E3 2015: Things that make me say ‘oh… umm’

This isn’t merely the opposite of yesterday’s “oh yeah” list. These aren’t games I hate or have lost faith in. No Man’s Sky and The Last Guardian are still must-plays for me but this is the year that my pessimism for these long-promised games equaled or surmounted my excitement.  For the rest, these are just things from E3 that gave me pause or raised a concerned eyebrow.

Again, organized alphabetically by PlayStation 4 and Xbox One console exclusives and then by multiplatform

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Dreams (PlayStation 4 from Media Molecule)
The presentation was gorgeous and delightful but as soon as I started thinking about it as a retail product my brain melted. I get the 3D sculpting with the controller and its motion sensors but how can you animate and script intricate vignettes while feeling like an ethereal dream? And is the experience only in watching others creations or can you build playable games? I’m impressed but skeptical of how well it will work and if a large enough audience will support it.

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The Last Guardian (PlayStation 4 from Sony)
Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of Team ICO and Fumito Ueda; there was even a time when I wrote fan fiction for ICO. So what’s more surprising than finally seeing The Last Guardian in action on PlayStation 4 is thinking that maybe it’s too little, too late. Granted, the scene that was on display was reportedly from early in the game but the animation, puzzle design and slow pace only felt nostalgic, not exciting and fresh. Another incomprehensible boy, another companion whose inevitable death will hang over your head for the entire game, another lifeless, Escher-esque castle.

By the time The Last Guardian is out it will have been 15 years since the original ICO and after the demo I’m a little worried that all we’re getting is a mashup of it and Shadow of the Colossus. I’ll still buy it on day one and probably put all these concerns behind me once I’m playing it. But right here and now I’m wondering if it could ever live up to the years of hopes and expectations.

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No Man’s Sky (PlayStation 4 and PC from Hello Games)
Similar to the predicament with The Last Guardian, No Man’s Sky has touted and promised and tweaked our excitement for so long now that I can’t help but worry. The most dismaying moment was during the E3 demo where Hello Games’ Sean Murray comes upon a growing battle between starships. He says this is the boundary of the two factions and that the player can choose to engage (at which point he takes a few shots at a ship) or not, and he zooms off to a random point in the game’s infinite space.

What’s troublesome is that there’s no context given for the warring factions, hell, there’s barely even sound effects. It’s simply a bunch of 3D models moving around one another and it’s seemingly up to my imagination to explain why I care. At one time randomly generated content promised that you could play a game forever with personally unique experiences. Nowadays it just feels like a lot of lifeless repetition. With an infinite universe of lifeless repetition randomly spewn out it’s no wonder the shiny mystery of No Man’s Sky is starting to fade.

Again, that’s how I feel right now with loads of questions yet to be answered about the game. And even with those concerns I’ll be right there on launch day, ready to be wowed, hoping to have my fears put to rest.

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Crackdown (Xbox One from Microsoft Games Studios)
Yeah yeah, it’ll get its big reveal at Gamescom but I was nonetheless bummed to hear it wasn’t going to be at E3. That’s all, no huge concerns over game design or nostalgia on this one… yet.

Sea of Thieves (Xbox One from Rare)
For me, this game looks like nothing. A pirate themed MMO with PVP, no thank you. But beyond my own personal baggage it’s just another in the long history of post-Nintendo Rare games that doesn’t feel like a Rare game. Great looking water though, I’ll give ‘em that.

HD Remake/Collections (Every damn platform)
Yes, I have been excited about some HD remake/collections in the past, usually for very old games or unexpected comebacks. Where it gets bad is when you spend more time at your press conference talking about Dishonored: Definitive Edition than the sequel to it you just announced. Or when you charge the same for the singular Gears of War remake as you do for the 4-in-1 Master Chief Collection. Or when a good portion of your first-party lineup includes a remake of God of War 3, a collection of Uncharted titles, and a standalone offering of Last of Us DLC. It wouldn’t be nearly as painful to see these collections and remakes if there were more new and original titles alongside them. The only thing more painful to see on a release calendar is…

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Indie overload (Mostly Xbox One but also PlayStation 4)
At Microsoft’s press conference they detailed four indie games and had their creators come out on stage to demo them. That’s awesome to see these small teams and their games on the bright, world stage of E3! But on the same day Microsoft posted over 30 trailers for indie games to their YouTube channel of wildly different quality. With new releases unceremoniously pushed to the store every week and no more free demos, how do you keep track of what’s good? How do you find anything in one, three or five years when the store is swollen with releases? Sadly, Phil Spencer’s answer is simply that “the good games sell well and the bad games don’t”.

It’s what I have come to think of as Indie Cannon Fodder. Exposure of any kind is great for a small team and their game but it feels unfair and disingenuous to me. They work hard, sometimes for years, to bring their game to a release and it’s shot aimlessly like a single bullet in a firestorm. The chances of anyone seeing it after the first week where it might be featured on the storefront is slim. This behavior marginalizes independent games at the same time that it brings them to market. It’s dysfunctional and complicated and maybe it’s not a big deal to developers. I don’t really have a solution, just observations, but it’s definitely something I kept dwelling on looking over E3 press materials.

If all this makes me sound like a crazy old man, check out yesterday’s post about all the things at E3 I liked

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