Wednesday, June 17, 2015

E3 2015: Round Up of the Big Three Conferences

What would E3 be without the pre-show press conferences? Every year, gamers look forwards to the press events from Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo to see the latest announcements, and hope that their favorite system will ‘win’ E3 with some huge news. In many ways it’s the World Series for the video game fanboy.

As usual, things kicked off yesterday with Microsoft, who decided to focus their conferences on games coming the remainder of this year, feeling their 2015 line up is the strongest they’ve had yet. We got a further look at Halo 5, seeing a section of gameplay featuring ‘Blue team’, a team of Spartans that fans of Halo’s extended universe will be familiar with. We saw the first gameplay of the Xbox exclusive Rise of the Tomb Raider, which further expands upon the fantastic Tomb Raider reboot. It’s definitely a game I’ll be continuing to keep close tabs on as I loved the last one.
New games unveiled included a remastered version of the original Gears of War now running at 1080p and 60 fps coming to Xbox One and PC, Xbox One Exclusive Gears of War 4, Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2, and Dark Souls 3. Microsoft owned developer Rare announced two very different and exciting projects. The first was Rare Replay, a $30 collection of 30 classic Rare games including Banjo Kazooie, Viva Pinata, and many more. The second was Sea of Thieves, an online slice of Piratey goodness.

One of the real talking points coming out of the conferences though was the announcement of the Xbox One getting native backwards compatibility for Xbox 360 games. The first batch of games will get support later this year in a system update, and both digital and physical games will be supported. Fantastic news for anyone that still has a library of Xbox 360 titles.

Microsoft also took the time to demonstrate their upcoming standalone wearable computer thing, the Holo-Lens. The device is a headset that projects computer generated imagery into the real world. They showed off a demo of the holo-lens version of Minecraft, which was projected onto a table which the player can move around and interact with using their voice and hands. While the demo was mind blowing, we still have no idea of exactly when to expect holo-lens to launch or just how expensive this all in one computing device is going to be. Again, I just want to stress, that Holo-Lens isn’t an add-on for the Xbox One or a PC headset, it is a standalone computer that is going to be running all of its software directly inside the headset. It’s very cool stuff.
Where Microsoft had mainly focused on 2015 software, Sony focused more on games releasing next year. They kicked things off by finally confirming that the long in development ‘The Last Guardian’ was alive and well as a PS4 exclusive, and that Fumito Ueda is still on board as director. This adventure between a boy and his giant griffin dog thing looks as exciting and touching as ever, and will hopefully release in 2016.


One surprising turn of events was that Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 was missing from the Xbox conference where its Call of Duty games normally debut, and instead showed up at Sony’s. Sony have wooed the game away from Microsoft, and will now be the first place DLC content will launch.

If the show had a theme, it was fulfilling long standing wishes. As well as The Last Guardian, Sony also unveiled the long awaited Final Fantasy 7 remake. For years now, Square Enix have been rebuilding environments from their most beloved title to show off their new technology, but until now they’ve never followed through with a full remake of the game. After a decade or so of asking, gamers are finally getting this remake. The trailer showed the world of Final Fantasy 7 brought to highly detailed and realistic life. A far removal from the somewhat caricatured characters seen in the original, but in keeping with the tech demos that had people craving the remake in the first place. When they unveiled this, the crowd went crazy, and it was pretty apparent that we’d seen the biggest announcement of this E3.

Carrying on this theme, a Kickstarter was announced for Yu Suzuki’s Shenmue 3. This sequel to this Dreamcast franchise will finally complete the planned trilogy. It took less than a day for the Kickstarter to sail past it’s $2 million goal. It’s sitting at $2.8 million currently and with 30 days to go, this already record breaking Kickstarter project is sure to make fans of the series happy when it launches on PS4 and PC.

A good deal of the show was given over to publisher EA Games Star Wars projects. The addition of Star Wars characters to Disney Infinity was announced to launch with Disney Infinity 3.0 later this year, with multiple packs of toys planned, and with the Boba Fett toy launching first in a bundle with PlayStation versions of the game.

Much more exciting was a deeper look at Star Wars Battlefront. This long awaited entry in the Battlefront series comes from DICE, the developers of the Battlefield series. Since Battlefield had always served as the obvious inspiration for the Battlefront franchise, it’s wonderful to see the game in DICE’s hands, and they really look to be doing something special. The game lets players take part in some iconic battles from the original trilogy, and EA showcased the battle of Hoth. The reverence for the franchise was clear in every detail.

We saw players bringing down AT-ATs with toe ropes. We saw player controlled Tie Fighters buzzing overhead. Rebels and storm troopers fought on foot as the Empire tried to protect the convoy of AT-ATs and the Rebels tried to prevent them. At the end we saw Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, confirming them as playable characters.


Anyone looking for something truly new was served by an announcement of a brand new game. The blandly named Horizon: Zero Dawn, a game that looks a lot more exciting than its title suggests, from Guerrilla Games. This beautiful PS4 exclusive was set in a post-apocalyptic world where people have abandoned machines and gone back to living more like Native Americans, fighting to survive in a wilderness populated with both animals and robots alike.

Sony closed their show with an extended look at Naughty Dog’s latest entry in the Sony exclusive Uncharted series, Uncharted 4. This sequence showed an extended car chase downhill through a village in something that reminded me of the recent Tintin movie and a famous scene from Police Story. If we were to single out another contender for the best graphics at E3 this year, it would be difficult to argue against Uncharted 4.

As Nintendo are want to do, their event was a little different. Much as they did last year, Nintendo streamed a prerecorded video that featured comedy skits and interviews with the developers of some of the featured titles. While it was a fun and well done presentation, nothing short of major new announcements was going to top Sony’s event.

We did get announcements of some new games in the popular Zelda and Metroid franchises, but both were multiplayer focused spin offs for the 3DS handheld and not major new entries in those franchises. Legend of Zelda Triforce Heroes is a three player co-operative game that lets three players tackle puzzling dungeons. Metroid Prime: Federation Force is set in the Metroid universe, but just seemed to be a series of co-operative skirmish challenges based around new characters. The previously announced Wii U Zelda title was not shown off at all, which was a major disappointment.

Star Fox Zero received a lot of focus. A number of different types of vehicles were shown off, but compared to what we’d seen with Star Wars Battlefront, it was difficult to muster much excitement. The game does show a lot of promise though, allowing the player to use the gamepad screen to get an in cockpit view of whichever vehicle they are piloting. This secondary view allows the player to target otherwise unseen enemies. One new interesting vehicle has a small tethered robot that can be lowered from within, that can then explore small spaces close to the vehicle to unlock doors or shut down searchlights.


The other game that was given a lot of time in the presentation was Mario Maker. Like Star Fox, this had been announced last year, somewhat dampening the excitement, but it remains a really interesting game. Players are provided with a tool kit to make their own 2D Mario levels, and it allows for some really unique and creative scenarios to be made. People that are less creative can download levels other people have shared to play or edit themselves. Level creation looks surprisingly easy making use of the touchscreen on the Wii U, and every time they show it, the possibilities grow.

Skylander’s fans received a nice surprise, as it was revealed that the upcoming Skylanders game, Skylanders Super Chargers would receive some very special Wii U exclusive characters with Donkey Kong and Bowser being added to the game. A simple switch on the bottom of these toys lets them switch between working as Skylander toys or working as amiibos. Both come with vehicles which is a new thing for the series, and for once, the vehicles actually work as pretty fun toys outside of the game.

Of the new things revealed, I was personally pleased to see a new entry in the Mario and Luigi series which adds in characters from the Paper Mario series; Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam. Looking as funny and charming as ever, this portable RPG will hopefully make up for the gameplay short comings of the last games in both of these franchises. Bringing together multiple Bowsers and Princess Peaches provides fertile ground for hilarity and I have my fingers tightly crossed on this one.

When the dust settled, a good conference from Microsoft and a quirky effort short on new announcements from Nintendo never stood a chance against that Sony conference. The Final Fantasy 7 Remake announcement alone would have had people proclaiming Sony victorious, but when you add in the other major surprises, the new game announcements, the long requested titles, and the combination of exclusive Star Wars and Call of Duty content, it wasn’t even close.

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