The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) is about to fade into memory but not before I let everybody know what my favorite games were.
We had a team of six writers scouring E3 for the best games, and we had to occasionally elbow some of the 50,300 people who attended the Los Angeles event out of the way. As our GamesBeat writer Jeff Grubb pointed out, it was the year of the grappling hook. Last year, it was female heroes and companion dogs. There were plenty of strong women characters in the top games this year, and there were very few “booth babes” at the show.
Sony once again showed its dominance of high-end gaming — at least when it comes to the right way to present games — at its E3 press event. Microsoft had good announcements too, but the games just didn’t come off as inspiring as the Sony demos. Seven of the 10 games below will run on the PlayStation 4.
Toys-to-life took some time to cool off this time, as Disney vacated its booth on the show floor and canceled its Disney Infinity toy-game hybrid. Warner Bros. is still trying with Lego Dimensions and Activision has Skylanders Imaginators coming with customizable digital toy characters. But to me, E3 maintained its relevance because it was the place where I got to see some of the best games coming in the video game business. This list doesn’t have any mobile titles because, frankly, I didn’t see that many mobile game companies at E3. But it has a virtual reality title that I hope is a sign of the future.
Here’s my list of favorites from last year. And below are my favorites from E3 2016. None of these games are out yet.
1. Days Gone, from SCE Bend Studio and Sony
As I noted in last week’s column, I can’t tell you how stirring it was to watch this demo on a big screen at the close of Sony’s press event, with a live orchestra playing the score.
Earlier in the event, it introduced the character, Deacon St. John, a drifter, bounty hunter, and mercenary. He is one of the survivors of a virus outbreak that triggered a zombie-like apocalypse. He talks about the broken road as all that is left. At the close, Sony showed the gameplay. St. John goes into an old sawmill in pursuit of a bounty target named Two Dog. He scavenges for supplies, searches for Two Dog, and then has to shoot a frighteningly fast zombie child who almost bites St. John’s neck. Two Dog escapes to the roof of the sawmill, and St. John pursues him. Two Dog launches an ill-considered surprise attack at St. John, knocking them both off the roof. As they fall, they draw the attention of a swarm of zombies, known as Freakers.
The creatures are fast, and they come sprinting. St. John leaves an injured Two Dog behind to be devoured by the Freakers. He flees and the sea of zombies pursues him. St. John fires his automatic weapon at them, emptying clip after clip. But still they come. The music is pounding. St. John yells, “Come on.” Then the camera pulls back, and you can see how hopeless his situation is as he’s surrounded. Still, he yells, “Come on! Come on!”
It’s not a perfect demo. I kept thinking that St. John is dumb for trying to shoot so many Freakers at all. He should just run away. But that would have quite boring by comparison. He also seems to pause and slow down for alarmingly long periods of time as the zombies have him trapped inside buildings.
But the speed and number of the zombies — amid the backdrop of such beautiful scenery — reminded me of the panoramic scenes in World War Z. I think it was as gripping and intense as a demo can get. I felt a lot of emotion at St. John’s foolishness and his bravery in the face of impossible odds. There were plenty of other zombie games at E3, but this was the only one that seemed so powerful.
2. God of War, from Sony Santa Monica and Sony
I have not been such a big fan of the God of War games. So when this demo started at Sony’s press event, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing. As soon as the fans saw Kratos, the God of War, they started cheering. I wasn’t all that excited.
But as the video went on, I began to reconsider. The relationship between this boy who clearly wasn’t a god and his anger-prone father, Kratos, was interesting. The boy’s mother is gone, and Kratos is teaching him how to hunt as a kind of coming-of-age lesson. The woods are beautiful, and they become ominous when something spooks nearby birds into flight.
The boy spooks a deer, and his father scolds him. The boy apologizes, and the fierce god replies, “Don’t be sorry. Be better.” The boy tries again to shoot a deer and fails, and Kratos hits the boiling point. He has to contain his anger and return to the lesson. Then they run into some demons and Kratos pulls out an amazing magic ax that returns to him after he hurls it. The action is frightening, but I just worried about the boy.
Next, Kratos has to fight a giant troll. He asks for the boy’s help in shooting an arrow at the troll. Instead, the boy narrowly misses killing his father. Kratos dispatches the troll on his own in an epic battle. Then, as the boy apologizes again, Kratos cooly tells him his deer is getting away.
Finally, the boy shoots the deer, but he cannot plunge the knife into the dying animal. Kratos shows him how to finish what he started. And there’s a moment when the boy almost reaches out to the father, and the father almost pats the boy on the back. It closes with another ominous scene. The game’s director, Cory Barlog, told us in interviews that the game character is maturing just as gaming is. It’s a new beginning, Kratos tells his boy.
3. Sea of Thieves, from Rare and Microsoft
Sea of Thieves isn’t much to look at. It’s a cartoon-style pirate game where multiple players can band together and control a pirate ship. But when I played it, it started growing on me. It’s a fast-moving game where you have to act as a member of the crew and sail the ship. One person can steer the ship as the captain, but when the sails are properly raised, that person can’t see which way to go. Someone else has to direct the captain. And when you close in on another ship for combat, other players have to man the cannon. There’s no heads-up display to tell you whether your shots are going too far or too short. You have to eyeball it. And when you’re hit, someone else has to race below decks to repair the damage. It’s all quite intuitive to perform these tasks, but you can only sink the other ship if the crew works in unison. We knew we had failed when the waterline came into view and we sank into the deep. Mark this down as one of the surprises of the show.
4. Battlefield 1, by EA DICE Studio and Electronic Arts
Battlefield 1’s gameplay is going to be pretty epic, with 64 players squaring off against each other in multiplayer combat. The game looks beautiful with its Frostbite-based 3D graphics, with plenty of explosions, landscape details, and even the respawn system. Battlefield 1 will play like past Battlefield games, with better-looking visuals and slower action. But the new setting of World War I and the wide variety of infantry weapons, vehicles such as tanks, biplanes, and even zeppelins will give players plenty to do besides just snipe at each other in trenches. I think the shift to World War I is a fresh twist that will keep fans interested in yet another rendition of this shooter series.
5. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, by Infinity Ward and Activision
I can’t sing the praises of Battlefield 1 without recognizing Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare as well. These two games are the shooters with the best production values. And Activision’s Infinity Ward is taking a risk as well with a change in the setting — this time into the future with sci-fi combat. It’s a military shooter at its core, but now the battleground is the entire solar system as Earth defends itself from its colonies dubbed the Settlement Defense Front. Like many of the fans who had a negative reaction to the initial disclosure, I was worried about this shift so far from Call of Duty’s roots of boots on the ground.
But the E3 demo convinced me that it’s going to be a lot of fun to play. It starts with an infantry battle in Geneva where the grunts have to take a hill. They do so — with help such as an air strike and the ability to hack the enemy’s systems.
Then the demo takes you to the stars as you take off for a strike against an enemy space destroyer. You can engage in dogfights in space as a fighter pilot and then land on the enemy’s capital ship. You can use a grappling hook, either pulling yourself to different parts of the ship or pulling enemies to you for a deadly melee. You board the ship and, once inside, the familiar Call of Duty infantry combat returns front and center. Haters can hate, but this Call of Duty promises a lot of fun gadgets and familiar gameplay.
6. Horizon: Zero Dawn by Guerrilla Games and Sony
This is an amazing new intellectual property with a setting 1,000 years in the future, after the fall of mankind. But while mankind has moved back to the Stone Age, mechanical dinosaurs roam the lands, providing very dangerous threats to the surviving humans. The title has a strong female character, Aloy, as its hero. She’s on orphan with a mysterious past, and she’s trying to find out the connection between her lost parents, what happened to the world, and secrets to defeating the mechanical monsters. But her own superstitious and religious leaders stand in her way. It’s an intriguing story with some beautiful graphics and epic moments of gameplay.
7. Abzû, by Giant Squid and Sony
I’ve had my eyes on Abzû since I saw it for the first time last year. And the game is now releasing on August 2. I finally got some hands-on time with the title, and it has progressed very nicely.
The underwater exploration title isn’t like many of the boring “undersea adventure” games that we’ve seen in the past. I found it soothing, serene, mysterious, and sometimes scary.
Abzû does a fantastic job of simulating the ocean, without simply trying to reproduce a video view of the ocean. Abzû has stylistic art that gives you a sense of moving around in three dimensions. The lighting and colors are spectacular.
The ocean has a tremendous variety of fish. They are simulated independently, and they naturally form into schools. Each scene can have tens of thousands of fish. Those fish act on their own to stay away from walls, align with their neighbors, and avoid predators.
If you get close enough to a big fish or a turtle, you can grab on to them and go for a ride. That gives you a greater sense of speed. But the fish will look out for its own interests, particularly if it’s hungry and wants to each smaller fish. You can even ride on a giant blue whale. The food chain works naturally, with the sharks going after smaller fish. But beyond all of this, there’s a mystery to the game. It has a story and a quest, leading into the dark and light waters alike.
8. Lawbreakers, by Boss Key Productions and Nexon
You can consider this game to be Cliff Bleszinski’s attempt at a redemption, as he said so himself. He doesn’t have to apologize for his past games like Gears of War or Unreal. But since leaving Epic Games, he recognized a need to get out of a rut and create something new. He’s done that with LawBreakers, a shooter game set in the future with a lot of foul-mouthed, tough talking brusiers and femme fatales. It has some clever twists on gameplay, such as zero-gravity zones where players can take advantage of vertical gameplay and yet float through the air in a kind of slow motion that makes it easier to hit enemies in motion. It also has some tense, time-driven multiplayer modes that will have teams screaming during the last seconds. LawBreakers may have to worry about our collective fascination with Blizzard’s Overwatch, but I think it has a lot to offer in the first-person shooter genre.
9. Detroit: Become Human, by Quantic Dream and Sony
Quantic Dream has caught some flak over the years by making games that are more like cinematic movies than games. It relies on interactivity at key moments in a scene, where you have to make a split-second decision about what to do. I like this style of game play in this one particular case, because Quantic Dreams’ games are absolutely beautiful to look at. No one renders human faces better, and Detroit: Become Human, shows this once again.
In Detroit, we have a familiar story of a battle between humans and A.I. robots. But these robots are more like the good guys, and the humans are suspect. We see this in a gripping scene in which Connor, an android police negotiator, talks down an android who has gone rogue. The android is holding a human girl as a hostage, and he is threatening to jump off a ledge of a skyscraper with her. Connor’s decisions, which you control, mean life or death for the girl. The scene is intense, superb storytelling drama at its best.
10. Raw Data, by Survios
This game has been in the works for a while, and it has morphed. But no other title delivers that feeling that you’re surrounded on all sides by attacking humanoid droids and you’ve got to fire in multiple directions at once. It works with the HTC Vive where you can move around at “room scale.” And it taps the power of the separate hand controls that allow you to fire at different objects simultaneously. You need this ability in order to hit the targets as they approach you. The game will have different kinds of modes and a big selection of weapons, from bows to machine guns. After a short session with Raw Data, you’ll emerge sweaty and tired.
For my honorable mentions, I also liked Titanfall 2, Here They Lie, Spider-Man, Dead & Buried, For Honor, Gears of War 4, Civilization VI, and We Happy Few. I wouldn’t say I’ve seen enough of these games to make me push aside other titles in the top ten. But I’m very interested in seeing more.