Before anyone says anything about E3, we have to nail down exactly what E3 is, and thus how to judge it. E3, above all else, is one big advert. It’s a very flashy, expensive, and fun advert. There are lots of different things that are being advertised, and you may even get to test these things out. But it is at a basic level a place for companies to hawk their wares in an effort to sell them at a later date. This is fine, adverts are entertaining, but it means that throughout this piece, and any other on E3, two points must be made. The first is that, as with any advert, certain things resonate and certain things do not. So while a new South Park was announced, the new Zelda was by all accounts breath-taking, and the VR hardware allegedly revolutionary, you will not see any of these in this rundown. I am not saying that Madden has lost its edge, or that Titanfall 2 is not necessary, they just had very little impact on me as a consumer. I acknowledge they exist, and may be good products once released, but I probably will not be buying them. As for when these games come out, this brings me to the second point, that as E3 is all adverts and little substance, any and all predictions regarding the finished state of these games are informed assumptions at best and wishful thinking at worst. So in about four years, once all of these games have been released and played and judgements have been passed, come back to this article and heckle me roundly for ignoring or denigrating the greatest gaming experiences of all time, while heralding broken unpolished garbage with jumped up E3 demos that were not representative. Okay? Okay, onto the substantive.
Now that we know E3 is advertising (trust me on this), it must be said that E3 2016 is an interesting example to analyse. In some places it worked, in others it worked brilliantly, and every now and again it flopped. On the whole it was about as entertaining as any other year, yet there was a playful innocence that was interwoven throughout. There was no Sony v Microsoft duel with both sides throwing hardware at one another like petulant children, no cynical presentations promising to revolutionise gaming as a medium (Well, so long as you were only half paying attention to Ubisoft between groans and sighs). It really did feel like a celebration which, as an advert, works well. To dissect where this worked, and where it did not, we have to consider the three separate expectations people entered this year with. There were some things people knew would be on show, and this is where much of the duds of E3 occurred. There were the products on show that were subject to rumours and rumblings that also resulted in some pretty mediocre reception. But the real magic of E3 2016 came from things that nobody knew they wanted, nobody knew would be shown, nobody knew even existed, yet are now some of the most anticipated future releases with just a few trailers and a bit of imagination. How fun.
So what did we know would be on show? Well, Watchdogs 2 did all it could to excite people. Believe me, I am quite excited for it, I believe I am one of the few people who would herald the original as a next gen marvel. Yet people still have the bitter taste of the original E3 demo that promised so much that was later absent from the release, and mired in scandals involving scaled down graphics and backroom shenanigans. The same could be said of Ghost Recon: Wildlings, another product we knew would be on show, which showed off as much gameplay as possible, yet again brought back memories of the numerous misrepresentative trailers and demos of The Division (another game I hold in high regard, despite the messy E3 shows). Battlefield 1 fared better however, as it brought something people knew would appear, and did so in a scaled down basic manner. Well, as basic as a plethora of celebrities slaughtering each other over a period of several hours could be. Rather than showing off polished gameplay that fails to accurately portray the finished product (a problem associated with many online focussed games), we got raw footage of online gameplay which sold us on several key areas. The first was that it seemed stable, meaning that DICE have probably found a way of releasing a product which works. The second was how real it felt, watching people who aren’t developers or AI able to use in depth knowledge of the mechanics to only show off the best. This led to moments of gameplay where, say, Terry Crews failed to hit the broad side of a barn door from a sniping position, or when it seemed a player firing at a zeppelin from a biplane lost control and slammed straight into the side of it. All of this was what we expected to see, yet somehow it was fresh. It sold us on the product. It took expectations and fulfilled them, thus becoming successful advertising. It felt like, when we buy it, we would have a similar experience to that of Snoop Dogg and Crews, and that experience looked fun. It is that simple.
Then there were the rumours. These are the exciting bits for most people. We cannot be certain whether they will be on show, but if they are they often steal the show. They utilise the method of surprise. This year, some of it worked. Take the reception of the Sony conference when Hideo Kojima took to the stage and showed off the surreal and vague trailer for Death Stranding. No gameplay, nothing to judge the product on, no release date. Yet we knew this could happen, we knew Kojima might announce something, and the fact it seems to similar to Silent Hills (RIP), Norman Reedus and all, we can only hold our breath in anticipation. Yet other rumoured reveals failed to live up to expectations. Take the Skyrim announcement. In fact, take the whole Bethesda conference. Was there going to be a remaster? Was there going to be a new Elder Scrolls? What might happen to Fallout 4? Well, now we know. Consoles can play Skyrim the same way PC users have for years, and you can now customise your settlements with more clutter in Fallout. Outside of a cool looking NukaWorld expansion, it felt like filler. The equivalent of map packs and character skins rather than real products to be excited for. As for all the talk of a new Crash Bandicoot announcement, while it is nice to have a remaster of the old ones, it seems like a missed opportunity to not capitalise on the moment and make a new one. Enjoy buying Skylanders for it as well, that is the audience that wants it after all, right?
The real showstoppers this year came in the form of announcements out of the left field, things that were so shocking and unknown that even Donal Rumsfeld would blush. FIFA broke the utter apathy that had begun to set in for a yearly franchise by announcing a single player story mode, something nobody knew they wanted, yet were suddenly enticed by. Ears pricked up, people began to think “Would that work? Would I enjoy it?”. Even if it does fail to impress, people who would otherwise turn their nose at FIFA are now paying attention, thus succeeding as advertisement. The Spider Man reveal at the end of the Sony conference is another example. We have trudged through playable yet forgettable Spider Man releases that have all paled in comparison to the Spider Man 2 movie tie in. Of course people would have wanted a new one, and if asked would have made that clear. Yet there was no expectation of a new release outside of possible contempt for a new tie in for the Tom Holland reboot. And there it was, clear as day, by Insomniac no less. I love Insomniac, I forgot they even existed in all honesty, and now I and others are eagerly anticipating the release. Finally, I have to mention Steep. See, Steep had me when one of the gameplay demos showed another player seamlessly in the same world as the player character pinball off a mountain in their wingsuit while the audience laughed. It looked like a raw gameplay experience, sort of a polished next gen version of Shaun White Snowboarding (a guilty pleasure of mine), combined with brilliant graphics and simple mechanics. Something nobody predicted. Yet here I am talking about it. Word of mouth. Advertisement. Connections and such.
I could go on and on. My mind is still debating on whether or not I am sold on the new Resident Evil, pleasantly surprised by the amount of information on We Happy Few, desperately trying to think of ways Dishonored 2 could surpass the near perfect original. The mere fact I can remember all of these is not because I have done any extra research into E3, I will still never go out of my way to trawl through the announcements and trailers searching for brilliance. Perhaps this is indicative of a good E3. Maybe the things I am looking forward to will never pan out, could be cancelled, delayed, all sorts. But maybe. Just maybe. Maybe this is the year things change, and E3 2016 brings about a new era of excitement and engagement with surprising reveals which will live up to the standards promised and make their mark on history.
That being said, the new Call of Duty still looks like toss.