E3 2015

18 06 2015

This year’s E3 was a great lead-up to some of the most anticipated titles of the year. With heavy-hitters like Halo 5: Guardians, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Call of Duty: Black Ops III just over the horizon, there was even more excitement to be had by the surfacing of some projects thought long-vanquished, most notably The Last Guardian, Shenmue III, and the remake of Final Fantasy VII. Here are my impressions from some of what I was able to see on the show floor.

Star Wars Battlefront (PS4)

I had been skeptical of the Battlefront series as being a simple reskin or rebranding of the perennial Battlefield franchise, but Star Wars Battlefront ended up being my favorite of the show and shattered my preconceptions. I was able to enjoy a play session in both the 20 vs. 20 multiplayer demonstration and also the 2-man cooperative challenge.

The real meat of the experience and the centerpiece of the game is the large-scale multiplayer battles in which one team represents the iconic factions of the Star Wars series; the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. In the demo level featured at EA’s main South Hall booth, an all out Imperial assault on a Rebel base on the icy tundra of Hoth was the scenario on deck in which the Rebels are trying to repel the advance of two massive AT-AT walkers that the Empire has deployed to destroy the power generators that supply the Rebel base. The asymmetric objectives and narrative setup add an element of investment and interesting gameplay differences for both sides right off the bat.

From the onset, the two factions launch towards each other in a massive infantry wave, frantically scanning the front lines for exposed targets, pushing towards boundaries in wide flanking maneuvers, and trying to gain advantageous positions amongst the rocky outcroppings and winding trenches scattered across the map. The gameplay is vastly simplified compared to other modern FPS games to focus on the core shooting and infantry tactics instead of inventory and resource management: Almost every piece of equipment that you utilize such as jetpacks, grenade launchers, and personal shields function on a cooldown timer rather than having a set amount of ammo, meaning that their usage focuses more on escalation and opportunity than trying to throw out as much of your gadgets and special weapons as possible per life. Another streamlined element of gameplay that helps keep the ground map less cluttered and more concisely focused on infantry vs. infantry is that there are no vehicles laying idly about that players have to try to capture and embark; instead acquiring a vehicle is a powerup that can be picked up around the map which players then use to “call in” an aerial fighter from off-screen, transitioning to the already-airborne fighter seamlessly (complete with a classic Star Wars-style screen wipe). Vehicles also dominate the game space to a much lesser degree, where the aerial dogfights feel like a distinctly separate space of the same conflict yet jointly contribute to the objective at hand.

The game looks marvelous and the performance was spotless. Seeing the massive scale of the armored AT-ATs as they lumber across the snow is awesome to behold and plays on the fond nostalgia of the classic franchise. There were many other great magic moments in the play session where myself or my neighboring players would lean over, eyes lit up with shameless giddiness and say such things as “dude I’m in a tie fighter” or “I just got torn up by Luke Skywalker.”

The cooperative offering featured a local split-screen challenge set in a craggy canyon of the arid Tatooine wilds. As a pair of stranded Rebel operatives, you and your partner must endure waves of incoming stormtroopers as you await reinforcement. You have to use the landscape to your advantage as the Imperium forces close in, and pick your shots especially when faced with a stalking AT-ST walker. Optional objectives provide bonus powerups such as a smart missile if you are willing to stick your neck out to recover them. The framerate/latency was noticeably lower than when playing at the multiplayer stations, likely due to the strain of rendering split-screen but still playable and gorgeous looking.

Street Fighter V (PS4)

A new chapter in the legendary fighting franchise is almost upon us and a playable build was available for the masses to sample on the show floor, both at the Sony and Capcom booth areas. The latest entry in the series feels both familiar and foreign at the same time, particularly in the core game system mechanics: Gone are the focus attacks and ultra moves from the predecessor Street Fighter IV, paving way for the new V-skill and V-gauge system. The familiar super meter remains at the bottom of the screen, but is subdivided into 3 cells as opposed to 4. Additionally there is the new red-tinged V-gauge that sits atop the super meter which is divided into segments as well, however the amount of segments and length of the V-gauge varies from character to character. The V-gauge fills up due to taking damage similar to the revenge meter in SFIV, and gives access to the V-reversal which is essentially an alpha-counter-esque move that you can use while blocking to escape pressure but also enables the character to activate their V-trigger when filled to maximum. Of note is also the presence of a visible stun gauge on screen below the health bars which serves to show the player when a character is about to enter a dizzy state from being hit too much in succession.

The V-trigger’s effect is different for each character and either enhances them in some way for the duration of its activation as the V-gauge slowly depletes or gives access to supplemental moves. For example, when M. Bison activates his V-trigger, it causes his various moves to gain evasive phasing properties but Nash’s V-trigger is actually a single-use move that allows him to
instantly teleport to a position on the screen for a sudden repositioning maneuver.

Additionally, each character has a unique V-skill that is used by pressing both medium attack buttons, and similarly has a different unique effect for each fighter. Ryu’s V-skill is reminiscent of Street Fighter III’s parry that can catch attacks and allow him to respond more quickly than blocking, while Chun Li’s V-skill is a short hop that launches her low off the ground and opens up more variation in her aerial approaches.

There were 6 warriors playable on the show floor, including fan-favorites Ryu, Chun Li, M. Bison, and Cammy. Returning from the Alpha series is the burly grappler Birdie and the enigmatic Nash, a character previously thought to be canonically dead but now returned as a partially-cybernetic vengeful revenant. Most of the classic characters’ gameplay is comfortable and largely unchanged, whereas others have had substantial revisions. M. Bison has lost the ability to use Psycho Crusher as a normal special move, but gains a few new tricks in his arsenal that unleash bursts and geysers of his signature purple energy. Nash now uses fireball-motion inputs to utilize his special moves rather than charge moves similar to Guile as he had in his previous appearances. Changes such as these are an exciting prospect for a long-running series and incites curiosity on what other characters we will see return and what new tricks they will have at their disposal.

Rainbow Six: Siege (Xbox One)

Of the innumerable entries into the staleing FPS genre, once in a while an outlier will appear that may just set the new precedent and turning point for the genre. Rainbow Six: Siege is a game that mixes some of the sensibilities of the older age of FPS combined with new fresh concepts that challenge modern conventions of shooters. The small 5 vs. 5 game along with the lack of instant respawns in a round create an incredibly tense experience where every subtle movement matters and careful play and tactics is favored over reckless charges. The other centerpiece of Rainbow Six: Siege is the destructable aspects of the level where holes and can be breached in most any wall to create sudden openings and routes to surprise and outmaneuver the enemy.

Rock Band 4 (Xbox One)

Having been a dedicated follower of the Rock Band franchise in the previous generation, Rock Band 4 was one of my must-see attractions for the show but it was ultimately the least exciting for me. I could scarcely tell that I wasn’t playing Rock Band 3 aside from the new track list, with the only apparent new gameplay offering being the ability for the guitar player to unleash freestyle solo riffs similar to the drum track. I was informed that equipment from the previous console generation should be compatible with the new incarnation, which is definitely a big plus, but it remains to be seen what else will incentivize players from coming back for another tour of the series.

Guitar Hero Live (Xbox One)

One of the originators of the popularity of the instrument-game genre returns featuring a new controller that has six fret buttons which are positioned in two rows of 3 rather than straight down the neck. Apart from the new hardware, Guitar Hero Live also features live action video recordings from the perspective of a guitarist at a real concert show which is a cool addition.

Xbox Elite Controller

While I didn’t actually play anything on the floor with the new hardware, I was able to handle the new peripheral and discuss some of its talking points with an exhibitor. The Xbox Elite Controller is a newly announced official controller for the Xbox One which for all intents and purposes functions like any other controller but has some really nice extras for a player who wants to customize their tool of the trade for enhanced performance and comfort. The additional features beyond the standard controller include magnetically swappable alternate dpad and analog sticks to change the height, bulk, and feel of the directional inputs, as well as toggles at the rear of the device that allow you to adjust the distance that the trigger buttons can be depressed. The most notable addition is the removable paddles that can be inserted into the rear of the controller that are customizable and can be programmed to emulate the function of the other buttons, so for example you could put your jump button on one of the paddles so that you would be able to access that button without taking your thumb off of the right analog stick which is typically used for aiming weapons. Despite its various useful additions, bells, and whistles, the $150 price point puts it into the territory of “would be nice to have” rather than “obvious purchase.”

Cuphead (PS4)

A visually striking game that resembles something straight out of the era of technicolor cartoons, Cuphead is an indie-produced side scrolling shoot-em-up with an unusual, head-turning aesthetic. Cuphead is playable solo or via local coop and will be making its way onto console and PC digital distribution channels soon.

Kill Strain (PS4)

A top-down isometric view team shooter with an interesting twist: There are actually 3 teams, two teams of human operatives and one team of “mutants” that begins with only two players. Each team has its own objective to win a match but the mutant team is able to infect other players and convert them to their team permanently. This interesting dynamic is a unique take on typical symmetric team shooters in that alignments can swap as the match progresses and there is a 3rd party threat at all times for each team.

Gang Beast (PS4)

A quaint but thoroughly entertaining 4-player brawler which is something like a bizarre version of Backyard Wrestling. The premise and controls are fairly simple; grapple and struggle with your opponents to try and toss them into hazards like giant fans and rock grinders on a variety of stages ranging from construction sites to industrial mills. Gang Beast has been available on Steam for a while now but is making its way to digital distribution on consoles.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (PS4)

One of the headliners of the entire show, Uncharted 4 was not floor playable but there was a live demo that featured extended gameplay beyond what was shown during the Playstation press conference (which is worth a watch if you’ve not yet seen it). Uncharted 4 looks like a technical marvel with its graphic fidelity and smooth framerate, but its real appeal lies in the high-adrenaline moment-to-moment intensity within the gameplay sequences that makes it exhilarating just to watch, let alone play. If Uncharted 4 can pack that much excitement within a span of 5 minutes, I can barely imagine what the whole game must be like.


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