Second Movement: Sony's E3 2016 Press Conference

Sony Playstation E3 2016 Horizon Zero Dawn

Sony had an absolute blinder of a conference last year; on the back of three major game reveals that absolutely nobody saw coming it hands down dominated the show. This year the audience went in knowing there was no possible way they could match that show, but boy did Sony still try.

The show opened with an epic sounding symphonic score and low guttural choir, culminating in the reveal of the next God Of War. Bringing with it a new over-the-shoulder perspective instead of the fixed camera angles of past games, it introduces Kratos as an amusingly bad parent with a young protege in a new Norse setting, with shades of The Last Of Us in the action.

After a cinematic trailer for new survival franchise Days Gone (we’ll get to that later), last year’s opening hit The Last Guardian received a new trailer and — finally — a release date: October 25 this year, at once sooner than expected and about damn time.

Next up was a gameplay demo of Horizon: Zero Dawn, another game that impressed last year. As what seems like a hybrid of Fallout and Skyrim, the game showed off Aloy’s hunting and gathering skills, and the ability to tame the wild robotic animals of the game world. This was interrupted by a set piece, showing off the game’s Mass Effect-style conversation engine, and a boss fight against a fast-moving robotic ‘demon’ entity, seen turning the native animals feral somehow, teasing at the game’s overall narrative perhaps.

After last year’s debut of Detroit: Become Human, we were given a better idea of how the game would be structured. We got a look at Connor, an android police officer and detective, called into a hostage situation involving another android. Tidbits of detective gameplay were shown of Connor investigating crime scenes and questioning people, building up to a dramatic standoff on a balcony, showing off the game’s branching narrative. Again, a very impressive looking title.

This was followed up by a moody, gritty horror title, opening with a man exploring an abandoned house, followed by clips of in-game death and decay. It wasn’t until the title card that we learned we were actually looking at Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, marking a great departure from the corny, arcadey narrative style of past games. The game left an impression that’ll remain until it launches next year, complete with PlayStation VR compatibility.

Sony’s foray into VR will start on 13 October, promising 50 games before the end of the year, including Farpoint, Star Wars Battlefront: X-Wing VR Mission, Batman Arkham VR, and Final Fantasy XV: VR Experience where VR players will taking the role of sidekick Prompto.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare flew onto stage boasting its newfound spacefaring gameplay. Combat takes place in traditional boots-on-ground environments, zero-gravity settings where navigation is by grappling hook, and in aerial and space fighters, allowing for deployment to enemy positions. The gameplay itself looked very far removed from past Call of Duty games, to the point that it was barely recognisable until the logo appeared.

Then came something of a major surprise: Crash Bandicoot will return to the Playstation after a long absence. Remasters of the first three Crash titles from the original Playstation were announced, coming some time after Crash returns as part of Skylanders: Imaginators, which itself promised a new level of creativity.

Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens boasted the Lego games’ typical quirky sense of humour. It also featured the franchise’s new cover-based shooting mechanics, which alienated at least this particular viewer.

Hideo Kojima then walked on stage with the sort of entrance reserved for one of EA’s super sports guest stars and to a reception from the crowd like the next coming of the messiah. Kojima unveiled his first project from his new development house: A strange trailer titled Death Stranding featuring naked former PT star Norman Reedus. It’s hard to tell what sort of game we saw, and it’s likely at a very early stage, so who knows when we’ll see everything else.

We then received confirmation of rumours that Insomniac Games and Marvel are getting together to create a Spider-Man game. Visually, the game seems to draw inspiration from Marvel’s cinematic universe, but what gameplay snippets were shown demonstrated what could be the best attempt at capturing the essence of Spider-Man in game form yet, something that’s been tricky for most developers.

The conference closed with a gameplay demo of Days Gone. The cinematic trailer earlier showed off a world decimated by an apocalyptic attack of some kind, putting the player in the shoes of a biker turned bounty hunter and mercenary, focused on survival. In action the game has something of a Last Of Us vibe, with the player scavenging ruins for gear, adapting for instance an old car part as a makeshift silencer for his gun. The apocalyptic menace is later confirmed to be zombies which, in a unique twist, are the World War Z-style fast-and-agile variety.

This year’s Sony press conference came much, much closer to topping last year’s phenomenal effort than I’d dared dream, only falling just short. Bucking Sony’s usual trend of favouring games not expected for years, a number of the bigger titles this year, like The Last Guardian and Final Fantasy XV, are relatively close at hand. Ultimately, there was still a lingering impression that something was missing. Maybe it was the lack of indie titles, maybe it was the absence of the PlayStation Neo so soon after Microsoft showed us Project Scorpio; Sony needed just one more knockout punch title. Despite that, it was still a fantastic outing for Sony fans, who have a lot to look forward to in the coming year.

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 [email protected] 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. 

Be Surprised: Bethesda's E3 2016 Showcase

Bethesda E3 Dishonored 2

Last year Bethesda had Fallout 4 with which to win over the faithful, and they did so emphatically. That game has since released and was just as big as expected. This year’s edition of #BE3 needed something to match that, and boy did it deliver.

More than ever this felt like a press conference for the fans at home, with a pre-show courtesy of Adam Sessler and Morgan Webb, as well as a pre-pre-show with trivia and snippets from upcoming games. It was also good to see every presenter wearing a rainbow ribbon, in memory of the recent tragedy in Orlando.

Bethesda opened the show in a strong way, debuting Quake Champions, the Doom-esque revival of id Software’s other much-loved first person shooter franchise. The new version is hero-based, with a roster of characters each with unique skills and abilities to bring to the arena, and designed from the ground up for world-class esports play. No gameplay footage was shown off, but id’s Tim Willits told fans to expect more at QuakeCon, happening in Dallas this August.

Naturally, Fallout 4 was given its time in the spotlight, with three new content packs announced. Nuka World marks the major update, introducing a post-apocalyptic theme park. In addition, the game’s deep construction system will be getting an overhaul with Contraptions, letting people build their own Rube Goldberg style machines. Finally, there was the Vault-Tec Workshop, allowing you to take the reigns of the franchise’s biggest name in bomb shelters and construct your own Vault, as well as run experiments on your creation’s dwellers. Another bombshell came with the announcement that Fallout 4 is to be released for HTC’s Vive VR platform in 2017.

Elder Scrolls fans got the first of many treats of the night with more details for Bethesda’s potential Hearthstone killer, The Elder Scrolls: Legends. Touting a two-lane battlefield and game-changing rune breaks, fans were also shown a teaser for the game’s campaign mode, taking place during events only mentioned in passing up until now in the Elder Scrolls series. More people would be added to the game’s current beta during E3.

Dose number two was Skyrim Special Edition, a remastering of the acclaimed RPG for modern hardware. The base game was already one of the prettiest of its generation, but the trailer featured new lighting, textures and other effects that rivalled the input of the game’s fanatical modding community, as well as official mod support for console players. While this might not sound like a lot for PC players, it brings the console editions up to par. This new revamped Skyrim will be available October 28.

Finally, Elder Scrolls Online players have new content and players to look forward to. The MMO had a rocky start last year before but has seen constant refinements, content updates and expansions. Formally announcing the game’s launch in Japan, the audience was treated to a trailer for the upcoming Dark Brotherhood expansion, allowing players to sign up with the guild of assassins and carry out executions in the name of Sithis. The big development, however, was the announcement of One Tamriel; a complete overhaul of the game’s character progression systems, automatically raising any player’s vital statistics to the level of the environment’s enemies. After the game’s tutorial no part of the game world will be off-limits to players.

In the evening’s second big surprise, Bethesda announced what could almost be called a new franchise at this point: The return of the long-awaited sequel to Prey. Stuck in development hell since 2011, and having been denied by Bethesda themselves as recently as 2014, players were finally treated to a futuristic psychological thriller, playing the role of a lone test subject aboard an experimental space station under alien attack.

Given Doom’s success, id Software took centre stage again to show the audience the game’s future. id will be refining the game’s SnapMap feature, giving creators a slew of new tools to bring custom maps and game modes to the Doom universe. Also in the pipe is the game’s first DLC bundle. Unto The Evil will feature new multiplayer maps, playable demons, guns, equipment, armour sets and in-game taunts, as well as two all-new multiplayer game modes: Exodus and Sector.

After its strong debut last year, Dishonored 2 returned as the show’s centrepiece this year, with a gameplay demo, an exploration into the city of Karnaca itself, and an insight into the creation of the game’s deep, living environments. Arkane Studios showed off two specific missions, a slew of new powers available to players, environmental effects reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid V, and a curious special mission involving an abandoned manor which will see players jumping backwards and forwards in time to solve puzzles and dispense of enemies. Dishonored 2 will be coming out on 11 November, with a limited supply of the first game’s Definitive Edition bundled free with pre-orders.

Despite the leaks in the last week, Bethesda had several surprises for this year’s E3 audience, with the revival of two long absent franchises, continued content for a number of much-loved games and a fresh look at what will be one of this year’s blockbusters.

Two Player: EA's E3 2016 "EA Play" Event

EA Play Titanfall 2

For the last few years, EA has kicked off its press conferences with some variant of the phrase “we like to do things differently.” While it’s standard corporate speak at this point, this year EA meant it more than ever. Aside from now being the first of the E3 2016 conferences, the company made the decision to not only show its wares outside of the Los Angeles Convention Center, but hold an event simultaneously in LA and London. So with all this change, did EA actually bring anything new and exciting?

Fans of EA’s sci-fi wares were well served…unless your sci-fi game didn’t feature grappling hooks or mechs shooting at each other, in which case you were treated to a sizzle reel of developers hard at work; apologies to all you Star Wars and Mass Effect fans. Titanfall 2 was given a proper showing, with all its mechs and grappling hooks. Respawn Entertainment’s Vince Zampella was on hand to not only welcome PS4 players into the fold, but to formally announce a single player campaign “for the four people who didn’t see the leak.”

FIFA 17 saw the biggest sports push at the conference. Aside from announcing the usual improvements (this year’s buzzwords include “Physical Play Overhaul” and “Active Intelligence System”) Peter Moore played to the London crowd by announcing several Premier League managers will be present in the game, including his homeboy (and yours), Liverpool’s Jüergen Klopp.

We were also introduced to Alex Hunter. Never heard of him? Don’t worry, no-one has; he’s the fictional Manchester United footballer you’ll be playing as in FIFA 17’s brand new story mode ‘The Journey.’ While Peter Moore wouldn’t confirm any 10 minute ghost monologues, he was quick to point out this is only possible because of the power of Frostbite.

By far the most interesting announcements at the conference weren’t for games, but for several company-wide initiatives. Peter Moore detailed more on the EA Competitive Division announced back in December. Aside from several types of championships and events, Moore announced the first big event in the EA Championship series, a Madden NFL 17 Championship with a $1 million prize. Moore affirmed that Madden is just the start, and that he will bring competitive gaming to the wider EA games family.

EA is also giving a million dollars to charity with its “Play To Give” initiative. The company is partnering with five charities around the world and donating money based on player competed tasks across their games. Winning the “Play to Win” cup in FIFA will not only score you a megapack of cards for FIFA Ultimate Team, but also a donation to charity. Finally, EA has given all of you a good reason to check out Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes.

Following the acclaim and success of Unravel, EA Vice President Patrick Söderlund announced EA Originals. The initiative is based on three things: Finding unique experiences and bringing them to the world, supporting small developers and, most importantly, offering them security and funding. All of the profits from the program will go directly to the developers. The first title in the program will be Fe by the 20 person strong studio Zoink Games in Gothenburg, Sweden. The game looks to be the tale of a young cub, the relationship with we have with nature and our longing to be one with the world around us.

Closing out the conference was Battlefield 1. After showing 30 seconds of a trailer that would close out the segment, DICE’s Patrick Bach discussed the origins of the game and how no two battles would ever be the same, citing how dynamic weather and player controlled “Behemoths” (armoured trains, zeppelins) would achieve this, permanently changing the battle map mid-battle. And because you need it, here’s a gif of Snoop Dogg smoking a blunt whilst playing Battlefield 1.

It was a safe, but otherwise enjoyable conference from EA. FIFA’s attempt to take on NBA2K in the ‘sports game story’ attempt should prove entertaining, and Battlefield, even with its horrible musical choices in its trailers, looks the goods. While only one new game announcement is disappointing, the new initiatives look to be a fascinating step forward for the company.