The Electronic Entertainment Expo hasn't been this exciting in a while. Instead of groundbreaking new consoles or amazingly futuristic technologies, what made this year's event so special is the reason we go to E3 in the first place: games. So many games! From expected entities like Fallout 4 to out-of-nowhere surprises like The Last Guardian, if you like playing video games—and you should—E3 2015 proved the near future is an exciting time to be alive.
While you decide just how well the next six months will treat you, here's the USgamer team's analysis of 2015's latter half.
I didn't realize how badly I needed an E3 this strong until I actually saw it. I've hitched my life's wagon to this janky mare known as the games industry, and over the past few years the whole affair has seemed increasingly shallow, cynical, one-note, exploitative. It's hard to feel excited to write about an industry that seems hellbent on being everything you hate, you know? But this year, I didn't feel that way at all. The violent, style-over-substance content that has dominated the show for years was still there, but for once it felt like a part of a greater whole — not the point of video games, but simply one facet of the medium.
And what a relief. I've felt reinvigorated since returning home from the show, eager to dig into the substance and design and themes of everything I saw in LA last week. I guess that would be my outlook for 2015: Reinvigorated. Of course, a lot of the show's most promising demos were for games slated to arrive in 2016 (or later), but that's OK. It's good to be excited for next year, too.
I feel like this is the moment we've been waiting for since roughly 2010. Last generation's consoles have been fully supplanted by new ones that developers and publishers have committed to. Meanwhile, handheld systems — 3DS and Vita — have reached their twilight years, but they're not completely out of the count yet. And Nintendo is doing its own thing with Wii U, which means a sparse but wonderful trickle of new games. There's also the whole VR and AR thing, but only Oculus seems to be even close to a functional solution; I give it another five years before that whole trend settles into something viable (and Sony and Microsoft have consoles powerful enough to make their technologies worthwhile).
Really, it's the content that counts. Publishers seem more open to game experiences that aren't about killing everything in sight. They also seem more willing to accept the possibility of including female characters who aren't just there to motivate a male protagonist with angsty manpain. I even saw color in this year's press conferences! The dusty browns of Metal Gear and relentless grey of Gears 4 felt like aesthetic exceptions, not rules. The indie scene continues to thrive as well, both truly independently and under the sheltering wing of pubs like Sony.
When I look at the back half of the year, my thought is not, "I guess I have to play these" but rather "When will I possibly have time to play all these!?" It's a nice change of pace. Good game, industry.
It's been quite some time since we've had an E3 as exciting as this year's. Recent conventions have been all about current generation hardware and transitional software, but at E3 2015, with developers having had a couple of years to get used to the new generation technology, there was a wealth of interesting games on display - many of which look phenomenal. Sure, new ideas and concepts were thin on the ground, but overall this year was a triumphant showcase for gaming.
What struck me was the sheer diversity of games on display. There really was something for everyone. Indeed, I believe my personal Top 10 Games of the show are a testament to that variety:
Super Mario Maker: One of the best pieces of Nintendo software in years, this basically lets you make your own Mario games - or play levels developed by others. I just can't wait to see what creators build using the game's excellent, feature-rich toolset.
Cuphead: A 1930's cartoon meets a classic Treasure-style game, Cuphead is a wonderful-looking, slightly surreal series of platforming boss battles. Bring your A-game, because it's not easy.
Halo 5: I played the Warzone demo, and was really impressed with the way large-scale PvP battles are being handled. There are both PvP and PvE objectives on the map, and that makes for rich and interesting tactical play. Definitely one of the deeper and more intriguing team shooters at the show.
The Last Guardian: After years in development hell, The Last Guardian made a surprise appearance at the show. While its graphics display some trappings of its prior-generation roots, the gameplay looks absolutely stunning. I'm really looking forward to seeing whether the game lives up to the potential shown by its six-minute demo.
Horizon: Zero Dawn: Set in the far-flung future, following the collapse of civilization, Horizon is an open world game in which you hunt mecha-dinosaurs for parts. It's a great idea, and if the demo is anything to go by, it should be a game very much worth playing.
Yoshi Wooly World: Platforming doesn't get much cuter and cuddlier than this classic, soft-textured romp. Graphically gorgeous, and packed full of platforming surprises, this is the best Yoshi game in many a year.
Black Ops 3: Packing a new traversal system that makes the game feel like a run-and-gun parkour shooter, Black Ops III is fast, slick and smooth - and looks to be one of the standout entries of the Call of Duty series. I spent a couple of hours with the game, and had an absolute blast playing it.
Zelda Tri Force: The online three-player demo I tried with Jeremy was hugely entertaining. Basically you have to work together to solve puzzles: it's dynamic, fast and fun. Perfect online gaming for 3DS.
Need for Speed: The outstanding, set-at-night demo of Need for Speed showcased its amazing, near-photographic detailing, and gave us a delicious taste of what's to come - which looks like the best iteration of the series in years.
Steamworld Heist: Mixing things up is this turn-based strategic shooter. Featuring a cast of hilarious characters and very entertaining gameplay, this was one of my surprises of the show.
Of course, there are plenty of other games I'd like to talk about, but I think my Top Ten is enough to illustrate the greater point I'm making, which is that 2015 - and indeed 2016 - are going to be vintage years for gaming, whatever you're into.
The truth of E3 2015 is that this is a year where a lot of ideas just happened to come together. Developers have had enough time with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One that we're starting to see some more robust experiences on those consoles. Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo are now strongly pursuing indie developers, so we're starting to see experiences like Cuphead and Superhot, which fill out those console lineups. Over on the PC side, not only have Gen 8 consoles raised the low-end - many developers are focused on consoles first, so newer consoles actually mean beefier games on PC too - but some developers are realizing that you can survive on the PC alone. VR and AR are both coming into their own and we're just starting to see the experience both platforms can provide.
I was going to write that quick bit this wide and varied E3, but then Jaz went all out and I feel compelled to talk about my Top 10 as well.
Super Mario Maker: I was down with the idea in abstract, but seeing the crazy levels Nintendo itself had come up with at the show pushed this one to the top of my list. I can't wait to see the Kaizo Mario/Syoban Action-style level fans will come up with.
Horizon: I've never been a big Guerilla Games fan, so this was a legitimate surprise for me. Open-world games have always been my jam, but the world, lead character, and RPG hooks push it over the top. Looking forward to digging into it, ridiculous subtitle or not.
Just Cause 3: I love it when developers do things just for fun. For Rico's third outing, Avalanche Studios decided to ask themselves "What makes this experience fun?" and just go with their answers. Jumping cars and tractors with nitro? Sure why not? More tethers? Yes. Improved parachute action, a new wingsuit, and better vehicle stunts? Rock on. Just Cause 3 is going to be fun as hell.
Fire Emblem Fates: This spot was originally occupied by Steamworld Heist, a game I didn't know existed until our indie stream at E3, but since then Fire Emblem Fates has brought its A-game with anime waifus and husbandos, same-sex relationships, and amie action. I have to follow my heart.
Need for Speed: Ghost Games is rebooting NFS with extensive car customization featuring real-world gear. Like I said before, I'm glad to see authentic car culture represented in the new game and the focus on drifting is a welcome one. Also, I'm down with the hip-hop, which may turn off some others.
Lego Dimensions: I admit, I was getting a little tired of the Lego series of games, but Lego Dimensions looks to be a big improvement. It's not just the fact that they've pulled characters from DC Comics, Doctor Who, Back to the Future, Lord of the Rings, Scooby Doo, and Portal. The team at TT Games has also worked hard on integrating the physical portal into the game's puzzles, making for a really fun experience of moving your little Lego minifigures and creations around. Frankly, I'm hoping Lego Dimensions has long legs.
Rise of the Tomb Raider: I went into E3 expecting Uncharted 4 to be the winner out of Indiana Jones' bastard children, but Lara Croft took the top spot. What we have is Tomb Raider 2013 blown up into something that's not quite open-world; it's bigger, but still focused. New combat and stealth options, a bigger focus on survival, and tombs are back! Rise is looking pretty awesome.
Cosmic Star Heroine: Kat was gushing about this at E3 and the folks at Zeboyd are always worth a great time, so I had to stop and play this. This unique mix of Phantasy Star, Chrono Trigger, and Grandia is standing on its own; a classic RPG that just happened to be developed in the past 5 years. If this isn't already on your radar, it should be.
Mad Max: Based loosely on the excellent film, this Mad Max is an open-world titles where the wide expanses make sense. Scarcity is the name of the game; your ammo and fuel are limited, so you can't just go tearing about the world at random. This focuses the game, which is a welcome change. Also, I can't get over harpooning a driver out of their vehicle.
Street Fighter V: Praise the Ono. SFV played beautifully when I got my hands on it at E3. It's smooth and familiar, while the V-trigger system changes things up. There's far more variety in how each character plays that I think the professional scene for SFV is going to be mad interesting.
And that's not even counting games like Steamworld Heist, Superhot, Ratchet & Clank, Heart Forth Alicia, Galak-Z, Mega Man Legacy Collection, Halo 5, Fallout 4, Doom, and more. It was a great year and the only thing I wanted that I didn't get was more information about Nintendo's NX. Next year!
Despite the fact that many of the games I'm looking forward to most (Horizon, Zelda, the Final Fantasy VII remake) are being held over to 2016 and beyond, I think this is going to be a vintage year.
First of all, as I've discussed elsewhere, it's looking like a really strong year for sports games. Madden NFL has taken some really strong steps forward with its Hearthstone-like Draft Champions mode, NHL appears to be on the rebounds, and NBA 2K and FIFA figure to be customarily excellent. Even Pro Evolution Soccer, a series better-known for its mechanical depth than its presentation, is looking remarkably polished. I don't know if it'll be a truly legendary year for sports sims, but it's already looking like the best year since at least 2013.
In general, it feels like this console generation is getting its footing, with many AAA developers now putting out their best games. Metal Gear Solid 5, Fallout 4, and Persona 5 all look particularly excellent, and they are backed by strong indie projects like No Man's Sky, Cuphead, and Cosmic Star Heroine. Of them all, only Nintendo appears to have slipped, with none of its fall offerings standing out aside from Super Mario Maker, and even that doesn't particularly excite me (granted, I'm literally the only person on the staff who can say that).
As usual, there will be a lot of good stuff to play this fall; but more importantly, this E3 left me feeling really good about the foundation of certain genres going forward. We've finally hit the prime of this generation. Let's enjoy it.
So yeah, 2015 is turning out to be a pretty great year for video games.
Of course, every year brings plenty of worthwhile games if you know where to look, but 2015's E3 made me especially happy to be a member of our little profession. Previous E3s I've been to inevitably left me with a sour taste in my mouth; typically, once I got back from L.A., I'd immediately buy all of the colorful, inspired games I could find, if only to counteract the brain-dead brutality and violence typically showcased during presentations. But this year, the whole "headshot" angle took a backseat to a host of inspired experiences that involve more than controlling a floating gun. It's been a while since I've seen an E3 back away from this ugly trend, and while these games should still exist, it's nice to see them shoved out of the spotlight for once.
So, what am I excited about in 2015? Metal Gear Solid V, for one. (I'd go into more detail, but I kinda wrote a big-huge preview about it.) Fallout 4 will undoubtedly eat up a huge chunk of my life, too; despite not being totally in love with Western-style RPGs, I fell head-over-heels for 3 and New Vegas, and I expect the same from this upcoming sequel. Star Fox Zero looks cool, and even if Kat has her doubts, I'm looking forward to seeing what my favorite Platinum Games director can do with the series. Animal Crossing: Happy Home looks like it may get me back into Nintendo's life sim after I burned myself out on the GameCube version. And what of Persona 5? Atlus claims it's still hitting the US in 2015, and while I'm a little skeptical, I really want this to happen.
It's been long enough, and these new consoles are finally starting to come into their own. Even if we had to suffer through a wave of HD remakes, we're finally seeing the promises of the Xbox One and PS4 pay off; each conference stuck solely to games, not lifestyle technologies, or TV series no one really asked for. And hey, the Kinect is dead and buried, and we're finally free! (As is Rare, for that matter.) From my perspective, I've never been more excited to write about what I've seen at an E3—so here's hoping you enjoy reading it.