LOS ANGELES — Our GamesBeat team saw more games than ever at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. We’ll have our team’s best of E3 votes next week, but I always like to highlight my favorite games and technologies at gaming’s biggest industry trade show, which drew 52,000 people to the Los Angeles Convention Center this week.
The game industry is always evolving, and this encourages me. This year’s big trends included strong female characters. Powerful female leads headline Horizon: Zero Dawn, Hellblade, ReCore, Assassin’s Creed, and even Electronic Arts’ soccer game, FIFA 16, which included women’s teams for the first time.
I was also struck by the power of classic revivals and reboots. Sony drew the biggest cheers at its press event when it announced it would bring Final Fantasy VII, one of the most beloved games in the series from Square Enix, to the PlayStation 4. It also got a huge response supporting the Kickstarter campaign for Shenmue III. EA is bringing back Mass Effect and rebooting Need for Speed. And Nintendo is launching a new Starfox Zero game for the Wii U and Metroid returns on the 3DS.
The “toys to life trend” was huge at E3, with huge toy-game hybrid efforts from Disney Infinity (with its Star Wars collections), Warner Bros. with Lego Dimensions, Activision with Skylanders SuperChargers, Nintendo with Amiibo, and even LeapFrog with its new Imagicard collection for young kids. I’m not sure how I feel about whether this is truly innovation or a cynical way to cash in on fandom. Mostly, I pity the parents who have to shell out more money for toys. Then again, I think the makers of pure physical toys like G.I. Joe and Barbie are going to be the losers here.
It’s always heartwarming to see that E3 isn’t dominated by blockbusters alone. We saw a resurgence of indies, who made appearances on the main stage of companies such as Sony and Microsoft. You’ll see plenty of indie titles in the ranks below, such as Hello Games’ No Man’s Sky.
Game developers love dogs. Fallout 4 generated a lot of questions from fans about whether the dog was playable (it can’t be killed, but it isn’t playable), and Microsoft’s ReCore featured a robot dog that sacrifices itself for its owner.
Here’s my favorites from E3. None of these games are out yet.
1. Oculus Touch from Oculus VR
This is not a game, yet. But I haven’t smiled or laughed so much in a demo in a long time. The Oculus Touch hand sensors go with the Oculus Rift headset. They can sense your individual finger movements. You can hold one in each hand, enabling you to independently control your hands inside a virtual world.
To show off the technology, Oculus VR created a toy box application, where I could pick up toys and toss them around. The sensors have a joystick, a trigger, and a middle-finger button. The Touch sensors aren’t completely precise, but they’re good enough for you to have a good time. I had fun picking up a Ping-Pong ball and whacking it with a paddle. I also punched a punching bag and shot a bunch of ceramic statues. This is just what virtual reality needs to make experiences in an immersive world more engaging.
2. Abzu by Giant Squid, from 505 Games
Matt Nava, one of the makers of Journey, spun out to create his own game studio, Giant Squid, to make this game about underwater exploration. It has awesome, inspiring music from Austin Wintory, and it allows you to feel a sense of wonder as you explore an underwater world. That would can be frightening, as when a shark swims by. Or it can be spellbinding, like when you cozy up to a giant sperm whale or ride on the back of a tortoise. It also has a directed narrative story that makes the game mysterious.
3. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End by Naughty Dog, from Sony
Developer Naughty Dog is teasing this game as the end of Nathan Drake’s odyssey. He’s a rogue adventurer and a thief, but he’s trying to settle down with his love Elena. His brother Sam appears and tugs him back into the business of robbing relics, and his buddy, Sully, tries to keep him balanced. And Drake is on the trail of a pirate thief who amassed a fortune before coming to his own end. The subtitle has a lot of possible meanings, and creative director Neil Druckmann told us that is intentional. That kind of engaging story is why I love Uncharted.
Then add the nonstop action to that. Uncharted 4’s E3 video has some incredible action as an armored truck pursues Drake and Sully in a jeep through a hilly oceanside town. It is like you stepped into an interactive blockbuster action movie.
4. Horizon: Zero Dawn by Guerrilla Games, from by Sony
Horizon: Zero Dawn was totally unexpected, coming from Guerrilla Games, the creator of the Killzone series. The company let its developers loose four-and-a-half years ago to create the world of Horizon. It takes place 1,000 years after a civilization collapses. Nature has begun to take back the world, with fauna growing over the ruins of cities. Humans have survived as tribal hunters.
But machines now rule the world. They take the form of dinosaur-like creatures. We meet them after a hunter, a strong female lead character named Aloy, starts to stalk a pack of herd-like mechanical dinosaurs. She uses a bow and stealth to bring down the creatures, but she has to deal with a giant T-rex mechanical monster. It has beautiful art and great creativity. It runs slower at a 30 frames per second, but that’s the cost of beauty.
5. Doom by id Software, from Bethesda Softworks
Doom is the leader of the reboot trend. Id Software has been working on this for a long time. The last Doom game, Doom 3, was a dark and scary horror romp published in 2004. But this game has a lighter art style, and it’s focused on combat. It’s one of the bloodiest titles you’ll see, but the 3D graphics and shooting mechanics are amazing.
I played a hands-on demo that showed the speed is blazing fast, the sound is immersive, and the creatures are disgusting. No one does shooters as fast and satisfying as this.