E3 2016 bulletins: Monday
E3 Monday normally starts slowly, a period of downtime during which the Americans in LA are asleep, the Europeans are listlessly scrolling through their phones having been woken up by jetlag, and the rest of the world is arguing about what will be in the platform conferences. This year we were already two conferences down, so we had hot takes to gather around while we waited. Highlights included complaining about said conferences, pontificating on Titanfall, and why Bethesda's Doom shareware was nothing of the sort.
Early news offered few distractions, being as it was announcements that the next game from the Dynasty Warriors guys is based on a manga called Beserk, Sniper Elite 3 has been delayed, Ubisoft has a Star Trek VR game, and more visual novels are expected for PS Vita.
Finally, the drought of things to argue about was ended with the Xbox conference. The most comprehensively spoiled surprise, the slimline Xbox One S, was got out of the way first, with a rapid-fire trailer that included all the cheering details and skipped over the bit about Kinect being fully deleted from the system. Then Spencer handed over to COG veteran and cocktail enthusiast Rod Fergusson to reveal not only Gears of War 4, but news of Xbox Play Anywhere, the expected unity of Microsoft's platforms into a single cross-play whole.
That established, Spencer and the gang launched into a rundown of decent games that had almost all leaked well ahead of the show. Dan Greenawalt has been sealed in his polished-chrome regeneration pod for another year so it was over to Ralph Fulton to introduce the good-as-we'd-expect Forza Horizon 3, and Dead Rising 4 likewise looked exactly as we'd expect mostly because we'd already seen it running. We also already knew that Scalebound's hero was sort of a dick, although props to Kamiya for delivering what is emphatically E3's giantest enemy crab, and while we didn't know that Killer Instinct was the biggest fighting game on Xbox we did know that it's free, which probably helps. Oculus Minecraft is a big deal but almost impossible to get excited about.
See? We ALL love Giant Enemy Crabs!- Adam Boyes (@amboyes) June 13, 2016
Final Fantasy XV wasn't the greatest but The Division DLC seems sound, Limbo followup Inside impressed and Chris Charla's Indie Montage(TM) continues to be reliable source of new and interesting stuff - it didn't linger on the is-that-still-not-out-yet Cuphead and instead gave us an extended look at the extensively creepy We Happy Few. Then it was back to AAA land, and while the phrase "Xbox and Windows 10 exclusive" didn't sound any less silly with repetition it was applied to a very strong lineup including State of Decay 2, Halo Wars 2, ReCore and office favourite Sea of Thieves, which increasingly looks like it's going to put Rare back on the map after years in the toned but unloved Kinect Sports wilderness.
Hahaha. The Division logo has the red ring of death. Trigger event.- Seamus Blackley (@SeamusBlackley) June 13, 2016
It was a great portfolio that showed Microsoft completely focused on games, although the most interesting stuff was to do with the platform itself. Creating custom Xbox controllers is an easy sell, but Mike Ybarra had his work cut out trying to hype the sort of stuff normally expressed in nine-point type on the back of the box. They are useful additions, though: background music playback, club and LFG support for finding other players and a league platform for esports. The proposed uptake wasn't very convincing (it's launching now with key publishers like, er, Wargaming, while EA will support it "in coming years") but they're smart additions that shouldn't remain platform exclusive.
Then it was Spencer with the megaton: rather than spend the show not talking about the hardware upgrade everybody already knows about, Microsoft elected to read out the spec sheet and gush about how it'll be the most powerful console ever - next year. For jaded insiders Project Scorpio is a game changer for console hardware, making backwards compatibility the status quo and readying Xbox for the punishing demands of VR, but it's a longer game than we're used to seeing at E3 and it's going to take some getting used to. The authenticity of the performance claims was also slightly spoiled by somebody saying, seemingly with a straight face, it would offer "the highest quality pixels", one of those statements that pops into the world as a fully-formed meme. That said, it was an A-grade E3 conference: GG, Microsoft, although good luck shifting that slimline console now you've extensively detailed how it's going to be replaced.
Next came the PC Gaming Show, which delivered the expected rundown of interesting and hard-to-define games and uninteresting and hard-to-stay-awake-for hardware. Ark: Survival Evolved now has the ability to build settlements on the back of dinosaurs, just in case you were concerned it was becoming too documentary. Dawn of War 3 is rad. The Layers of Fear team revealed a new unsettle-em-up called Observer, and Klei announced a new game about space colonists, which instantly won Oli's GOTY award because it had a Klei logo on the splash screen.
Warren Spector showed up at the end to talk about Deus Ex but we'd already headed over to Ubisoft by that point, ready to confirm its status as the cra-zee Continental weirdos. Established crush Aisha Tyler was hosting again, which ensured a minimum standard of rationality, but otherwise Team Guillemot leaned right into its reputation by opening with Queen's Don't Stop Me Now performed by a troup of people in circus costumes. Aisha Tyler then pivoted into a message of support for the Orlando victims (a subject handled with some care show-wide) and right back out into boilerplate backstory for the new Ghost Recon, which basically amounted to "you and three co-op chums can ruin this entire country guilt-free because drugs." Then we were treated to another shot of pure-Clancy libertarianism which turned out to be a dead-on spoof to support a South Park game. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
It was fairly standard Ubisoft after that, a weird soup of highly marketable violence and advocaat-addled innovation sprinkled with baffled celebrity croutons. Highlights included noted multimillionaire Palmer Luckey pretending to be an eagle, noted Oscar nominee Michael Fassbender pretending to be an Assassin, and noted Judge Dredd Karl Urban leading a troop of Comic-Con autographers into co-op Star Trek VR game that might be the most optimistic play for consuming all your living room space since Michael Phelps for Kinect. You could occasionally discern simple facts, like a For Honor release date or a Grow Home sequel, but they were eclipsed by fantastical, wholly inexplicable Ubisoft-brand creations like a Trials/Blood Dragon mash-up or Jason Vandenberghe.
Regrettably we had to conclude in the wearier lands of Key Target Demographics. Watch Dogs 2 looked uncannily like an acceptable sequel to a not particularly notable game, and SSX-meets-Mirror's Edge Steep looked like the Shaun White Snowboarding team had been told to bin its auburn frontman and harvest a load of Far Cry fittings from Ubisoft's open-world parts bin. It is an impressively massive open world, though, and Ubisoft Annecy spun a good yarn about stunts and multiplayer that made it sound a bit like Burnout with more authentically fatal injuries.
Things then got unexpectedly real for the finale, in which miniature CEO Yves Guillemot stood in front of his team and in the shadow of Tyler and gave a heartfelt testimonial about independence clearly directed at the looming Vivendi menace, like a plucky El Presidente witnessing his borders get slowly consumed by United Fruit. It was a moving end to a remarkable show, and we'd have thrown flowers if we had them. Sadly all we had were unremovable wristbands, so we took them down the road to Sony, where Team Playstation had a much fancier musical opener and what will surely prove the event of the show.
Andrew House was nice enough not to zing Xbox explicitly but that was probably because he didn't have a need to nor the time to fit it in. After years of indie games and Kickstarters and pleas about the Vita, Sony is back with a sales lead and a bag of money and an Oprah-style commitment to wowing an audience fizzing with conference Kool-Aid. Xbox as the most powerful console? Jim Ryan's got your future of consoles RIGHT HERE THIS FALL, with a lineup of full-bore exclusives which trumped Microsoft by bombarding the audience with announcements and gameplay footage.
We were expecting God of War but we weren't expecting it to be spliced with The Last of Us, with Kratos following Marcus Fenix into Adventures In Negligent Parenting for reasons of emotion and marketing. Freshly delayed Horizon: Zero Dawn looks outstanding, David Cage barely had five minutes to witter about emotions, and we were introduced to Days Gone, because open-world zombie survival games are apparently a genre that demands platform exclusives these days.
The PSVR third-party lineup was handled with the same pace and packed with some mighty star power, including Battlefront, Batman, Final Fantasy and Call of Duty. Capcom got involved with a spectacular Resident Evil reveal that added a demo to the list of games you can play right now - which isn't quite as novel as it used to be but is still a very welcome trend. The internet got its Crash Bandicoot remaster and didn't even have to Kickstart it, and the expected new Spider-man, from Insomniac, looks like a game that will flourish in inverse proportion to the success of the films.
Kojima was lead out on stage like a hostage recently rescued from long imprisonment, to be reunited with loyal spouse Norman Reedus and use his freedom to create an only borderline-metaphorical offspring. It looked baffling and given Kojima's track record it'll arrive in 2025 and be stuffed with Midge Ure tracks but it's great to see him back in the game.
It was a very strong A++ show for a very appreciative crowd, although once all the confetti cleared there remains the big question that Microsoft has already answered: we know that more than a few of these games are being built on uprated PS4 hardware and Sony didn't utter a word about how it's going to approach that. But really, with a year-end lineup this strong, it doesn't need to. The PS4 Neo spec can stay in storage, sealed in the basement along with the Vita and Mike Bithell, ready to be deployed when Sony needs them.
That was, mercifully, it for Monday. Now the show proper starts, following a short interlude from Nintendo. You can find all the details in the E3 2016 guide, we'll have another roundup tomorrow.