E3 2015 Impressions

This was my first year attending E3, and I was fortunate enough to play a ton of unreleased video games. This article will discuss my very brief impressions. I enjoyed playing most of the games I tried, though I was surprised and disappointed that so few of the developers took time to ask for feedback and survey responses. It seems to me like this would be an excellent time to essentially conduct a free focus group, but maybe there’s a good reason that they chose not to do so.

Most games don’t have release dates but are slated for sometime this year. I’ve added the console I played them on, but sometimes they are set to be released on multiple platforms but haven’t been confirmed.

One additional note I wanted to mention was that I was really impressed with the representation of strong female protagonists in games this year. Whether or not this is just a knee jerk reaction to public outcry I can’t say, but I was pleased to see such a (relative to other years) strong presence. To name a few: Horizon Zero Dawn, Fifa 16, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, Mirrors Edge Catalyst, Tomb Raider, Recore, Nier, Dishonored 2, Fatal Frame, and even Halo 5 all have strong female leads. Though I acknowledge that some earlier games in each respective series may have also already had a strong female presence, and that games in general are still lacking diversity, I was pleased to see a shift in the right direction. For a video showing some clips from some of these games, check out this recent IGN release.

Anyway, here are some of my brief E3 2015 impressions:

Flame in the Flood (Xbox One). Flame in the FloodThis game is a classic survival title. You gather supplies and use them to meet needs like hunger, thirst, etc. In that sense it’s not particularly revolutionary, but it had a gorgeous art style and seemingly solid mechanics. The different islands and environments are procedurally generated, which ensures that no two playthroughs will be the same. The framerate was a little jerky right now, but if you like these types of survival games, keep an eye out for this one.

Rare Replay (August 4, 2015, Xbox One). This collection looks outstanding. In a rare (yes, I know) display of affection for fans, Rare is releasing a collection of 30 of their most classic games for an incredible value price of $30. In addition to the games themselves, it will offer a rewind function for some games, a video about Rare, and the ability to do certain challenges in individual games. Read my article on Rare Replay to find out a bit more about it.

Superhot (Xbox One). SuperhotDon’t be fooled by its sparse presentation; Superhot has potential to be a really fun game. It’s an interesting take on a FPS where your enemies only move when you do, so it’s about figuring out the puzzle of how to pass through stages without dying. The environments are overly simple but the gameplay kept me entertained as I tried to get past a single room. It basically takes an experience that would normally take 10 seconds to complete in a regular FPS and extends the play time to about 10 minutes while trying to figure out how to get past without getting hit. Levels are fairly short; the demo level had seven enemies. Keep an eye out for this fresh perspective of FPS.

I Am Bread. (PS4) Yes, this is already out on PC, but it’s coming to Playstation soon. It’s such a silly concept that it’s worth discussing it; you are a piece of bread trying to toast yourself. Each stage presents a variety of hazards, and you need to get to a toasty surface without compromising your “edibility.” The rub is that the controls can laughably wacky; not “bad” persay, but just, well, interesting.

Rocket League (PS4).ROCKET This seems like a really fun arcade-style soccer match…with cars instead of humans. Yep, you’re driving a car that hits a giant soccer ball around an arena while attempting to score in your opponent’s goal. All cars have the same stats in the physics-based gameplay, but they do have different hit detection points. The core gameplay was definitely fun, but it doesn’t seem to have much variety. There are customization options, but I didn’t care about them because they weren’t especially interesting and didn’t change the stats. Speaking of which, that’s another odd decision; having different stats would have added considerable depth to the experience. The staffer on hand told me that they made stats uniform in order to get the player to focus on the core gameplay, but that sounded like PR-speak to me. Supposedly they will be released different arenas with unique qualities, but the staffer couldn’t talk about those yet. All in all, it was fun, but I’d need to see more depth before recommending it.

Super Time Force (PC, XB, PS). This game is already out, and has been reviewed fairly well. In a nutshell, you play as a pixelated character in a contra-style shooting game where you can rewind time whenever you want or when you die. When you rewind time, you can select another character to play, and your original character will still appear alongside you in real time as you blast your way through the lever. It’s another cool concept, but I found that the slow down that was required to respawn quickly became frustrating. I’m not sure I’d want to play through an entire game like that, despite its charming unique mechanics.

Until Dawn (August 25, 2015, PS4).DAWN One of the reasons I chose PS4 over Xbox One as an initial next-gen purchase was because of this game. This is basically a campy teen horror flick in the form of a video game. And I’m in love with it. I’ve wanted this game since I first heard about it, and the demo I played had me as excited as ever. The demo had you face off with some angry antelope and try to escape a situation, and the decisions you make can decide who lives and who dies. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and the voice acting was perfect for this type of environment. The game still had the same frame rate jerkiness from earlier builds that I had hoped they would iron out by now, but even with that problem it was still super cool and atmospheric, and I can’t wait to buy it.

Corpse Party: Blood Drive (Vita). I just learned about the Corpse Party series, of which this is the third entry, and I’m stoked to play through them all. They are creepy visual novel games with some gameplay elements, and my short time with the demo had me interested to know more about the story. This comes out in the fall, but the first two games are currently available on PSN. I’ll be buying them soon and will write up some reactions after I finish them.

Onechanbara (PS4). So, I decided to give this game a shot when walking by the booth because it looked like it had some crazy fast and smooth action melee sequences a la Bayonetta, which is one of my favorite action games of all time. My experience left me, umm, uncomfortable. You play as scantily clad women who tear up enemies in extreme fashion. The cool part is that you can shift between the characters with a quick button press, an idea which I really liked about the game. However, the gameplay was nowhere near the level of Bayonetta quality, and this appears to be more a way to capitalize on male fantasies more than anything else. In addition to the skimpy costumes, the screen is filled with buckets upon buckets of blood. Perhaps even more disturbing than the blood level though was that one of the characters’ faces looked like a pre-teenage young girl, which, when paired with the decidedly adult-size female body, was just plain creepy. This game lacked the class of Bayonetta and despite some cool gameplay concepts, I can’t recommend it.

Horizon Zero Dawn (PS4).HORIZON Another interesting Playstation exclusive. This wasn’t playable, but a behind the scenes extended trailer and demonstation provided some additional details. A strong female protagonist narrates the introductory storyline: humanity has risen and fallen, with most of civilization in ruins. Now the remaining humans live in tribes in the wilderness, and must survive by fending off the occasional hoard of robot dinosaurs. Yep, robot dinosaurs. It’s as awesome as it sounds. The gameplay segment had the protagonist “hunting” some of these dinos, collecting “bio tanks” that seemed to serve as an energy source. She had three types of arrows and had to use all of them strategically to defeat the much larger robot dino that came to the aid of the smaller one you picked off from the herd. It’s going to be an open world game with no loading, and definitely one worth looking out for.

The Last Guardian (PS4). Another interesting Playstation exclusive, this game has been in the rumor mill for the past few years after a stunning trailer set the world afire in anticipation at E3 2009. Again, this was not playable, but provided just enough gameplay to keep generating more hype. The gameplay hadn’t changed much from what we saw previously, though there were added scenes of the boy interacting with the giant bird creature. To be honest, the game was beautiful (despite looking very much like it was being developed for last gen, which makes sense seeing as how it’s been a work-in-progress since 2007), but I wasn’t especially captivated by the mechanics. The behind the scenes demonstration showed the boy taking some spears out of the bird’s back, and then feeding the animal with barrels (filled with what, we don’t know). One aspect I’m particularly impressed with is the general behavior of the giant bird – I’ve spent a lot of time working with animals over the years, and I think they’ve really nailed the movement and reactions of such an animal perfectly. There was one part of the demo where the player sloppily threw a barrel at the bird, and the bird lunged at it but missed it, and it toppled out of reach. The reaction of the bird is just perfect in every way.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (PS4).UNCAHARTED Yet another fun and interesting Playstation exclusive. If you’ve played previously Uncharted games, then I don’t need to tell you what this one is about. It’s basically more of the same, but bigger, better, and prettier. The behind the scenes footage I saw was way over the top action – if it was any other series I might scoff at the ridiculousness of it all, but it just works perfectly as an Uncharted game. Everything was gorgeous and slick, and I’m sure this game is going to be huge.

Star Fox Zero (Wii U) Read my article about this game to see some more fleshed out impressions.

Capsule Force (PS4). This demo looks charming in presentation, but it falls flat in terms of gameplay. Essentially a Nidhogg clone with a few twists, it failed to captivate me in just about any way. Then again, I probably wouldn’t have liked Nidhogg that much if there wasn’t the multiplayer component, so this might just be a title that needs to be played by friends. If you loved Nidhogg, give this a try.

For Honor. (PS4)FOR-HONOE This game included the longest line that I endured at E3, but it really held its own once I played it. There will be a single player campaign, but the demo had us working together 4v4 to try to take over an area. The unique feature for this game is the mechanics to control swordplay and defence. You essentially have three ways to block and three ways to strike, and the trick is to defend properly against your opponents’ choice while planning a counter of your own. I found it generally worked fairly well, but I had trouble locating the cues necessary to make the proper defence choice. Regardless, it was fun, and very pretty, and considering this was pre-alpha footage, it’s definitely a game to keep an eye out for next year.

Soma (PS4). This game seemed interesting but I didn’t really know what was going on. It’s a FPS game with some unique tweaks to it, like a strange Big Daddy-like monster (a la Bioshock) that patrolled the area after I got to a certain point in the demo. Your vision would sometimes get blurry and it was hard to make things out, but I’m guessing it’s some sort of drug or perceptive power that could add some depth to conventional FPS mechanics. It had a creepy atmosphere, and I enjoy games like that which put you in a bleak survival situation with some sort of crazy enemy, so I’ll be looking to learn more once we get closer to release date.

Yoshi’s Wooly World (Wii U, October 16, 2015).YOSHI This game is just so darn nostalgic and adorable that I simply can’t wait until it releases in the fall. It’s a platformer that offers two-player co-op as well as either a classic or “mellow” mode, the latter being one for people who are terrible at video games (it gives you wings to basically float through the level). I really enjoyed my hands-on time at the demo station; it controls wonderfully and has all the charm you could possibly stuff into a single package. Yoshi looks good enough in the game as it stands, but you can also use some of your amiibo that you have sitting around to have Yoshi dress up in various outfits. Normally, I wouldn’t really care much about this, but with Yarn Yoshi, it’s too adorable to pass up. The level I played had some interesting little puzzles and disappearing platforms which I enjoyed immensely, despite the frustrations of being stuck with someone who apparently didn’t know how to play Yoshi games. All in all, I just can’t wait for this one.

Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash (Wii U). This game felt like just another entry in the Mario Tennis series. After claiming that they only want to revisit franchises when they can do something new with it, the demo for Ultra Smash felt like more of the same. The demo featured the addition of a mushroom capable of making your character a giant, but I felt it added little to gameplay. Sure, the visuals looked amazing compared to previous Mario Tennis games, and the action sped through at a breezy 60fps, but I found it hard to be excited about the game. And I’m a sincere tennis enthusiast! While I might eventually pick this one up, some interesting offerings like online play (they would not talk about if this is on the table or not right now) are going to have to be fairly significant for me to buy it early on.

Super Mario Maker (Wii U).MARIO-MAKER Mario Maker is a serious contender for GOTY, and it’s not even out yet. If you aren’t familiar with it, you can basically easily drop and drag elements of level design from the original Mario Bros, Mario Bros 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros into brand new user created levels. This game is outstanding. Even if you’re not into designing levels yourself, you’ll find yourself playing around with the level creator because it’s just so incredibly intuitive. Everything about this package is the real deal; the game will even release with an art book sporting ideas for level creation. You can do anything you can imagine in the level editor, and it sounds like Nintendo has a good plan for how to keep the good levels flowing for online players. Not only will they be ranked by players, and not only will the best designers get recognition to allow you to look for more of their levels, but you will not be able to submit a level without being able to beat it yourself, which means that we won’t see any crazy unbeatable messes. Well, we might see some things along those lines when the world’s best speed runners jump into the fray, but at least you’ll know that each level can technically be beaten. Oh, and there’s two 8-bit Mario amiibo. And you can use other amiibo to unlock 8-bit versions of some classic characters. And…well, you can just read this article for some more info. Suffice to say I had a great time playing around with it, and this is a day one purchase.

Virtual Reality: I had the opportunity to play three different VR devices, and I had very mixed reactions to each of them. My overall reaction is that VR is really interesting and innovative tech, and will have a place in the future, but that it needs a killer app to get me to care about it. Right now, it’s just a novelty.

Oculus: Adrift demo. In this demo, your character is floating in space, and there’s not much to do other than to marvel at the spectacle of it all and grab some oxygen tanks to keep you alive. The visuals were quite blurry and not particularly convincing. I found this pretty boring and not as immersive as many people had claimed it to be; as my first VR experience, I walked away pretty disappointed. Worthy of note: I was really impressed with how light the Oculus was on my head. I was worried it was going to feel like a lead weight, but it barely felt like I was wearing anything at all.

Samsung gear VR. Already available in stores, this was a device that allows you to simply put your Samsung phone into the device and presto, you have a VR device. I played a neat airplane game where turning your head controlled the direction of the plane. It was a really neat experience to glide around corners (they seated me in a swivel chair so I could have full range of motion. However, it was pretty basic in terms of gameplay, and got boring quick. It was the only demo where I was asking myself “what next” before the demo had even finished.

Project Morpheus.MORPHEUS Easily the most impressive of the three, I played a game called Wayward Wind, essentially a point and click adventure up in the clouds. This was the first one that allowed me to look around by turning my head, and it was a really cool sensation and experience overall. The biggest reaction I had was when I took an elevator further up in the clouds; my stomach and body literally felt like I was ascending upwards, even though of course I was seated and standing still. I didn’t experience any nausea, though I was a bit disoriented when taking it off and trying to walk around. I also noticed that slightly adjusting the helmet made a big different in how clear the images were, so I wondered if making adjustments with my Oculus demo might have improved my experience with Adrift.

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