This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
I've lost the last few days of my life. Like a regretful binge drinker on their way home, I'm struggling to recall half of what has happened at this year's E3 gaming conference in Los Angeles. The endless appointments with thoroughly sincere and eager games developers, a diet clearly devoid of any remote nutrition, and enough caffeine to begin to see through time and space—that waking dream is over and, in a hunched-up conga line formation, games journos from across the world are now retreating back to their caves to take it all in.
E3 is like a real-life equivalent of the info-dumps you'd sometimes see at the end of TV shows in the 1990s—you'd set your video to record them, and then play it back in super slow motion, wearing out the pause button. Unlike those blasts of barely readable tips and facts, though, E3 didn't disappoint this year. There were the usual sequels on show, but 2015 also witnessed the reveal of new franchises full of potential, not to mention the coming together of some seriously impressive tech.
But even if every presentation, every trailer, and every release date had been equally applauded, gamers the world over would still be throwing down on message boards about who "won" at this year's E3. You don't have to search far to find such discussion, so let's have a little one of our own right here, right now. After all, if we're not drawing our lines in the digital sand over a few minutes of gameplay and a couple of optimistic stretch goals, what the hell else are we going to base our opinions on over the next 12 months, until the next E3 rolls around and presents us with a whole new set of fresh hopes and faded dreams.
The Games Winners
Sony killed it this year with the relentless release roster of their press conference. (Although Vita owners may feel otherwise.) A rush of bright visuals, bombastic sounds, new heroes to embrace, and nostalgia-piquing emotions, it was tricky to recall half of it on the cab ride home. From The Last Guardian to Media Molecule's Dreams, Horizon: Zero Dawn to Shenmue 3, memories of old manifested in new ways in the present day, and cutting-edge innovation scrolled across the mega-screens to be beguiled by. Microsoft had their own huge titles, but many were triple-A sequels, like Gears 4 and Rise of the Tomb Raider—no bad thing, but gamers always want fresh meat. Sony certainly confirmed the PS4's position as the system "for the players" with their machine-gun-style presentation. The company's Project Morpheus is looking great, too, so my money's on Sony maintaining its commercial lead over Microsoft between now and the next E3—and quite possibly beyond that.
The Tech Winners
Gaming will always have its hand held by technological progress as the years go by, and so it is today, as our both Sony and Microsoft showed off some sexy virtual reality kit at E3. Morpheus is, as I said just up there, pretty damn cool, but as far as pure wow factor went, Microsoft's HoloLens ran away with everyone's breath when Minecraft-showcased on stage during their press conference. It points to way to a future world where all playthings are virtual—which is great in the sense that you'd never have to tidy up your room (although by the looks of things you'll need some beautifully clean surfaces for this tech to work its magic, which may be a problem). Rather less impressive but certainly warmly welcomed was the announcement of backwards compatibility for Xbox One, meaning that—eventually—owners of MS's big black box can come out of any CeX absolutely loaded with compatible 360 classics for the price of a single new Xbone game.
'The Last Guardian,' E3 2015 trailer.
The Greatest Offerings to the Nerd Kingdom
There were several offerings made to the alter of the über-nerd at E3 2015, foremost amongst them Sony's confirmation that Fumito Ueda's follow-up to Shadow of the Colossus, The Last Guardian, is coming. Exactly when, we're not sure, but given there's been an almost complete radio silence on the game since its initial reveal at E3 2009, the news of its existence had the faithful in raptures. Then again, many other observers didn't really give a shit about a game featuring a small boy solving environmental puzzles in the company of a gigantic bird-dog-thing, but if …Colossus and its predecessor Ico did it for you on PS2, The Last Guardian will be a day-one purchase.
And if Ico doesn't mean a damn thing to you, don't worry, as you can still draw no little pleasure from the new game's drawn-out gestation by laughing heartily at the tearing-up fanboys should Sony do the unthinkable and actually cancel the thing. After all, its release date of sometime in 2016 is still hugely tentative, and if it were pulled from the schedule, it'd be like your birthday-partying pal's dad taking a shit into your take-home doggie bag. Not something to be forgotten in a hurry.
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Even bigger nerdgasms were witnessed come the announcement of Shenmue 3: the third entry proper in a franchise that only very particular players cling to as some sort of beacon of gaming excellence. I personally didn't play the previous two games, released in 1999 and 2001 for Sega's doomed Dreamcast, but I sense there was some kind of rite of passage attached to negotiating their leisurely stories.
Sony's support of the game at their press conference was a little odd, though, as it's attracting funding right now through Kickstarter. Sony is going to foot some of the bill, but that wasn't stated at their presentation—and with exactly how much of the development costs they're covering equally unspecified, isn't it a bit weird for fans to be chucking money at something that might not need it? What the Kickstarter does measure, though, is audience eagerness for a Shenmue game on PS4—and if the hardcore pay enough, Sony is sure to find a few extra dollars of their own to make Shenmue 3 everything it could be.
Then there was the Final Fantasy VII remake, but more on that in a moment.
'Horizon: Zero Dawn,' Gamespot stage demo.
The Freshest Shit
It was Horizon: Zero Dawn that got everyone genuinely excited at E3 this year. Not only because it felt new, but also because you can see the potential for it to be a real force in the triple-A market. It bristles with appeal, with life, from its strong female lead—at least, as seen in what gameplay was on show—to the mecha-dinosaurs roaming its verdant post-apocalyptic environments. Can't wait to see more.
Of course there were others of note, such as the endearingly twee Unravel (more on that here) and upcoming Xbox One exclusive ReCore, from the makers of Metroid Prime. These look good, but are unlikely to deliver the top-tier experiences that we're all itching for.
The only other title that could possibly come close to being a brand-new IP of major commercial clout is Ubisoft's For Honor. Initially it made me a bit nervous, the way Ryse: Son of Rome did—you know: looks good, but when you scratch below the surface it's wholly unsatisfying. But going hands-on with the game left me surprised at how tough the combat is. It keeps your brain busy with a much more cerebral approach to swordplay that outstrips the usual button-mashing fare.
The Best Virtual Reality Games
Capcom's Kitchen on Sony's Project Morpheus blew my mind. It's by far the "best" horror gaming experience I have had in a long time, making me jump, squeal and shout at nothing, like an idiot going to a movie and answering all the rhetorical questions.
My absolute favorite VR title on show at E3, though, was London Heist. It made me feel incredible, unstoppable. It made me wonder about my own mental health, as evidently I enjoy murdering people with guns while laughing hysterically. Even in gaming, that might need seeing to.
Best Press Conferences
It might seem weird to think about which company "wins" when it comes to press conferences, but as Dan Maher wrote pre-E3, these things really are pretty outdated. The endless conveyor belt of suited execs having their five minutes of fame on a global stage: is it really what gamers and the journos in attendance want?
The epitome of this ludicrous corporate panto was EA's conference, which was loaded with all the pant-waving excitement of Prince Charles's wank bank. Taking some unspectacular game announcements and dragging them out for as long as humanly possible is really not the way to inspire your audience. If these conferences are for sales or retail, then do them somewhere else, at another time. But if your goal is to get the media and gamers excited, why churn out a never-ending shit-stream of corporate platitudes? I mean, you may as well have got out pie charts and a flip board showing the percentage of explosions instead of any real ones. Ubisoft at least have Aisha Tyler every year to host their show, and the Archer actress manages to provide some light relief to the corporate agenda.
Microsoft and Sony seem to have found their balance of keeping the corporate beast happy and not angering the gamers too much. They're still full of biz-speak buzzwords, but at least they try and keep it moderately visually engaging. But the most agreed-on "winner" of 2015's conferences was Bethesda, whose Sunday show was short, punchy, featured a load of great titles (DOOM! Fallout 4! Dishonored 2! And that Elder Scrolls card game that we'll all have forgotten about tomorrow!), and showcased actual gameplay. Nailed it, and inviting fans along to see proceedings was a masterstroke, too. Bethesda showed the bigger boys with more experience how to do press conferences in the present day—let's all hope the likes of EA and Square (oh, boy, the Square conference) learn a few things and improve for 2016.
GameTrailers pundits react live to the reveal of 'Final Fantasy VII Remake.'
Winner of the best do-over has to go to Final Fantasy VII. The game that franchise fans obsess about is (finally, after no little demand) getting a remake. Except, it's not going to be the same old game in a new set of current-gen threads. Which might well cause some friction amongst the hardcore. Just imagine if Square Enix went and changed your favorite part of the original. But at least it'll introduce (surely) a better save system, as if you ever want to see the closest a gamer comes to talking about true tragedy, find someone who had their original Final Fantasy VII saves wiped. Not that I was around at the time, but seeing someone come back from Vietnam after losing half their platoon is probably the only lasting image that can come close.
Also: given the leaks that preceded this year's E3, how the hell did the powers that be keep the FFVII remake under wraps until its formal reveal? There's some dark magic at work here, folks.
The Future of Gaming, Then
Taking stock of all that's happened at this year's E3, what the bloody hell is the immediate future of gaming looking like? Poking a finger at the residue left in my palms, like some sort of cheap fortune teller at the end of a pier that's not seen a proper summer season since the telly was in black and white, here's what I reckon.
Firstly, VR is not going away—though whether it is the future of gaming remains to be seen. Having a decent augmented reality headset like the HoloLens suggests that it's as close to being a mainstream concern as it's ever been. And given the choice, what would you rather do: see a virtual world removed by your TV screen's array of pixels, or have that world beamed directly into your retinas by wearing it on your face? New tech gets me giddy and excited, and soon the soulless technologically dependent dystopia we all long for will be upon us. And thank god, frankly. All this IRL interaction is really taxing.
E3 2015 also tells us that the big companies are still here, they're still innovating enough to not totally piss off the gamer nation, and that when push comes to shove, they can pull their fingers out enough to really give gamers what they want. Dreams came true last week, for hundreds thousands of people around the world. And that's a beautiful thing to behold, whatever your personal appreciation of gaming culture.
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