Sunday, June 28, 2015

Bit by Bit: E3 2015 Wrap-up

E3 is over for another year and I got to say: what a wonderful show.  While there some bumps along the way, E3 2015 was one of the best in a long time.  During this nearly week long expo, we saw incredible feats of game mastery, pipe dreams become reality and the next generation of gaming finally live up to all the hype.

Although there are some issues the video game industry still faces such as the ever-rising cost of AAA development or the instability of jobs, E3 2015 made us forget about all the negativity and focus on the fundamentals of this art form: fun, imagination and community.  All the silly Muppet skits, excessive gum flapping and surreal moments of celebrity interjection cannot compare to the excitement of the Nintendo World Championships, the tears brought on from the Final Fantasy VII Remake and Shenmue III reveals, and the blood-pumping gameplay trailers for highly anticipated titles like Star Wars Battlefront, Kingdom Hearts III and The Last Guardian.  

E3 2015 was a show that will reverberate throughout the annals of video game history.  To wrap-up this great event, Silver Bit presents a special E3 2015 edition of Bit by Bit.

Winner of E3 2015
With all the stiff competition, I thought it would be a hard decision to pick the winner of E3 2015.  Nintendo blew things out of the park with their World Championships and constant Treehouse Live coverage only to falter in the most important area: the Digital Event.  Microsoft came out swinging with the announcement of Xbox One backwards compatibility and showing live demos for their biggest titles, but seemed to undermine their momentum by announcing a good number of their Xbox One "exclusives" for PC as well.  Both Bethesda and Ubisoft took a step back to let the games do the talking for them yet did little in terms of delivering truly shocking surprises.  At the end of the day, all these great performances could not stand up to the unstoppable force that is Sony.

Sony may not have delivered much in terms of bolstering their lineup for 2015, but they did make us forget about it with all the bombshells they dropped.  For a solid hour-and-a-half, Sony delivered a steady stream of the most exciting and enticing gameplay trailers and demos at the show.  Out of all the great games shown off at Sony's presser, there were three that took it from great to legendary: The Last Guardian, Final Fantasy VII Remake and Shenmue III.  Sony literally made dreams come true by showing them off that fateful Monday night.  They also serviced both the old and the new by announcing three of the most wanted games in the past decade and showing off brand new IPs like Horizon: Zero Dawn, No Man's Sky and Dreams.

For the third year in a row, Sony showed that the PS4 is THE system to own this generation.  Even though Sony's lineup for 2015 is rather sparse, the incredible wave of good will coming off of their performance at E3 2015 along with some smart partnerships with Activision, EA and Warner Bros. might be enough to solidify the PS4s huge lead on the competition.

Surprise of E3 2015
There isn't much else to say about my pick for the Surprise of E3 2015.  In fact, arguments can be made for any of the big three surprises from the Sony press conference.  Personally, my pick is Shenmue III because it came out of nowhere.  With how much Sega has been suffering in recent years, never in my wildest dreams did I expect Shenmue III to get the funding needed for development.  To see Shenmue III caught me off-guard, which left me stunned and a little choked up.  The last surprise to affect me that much was the Kid Icarus: Uprising reveal back in 2010.

Trailer of E3 2015
Funny enough, this year's E3 wrap-up has turned into the Sony show.  In all honesty, there was great stuff from everybody at the show and I would love to highlight it all, but this wrap-up isn't the place for that.  I'm here to highlight the best from E3 2015 and the truth is Sony had the best stuff this year.

Out of everything Sony showed at E3, one title blew me away.  That game was Horizon: Zero Dawn.  Horizon is Guerrilla Games' brand new property that switches out the first-person shooting of Killzone for a third-person adventure game set in a pre-historic/post-apocalyptic mishmash.  Hearing the premise is compelling in of itself, but watching the game in motion is breathtaking.  Seeing the female lead move between stalking mechanical dinosaurs and hiding in bushes along with the fluid fight with the robot T-Rex gives the impression that there are many ways to tackle enemies.  Watching the trailer over again, Horizon looks like a next generation version of Monster Hunter with fluid combat and mechanical monsters to slay, which has me even more intrigued.

If it was playable on the show floor, Horizon would easily nab the number one spot on my Top Games of E3 2015 list.  Unfortunately, all Sony brought to E3 was this awe-inspiring trailer that has me craving for more.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

E3 2015: Square Enix Press Conference Impressions

Along with Bethesda, Square Enix is one of the new kids on the press conference block.  They used to have press conferences at E3, but it has been a long while since their last conference.  With Square Enix's big presence at both the Microsoft and Sony press conferences, did they save enough for their very own press conference?

Square Enix did save enough to fill their 90 minute conference, but the great number of titles shown didn't translate into an interesting presentation.  In actuality, it was a boring show that saw a lot more gum flapping than gameplay footage.  At certain points throughout the conference, I closed my eyes and just listened to the corporate jargon the presenters were throwing around.  The show must have been putting the translator to sleep since he had some problems keeping up with the presenters at times.

For all the great titles that Square Enix had to offer this year, it was frustrating to see time wasted rehashing the exact same trailers for Rise of the Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy VII and World of Final Fantasy that were shown at other press conferences or worthless "behind-the-scenes" trailers that could've been replaced by actual gameplay footage.  Don't have two random animators from Disney tell us about a Tangled world in Kingdom Hearts III, show it as part of the gameplay trailer.

Speaking of Kingdom Heart III, the gameplay trailer was the best thing on this show.  It hinted at the story, showed off the combat system and highlighted some dramatic special moves including the use of Disney theme park attractions as weapons.  Aside from Kingdom Hearts III, the Just Cause 3, Hitman and Star Ocean trailers were the only other standouts from this show.  Everything else just felt like white noise; even the Deus Ex; Mankind Divided trailer which Square Enix was hyping weeks before the conference.

As their first press conference in God knows when, Square Enix performed far worse than anybody could of predicted with their large lineup of games.  At its best, the conference was passable.  At its worst, the conference was like an uncoordinated powerpoint presentation.  Square Enix may need a phoenix down after this dull show.

Grade:  D

E3 2015: Nintendo Digital Event Impresions

In recent years, Nintendo has pulled back from the traditional E3 presence.  Instead of the tried-and-true press conference and booth combination, Nintendo has opted to provided a constant stream of content from the Nintendo World Championships to the daily Treehouse Live stream.  The crown jewel of Nintendo's week is their Digital Event, a special one hour video that highlights their biggest titles for the upcoming year.  With the Wii U Legend of Zelda skipping the show, could Nintendo announce some titles to fill that void this holiday season?

Nintendo didn't have one single answer to that question as they went for a sheer numbers approach.  Starting with Super Mario Maker, there will be eight titles across Wii U and 3DS, including Star Fox Zero, Xenoblade Chronicles X and Yoshi's Woolly World, releasing this Fall.  While there may not be a single title that will move tons 3DS and Wii U units, this is one of the most robust lineups Nintendo has had for the holidays in a long time.

Looking at the Digital Event as a whole, its content was good, but the video was completely underwhelming and disjointed.  Nintendo tried so hard to be charming and wacky with the puppet skits, but it came off as embarrassing awkward.  Also the announcement of certain games felt out of place.

Although I am not as upset about the Metroid Prime 3DS games as others, the way Nintendo just unceremoniously dumped it on us was a little insulting, especially for longtime fans.  Federation Force and Blast Ball are two refreshing new takes on the franchise that I look forward to seeing more of, but these titles shouldn't have been the only Metroid announcement of the show.  Plus the huge focus on Super Mario Maker and Mario's 30th Anniversary was a little lackluster considering the Nintendo World Championships did such an incredible job promoting that game.  I will admit, revealing that the Mario transitions were actually the Amiibo support for Super Mario Maker was awesome.

While Nintendo's Digital Event felt lackluster as a whole, there were some titles that really impressed me.  Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes looks to be the Four Swords sequel/co-op Zelda I've been craving for a long time.  The ability to play core Zelda dungeons with others both on and offline is great.  The proper return of Mario Tennis with Ultra Smash for Wii U was exciting to see.  If Nintendo adds in robust online multiplayer to the game, it could be up there with Mario Kart, Smash Bros. and Splatoon as another great multiplayer game for Wii U.  Last but not least, Level 5's Yo-Kai Watch was impressive as it had a great amount of charm and some unique RPG elements that looks to appeal to all ages.

The easiest way to describe Nintendo's Digital Event is a mixed bag.  All the games showed off looked to be a lot of fun and it gave perfect picture of Nintendo's holiday lineup, which looks to be their best in a long time.  The show just didn't have the cohesion or a big punch to keep fans from felling a little disappointed.  Plus where on Earth is Retro Studios!?

Grade:  C+

E3 2015: Sony Press Conference Impressions

There is no need for a cool intro because I'm just going to get to the point.  Sony put on one of the greatest E3 press conferences ever.  If you thought their performance two years ago when they stabbed the knife into Microsoft's heart and just kept digging it in was amazing, this show was light years greater than that one.  I have never been physically exhausted from watching a press conference due to all the cheering, smiling and hysterical laughing I did throughout the show.

Sony started their presser by re-revealing The Last Guardian for PS4 and didn't slow down until a hour into it.  Each game in that hour from the large AAA titles to the small indie titles hit it out of the park.  The pace was just rapid fire one after the other with little time to rest, but that breakneck speed made everyone in the audience and watching across the globe experience an unimaginable sense of adrenaline.

Every title at Sony's press conference, except for Call of Duty: Black Ops III and its generic explosion-fest of a demo, had an impressive showing.  Even among the masses of great titles, there were a few standouts.  Guerilla Games' new IP Horizon: Zero Dawn could of easily closed the show with its unique premise, compelling gameplay and freaking robot dinosaurs!  Naughty Dog made the Uncharted 4 delay even more unbearable thanks to a wonderful demo following Drake and Sully's misadventures through a South American town.  Media Molecule's game Dreams intrigued with its ability to literally mold anything you want into reality be it a game, film or piece of interactive media.

On top of all that, Sony dropped some mind-blowing surprises that left many jaws gaping, eyes popping and tears flowing.  Sony started off with a cool trailer for a brand new Hitman game followed by giving us a charming crossover in World of Final Fantasy.  Then the bombs started dropping.  Right after the World of Final Fantasy reveal, Sony announced the heavily-requested full remake of Final Fantasy VII, which had people going bonkers.  If you didn't think that was enough, Sony made waves upon unveiling Shenmue III's existence.  I will be honesty, I choked up when the Shenmue III trailer appeared on the screen; I couldn't believe what I was watching.  It was a magical moment to say the least.

Although I have been singing this conferences praises, it did slow down considerably after the first hour.  The clear change in pace came from an out-of-place montage that should have gone at the end of the show instead of right in the middle.  Seriously, I thought the show was over when they played that montage.  Sony did bounce back with some Project Morpheus updates, exclusive packages for Disney Infinity 3.0 and a new gameplay trailer for Star Wars Battlefront.  It was almost all for naught when Sony ran into some difficulties connecting controllers for the Uncharted demo, but it was fixed thanks to a timely reset.

Even with a few hiccups and a generic demo, Sony's E3 2015 press conference will be immortalized for its breakneck pace, mind-blowing surprises and impressive games.  While I am disappointed that Sony did nothing to bolster their offerings this holiday season, 2016's lineup will sure make up for it in spades.

Grade:  A+

Monday, June 15, 2015

E3 2015: Ubisoft Press Conference Impressions

2014 was a less than stellar year for Ubisoft's reputation as Watch Dogs fell far short of its hype and Assassin's Creed: Unity was shipped as a broken mess.  Despite Ubisoft's best efforts to fix the situation, many felt betrayed by Ubisoft's transgressions.  So the French publisher had something to prove coming into E3 2015.  The question was: could they deliver?

For how many games Ubisoft crammed into a 60 minutes, the conference moved at an incredible pace.  The hour flew by before you knew it as Ubisoft. much like Bethesda, let the games do the talking for them.  For every minute spent talking, three or more was spent showing live gameplay or pre-rendered trailers.  While I do prefer gameplay over trailers any day, the trailers that Ubisoft showed at their conference were short, sweet and incredibly produced.  My personal favourite was Trials Fusion Awesome Level Max's trailer, which saw a gun-toting cat riding a fire-breathing unicorn.  No, I'm not on crack!  It really happened!

The biggest plus from Ubisoft's conference was most certainly the live demos.  Seeing all those titles played live, including the newly announced For Honor, The Division, Rainbow Six: Siege and TrackMania Turbo, gave me a much better impression on all of them.  I'm actually excited to play all of them.  From a medieval melee combat to a tactical shooter to an arcade racer, there was incredible amount of diversity between the titles demoed and on the show as a whole.

Also, I have to praise Ubisoft for being the only publisher in the video game industry that can actually keep a secret.  There were no leaks or rumours about South Park: The Fractured But Whole, Ghost Recon Wildlands or a new IP in For Honor being set for Ubisoft's press conference.  Not having any prior knowledge on those games made all the surprises feel special, something that rarely happens nowadays.

It wasn't all sunshine and rainbows at Ubisoft's press conference.  There were some problems when it came to presentation.  It has become par for the course that Ubisoft brings in some celebrities to host, make appearances or even sing, but it never usually ends well.  The same can be said for this year's show.  Aisha Tyler tirelessly tried to inject some humour into the conference, but seemed to make things awkward ever single time.  Angela Bassett talking about her role as Six in Rainbow Six: Siege was completely worthless.  And to top it all off, Jason Derulo showed the world that he cannot sing—or he might of just hit puberty—in a moment that was so gloriously awful that it came off as being incredibly funny.  Like watching a train wreck, you couldn't turn your attention away from it.

Despite the problems with the conference's presentation, Ubisoft's press conference was a highly entertaining show.  It let the games stand as the sole focus and kept Aisha Tyler's on-stage shenanigans to a minimum.  You know it's going to be a good show from Ubisoft when the only reference to Tyler's girlwood is her necklace.

Grade:  A-

E3 2015: EA Press Conference Impressions

Aside from recent releases like Dragon Age: Inquisition and Battlefield: Hardline, EA hasn't had the best few years.  Buggy launches, poor customer support and selling certain titles without being feature complete are a few examples of EA's sins over the past few years.  Last year's EA press conference didn't make things any better as they put on possibly the worst press conference I ever had the dishonour of watching.  There is no way that EA could put on two bad performances in a row, right?

Let us start with the good news, EA's press conference was better than last year's showing.  The bad news is that isn't saying much.  In all honesty, EA has a great lineup of games under their umbrella; they just can't seem to translate that quality to the stage.  When a conference with Mass Effect, Mirror's Edge and Star Wars almost puts you to sleep, there is something wrong.

The reason that EA had problems in translating quality to their stage performance was that they spent too much time telling instead of showing.  The actual game demos showed at the conference combined for a run time of maybe 20 minutes.  For a 90 minute press conference, that's unacceptable.  Also whoever thought splitting EA Sports into four excruciatingly boring and unnecessarily long segments to fill time should be fired along with the person who thought having an interview with soccer legend Pele was a good use of time.

Out of all the bad, there were a couple of diamonds in the rough.  Star Wars Battlefront had a phenomenal demo that expertly replicated the scale and grandeur of the Battle for Hoth from Empire Strikes Back.  In five minutes, DICE showed first and third-person perspectives, vehicle combat (which includes controlling AT-ATs) and playable hero characters all to a great amount of fanfare.  Other than Battlefront, the only other game to truly impress was Unravel, a puzzle platformer with unique mechanics revolving around yarn.  While I have a feeling Unravel will be a smaller title in EA's lineup, it has the potential of stacking up their with other great mascot platformers like LittleBigPlanet and Mario.

If it wasn't for Star Wars Battlefront and Unravel, EA's 2015 press conference would have served as a good time for a nap or a bathroom break.  EA seems to bark to the heavens that they understand their fans, but they are so out of touch that it's hilarious.  Gamers don't watch your E3 press conference to hear about your onslaught of yearly sports games, we want the Battlefronts, Mass Effects, Mirror's Edges and Unravels to be the focus of your show.  Until EA understands that fact, they will suffer the same negative reaction year-in and year-out.

Grade:  D+

E3 2015: Microsoft Press Conference Impressions

Microsoft and the Xbox One has been reeling since their infamous performance at E3 2013.  Microsoft hasn't truly won back the support of gamers and the Xbox One is suffering because of it.  What Microsoft needs to do is announce titles that gamers can only find on the Xbox One and commit to shipping them in a timely manner.  The last thing they need is to repeat last year's good showing with no followup.  In fact, three key exclusives from last year's show (Crackdown, Scalebound and Quantum Break) aren't even going to be at E3 2015.  So does Microsoft have a few aces up their sleeve or are we in for another disappointing performance?

After 90 minutes, I can safely say that was Microsoft's best conference in recent memory.  While nothing at the conference was mind-blowing, it had a good mix of new and existing titles along with a couple surprises.

Microsoft's big strength at this conference was live demos.  The live demos for Halo 5, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Minecraft on Hololens and Gears 4 were all well done and highly entertaining to watch.  Out of the all the live demos, the Minecraft on Hololens demo was the best as it perfectly showed the potential of using holograms to interact with games in brand new ways.  Also it was nice to see a greater focus on survival horror and more proportional characters for Gears 4.

Outside of the demos, Microsoft had some solid announcements around exclusive content for Xbox One.  Comcept and Armature's Recore with an intriguing mechanic revolving around building up a team of friendly robots shows loads of potential.  Rare Replay and Sea of Thieves both look to recapture the spirit of Rare's former glory in the forms of a compilation and new IP respectively.  Even the ID@Xbox showcase and Xbox Game Preview unveiling were fun to watch although the approach seemed to be very familiar to Sony's way of highlighting indies at E3.

The one area where the Microsoft conference faltered was when it came to third-parties.  Aside from the Dark Souls III and Plants vs. Zombie: Garden Warfare 2 reveals, they spent a good third of the conference on titles like Fallout 4, The Division and Rainbow Six: Siege without breaking any new ground on them.  In particular, the "exclusive" Fallout 4 gameplay was the same demo from the Bethesda conference with a minute of new content.  On top of that, EA had an embarrassing showing of their EA Access subscription service.  I feel a little sorry for Peter Moore as every announcement he made fell on deaf ears, but the fact is gamers aren't going to respond to EA's crap no matter how nice you make it sound.

While Xbox One backwards compatibility does fall under the good from this conference, I am little skeptical on its functionality.  As Microsoft traditionally loves to do when they take about certain console features, they were very vague in how they outlined backwards compatibility for Xbox One.  Also they made a quick mention to downloading the 360 game to the Xbox One when you put in the game disc.  Due to the vague terminology, I have a feeling that Xbox One backwards compatibility won't be how everybody believes it will be.

Overall, Microsoft's E3 2015 press conference delivered where it counts: first-party content.  It was a relief to see Microsoft pull back from relying on third-parties so much and come more into their own.  Although we won't know if Microsoft can follow-up on these promises until months down the line, they did build the positive momentum needed at this point in time.

Grade:  B+