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E3 Impressions 2016

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By Nelson Schneider - 06/18/16 at 03:06 PM CT

After a surprise-filled E3 last year, our expectations were boosted a bit. 2015’s E3 was a welcome relief from the rut-worn boredom that was the hallmark of the conference for several years prior. Unfortunately, last year’s surprises wore a new set of ruts, and we’re still driving in them this year. As if it wasn’t bad enough that the 8th Gen consoles hardly look different from the 7th Gen, now 8th Gen E3 conferences are all starting to look alike!

Microsoft:
Want: Play Anywhere
Not Sure if Want: “Sea of Thieves” (still!)
Do Not Want: Scorpio, dead-horse-beating first-party sequels

Microsoft didn’t really do anything impressive this year. They added an official name, “Play Anywhere,” to the XBONE/Windows10 crossplay program they announced last year. They also talked a lot about upcoming sequels in their first-party franchises… which are all starting to feel exactly the same. ‘Gears,’ ‘Halo,’ ‘Forza’ – whooptee freakin’doo. “Sea of Thieves,” which debuted last year, got some more attention, revealing it to be a very team-based game. While I love the idea of an open world pirate game, I’m not in love with the idea of relying on my friends in any scenario that requires teamwork.

MS’ biggest announcement at E3 2016, however, was the Xbox Scorpio, which had been leaked in the gaming media a few weeks prior. MS is using marketing-speak terms like, ‘beyond generations,’ and ‘6 teraflops,’ and ‘most powerful console ever made.’ Those don’t sound like things associated with a mid-generation upgrade (such as the also-debuted XBONE-S), which leads me to believe that the 9th Gen is just around the corner.

Sony:
Want: PlayStation VR, “Horizon: Zero Dawn”
Not Sure if Want: “Psychonauts: In the Rhombus of Ruin”
Do Not Want: “Cinematic” experiences, zombies, “Final Fantasy 15”

Sony finally chose to focus their E3 conference on the things that gamers want to see: Games. Sony spent very little time faffing about with non-gaming projects, instead showing off a significant number of game premiers, alongside some ‘we’re still working on it’ trailers for older projects. Unfortunately, Sony has really worked themselves into a demographic pidgeonhole by pandering to the mainstream audience. Almost every game coming to the PS platform in the next couple years is a plodding ‘cinematic’ experience that directly rips-off “The Last of Us.” Throw in a dash of “Dead Rising” here (“Days Gone”) or a splash of ‘Batman Arkham’ there (the new “God of War”), and turn “Resident Evil 7” into a first-person walking simulator, and you’ve got PlayStation in a nutshell. For mainstream movie whores, like MelteJoystick’s favorite fur-bearing trout, Chris, Sony’s show was a constant stream of orgasmic ecstasy. I am not so easily impressed.

PlayStation VR also got a significant amount of coverage, with a number of “AAA” games supporting VR modes, like “Fallout 4” and “Resident Evil 7.” Of course, neither of those are PlayStation exclusive. There is, however, a Sony exclusive filler episode to take place between the original “Psychonauts” (a multi-platform game) and the upcoming “Psychonauts 2” (another multi-platform game). It’s vexing that Sony had the balls to throw money at Double Fine in order to get them to make this filler episode exclusive when the rest of the series isn’t, but I can rest fairly easy in skipping it, since it will just be a point-and-click Adventure game instead of a Platformer. Of course, Double Fine does do a pretty good job with Adventure games…

Nintendo:
Want: “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild”
Not Sure if Want: “Demon’s Souls” influence upon “Breath of the Wild,” “Pokemon GO”
Do Not Want: Tight Lips re: NX

Nintendo’s presence at E3 2016 was incredibly sparse. Of course, we knew this ahead of time, as Nintendo announced candidly that they weren’t going to talk about the upcoming NX console at E3 (though Reggie did acknowledge its existence). Instead, Nintendo’s E3 was 90% ‘Zelda’ and ‘Pokemon.’

I’m completely over replaying the same story over and over while trying to “Catch ‘em All!” in handheld ‘Pokemon’ games, especially when it means going out and buying a new handheld that I don’t particularly want, so all the talk about the upcoming “Pokemon Sun/Moon” ran off my back like so much water (though they do look great for people who aren’t yet burnt-out on the formula). I do, however, have an Android tablet and recently switched from Windows Phone to Android (sorry, MS, that app ecosystem was just too deserted), so the concept of “Pokemon GO” has me mildly interested. Of course, having watched Chris and Nick spiral out of control playing “Ingress” (by the same developer as “Pokemon GO”), I’m not sure it’s something I want to jump into with both feet.

Of course, Nintendo didn’t really need to show off a lot of different things at E3 2016 considering that their centerpiece, the new ‘Zelda’ game up to now known as “Zelda U,” was a complete show stopper. Now bearing the official title, “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild,” this new WiiU/NX cross-generational title looks absolutely amazing, and is my pick for Best Game of E3. It is still just one game, though, so Nintendo didn’t ‘win’ the entire contest. I also still have some reservations about how some of the new mechanics, such as weapon degradation and gathering health herbs, which seem to be inspired by “Demon’s Souls,” will impact the game’s overall playability.

PC:
Want: HTC Vive, “Tyranny,” “The Turing Test,” “Mages of Mystralia”
Not Sure if Want: N/A
Do Not Want: Mindless shooters, clunky melee combat, “Of Mice and Membranes”

The second PC Gaming Show (sponsored by AMD!) was much more interesting that last year’s. Yes, there was a disgusting amount of mindless shooting and clunky melee combat on display, thanks to game developers catering to a knee-jerk reaction to ‘casualized’ games that has caused the recent inexplicable popularity of terrible games like “Dark Souls” and the new “DOOM.” But there were also an incredibly significant number of unique games that are exclusive to PC. “Tyranny,” a new RPG by Obsidian; “The Turing Test,” a ‘Portal’-like puzzle shooter; and “Mages of Mystralia,” a mix of “Magicka” and “The Legend of Zelda” went a long way to wash away the foul taste of terrible gameplay left by things like the new “Serious Sam” and “Mount and Blade Bannerlord.”

Despite the PC Gaming Show’s best efforts to push all of my buttons the wrong way with a stupid mini-movie worshipping the traditional/obsolete Typewriter and Hockey Puck method of controlling PC games, “Of Mice and Membranes,” I’m still declaring PC with winner of E3 2016. Lots of games in diverse genres (so there’s something for everyone), more great news about games coming to the HTC Vive, and Microsoft’s “Play Anywhere” announcement really drove home the fact that after decades of awfulness and years of being declared ‘dead’ by nearly everyone, PC gaming has roared back to life and is currently sitting pretty as the best in a bad situation.

The Rest:
Want: “AAA” titles coming to VR, “Star Trek: Bridge Crew”
Not Sure if Want: “South Park: The Fractured, But Whole,” “Elder Scrolls: Legends”
Do Not Want: EA, Ubisoft’s musical intro (WTF?!), PvP Shooters, Yahoo! E-Sports, “Final Fantasy 15” becoming a movie AND anime

EA, Ubisoft, Bethesda, Square Enix… and maybe a few more I didn’t pay attention to. There were a lot of individual publisher conferences this year… just like last year. EA, despite never having my love to begin with, completely lost me with their terrible conference focusing on garbage and sports/garbage. Ubisoft, those French bastards, frightened me and shook my sanity with a bizarre opening musical number that looked like something out of a drug-induced fever dream… and showed of a bunch of predictably crap games. Out of those two publishers, the only game I’d even consider playing is the ‘South Park’ sequel, but as someone who isn’t an enormous fan of the TV show, I think playing the game might be a bit of an overdose.

Square Enix is really banking on “Final Fantasy 15.” Sony showed off a little bit of the game during their conference, but since it’s multi-platform, Square Enix saved the lion’s share of bragging for their own conference. Unfortunately, the obnoxious metrosexual characters and stupid setting we’ve known about for a year now are being complemented with completely nonsensical and inscrutable gameplay. I couldn’t make heads or tails out of the combat… But that’s not all! “FF15” isn’t just going to be one crappy game that we can skip in the hopes that “FF16,” should it ever materialize, is better. No! Square Enix is intent on turning “FF15” into a CG movie, an anime series, AND a mobile game microtransaction engine. One would think they would have learned NOT to do that when people didn’t like “FF13” and the sales for “FF13-2” and “FF13-3” just kept dropping. It’s really sad to see my former two favorite publishers flailing around like a blind Ettin

Outside of individual publishers, there are two major trends to watch in the coming years – one that makes me happy and one that is infuriating. Bad news first: God damned PvP deathmatch games are experiencing a huge resurgence, and now they’re trying to legitimize themselves with the mantle of ‘e-sports.’ As if watching a bunch of primates chase a ball wasn’t bad enough, now we have to ruin the delightfully anti-social activity of videogames by calling them ‘sports.’ *gag* The good news, on the other hand, is that a large number of “AAA” publishers are jumping on the Virtual Reality hype train. While early adopters of VR on PC only have a handful of bland tech demos and incomplete Early Access Indie games to play, in the next couple years big titles like “Fallout 4” will get patched to support VR and new titles, like Ubisoft’s licensed “Star Trek Bridge Crew” will launch natively for VR. Ubisoft’s stunt with Levar Burton and some other ‘Star Trek’ TV cast members playing the game cooperatively in the same room was mind blowing, and really showed off the type of thing VR can do with local co-op. (Unfortunately, like “Sea of Thieves,” “Star Trek Bridge Crew” is a teamwork-centric game, and my team is completely dysfunctional.)

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