E3 2015 Round Up

E3 is like Christmas for gamers - so much exciting stuff comes out of the show. Though I've reported on every conference, that pretty much only scratches the surface with everything that goes down on that week in June.

Here's everything you need to know about E3 2015.

 

The Hardware Makers

Microsoft, traditionally the opener of E3, Had a stellar show this year. From massive titles like Halo 5 & Gears 4, to small indies like Tacoma & Cuphead, to unexpected surprises like Recore & backwards compatibility - The sheer number of great games shown off by the big M was impressive. After the horror that was 2013 (as far as gamers were concerned) Microsoft turned it around in 2014, then really nailed their "gamer first" message home this year. Ever since Phil Spencer took over the role of head of games at Microsoft, we have seen a complete 360 (pun intended) on the Xbox as a gaming platform - and for all the best reasons. I had completely dismissed Xbox this generation - my plan was to worry about it once this gen started wrapping up, but now I'm not so sure. Those Xbox guys are really gunning for the number spot - Sony better watch out.

Speaking of, Sony didn't rest on it's laurels - The Playstation folk sure know how to please their fans. Ultimately, Sony's strategy was clear. They had a 3 pronged approach to their show this year:
1) Nostalgia. With the explosive opening announcement of The Last Guardian, Sony called to it's most devoted fans with a franchise long rumored to be vaporware. Add to that the announcements of both Final Fantasy VII Remake and Shenmue 3, Sony essentially said "Yep, hey gamers. We are here for and are listening to you."
2) Big 3rd Party Partnerships. Destiny has always been a "Playstation first" thing, but Sony pulled out Assassins Creed Syndicate, Hitman, Street Fighter 5, Star Wars Battlefront and Batman Arkham Knight, as well as two new major partnerships - One with Lucasfilm, showing Disney Infinity 3, and the other (most suprisingly) with Activision, showing of Call of Duty Black Ops 3. Sony really pushed the message that their platform is the one to play all the big games on.
3) Interesting Indies. Sony has been playing this card mightily well for several years now, ever since games like Journey and Thomas Was Alone debuted on their platforms. With a showing of interesting, different and weird titles like Firewatch, the Dream game and of course No Man's Sky, Sony made plenty of room for the little guy - and at the same time, diversifying their lineup considerably.
Of course Sony also included some amazing first party titles (Horizon Zero Dawn, Uncharted 4) some mentions of media content (Spotify and Vue) with Morpheus getting a mention, but these were only the rounding out features of the show. Still, an incredibly strong show - especially if you're a Sony fan.

And that leaves Nintendo. Ah, Nintendo. How you simultaneously excite and disappoint your audience. In what feels like a great move, Nintendo only really talked about the things happening in the immediate future (6-9 months) as opposed to it's competitors, which mentioned projects stretching into holiday 2016, or even 2017. Admittedly it's harder to get excited when a company doesn't show off some great new shiny thing like Sony and Microsoft do with franchises like Uncharted and Gears, but at least Nintendo gave tangible results - all of which we will see before next years' E3.
However, the games announced were not what people were hoping for. We have a whole new Animal Crossing game!... Oh, it's just an amiibo board game. Oh my God, a new Metroid!... that is action based co-op. Fans were not happy about that one in particular, even turning to petitions to get the Metroid name taken out of the name. All of this being said, taken at face value for what they are, Nintendo is trying a whole bunch of new stuff with these new titles coming out - and often experimenting Nintendo is the best Nintendo (just look at Splatoon and Toad's Treasure Tracker if you need proof.)
One final note - if it wasn't clear before, it is now. Amiibo are (at least for now) ingrained in Nintendo. A total of 20 new amiibo were announced during E3, as well as more of the cards that will soon hit store shelves. The buck certainly doesn't stop at the original Smash Bros lineup - Animal Crossing, DLC Smash characters and even special edition 8-bit Mario are getting amiibofied. Amiibo are here, and they're here to stay (until consumers stop buying them at least - something that isn't likely to happen soon.)

 

The 3rd Party Publishers

Each publisher conference had it's own interesting angle this year, and with Bethesda entering and Square Enix re-entering the ring, we were definitely spoiled for choice.

Bethesda cleverly got in early on Sunday night to make it's big E3 debut - and did a fantastic job of doing so. With less games to announce than the typical publisher, they were able to spend more time on the titles that mattered, and weren't bogged down by to many announcements. Even though Fallout 4 was the obvious star of the show (getting 20+ minutes time on stage as a result) The surprising announcements of Fallout Shelter and Elder Scrolls Legends were great little gems, as well as the bigger titles like Dishonored 2 and Doom getting some important airtime. Bethesda's show was possibly the most engaging, fun and "real" presentation of E3 2015.

Ubisoft was on the other end of the spectrum - their show sparkled with glitz and glamor, big showings and celebrity appearances. Out of all the presentations, Ubi's looked more like it belonged on prime time TV rather than a twitch stream. Jason Derulo's performance was fun and all, but did look kind of out of place. Still, if they were going to have someone promo for a dance game, Jason Derulo is it. On a final note, gotta hand it to Ubi - they had plenty of diversity on stage throughout their show, without making to much of a big deal about it - rounding out with Aisha Tyler play host.

EA was everything you would expect - Big annual franchises mixed in with big annual sports games, with some mobile thrown in to round out the show. (On a side note, EA actually has a pretty strong line up of mobile games.) EA had several guest stars on stage for a few of their sports games - the hilarious-not-in-a-good-way "Tha Hoop Gawd" for NBA Live 16 was a stark contrast to Pele, a legend of Soccer and a guy worth listening to for FIFA 16. The biggest surprise from EA however was Unravel - official winner of the cutest announcement of E3 (according to myself). It was utterly amazing to see this guy on stage alongside these big blockbuster franchises - with no fancy lights and smoke machines, only a trailer - to show his game to the world. That Unravel stage reveal was probably one of the most amazing parts of E3 2015.

This leaves us with Square Enix, in a presentation quite different from the rest. The audience seemed much smaller, and the vibe from everyone on stage was very different to the blasting confidence of every other conference this year. It was almost like they were aware of the fading of JRPG fans in the west, and like they felt they themselves were fading into irrelevancy. Maybe that's just me. Either way, Square Enix had a fairly stellar lineup of titles - the biggest being their "western" franchises in Tomb Raider, Hitman, Just Cause and Deus Ex, along with their bread and butter JRPGs - Kingdom Hearts, Star Ocean, Nier, Final Fantasy and a new studio with a new title simply named "Project Setsuna". Square Enix seem to also be continuing their mobile push with the FF franchise and Kingdom Hearts getting special treatment for iOS and Android.

 

PC was different, in a way only PC can be

I noticed a lot of publications seemed to snob PC a bit at this year's E3 - leaving them out of schedules for conferences, with general reporting being either minimal or with a negative reaction. This is a little sad to be honest, as while the PC Gaming Show may have made it's big E3 debut in a different way to every other conference, it was a show worth sitting down and enjoying.

While there were a few announcements, these were generally minor - much of the talk surrounded titles that we already knew about, or things that are PC specific like specs and graphics cards. The talks were set up as a backwards and forwards with essentially a talk show host, rather than a dev coming out and re-iterating a script. This setup helped keep things much more relaxed, keeping the show much more about enjoying talking about these things rather than taking an announcement and churning out a news story.

Hopefully the trend will continue next year, with PC getting a place in the show permanently.

 

Virtual & Alternate Reality at E3

VR, while not having a massive stage presence at any of the conferences (though getting a fair mention) was a big part of E3 this year. Not getting put in the spotlight at E3 this year is understandable though - Very few people actually have access to a VR unit to get how it will work, so demo's and trailers are fairly useless at this point s far as getting consumers interested. On the floor however, was a different story.

Sony had several Morpheus demos set up for people to try out, including two very opposite experiences - one had a morpheus user be a massive cartoonish dinosaur chasing people in an on rails experience, while other people used controllers to run away and fire lasers at the Morpheus user - the other was Project Kitchen. This demo was a horror demonstration, that involved you tied to a chair, a bloody corpse and a crazy demon girl... I could say more, but I'll leave it at that. If you're in to horror, this sounds like an experience you won't want to miss.

Oculus had a strong presence, including a demo of it's toy box mode with the half moon prototype touch controllers. This demo sounded incredible - you would be in this particular space with someone else who was in a whole other room, but you would swear the other person was right next to you. The demo mostly involved playing around with things like virtual ping pong balls and performing gestures, but the most important part is that it sounds like the touch controls are intuitive and actually work.

Of course Microsoft wowed the world with its AR Minecraft demo on stage - it's much easier to film a hologram than show off a VR game - but Microsoft also had a demo involving gearing up before a Halo match, and it sounded incredible. Reports say that both the gesture controls and the voice recognition worked really surprisingly well, which in itself is exciting. Maybe this means Cortana might come out far superior to Siri/Google Now? Either way, while we still don't have a release date, this piece of tech brings us so many steps closer to Tony Stark like computing - a very exciting prospect!

 

What was forgotten

Between all the lights, sounds and explosions of E3, it's easy to miss the things that weren't there.

The Vita, for one, was barely mentioned at all. It will be getting a few new games, nearly all of which are also playable on the PS4. While it isn't really surprising (especially seeing as Sony themselves referred to the Vita as a "legacy platform") it is sad to see the device with so much potential fall to the wayside.

Again surprising no one, there was not even a whisper of the Kinect from Microsoft. Zero Kinect titles were mentioned during Microsoft's conference - even titles that might have Kinect support in some way didn't announce as such. Once the Kinect got unbundled, it's relevance seems to be fading away rather quickly.

Nintendo forgot a ton of things, but one of the most surprising (at least for me) was the lack of a true pokemon game announcement. The series is pretty notorious for yearly releases, with a gap year every now and then - this year must be one of those. The diverse range of other pokemon games available at the moment seem to be filling that void.

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Best Presentation: Unravel
A massive surprise from a massive publisher, we saw a single man come and tug at the heartstrings of the world.
Runner up: No Man's Sky

Best Show: Microsoft
While Sony really hit home with some amazing stuff and I personally loved Bethesda's Fallout 4 showing, Microsoft kicked ass with it's massive lineup of great things for gamers everywhere. There was not a single slip up or dull moment during the Xbox presentation, while delivering everything one could ask for - more amazing games.
Runner up: Sony

Biggest Surprise: Xbox One backwards compatibility
Considering the "backwards compatibility is impossible" stance by both Sony and Microsoft at console launch, this announcement was a huge win for both Microsoft and consumers. While there are a few caveats surrounding the feature, they are pretty minimal - and the fact of how easy it will be for consumers to actually do is fantastic.
Runner up: Unravel

Winner of E3: It sounds corny, but ultimately the gamers. While only a few short years ago the press was lamenting the death of the console, this E3 came through and delivered one of the strongest and most exciting shows to date - giving gamers a hell of a lot to look forward to.

 

That, my friends, is E3 2015 in a nutshell. Of course, there was a ton of things that were missing - there were tons of games on the show floor that didn't even get a mention - but no doubt the best of these will find there way into our minds and hearts in the coming 12 months. I'll be sure to keep you updated with all the best parts as more news stories trickle out across the web.

Until next year!

 

There will be one more article coming that is E3 related - no news though, a more personal one. Stay tuned for that later this week. Normal articles will resume next week!