It's not all mega-budget blockbusters at E3, y'know, so here are just some of the smaller gems that have piqued our attentions.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
E3 2015 has been one of the most memorable in recent years, with everyone—except, perhaps, Nintendo—showing up with their absolute best ready to show, in an attempt to "win" the media-briefing dick-waving competition. There is, of course, way more to E3 than just the biggest games you see on stage during the press conferences, and here's a rundown of what stood out from the best of the rest.
'Soccertron' announcement trailer
About half an hour before Microsoft's media briefing took place, they dropped a load of indie game trailers onto their YouTube channel. A highlight was the fast-paced multiplayer game Soccertron. Visually somewhere between #IDARB, Geometry Wars, and the brilliant BaraBariBall from Sportsfriends, Soccertron has you flying around a neon arena, attempting to kick a floating ball into the opponent's goal while defending your own.
It has been available on Steam and, of all places, the Ouya, for a while now, but this Xbox One release should hopefully give owners of Microsoft's big black box a reason to invite around friends for some local multiplayer chaos. Seeing as it missed out on Nidhogg and the aforementioned Sportsfriends, before we even get into recent reports that Halo 5 has dropped its split-screen mode for the first time in the series' history, the Xbox One could use a game like Soccertron.
'Death's Gambit', reveal trailer
"It's like Dark Souls!" is a term that is used to way too often to describe a game that simply has a whiff of exploration or difficulty about it, but for Death's Gambit there couldn't be a more accurate description. It has that dark fantasy aesthetic that is the trademark of the Souls series, big memorable bosses, a stamina system that dictates your attack and defense, and combat that relies on you to learn patterns, show patience, and pick your moment to strike. Even upon inevitable death, you're greeted with a message stating "Death Takes You" in almost exactly the same style as Dark Souls' now legendary "YOU DIED." It is undeniably a 2D Dark Souls—and that's totally OK.
Made by White Rabbit and published by Adult Swim, Death's Gambit has you playing as a warrior, chosen by Death itself, to kill a bunch of gigantic "Immortals". It is hinted that some of these are so huge that you'll have to scale them, like in Shadow of the Colossus, in order to take them out. It is going to be exciting to see how Death's Gambit takes the coolest ideas from two of the best games of the past decade and interprets them in a two-dimensional way.
'Mother Russia Bleeds', gameplay trailer
MOTHER RUSSIA BLEEDS
Winner of the unofficial VICE E3 award for "Best Named Game," Mother Russia Bleeds is a hyper-violent scrolling beat 'em up in the vein of Streets of Rage, which had the extremely unfortunate luck to be shown during Sony's media briefing after they'd announced a remake of Final Fantasy VII and right before they revealed Shenmue fucking 3. Wounder.
Mother Russia Bleeds has you and up to four other players cutting about an alternative 1980s USSR, injecting yourself with hallucinogenic drugs and dismembering enemies with whatever enemies you can get your hands on. Much like Devolver Digital stable-mate Hotline Miami—which it shares more than a little of its aesthetic with—expect this one to court a bit of controversy before it gets released.
'Unravel', official E3 2015 announcement gameplay trailer
Onstage during EA's media briefing isn't the place you'd expect to see a twee little indie game, but here we are. After we had heard developer Martin Sahlin tell the adorable story about how he had actually made the main character, Yarny, himself and taken him on holiday, taking photos that inspired him to make a game about his adventures, while the poor bastard was visibly shaking like a shitting dog, all we were thinking was: Please, for this dude's sake, don't be total shite.
And it wasn't! Unravel is a fantastic-looking puzzle platformer that hinges on the mechanic of Yarny unravelling as he travels, using his loose string to solve environmental puzzles. It is also representative of distance, love and loss, or something. There's always something like that though, isn't there? It wouldn't be a twee indie game without it.
'Eitr' gameplay trailer
"IT'S LIKE DARK SOULS." Alright, nowhere near as much as Death's Gambit, but Eitr is yet another game that owes a debt to FROM Software's ridiculously influential series. Sure, that familiar style of tactical combat, rewarding patience and ability, is key (there are also bonfires as rest points, which is pretty blatant!), but Eitr actually has more in common with Diablo and other loot 'em ups. Also: It is so, so pretty.
You play as the Shield Maiden, a warrior who is tasked with visiting the nine Norse worlds connected by the world tree Ygdrassil to rid them of a black ooze that corrupts all—the titular Eitr. On your travels you'll find new weapons, magical abilities, and a huge variety of monstrous enemies to unleash them upon. It seems fairly straightforward in terms of gameplay right now, appearing to lean heavily on the Diablo formula, but if it ain't broke...
Just look at it, though. It's some of the most beautifully animated pixel art ever seen.
'Superhot', E3 2015 teaser trailer
There's been a prototype version of Superhot kicking about for a while now, but the fully finished version is still in development. It is a genius concept: a first-person shooter, only one where time only advances when you move. So you're lining up shots and planning evasive maneuvers while you're stationary, and then seeing everything take place as you begin to move. It'd be easier to understand if you just went and gave the prototype a quick go, honestly.
Anyway, the build being shown at E3 is looking really smart, with an extra bit of polish to the already really cool, clean graphical style. As much of a puzzle game as it is a shooter, Superhot is one of the indie exclusives Xbox One owners can really hold over PS4 fanboys. And unlike a lot of other games in this list, it's looking like it might even make a 2015 release.
'The Flame in the Flood', GDC 2015 trailer
THE FLAME IN THE FLOOD
Look, we know what you're thinking—yet another survival sim. But this one is really cool, so shut up. The Flame in the Flood has you struggling to get by in a post-societal American wilderness, trying to stay ahead of a massive rainstorm and reach the end of a procedurally generated river, where supposedly "salvation" lies. There's no sudden appearance of zombies or cannibals like so many of the games in the genre. You're just battling against the elements, starvation and occasionally wild animal. Kill or be killed, survival of the fittest.
And yet, despite the stressful premise, it is such an attractive game. Some of the footage, which has main character Scout and her dog hunting for food and supplies, looks strangely relaxing. Unlike a lot of these games, which go on indefinitely until you expire, there's a goal to The Flame in the Flood, a reason to survive and continue to persevere against the extreme conditions. With it development team comprised of people who worked on BioShock, Halo 2 and 3, and Rock Band, there's a lot of talent behind what could be one of the more interesting entries in an increasingly crowded genre.
'Ashen', E3 2015 announcement trailer
Another game shown during Microsoft's conference, Ashen casts you as an adventurer in a world without sun, blacked out by the ash from a huge volcano that also provides the only source of heat. It offers you multiple ways of tackling situations, with an emphasis on creating friendships and alliances over simply attacking things head on. An interesting feature is that all of the characters lack facial features, as per part of the games' low-polygon aesthetic, which means that you have to pay greater attention to what's said, as their expressions won't be there to give away the emotions behind their words.
They're stating that the combat is "high risk" and that when you leave the safe area – signified by a bonfire – you could be attacked by anything from skeletal warriors to cannibals. Although what's been shown so far looks primarily single player, developer Aurora44 is saying that the game is "passively multiplayer", hinting at some kind of connectivity between other players when they're playing through their game. Sounds like a certain influential FROM Software game, doesn't it?
A whole other breed of play: VICE Sports
'Abzû' live coverage from E3 2015
After a debut reveal at E3 2014, the team behind Abzû released some proper gameplay footage just ahead of this year's conference, and invited journalists to get their hands on what might well be the spiritual successor to the wonderful Journey. Which makes sense—this underwater, stress-free, take-your-time experience comes from developers who worked on said understated classic of the PlayStation catalogue. Creative director Matt Nava played a key role, while at thatgamecompany, in crafting both Journey and the similarly sublime Flower, and now as the leading man at Giant Squid, he's delivering what seems to be a comparably beautiful blend of gameplay, meditation, and art.
With no air gauge to worry about, and no real threat to your progress – you'll spy a shark from time to time, but it's not looking to make you its lunch – Abzû is the antidote to all of the high-pressure gaming we've highlighted above. Pulse racing? Slip this on when it releases in the first half of 2016, and watch your tension slide away. –Mike Diver
'Transformers: Devastation', E3 2015 teaser trailer
I'm giving myself this one. No, Transformers isn't exactly an underground thing. And developers Platinum Games, not a studio you'd call "indie" (although perhaps in spirit), have a pretty awesome track record with the likes of Bayonetta and its sequel, Vanquish and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance beneath their (almost certainly studded) belts. But Devastation got more than a little lost amid the hype for so many other childhood memories becoming modern-day gaming realities, and if you ever loved the Transformers cartoon (or comics, or toys, or anything that Michael Bay never touched), you've got to concede: This looks incredible.
That's the world's leading action game studio, then, making a hyper-kinetic brawler using Bayonetta-like combat, based on the Generation One strand of an evergreen franchise that most guys aged between their middle 20s and late 30s will likely have a gigantic soft spot for. You'll get to play as five different Autobots: Optimus Prime, obviously, alongside Bumblebee, Sideswipe, Wheeljack and Grimlock, smashing through a series of drone-like Decepticon cars and jets before facing off against Megatron, Soundwave and the like. I've wanted a game like this to exist for so long, and now that it's going to, I don't know what to wish for anymore. I mean, I'd ask the gaming gods for The Last Guardian, but. Mike Diver