Monday, July 14, 2014

Shovel Knight Review

No matter the advancements in video game technology and graphics, there will always be fond memories of the games from generations past.  In the last decade, there has been a large resurgence of new titles which take heavy inspiration from the games of the 8 and 16-bit era.  Some games use this old style of graphics and gameplay in order to capitalize on its newfound popularity; others use this style to pay homage to the games of that era.  Very few games use these inspirations to set a new standard in the modern games.  Although it takes inspiration from 8-bit classics like Mega Man, Super Mario Bros., Castlevania and DuckTales, Yacht Club Games' Shovel Knight makes every mechanic its own and even surpasses those which inspired it.

Harkening back to the games of yesteryear, Shovel Knight's story is simple and to the point.  Shovel Knight and his companion Shield Knight journey across the land seeking adventure and treasure.  One fateful day, they attempt to climb the Tower of Fate only to have tragedy strike as the evil forces of the tower take out both Shovel and Shield Knight.  Upon awakening, Shovel Knight finds that Shield Knight has vanished and the Tower of Fate is sealed.  Due to the loss of Shield Knight, Shovel Knight retires his shovel and starts a life of seclusion.  During Shovel Knight's absence, the Enchantress and her Order of No Quarter ravage the land by unsealing the evil forces trapped within the Tower of Fate.  With the Tower of Fate opened, Shovel Knight takes up his shovel once again in a quest to save Shield Knight and rid the world of the Enchantress' evil.

While Shovel Knight may borrow many of its core ideas from other classics of the 8-bit era, these points of inspiration are one of its strengths.  From the pogo jumping inspired by DuckTales to an overworld similar to Super Mario Bros. 3, Shovel Knight takes each borrowed concept and makes it feel brand new and distinctly its own.  At the forefront of this adventure is the hero's signature and formidable shovel.  Digging up dirt piles, attacking enemies, uncovering hidden areas and bouncing off of enemies to reach high platforms are among the few uses for this versatile tool.  The shovel can even be upgraded with special abilities such as a charge attack or unearthing dirt piles in one swipe for greater use.  The shovel is not the only versatile tool at Shovel Knight's disposal as the relics bought throughout the game all provide different ways of tackling obstacles.  Shovel Knight's tools would be useless without Yacht Club Games' superbly designed levels.  Much like Mega Man, each level plays to the unique features of their corresponding boss through beautifully animated backgrounds, blood-pumping music and special gameplay twists.  Outside of the levels, Shovel Knight offers plenty of content for players to dive into including collectible music sheets, purchasable health, mana and armour upgrades, extra bosses, special levels and achievements.

The gruelling difficulty is a signature aspect of all 8-bit games.  In order to appeal to a modern audience, Shovel Knight is much easier than those games.  Not to say Shovel Knight is easy in any way because it is definitely not.  The difficulty in the game ramps up at a reasonable pace as players learn the ins-and-outs of the mechanics.  It helps that the penalty for death is losing three sacks of gold rather than a game over screen.  It keeps players coming back at every death and skilled players can even retrieve those lost sacks their next attempt.  You learn from each death and adapt your strategy to take into account every enemy encounter and new obstacle.  The incredible feats one can perform to escape death will make any jaw drop.  For those looking for a greater challenge, New Game + and the ability to destroy any checkpoint for gold are two ways to test your skills.

Aside from the few occurrences when the gold lost in death is impossible to reach without dying again and the lack of enemy variety in certain levels, there is nothing to fault Shovel Knight on.  Yacht Club Games made an excellent product that pays respect to the games that inspired its gameplay and design while forging a new path of its own.  In forging that new path, Shovel Knight surpasses its contemporaries in all aspects, especially fun.  Shovel Knight is a special game that blends nostalgia for a bygone era with the pixel perfect platforming of today's best 2D sidescrollers.  At 15 dollars, Shovel Knight is a game nobody should miss.  As it stands, Shovel Knight is a strong contender for any Game of the Year competition.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Top 10 Games of E3 2014 Part 2

Welcome to the second part of Silver Bit's Top 10 Games of E3 2014.  In the previous article, we took a look at the games that just barely made this final five.  E3 2014 saw some great games grace the show floor, but only a handful can walk away as the most impressive games of the show.  While all the games on this list are among the best of E3, the games in this top five could easily walk away with top honours depending on one's opinion.  To reiterate,  the only games eligible for this list are those available to play on the show floor.  Now with that reminder out of the way, it is time to count down the final five games in Silver Bit's Top 10 Games of E3 2014.  Hope you enjoy and feel free to share your favourite games of E3 2014 in the comments.
5.  Sunset Overdrive - XBONE
There are only a select few Xbox One exclusives that really get one hopeful for first-party content on the machine and Insomniac Games' Sunset Overdrive is champion over them all.  All of Microsoft's offerings nowadays seem to fall under the same experiences they delivered last generation, but Sunset Overdrive is the shining example of what happens when you give a team of creative minds full control over their vision.  Sunset Overdrive is pure unadulterated fun wrapped into an open-world third-person action game.  Stuck in Sunset City during the Awesompocolypse, the player is tasked with cleaning up the mess made by the launch of FizzCo's Overcharge Delirium XT, an energy drink that turns anyone who drinks into mindless mutated creatures known as the OD'd.  Sunset Overdrive gives players tons of options to tackle their task through fully customizable characters, a slew of creatively designed weapons and plenty of solo and multiplayer missions to complete throughout Sunset City.  Traversing Sunset City is incredibly fluid as players are able to wall run, grind rails and wires, instantly switch between grinding and zip-lining, bounce off of any surface and use other crazy acrobatics.  Although Microsoft will not push Sunset Overdrive as heavily as Halo or Forza, it is a game that Xbox One owners should not overlook this holiday season.
4.  Valiant Hearts: The Great War - PS3, PS4, XBONE, XB360, PC
The UbiArt engine has proven time and time again that the most beautiful games do not need to have the largest polygon count.  In fact, the art in 2D games can be just as beautiful or even more than their 3D counterparts; just look at Rayman Legends and Child of Light for proof.  Valiant Hearts: The Great War is the next title to use the UbiArt engine and the game looks spectacular in terms of its visuals and gameplay.  Valiant Hearts follows the story of four individuals as they try to survive the horrors of World War I.  Starting in different locations and allegiances, the stories of each character interconnect with one another through a common companion--a dog named Walt.  Throughout the game, the characters are thrust into various situations from sneaking behind enemy lines to blowing up bridges.  Valiant Hearts offers players plenty of puzzles to complete through interacting with the environment and other characters or sending Walt to reach areas the characters cannot normally reach.  The interplay between using the characters and Walt to solve puzzles and the mature tones of the story have me very excited to venture into the world of Valiant Hearts in the near future.
3.  Batman: Arkham Knight - PS4, XBONE, PC
In recent years, The Dark Knight has become an incredible force within the video game industry thanks to the folks at Rocksteady.  One can argue that the Batman: Arkham games are single-handedly the greatest licensed games to grace the market.  As the final entry in this acclaimed series, Rocksteady looks to pull no punches with Arkham Knight as Batman and his world are being supercharged with new abilities and content.  The moment from the E3 demo where Batman steps out onto the balcony of his hideout and peers out onto Rockstady's Gotham City will make anybody's jaw drop.  The expansiveness of this open world is breathtaking and I can see myself drowning hundreds of hours exploring every nook and cranny of Gotham City.  With how vast Gotham City will be in Arkham Knight, Batman needs another way to traverse the city than just his trusty grappling hook and cape.  For this final installment, the Batmobile has been added to The Dark Knight's arsenal.  Aside from the vehicles primary purpose, Batman can summon the Batmobile at will, use it to immobilize enemies, have it clear obstacles and launch himself into the air.  The Batmobile is not the only addition as Batman's combat and stealth abilities are receiving considerable upgrades in speed and precision.  Although Batman: Arkham Knight will no longer be gracing consoles this year, the game looks to be on the road to surpassing its predecessors' legendary quality.
2.  Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS - Wii U, 3DS
Arguably the most anticipated game of 2014, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS had one of the best showings of the show.  Nintendo went out of their way to make Super Smash Bros. the most important game of the show.  They gave fans three character reveals in Mii Fighters, Palutena and Pac Man, an incredible live tourney held in the Nokia Theatre and multiple kiosks to play on the show floor.  Seeing the two versions in motion is a thing of beauty.  The Wii U version flows at an incredible clip and all the new characters, stages and items look to fit in with the polished gameplay.  While the 3DS version may take some time to get use to the controllers as I have heard from many video impressions on the game, it looks just as polished and refined as its Wii U brethren.  Much like Far Cry 4 in part one, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS are both hard to sum up in words.  I highly recommend watching the Super Smash Bros. Invitational or one of the live demos from Nintendo Treehouse Live at E3 to see how great these games play.
1.  The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - PS4, XBONE, PC
As great as Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS may be, there is one game greater than it this year.  That game is The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.  Not much has been shown of Witcher 3 since its reveal back in early 2013, but CD Projekt RED let the floodgates loose at E3.  The Witcher 3 gives players a living, breathing open world to explore.  In fact, the map is 30 times larger than the previous Witcher games.  Plus the amount of freedom in The Witcher 3 is incredible as players can venture to any part of the map at any time and pick up and put down story and side quests whenever they choose.  On your way to a quest objective and feel like helping a traveler in distress along the way or starting up a whole other quest, you are free to do that without penalty.  The world is shaped around the player's choices in combat, regular conversation and pivotal story moments.  Every piece of media for The Witcher 3 from E3 has been nothing short of phenomenal from the blood-pumping pre-E3 trailer to the show floor demos.  While The Witcher 3 may not earn the same amount of money Elder Scrolls, Dragon Age or Mass Effect rake in, this game and its ambitious scope prove why anybody should spend close to 600 dollars on a next generation console.  The next generation of video gaming truly begins on February 24th, 2015 with the release of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Top 10 Games of E3 2014 Part 1

Silver Bit's month long coverage of E3 2014 comes to an end with the annual Top Games of E3 list.  This year yours truly is going to switch things up as this list will be a Top 10 list instead of the Top 5 lists from previous years.  Due to the change, it will be hard to contain all these games in one article.  To solve the problem, I will be splitting the list into two parts with part one covering numbers 10 through 6 while part two covers numbers 5 through 1.  As I could not physically go to Los Angeles to experience E3 in person, efforts have been made to watch as much gameplay footage available online to narrow down the best games for this list.  Like in years past, the only games eligible for this list are those available to play on E3's show floor.  Without any further stipulations, let us count down the first five games in Silver Bit's Top 10 Games of E3 2014.
10.  Mario Maker - Wii U
If there is one Nintendo property that people have grown tired of over the years, it is Mario.  Mario releases may come at an accelerated rate these days, but you cannot blame Nintendo for sticking with what sells especially when they need it the most.  I will admit that Mario's 2D platformers have not added much to the formula since New Super Mario Bros. for the DS.  Mario's recent stagnation in two dimensions makes Mario Maker such a breath of fresh air.  Giving the player full freedom to create whatever 2D Mario level their heart desires in such an official form is a dream come true.  Mario Maker allows players to build levels using classic Mario assets such as blocks, warp pipes, goombas and koopas, two different styles of graphics (original NES graphics and the New Super Mario Bros. graphics) and the ability to instantly switch between editing and playing levels at any time.  Mario Maker is the next logical step in taking 2D Mario games to a whole new level.  There is an incredible amount of potential in placing the creation of new Mario levels in the hands of the players and this writer is excited to see what crazy contraptions come from it.
9.  Evolve - PS4, XBONE, PC
Coming from the minds that brought us classic cooperative shooter Left 4 Dead, Evolve looks to take competitive and cooperative shooters in a brand new direction.  Evolve is a four vs. one multiplayer shooter where the team of four has to work together to beat the one.  It might seem very unfair if the one was not a gigantic monster.  With this unique dynamic, matches involve much more than straight-up firefights.  Playing as the monster involves taking advantage of the moment-to-moment action to decide between striking the opposing team or avoiding combat in order to eat roaming creatures needed to evolve into more powerful stages.  On the other hand, the hunters need to work effectively as a team in order to track down and kill the monster before it becomes too much for the team to handle.  Matches in Evolve become hectic games of cat-and-mouse as both sides wrestle for control of territory and resources while contending with the unpredictable computer-controlled creatures that inhabit each map.  Since Turtle Rock Studios announced the game this past January, Evolve has been nothing but impressive especially with its showings at this year's E3.
8.  CounterSpy - PS3, PS4, PSV
Not much has been seen of Dynamighty's PlayStation exclusive outside the trailer found on PS4 demo kiosks across North America.  Considering CounterSpy is being published by Sony, one would have thought the gaming giant would make mention of it at their press conference.  In fact, the only footage available of CounterSpy at E3 is from the demo on the show floor.  It is a shame because of how great CounterSpy plays.  CounterSpy is a side-scrolling stealth game that has players sneaking through enemy bases in order to prevent nuclear war between the United States and Russia.  Trusted with a silenced pistol and stealth know-how, the player jumps between cover, shooting and taking out enemies on the fly.  In particular, the cover mechanics for the game are very interesting as the camera changes from a side view of the stage to slightly tilted view of the player and their sight from cover.  Overall, CounterSpy looks like a delightful downloadable that deserves a lot more attention than it is currently getting.  Watch some gameplay for it, CounterSpy might just surprise you.
7.  Mortal Kombat X - PS3, PS4, XBONE, XB360, PC
Mortal Kombat has seen its fair share of ups and downs over the years especially during the PS2, Xbox and Gamecube years.  With the success of Mortal Kombat 9, things have gotten back on track for the franchise.  Not to rest on their laurels, Ed Boon and NetherRealm Studios are making big changes to series while expanding on successful mechanics introduced in Mortal Kombat 9 and Injustice: Gods Among Us.  Mortal Kombat X's biggest departure comes in its roster and story as the game takes place 25 years after the events of the previous game.  Since 25 years have passed, the roster will consist of brand new characters such as Cassie Cage (daughter of Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade), Kotal Khan (a blood god) and D'Vorah (a human/insect hybrid) along with some returning favourites like Scorpion and Sub-Zero.  Although gameplay remains very similar to past Mortal Kombats with the return of fatalities, special moves and x-ray moves, there are some interesting additions in the form of fully interactable environments and combat variations.  Much like Injustice, combatants can use parts of the environment to launch themselves into the air, set traps for opponents or use as additional weapons.  Speaking of combat variations, each fighter has three different variations to choose from which changes their move sets, strengths, weaknesses and weapons.  With all the new additions and refinements to Mortal Kombat X, gamers all around should be excited to dive back into this fighting game franchise come 2015.
6.  Far Cry 4 - PS3, PS4, XBONE, XB360, PC
Far Cry 3 surprised everybody back in 2012 with its excellent gameplay and vibrant open world.  Two years later, Ubisoft is at it once again with Far Cry 4.  To sum up Far Cry 4's showing at E3 in one word, it would be jaw-dropping.  Instead of having an entire island at your disposal, you now have an entire country in Kyrat.  On foot, in car and through the air, Far Cry 4 gives the player an incredible amount of choice to explore Kyrat however they want.  Gameplay gives the player the same amount of freedom as you can play solo or with a friend, use items and animals found in the environment to your advantage and freely move between modes of travel at any time.  It is hard to describe everything that makes Far Cry 4 such a standout among the sea of shooters releasing this year.  It is best to watch some gameplay footage of Far Cry 4 and see the awesomeness for yourself.

Well, this marks the end of part one.  Hope you enjoyed the list up to this point and feel free to share your favourite games of E3 in the comments.  If you want to continue reading, click this link to see the conclusion to Silver Bit's Top 10 Games of E3 2014

Monday, June 23, 2014

Bit by Bit: E3 2014 Wrap-up

E3 has come and gone for yet another year.  While the event may be over, the analysis of the show and all the games shown off has just begun.  All over the net, you see all the podcasts, reviews and awards dedicated to every aspect of the show popping up in the next couple weeks.  Here at Silver Bit, the month of June usually is solely focused on E3 from the previews to the conference impressions to the wrap-up articles.  In fact, I am watching all the gameplay footage that I can get my hands on to put together the annual Top 10 Games of E3 article which will conclude the month of June.  Before we move onto bigger and better things, let us look back on the show that was E3 2014 in this special edition of Bit by Bit.

Winner of E3 2014
As a whole, E3 2014 was an entertaining and ultimately safe show.  Aside from a few unique experiences, not many gambles were taken to infuse some innovation into the industry.  Although there were a plethora of familiar games showcased, all of them looked incredible.  With the amount of detail and fidelity in the coming wave of next generation titles, I can understand the current lack of new properties as a trade-off to getting a handle on the new hardware.  There were still new properties shown at the event in Evolve, The Order 1886, No Man's Sky and Sunset Overdrive, but they have not been put on the same pedestal that Assassin's Creed, Gears of War and Uncharted were early in the previous console generation.  Apart from the focus on familiar franchises, E3 2014 did an excellent job in showcasing how great 2015 will be compared to the rest of 2014.  All of the games people eagerly desire except Destiny or Super Smash Bros. comes out next year and that fact is just a little upsetting considering there is still no killer app for this generation yet.  Guess it will come with everything else releasing in 2015.

Enough of my analysis of E3 2014, let us get down to which company won at this year's show.  Winning E3 really comes down to personal opinion and how the showcased games appeal to each individual.  This year, the three console manufacturers were neck-and-neck in their showings.  Everybody did a good job in providing gamers with the games they wanted to see and the information they wanted to hear.  As close as this arms race was, Sony impressed me the most at E3 2014.  While I am in the minority, Sony's winning performance last year only came because they did the exact opposite of Microsoft and built their hype for the PS4 around that plan.  On the software side, not much impressed last year.  However this year Sony delivered with the games and content to compliment their highly successful system.  I came out of the Sony Press Conference knowing that I need a PS4 to get the most out of this new generation.  Even though the press conference had that excruciatingly boring thirty minutes, I would take this year's great three quarters over last year's excellent one fourth any day.  Sony could have lost some ground at E3 2014 with a lacklustre showing, but they delivered and solidified their place as number one this console generation.

Surprise of E3 2014
In the last few years, E3 surprises have become few and far between.  With the internet now, the few surprises actually planned for E3 might not make it to the show itself as they are leaked in the months, weeks and even days in advance.  For a surprise to stay a surprise right up until the moment of its revealed makes the moment feel like an event especially on this stage.  There were a slightly more surprises this year in Phantom Dust, Rainbow Six: Siege, Splatoon and Codename S.T.E.A.M., but one stood tall over the rest.  That surprise came at the Sony Press Conference from Adam Boyes along with some help from a girl named Sally.  It would turn out that Sally was not a girl, but renowned adventure game designer Tim Schafer.  Sally's wish for a return to a classic Tim Schafer adventure game came true when Boyes announced the Grim Fandango HD remake exclusively for PS4 and PS Vita.  As niche as adventure games may be, this news got me very excited because I have never played the original and heard so many great things about the game.  Funny enough, I was actually wondering if Double Fine would re-release Grim Fandango on Steam or remake the game for this generation a few months back.  After thinking about it, to actually see Grim Fandango HD become reality was like Sony found a way to read my mind.  It was an incredible reveal that easily was the highlight of the Sony Press Conference and the entire show.

Trailer of E3 2014
The only thing more prevalent at E3 than the plethora of demos that line the show floor are the trailers.  Each game at the event has a trailer to get gamers excited and to permeate the hundreds of screens covering the E3 booths.  Ranging from multi-minute vignettes to short little teasers, the trailers at this year's event varied in quality.  Some tried to be incredibly dramatic while others went lighter in tone and heavy with the humour.  There were quite a few standouts such as The Witcher III's epic story trailer, Sunset Overdrive's hilarious parody of modern shooters and Super Smash Bros.'s Mii Fighter reveal which saw Reggie and Iwata duke it out in spectacular fashion.  Out of those great trailers, The Legend of Zelda for Wii U reveal trailer was the best.  While short in length, the trailer captured key details for this new adventure in the world of Hyrule.  The beautiful cel-shaded anime-inspired graphics and the grand vistas will be the first things to catch the eye, but there are much more to dig into with this trailer.  The confirmation of horse riding, more options to fight on horseback, the blend of modern technology and medieval fantasy and the dynamic open world were among the amazing features revealed through this trailer.  While early in development, The Legend of Zelda for Wii U looks absolutely incredible and this trailer is just the beginning of all the great media we will receive in the near future.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

E3 2014: Nintendo Digital Event Impressions

Aside from Sony's offerings this year, E3 2014 can be summed up in one word-- safe.  For the second year in a row, Nintendo looks to usurp convention with their Nintendo Digital Event.  Details surrounding this event have been clouded in mystery since the Big N announced it.  A lot of people especially Nintendo fans were hoping to see Nintendo move out of the financial woes of the Wii U with this event.  Did Nintendo's Digital Event deliver?

As a whole, the Nintendo Digital Event delivered as a perfectly paced entertaining forty-five minute show.  It provided a great amount of new information on Nintendo properties people were most concerned about and wove it into a fun captivating presentation including smooth transitions, funny Robot Chicken skits and a steady pace.  With all that said, the presentation felt pretty safe and underwhelming in this writer's humble opinion.  Not to mean Nintendo's performance was bad, in fact it was better than last year's showing, however nothing truly surprised or caught this writer off-guard.  Also this writer would of ended the event with The Legend of Zelda reveal instead of the Palutena character reveal for Super Smash Bros.  Speaking of The Legend of Zelda reveal, the new game looks incredible with a cel-shaded anime art style and the futuristic technology mixed with medieval fantasy.  A more substantial Zelda trailer or gameplay would have been nice yet what we got was great nonetheless.

Super Smash Bros. saw Palutena and Mii Fighters revealed as new additions to the character roster.  Masahiro Sakurai took a bit of time to focus on the Mii Fighters as they look to be Smash's answer to create-a-fighters in other fighting games as you get to choose the Mii's style (brawler, sword-fighter and gunner), special moves and most likely appearance.  That news was coupled with an excellent one-on-one fight between Reggie and Iwata and the introduction of amiibos.  Despite the weird name, amiibos are Nintendo's answer to the collectable toy genre popularized by Disney Infinity and Skylanders and they allow you to store, transfer and unlock different data across multiple Nintendo games.  Currently confirmed to work with Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart 8 and Mario Party 10 among others, the amiibos showed off at the event looked really well crafted.  There were a lot more games covered in this event including Mario Maker, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker,  Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, Pokemon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, Hyrule Warriors, Bayonetta 2 with the first Bayonetta included on disc, Xenoblade Chronicles X and Yoshi's Woolly World.  Sadly, most of them are coming out in 2015.  Not much incentive to buy a Wii U this coming Fall, which is a mistake on Nintendo's part, but in 2015 the Wii U will be releasing games at a considerable pace.

Before the Palutena reveal, Nintendo ended off with a brand new property for Wii U called Splatoon.  Splatoon is a third-person shooter where you play as a squid-human hybrid and the goal of each match is to cover the arena with the most ink.  Ink plays a greater role than being your ammo as you can use it travel far distances quickly in squid form and slow down opposing players that get caught in it.  While Splatoon looks more like a downloadable game rather than a system seller, it was nice to see Nintendo introduce a brand new property for the first time in what seems like years.  Splatoon is hopefully a sign of more good things to come from Nintendo.

Although this writer did find Nintendo's Digital Event thoroughly entertaining, it was not the home run the company needed.  Nintendo did a great job in developing a definitive lineup for the rest of 2014 with set release dates for all their titles except Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, giving fans confidence in the games further down the pipeline and wrapping it all in an entertaining package.  Despite all that great stuff, this writer wanted Nintendo to make a much bigger statement this year and they fell short.  The Wii U will definitely gain some much needed ground in 2014, just not enough to compete on the same level as Sony and Microsoft.

Grade:  B+

E3 2014: Sony Press Conference Impressions

Heading into E3, Sony was in the best position amongst the three console manufacturers as the PS4 has sold over seven million units.  With the immense amount of pressure on Microsoft and Nintendo to deliver this year, E3 2014 was Sony's to lose.  Could Sony pull out another show stopping performance or would they rest on their laurels now that they are number one in the current console war?

To answer that question, Sony killed it again this year.  While last year's conference only came together in the last thirty minutes, Sony kept people excited and interested throughout their two hour presentation.  There was a good thirty minute chuck that almost killed the pace of the entire conference as Sony took time to talk about Free to Play titles, PlayStation Now, PlayStation Plus and the PS Vita.  Although it may have been a dry thirty minutes, it was necessary portion of the conference because it gave important information on the PlayStation Now Beta coming this summer, announced the PlayStation TV for 100 dollars or 139 dollars with a controller and the Lego Movie video game and gave a little life to the PS Vita with games like Tales of Heart R and Minecraft.  The portion of the conference that felt completely unnecessary was the presentation of the PlayStation exclusive show Powers and the Ratchet & Clank movie.  It may have lasted close to ten minutes, but it added nothing to the conference other than a lot of eye rolling.  Aside from that forty minute portion of the conference, Sony hit everything else out of the park.  There were tons of great gameplay demos for The Order 1886, Entwined, Far Cry 4, LittleBigPlanet 3, Mortal Kombat X and Batman: Arkham Knight.  Each demo made this writer and the company watching gasp, laugh, pump their fists and get excited.  These gameplay demos sold a lot of these games as must owns to yours truly.  Along with the great demos, Sony dropped a lot of surprises at the conference like a remastered version of Grim Fandango exclusive to PlayStation, From Software's Bloodborne, Dead Island 2, Magika 2, Giant Squid's Abzu and Devolver Digital games coming exclusively the PlayStation consoles.  Sony also made a big effort in pushing exclusive content and benefits for multiplatform games on their consoles such as the Destiny Alpha and Beta coming first to PS4 and exclusive missions or enemies in Batman and Diablo III respectively.  Sony ended the show in style too as they showed off the first trailer for Uncharted 4: A Thief's End.  After all the controversy surrounding The Last Guardian's false cancellation announcement, this writer thought Sony had to make an effort in showing the game is still alive and kicking.  Although The Last Guardian would have brought this conference to legendary levels, Uncharted 4 did its job in ending the Sony press conference with a bang.

After the end of every conference leading up to Sony's, this writer felt underwhelmed with the lack of legitimate surprises and games that truly captured my imagination.  Apart from the dull forty minute information dump, Sony's conference was a breath of fresh air.  Everything showcased at this conference are the reasons people play and get excited about video games.  Due to Sony's efforts on Monday, this writer is finally feeling much more optimistic about the next generation of video game consoles.  Last year Sony dropped the mic, this year they stole the show.

Grade:  A

Monday, June 9, 2014

E3 2014: Ubisoft Press Conference Impressions

Ubisoft has never been overly consistent when they came to their press conferences.  Ubisoft tries to capture such a broad audience with their conferences that they are either very good or very bad.  Leading into this year's show, Ubisoft just launched their newest IP Watch Dogs to record setting sales.  Hopefully, the French publisher can use that momentum to put together an impressive E3 conference.

Like has been the case for three years now, Ubisoft knows how to end a press conference.  The gameplay footage and subsequent announcement of Rainbow Six: Siege was the highlight of Ubisoft's conference.  Seeing the game in action and all the players working together in unison was a sight to behold.  Personally, this writer is still a little sad that the greatness of the single-player focused Rainbow Six: Patriots is no more, but Siege looks fun nonetheless.  Aside from Aisha Tyler's flat jokes, nothing at the Ubisoft conference was absolutely horrible.  Even the more casual titles like Just Dance 2015 and Shape Up were at least entertaining to watch.  While entertaining to watch, the conference felt too safe.  Ubisoft is usually one of the few large publishers to try and push the envelope, but everything they showed off at their conference except the new Rainbow Six and Shape Up was already announced or just another entry in a yearly franchise.  The content of the conference was interesting yet this writer left the conference feeling underwhelmed.  Far Cry 4 started off the show in style as Ubisoft showed off the first five minutes which highlighted the craziness of the new villain.  The middle of the show lagged as Ubisoft showed more trailers than actual gameplay.  The Assassin's Creed Unity demo was interesting as the traversal system looks to be more fluid than other games in the series despite that many are getting fatigued over Assassin's Creed yearly release schedule.  The only other noteworthy game at Ubisoft's conference was Valiant Hearts, an adventure game where you play a dog as he interacts with four heroes during the events of World War I.  The trailer showed off the beautiful hand drawn graphics along with the incredibly touching story of the game.  With the great use of video and audio, Valiant Hearts' trailer can easily get the waterworks going.  Out of all the games Ubisoft showcased at their conference, Valiant Hearts, no matter its small scale, was the game that got this writer the most excited.

Ubisoft's 2014 Press Conference was a middling effort from the French publisher.  Much like the other conferences we have seen today, their press conference left this writer wanting more and not in a good way.  Giving us updates on titles already announced and announcing new entries in yearly franchise is not enough to get people excited anymore.  The video game industry has moved onto a brand new console generation and everybody expects a lot more from Ubisoft  this time around to justify the purchase of new hardware to play their future releases.

Grade:  C+