The E3 has come and gone, and as always, I’m sure everyone has at least one or two things they are excited about, whether it be one of the actual games, or a new console. In this article, I’ll give my opinion on a few of the things we’ve seen (I won’t explain what the games are about, I’m sure you know). While most of these will be personal favourites, this is not to say that I liked them better than anything else, per se. There was so much to pick from, I can’t possibly write about them all!
This article is a bit more quick ‘n’ dirty than usual, because I wanted to post it as soon as possible. So, without further ado, let’s dig into the goodness E3 had in store for us this year!
Let me start off by saying that I’ve never liked a single Tomb Raider game. It just wasn’t for me. Apart from the whole “my boobs double as life-preservers” model, I never dug the gameplay. I tried one of the older ones, I tried one of the newer ones, but I was not entertained.
When they announced the Tomb Raider reboot, not much changed, at first. The word “reboot” sounds inherently negative to me. It’s like you’re saying: “we want to do something new, but we don’t wanna let go of the brand’s fame (and assured revenue stream).” I guess it depends on the developer whether a reboot is a good thing or not; some might use the reboot to re-invent a game they really love working on, others might do it for a simple cash-in.
The first thing I saw of this game was a preview in a magazine, which included the new artwork and a description of some initial gameplay (this gameplay was later shown at E3). The artwork piqued my interest, but the game’s premise really sold me.
First, about the new Lara Croft: I am a big fan. A while ago, I watched a panel called Females on Female characters, where Susan Arendt commented: “[We don't feel] that if there is a character that is physically attractive – that if she is sexy – then that is automatically sexist.” This new Lara Croft seems to reflect that philosophy: she is still a sexy girl, but unlike her balloon-powered predecessors, she now looks like an actual human being.
This idea of a more realistic character is immediately proven in this trailer:
Especially the scene where Lara is hanging by her feet from the ceiling impressed me. She is tied up in some sort of cloth and has to light herself on fire to escape. As the fire surrounds her and eats away at her and her fabric prison, she lets out a terrible scream of pain and fear, and it becomes instantly clear this is not the hard-boiled tough chick from past games. This is an inexperienced young girl, marooned on an island, with no idea what to do. Things don’t get much easier: when she drops to the floor, she is impaled on a piece of wood, or a sharp bone, and has to pull it out of her side, forcing her through yet another moment of pain. There’s something visceral about it, and the way she responds to her situation (utter terror) feels realistic. It is not often we see a game character be genuinely scared. Just having a character who is not a death-defying killing machine makes this game worth-while for me.
Will succeed if…
I want to see this idea of a freshly graduated girl trying to prove herself to the world (and getting her ass handed to her) be taken to the appropriate level, in both the gameplay and narrative. The first images enticed me with potential for human drama, and I really hope Crystal Dynamics delivers on that promise. Make us emphasize with this young girl, show us how far she’s been pulled out of her comfort zone and make us grow along with her. Gameplay-wise, I’d prefer a survival adventure, low on HUD elements, moderately low on combat, high on exploration and narrative. Crystal Dynamics has mentioned that there will be audio logs and journals the player can collect, and that kind of fragmented story always gets me excited.
Will fail if…
The trailer seemed very linear, and the gameplay shouldn’t be too much like that. Then again, they have already stated that there will be hub areas, from which players can head in their chosen direction, which definitely sounds good. Also, the comparison has been made with Uncharted. While I love Uncharted, it is also one of the least innovating games out there, and it would be a shame if Tomb Raider would limit itself to that kind of gameplay. Maybe an Ark Asylum-styled world would help: quasi-open, with linear bits in between.
Crystal Dynamics managed to impress me, and for the first time in my life, I can say I am truly excited about a Tomb Raider game. Keep your eyes on this one!
Mass Effect 3
This is a bit of no-brainer for me. I count Mass Effect 2 among my favourite games of all time. BioWare is renowned for its narratives, for creating epic universes and complementing gameplay. If I were to pre-order a game, this one would be it.
Still, BioWare is not the undefeated champion it used to be. They used to be similar to Valve: every game they brought out was good, period. But since then, they have put their reputation on the line. While I admittedly haven’t played Dragon Age 2, general consensus is that it is far from the quality BioWare usually delivers. Is one game enough to bring down our trust in BioWare, though?
Well, not on its own, but I have grown a little cautious regarding Mass Effect 3. BioWare has made some strange statements, saying they delayed the game to “make it more accessible” and that they expect critics to compare it to the best of the modern-day shooters. This worries me, as the former implies they will make the game easier, and the latter implies they are competing in the wrong field. Mass Effect 2’s combat was a lot faster and less RPG-oriented than its predecessor, and I didn’t think that was a bad thing. But it sounds to me like they are pushing it further, maybe too far.
Regardless of the above, I expect Mass Effect 3 to rock my world. I’d prefer it to have more RPG than shooter elements, but if it manages to wrap up the trilogy with an ending worthy of the title, I’m a happy gamer. The trailers look good, the Kinect voice-control, while arbitrary, could be a fun addition for Xbox 360 users, and one slip-up does not stain BioWare’s record of being an excellent developer.
Will succeed if…
As I said before, as long as they maintain (or improve on) the quality of the second game, they’re pretty much home safe. The return of old characters bodes well, in my opinion, but I look forward to meeting some new people as well. Despite the initial trailer taking place solely on Earth, we have thankfully seen footage of Shepard flying all across the galaxy, which is what Mass Effect is all about.
Will fail if…
If BioWare repeats its copy-paste method used in Dragon Age 2, things could go badly. I also still think they are putting too much emphasis on being compared to shooters, and the rumours of multi-player have me genuinely worried. There is a lot of pressure on BioWare — let’s hope they don’t buckle under the stress.
I long to be immersed in this fantastic universe once more, and I can’t wait to find out how Shepard will be able to defeat not one, but hundreds of Reapers. She (yes, she!) sure has got her job cut out for her.
Bioshock: Infinite is on here for its uniqueness in setting, gameplay and I presume in story as well, though we haven’t got much detail on that yet. A single glance at a screenshot or trailer will instantly tell you you are dealing with Infinite, and in an age where the visuals of games like Modern Warfare and Battlefield start to blend together into an unrecognizable gray ball of “realism,” that’s something to celebrate.
Bioshock: Infinite is a different creature from the earlier Bioshock games. For one, Columbia, the city in the sky, is radically different from the at times claustrophobic and run-down underwater city of Rapture. But the visual style, which prominently features warm autumn colours, is not the only thing that has changed: Infinite’s protagonist is silent no longer. Booker speaks, giving a whole new level to the otherwise blank character. The reason for this might be Elizabeth, Booker’s new companion. In the trailer shown at E3, we see Booker give Elizabeth commands, hinting at a sort of co-op gameplay. We’ll have to see if this is an improvement, and to what degree we will be able to shape Booker to our own image, but I think it fits well with Bioshock’s new direction.
Most impressive of all, though, is the Skyline system. You can hook onto any part of the rails that curl all throughout Columbia, and by the looks of it, you can freely jump between these rails. Add to this the fact that combat will be taking place on there as well, and you’ve got some swell gameplay opportunities!
Will succeed if…
You know, this game looks far more open-world than any of it predecessors, and that’s a good thing if you ask me. The new gameplay, if executed well, should make things even more dynamic. I also really liked Bioshock’s fragmented storytelling, made possible through the audio tapes — I hope they push that to the next level. Bioshock was a complex tale of religion and fanaticism, and the trailers all but confirm that there will be plenty of fanatic nutcases to deal with in Infinite. There is just so much fantastic stuff going on here, and rumour has it the game is pretty much completely done at this point, so it seems little can go wrong.
Will fail if…
I suppose the only thing that could mess things up is a crappy story, but I’d be very surprised if that were the case. Like I said, the gameplay needs to be executed well. We want the Skyline to work as well as it appears to.
Bioshock: Infinite has all the ingredients of a great game. A unique world, cool gameplay and an undoubtedly interesting story — I really want to play this!
Batman: Arkham City
Awwww, yeah! I’m totally on board for this game. Arkham Asylum was an unexpected hit, and it was spectacular. A new Batman, more serious, but without going overboard on the “gritty reboot” idea that’s so popular these days. Besides Batman getting some new tricks and gadgets, Arkham City gets a feline addition in the form of Catwoman, who has her own gameplay segments to spice things up. Whereas Batman is always fighting for justice, this cat burglar has somewhat more selfish motives, and it’ll be interesting to seem these two characters collide.
Arkham City, an actual part of the city transformed into one big prison, is said to be five times larger than Arkham Asylum, which wasn’t really small to begin with. Both Batman and Catwoman are well-equipped for quickly travelling across town, which is one of the most important requirements of open world games.
To be honest, I purposely did not watch the 15-minute gameplay trailer. There were so many trailers like that at E3 — I felt like nothing would be left to play! Nah, that’s overstating it, but the reason remains the same: I like to be surprised.
Will succeed if…
I’ve got high hopes for this game. Like most games in this list, if they manage to at least maintain the quality of their predecessor, I’ll see it as a success. But Batman: Arkham City really has so much potential! If the increased freedom doesn’t spell the end for the carefully crafted story — and I’m thinking it won’t — then it will only make the game better. The addition of Catwoman wasn’t something I was particularly craving for, but it will definitely add some variety to an already exotic meal.
Will fail if…
I really hope they downplay Detective Mode. I get it as a gameplay mechanic, and it’s a good Batman tool — it’s just such a shame that the vision covers the entire screen, effectively turning the pretty visuals into a dark and monotone x-ray image. This won’t make the game fail — the same system was used in Arkham Asylum and that game is still awesome — but it would be nice if they managed to work around it. Why not a simple overlay, for instance? You know, a sort of augmented reality kind of thing? Apart from that, they need to make sure the Catwoman gameplay stands on its own, and doesn’t become a bother. But I’ve got faith in Rocksteady.
This is pre-order material for me; I believe in this game. Batman: Arkham Asylum was a sleeper-hit, but now everyone is watching its sequel with much anticipation. The pressure has definitely increased, but Rocksteady seems to have pulled it off well so far. I’m expecting another fantastic chapter in the tale of the Dark Knight.
Here are a few quick mentions, that I felt I didn’t have enough to write a full entry about.
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
Assassin’s Creed 1 was once hailed as the Holy Grail of gaming, but ultimately disappointed with its repetitive gameplay. How far we have come since then! Now, Assassin’s Creed is a critically-acclaimed series known for its open-world gameplay, intriguing story-lines and immersive historical worlds. I was initially a bit hesitant to embrace Revelations, simply because it features Ezio again. I love the character of Ezio, but felt like they might be milking his success. I’ve been proven wrong in this aspect. Ubisoft keeps improving the formula with every game, and Revelations adds more refinements to an already fantastic concept. The trailer shown at E3 really blew me away; it had a distinctly mysterious vibe (not in small part due to the unusual music choice), and I’m sure I’m not the only one now frantically imagining how a game that brings Desmond, Altaïr and Ezio together would feel. I can’t wait!
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
I had actually written a full entry for Uncharted 3, but it then occurred to me that I had more to say about the other games. Uncharted is Uncharted, and there’s not a whole lot to add to that. To give you an idea (and to make me feel like I didn’t just waste an hour of writing), here’s what I think about part three in the series.
Part three might prove to be the best one yet, with it including many tentative scenes such as Nate crashing his plane in the desert. Man, I love me some deserts (not to be mistaken with desserts, which I’m also fond of). Story-wise, we see some betrayal going back and forth, putting Drake in some rough situations, and who doesn’t love a good betrayal-revenge story? And did you see that airplane sequence? Dude!
Uncharted 2 was loads of fun and expect part three to be similar. More freedom would be good, but I don’t think that likely to happen. That said, I hope they don’t overdo the whole “it’s like you’re in a movie thing.” I used to be all about cinematic experiences in games, but I’ve come to realize that the more cinematic the game gets, the more linear it becomes, and the less you are adding to the progress of gaming as a medium. “Just fun” games are good, but think of what this could be if it reached its full potential.
I don’t know what it is, but I like it. Emphasizing an emotional experience and wordless narrative, Journey really makes me curious. The trailer alone gives me a peaceful feeling. And hey, more deserts!
Let’s get the most obvious thing out of the way: the name sucks. Badly. Seriously, Nintendo…hire better marketing people. Wii U… Even Wii 2 would have been better.
That said, I suppose the console itself could be good. Some people went bonkers when they saw the new controller — I wasn’t that impressed. I’m sure many game designers are scratching their heads now, going “…but I thought of that, like, three years ago.” Yeah, okay, but Nintendo did it. Like most consoles, I guess it will all depend on what the developers will actually do with the tech. The statement that it’s more powerful than the current-gen consoles prompts only one reaction from me: duh.
I laughed out loud, by the way, when they called the new controller “utopian.” Talk about over-blown statements! Regardless of how big the innovation is, though, at least they are doing it.
Same deal as with the Wii U: we’ll have to see what the games are like. I kinda like the possibilities the touchscreens at the front and back offer, even though I suppose it’s nothing special. The device looks pretty solid, though, and looking at games like Uncharted: Golden Abyss, it’s packing plenty of firepower. What confused me a little bit were the statements about delivering a console experience in a handheld. I don’t think those two will ever be the same — not in the near future anyway.
Like with the “utopian” comment from Nintendo, I laughed when a series of boos rained down on the conference, upon the announcement that Sony will be collaborating with AT&T to provide 3G connectivity. We don’t have AT&T here in the Netherlands, but the crowd’s response told me all I needed to know.
Final word on E3 2011
I wasn’t there, so I can only give my opinion as viewer of trailers and streams. Overall, I wasn’t truly shocked by anything. There were plenty of interesting things, sure, but many of my favourites were already announced long before E3. But it was good to see new stuff and information from those titles. The E3 does three things: it inspires the game-designer in me, it makes the gamer in me bounce around in excitement, and makes the realist in me wish I had a big-ass salary to support this gaming habit. There are many great games coming out in the near future — better start saving!
- Press to Play © 2011