E3 doesn't really start until you've had a depressing drink in the Saddle Ranch on Sunset. It's the LA equivalent of going into the Weatherspoon on London's Leicester Square, only if it was built by the people behind those Western pop-cap shooting ranges, complete with creepy half-melted mannequins whose faces haunt your nightmares.
The real event though, is much less depressing than seeing tourists ride a mechanical bull while being shouted at by groups of people fuelled by beer and overcooked pork sliders.
Despite what you might read elsewhere, E3 is actually great fun. And the Monday of the annual games conference is reserved for the slightly stilted pantomime of the big platform and publisher conferences, presented by people who clearly play golf non-ironically.
Bethesda's show was first up, actually on the Sunday, and while most E3 press conferences are about as riveting as David Blaine reading out postal chess moves (yes, we're looking at you EA), this one was pretty darn good. In a winning move, they had real fans come and fill a lot of the seats – some of whom were visibly shaking at the thought of Fallout 4, so much so that they practically fell out of their chairs. And Bethesda didn't disappoint, going all out to make sure that the hype for their upcoming post-apocalyptic adventure remains as heightened as is humanly possible. The Fallout 4 presentation culminated with the revelation of a real-life Pip-Boy for the game's collector's edition (to work as a gaming second screen with a dedicated iOS/Android app), which was greeted with such a sharp intake of breath by the audience that we were close to having all of the oxygen sucked out of the room.
Bethesda also showed off DOOM – a frantic mix of brain-bruisingly intense combat with all the gore and glossy blood you'd expect, plus wincing death moves somewhat reminiscent of Mortal Kombat X's fatalities. It will also feature the added bonus of sharable player-created levels, probably representing the only time you can be a Machiavellian bastard and people will love you for it.
For a first conference Bethesda nailed it, showcasing kick-ass products, skipping the boring salesman-like, back-slapping chit-chat and giving their customers exclusively what they really wanted. Which includes a succinct press conference. Other companies can, and should, learn plenty from Bethesda's fuss-free snappiness.
Next up was the Microsoft Xbox conference, which began with head-honcho Phil Spencer serving up a lot of butt-kissing platitudes about being gamer focussed and "how we love feedback". They didn't stipulate what kind, so is threatening to kill someone else's family still countable as constructive criticism? (Not quite) jokes aside, there have been some scary times lately for Xbox, and to his credit Spencer is doing all he can to clean up the shit that his predecessor, Don Mattrick, left behind. Xbox has finally recognised what is truly important to its business, and that's its customers.
Once we got the games conference equivalent of "sorry for shitting on your carpet at that party" out of the way, what transpired was actually a good array of Xbox goodies. There were some new IPs shown which looked pretty good, new versions of Plants vs, Zombies, Forza, Dark Souls, Tomb Raider, Fable, Gears of War and Halo, and loads of new indie titles – but the bits that really got me excited for the future of Xbox weren't variations on established franchises, but developments in the system's hardware.
Three words: backwards fucking compatibility. Finally we can play our old 360 games on our Xbox Ones. And then came an incredible HoloLens augmented reality demo. Seriously, I know people are sceptical about VR and AR, but if Microsoft's piece of hardware works in the home anything like it did on that stage with Minecraft, it will be unreal. Finally, we'll have a piece of tech that helps us live out our Philip K. Dick fantasies in the comfort of our own sitting rooms. (Read more about Xbox's conference here.)
New multiplayer gameplay footage from 'Star Wars: Battlefront'
Next up was EA, who showed us just how to take 99 percent of the fun out of talking about games with a non-stop, business-suited catwalk show, which was about as exciting as being in an actual sales meeting, just with someone playing brief snippets of video games between the pitch patter. No big surprises here: Need for Speed still has cars, some new Star Wars add-ons and a clutch of mobile games. New IP Unravel looks like what you'd end up with if Kirby somehow impregnated a pikmin (which is cute, but you'd forever be reminded of the treacherous night when it happened), and they had football legend Pelé talking about the new FIFA's "interception intelligence" and women's teams. Seeing more of Star Wars: Battlefront almost made the heels-dragging duration of what preceded its showing worthwhile, though – it's shaping up to be a fan's dreams turned reality.
Sony ended day one with an avalanche of games, keeping true to their "Hardcore Gamers R Us" mentality, kicking off with a sucker-punch to the heart by re-announcing The Last Guardian, a title that has relentlessly toyed with our emotions like a fickle fuck-buddy. But, finally, we're gonna get to hit that. Which is a weird way to describe a sentimental game about a boy and his dog-bird creature. Seeing it in motion was nauseatingly cute and dangerous, like lap dance from Babymetal. You and your giant feathery chum have to navigate your way through decaying ruins, using each other's abilities to solve puzzles all while apparently ruining the environment around you even more. If anything it's a testament to the trials and hazards of pet ownership. Doberman owners might want to steer clear, as it will probably bring back too many painful memories of furniture loss.
'Horizon: Zero Dawn', E3 2015 trailer
New, PS-exclusive IP Horizon: Zero Dawn actually made a huge impact on the crowd, which is unusual for something with no precedent. Set in a future world, long after we've royally fucked it up, you play as a tribal warrior fighting bizarre dinosaur-like robots with prehistoric yet sort of sci-fi weapons. Yes, I said prehistoric sci-fi weapons. The world looked amazing, as did the mech-downing female protagonist.
Sony teased loads of game announcements for Morpheus, their own VR headset, and I'll hopefully get my hands on a lot of that in the next few days. It's the games, after all, that create the desire to spunk any amount of money on new-fangled tech. We'll soon enough know whether VR will become part of our future living room. Personally, I think it'd be nice if it did, as at least then we'd be able to visit imaginary worlds where airplanes don't have more legroom than our lounges. (Read more about Sony's conference here.)
The conferences are just a small taste of what E3 has to offer – over the next three days I'm going to get my hands on some of these games and find out, once the showmanship is stripped away, if you'll actually want to play the damn things.
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