A little while ago I wrote a tweet that said (in my songbirds-and-butterflies-and-all-things-sweet-and-sugary style that I have): “E3 2016. Because why wait for the door-to-door-salesmen to come to you?”
There are times were a healthy dose of cynicism is needed, and E3 is one of them. It’s the bucket of cold water that stops people getting hypnotised by the snake charmers and marketing men. Not to stop people being excited at all, but to help them realise that not all these video games are being honest with them – and consequently not worth being excited for.
With that in mind, I was rather uninspired by the E3 showings this year. Nothing particularly mind-blowing, but no spectacular failures either. Bare in mind, that doesn’t mean there weren’t flops and flourishes, just that there were no exciting extremes… Which means that E3 is representing the AAA game industry fairly well.
Regardless, here’s my pick of the video game litter for the presentations that were given, which include my preferred choice, my least favourite, and the odd-looking runt that elicits more pity than anything else. Somebody get three coffins ready – or is four? Either way, it’s the wrong Clint Eastwood film and we need to get going.
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I’m giving this one to Horizon: Zero Dawn, but only because the Spider-Man game didn’t have any solid details and didn’t explicitly feature a web-slinging mechanic like the one in Spider-Man 2 (2004). If I’d seen solid proof of that, I’d currently be licking Insomniac’s boots and desperately begging for an advance copy.
As mentioned, I wasn’t blown away by what I saw, but I do think that what we saw in Horizon’s video is the best way to present something. Here’s a bit of unedited core gameplay that hints at an intriguing story and leaves us wanting more. And though I was tentative at first, I remembered that it wasn’t made by Ubisoft and that there weren’t any radio towers to climb in this big field, so no problem there either.
Whilst I’m not wild about the messy Transformers-movie-aesthetic that all the robots are sporting this season, or the utterly unhelpful game title that tells us nothing whatsoever, I can say that the presentation felt honest, solidly done, and did pull me in. I’m still not sure how we got to badass Wilma Flintstone fighting animal robots in future-world Skyrim, but I can’t say it’s a boring concept and seems to be fairly well designed. One of the things I like is that a lot of the methods of bringing down the mecha-raptors seem to be fairly unique and give a feeling of improvisation, such as stapling them to the ground with cables or throwing bombs in their way. I’m getting mostly flavors of the Far Cry series, with overtones of the The Witcher games and a dusting of The Phantom Pain added on top. God knows how the final meal will turn out, but this free tasting seems pretty well-made.
There’s a special place in Hell reserved for the kind of people who genuinely act like military vets when they play Laser Tag, alongside the shmucks who like to roll down the car window and blast dreadful music as loud as possible. But we now know there’s another sort of person who needs to go to the great Pit – those who play military video games and somehow get the impression that they’re a new member of the Expendables, with all the awful dialogue and behaviour that implies.
Enter Ubisoft’s new video game “Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands” and its associated E3 presentation, which made me cringe so hard that I could feel the contents of my torso pressing against my uvula. Witness a bunch of geeks playing a (rather easy looking) video game and deciding, quite wrongly, that because they’re getting through it they’re some sort of hybrid of Batman, Marcus Fenix and Solid Snake. Well, they’re partly right, because in that presentation they have the combined charisma of those berks and are hard to stomach because of it.
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
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The trick of giving overly-excited and praiseworthy voiceover from scripted players to make the games seem better has been going on for a little while now. It’s a rather unscrupulous little con, but also a pretty easy one to spot. And if all the voiceovers are going to have this kind of unironic cheesiness, they’ll be even easier to notice. This is the second time that a Tom Clancy game has done this in recent memory, which brings a layer of subtext I don’t like much. When a traumatised POW pleads for the voices to stop, next time I’ll have some frame of reference for his despair.
I struggled for ages on whether to give this one to Titanfall 2 or Watch_Dogs 2, but then I figured I could do both and nobody was going to stop me. After all, you can still shoot two people with one bullet if they stand back-to-back.
Titanfall 2 was a pretty obvious candidate. It IS an ugly game, with hyper-powerful graphics doing nothing to disguise the drab, uninspiring level design and general aesthetic of the environments, soldiers, and above all else, the robot suits. I know I whined about the mechanical animals in Horizon: Zero Dawn a little while ago, but at least they’re trying for something interesting in that game, regardless of how well they managed it. Titanfall 2 has just scraped together the most generic choices and dropped them in grey, muddy industrial zones from every shooter made since the mid-2000s. And then, just to top it off, sitting inside those big, technological beasts obscures sixty percent of your view with useless metal brackets and garbage in your peripheral vision.
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
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But then again, Watch_Dogs 2 makes a convincing case for being E3’s court jester. It’s taken the style of the first game, already renowned for trying WAY too hard to be cool, and injected a bunch of 90’s hip-hop sensibilities to try and double down on its funkometer readings. Whilst the new protagonist does seem to be an evolution of Aiden Pierce (in that he has an actual personality)he still doesn’t appear to be anything spectacular or new, so it’s basically going from a 2/10 to a 4/10. It also doesn’t help that he’s dripping in that weird Banksy-Anonymous-rapper-punky-hybrid style that everybody in this fictitious America seems to subscribe to, which smacks of a bunch of men in a boardroom trying to work out what’s popular, mostly via one guy’s nephew’s DeviantArt account.
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
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But Watch_Dogs 2 probably couldn’t win wider public approval no matter what it did, hence why it likely deserves to take the spot on the “ugly” bracket. It didn’t matter how beautiful Carrie looked at prom either, she still got pig’s blood dumped on her, and the same principles apply here too.It looks like the public really seem to resent this series repeatedly coming back like a comic supervillain, not to mention being a grim concoction of all the most generic elements going around in video games at the moment. I almost feel sorry for it, as even if it was an award-winning epic it wouldn’t do it any good. It could’ve inspired ascendant and revelatory spiritual enlightenment in everybody watching it, and still would’ve been met with exasperated sighs and bitterness.
Fortunately, Watch_Dogs 2 doesn’t look a GOTY contender, so feel free to rail on it all you like in the comments. Or maybe you think there was some other presentation worthy of mention that we didn’t cover? Were there any flops or flourishes you think need discussing? Leave your thoughts below and tell all, unless you’re one of those voiceover guys from Mr. Clancy’s Wildlands game. I’m not sure I want to hear from you chaps for a while.