Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Top Seven Games of E3 2014 and Worst Disappointments

Last night I moved into my usual recording position.  Got my water out, opened Audacity on my computer, then reached over to my table of junk where I usually keep my USB microphone and grasped... nothing.  Dust.  Unfortunately I had returned to California with bags thick with crappy T-shirts labeled with game companies I do not particularly care for (no malice intended, but I could live a full life before becoming a walking billboard for Bethesda) but light on several pieces of important objects, such as my Nintendo DS charger, my USB microphone, and my Sony headphones.  Hopefully some lucky maid found them in my hotel room and is putting them to good use.  Maybe there is some LA teenaged boy is learning how to record himself right now.  Or more likely, they're in the trash.  But despite my attempts to feel magnanimous about my accidental charity, I am quite badly screwed.  So no Freelancin' this week, no Freelancin' next week.  Text posts only for awhile.

This post was intended to be the first Freelancin' upon my return from E3.  Instead I have to equate my voice rhythms using inexact prose, where unfortunately I become much less spontaneous and apparently more long-winded if this sentence is any measure.  After a truly fantastic week of fun, surprisingly little sun, and hype about the huge new video games on the rise, I'm not very used to disappointment, I suspect.  Actually it was one of the better weeks of my life, filled with long days of hard work playing games like a little kid, hanging out with Wikia colleagues, having a purpose beyond just everyday life.  It was hard to leave, my entire flight back was filled with a crushing feeling of sadness in my stomach.  Hopefully it was more fatigue than anything else, I actually wept in an LAX bathroom when I finally had to fly home.  But now I'm back, and I've already spent a weekend doing my day job, it is time to return to my blog and write things up again.

So this post will be the seven best games of E3 2014, the ones that looked the best for whatever reason, even if I personally did not get to play them.  I've picked seven for no particular reason, just because it is a mentally pleasing number.  Also, at the end, I'll throw in three of the worst disappoints - here's a hint, one of them involves a game that rhymes with "Blinal Blantasy Blifteen".

This is what Next-Gen is supposed to look like.
7:  No Man's Sky (PlayStation 4, probably PC) Release Date Unknown

Despite being just an Indie game made by a skeleton crew of four people, "No Man's Sky" was one of the most gorgeous titles of E3 2014.  The game promises to be a procedurally generated universe where you can fly around a neon-colored galaxy in a starfighter, exploring planets full of dinosaurs and fleets of dangerous alien foes.  So far with a pounding electronic score, massive planets full of orange fauna, and just an incredible esthetic, "No Man's Sky" is what next-gen gaming should be.  Not gritty realism, not crude imitations of reality, but dazzling fantasy beyond our wildest dreams.  "No Man's Sky" definitely stole the show at the Sony conference, becoming this amazing surprise that did better to show off the possibilities of the PlayStation 4 console than any AAA publisher.

However, there are niggling problems that keep me from ranking this game higher.  Unfortunately right now nobody really knows what "No Man's Sky" is.  Yes, it is a huge adventure full of self-generating worlds and lifeforms, but we don't really know what Hello Games are trying to do with this game right now.  From what we've seen the game is currently a very gorgeous, very imaginative tech demo.  There is no plot to speak of yet, there is no ultimate goal beyond exploration for exploration's own sake - which unfortunately is not enough to run a major video game.  I'm also cynical enough to wonder if a game of this scale being made by just four people is too much to be true.  Will this game ever really be made?  We will see what "No Man's Sky" will bring, if anything, in the coming years.

There is no war vehicle more stylish than an Indian taxi.
6:  Far Cry 4 (PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC) November 18th, 2014

I've never Far Cry'd before, and it seems that has been a huge oversight on my part.  "Far Cry 3" got amazing reviews, and the Eighties Cyberpunk mash-up "Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon" was one of the most interesting games of last year which I completely ignored.  Why did I ignored them?  Because I'm stupid, I suppose.  "Far Cry 4" honestly looks a lot like "Far Cry 3", which has some people disappointed, since it does not seem to be innovating the franchise beyond a change of setting.  However, an imaginary nation in the Himalayas run by a mad Chinese fashionista with a penchant for blood-soaked selfies*?  You got grappling hooks, wing suits, war elephants, huge 3D mountain environments?  What exactly is there not to be excited about here?  I mean, yeah, you don't actually get to play as the metrosexual dictator, and Ubisoft is really missing a huge opportunity there, but I'm really interested in this game.

I guess the only thing that could ruin this product is if upon release everybody decides that "Far Cry 3" was better.  Or if Ubisoft somehow screws over it's players again with false advertising such as the debacle with "Watch_Dogs".

"I admire its purity. A survivor... unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality."
5: Alien: Isolation (PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC) October 7th, 2014

"Alien: Isolation" is without a doubt the scariest game I have ever played, and that was just the E3 demo.  The story, as I've learned, stars Ellen Ripley's daughter, taking part in spaceflight on board the ship the Sevastopol, which has a minor problem in that it is infested with Aliens.  Aliens that kill you with a single hit.  As a survival horror game, it is one of the most difficult titles I have ever encountered, with an incredibly steep learning curve.  You survive against the Xenomorph hunting you - who is definitely tracking and clearing rooms with disturbingly clever AI - about as well as you would in real life.  Just imagine you're actually in a dim-lit room with a giant drooling alien next to you, how long would you last?  You're just one of the sad extras in the Ridley Scott movie, constantly getting chowed on by this extraterrestrial freak, with almost no hope of survival.  The game was so intense I literally had to stop playing, or else suffer a complete nervous breakdown.

Unfortunately, while that makes for a great twenty minute demo, it does not make for a twelve hour game, or however long "Alien: Isolation" turns out.  You simply cannot push that level of stress upon a gamer for any longer than a few minutes, or else they become completely shell-shocked.  Perhaps this a game that only hardened war veterans could stand.  Luckily other trailers do show there is variety in the combat beyond simply being hunted by an Alien down Ridley Scott hallways.  There are Androids with freaky doll faces and other humans to battle.  One of the clever bits is how you can actually use the Alien to wipe out your foes, or use the humans to distract the Alien to escape.  The game looks great, but I'm not sure if I have the constitution to survive without ruining my entire underwear drawer.

Hey, is that the Plant from "Metal Gear Solid 2" behind Snake?
4:  Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (PlayStation 4, PlayStation3, Xbox One, Xbox 360) Sometime 2015

"Ground Zeroes" opened a lot of unpleasant questions as to the future of Metal Gear Solid.  The game was short, brutish, and not particularly hard, trading in Hideo Kojima's trademark wacky charm for grit and gore exploitation.  You know, like every friggin' AAA video game has these days.  Well, the trailers for "The Phantom Pain" seem to be deeply filled with melodrama and horror, such as Snake covering himself up with Kabuki make-up made from the ashes of his fallen comrades.  Or flashes of scenes of Snake drenched in blood, silhouetted by flames, with some kind of weird shrapnel horn growing out of his forehead.  But apparently the E3 stage demo, which unfortunately I missed, actually put some the fun back into Metal Gear.  Snake jumps out of cardboard boxes with like he's playing a practical joke on his foes, you can kidnap your enemies with a parachute system, or kidnap sheep.

Hopefully we can just forget "Ground Zeroes" and move on to a new Metal Gear adventure.  (Well, it won't be easy to forget the game because I am 90% sure all of "Ground Zeroes" will end up on "The Phantom Pain" disc anyway.)   I'm not saying there is anything wrong with a dark game.  Clearly something went terribly wrong with Snake's life to make him become the legendary monster, Big Boss.  But you still be wacky and fun while torturing your main character, right?  Old Metal Gear games could mix emotional moments with wild B-movie entertainment without feeling moody or pretentious.  What ever happened to the fat dudes on roller skates or the psychics vibrating your controller to prove their powers?  But hey, a huge game filled with stealth options, inventive characters, and hopefully no more vagina bombs, we have something to love here.

3:  Batman: Arkham Knight (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC) Sometime 2015

The gameplay trailer for "Batman: Arkham Knight" was awesome.  It does not appear that Rocksteady has very much changed their formula for their Batman games, they just made it bigger than ever.  Now we have the Batmobile to add into the fun, which has been seamlessly woven into the combat system of the Arkham universe. Batman now can command his mighty metal stead to appear at any location, letting him bridge gaps, launch himself into the air for grappling moves, or take down enemies with anti-personnel weaponry.  Rocksteady also included a vast array of unmanned tanks for Batman to war against in the streets of Gotham, which unfortunately I'm less excited about.  The tank battles seem rather plain, and the fact they're drones is something of a cop out, letting Batman use his greatest weapons without worrying about casualties.  From the demo Rocksteady showed me, the Batmobile is blended well into the game.  It is not replacing the normal brawling of a Batman game, merely adding to the flavor.

On the other hand, the story is as impressive and driving as any Arkham has been before.  The Scarecrow has returned, allying himself with a mysterious armored foe known only as "the Arkham Knight", a man who knows Batman through and through.  Who is this Arkham Knight?  Why does he want Batman dead so badly?**  Ultimately since "Arkham City" is one of my favorite video games - like ever - I really need to play this.  So far "Arkham Knight" is the first truly conclusive argument to buy a next gen system.

2:  Super Smash Bros 4 (WiiU, Nintendo 3DS) October 4th, 2014 and Holiday 2014

Nintendo clearly won E3 this year, with several great arguments for the WiiU.   Yeah, the PS4 and the XBone might have the lion's share of next gen games, but so much of what they were producing looked all the same:  dreary gray shooters.  Nintendo however remains inventive and fun with "Captain Toad:  Treasure Tracker", "Bayonetta 2", "Mario Maker", and "Xenoblade Chronicles X".  But ultimately the second greatest argument for the WiiU is "Smash Bros 4".  By this point if you haven't played Super Smash Bros, you are nobody.  The series so far has created the three greatest fighting games of all time, in my opinion.  The roster is filled to the brim with unique characters, coming together into a chaotic wonderland of action and explosions.  "Smash 4" at this E3 was celebrated with a fan tournament, attended by no less than Masahiro Sakurai, the director of the game, and Reggie Fills-Aime, head of Nintendo of America.  That is how you treat your fans, by putting together a party to celebrate something you love.

"Smash 4" is not merely a retread of old Smash games on a new system.  I mean, it is technically a retreat, there are no wheels being reinvented in 2014, and there's nothing wrong with that, every Smash game has been amazing, and simply adding characters to the roster is enough to make me want the new title.  However, the addition of customizable Miis with unique attacks adds a whole new dimension to the combat, which I suspect will be massively unbalanced.  There are new adventure modes and new campaigns.  This game will be legendary.  "Smash 4" is the best WiiU game so far, and the best game of E3 if not for the best game on this list.


Let me interrupt the positivity for a bit of negativity.

E3 2014 was easily one of the best E3s in a very long time.  Last year was obsessed with hardware, and the previous two years just felt like disappointments overall.  However, this year had lots of great games, these seven alone are just the things that are most burning in my desires.  Beyond them though there is "Persona 4 Arena Ultimax", those WiiU games I mentioned, "Final Fantasy Theatrhythm Curtain Call", and a little known UbiArt game set in World War I, "Valiant Hearts".

Still though, there are the great disappointments of the Expo, and I'm not just referring to the turkey burgers at the cafeteria, which were modern marvels in tasteless cuisine.  Yeah, there were also a large collection of games I simply was unsold on, such as the new Assassin's Creed***.  "Destiny" and "The Order: 1886" looked impressive, but who knows how they will be in real life.  I was amazingly unfazed with "Dragon Age: Inquisition".  "Zelda: Hyrule Warriors" was absolute nothingness to me.   And of course, I could not care less about the new Battlefield and Call of Duty games.  However, what I'm talking about are the real disappointments, the real crushing moments:

Disappointment 3:  The Last Guardian is Cancelled?  Or Not?

IGN reported the day before E3 that "The Last Guardian", Sony's long-delayed follow-up to "Shadow of the Colossus" and "Ico" had been unceremoniously canned behind the scenes.  Then Sony came back within hours to report the title still existed, but had nothing more to say on the matter.  After being announced at E3 2009, "The Last Guardian" has had nothing more to report, not even the slightest trailer.  Every year there's new the game has been cancelled, and every year Sony says "no, we're working on it".  At this point, Sony, why not just admit the truth that everybody else has already learned:  this game is never getting finished.  You are fooling only yourselves at this point.

Or maybe you could come forward and actually discuss the truth of production honestly, instead of sending PR guys to speak stock sentences.  But hey, Sony is hardly alone in being needlessly opaque with its internal titles.  All I know is that I will not be having fun with a giant rat creature friend this year, I will not do it next year, and 2016 is not looking up either.

Disappointment 2:  Sonic Bombs

Sega should have been far more quiet with "Sonic Boom" this year.  Some companies were wise with what they had to show.  There are plenty of games which had only video demos or trailers, or just the slightest CG trailer.  I'm sure if you were to play "Arkham City" in its current state, it would be a disaster.  There are games that are not finished, and that is fine.   However, Sega decided to show "Sonic Boom" in it's full form, revealing a game riddled with glitches, PS2-level graphics, and a completely ill-conceived battle system that could not feel less like a Sonic game.  Sonic cannot run very fast, but he can fight repetitive waves of identical enemies, and fall through the floor to instant deaths.

So if there is a game not to play this holiday season, "Sonic Boom" is it.  You'd think after Sega found the perfect formula for modern Sonic with "Sonic Generations" that the series would have a great future.  Nope.

No, I won't be fucking excited.  You had your chance.
Disappointment 1:  Square Enix in General

I like to imagine that I am not a fool.  I should be able to tell the difference between meaningless hype and a game ready to be shipped within a couple of years.  I should be able to tell when Square Enix is going to completely blow its load again right back into Development Hell and when they are actually ready to ship a new game.  I wasn't expecting too much from Square Enix this year.  "Kingdom Hearts III" clearly was not anywhere near being complete when shown last year, so I knew it would miss this year's E3.  But I thought we had reached the light at the end of the tunnel with "Final Fantasy XV".  Last year's demo was extensive, had gameplay segments, showed off whole planned sequences.

Well, I was wrong.  "Final Fantasy XV" missed E3 and Square Enix had no excuse.  It's bad enough for the game to again be missing major milestones - and let's not pretend that things are going fine behind the scenes or that FFXV will just show up to the next gaming convention as if nothing is wrong, you don't miss E3 with a game that is going fine - but that SE had virtually nothing to say about the project was even worse.  All we got was the same nonsense about "production is running fine" and "please wait a bit more".

You know what, Square Enix?  I've been waiting eight fucking years.  At this point, six sentences is not going to cut it.  I understand you do not owe anybody anything - you're a company, nobody has paid any money, if the game is delayed it is delayed.  But if you want people to still care, you have to learn to stop dicking your fanbase around.  EA had nothing to show with "Mirror's Edge 2", but they at least had a developer show up on camera to talk with the fans and assure everybody that production is continuing.  Simply not showing up with no explanation of any kind is not merely bad PR, but disrespectful to everybody who cares about these games.  And unfortunately, I get the sense that we fans love this series more than Square Enix does.

Noaki Yoshida showed the world how you resurrect an RPG while keeping your fans happy with "Final Fantasy XIV 2.0".  Apparently nobody else got the memo.

Anyway, not to end this post on an angry fanboyist note, here's the best-looking game of E3 2014:

1:  Untitled Zelda (WiiU) Release Date Unknown

Unfortunately I do not have much to say about the new Zelda game.  It does not have a name, the trailer is barely a few dozen seconds, but that is all I need.  It's a new Zelda, it has cel-shaded graphics, and most importantly, it is open world.  It looks like Nintendo has realized the mistakes of "Skyward Sword" and are breaking away from that model of game design as much as possible.  Where "Skyward Sword" was restrictive and limited, this looks sweeping and glorious.  When this game was announced, I screamed like a 1950s schoolgirl at a Frank Sinatra concert.  That is gaming joy.  I feel the hype.  I feel the love.  Game of E3.


And finally, here is me hugging Teddie from "Persona 4":

* As opposed to "blood-soaked Selphies" which only exist in weird "Final Fantasy VIII" fan fiction.

** Because he's Jason Todd.  It is supposed to be a huge mystery, but it's Jason Todd.  Just saying.

*** Yeah, the French Revolution, fine.  I would be much more excited if the game was a fantastic mixture of literary and legendary figures of late 18th and early 19th century France.  Let's get the Three Musketeers, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Chevalier d'Eon, the Count of Monte Cristo, all dancing it up with Jean Valjean and Napoleon.


  1. Sorry to you lost your stuff Blue. Who knows? Maybe that maid will know the items were super important and send them right back to you.

    E3 was okay this year. Although I do have to scald everyone, but Nintendo, about just showing tech demos and Production documentaries. E3 has lost that charm of actually SHOWCASING games and not flashy movies. Only a few games caught my eye and even then they're just console fillers so I'll have something to play on Saturday afternoons. "Day 0" was a bore and I had 0 hype for anything shown.

    But Nintendo is a god send. Nothing, but hit, after hit, after hit. I was entertained from start to finish and my computer was on from sun up to sun down. Nintendo pretty much reassured that buying a Wii U is the best decision.

    1. I second that. I have yet to see the other companies, but at this rate, I almost feel I don't have to. E3 for me was pretty much, and quite literally, Nintendo ALL DAY EVERY DAY for almost an entire week. That was amazing.

  2. Long time reader here, never seen a pic of Blue before, excuse me while I delete it from my mind and replace it with your avatar again.

    In seriousness, I felt this E3 was pretty underwhelming. Nintendo won yeah, but it felt hollow since Nintendo's showing really wasn't all that great compared to what it could have been. Also I felt like the sequences where Reggie destroyed the fan asking for games we've never heard news of was actually kind of, crude and disrespectful.

  3. Aww that sucks about your electronics. But its no problem with text only. Most of us originally came for your text and we still love it.

    I have to say Nintendo did definitely win E3 ( and im not just saying that because im a Nintendo fanboy). I mean new Zelda,starfox,smash bros info and the one im most excited for Xenoblade chronicles x.
    The sequel to what might be my fav game of the last generation, now with giant transformering mechs *grins like a idiot.
    Glad to hear you had a great time at e3 Blue
    Sword Of Primus

  4. You missed Squeenix not bringing Dragon Quest on the 3DS to the West. That after recently "finding out" that traditional RPGs could still sell.

  5. I'm putting in my Money on Quincy Sharp as the Arkham Knight. Jason Todd isn't even in the Arkham Verse

  6. What do you think of kingdom hearts 1.5 and 2.5? I know they are pretty much the same as the ps2 versions but there are new stuff in it so I'm just curious as to your thoughts on them might be.