A Class of Its Own: A Recap of the E3 2018 PlayStation Showcase

In my first year of university, I saw a jock-looking dude walking around wearing his ‘Class of 2005’ high school top; nothing out of the ordinary, I was sure he was well beloved by his peers. In my final week of study, I saw that same guy wandering around the campus by himself, slumped shoulders still adorned by that very same top — this was in 2009. Sony’s E3 Showcase this year reminded me of that guy still clinging to the glory of past years.

This was most evident during the special presentation for The Last of Us Part II. This was Sony at its most self-indulgent. It gathered guests into a church, it brought in Last of Us composer Gustavo Santaolalla in to perform the theme on banjo, Sony Interactive Entertainment America CEO Shawn Layden even referred to the gathered crowd as his “congregation”. But looking at the game footage, it almost justified the pomp and circumstance.

Ellie is no longer the journeyer in the first game; her enemies refer to her as “Wolf”. Whilst the game has made improvements to its engine — the animation, in particular was impressively smooth — it looks to maintain an emphasis on human stories, stealth brutal, personal combat. The transition of Ellie kissing her girlfriend to her murdering an enemy is the Last Of Us ethos captured in one.

After an awkward intermission where everyone was shuffled to a second theatre, we got our first look at Ghost of Tsushima, Sucker Punch’s open-world take on Feudal Japan. The studio must have worn down its tapes of samurai films, because it is very clear where the game takes its inspirations from. The colour palate, movement of the environment, even the dramatic lighting are straight out the Kurosawa playbook. Even the combat encounters are exactly what you would imagine even if you’ve never seen a samurai film. The only major diversion is that the Japanese characters are speaking in English; it hasn’t been confirmed if audio options will be available at launch.We have no release window yet for Ghost of Tsushima.

Amidst the trailers were Destiny 2’s new expansion Forsaken, Kingdom Hearts III (including a limited edition Playstation 4 Pro), Trevor Saves the Universe (a Justin Roiland ass Justin Roiland game), and the remake of Resident Evil 2, first announced in 2015. We were also introduced to Nioh 2 and Control, the new telekinetic shooter from Remedy Entertainment.

Yes, we have now seen eight more minutes of Death Stranding. No, I still can’t tell you exactly what it is. Amongst the scenes on offer were Norman Reedus walking across deserts, rivers and mountains seemingly on a quest to deliver…something. We saw a new character played by Léa Seydoux. In the closest thing to gameplay, we saw Norman trying to sneak past the invisible enemies that seem to rule this land by using his chest-foetus to power a shoulder-light to illuminate them. We have just enough new context to keep Death Stranding in our radars, but Hideo Kojima is still playing his cards frustratingly close to his chest.

To close the show, Sony showed off more of the upcoming Insomniac-developed Spider-Man game. This year’s demo puts Spidey in the middle of a prison riot, taking out enemies with aerial combos and web-slinging alongside the conventional superhero melee. Over the course of the demo, more and more villains are introduced, including Electro, Rhino, Scorpion, Vulture and Negative Man; yes, that’s five villains all beating down on Spidey by the end of the trailer. We’ll find out whether Spider-Man can get himself out of that predicament on 7 September.

Sony didn’t come to E3 with any mic-dropping announcements like with E3 2015, and it didn’t need to, but by golly did the company try to evoke that mood. To Sony’s credit, it did provide the one thing the other presentations did not: Extended gameplay. These eight-ten minute stretches of footage provided so much more context and interest than all the well-edited mood trailer in the world ever could. If only these weren’t caught in the middle of some school hall showmanship. But hey, at least we didn’t have to sit through another Days Gone trailer.

Being Earnest: A Recap of the Ubisoft E3 2018 Conference

Ubisoft is one of the few gaming monoliths that can still surprise us. Who would’ve thought that Assassin’s Creed: Origins would mark the franchise’s return to form? Who could’ve predicted  the critical successes of Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle? This was reflected in previous years through Ubisoft’s E3 presentations, which were always the most interesting and unpredictable, backed by an sincerity unmatched by any other company. It’s curious, then, to see Ubisoft pump the brakes with this year’s showing.

Beyond Good and Evil 2 closed off last year’s show, so it’s fitting that it first on deck this year…well, first after the obligatory Just Dance choreographed sequence. Set before the events of the first BG&E, this instalment will feature the characters from last year’s debut trailer as well as the original’s Pey’j and a (possibly evil) Jade. What little gameplay we did see appeared to mimic the story’s space opera sensibilities, ranging from on the ground melee to space combat.

Inexplicably, the game will also be collaborating with Joseph Gordon Levitt’s HitRecord to allow people to submit artwork and music to potentially be used in the game. If an entry is selected, its creator will be allocated a portion of a US$50,000 pool . If that reads like crowdsourcing for a AAA game from a company that made just under €1.5 billion in revenue last year, you’re not wrong.

Trials Rising then literally crashed onto the stage, with creative director Antti Ilvessuo riding a dirtbike into the theatre before pratfalling through some on-stage furniture. The game appears to be a return to the Trials Evolution aesthetic, with the added benefit of tutorials created by Australia’s Own Brad ‘FatShady’ Hill. Trials Rising will be released in February 2019 alongside almost every other video game ever.

Ubisoft has formed the habit of providing support and roadmaps for its multiplayer titles, and we got a look at some of those plans today. The Division 2, fresh off its debut on the Microsoft stage, will be receiving three DLC episodes in its first year — all free. The medieval mashup For Honor will introduce Ancient Chinese fighters with the Marching Fire expansion, as well as a castle siege mode called Breach. And Rainbow 6 Siege, the poster child of Ubisoft’s game as a service approach, will have marquee competitive tournaments added to the currently scheduled Majors.

Last year’s Ubisoft show introduced us to a trio of titles which we’ve heard little more about until today. If you’re a Yale graduate, you would’ve left the room during the Skull and Bones presentation. Expanding on what was teased last year, you will be sailing the seas in a shared online world; you can take on rival ships or group up to take down a warship. The RPG elements are very present, with levelling and the ability to customise your ship and weapons loadout. No release date was confirmed.

Elijah Wood came on stage to remind us of Transference, the psychological thriller collaboration between Ubisoft and Woods’ SpectreVision studio. We then got another look at the space adventure Starlink: The Battle for Atlas. The game carries a Saturday-morning cartoon vibe, aided by a toys-to-life component. The game will be released on all consoles on 26 October, though the Switch version will exclusively feature a cameo from none other than Starfox. Naturally, Shigeru Miyamoto was present to receive a present from the Starlink development team.

Finally, to nobody’s surprise, Ubisoft showed off Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. Set in Ancient Greece, the game will allow you to play as one of two protagonists: Alexios or Kassandra. Expanding on the template laid out by Assassin’s Creed Origins, the gameplay demo showed off larger scale combat, more dialogue choices and even romance options. And of course there’s the 300 Sparta Kick. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey will come out on 5 October.

Thus marked the end of a surprisingly sedate Ubisoft E3 conference. Though pre-E3 leaks spoiled some of the surprise, this was a show that played it safe, relying on the foundations set by the games announced last year and released before that. That said, this year’s showing wasn’t completely divorced from that of Ubisoft past: Developers still presented their projects with a deep passion (and whooped backstage, unaware their microphones were still on) and we know the company will back these games for years to come. The trademark Ubisoft earnestness is still present, just not in the shape it took in previous years.

The Sun Rises: A Recap of the Xbox E3 2018 Briefing

The Xbox One has arguably provided the better experience in recent years. Its Backwards Compatibility program has given new life to old games, and the Xbox Game Pass has given users a healthy library of legacy titles. However, the console is behind in one regard: New games. In order to furnish its seemingly lacking game library, Microsoft is looking outward, including to places we wouldn’t normally expect.

The common criticism was that Microsoft isn’t producing first party games to the same extent that Sony is. To address this, Xbox lead Phil Spencer dedicated three or so minutes to announcing the company’s recent studio acquisitions: Undead Labs (State of Decay), Playground Games (Forza Horizon), Ninja Theory (Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice), Compulsion Games (We Happy Few) and the newly-formed The Initiative, headed by Crystal Dynamics’ Darrell Gallagher.

Speaking of Playground Games, it’s 2018 which means it’s Horizon’s turn to sit behind the Forza driver’s seat. Forza Horizon 4 will be set in an idyllic version of Historic Britain, right down to dynamically changing seasons. It will also introduce a “shared open world”, meaning your game will be populated be real players; no word on whether collision detection will be present. Forza Horizon 4 will come out on 22 October 2018.

We have to talk about the Gears block. I mean that literally because the first piece of Gears (not Gears of War, just Gears) footage we saw was of a Funko Pop-ed Marcus Fenix. Yes, Funko Pop, the herpes of pop culture merchandise, is being immortalised in a video game with Gears Pop. May God have mercy on our souls. We also got introduced to Gears Tactics, a very XCOM-looking take on the Gears universe, as well as Gears 5, which will follow Kate from the last game as she deals with the Locust thread coming from within her. These will all come out in 2019.

From Microsoft’s other first party developers and those that have exclusive deals for the Xbox, we also saw footage for Halo Infinite (There is always a lighthouse, there’s always a Chief, there’s always a city), Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Crackdown 3, DLC for Cuphead and Sea of Thieves, Session (because EA isn’t going to make a new Skate game), Tunic, and Battletoads — yes, a brand new Battletoads game in 2019 with “Broad non-specific feature declarations”

As important as first party games are, third party games are the bread and butter of a console, and Microsoft was eager to show off a few on its stage. We got a look at The Division 2 (now set in Washington but still featuring Ubisoft’s patented fake multiplayer banter), Metro Exodus (which is coming out 22 February 2019 alongside literally every other video game) and the usual array of ID@Xbox titles (literally 22 games are featured in this montage)

We also got a look at Dying Light 2, courtesy of famed game writer Chris Avellone, who will be involved in this project. Dying Light 2 will introduce factions and moral choices to the parkour-based zombie shooter. In the example given, the player is given a choice to either eliminate water smugglers or make a deal with them; either choice will have material consequences on the world and gameplay.

As successful as the Xbox 360 was, the console gained almost zero traction in Japan, which makes the presence of so many Japanese games at Microsoft’s show all the more surprising. We got trailers for Nier Automata: Become As Gods Edition and an Xbox One port of Tales of Vesperia. In terms of debuts, Microsoft showed off Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, the new game by From Software set in Ancient Japan (everything has come full circle); and Jump Force, a crossover fighter which will include characters from Naruto, One Piece, Death Note and Dragon Ball Z.

Microsoft even brought Hideaki Itsuno onto the stage to announce Devil May Cry 5, a direct sequel to Devil May Cry 4 (everyone seems to have disregarded DmC: Devil May Cry) which will bring back both Nero and Dante, as well as Itsuno as game director. Devil May Five will come out Autumn 2019.

The strongest Eastern showing, though, was the growing relationship between Microsoft and the Japanese publisher Square Enix. The company used Microsoft’s stage to give us a first look at Shadow of the Tomb Raider (out 14 September 2018) and The Awesome Adventure of Captain Spirit (Dontnod’s next title set in the Life is Strange universe available 26 June). Most surprisingly, Kingdom Hearts III will be coming to the Xbox One, featuring Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph, Tangled and a healthy helping of the Sora angst that has kept that franchise going for 15-plus years.

The show ended with our first look at Cyberpunk 2077, the CD Projekt Red role-playing game first announced five years ago. In a subliminal flash, the game was described as “an alternative version of the future where America is in pieces, megacorporations control all aspects of civilised life, and gangs rule the rest.” CD Projekt Red was quick to reassure players that despite the flashy trailer, the game is a “true single player, story-driven RPG” and that it will have no microtransactions. No release date was announced.

With this year’s E3 briefing, Microsoft seems to at least be making gestures towards addressing the apparent dearth of titles for the Xbox One. The studio acquisitions will at least give it some breathing room, but it’s the push into Japan which is the most interesting move. These briefings have always promised games without necessarily following through; the hope is that 2018 is the year this finally changes.

Shadow of One’s Colossus: A recap of Sony’s Playstation E3 2017 Media Showcase

It must be hard being the E3 king. After blowing everyone away in 2015 with Final Fantasy VII Remake and Shenmue 3, Sony has had to maintain this newfound reputation of nonstop bombshell announcements and mic-drop moments. It managed to pull it off last year with Death Stranding, although we could all tell that the well was running dry. This year, it was obvious that Sony is starting to scrape the bottom.

This was apparent with Days Gone, the open-world zombie game announced at last year’s E3. Back then it was humdrum at best and this year’s demo proved no better, highlighting its QTE combat and stealth mechanics that were tired five years ago. Admittedly, the game’s light puzzle solving via zombie horde is unique, but it could amount to being no more than a novelty. SIE Bend will have to a lot of convincing to sway minds come Days Gone’s release.

The biggest surprises came from the conference’s brief acknowledgement of its Eastern audience. After watching a hunter-looking dude sneak through a leafy jungle and track down what ended up being a dinosaur, it was all finally revealed that we were looking at Monster Hunter World. No longer shackled to the Nintendo, this edition of Monster Hunter will feature a much more robust online co-op component, and will be coming to Playstation 4 and Xbox One in early 2018 with a PC version arriving later.

Of similar interest was a remaster of Shadow of the Colossus, which is coming to the Playstation 4 in 2018. The port is being developed by Bluepoint Games, which was also responsible for the Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Collection on the Playstation 3.

In between these announcements were story trailers for Uncharted 4: The Lost Legacy, an expansion to Horizon: Zero Dawn named The Frozen Wilds (which as the name implies takes place amidst an Ice Age), Destiny 2 (exclusive content for which will be coming to the PS4), and Marvel vs Capcom Infinite, a demo of which is available on the Playstation Store now.

We also got our second look at Call of Duty: WWII. The franchise may be treading the same territory it did over 15 years ago, but it is taking a decidedly modern approach to warfare with its tight-spaced and frantically-paced combat. Last year’s Infinite Warfare showed us that Call of Duty is occasionally capable of hitting more sombre beats, but this trailer doesn’t betray any hints of reverence. We will find out more when it comes out on 3 November.

Playstation VR owners were relieved to see about ten minutes of Sony’s conference dedicated to showing off Skyrim VR, because every conference is now legally required to include the 2011 game, as well as new and upcoming games for the device. These included Star Child (a sci-fi side-scrolling platformer), The Inpatient (which is set 60 years before the events of Until Dawn), and Moss (a whimsical adventure game starring a mouse). Monster of the Deep deserves its own sentence, because it is literally the fishing minigame from Final Fantasy XV broken out into a standalone VR experience!

After impressing everyone last year, God of War once again took to the stage to show more of what it has to offer. It appears to be doubling down on elements hinted at last year, such as the role of Kratos as a father (whilst teasing the possibility of his son being a playable character), the slower over-the-shoulder combat and the Norse mythological hooks. Though if the appearance of Jörmungandr the World Serpent is any indication, God of War will still feature boss battles of titanic proportion. God of War will be released in early 2018.

It would be hard to follow up this act, and Detroit: Become Human certainly tried. Following on from last year’s detective sequence, we were introduced to Markus (played by Jesse Williams from Grey’s Anatomy), a android intent on freeing his fellow robots and causing an uprising. This new trailer reinforced the Quantic Dream focus on high-fidelity graphics and moral choices. No release date has been announced.

To close the show off, Sony debuted the Spider-Man title being developed by Insomniac Games. In this nine minute trailer, we saw Spidey fighting through a construction zone, gathering intel from Wilson Fisk, and slinging his way around New York whilst chasing a helicopter. Insomniac has clearly been taking notes from other recent open-world games; combat appears to be very evocative of the Batman: Arkham series, and watching Spider-Man move around the city recalls memories of Prototype. We’ll see if Spider-Man can make a name for itself when it comes out in 2018.

Thus ended a show that surprised few. Aside from Monster Hunter World, the most memorable moments came from a remaster, a Miles Morales cameo in the Spider-Man trailer and a fishing VR game; everything else this year fell considerably flatter than Sony anticipated; the broad gestures were there but it was all for nothing. Yes, the King of E3 is a false crown at best, but we wouldn’t care so much if Sony still wasn’t clutching onto it with white-knuckled desperation.

X Gon’ Deliver: A Recap of Microsoft’s Xbox E3 2017 Briefing

A new console usually brings with it unfounded grandstanding, a lot of hypothetical scenarios but little on day-to-day life with this new box. And in a year where Microsoft’s big tentpoles, Gears of War and Halo, are still being developed and where the platform partnerships seem to be going Sony’s way, you’d think that this would be the Scorpio Power Hour. Yes, we got some of that and more mentions of 4K than pixels in a 4K monitor, but this year’s Xbox Briefing somehow had even more game announcements.

Starting with the showstopper, the Xbox One X (formerly Project Scorpio) is the previously advertised hyper-powered version of the Xbox One, featuring a 6 teraflop GPU, 12GB of GDDR5 graphic memory and a vapour cooler; this is all in a form factor that is smaller than the Xbox One S. Ultimately, this will result in 4K performance for new games and upgraded graphical performance for existing ones. For non 4K TV owners, the Xbox One X will supersample and scale down for 1080p televisions.

This is admirable, but it is retailing for $649 in a world where the Playstation 4 Pro has failed to justify its existence even at $529; odds are this will be even lower come the Xbox One X’s launch on 7 November. At least the console isn’t mandatory; Xbox One games will still function throughout the ‘Xbox One family’ of consoles, as will backwards compatibility for the original Xbox. On top of this, Microsoft is still proceeding with Windows 10 and the Play Anywhere initiative.

Taking advantage of this is the newly announced Forza Motorsport 7. Perhaps to distract us from the inevitably iterative nature of Forza Motorsport games, Microsoft had on stage the world premiere of the Porsche 911 GT2 RS, which will feature in the game alongside dynamic weather and puddles all at 4K and 60fps. Forza Motorsport 7 will be released on 3 October.

Making similar debuts on Microsoft’s stage were Metro Exodus, which appears to have a more open setting than previous Metro titles, and Assassin’s Creed: Origins. This time set in Ancient Egypt, AC Origins looks to have taken many lessons from Ghost Recon: Wildlands and The Division, featuring an eagle that can be used to tag enemies as well as heavier RPG elements — right down to a “LEVEL UP” prompt.

The Xbox is also catching up with the battle royale trend. Brendan Greene, who you may know better as Playerunknown, went on stage to announce that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is coming to Xbox One as a timed exclusive. Right alongside this was The Darwin Project, a much more cartoony take on the battle royale genre, right down to the “Chief Shoutcaster” used to commentate the action. Both games will appear to benefit from Mixer, Microsoft’s in-house streaming service.

Amongst blink-and-you’ll-miss-it trailers for Dragon Ball FighterZ (Dragon Ball meets Guilty Gear Xrd), Cuphead (which finally has a release date of 29 September), Black Desert Online, Tacoma and The Artful Escape of Francis Vendetti, we also got a quick look at Crackdown 3, introduced to us by a very bombastic and very enjoyable Terry Crews. Crackdown 3 will be released on 7 November; Microsoft hasn’t confirmed if it will come with a Halo 6 beta key for old time’s sake.

That trailer sat rather awkwardly between the indies of this year’s Xbox conference. Aside from the usual ID @ Xbox montage, we also received confirmation of Life is Strange: Before the Storm (a 3-part prequel to LiS which will come out starting from 31 August) and Ori and the Will of the Wisps, introduced with a live piano performance to reinforce the series’ beautiful earnestness.

Xbox may no longer house the Call of Duty announcement, but this year it made up for it by bringing Monolith Productions on stage to show off Middle-earth: Shadow of War. It will double down on the Nemesis System from the first game by allowing you to recruit orc leaders and set your army of orcs against another. Shadow of War will also deepen the characterisation of its orcs as shown with Brûz, a talkative orc from the Australian part of Mordor. Shadow of War will come out on 10 October.

After its debut back at E3 2015, we finally got a closer look at Rare’s next game Sea of Thieves. Back then, all we saw were the ship battles with little direction of what else would be on offer. The 9-minute trailer shown off today paints the game as Destiny with pirates, incorporating blunderbuss gunplay and co-operative treasure hunting; at least Rare has stepped back from the influencer-heavy delivery from last time.

Finally, after being teased yesterday at EA Play, we got our first look at Bioware’s new game Anthem. I say new, but Anthem’s inspirations are plain for all to see. Donning exosuits similar to Warframe, you and a party of players will go on quests not dissimilar to Destiny battling beasts borrowed from Xenoblade Chronicles X and giant robots that wouldn’t be out of place in Horizon: Zero Dawn. Even the awkward player banter is lifted from Ubisoft’s presentations.

Having said that, this is only a small sample of what Anthem could offer. We’ve yet to see the game’s other gameplay beats or anything of that famous Bioware lore. And as we’ve learned with games like Dead Cells, a game can still be stellar if it incorporates its source material intelligently. We will find out much more about Anthem prior to its 2018 release.

It’s ultimately unsurprising that the Xbox One X itself took up so little of this event; $649 is a very expensive proposition for a half-step console, and it’s a case that even Microsoft isn’t particularly interested in pushing. It’s learned from the original Xbox One announcement that you can’t hang your hat on the box, that you have to focus on the games; and despite the absence of the tentpoles, with games like Metro Exodus, Anthem and the Ori sequel, Microsoft at least delivered.

Infinity and Beyond: A Marvel vs Capcom Infinite Preview with Genxa

Hey Everyone, Genxa from OzHadou here with my first impressions of Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite.

General Impressions

There are a number of popular fighting games on the market right now, but the current generation still lacks a fast-paced and exciting title to fill the hole that was left by Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is definitely there to do that job. I feel the game has a lot of potential for creativity which the current roster of fighting titles seem to lack.

Judging by the roster available in the preview build, it is easy to see that Marvel is putting a heavy emphasis on characters from the massively popular Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Capcom: Ryu, Mega Man X, Chun Li, Strider Hiryu, Chris Redfield, Morrigan (Sigma has since been added)
Marvel: Captain America, Captain Marvel, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Hawkeye, Ultron (Rocket Racoon will also feature in the game)

Although the build that we tested is still a little away from the final product, gameplay is already top notch. People familiar with X-Men vs Street Fighter will feel right at home, as it is a 2v2 hyper fighter with no Assist calls. Capcom has improved upon this formula with active character switching — even during combos and specials — to kick the intensity up to 11.

Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite also introduces the Infinity Gem system, a pre-selected Gem which give your characters a unique skill coupled with a unique activation as a comeback factor (Think Street Fighter V).

In-depth gameplay mechanics

For the hardcore competitive fans out there who I know have a multitude of very specific questions, I have tried to test as much as I could.

If you are expecting this to play like Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, you will have a bad time. This is more akin to X-Men vs. Street Fighter with a combo system similar to Street Fighter X Tekken.

Some quick notes; do bear in mind that I did not test the final build, so all of these are subject to change:

  • Button layout: LP, HP, LK, HK, Tag, Gem
  • Wavedash/Crouch dash: Yes
  • Plink dash: No as far as we could test (also applies during Fly)
  • Fly cancelling: Yes for normal, no for specials. No more Bullet Hell
  • Alpha counter: Done by holding the Tag button while blocking, but it is a bit unreliable/timing is odd
  • No TACs
  • Infinity gems give you essentially a pre-set V-Skill and a V-Trigger (with its own meter)
  • There is a sort of comeback mechanic, not similar to X-factor
  • Superjump: Yes
  • Air dash: Yes
  • DHC: No, but you are able to actively tag in at any time for free (even during a Super).
  • Happy Bday: Yes, and happens easily if you are not smart with your tags.
  • Snapback: No
  • You don’t gain any meter from whiffing normal/specials.
  • Meter gain feels very, very slow.

Final Thoughts

Although we did manage to find some perhaps unintentional weirdness, the game is much more polished than we first would have thought. The art style is modern and takes influences from American comic books and the speed is what you would expect from a hyper fighter. From what we have seen, it will be a mainstay for the current generation of fighting games. It will be another welcome addition to the Capcom line-up, and much needed boost to the currently small line-up of fighting games on the market.

Switch Hitter: Nintendo Switch Presentation Recap

When other companies announce their consoles they go deep into the numbers, focusing on sales figures, subscribers and teraflops. Nintendo was never one to conform with its fellow console makers, a tradition which continued when we found out the hybrid home/handheld nature of the Switch — and Friday’s full reveal was no different.

Let’s get straight into the important details. The Switch will launch worldwide on 3rd March 2017 and will cost $US299 (as at writing, EB Games has the console listed for $AU469). The Switch will feature a capacitive touchscreen (more akin to a smartphone than the Wii U Gamepad) and will have an expected out-of-dock battery life of 2.5 – 6.5 hours, depending on the game. The Switch will use Wi-Fi to connect to the internet for online play, and to connect with up to seven additional Switch units for local multiplayer.

Unlike recent Nintendo consoles, the Switch will be region free; a godsend for those who want to import titles. Also unlike Nintendo consoles of past, consumers will have to pay for online multiplayer; though like Xbox Live and Playstation Plus, the service will come with additional perks including a free monthly game and voice chat.

NintendoSwitch_hardware_Console_01-2.0.0

The Joycon controllers that come with the Switch are more feature-packed than we expected. Attached to the Switch screen, the controllers include a NFC reader for your Amiibo collection and a capture button to share video with your friends. They can also act as controllers in their own right, thanks to SL and SR buttons located at the top. Aside from that, they are comparable to a tiny Wii Remote thanks to gyroscopic sensors, an IR blaster and a haptic feedback system that Nintendo is calling HD Rumble.

And in a move which comes much earlier than Nintendo precedent, the Joycons will launch in multiple colours; of the two SKUs available at launch, one will feature grey Joycons whilst the other will feature red and blue controllers.

Nintendo debuted a pair of titles designed to show off the Joycon’s functionality.

1-2-Switch is a minigame collection which will take the action off screen and encourage direct player-to-player interaction; one minigame will see players wielding their Joycons as pistols and duelling. It looks like it is attempting to capture the magic of the similarly off-screen Johann Sebastian Joust. 1-2-Switch will launch with the new console.

Nintendo also showed off Arms, a arm-stretching fighting game. Like the boxing minigame from Wii Sports, each Joycon will control one arm of your fighter. However, Nintendo hopes to add depth to the arm-swinging action. Arms will be released around Autumn.

For more competitive fans, Splatoon 2 is also coming to the Switch. As you would hope, Splatoon 2 will introduce new weapons, maps and fashion. It can be played with all of the Switch’s control configurations (in TV, on tabletop, and handheld) and will utilise the wireless local multiplayer, which would align with Nintendo’s esports aspirations for the title.

Speaking of sequels, Nintendo also detailed the 3D Mario title alluded to in the original Switch teaser. Super Mario Odyssey will see Mario entering a strange new dimension — one that looks very similar to our world. Mario will platform around Ninterpretations of New York and Egypt as well as the more fantastical environments we’re used to. It will also bring Mario’s cap to life, acting as a weapon and portable platform. Mario will come into our world, in every sense of the word, this coming Holidays.

The event served also served as a strong introduction for what Japanese developers, both first and third party, have planned for the Nintendo Switch. Sega’s Toshihiro Nagoshi affirmed his company’s support for the Switch, but Sega’s lone new game announcement, Puyo Puyo Tetris S, was relegated to a cameo in a sizzle reel. Koei Tecmo, not content with making just Zelda into a Warriors game, revealed work on a Fire Emblem Warriors game, developed by Team Ninja.

Square Enix announced that Dragon Quest Heroes I and II are coming to the console, and took the opportunity to debut Project Octopath Traveller, an RPG with classic 2D sprites and 3D backgrounds. Atlus brought us their first project in their 25th anniversary celebration of the Shin Megami Tensei series, an Unreal Engine 4 powered Shin Megami Tensei title with a short teaser. Not to let the others steal its thunder, Monolith Soft surprised everyone with a reveal for Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Finally, Suda51 brought a gigantic surprise: No More Heroes is making a comeback! The game had no title, or nothing to really show, but Suda did tease that Pro Wrestling might be a strong influence over the game.

Closing out the event, after what felt like an endless series of teases, was The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The four minute trailer gave us the biggest look at the game to date; showing off not just environments and open world shenanigans, but also the first bits of the game’s story, characters and voice acting (a series first). But the biggest announcement was reserved right for the very end: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will be releasing on March 3rd 2017 — worldwide.

It was telling that Nintendo didn’t delve into the technical specifications, or even the resolution, of the Switch; but watching this presentation, one would almost believe that these numbers don’t matter. Sony and Microsoft have frequently espoused the 4K power of their current and upcoming products, but have failed to make the case on why this figure is so important. Nintendo, instead, focussed on the experiences it hopes to deliver; from wonder and awe in its epic RPGs to the direct contact with friends and competitors in its multiplayer offerings. One hopes that the ideas in this console really do Switch things up (by the way, there were exactly 9 ‘switch’ puns made during this event).

Always Watching: Ubisoft's E3 2016 Live Conference

Ubisoft E3 2016 Eagle Flight

There was a moment at the start of this year’s Ubisoft press conference which sums up the company in one. Immediately after a dance routine set to Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now, host Aisha Tyler, surrounded by loudly-dressed dancers and also a giraffe, made an heartfelt tribute to the victims of the recent Orlando shootings. This mix of earnestness and occasional weirdness has been Ubisoft’s MO for a while now, and this year’s showings were no exception.

Ubisoft started off with Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands, providing further insight into the drug cartel take-down which will drive the narrative, as well as a multiplayer mission that spanned from stealthy recon to charged base assault to a vehicular chase. There seems to be echoes of Metal Gear Solid V with the setting and the open-ended ways to approach a mission. Wildlands will come out on 7 March 2017, almost exactly a year after The Division came out.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone were on deck to talk about South Park: The Fractured But Whole. A civil war has broken out amongst the kids after they fail to decide how best to play ‘billion dollar superhero franchise’. Combat has similarly increased in scope, incorporating tile-based movement and the ability to influence the turn order through the power of, uh, farts. The game will be released on 6 December.

At last year’s event, we were introduced to For Honor, and at the time we assumed it to be a medieval MOBA. Today, we learned there will be a single player campaign, one which appears to take heavy cues from Ryse combat mechanics and God Of War’s self-seriousness and liberal approach to historical interpretation. If you choose to go medieval with your loved one, For Honor will come out on 14 February 2017.

As Ubisoft is wont to do, it is committing resources to new hardware with a pair of virtual reality titles. We got another look at Eagle Flight, this time though a multiplayer capture-the-flag mode with Oculus’ Palmer Luckey. We were also introduced to Star Trek: Bridge Crew, where four players can don VR headsets and simulate the experience of being on the Star Trek bridge. The potential of this idea may be sunk by the reality of having four people in the one space, each with separate PCs and VR headsets.

Aside from that, there were trailers for: Grow Up, a space-venturing sequel to last year’s quietly successful platformer Grow Home; the Survival expansion for The Division, which I’m not sure how it’s different to the rest of the game; and for Trials of the Blood Dragon, a mash up of Trials’ mechanics and Blood Dragon’s aesthetic. Watching those two march on stage in gaudy matching tracksuits explains so, so much about their respective games.

Because Assassin’s Creed is taking the year off, we’ll instead be parkouring in modern-day San Francisco in Watch Dogs 2. Missions and gameplay appear to iterate on the first title. But contrary to to flat and featureless tone of the original, Watch Dogs 2 appears to have some semblance of personality. Sure, its interpretation of hackers is a very early-00s one, but it has the potential to come off as goofy and enjoyable enough. Ubisoft would want this to be the case, given it also announced that a Watch Dogs movie is in the works.

Closing things off was not a debut trailer for a third person shooter or action-adventure, but for Steep, an open world extreme snow sports game. Players will be able to snowboard, ski, parasail and glide around the French alps, challenging friends and online players along the way in seemingly organic routes. As much as I want to roll my eyes at the game’s Red Bull promo aspirations, the brutal bone-cracking sounds whenever a player bails provides some hope of slapstick fun.

No other company would end their conference on this type of game, this untested IP. Then again, not many other companies have a slate of games that range from earnest-to-a-fault to comically absurdist. Like its press conferences, Ubisoft’s output might not always succeed in its intentions, but it has always at the very least been worth watching.

Xbox Connections: Microsoft's E3 2016 Media Briefing

Microsoft Xbox E3 Forza Horizon 3

The Xbox has been on the backfoot this generation. Its core concept has had to be redesigned on the fly (Remember all that TV malarkey? The current Xbox One certainly doesn’t) and its sales numbers continue to lag behind the PS4. But rather than dwelling on what can be done to salvage this generation, this year’s Xbox Media Briefing looks to the what it can do in the next half-generation.

Things kicked right off with a trailer for the Xbox One S. It will be 40% smaller than its predecessor, will feature an integrated power supply (no more power cubes!), a 2TB hard drive and support for High Dynamic Range. It will launch in August for $US299. On the iterative hardware front, players in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico can now order custom-designed controllers from the Xbox Design Lab. Just imagine your enemy on Call of Duty wielding an all-brown controller engraved with his gamertag, “xXPoonSlaya420Xx”.

Following this, we kicked off the gameplay with a Gears of War 4 demo, in all its 60fps glory. There was a quote during the demo which seemed to sum up Microsoft’s efforts to reboot the franchise: “I’m hoping it might have some kick left in it!” It’s apparent that the game won’t be deviating too far from the now decade-old formula, with the familiar brown-grey palette, weighty mechanics and characters; a fitting double entendre given the reveal of Old Marcus Fenix at the end and the addition of General RAAM to the Killer Instinct roster

We then took a trip to the faraway exotic land of, uh, Australia with Forza Horizon 3. The stage demo took the Horizon franchise’s brand of arcadey racing through the Yarra Valley and the Great Ocean Road, and as a Victorian resident the two depictions matched the reality…save for the fact that the two aren’t actually next to each other. I’m looking forward to seeing Playground Games’ caricature of our country come September 27; it may take a video game for me to finally drive down the Eastern Freeway without running into bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Speaking of the APAC region, there was a surprising show of force from the Japanese gaming sector. Square Enix director Hajime Tabata was on hand to show off the Titan battles in the upcoming Final Fantasy XV; think Shadow of the Colossus with more QTEs and handsome boys. We also got an appearance from Platinum Games’ Hideki Kamiya who demoed one of the large-scale boss battles in Scalebound. Both demos featured mountainous bosses, but while Final Fantasy XV was dulling in its earnestness, Scalebound leaned into its ridiculousness, with the demo literally ending with the co-op party hitting the giant enemy crab’s weak spot for massive damage.

Other games coming from Japan included Recore, one of the most interesting announcements from last year’s Microsoft event which this year was relegated to a trailer and a 13 September release date, and Tekken 7, which introduced Street Fighter’s Akuma (this is the closest we’ll get to a Tekken X Street Fighter game). Xbox One Gold members will also be able to download a free copy of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 for the next week.

The ID@Xbox montage of course featured too many games to include here, but some of the highlights included Inside from Limbo developer Playdead (coming to Xbox One June 29) and We Happy Few from Compulsion Games. This one received an extended trailer, which painted a post-war England where citizens are hopped up on pills of Joy to keep them content and compliant (“Snug as a bug on a drug”).

We were also introduced to Dead Rising 4, State of Decay 2 and Gwent: The Witcher Card Game. There were no details about Gwent’s business model or any new cards and mechanics (suffice to say it’s ‘a game of skill), but we will find out more once the closed beta kicks off this September. We also received the trailer treatment for Halo Wars 2, which is coming out on Xbox One and Windows 10 on 21 February 2017; however, a weeklong multiplayer beta is available right now for Xbox One owners.

This press conference showed off the two ways *not* to demo a video game. I should’ve been paying more attention to the Minecraft demo and the cross-play compatibility between iOS, Android and Windows 10 versions, but I was distracted by some stilted on-stage co-op banter that would make Ubisoft’s press conferences seem human. Rare’s upcoming first-person piracy title Sea of Thieves should have left a better impression, but the Let’s Play commentary provided by the array of YouTubers and Influencers™ near-unsold me on the game, the internet and all humanity.

Finally, we put on our best ‘surprised’ faces when Phil Spencer revealed Project Scorpio. Coming in Holiday 2017, the console promises to deliver on 4K and virtual reality gaming with 6 teraflops of GPU processing and other fancy technical stats which will provide ammo to the console skirmishes soon to take place on your local comments section. Microsoft emphasised that Project Scorpio won’t replace the Xbox One or the Xbox One S, that the three consoles will coexist and that all Xbox One games and accessories will remain compatible.

Microsoft is scuttling this generation; indeed, it is attempting to do away with preconceived barriers. In its eyes, there is no difference between console and PC, East and West, Xbox One circa 2016 and whatever form the console will take in the future. The questions remains whether it will stick to its newfound guns or revert back to a safe, brown-grey formula. 

NG+ Game of the Year 2015: Donald's Top Five

GOTY - Don i

I’m going to assume you quickly flicked through my list before reading this introduction. You would’ve noticed, then, a number of notable absences. Let me tell you why I haven’t included some of these games in my personal top five.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt: I recognise that it has a massive, textured world. I know that The Bloody Baron is one of the best characters this year. However, everything about the game’s size and systems is downright intimidating. And this is a personal peccadillo, but 99% of fantasæ bores me senseless, and little about The Witcher threatens to put it in that 1%.

Life Is Strange: At the time of writing, I’m still at the tail-end of Episode 3. I would have played more, but there’s only so much stress I can take from the game’s moral choices. Maybe it speaks to the game’s effectiveness that I overthink every choice so hard.

Splatoon: I don’t have the luxury of being able to stick to a single game. Much of the Splatoon community does. This means that every time I casually hop into a game, I’m immediately dominated by people four or five times my level. I really adore the game’s style; I’ll just have to be content with watching it behind perspex glass.

Fallout 4: War never changes and neither has Fallout.

With that out of the way…


Expand

5. Expand

[Watch New Game Plus’ review of Expand]

From the very first time I saw Expand on the PAX Australia show floor last year, I could tell it was something different. It was a quiet, minimalist oasis from the rest of the brash and ostentatious show floor. It well and truly had me entranced.

When the game was released this year, it continued to surprise me. It was still based on meditative navigation through circular mazes, but the experience was constantly evolving. The maze morphed into shapes I did not expect, the new obstacles notched up the difficulty so gradually that I barely noticed how tightly I was gripping my controller by game’s end. The intensity of Expand’s final sequence exceeded even the most traditionally action-centric titles this year.

Much like its mazes, Expand began as one type of experience and ended up as something else altogether. Throughout, it kept me entirely enraptured.


Her Story ii

4. Her Story

[Watch New Game Plus’ review of Her Story]

Full motion video is usually a sign that a game should not be taken seriously. This year only confirmed this theory many times over, from Guitar Hero Live’s cock-rockers to Need for Speed’s impotent cocksureness. Her Story was a robust rebuttal to this trend.

Ostensibly a murder mystery, Her Story quickly becomes so much more than that. Even after I had been floored by the game’s revelations, when I went to quit the game, it had one more for me. Full credit here goes to Sam Barlow’s script and Viva Siefert’s subtly effective performance.

Adding to this is the non-linear method of storytelling. Even though every player is poring over the same series of clips, each of them will come away with a unique experience. It is as close to emergent gameplay as narrative-driven gaming has reached.

Her Story is a powerfully effective experiment in video game storytelling, and the perfect example of why good writing fits in any medium — even full motion video.


Tales from the Borderlands

3. Tales From The Borderlands

The Borderlands games always secretly had some interesting writing. Borderlands 2 in particular frequently slipped in some clever gags and quiet moments of character; shame they were buried in an audio log beneath a mouldy pile of dated memes. Tales from the Borderlands is the first time the writing has been allowed to stand on its own, and here it shines.

All of this has to do with the cast of original characters. The work done to flesh out Fiona, Rhys and their respective cohorts made the game’s moments land so much better. The jokes became laugh-out-loud funny, the quieter moments became so much more meaningful than the previous games ever were.

Unburdened by internet humour, this game made the Borderlands universe worth caring about. And just to tip it game over the edge, it has some of the best introductory title cards in the business.


Ori and the Blind Forest

2. Ori and the Blind Forest

[Watch New Game Plus’ review of Ori and the Blind Forest]

On paper, Ori and the Blind Forest had all the potential to be insufferable. It ticked off all the latest indie trends: It’s a Metroidvania, it is staggeringly earnest, even the graphics are actually factually bespoke. It’s the kind of game that could’ve been served in mason jar by a bearded Brunswick bartender. It was all this, of course, but it was so much more.

Let’s not dismiss the breathtaking presentation. Just take a look at any screenshot and tell me you don’t want to use it as your phone wallpaper. And then set the soundtrack as your ringtone. And then wipe the tears off your screen as you’re reminded of the gut-wrenching introduction.

But Ori’s true beauty lies in the feel of the movement. The game has you triple-jumping, wall-jumping and bashing off enemy projectiles onto tiny far-off platforms — usually all in one sequence. And yet the controls feel so organic and satisfying. Even ignoring the Metroidvania hooks, I would just jaunt around the environment just for the heck of it.

Ori and the Blind Forest ended up being the antithesis of precious cliche. It took all the run-down tropes and crafted them into one of the most beautiful and mechanically-tight games in recent years.


Metal Gear i

1. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

[Watch New Game Plus’ review of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain]

The Metal Gear Solid games are all about the spectacular moments: The infamous bait-and-switch in Sons of Liberty, Snake Eater’s protracted battle with The End (or not, depending on your actions), or the needlessly essential bare-fisted throwback in Guns of the Patriots.

Here’s the ugly truth: Every Metal Gear moment, each and every single one of them, was considered and scripted by Hideo Kojima. Even the expoits or supposedly emergent moments (yes, even this one) are but another case of Kojima, yet again, playing us like a damned fiddle.

Until now it felt like Kojima was constrained by the narrow hallways of the previous games. The Phantom Pain, with its wide open worlds, is the first time Kojima’s wild imagination has had room to breathe, and the possibilities he has conjured for us is near-limitless.

Whether you want to silently fulton every soldier on base, go in guns blazing or, I dunno, send in a wild grizzly bear to do your dirty work, It sincerely feels like the entire spectrum of infiltration and exfiltration has been accounted for.

The quiet savior for this heightened sense of agency is the Fox Engine. For the first time since Sons of Liberty, a Metal Gear game is running at a smooth 60fps, and in a franchise first, the controls are no longer Snake’s worst enemy. It’s the best the franchise has done to make you feel like a proper stealth soldier.

All of these combine to create the ultimate stealth sandbox, one where I had endless opportunities to engineer my own unique Metal Gear moments. And whether it be The Accidental Grenade That Saved The Day or The Hours Of Planning Only For A Single Dart To Fell A Bear or the countless other moments of barely-scripted genius, these moments were among my favourite of 2015.

I have no doubt that these were all envisioned by Kojima. However, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the first game big enough for Kojima’s madness.


Come back tomorrow for more of the New Game Plus crew’s favourite games of 2015, or catch up on Jamie’s and Trey’s games of the year. For our overall Game of the Year, watch our 2015 Game of the Year Special.