This Week in Games
Seven E3 Takeaways
by Dustin Bailey,
There's far too much to cover everything, so I'm just going to hit some hot takes before talking about the points that really stuck with me through the show.
Somebody tell David Cage sci-fi has moved beyond “what if people were racist against robots.” I hope Bioware's Destiny is better than Bungie's. VR's still kicking, huh? Capcom's gonna have a rough time expanding the audience and pleasing the core Monster Hunter fans at the same time. Ni No Kuni II seems delightful. Wolfenstein II looks rad. I'm very pleased to own a Switch now. Man, Beyond Good & Evil got cursey.
Seven E3 Takeaways
Really, really dumb t-shirts would be a theme at this E3, but perhaps none had quite the hubristic impact of the “I Witnessed The Most Powerful Console Ever” shirts that appeared at the Microsoft press conference. It's accurate—the Scorpio, now known as the Xbox One X, is indeed the most powerful bit of home gaming hardware on the market, and it's got a five hundred dollar price tag to match. The refresh seems like another step on the inevitable path to every console having Apple-style semi-annual new models rather than hard generational leaps every half decade, and it's still a future wrought with right skepticism.
That's not to say the Xbox One X is a bad idea, but its success might ultimately be a “hearts and minds” victory rather than huge sales. Since Phil Spencer took over Microsoft's gaming decision in 2014, the Xbox people having been working to undo the damage incurred on the console and the brand by the previous regime, and some of the announcements this week felt like a response to the way Sony stepped in with the PS4 years ago. “True” 1080p? Now we've got the only real 4k console. Sony bosses talking mess about old games? We're extending backward compatibility all the way back to original Xbox. It's all dumb corporate posturing (i.e. the E3 story), but at the very least the Xbox seems to be a video game console again, which is a refreshing change after years of media and Kinect focus coming from the brand.
SONY WAS DISTRESSINGLY DULL
Compared to the low-key, confident showing from Microsoft, Sony's show felt incredibly dull. There's been increasing talk about the “house style” of their first-party games, with their bombastic action filtered through impressive character animation and heavily scripted gameplay sequences, and those types of games dominated their E3 show—and they were exactly the same games that appeared last year. There's merit to that style, and Horizon earlier this year showed it. It's the Marvel movie style of making entertainment, uncontroversial roller coasters built by the finest craftsmen in the field that are 8 out of 10 enjoyable. It's just tough to stay excited for that kind of game. Horizon was rad by virtue of a vibrant setting, well-told sci-fi, and robot dinosaurs, but will the same formula work with yet another zombie game?
It felt like the greatest casualty of the presentation was Spider-Man, which had every appearance of being the very worst level of an otherwise good game. Do you like quick-time events and scripted action? Here's 10 consecutive minutes of just that. Based on how great navigating the open world in Insomniac's Sunset Overdrive felt and how awesome swinging around was in even the most mediocre of PS2-era Spider-Man games, that thing should be terrific—but you'd never know it by the presentation. People joked about how the most exciting thing from Sony's first-party was a Shadow of the Colossus remake, but the real joke is this: it's not any less new than their upcoming originals.
PLEASE, PLEASE, OH GOD PLEASE STOP FORCING ESPORTS
Competitive games are cool. I try to keep up with the big fighting game events every year, and I'm glad that games like Overwatch and CS:GO and the big MOBAs have been able to carve out a massive, enthusiastic fanbase and get some real money and production put behind their events. Those games got there by building well-balanced games that have been put through community rigor for months and years to determine that they've got the longevity necessary to enter the tournament scene. It's not by offering a five-minute demo of a game nobody's familiar with under an announcer who may as well be shouting “ESPORTS ESPORTS ESPORTS” and pretending that you're onto the next football.
This should have been the lesson of Evolve, but it looks like everyone is continually failing to learn it. From Battlefront II's awkward influencer-hosted round of chaos to the embarrassingly scripted debut of The Darwin Project, they've all been hurt far more than helped by these terrible, awful, no good, very bad presentations.
BIZARRO NINTENDO IS MAKING TWO NEW METROID GAMES
Metroid Prime 3 came out in 2007. Metroid: Zero Mission came out in 2004. It's been a decade since the last Prime and even longer since the last traditional 2D Metroid, and it would be generous to say that the last few games in the franchise have been received less than favorably. The very first edition of This Week in Games was about the sad state of the Metroid series, and how Nintendo didn't want us to have nice things following their shutdown of the fan-made Metroid 2 remake.
Now they've announced Prime 4 and an official Metroid 2 reimagining. Like what?
Prime 4 feels odd to me, because as much enthusiasm exists around that series it's largely centered on single, classic original rather than its “pretty good” sequels. I figured any announcement would be for a new 2D Metroid—and then they announced just that for the 3DS moments after the official presentation. Both games are being worked on by untested developers, with Prime from a new studio and Samus Returns coming from the makers of the okay-ish Lords of Shadow derivatives. But hey, Nintendo's making Metroid again. Let's take a break before the next round of Mother 3 demands.
THE HOT NEW FIGHTING GAME TO WATCH IS NOT A CAPCOM JOINT, BUT AN ANIME LICENSE
The internet has not been kind to Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite. Coming off the shaky launch of Street Fighter V Capcom had a lot to prove in their ability to release a fully-featured fighting game, but their steps toward a story mode and theoretically more accessible two-character fights haven't been received well, nor has their decision to abandon the X-Men in favor of the currently hotter parts of Marvel currently featured in the movies. There's a story mode demo currently up on PSN, and even as the casual fighting fan this thing is supposedly aimed at it seems bad—the art style is relentlessly dull, the auto-combos are not the way to introduce people to the game, and for all the inspiration it takes from NetherRealms story modes it has none of that mostly logical, smooth progression between fights and characters. Maybe there's a great competitive game under there, but I'm in no position to see it and anecdotally it seems the response has been pretty negative.
On the other side of the expectation scale is the latest Dragon Ball game—this time a new fighter by Arc System Works. Building on the gorgeous 2D-but-no-actually-3D art of Guilty Gear Xrd, Dragon Ball FighterZ looks amazing, and its 3v3 battles have the frenetic pace you'd expect from something like the previous MvC games. It's all up in the air until people get some real time with both games, but right now it seems that a freakin' Dragon Ball game is stealing all the attention from Capcom's second-biggest fighting franchise—and that's really cool.
YOU KNOW WHAT'S HOT IN 2017? MARIO
The existence of a Mario/Rabbids crossover was the industry's worst-kept secret, but even as mountains of leaks started to pile up it still didn't quite seem real, especially as images started to surface of Mario—harmless mascot of your childhood innocence—wielding a gun. Yet Ubisoft opened their presentation by confirming the existence of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, and most of the cynicism surrounding the weird crossover was swept away by a shot of the game's creative director in tears as Shigeru Miyamoto presented the new RPG on stage, a weirdly human moment in a sea of trailers and reminder that yeah, games are made by people. Also, it's totally Mario XCOM and actually seems really cool. Two stages of cover, destructible battlefield elements, hit percentages—there's even a straight-up overwatch ability that lets you target moving enemies outside your turn. The new wrinkles are largely around movement opened up by warp pipes and team-based super jumps which add a new strategic layer that I really didn't expect to be excited about in the Mario + Rabbids game.
Then, also, there's a new core Mario game where you can use Mario's hat to possess a T-rex. I expected a strong showing from Mario Odyssey, but I didn't expect the full-on return of Weird Nintendo presenting a diversity of aesthetics not seen since Super Mario Land 2. New Donk City is governed by Mayor Pauline and based on the DK-derivative names seems to actually be the town where original Donkey Kong took place, finally destroying the (frankly ridiculous) notion that Mario is from Brooklyn. The thoughtfulness of these additions to Mario lore truly are inspiring.
Delightful weirdness of the art style aside, this looks to be a much slower-paced, exploration-focused Mario than we saw in the Galaxy games. These are big worlds that appear to be without a linear progression, requiring you to pore over nooks and crannies in search of the game's main collectable, spoking off traditional platforming challenges to the far points of the map. Nintendo's official line kept referencing the bigger worlds of SM64 and Sunshine, but the thought that kept coming back to me was classic Rare. Big worlds full of hidden collectables is very much the Banjo way, and it'll be interesting to see the ultimate failure of Yooka-Laylee followed up by something in a similar style from Nintendo's first party developers.
PUBLIC E3 SEEMS TO BE A NIGHTMARE
E3 as a convention has been shrinking in size and decreasing in relevance for years now. The biggest part of the show now takes place before the doors even open with now four consecutive days of press conferences, and the job of demoing big games to the press now happens mostly in private appointments away from the show floor itself. That means that publishers have far less reason to spend big money on big booths, and in light of the draining revenue the ESA has elected to experiment with allowing regular, ticket-buying consumers into the show.
The influx of tens of thousands of people into a show that has been in no way altered to accommodate them is going about as well as you imagine, and things seem to be on fire in the LA Convention Center—at one point literally. People are waiting entire days in line for a few minutes with a game that might be out in a month or two, and it's working against both the public and the press to fight against waves of people to maybe possibly see something a publisher is already showing 30 minute gameplay demos of online. A public E3 could work, but by all accounts this was a rotten attempt at it.
Release Date: June 16
Nintendo's latest experiment in online multiplayer is almost here, and based on initial reviews it seems to be a successful one. Arms is a behind-the-back fighter that's drawn a share of comparisons to the maneuvering-focused combat of games like Virtual On, and based on time with the Testpunch I'm pretty excited to check out the final release.
FINAL FANTASY XIV: STORMBLOOD|
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PC
Release Date: June 20
The second major expansion for the rebuilt FF14, Stormblood ticks all the boxes—new level cap, new job classes, new areas, quests, and crafting options. Also swimming, apparently. I'm in no position to speak definitively on the game, but it's great to see they've been successful in building something people have latched onto following that bad initial launch.
GOD WARS: FUTURE PAST|
Developer: Kadokawa Games
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PlayStation Vita
Release Date: June 20
It's been awhile since the last big rush of tactical RPGs, and most recent picks in the genre have carried the Fire Emblem name. God Wars: Future Past is a new (but traditional) take on the genre, featuring isometric turn-based strategy in a war to determine the shape of mythological Japan. Each of the 14 playable characters can have their own unique combination of jobs, mixing and matching classes to create a powerful party of varied warriors. (And yes, it's actually out this week. I think.)
An expanded edition of Cave Story hits Switch this week, including a fancy physical form. Mighty Gunvolt Burst also hits the Switch this week, serving as a sequel to the Inti Creates crossover—aka the good game featuring the world of Mighty No. 9.
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