Imagine if every major motion picture to be released in the next 12 months had their trailers debuted over a couple of days in the middle of June.
That’s pretty much what happens at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) – the annual gaming industry conference being held the last three days in Los Angeles. Every year all the major developers and publishers get together and show the world what they’re making in the next 12 months. Which makes it simultaneously a weird remnant of a time when gaming was a tiny industry and social media didn’t exist, and one of the most amazing moments in entertainment – let alone gaming — in any given year.
So now to distil 72 hours of Americans losing their minds into some sort of cogent analysis of the upcoming gaming year 2014/15? First off, most of the big titles can be accounted for here: yes, there is a new Call of Duty (with Kevin Spacey playing future Frank Underwood), Battlefield (now available in cops ‘n’ robbers flavour ), Madden, NBA2K, FIFA et al. available this year. For all these titles apply the formula “if you liked game x, you will enjoy game x+1”.
There are a couple of sweeping themes that seem to have touched most titles in some way. New hardware brings increased processing power, and while different games have chosen to use the increased power in different ways –- smaller maps with more moving parts, sprawling environments, better graphics -– no game remains unaffected.
The other striking thing about this year’s batch is the diversity of colour. This is something that has been bemoaned in the gaming industry for years, the same dusty, concrete and pavement environments endlessly replicated make occasional breaks form the pattern seem miraculous. But from the mountains and valleys in Far Cry 4 to the frankly astounding visual variety of No Man’s Sky (both below), there is no shortage of visual stimulation in this year’s offering.
The following are a selection of noteworthy games, but check out the rest; trailers are easily found on YouTube by searching E3 2014. It’s going to be a big year (as always) for gaming.
Far Cry 4
Release Date: November 11, 2014
Far Cry 3 was one of the best games of the last generation of consoles. It was a fantastic shooter with boundless avenues for creativity on the player’s part, and the story packed a pretty serious punch, effectively forcing a trust-fund kid to turn drug-fuelled machete wielding revolutionary in order to save his friends from one of the most psychotic villains in video game history. The fourth instalment looks, at first glance, much the same but with some changes, but not all of them good. On the good side, being set in the Himalayas means it’s stupidly pretty, and actually breaks some new ground in an industry that seems to love urban environments, jungles and deserts with a passion that surpasses my understanding. The story looks intriguing and the gameplay looks solid. On the not so good side are the online co-op elements that allow other players to jump into your game and help you out. This is sold as an improvement in gameplay but feels a lot more like a marketing ploy from Ubisoft. It feels gimmicky and pointless, but a small blemish on what should be one of the highlights of this year.
No Man’s Sky
Release Date: TBA (PlayStation Exclusive)
Watch this trailer. I know there are a lot of links in this story but if you open just one please make it this one. This game looks like pretty much nothing else. The big claim is that you can explore an infinite number of planets, all with different flora and fauna, and if ever half of that infinite number look anything like the trailer, colour me $80 lighter. However. Anything other than how this game looks is pretty nebulous. It doesn’t have a firm release date and the concept of exploring an infinite number of Day-Glo planets sounds fantastic if a little lacking in detail, and it’s wise to be cautious of games that promise infinite anything.
Tom Clancy’s The Division
Release Date: 2015
The latest in a long running partnership between Tom Clancy – now apparently working from beyond the grave – and Ubisoft is The Division, an ambitious game that at this point only has room to move if it gets worse. Originally launched at last year’s E3 with this trailer, the game was originally slated as an open world MMORPG – think World of Warcraft – in which whole communities of online players roamed post-pandemic New York, fighting each other and AI opponents in order to survive. In the last 12 months it has taken a step back on the online element to what appears to be an online co-op set up in which you and your teammates play as a group of sleeper agents left behind in the city to pick up the pieces after the world has ended. The visuals, as you would expect from an early next-generation release, are pretty astounding and if the final game ends up being anything close to the concept it will be something very special indeed.
Rainbow Six Siege
Release Date: 2015
One of the common threads in first person shooters over the last few years has been increasingly dynamic environments and destructible terrain. The dynamic part there is the crucial bit. Dynamism in gaming effectively means that (in this case) any bullet you shoot will damage the environment you are in, in a way that is dictated by your location, relative distance from the thing you hit and so on, rather than a pre-determined script that simply breaks a window or marks a wall in one way regardless of how you hit it. That might sound like a petty difference, but the way Ubisoft has applied it here is impressive. Essentially the game is a 4v4 good guys v bad guys scenario where the good guys get to plan their entrance into a small map (in the demo shown as E3 a two story suburban house) and the bad guys get to set up the defences. The completely limitless destruction of walls, ceilings, floors, windows and doors however means that there is quite possibly an infinite amount of ways to traverse the map and get done what needs doing. The strong emphasis on team-orientated play is nothing new, especially for the Rainbow Six franchise, but is certainly taken to an impressive new level.
Release Date: September 9th 2014
Destiny is the first game for developers Bungie since they concluded their involvement in the Halo franchise. Say what you will about Halo or Bungie, they know how to do epic back-story. The fact that they seem to have created Halo mark II risks overshadowing the fact that they have built an entirely new, incredibly complex universe for us to save. It also has Peter Dinklage as the voice in your ear.
Assassin’s Creed: Unity
Release Date: October 28, 2014
Assassin’s Creed, now in its seventh major instalment and having covered everything from the Ottoman era Holy Land to the golden age of piracy, has pretty much given up on making major changes to gameplay, and is now basically a way to experience well-known historical events in something approaching the first person. Having said that, the lack of major innovation means the game is pretty well dialled in. This year’s game has co-op elements which look intriguing and places you and your assassin buddies in the middle of the French revolution, acting as regicide facilitators. It’s a wonder they don’t issue Assassin’s Creed treasury bonds.
The Order: 1886
Release Date: February 20, 2015 (PlayStation Exclusive)
Set in an alternate reality, 19th century steam punk London and following the exploits of an order – in case you were wondering where they got the name – trying to protect humanity from a group of human-animal half breeds and an increasingly restless working class. Whether these interesting elements turn out to mean anything or become window dressing in another generic cover-based shooter is yet to be determined.
Homefront: The Revolution
Release Date: 2015
A major criticism of the big-title first person shooters of recent years, most notably Call of Duty, is that they act as a vehicle for pent-up cold war era American nationalism. Homefront – the prequel to this title – did away with any subtly in this area and had North Korea invade and occupy the United States. You then play as a member of the American insurgency. To say that patriotic imagery abounds is a sizeable understatement. The Revolution naturally occurs in Philadelphia, birthplace of American democracy. The whole thing is kind of ridiculous as a concept, pretty heavy-handed and also feels really unnecessary, and this is a bit of a shame. It’s a shame because the sequel has been handed to a new development team – Crytek – the developer behind stunning open-world titles like the Crysis franchise, and it’s difficult to escape the feeling that they could have made a better version of this game if they didn’t have the previous title weighing them down. To be fair though the game looks pretty impressive, and the tactical variety of playing as the unconventional and under-gunned resistance is a welcome change from the procession of barely human ‘special operators’ that have become the overwhelming norm.
Mirror’s Edge 2 Release Date: 2016
Mirror’s Edge was a game that promised a lot and didn’t really deliver. While it was visually appealing, not least because it dared to look a bit different with its all-white palette, the gameplay and story ended up being the subject of no small amount of criticism. The new game, oddly a prequel but numbered ‘2’, looks much the same, if a little more fluid in its movement, which is a positive step for the game’s central mechanic. Still a long way off, but a possible case of second time’s the charm for this franchise.