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Joe's Best of E3

by Joseph Knoop

E3 is over. Bless the magnificent star children of Ganymede, it’s over, and with its conclusion comes the flurry of forum bantering and interpersonal debate.

Who won? Which company came out on top? Who had the biggest gaffes?

As one should expect, any answer is tantamount to pure opinion, because without it there’d be no reason to get excited in the first place. We were just subjected to some of the biggest and brightest titles. We’re allowed to squeal like catty school children if we feel so inclined.

So here’s my take on the best (and worst) of E3 2014.

The CG Showdown

Not to start off on a negative note, but the majority of E3 trailers (at least early on) seemed to have no problem doing so. The latest trailer for The Division, now just one of a couple Tom Clancy games heading our way, showcased the origin of New York’s plight. A deadly disease has wiped out some portion of the American populace, driving numerous individuals to the depths of madness, despair and violence.

While the concept of reading this world’s history through a beautifully realized, narrated timelapse sure seemed impressive, it was indicative of the expo’s unwillingness to hammer home just how powerful these new consoles are. They shouldn’t be trying to sell us on CGI. Trailers like those meant something when games were still discovering bump mapping. Now that I can practically caress Nathan Drake’s stubble, aren’t we a bit past this?

What little new gameplay of The Division we did see failed to impress. More firefights in the cold city streets and what amounted to a miniboss. Even though this latest trailer spent its duration giving us background, we’ve done the apocalypse before. We’ve done plucky ragtag gang of freedom fighters. How hard can it be to mix it up even just a little? Wildly stupid games like Wolfenstein: The New Order can manage to make us feel something for murderous psychopaths simply because they took the time to do so.

We saw equal attempts at this style with trailers for a new Crackdown, Battlefront, and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. We knew there was a new Uncharted, and of course it would star Nathan Drake, Sully, and very likely Elena. Stop toying with us and give players more than just meaningless story beats. Saying “We’ve got to do this job one...last...time,” means nothing to us. You “wow” gamers by demonstrating what we’ll actually be achieving. No less than that.

The Darn Good

Firstly, let’s give a hand to Rocksteady reinvigorating interest in a franchise that could have easily fallen by the wayside. WB Games shoved Arkham Origins out there, and it showed with the slightest attention paid. The new Gotham looks sleeker, more diverse, and just plain fun. It says something when The Batmobile’s ability to drive through concrete street dividers elicits mass approval. I regretted renting Origins, and now I can’t wait for Arkham Knight. Now that’s how you demo at E3.

Speaking of demos, after a fairly impressive introduction to Far Cry 4’s new villain, a full gameplay demo managed to stir up the crowd, no doubt delighting Ubisoft. It looks an awful lot like the gameplay of Far Cry 3, but new weapons and abilities look like they’ll mix up the formula enough to make sure it stands out on its own. Surfing through the sky in a wingsuit was one of Far Cry 3’s biggest highlights, and with a helicopter in the mix, traversal looks like no problem.

Oh, and you know...suicidal killer elephants, man.

The Best

I think it’s a safe assumption that most people started playing videogames for that unique sense of wonder inherent to the medium. Wonder at an open world begging to be discovered, fear in the darkest hallways as something slinks up behind you, the sense of triumph over god knows how many beasts.

I felt all that and more, once again, with No Man’s Sky, developed by Hello Games.

Though the question of just what we’ll be doing in this world remains (and I realize that complaint mirrors the ones I make above), I have no doubt that I’ll find plenty to explore and engage with in this literally endless universe.

Elements reminiscent of Minecraft, the ability to name the materials and monsters you encounter, and the seamless transition between everything simply fills me with joy. There’s color, and most importantly, a real sense of life. Granted, this trailer could be the careful manipulations of a director, but a series of high moments means nothing without some lulls in the action. I can only envision my time in the darkness of space. Maybe I’ll find a peaceful planet at the break of dawn, just turn off the ship’s engine, and soak it all in. There’s no shortage of possibilities, and that’s why the games industry is as successful as it is. We’ve built these worlds, and now we get to explore them. They’ve become something of their own. In this procedurally generated adventure, I can’t wait to discover what’s out there.

In a nutshell, that was E3 for me. Plenty of other games deserve your attention, but these will be the ones on my radar for the time to come. We’re seeing Microsoft react to Xbox One’s negative press with at least a little grace. We’re seeing Sony pushing forward on the majority of promises they’ve made, with new details to reinvigorate interest. I can’t wait for Project Morpheus and Oculus Rift to completely renovate how we view games. I can’t wait for horror titles like Alien: Isolation. Despite this excitement, there will be quite a bit of waiting, with more and more games being pushed back to 2015.

If you can stomach the wait--and really, we’re gamers, we’re used to this--then the coming years look shinier than ever.