunic that had to be Velcroed at the crotch like a baby's onesie. My self esteem never fully recovered.
I believe Alan Wake was criminally under-appreciated. It's unclear if this notion stems from a legitimate love of the game, or my loyalty to any piece of media that is going to include tracks from Nick Cave, Poe, and Depeche Mode.
Some of my stuff has been front-paged. I'm super proud!
Seriously, I can't remember the last time I was this engaged and excited by an E3 conference. The last few years on the tail-end of our current generation, E3 has felt compulsory, predictable even. Sure there were some surprises and big game announcements, but there was a cloud of cynicism and exhaustion that hung over the proceedings. The fire was burning low.
This year? Ohhh baby. This year was a kicker.
The headline story of this E3 is always going to be the divide between Sony and Microsoft's vision of an online future. The battle-lines have been drawn, villains and heroes identified, camps decided. It's impossible to really talk about this E3 without talking about the controversy, and I think that's a shame. For one, I'm not sure the Xbox One is as much of a non-starter as everyone else seems to think it is (I'm waiting to see how publishers react to Sony's stance and what kind of sideways bullshit they come up with to compensate), and secondly, I think that's a truly boring story compared to everything else that was shown!
Beyond the internet debate and posturing, there was stuff shown at this years E3 that made me grin like an idiot in front of my monitor, that made my pulse race. Crazy games, remarkable tech, new trends, new ways of making and thinking about games. It was astounding. It's finally here! The next real leap in gaming is happening right in front of our eyes! Do we really want to waste our time making jokes about "MicroShit" and how much they suck? Not me.
So in no particular order, here is my personal list of awesomeness. The games, tech, and trends we saw this E3 that I think are exciting and cool.
Titanfall, better known around my home as "the reason I'll probably still get an Xbox One at some point," looks incredibly dope. Super pretty, super fast, combining the best elements of games like CoD, Tribes, and even a dash of Battlefield. All lovingly wrapped up with robots that fall from the sky and personal jetpacks, how couldn't I immediately fall in love with it?
Developed by Respawn, a studio founded by ex-Infinity Ward heads, it's not hard to see the legacy of CoD at work. The game moves fast and smooth, guns have that spritzy quality and, lets call it generous, accuracy that makes CoD a terrible simulation of combat, but a lot of fun to play.
I don't actually play the CoD games, but I understand the appeal. What drives me away the most isn't the gameplay, but the aesthetic surrounding the game. Big macho military dudes, a weird strain of American jingoism running through the series narrative, lots of usage of phrases like "solid copy" and "danger close." Ewww. It just rubs me the wrong way. But big stompy sci-fi robots? Spaceship orbital drops and jetpack toting future-rebels? That's the kind of stupidity I can get down with.
Respawn isn't just changing up the setting, they're also going back to the drawing board and re-thinking their game design. From what I understand, there is either no singleplayer campaign, or a very small one (perhaps some veiled language for what amounts to glorified bot matches). In any case, Titanfall has a laser-beam focus on its multiplayer game, a move I couldn't support more. If Respawn wants to drop the pretence and not waste any time, budget, or effort making up yet another overwrought silly space-marine romp, so much the better.
I just like watching the game in action. The way it moves, the freedom individual infantry players have to jetpack-parkour around the world, the threatening scale of the Titans, the way the robots scoop players up and shove them in the cockpit, or slap would-be hijackers out of the air. It's all beautifully animated and you can tell in an instant how the gameplay mechanics will work.
Elegant robot murder. Who could ask for more?
The Phantom Pain
I'm excited to see Snake again, but let's get one thing out of the way – that extended trailer is a massive bummer. A crippled and scarred "Punished" Snake, child soldiers, torture, and Kojima going around talking about how the game will delve into themes of race and revenge. Dark stuff, but also exhilarating.
Snake Eater is one of my favourite games, I loved nearly everything about it. The tone, the story (less confusing gibberish, more Japanese melodrama than Sons of Liberty), the hundreds if not thousands of little details that offered something new every time I played through it. Snake Eater captured my attention and kept my PS2 plugged into the TV long after the generation was over. Given that, I'm super excited to go back to Naked Snake and his era of pre-nanomachine, Majestic 12, sentient-A.I nonsense.
It does my heart good to see the MGS series return to a multiplatform affair. I kept waiting and waiting for the "inevitable" 360 version of MGS:4 that refused to materialize. It's nice to know that whatever console I end up getting this November (if any), I'll have a chance to play The Phantom Pain.
I'm not sure how all the free roaming open world stuff will work out in a stealth game, but it's great to see the MGS series experiment again. Kojima is always complaining that he's been making the same game for the last decade and change, maybe The Phantom Pain's open world concept and more aggressively surreal/horror elements will let him stretch his creative legs a bit more.
If nothing else, The Phantom Pain's open world travel gave us the single greatest moment of E3. STEALTH HORSE.
Dark Souls 2
Obviously, I'm going to want to see ANYTHING about Dark Souls 2. But the question is, did I like what I saw?
The entire development cycle and story of Dark Souls 2 has been one of excitement mixed with trepidation. On one hand, fans of the series (myself included) are glad to see more Dark Souls action, but the loss of the series visionary lead designer Miyazaki and some of the early statements about the direction of the sequel put the fan base on edge. There was some worry that maybe the new developers didn't quite get what made the original Souls games so good. Or worse yet, they were willing to abandon those elements to chase a wider audience.
It's still unclear if From Software can capture lighting in a bottle the third time out, but after this E3 I'm MUCH more confident in their chances.
The game looks great. The visuals got a smooth graphical bump while still retaining the gritty dark fantasy look of the originals. I'm a big grumpy pants overly-demanding fanboy, so I have a few quibbles – I worry that the new magic effects are too sparkly and distracting for such a technically demanding game. But if that isn't the most precious damn whining you've ever heard, I don't know what is.
It sounds like the infamous difficulty level of the game is intact, so we can finally get over some of our worries. If anything the demo boss Mirror Knight, a colossal statue warrior that will summon hostile players to gang up on you, sounds almost TOO hard! I'm trying to imagine how much worse Smough and Ornstein would have been if one of them was random every time, had access to every power and ability you did, and was a huge cock knob jerkface (as all Dark Souls players are when you get down to their blackened core.)
If "accessibility" means less pure backtracking through areas just to move around (hearing that players were able to warp back to the boss gate after dying put my teeth on edge, but it's likely that was just a luxury to speed up the demo) and a clearer description of stat mechanics, while still retaining the cryptic story and ball busting difficulty of the other Souls games, sign me up.
By the end of the main console conferences and EA and Ubisoft's pressers, it was almost a cliche to cap off a game demo by zooming out to reveal *gasp* that there were scores of other people playing simultaneously in the same world!
Maybe it got a little silly after the third or fourth time, but dangit, I liked it.
One of the things I loved about Dark Souls was the blurring between the single player and multiplayer experience. The immersion and pacing of a single player game mixed with the thrill of the occasional visitor from another game. It's an idea that has interested me since I was little and read some shitty book written by someone who obviously didn't know how arcades worked. I don't remember the specifics, but I always loved the idea of characters from one cabinet drifting into the other and so on, like every game was connected and players could interfere with each other.
Now that idea isn't just a reality, it's far cooler than my 10 year old mind ever could have imagined.
I'm sure for some games like The Crew, it's just going to amount to a lobby system or the kind of chaotic zaniness of something like playing GTA4's freeplay mode online, but with even more players and batshit insanity. I'm more interested in some of the more subtle uses of this tech. What exactly are they doing with Watch_Dog's multiplayer? I've heard rumours of players hijacking security cameras to capture footage of you committing crimes, of tracking you and listening in on your conversations or jumping you. I don't know if any of that is true, but the idea of having to keep your head on a swivel watching for real spies watching you in the middle of a police state gives me chills. The huge raid-boss like encounter at the end of the Destiny demo was thrilling. All of a sudden your small co-op game becomes a massive warzone where everyone has to band together to take on a massive challenge. Super cool.
I know there will be a glut of games using the new networks like this, and not all of them are going to be awesome, or even feel necessary. But man, the potential for some great moments is there.
This is another one of those "futuristic" things. When people sneer and ask why we need new consoles (a question I've asked too), this kind of experience is the answer.
I would never have thought that out of all the E3 coverage, one of the most interesting things would be descriptions of the new controllers. But by the end of the conference, I was itching to get one in my hands. As soon as kiosk units hit the shelves, I'm gonna bum-rush the stores.
I heard nothing but glowing praise for both the new PS4's new Dualshock and the Xbox One's redesign. Click-ier, more satisfying buttons, fantastic new D-pads, comfortable ergonomics, everything you love about the current controllers with all the rough edges smoothed off. Even little touches like the Xbox pad's new impulse triggers, that add a little bit of kick to every pull and press, seem really cool. People might be quick to write this off as a gimmick, but we all used to say the same thing about rumble. Sure it might not be the most important part of any game, but it's hard to imagine going without it now.
I already like the controllers for the current generation, I can't wait to love the next ones.
Oculus Rift HD
OK, I am a HUGE nerd for the Oculus Rift, so I might be a little bit biased, but to me, seeing the Oculus Rift HD getting attention was a highlight of E3. I feel like a lot of people are sleeping on just how incredibly cool this thing really is. To me, watching the Oculus Rift develop is like watching the future take shape.
E3 was the first time game journalists got their hands on the HD version, and across the board I've seen nothing but drooling praise for it. I mean literally drooling in a few cases. You can watch footage of game journo after game journo craning their necks around, their slack jawed mouths frozen open in a goofy smile as they lose themselves in, at long last, great VR.
If the consumer version of the Rift comes out as good as they are saying they want it to be and at a reasonable price, I can see it ushering in a new generation of PC gamers. Who needs the new consoles when you can finally live out the cyberpunk fantasy?
Indie Devs in the Spotlight
I'm not a evangelist for the indie crowd, but I can't help but recognize that in the past two years, some of my favourite games have been indie titles. Binding of Isaac. FTL, Super Meat Boy, Hotline Miami, I arguably spent more time playing indies last year than I did on the big triple A titles I paid $60 a pop for.
I'm not convinced that indie support will make or break either console, but I'm certainly excited to see them play more of a prominent role going into the next generation. Sony has clearly done the better job of wooing the indie camp. It's hard not to get a little excited when indie games like Octodad get real screen time and prestige right alongside multi-million dollar games like Infamous: Second Son durring Sony's press conference. It seemed like a real sincere sea-change in the way Sony perceives the indie scene and their potential for the industry.
Comparatively, Microsoft's indie presence seemed a little more compulsory, like an afterthought that barely made the cut. It's hard to get jazzed over Minecraft on the Xbox One. Still, Capybara and their new title Below, a multiplayer roguelike dungeon crawler, looks phenomenal.
There was a lot more to love this E3, but I could go on for days about all the games and news that has me pumped so I better stop while I can. No matter what happens with the Xbox One's DRM, or what publishers will do to undermine Sony's stance on the issue, there is a lot to be excited for in the near-future of videogames.