E3 is a curiosity in the age of omnipresent information. We’ve grown accustomed to having an army of video game bloggers churning out content and around-the-clock development updates about projects we’ve backed on Kickstarter. Crunching hundreds of “big reveals” into the span of a few press conferences has the curious effect of answering few questions about individual games while simultaneously feeling way too long.
Press conferences at E3 worship spectacle. Deafening explosions, stage lasers, gargantuan screens that pour smoke — these are base components of an E3 presentation. Fortunately, both press conferences and Nintendo’s digital presentation centered the efforts of their bombast on the most important thing in this industry: the games themselves. With the empty one-upmanship of hardware announcements from prior years out of the way, we were fed an undiluted stream of games.
These games covered a wide range of tastes and genres, but there were two big groups I was troubled to see represented so heavily.
Game companies are certainly no strangers to re-releasing old games on new platforms, but at E3 this year nostalgia seemed to have a stronger influence over development schedules than ever before. Wait — can you even consider it “nostalgia” when the object of adoration is less than a year old? The following games are getting the “remastered” treatment:
- Halo 1, 2, 3, and 4
- The Last of Us
- Ratchet & Clank
- Grand Theft Auto V
- Grim Fandango
- Pokemon Ruby / Sapphire
The release of several of these titles is particularly galling, as they would not exist if the PS4 and XBOne were backwards compatible. Game companies are devoting big resources to create new art assets, animation, network integration, and meaty chunks of code for games that have already been released. Why not put these folks to work on new games?
The answer is evident after you spend a few minutes on any online gaming community: gamers clamor for re-releases. We encourage this strange prioritization every time we re-buy a game we’ve already played. There are plenty of great original games released every month, so it’s not a tremendous problem, but it strikes me as a strange place for consumers to send their money.
Grim Fandango is notable because it’s been dormant for a long time, but I’d still rather play Double Fine’s upcoming original titles like Broken Age part 2 or Massive Chalice.
The other trend that struck me is also far from being new, but it’s become disturbingly prevalent.
ACTION GAMES THAT WISH THEY WERE MOVIES
With each advancing year, “AAA” game developers expend increasingly absurd effort to mimic the conventions of summer blockbuster cinema. We’re progressively seeing games with more cut scenes, more actors, and less gameplay. The player’s control in these games takes a distant back seat to forced camera perspectives and canned motion capture. This is what we’re told the “next generation” is all about: being cinematic.
This attitude has led to a long series of action games that wish they were movies. These games oftentimes launch to critical and commercial acclaim, despite the fact that they repeatedly rely on sloppy mechanics. They devote painstaking effort to storytelling but have little to no character. E3 2014 had more of these on tap than ever before.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
The latest entry in the best-selling “walking through set pieces” simulator. This one stars Kevin Spacey, for God’s sake.
Assassin’s Creed Unity
Unlike its more gun-centric contemporaries, the Assassin’s Creed series’ primary gameplay mechanic is punishing the player for stepping outside of a pre-determined path. The latest entry will allow multiple players to step through its elaborate canned vignettes.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed the gameplay of the most recent Tomb Raider reboot. The bow-and-arrow combat combined with the wondrous return of a dedicated “jump” button made for a legitimately fun adventure game. Unfortunately, it looks like the regrettable story elements of that game may be taking a bigger role in the sequel.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The sheer amount of “stuff” in the Witcher series has always been impressive; this has made its gameplay failures all the more disappointing. The control in past entries can be described as “slushy” at best: it feels like every button press is initiating a “swing sword slowly” movie. By all appearances, the third entry allows detailed-but-choppy animation and decadent environments get in the way of an enjoyable experience once again.
Tom Clancy’s The Division
New York City in ruins! Shooting homicidal survivors from behind cover! Wow, there’s some really cool augmented reality technology in the horrible, horrible future.
The Order 1886
I think I’d enjoy this game better if it came out on VCD: then I could at least jump around to different chapters at will, providing some manner of interactivity.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Admittedly, this is a series I have yet to play. The myriad glowing recommendations I’ve received for it, however, haven’t mentioned a word about gameplay. It looks like another “wooden polygon people mo-capping their way through canned action set pieces” affair, but I’ll give it a shot eventually.
GAMES I AM ACTUALLY INTERESTED IN PLAYING
Despite my existential bellyaching about the game industry, there were a number of new games that looked great!
A colorful take on crowd control offering over-the-top combat and lovingly goofy embellishments, exemplified by its stylized onomatopoeia. Lots of rail grinding for no physically justifiable reason. Not afraid to embrace video game-iness.
From the creators of Limbo. It uses interesting camera angles to present side scrolling environments as part of a wider, haunting world. Will this be one of those rare games that tells a story through gameplay itself?
Swim through a side-scrolling aquatic world while avoiding strange undersea creatures. Beautiful art, pairing 3D modeling with a clean 2D vector-art sensibility.
No Man’s Sky
A game that appears to focus on exploring procedurally generated alien worlds complete with unique flora and fauna. You can hop into a spaceship, fly up through the atmosphere, dodge a space armada, and land on an entirely different planet. The flying segments reminded me of 3DO’s Starfighter, which is a game I haven’t thought about in a very long time.
Super Smash Bros.
The more I hear about this game, the more I want to play it. If they pull off a technical return to form after the disappointing gameplay in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, it will be wonderful.
Yoshi’s Woolly World
Yoshi’s Island was an incredible game, but it’s sequels ( Yoshi’s Story, Yoshi’s Island DS ) were decidedly not. This game appears to be taking its own path, and that’s exciting. Building upon the aesthetic from Kirby’s Epic Yarn is icing on the cake.
The Legend of Zelda
Nintendo has stated that their goal is to make this game about exploring a vast environment at your own discretion, re-capturing the feel of the original Legend of Zelda. The glimpse they’ve showed us looks tantalizingly close to realizing this vision.
A remarkably unique take on the multiplayer shooter genre. Your objective is to spray as much of your team’s color ink as possible across a map, while an opposing team is trying to do the same with a different color. Players can turn into squids to swim through like-colored ink to traverse quickly; oppositely colored ink will halt your movement. If executed well, this could be tons of fun.
Chris Maguire, Philadelphia – I’m an entrepreneur/web developer; I co-founded Postling and Etsy. I’m also a cartoonist, gamer, musician, and ice cream enthusiast.
3 responses to E3 2014: Horrible Trends and Great Games
Blaaarrrgh! Chris, the Uncharted games are LEGITIMATELY AWESOME. I really haven’t ever mentioned anything about gameplay? Here: “Gameplay.”
Your endorsement of Uncharted’s gameplay has been noted. I will buy the entire series for a total of $7.56 at Gamestop and see what’s up.
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