The big day of press conferences at E3 2014 is now officially behind us, and impressions have been posted about each of them individually, but looking back on an entire day of announcements, what is the overarching message? Two platform holders and two of the biggest publishers in the world have laid out their strategy for keeping us amused. Are there common threads? Well, yes. Here’s what E3 is trying to tell us (so far.)
The People Want Team-Based Co-Op
This is arguably the biggest trend of E3 2014. Competitive multiplayer has been driving the majority of the truly massive hits for the past five years, but the huge surge in popularity for team-based titles, and especially MOBA’s, seems to have finally secured the future of collaborative experiences as something we can expect as defining “next gen.” So many of the biggest demonstrations of the day featured four-player (or more) co-operative play as part of the core experience rather than as modes pushed off to the side as separate escapades.
Arguably the highest profile of these was Ubisoft’s stunning Assassin’s Creed Unity. When we first saw the game at the Microsoft media briefing, the emphasis was far from the usual stealth-based assassinations. As Danny O’Dwyer said during our post show impressions video, “the original was very much a game about spending hours trying to kill one person. In this it was four people butchering the shit out of everyone.”
Ubisoft is fully embracing the concept across many of its titles. Shaun McInnis characterized The Division’s focus on collaborative team play, observing “last year it looked like a shooter with RPG elements. Now it looks like an RPG with shooter elements.” Methodical and purposeful, the demonstrations at E3 have made it clear that successful players will be those that work together. Similarly team-focused was Rainbow Six Siege. Though a five-on-five competitive game, it clearly requires the kind of coordination and thoughtful teamwork that have made games like PayDay 2 so popular.
So many of the biggest demonstrations of the day featured four-player (or more) co-operative play as part of the core experience rather than as modes pushed off to the side as separate escapades.
Sony’s Andrew House described Bungie’s Destiny as “the embodiment of our vision” for PlayStation 4 before going on to gush that it “will help define the next generation of gaming.” A large part of this enthusiasm is the effortlessly seamless way it integrates co-operative play into the ongoing narrative.
Crackdown, the Unreal Engine 4-powered reboot helmed by original series creator David Jones demonstrated Microsoft’s own dedication to team play, as did Fable Legends which showed a clear emphasis on players working as part of a four-person party. Even the hilariously-titled Super Ultra Dead Rising 3 Arcade Remix Hyper Edition EX Plus Alpha Prime is focused on four player co-op.
Turtle Rock’s Evolve has already been well-exposed for its four-player, beast-bashing co-operative play, and it continues to impress more with each successive showing. Interestingly, like many of the games shown this year, it embraces the Counter Strike approach to collaboration - where goals and team needs are conveyed through the actions taken by the players and their very specific roles, more than people just yelling at each other to “kill the big monster.”
Speaking of big monsters…
The People Want Big Monsters
Yeah, they’re kind of a thing now. Dragon Age Inquisition has huge dragons, Fable Legends has giant orcs, Evolve has now shown two of its whoppers - the muscular Goliath and the Cthulhu-faced Kraken, Sunset Overdrive has gigantic mutants, The Witcher 3 has a huge griffin, and Platinum Games’ Scalebound is all about beating the stuffing out of big dragon things. Even Call of Duty Advanced Warfare tried to get in on the act a little with it’s humungous walking robotanks. It seems that the consensus is that there’s no better way to show that something is properly “next gen” than conveying a sense of awesome scale with giant creatures.
Makes you wonder why a certain Sony title with very large creatures in it didn’t make an appearance, right?
The People Want Old Games Remade and Rebooted
Grand Theft Auto V, The Last of Us, Halo, Crackdown, Phantom Dust…and that’s just the list of games that popped up in media briefings already. E3 will no doubt be full of many more reboots, remasters, reimaginings and redux editions. Are we all really going to be satisfied by older games with new licks of paint, or franchises spooled back to the beginning? Whether it’s what you’re looking for or not, the message from E3 so far is clear; for some franchises, publishers want us to think of things starting over with PS4 and Xbox One.
The People Want Everything Dark and Grim
To be fair, not every game was a demonstration of gaming’s seemingly interminable grimness, but let’s face it - there was a lot of horror and suffering. Gaming isn’t unique in this regard, the majority of popular entertainment seems to harbor an infatuation with oppression and savagery lately, but regardless - when you experience any of it as a sustained glut of information like we did during four consecutive livestreams, it can seem much more apparent. Cynically put, it’s starting to come across as little more than desperate attempts to be “contemporary.”
To be fair, not every game was a demonstration of gaming’s seemingly interminable grimness, but let’s face it - there was a lot of horror and suffering.
Call of Duty Advanced Warfare kicked off the day with its futuristic apocalyptica, and also ushered in a side-order of dismemberment that was later fully championed by Assassin’s Creed Unity and Mortal Kombat X. The Division, though a spectacular-looking game, bummed us all out with its post-pandemic gloom, and then the new Lara Croft game Rise of the Tomb Raider humanized the heroine wonderfully, while also hinting at an even darker experience than last year’s eponymous reboot.
Elsewhere EA’s new cops vs. bad guys shooter Battlefield Hardline dialed the darkness and destruction up to 11, The Order 1886 doubled down on its horror themes, while Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain paired beatings, stabbings, and more beatings to Mike Oldfield’s (yes, that Mike Oldfield. The Tubular Bells guy) appropriately grim song “Nuclear.”
At the extreme end of the scale, From Software’s much-anticipated Bloodborne (previously known as Project Beast) reveled in its gore, while Suda51’s Let it Die juxtaposed its horror with a logo sporting the grim reaper riding a skateboard. At least there’s a glimmer of humor there, however dark.
When the relief came, it felt wonderfully refreshing. Little Big Planet 3, though seemingly plagued by the same control issues that have driven us crazy so many times before, was exhilarating because of its charm. Sunset Overdrive, though technically post-apocalyptic, felt fresh thanks to its 90s-style bodacious goofiness.
Highlight of the day though, was Hello Games’ procedurally-generated, epic exploration game No Man’s Sky. At a time when the majority of sci-fi games are dark, foreboding, and mostly humorless, it’s something that harkens back to the golden age of 1960s sci-fi. It felt hopeful, sprawling, ambitious, and beautiful. Plus, it’s an indie game made by just four people in the UK, and it arguably outclassed just about everything else in town.