E3 ROUND TABLE
One day, eight of the world's sexiest, most charismatic game critics sat down to talk shop about E3 2014. This is their tale...
Four E3 attendees and four homebodies discuss the world's most famous games show
Wilks: So E3 has come and gone. To my mind this year’s show was much more impressive than last year’s, despite 2013 featuring the console launch announcements, a thing that should have created much more excitement than I think it did. The problem was the lack of games. Consoles were announced, but there was little of interest being created for them. This year’s E3 featured the first real crop of interesting XBone, PS4 and Wii U games.
Rather than simply running a bunch of previews, I thought we might lead our E3 coverage for 2014 with a round table discussion of the show. What we liked, didn’t like, what stood out to us as the games of the show and what we wish was brushed under the carpet. To that end, I’ve invited our E3 attendees, James O’Connor, Heidi Kemps, Simon Parkin and Andrew Whitehead to share their opinions, as well as those of us who stayed home this year and participated online – Dan Staines, Joab Gilroy, Dave Kozicki and myself - to share their thoughts on the event. Let’s see what happens, shall we?
The best place to start, I think, would be to get a brief overview of the E3 experiences of our attendees and a general first hand impression of the show. Who wants to start? HEIDI: I’ll start in my usual cynical fashion by pointing out what wasn’t at E3: Portable systems. Notice how much the Vita was mentioned at the Sony press conference? Of course you didn’t, because it wasn’t. 3DS always has good stuff coming, but outside of Nintendo’s booth very few 3DS titles were actually being prominently showcased. These platforms tend to be where the sorts of games I enjoy flourish, so I was pretty bummed by this.
On the other hand, indie games are gaining more and more presence. Sony and MS had dedicated indie sections, there was a massive Indiecade booth, and indie-heavy publisher Devolver had their own little lot – a lot which, in previous years, had played host to the likes of companies like 3D Realms. The times are truly changing. PARKIN: For me, the actual experience of being on the show floor at E3 is always similar: the gargantuan booths, the flashing lights, the riot of noise pressing in from all directions, the heaving, aromatic crowd. There’s a lot of presentational, marketing stuff you have to get past before you can get close to the games, and, once you do, it’s far from the ideal setting in which to play them. That was no different this year. E3 feels anachronistic in that way, like a hangover from the 1990s – bawdy, ostentatious, slightly ineffectual.
The press conferences probably offered the strongest overview and perspective of the various publishers. Microsoft’s renewed focus on games after last year’s mixed messaging was clear. Sony’s lingering conference had standout moments (No Man’s Sky continues to bewilder with its ambition) too, as well as a rare segment of genuine warmth and reflection by way of some fan letters bearing testament to people’s love of PlayStation across the years that were projected on screen. As has been the case for the past couple of years, non-E3 attendees had the best experience in terms of seeing Nintendo’s showing via the company’s internet-based presentations. Splatoon was probably the most exciting game of the show, and the way in which Nintendo put the team in front of the camera, talking about their process was quietly enlightening, and felt a far cry from the usual bluster and noise of these reveals. It demonstrated the company’s care for and priority of for craft. In a sense, Nintendo’s approach, at least in terms of its ‘use’ of E3 as a communication tool, feels the most contemporary and relevant. JAMEs: This was my first E3, and one thing that really struck me was that actually being there, in some ways, gave me less of an overview of what was being shown and announced than I might have been privy to if I’d monitored it from home. The obvious trade-off is that being there lets you go hands-on with a lot of the big titles, and interview the folks behind them, but for instance I saw EA’s press conference in a restaurant with the volume muted while I ate my lunch and only managed to catch up on what was shown by Sony through word of mouth over the next few days.
As a first-time attendee I don’t know if I can really say how good or bad an E3 it was compared to previous years, but I certainly saw and played a lot of games that I’m highly anticipating. I was particularly impressed at how Nintendo just sort of got down to business with the Wii U, announcing new titles, giving us new reasons to be excited about Smash Bros, and streaming out so much content and information through the Nintendo Treehouse. You wouldn’t know from looking at their space on the floor that they’re struggling. STAINES: So how about that new Zelda, though? Are we excited about that? I didn’t go to show so I can’t speak for how it was received on the floor, but from here it seemed like pretty big news. I was hoping for a new Metroid – preferably side-scrolling, preferably on 3DS – but open-world Hyrule is good too, right? WHITEHEAD: I felt that Nintendo won the show in many ways, but then again it's make or break for them so they were always going to try harder. They use E3 better than most companies by engaging fans directly online better than Sony or Microsoft or any of the publishers. I mean behind closed doors demos are great when you're at the show, but Nintendo reveal their hand to the crowd a lot more. They have this way of making Nintendo feel like a clubhouse for gamers and they want you everyone to join them. I know everyone streams online but I feel that Nintendo make it seem more inclusive by forgoing a lot of the excess the other two seem to rely on. As for the forthcoming Zelda on Wii U, I live in hope. Skyward Sword was a flawed game but I still really enjoyed it, A Link Between Worlds was incredible and probably my second or third favourite game in the series, so if they continue this upward trend the new game should be brilliant. I mean it couldn't be any worse than Twilight Princess. Honestly losing so much market share has been one of the best things to happen to Nintendo. It feels like there's more fight in the old dog now and they're listening to what their audience wants. I do wish the 3DS had more of a presence at the show, but really it's the Wii U that needed to prove itself here. And prove itself it did. GILROY: I'm surprised at the support Nintendo is getting from folks at the show. What did we see – a bunch of
spin-offs and spin-off sequels, a new Zelda game clearly not demo'd via "in-game footage", and no significant third party release announcements. Maybe that only serves to show just how dire things have gotten for Nintendo.
Watching the show from home was a fun spectacle, especially after being on the ground the previous four years. Thanks to the streams and publisher YouTube accounts it was exceptionally easy to catch up on all the announcements, and I never felt like I was missing out during any of the conferences. With that said however, I thought Sony's Indie game showcase was good but not being there meant I didn't get a chance to spend time searching through those being shown outside of the conference – in previous years I found many meditative moments at IndieCade. KOZICKI: It stuns me that I have to agree with Joab ‘Gob’ Gilroy, given our well documented adversarial relationship, but Nintendo’s showing elicited a massive ‘meh’ in response. It’s the same old deal, same half a dozen iconic characters with another number, HD remake or reinvention added to the mix. Yawn. Much like Heidi, I was also disappointed at the lack of portable love. The PS Vita is a brilliant bit of kit, I just wish there were more/any games coming for it, other than ports or remote play options.
I thought the Franken-games stood out, titles which may not reinvent the wheel, but are an amalgamation of tried and tested mechanics. I don’t think I’ve looked forward to a release as much as Destiny for quite some time and it continues to impress. Dat lighting, Jesus! Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor feels like all the best elements of Assassin’s Creed and the Batman Arkham franchises mashed together and I’m really digging the strategic angles you can take as you build your orc army. Then there’s Batman: Arkham Knight, The Witcher III: Wild Hunt (which I’ll leave for Wilks to fap over) and The Division which all gave
my gaming boner a boner. This year’s E3 was all about the third-person sandboxes for me. STAINES: Dude, don’t underestimate Nintendo’s “reinventions” – Super Mario 64, Metroid Prime, and Mario Galaxy are reinventions too. Super Mario 3D World is a reinvention of a reinvention of a reinvention and is still far and away the best game on Wii U. And the thing with Zelda particularly is that each iteration’s take on Hyrule is so visually/thematically distinct that it doesn’t (for me, at least) feel repetitious or gratuitous. At least not lately.
That said, I give precisely zero shits about the new Smash Bros. After getting unreasonably excited about Brawl and then being massively disappointed in same, I’m reluctant to give the series another shot. If Sakurai wants me back, he’s going to have to do better than Pac-Man and Wii Fit Trainer. WILKS: As many people know, I have never really been able to get into a Zelda game aside from Wind Waker, so the prospect of a new Zelda game really did nothing for me, but I definitely agree that Nintendo did much better this year than they did last. Everyone did. I was lucky enough not to attend this year (and before anyone comments about privilege and the like, I would like to point out how goddamn exhausting E3 is) but I did my due diligence every day watching live feeds, reading reports and the like. I expected last year’s show, with the new consoles and all to show off some games, but that never really happened. This year it seems as though everybody realised last year’s mistake and showed off a bumper crop of games. As always, The Witcher stood out to me, but there were a number of other games that got me extremely excited. The Division looks amazing, despite the hammy, totally unnecessarily scripted conversation between the players. The new Smash Bros. looks awesome too. I have very high hopes for Sunset Overdrive. And a number of the indies. So then, E3 attendees, what stood out to you as being particularly good? HEIDI: It’s pretty hard to avoid the hype for Super Smash Bros. I went to the Invitational tournament Nintendo was holding for a bit, and the atmosphere was electric. Hundreds of fans getting incredibly excited to see skilled players enter competition for the first time was quite an experience that was very easy to get swept up in. Helps that the game’s loads of fun, too! Though I must say, playing on the 3DS control layout after years of the GameCube pad just plays… weird.
On the indie front, there were a lot of very cool upcoming releases. Titan Souls, Nova-111, and Counterspy were personal favorites, but there was so much quality coming from this side of the industry that it’s tough to pick out just a handful of promising titles. Fortunately, Wilks gave me an entire section to do just that, so have a read, will you?
Lack of info on Persona 5 was a disappointment, but seeing that Xenoblade Chronicles X is a real thing that looks just as fantastic as the original game made up for it somewhat. Oh, and if you like fighting games? Mortal Kombat X got the lion’s share of the press during the show, but I must say that Guilty Gear Xrd is amazing. So many games have tried to look like playable cartoons, but GGXrd is the first game to really look like anime that you can play. It’s tremendous fun to play, too! WHITEHEAD: As much as it's a safe bet and such a known quantity The Witcher 3 still impressed me a lot. Graphically alone the game looks amazing but the world just felt alive and reactive to Geralt and his (or your) choices. The small sampling we got of the writing and the overall narrative during the 45 minute behind doors demo cemented my belief that it's the best written series in games right now. Certainly in the fantasy genre.
My biggest surprise was probably Lords of the Fallen. It's very similar to Dark Souls in tone and setting and it's also a game about learning from your mistakes and planning every step you take. But it reminded me a little more of Monster Hunter in the way you move and the way you can customise your loadout. The developers were very open about their influences but were clear they wanted to stand on their own. It's not like there's a glut of super difficult action-RPGs on the market so there's room for one more. PARKIN: Speaking of Dark Souls, one stand-out for me was Hidetaki Miyazaki’s Bloodborne, which is being published by Sony for PlayStation 4. The Gothic
aesthetic is different to Dark Souls’ knights and burnished armour approach, but the DNA is similar. The use of firearms in combat alongside melee weapons appeared to allow for a great deal of player expression, and it was undoubtedly one of the bestlooking games I saw at the show.
At the blockbuster end of the scale, I was impressed with Sledgehammer’s attempt to revitalise Call of Duty. It’s pretty unfashionable to be excited about that series right now (after so many annual updates the ennui has understandably set in) but the studio’s approach feels vibrant and interesting. Likewise, Bungie’s $500 million MMO-shooter Destiny seems like a strong attempt to add some freshness and urgency to the medium’s stilldominant genre.
In terms of indie titles, Titan Souls was the most wonderful game I played at the show, a 16bit style, top-down parade of excitement, in which you take on a series of hulking boss battles, each one with a Zelda-esque puzzle component. The game is supposedly due for release early next year and it seemed clear to me that it will be a big hit. O’CONNOR: I went to E3 without many bookings, and with slightly different priorities (since I was covering the event for a handful of kids’ mags as well as Hyper), so I missed out on a few of the big action games. I did manage to get a solid half hour with The Evil Within though, which went from being a game I had absolutely no interest in to something I’m eagerly anticipating. The horror genre has twisted and turned in some interesting directions over the years, but not many horror games have managed to get their rusty, blood-drenched hooks into me. But The Evil Within felt like a game that ramps up everything I love about Resident Evil 4, and that’s exciting.
I absolutely loved Smash Bros for Wii U and Splatoon too. Smash Bros has always been one of the best examples of how Nintendo likes to play around with their past successes, while Splatoon feels like something genuinely new. Beyond that: Fantasia: Music Evolved is the best Kinect game since Child of Eden, Hotline Miami 2 is exactly what I wanted it to be, Fable Legends is far, far better than it looked in Microsoft’s press conference, Forza Horizon 2 is exciting and fun... my cynical heart was warmed by how many big titles coming over the next two
years actually interest me. WILKS: Everything I saw of Sunset Overdrive made me happy, but you insisted on pissing on my cornflakes when you got back from LA, James, insisting that you could write 1000 words of negative diatribe about the game. O’CONNOR: You know I live to sap your enthusiasm and sully your cereals, Wilks. But yes, I haven’t really been sold on Sunset Overdrive since the beginning – the whole ‘you’re playing a videogame lolololol’ thing sort of irritates me – but I wanted to give it a shot anyway, because it looks just a little bit like Jet Set Radio Future. I only got to try out the horde mode styled multiplayer in the end (and watch extended demos of the single player, which looks... dull), and I found it lacking. The whole free movement thing feels a lot more restrictive than it does in other games, in that I found myself on the ground far more often than I expected, and the weapons, despite having OH-SO-WACKY names, all perform exactly like the standard weapons I’ve fired into boring enemies in a million other games. The enemies in this game are particularly bland, actually, unless they’re hiding something really cool from us. The frame-rate was stuttery and despite the repeated emphasis on us needing to work together we got by without a jot of communication. A big ‘eh’ from me. WILKS: Well, I guess this as a good a segue as possible into talking about what we thought were the biggest disappointments and/or the straight up worst things we saw from E3. To mix things up, I think the non attendees should go first this time. For me I guess the biggest disappointment was the fact that many of the developers and distributors at the show still relied on entirely CG or bullshot footage of their upcoming games rather than actually showing anything of worth. As much as I love Mass Effect, and even though I am hugely excited by the prospect of another game in the series, the whole “this is something like what another Mass Effect game could look like” trailer thing was in my mind a waste of time. All they needed to do was say they were working on another game and I think most people would have been just as happy, if not more so. And then there is One Way Trip, a game that looks so deliberately awful that it left me speechless after I saw the trailer. Everything I see of the game strikes me as being one of those strange antigames that come out every now and then, like Takeshi’s Challenge or Penn & Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors. Imagine an adventure/ turn based cover shooter in which everyone looks like the most dreadful hipster douche as viewed through the lens of Tim and Eric. Actually, I just made it sound a little awesome. Ignore the positive things in the last sentence. STAINES: Oh man that Mass Effect “trailer” had me yelling expletives at my monitor. Is this what passes for a teaser now – footage of slumped and pallid developers dicking around in 3D Max? It reminds me of that notorious “4 minutes of dancing logos and guitar music” trailer for Duke Nukem Trilogy, which, if you haven't seen it, is totally worth looking up on YouTube.
Other than that, I don’t think I was majorly disappointed with anything at this year’s show – mainly because I didn’t have any big expectations. Like Heidi mentioned before, I would have liked to see more portable games – sequels to Metal Gear Acid, Final Fantasy Tactics, or Mario & Luigi wouldn’t have gone astray – but maybe E3 isn’t such a great venue for portable games anyway. GILROY: The bat-tank. You want to know what I was disappointed with at E3, watching from home? The god-damned BatHoverTank that Batman drives in the Batman: Arkham Knight they showed the world has me utterly terrified. Why the hell is Batman driving around, shooting shit with a giant turret mounted gun? "They're EMP blasts, and he's killing robots!"
What next, will all the Mortal Kombat blood be green as well? I don't give a single solitary shit about their justification for it, outside of (admittedly frequently awesome) one-
shots Batman doesn't use a gun, and he hasn't used one for the better part of a century. Yes the rest of the game looks bloody amazing, and the way Batman interacts with his Tumbler-esque Batmobile in combat is brilliant, but as long as that damn machine has a gun turret there's going to be a part of me that gets angry when I see it in action. KOZICKI: Thanks to every one of you bastards who dumped down their thoughts before me taking the jam out of my donut. This list order is horse-shit *flips table Gilroy style*. Next year, Wilks, I’m going first so it doesn’t look like I’m the no original ideas man. The worst part of E3, besides anything with Nintendo on it, were the aforementioned (thanks again Wilks) trailers talking big, but showing nothing or CG only. E3 should be all about the gameplay reveal. Sorry BioWare and DICE, but I’m not getting a crotch bulge out of knowing you’re working on a new Mass Effect game or Star Wars Battlefront. Look, here’s a screenshot of me at my computer about to type up my reviews on both. Exciting, isn’t it? More to come, stay tuned. ZZZZZ.
The same goes for you Naughty Dog. Wow, Nathan Drake is, like, so old and he’s talking to Sully. Hot damn! Never seen that before in an Uncharted game, right? It doesn’t get me amped for a release every gamer in the world knew was coming (oops spoiler alert), it just ended Sony’s conference with one hell of a whimper and kind of pissed me off a little. Learn from Ubisoft. Gameplay footage or GTFO. Other than that I found the distinct lack of portable platform love… disturbing. I’ll be wearing a “Save Vita” t-shirt at next year’s E3. HEIDI: My personal disappointment was a lack of information on Persona 5. Practically nothing’s been shown about the game so far, yet it’s set to release in Japan this winter. Persona was all over the show (on our badges, even!) and since it’s
probably The Evil Within the most acclaimed JRPG franchise in the world right now after Final Fantasy’s recent stumbles, E3 would have been a fantastic place to debut it. Alas. Also: Sony, your method of teasing at the press conference? NOT COOL. Don’t mention cult classic Vib Ribbon (which was never released here in the States), leading us to think there’s going to be a remake or a PSN reissue or something… and then very, very tangentially tie that announcement in with showing Mortal Kombat X, of all things. And then teasing us at the end with a reveal when speculation about The Last Guardian has been running high… and then it’s for Uncharted 4. I mean, Uncharted’s fine, but we knew that game was coming. Last Guardian has been speculated by some to not even exist anymore. If it’s still happening, throw us poor saps a bone! At least Microsoft threw us lovers of weird Japanese games a bone with Phantom Dust. With Bloodborne being a PS4 exclusive, perhaps they can bargain From Software into a XBone exclusive Metal Wolf Chaos remake. I can dream... PARKIN: In terms of Japanese dreams being fulfilled, the return of Peace Walker’s Mother Base to the forthcoming Metal Gear Solid: Phantom Pain is wonderful news. I spent many an hour dutifully (and, I like to think, generously) tranquilising guards and airlifting their limp bodies home in Peace Walker, steadily building a private army. It’s one of my favourite designs anywhere in Hideo Kojima’s series.
It’s making a full-throated return here, and it seems to have been expanded in intriguing ways. The ability to airlift anti-air guns, crates and even vehicles to your base (an oil rig-like structure in the sea) turns this open world game into a gigantic scavenger hunt. Meanwhile, the need to sporadically return to base in order to protect the haul from attackers is akin to tower defense – something I didn’t expect to ever see in Metal Gear. WHITEHEAD: I did wish there was more Vita and 3DS news at the show too, but that wasn’t what let me down the most this year. My personal disappointment started when I handed over my Facebook details to EA in a fake police station so I could play Battlefield Hardline. After putting up a ‘totally radical’ post on my wall about how cool Hardline is my account was locked due to a ‘hacking attempt’. Anyway, I was also given a swipe card to activate video displays and whatnot in the station, but not before my mugshot was taken and stored somewhere online. Usually I really enjoy the excess and spectacle of E3, but this just reeked of desperation.
Anyway after that I jumped into Hardline in a 12 vs 12 match and found myself not enthralled from the start. Forget the fact that the game was set in Downtown LA and yet there’s no signs of life outside of the two opposing teams, what bugged me the most was how un-Battlefield the game feels. Urban environments can be cool and all, but the map didn’t feel like it had any personality or verticality. Just grey walls and office blocks. The vehicles too felt overly familiar – I don’t want to drive a bullet-riddled cop car, I want to strap C4 to a jet and slam it into a tank. O’CONNOR: One Way Trip was pretty fucking rubbish. Other than that though nothing much stood out as being terribly disappointing. I suppose I would have liked more interesting mobile games? Handhelds were underrepresented in general, but as the guy who rounds up mobile titles for review every month I was hoping to see something that excited me. WILKS: So there you have it – some rambling and sometimes divergent thoughts on E# 2014. No without further ado, the following pages are filled with some of our favourite games of the show. The games of 2014 and beyond. Enjoy!