With the smoke of E3 billowing in the rearview mirror, it's time to get back to the business at hand. The Musings are back as I break down my observations on E3 2014! I'll tell you what I liked, what I didn't like, what it means for the here and now, and quite possibly, the future! Grab a nice cozy blanket, curl up by the fire, and enjoy this week's Musings!
Observing E3 From Afar
Here's the thing about ShortPause.Com: we're still a fledgling site in our internet infancy. We're doing our best to deliver compelling content on a regular basis to you, our loyal readers, and we're humbled and thrilled by the support we've received so far. We thank each and everyone of you who have visited the site and read any of our articles, and we hope that you continue to do so in the weeks, months, and years ahead! As a site that is just establishing ourselves and growing our reader base, we don't yet have the credentials necessary to attend E3 as press (something we hope to remedy when 2015's show rolls around!). Therefore, it behooves us to view E3 from a distance, formulating our thoughts and opinions from the comfort of our less crowded, air conditioned sideline of choice. It was an exciting show as usual this year, and there were a ton of kick-ass games on display that had my gamer soul salivating at the future to come.
What jumped out at me at this year's version of the Electronic Entertainment Expo? Let's find out!
Batman: Arkham Knight was my Game of the Show
I could barely contain myself when I was watching this demo at the Sony Press Conference. As a lifelong comic book fan (approximately 5000 comic books line the shelves behind me as I write this), Rocksteady's version of Batman has given video game fans the digital Dark Knight they've always dreamed of. Arkham Asylum and Arkham City are two of my favorite games on the PS3, so my anticipation for the third and final part of the Arkham trilogy is, naturally, at a stratospheric level.
The Scarecrow looks menacing and delightfully disturbing, and I love that he is being positioned as the main antagonist of this game. Rocksteady has a great handle on his character (have you played the Scarecrow segments in Arkham Asylum??), and I can't wait to see where they take Jonathan Crane from here. The Penguin is back as well — hopefully voiced by Nolan North once again — and my personal favorite Batman villain, Two-Face, looks to have an expanded role in this new series entry. Then there's the story of the titular Arkham Knight himself. A new character created for this version of Batman's universe, the mystery of who the Arkham Knight actually is has only just begun.
Oh, and there's a Batmobile in this game. My gosh is there ever a Batmobile in this game...
I love that you can call on the Batmobile at will to traverse a neon Gotham that is approximately five times the size of the expansive Arkham City. Strafing, missile-firing tank-mode? Yep, this is a thing in Batman: Arkham Knight. Gotta be able to contend with the Arkham Knight's more militarized forces and all that. It was the seamless integration of the Batmobile into the gameplay, and the fluidity with which Batman moved from gliding through the city, to hopping into the Batmobile, to firing missiles at the Arkham Knight's forces, and finally blasting out of the driver's seat in a full-on aerial glide, that really got my blood going. And the game ran beautifully smooth the whole time, with a souped up version of Unreal Engine 3 providing the best graphics the series has seen yet, surprising no one. It was a beyond impressive showing for a game that I was already prepared to be head-over-heels for. Confirmed for 2015, with a rumored release date in February, I better put in for my vacation time now.
Speaking of 2015, does this look like a banner year for gaming or what?! Next year could be one of the best years we've ever seen in gaming. With a number of titles moving out of 2014, 2015 could now potentially play host to Batman: Arkham Knight, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, The Legend of Zelda: Wii U, Halo 5: Guardians, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (possibly the same day as Arkham Knight!!!), The Order: 1886, Mortal Kombat X, Mighty No. 9, Quantum Break, No Man's Sky, The Division, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Bloodborne, The Crew, Crackdown, and Rise of the Tomb Raider just to name a few! Whew! Get your wallets ready!
P. S. And I'm still not convinced Super Smash Bros. Wii U arrives this year, so add that one to the list as well!
The Order: 1886 is Shaping Up Nicely
I've mused about The Order: 1886's bizarre start to its marketing campaign before, but the game seems to be coming together nicely as of late. As predicted, The Order has slipped into the early portion of 2015 (February is going to be a busy month!), and I feel like developer Ready at Dawn can almost breathe a sigh of relief now. They are no longer under the tight time constraints of a rapidly impending release, nor do they have the pressure of being the only big AAA title published by Sony for this holiday season. This extra four or five months of development time should allow them to properly tune and polish The Order, making this the true next-gen experience it has the potential to be upon release.
The E3 demo was really well received by those in attendance who played it, and I like that it showed another dimension to The Order: 1886. Up until this point, we've seen the integrated cut scenes and third-person, cover based shooter gameplay, but the E3 demo gave us a slice of a more horror-tinged segment. I love that we saw this sort of incapacitated and defenseless Galahad trying to escape from this brutish and overpowering monster, and I have to believe this is only a glimpse of the depth and variety we will eventually see from the title. The Order: 1886 remains one of my most anticipated titles, and I really can't wait to see how this seamless integration of story and gameplay eventually plays out. I think we may be in for a new kind of cinematic video game experience with this one; this hype train is going to pick up plenty of steam before its early 2015 release.
And are we seriously looking at The Order: 1886, Batman: Arkham Knight, and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt all releasing within the span of one week?! #SomebodyChangeTheirDate
Mortal Kombat X was a Showstopper
Mortal Kombat X — pronounced "ecks," and not "ten," even though it's the tenth entry in the series — looked superb on the E3 show floor. Graphically stunning, boasting slick animation and lightning quick fighting, this year's iteration of the revered series looks to build on the successes of both 2011's Mortal Kombat and the more recent blockbuster, Injustice: Gods Among Us. While creator Ed Boon and his development staff at NetherRealm Studios are bringing along familiar staples of their past titles, such as the fast-paced combo system and X-Ray moves of Mortal Kombat, and the interactive backgrounds of Injustice, they're also infusing new twists to their tried-and-true fighting formula.
Character variations are an exciting new feature that finds three distinct versions of each selectable character that vary in special moves and combat styles, and this is going lend an extra layer of strategy to the proceedings; I can already see the hardcore Mortal Kombat audience going gaga over this addition. New characters are inbound as well, and we've already seen Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade's daughter, Cassie Cage, the half-insect woman D'vorah, the imposing Kotal Kahn, and the unlikely David-meets-Goliath fighting duo Ferra/Torr. There are promises of more new characters to come, to go along with the many returning favorites. It was an impressive showing for Mortal Kombat X, and fighting fans are going to have an excruciating wait until this one drops.
My Biggest E3 Disappointment: The Lack of a Vita Presence
I really hoped Sony would give the Vita a solid 5-10 minutes during their E3 presser. The handheld had just received its second iteration — the well-liked PlayStation Vita Slim — and all indications were that the shiny black portable had received quite the sales bump from the new Borderlands 2 Hardware Bundle. The gaming catalog on the system was already rich and varied, thanks in no small part to the tremendous indie presence on the device. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to capitalize on the momentum Sony had just built for the Vita. Now was the time to unveil the next big first or third-party franchise in production for the system. Where was Infamous on the Vita? How about a Grand Theft Auto variation on the handheld? At the very least, you've got to think it wouldn't be too much trouble to port the recently released iOS HD remakes of the original GTA trilogy to the Vita with Trophies and analog stick support. But alas, Sony thought otherwise, choosing instead to give Vita a throwaway mention in passing, sandwiched in with the entertainment talk and Brian Michael Bendis' riveting pitch for the Powers TV series. And by riveting, I mean gut-wrenching, insomnia-curing, slap-me-I-must-be-dreaming, C-SPAN-kind-of-exciting, just-push-the-knife-in-a-little-deeper, never-gonna-get-that-time-back-again type of material.
By the way, did anyone notice Bendis is a lot less Spider-Man, and a lot more Kingpin now?
Oh, and go read Fortune and Glory: A True Hollywood Story. It's a damn fine graphic novel. Stick to the funny books, Bendis. I still love ya' though, buddy.
So to recap, we got thirty seconds of Vita talk and four minutes of "Dude, you've way out-stayed your welcome" Bendis talk. Somebody call the proportion police. They are a real thing, right?
To make matters even worse, the prolific President of Sony Worldwide Studios, Shuhei Yoshida himself, told Polygon that, "It's very fortunate that the indie boom happened and they are providing lots of great content to Vita. Gameplay, game mechanic wise, people want to spend 10 minutes, 15 minutes getting in and out. On Vita, it's great with suspended functionality, so these indie games really great for that from a game design standpoint.
"Instead of watching big stories or cinematics, you can spend hours on Vita. So, I think that's actually the biggest star to help provide great content to Vita going forward. And we continue to make games cross-platform games, especially on digital side."
When Polygon further asked if this meant there would be less first-party support for the system going forward, Yoshida replied, "I would say, yes, that's correct."
Does this mean we'll never see another Worldwide Studios title on the handheld? No, of course not. I think what we may see is studios using the Tearaway model. Media Molecule broke off a small team of 15 or so people to make Tearaway while their main team presumably focuses on PS4 development. Maybe we see a studio like Sony Bend breaking off a small team to either revive Gabe Logan for the Vita, or perhaps develop another Uncharted: Golden Abyss. More first-party ports seem a strong likelihood, as well. We've already seen titles like The Sly Collection, God of War Collection, Ratchet and Clank Collection, and Jak and Daxter Collection ported over to the system. It's not out of the realm of possibility that something like the inFAMOUS Collection makes its way over to the handheld at some point, too.
We'll continue to see a ton of Cross-Buy titles on the Vita, of course, as this is an easy way to continue building the Vita library, provide a console-like experience on the portable, and keep the PlayStation ecosystem unified. It's the exclusive Vita experiences that will be few and far between, at least from a first-party perspective.
That said, all hope is far from lost. The Vita has quite the robust library of games at this point, and I have enough games to play on the handheld for a long time to come. With the system's expanding install base approaching 10 million soon, as well as the Vita continuing to hit its stride in the Japanese market (the system is regularly the number one or number two selling piece of hardware in the region), this is still a growing market for Sony that will be hard to completely ignore. Japanese software support will remain strong, and the hope is that many of these titles will make their way West, providing some unique and varied experiences for the platform. The upcoming Freedom Wars is a good example of one such game, and it sounds awesome.
My hope is that as Sony continues to push the Vita as an attractive accessory for the PS4 with remote play and second screen experiences, as well positioning the device as an ideal way with which to experience the upcoming game streaming service, PlayStation Now, the install base for the device will continue to grow to the point that focused development for the platform is a viable first-party business strategy. Couple this with the reinvigorated interest in the handheld following the release of the PlayStation Vita Slim, and the hardware's continued strong performance in Japan, and I can see a viable future scenario in which Sony takes to the stage at one of these big trade shows to sort of "relaunch" their focus on Vita game development.
In the meantime, excellent indie and third-party titles continue to hit the system almost every week. The Vita's userbase is comprised mainly of the hardest of the hardcore gamers, and should you, oh fair developer, choose to release a quality title on the device, it's almost guaranteed to sell well.
And hey, Gio Corsi?! Where's the next game from "The List?"
Disappointment #2: The Legend of Zelda on Wii U
Let me be clear here: I'm actually excited about this new direction for The Legend of Zelda franchise.
I just wish we saw more of it.
My disappointment stems from the fact that what we were shown of the fabled series' first iteration on the Wii U was so brief. I thought for sure that Zelda would be a big part of Nintendo's E3 Digital Event this year. Instead we had a three minute diatribe from Eiji Aonuma, which can be summed up in one sentence: "We are making an open-world Zelda game." This was followed up with a tantalizingly short gameplay demo of 20-30 seconds that saw Link/Zelda/Whoever-that-was-under-the-blue-hood ride a horse and shoot some arrows into a mechanical, land-roving octopus thing.
The game looked gorgeous, with a mountain range looming in the background that could be traveled to and explored as part of the vast open world Aonuma and his team are trying to create. I just felt like the time was now for a "bigger" The Legend of Zelda reveal. With the Wii U struggling to gain market share, this is one of the last big franchises that needs an original entry on Nintendo's newest piece of hardware. While the Wii U's prospects definitely seem to be improving now that Mario Kart 8 is out, and Super Smash Bros. is on the horizon, there is no doubt that the system is still a long ways from being successful. With the brief glimpse of the game we were shown at E3, it would seem that The Legend of Zelda on Wii U is quite a ways away from its nebulous 2015 release. While its probably internally viewed as a Holiday 2015 title, I wouldn't be surprised if — with Nintendo's track record for delaying projects until they're perfect — the game slips into 2016. That's a long wait for a system with little-to-no third-party support to have one of their heavy hitters on the first-party sideline.
On the bright side, I'm sure it will be worth the wait! Now, just who is that under the blue hood?
No Man's Sky Stole the Show
There's no doubt, Hello Games' No Man's Sky was the talk of the town at E3 2014.
And why wouldn't it be.
This game is shaping up to be something phenomenally special. There's not much more I can say about this game that hasn't already been said, or that Sean Murray can't say better in the above video. But this could be the best argument yet for "games as games;" this small indie studio is creating a game with the scope and production values of a blockbuster AAA title.
There are four guys listed on the studio's "About Us" page on their website.
This quote from Sean Murray in the above video pretty much says it all: "We had the idea of making a game that felt true to the kind of sci-fi books that we'd grown up with. The kind of idea of that. The fantasy of that. And we wanted to deliver on that, and to do that, we had to create the universe for you explore because that's the feeling that we wanted you to have. For one of the first times in games to actually land on a planet and for nobody to know what was on that planet. Not the creator of the game, not anyone else, because no one else has ever been there before."
But, But...There's so Much More to Talk About!
I know, I know! I haven't even touched on Sunset Overdrive (a showstopper in its own right), Bloodborne, Splatoon, Dragon Age: Inquisition, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Assassin's Creed: Unity (4-player co-op), Far Cry 4, Rainbow Six: Siege, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and on and on and on. Whew! *Inhales*
I'd love to stay and chat, but I have Resogun DLC waiting for me!
It was an exciting show this year, and I'd love to hear what you guys thought of it all! What stood out to you? What disappointed you? Let us know in the comments below!