To close out my E3 2017 coverage, here is my ranking of all the games I saw at E3, as well as some more in-depth impressions.
I only played thirteen games so I might as well give a minor highlight to the three that don't quite crack the top ten.
- Harvest Moon: Light of Hope - I did not have a good time with this demo. It looked really rough around the edges and didn't feel great with a controller in hand (it seems much more built for a mouse and keyboard at the moment). It also seems incredibly over-simplified, replacing a need to swap out different tools for different jobs with a single catch-all action button. Unless it sees some drastic improvement, I'd much sooner go back to Stardew Valley than give this game any more time.
- Sakuna of Rice and Ruin - I didn't really know what to expect from this one. I only checked it out because Alex Van Aken of Ok Beast suggested I look for it based on its art style. It's a perfectly serviceable 2.5D hack-and-slash side-scroller but it didn't really do too much to stand out for me. The one little novel aspect appeared to be that you could use the girl's scarf basically as a hookshot for traversal or to grab enemies and throw them around the level.
- Final Fantasy XII: Zodiac Age - I only really played this one because I was walking through the Square Enix booth and there was an open station. It didn't really look like a drastically great graphical overhaul compared to the PlayStation 2 original but I of course wasn't directly comparing the two (but I'd say it looked more PlayStation 3 than PlayStation 4). Some of the UI looks tweaked with a more modern aesthetic but the basic game is pretty much the same. I will applaud them for adding in a "rush" mode that, like Persona or the PlayStation 4 port of Final Fantasy VII, is great for playing through the game quicker to cut down on the time investment usually needed for grinding through these games.
Alright, now onto the real Top Ten.
10. Knack 2
God I hate that this is on here. Maybe I should have capped this at a Top Nine Games of E3 2017 and bumped this up to the "Honorable Mentions" section. Knack 2 is... more Knack. The platforming doesn’t exactly feel great or drastically improved over the first game. Same with the combat, though I think they’ve rebalanced it so you can take a few more hits before dying.
Co-op feels tacked on as only Knack Prime appears in the cutscenes. And friendly fire existing wound up being a hindrance as we tried progressing through an area because we kept accidentally punching each other instead of the big Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark boulder that we needed to punch through. There are some combo attacks that are interesting from a visual perspective (one Knack can rapid punch the other in order to fire the bits like a machine gun, for example) but the stranger I was paired up with and I rarely used them so co-op mode felt more of a hindrance than a help.
9. Days Gone
Not playable on the floor, but I did get to see the so-called “alternate path” demo they were showing off that revealed an alternate take on the sequence we saw in the Monday PlayStation conference.
The game looks great. It seems like Horizon Zero Dawn but with a motorcycle gang instead of robot dinosaurs. It looks like the kind of game that can pull off both stealth and all-out combat in equally entertaining measure. The zombie...err...freaker aspect of the game doesn’t strike me as incredible appealing but it appears to lean more into a Last of Us “man is the real monster” vibe that might ultimately pull me in.
Matterfall is the next title from Housemarque and this one is definitely more in line with Resogun than Alienation. It’s a side-scrolling twin-stick shooter platformer that’ll have players aiming for high combos and the top of the leaderboards.
I typically enjoy Housemarque games but I’ll never be the guy trying to maximize my runs or climb the leaderboards but this strikes me as a game that could be a fun challenge, if I can overcome the control scheme.
7. Desert Child
Desert Child is an indie game I stumbled upon Thursday (and forgot to mention in my recap...it’s been a long week). It’s a 16-bit-style side-scrolling racer that has you on a motorcycle shooting obstacles (or your race opponent) and trying to win the race.
Races will affect your personal hunger levels as well as your bike’s repair levels. In between races, you will have to use your winnings to balance your hunger and repair levels, as well as your gun units. Each aspect affects your racing. Sell off all of your gun units and your weapon in the race becomes little more than a pea shooter. Leaving yourself hungry or your bike broken will affect your in game boost and how quickly it will recharge. It all leads to an interesting risk-reward element to the game that’ll leave you looking to find just the right balance.
6. Everybody’s Golf
Outside of Golf on the original NES and a bit of the Golf mini-game in Grand Theft Auto 5, I’ve never really been into the sport. But the line was short at E3 so I hopped in. The “Event version” they had featured a quick 6-hole round of golf with Shuhei Yoshida built using the game’s Character Creator.
The fast-paced golf game with 10 players - in the floor demo, myself and nine computer opponents - running through the holes simultaneously kept the game incredibly quick and fun. The demo characters seemed a bit powered up, but the game’s leveling system (as someone new to the Hot Shots/Everybody’s Golf franchise) intrigues me and I think it could be a ton of fun to just hop into some rounds of golf with friends to unwind after a long day.
5. Marvel’s Spider-Man
Like Days Gone, I didn’t play Spider-Man but I did watch a developer play it on a projector screen. And holy damn does the game look beautiful! The extended demo shown here was essentially the same sequence as was shown in Monday’s Sony conference but there were a few more fight scenes, which go a long way in making the game appear less quick-time-event-driven.
Effectively the Rocksteady Arkham games plus some great aerial traversal from Insomniac Games, I’m very excited for this game. I mentioned in my Thursday round-up video that I envision the interactive environment elements of this game really helping it stand apart from the standard Arkham combat formula. The reason it doesn’t make it higher on the list is because it wasn’t playable and we don’t have a real concrete time frame of when to expect it outside “2018.”
4. Dino Frontier
My favorite surprise out of E3. When Dustin and I were talking about games we would try to get into using the Experience PlayStation app (where you could attempt to book a play time without having to wait in the crazy lines), he told me about Dino Frontier, which he had played at the PlayStation Experience in December. The slots were extremely limited but on Thursday morning, I was able to take advantage of everyone scrambling to get into to the bigger Battlefront or Destiny 2 demos and went for this smaller option instead. And I was so glad I did.
Dino Frontier is effectively a god simulator in the vein of Black and White or Populous. You oversee a settlement and are responsible for helping it grow and thrive by grabbing settlers and directing them to perform certain actions like chop down trees or gather berries. You can also use those resources for new buildings which you’ll place and then hammer together. Once I upgraded my lumber mill, I was awarded a watering can that I could grab and use to regrow trees and bushes so that my settlers could re-harvest them.
Oh...and all of is this is happening amidst a wild west backdrop with dinosaurs. This kind of game is right in my wheelhouse and even in my short 10-15-minute demo, things got out of my control when bandits came and tried to wreck my little town so it’s definitely something I’ll have to be methodical about. But all in all, this was probably my favorite VR experience to date. The game type is right up my alley and I haven’t really played a god simulator like Black or White in a decade or so and the immersion of being in VR and controlling everything felt really good.
3. Detroit: Become Human
Detroit: Become Human, like Spider-Man, is a game that looks incredible. My first thought when I went hands on with the demo was just how beautiful the game looked. The demo featured was the Hostage situation that was shown off at last year’s E3. In this demo, an android has gone rogue and is holding a girl hostage. You play as Connor, an android hostage negotiator dispatched to address the situation.
Quantic Dream’s divergent storytelling approach is in full effect here. You’re given a success probability calculation based on your actions investigating the penthouse suite/crime scene. Investigating an tablet in the girl’s room will show you a heartfelt moment between the deviant android and the girl that helps fill in your knowledge of the situation (and will unlock certain dialogue options from the eventual conversation). Investigating a body will fill in more blanks and Connor can even digitally recreate a crime scene (via a similar mechanic to the detective stuff in the Arkham games) which increased the probability.
All the while, I was acutely aware that the deviant android had a gun to the girl’s head so I made my way outside to confront him with the information I gathered and try to talk him down. I went out with a probability in the 70-75% range. As I slowly approached, I had to determine when it was appropriate to calm the guy down and when it was appropriate to lie. I was pleased when I successfully saved the girl, getting (as the booth worker claimed) the “optimal” result. I was even happier when I was talking to someone later who had allegedly seen someone go into the conversation with a 99% success rate and still walk away failing the mission.
I really enjoyed Heavy Rain and this definitely feels like that game. The android vs. humanity questions that David Cage and crew appear to be tackling are right up my alley in terms of science fiction storytelling so this probably gonna be one of my most anticipated titles of whatever year it comes out.
2. Super Mario Odyssey
Super Mario Odyssey had two levels for their E3 demo: the New Donk City level or the Desert level. I watched as Dustin Furman played the New Donk City level before me so I chose to play the Desert level.
The game immediately feels like a return to the the Mario 64 and Mario Galaxy style of level design. Each level has you seeking out Moon Shards. The level will have one highlighted for you by default but you can go around discovering hidden shards, performing little side quests and mini games, or collecting the 100 purple World coins hidden within each level.
The movement and platforming feels great (but I will be happier when I’m not having to play with the loose Joy-Con controllers in motion control mode - I much prefer a button prompt to having to waggle them left and right to do a spin attack).
The demo was for ten minutes so I barely had time to explore the level but I did manage to nab a few hidden shards scattered around. I also enjoyed using Cappy’s possession technique to inhabit some Bullet Bills and fly around. As an old school fan, my favorite moment might have been going into a warp pipe that converted me into 8-bit Mario on a wall (kind of like hieroglyphics, but these kinds of areas are not restricted to the desert level, New Donk City had one too). Possibly the coolest part of this: you can purchase other outfits for Mario - like a swanky New Donk suit and fedora - and they become 8-bit too.
As I tried to reach one of the Moon Shards, I encountered an invisible path between some pillars so it appeared as though I was walking in mid-air. I later found out that there will be an upgrade in the game that will allow you to actually see the hidden path so there will likely be shards that are cordoned off at first until you can collect these upgrades and come back later.
All in all, it felt good to be playing a 3D Mario platformer again (the last games I played were some of the 2D side scroller stuff). This will be a great game to play without a guide so you can enjoy the discovery on your own trying to collect all of the shards. And best of all, I’ll be able to throw it up on my television or bring it around to conventions with me (i.e. it might end up my most played game at PSX).
1. South Park: The Fractured But Whole
South Park: The Stick of Truth surprised me in how funny it was (easily in my top five funniest games of all time) but also with what a good little RPG it was. Based on my hands-on demo with South Park: The Fractured But Whole, Ubisoft is aiming to expand on everything the first game introduced.
This demo started you off with Scott Malkinson (as Captain Diabetes) serving as your guide in a seedy bathroom. The Ubisoft rep gave a quick little guided demo explaining the movement, punching, farting, and detective vision controls. Yup. South Park now has it’s own form of “Detective Vision” like every other game (though I imagine it will introduce it in a very tongue-in-cheek way).
As soon as you leave the bathroom, you are in a fully functioning strip club, with topless dancers all over the place. You’re looking for a specific stripper so Captain Diabetes asks you to talk to three of them around the room. None of them match the person you’re looking for so Captain Diabetes takes you to a back room because he’s found a couple of middle-aged men who might have the information you need.
In their drunken stupor, they mistake you as strippers and a Lap Dancing mini-game begins where you have to grind up against these guys and twerk to the rhythm of the music. Oh, you’re also farting on them.
After completing the mini-game and getting the information you needed, Captain Diabetes announces that you were not in fact strippers but young children (the New Kid this time can be a girl, as mine was, adding to the cringe factor). Then a fight ensued.
As you’ve probably seen from gameplay or trailers of the game, the combat has been given a more tactics-based feel in Fractured But Whole, with positioning on the battlefield now mattering as much as the attacks themselves. You can use this to your advantage and ram opponents into each other or use area of effect attacks. As with the first game, there are also little triggers associated with each attack or defence that can allow you a chance for extra attack or a stronger block, similar to Super Mario RPG or the Paper Mario games.
After the battle, I was tasked with getting a special drink for the DJ because Captain Diabetes has determined that whoever’s name he says comes out from backstage (so if you can replace the DJ and say the stripper’s name you want, she’ll have to come out, right? Children logic is a delightful juxtaposition with the crude humor). So anyway, you need to get a special drink for the DJ with three components: a gin & tonic, and two mystery ingredients. If you try to buy the G&T at the bar, it costs way more than you have so that’s a no go. Instead, it comes down to solving some environmental puzzles using your powerful farts and detective vision. In doing so, you’ll come across the ingredients of “boogers and cum” and “rat shit.” Then all that’s left is the G&T so it’s time to sneak behind the bar and grab one from back there.
The game then introduces a new aspect to the series in the form of a crafting menu. Only used to craft this DJ Special here, it wouldn’t surprise me if this eventually leads to being able to craft stronger weapons or special modifications for your weapons. Looting cabinets and stuff around the world was providing assorted crafting materials to support this idea.
One last good fart on the DJ Special and it’s ready for consumption. He takes it and immediately becomes sick from the farts (not the cum, boogers, or rat shit, of course) and Captain Diabetes calls the stripper to the stage. She argues it’s not her turn and then mistakes the kids as the police and runs backstage with you in pursuit.
This is where my demo ended, but apparently the behind-closed-doors demos wrapped up with another fight of the strippers backstage to show off more of the game’s combat.
A fun and hilarious demo all around that left me wondering “if this is what they brought to show the public at E3, how insane and over-the-top will the final game be?!” I’m very impressed by how much they’ve done to improve nearly every element of what made the first game special and I can’t wait to play it when it comes out (even if it gets delayed again).
It takes the top spot over Mario for me because of that surprise. I go into a 3D Mario Platformer expecting it to feel good. I didn’t expect South Park to work to drastically go above and beyond their last game. Both games will probably be great. But I had a non-stop grin on my face during South Park and Mario, while good, didn’t leave as memorable of an impact in its ten minutes.