The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) is the biggest and most important annual video game industry convention in the world. All the biggest publishers wait for it to announce their big budget games and platforms, as they know that the world’s mainstream media has their eyes on the Los Angeles Convention Center from June 9-12, 2014.
Polygon put together a quick little video explaining what E3 is and where it began; Check it out here. While FMMS doesn’t have an official presence on the ground in LA (for this year, at least!), I’ll be highlighting a few of the games that I’m most looking forward to. I’ll be covering something for every platform so that hopefully you will have at least one new game to put on your wish list. Take a minute, go make yourself a large Vesper Martini and then read on.
Microsoft’s press conference made it very clear that this year would be exclusively about the games. You may be wondering why, when this entire conference is dedicated to the game industry, this would be something that needs to be mentioned. Well, for context, last year’s E3 was notable for bringing us details of the new generation hardware and services that Microsoft and Sony were releasing later in the year, and many complained that with the focus being on hardware, there weren’t very many actual games being shown. Not the case this year; it was game after game after game without so much as a whisper about apps, Smartglass, TV, etc. It was a bit refreshing, to be honest.
Another interesting theme that surprised me was the focus on cooperative games. Microsoft made a point to show many different games with four or more players working together, live on stage (allegedly live – a lot of it was clearly pre-recorded). I’m pretty excited to see co-op games making something of a comeback, since they’ve gone a bit by the wayside in recent years where the focus has been on singleplayer or competitive multiplayer.
Forza Horizon 2
September 30, 2014 for Xbox One
This is a sequel to a game that somewhat came out of nowhere when it was first released on the Xbox 360. To that point, the Forza series was well-known to gearheads and gamers as the premiere driving simulator. Horizon took it in a different direction, being set in an open-world Colorado that had been taken over by the “Horizon Festival.” This was essentially a car driving enthusiasts dream, where one could drive around anywhere and at any speed to join different street racing events to earn points and cash for new cars, while moving up the totem pole.
By all accounts, Horizon 2 will be more of the same, but instead is set in southern Europe. This should be a great chance to enjoy some of the famous driving roads and vistas that Europe has to offer, combined with the slightly more forgiving physics system the Horizon brought to the table as compared to the normal Forza series.
Halo The Master Chief Collection
Holiday 2014 for Xbox One
Everyone knows about Halo, but if you are someone who hasn’t gotten around to playing it at any point over the years, this is probably going to be the place for you to jump in (and play with friends, as they’re all great in co-op). This collection is going to include Halo, Halo 2, Halo 3, and Halo 4 in one package. The first two games are also going to be what 343 Studios calls “Anniversary Editions”, essentially meaning that graphically they’re entirely revamped from the original Xbox versions, to play at 1080p on the Xbox One.
The other interesting aspects of this package are that it’s also going to include a video series called Halo Nightfall, about which the only thing we know is that it’s being produced by Ridley Scott. Beyond that, you’ll also get access to the Halo 5 beta, making this a potentially nice bridge to that game’s release next year.
EA’s press conference was a bit harder to follow, especially since I only want to highlight games that are going to be released this year, and that wasn’t always easy to determine. The tone of the main speaker was also somewhat interesting in so much as it felt almost like a plea to the audience to give EA a chance to impress again. This isn’t too surprising, considering the amount of bad press they’ve received over the past few years, most recently with an incredibly buggy launch of Battlefield 4. These are the games I’m hoping will help them right the ship in 2014.
Dragon Age: Inquisition
October 7, 2014 for Xbox One, PS4, and PC
The third entry into the Dragon Age series is looking like it’s going to get me, and many other players who were fans of the the first game, back into the series. Dragon Age: Origins was a call-back to many a classic Western RPG. More specifically, it felt like a spiritual sequel to Baldur’s Gate, with it’s dark fantasy underpinnings, tactical combat, deep storylines and characters, and player choice. The sequel, Dragon Age 2, was a rather drastic change in direction from this, with a larger emphasis on action, a smaller-scale, more focused storyline, and much more re-use of assets that found the player going to what appeared to be the same place over and over again.
Inquisition seems to be almost a direct response to the complaints leveled against the prior game as well as an attempt to go even further than the original. Specifically, this will be the first time the series will be in an open world, and from all accounts, this will amount to more than just a simple “wander wherever you want” feature. Your decisions as the head of the inquisition will have a direct impact on how the story and your relationships with the characters plays out.
September 9, 2014 on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, and PS3
I’m not only excited about NHL 15 because I’m Canadian, but also because it’s going to be the sport’s debut on the next generation platforms, with all-new graphics and physics on a new engine. Soccer and football had this treatment last year, while hockey was relegated to a minor update on last generation consoles.
One of the notable features that EA mentioned was that all the players on the ice as well as the puck will be subject to the same physics engine, which should have a large impact on how the game feels in comparison to previous years, where the physics was somewhat more limited. Will this be a positive change? Let’s hope so, because there are no other options for hockey lovers!
Ubisoft is coming off a string of very good games. They’re unique in the industry in that many of their larger games are produced simultaneously across various studios located all over the world. Their conference definitely had the feel of a company that was pretty happy with themselves and weren’t afraid to let everyone know it. Almost too much so, to my tastes, as the host (the usually great Aisha Tyler) was trying too hard to be edgy, and unfortunately came off a bit awkward at times. Nonetheless, they had some strong games showing.
Far Cry 4
November 18, 2014 for Xbox One, PS4, and PC
“You start with a passport, some money, and a gun. Then… you’re fucked.” Strong words and a strong trailer for Far Cry 4 was how Ubisoft opened up their press conference. This open-world first person shooter looks like it’s going to have the same gameplay and surprisingly interesting villain that the previous entry featured. Far Cry 3 was, by all accounts, one of the best and most surprising games of the last generation, and I’ve always regretted letting it slip through my ever-growing backlog.
I don’t plan to let that happen this time, as I’ll be playing Far Cry 4 on day one. I especially like their stated motto of giving the player an exotic locale, lots of weapons, vehicles, and toys, and letting players make their own story within a story.
Assassin’s Creed Unity
October 28, 2014 for Xbox One, PS4, and PC
The seventh (Eighth? Ninth? I’ve lost count.) main entry in the Assassin’s Creed series is shaping up to be quite a tour de force. Set in Paris at the turn of the 18th Century, you’ll help shape the outcome of the French Revolution, most likely by stabbing a lot of people. To be honest, I didn’t think that I would find myself so interested in this game so close to playing through the fantastic Assassin’s Creed 4. But, like many of the games being showcased at this year’s E3, Unity is very obviously showing the benefits of being developed primarily for the power of the new consoles. The city looks incredibly gorgeous and vast. There are citizens and soldiers everywhere, and they’re doing all manner of different things, really helping to cement the feeling that you’re in a living (alternate) history.
The various trailers that have been shown of the game at E3 show lots of stuff going on at the same time, to a potentially overwhelming degree, but the most interesting aspect of all of them are the co-op features. It’s not clear whether the entire game can be played this way, or if there are just certain missions open to it, but it seems like some of the most fun to be had will be when you’re joined by three other assassins who are helping to serve up the monarchy to the peasants on a silver platter.
Sony is coming off one of their best E3’s ever last year, when they followed up what was widely considered a very disappointing conference for Microsoft, by demonstrating that the PS4 would have a potent combination of being (slightly) more powerful than the Xbox One, would be better focused on games, and more importantly, would be $100 cheaper. Needless to say, this was a powerful message that helped the PS4 get off to a strong sales start that the Xbox One has yet to be able to match.
This year, Sony seems to have decided to continue with what works, and shared the stage time almost equally between big-budget triple A games and smaller independent titles. Unfortunately, in doing so, they lost some of the flow that their conference began with, and it tended to the boring side, especially in comparison to Microsoft’s non-stop train of new games earlier in the day.
September 9, 2014 on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, and PS3
Destiny marks the beginning of the first new franchise for Bungie since they stopped working on Halo with Halo 4. That in itself would make this a big deal, but this is even bigger because Destiny’s publisher Activision has pledged in the area of $500 million to the franchise over the next 10 years. They’re clearly hoping for something that will be as big or bigger than Halo ever was.
As for Destiny’s gameplay itself, it appears to be a combination of Halo’s shooter feel with Borderlands’ loot-driven RPG mechanics. You’ll be playing singleplayer, co-op multiplayer, and adversarial multiplayer all blended in at different times, while trying to continually upgrade and customize your character class and exploring the game’s universe.
Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain
Late 2014 (maybe early 2015) on Xbox One and PS4
Like all the Metal Gear Solid games, this one looks fantastic. How will it play though? Luckily Kojima Productions released a small prequel game in the form of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes earlier this year to give fans an idea of how the new open world gameplay (sensing a trend?) would impact the traditional stealth action of the series, so you would be encouraged to check that out to see how you feel.
As per the usual, the trailer shown at Sony’s presser was light on actual gameplay, and focused more on the cinematics. As anyone who’s played the previous games knows, you can expect the final product to also be heavily weighted in the same fashion. Finally, it’s worth noting that for the first time since Metal Gear Solid was released in 1998, David Hayter is not the voice of the main character and Kojima Productions has hired none other than Kiefer Sutherland to take over. Nothing against Mr. Sutherland, but I just can’t imagine Snake’s voice changing so drastically after all these years.
Last year Nintendo bucked the long-standing tradition of having a major press conference at E3 to compete with Microsoft and Sony. They decided to change the rules a bit, and release a pre-recorded presentation from their website and they’ve decided to do the same thing this year. No fanfare, no applauding crowds, no light shows; Just a person standing in front of a white background talking about Nintendo’s new stuff. Is this a good or a bad sign? That may be a discussion for another time. For now though, they still had new games to show us.
This year, they continued their new tradition of presenting a pre-recorded video, but they did a bit more with it to make it more interesting. Unfortunately, you can still tell that they know they may be fighting a bit of a losing battle for this generation. They had some good first party games to show, and that’s always where Nintendo shines, but the majority of them aren’t going to see the light of day until some point in 2015, which is a pretty tough pill to swallow for many of the current Wii U owners who are hoping for something more to play on their system.
Smash Bros Wii U
Holiday 2014 on Wii U
Since the Nintendo 64, the Smash Bros series has been one of Nintendo’s best-selling franchises. It takes all the Nintendo characters you know and love, and pits them against each other in a 4-player brawl that became a staple of many people’s couch multiplayer sessions. Also, somewhat surprisingly, this series became a popular game in the competitive gaming circuit. Nintendo’s announcement of a new release of a Gamecube controller adapter for the Wii U (the most popular controller for the game) is an uncharacteristic, yet welcome, show of support for the passionate community that has grown around the series.
For the latest entry, we’ll be seeing the series in HD for the first time and we’ll be getting a number of new characters on the roster, including Little Mac from Punch-Out and Capcom’s Mega Man. Beyond that, there are many new items, levels, and revamps of all the previous characters, but for the most part, it’s fundamentally the same game you either love or hate… but probably love. To be honest, if you have a Wii U and weren’t already planning to get this game, you might as well pack it away for the rest of the year because there just isn’t much else coming your way for a while.
The PC continues to be a strong gaming platform. In many ways, it’s probably the strongest at the moment, but E3 has traditionally always focused more on the consoles. That being said, there was one big game shown that got my attention.
Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth
Fall 2014 for PC
A new game in another one of the long-standing series that have been well-represented on this recap thus far, if you don’t know what Civilization is, you’re probably not one that uses your PC for gaming. The latest in Sid Meier’s series of turn-based strategy games is actually a spiritual successor to Alpha Centauri, which was a much-loved version of the Civilization gameplay, but set in space on a new planet. Beyond Earth is bringing us to the stars once again, in a near future where three distinct civilizations leave Earth to colonize a new planet, securing a future for humanity.
Some of the interesting new gameplay elements that have been revealed thus far are the sci-fi based tech web (that replaces the more linear historical tech tree of previous games), the three main “affinities” that you can choose for your civilization, and the various ways that the indigenous life on the planet can impact your game. Fingers crossed that this game will be as much of a classic as essentially all of the previous ones have been.
So that about wraps it up for this year’s E3 recap! Obviously there are scores of games that I wasn’t able to touch on here, but my intention was to focus on some of the big-budget, high profile games that E3 tends to attract, as well as to restrict my attention to the games that will be on (digital) shelves this year.
There’s a ton of stuff to choose from here regardless of your favourite platform. When your game comes out, I recommend checking FMMS for a delicious snack and cocktail, kicking your feet up, and digging in.