ShortList’s Jonathan Pile answers the six biggest questions from Los Angeles’ E3 conference
1. Why has the industry become so nostalgic all of a sudden?
Guitar Hero, Doom (pictured), Star Wars: Battlefront, Tony Hawk... these are all franchises that were ‘rested’ for good reason. Either because they hit a creative dead end or sales figures suggested people were sick of them. But suddenly, seemingly all at the same time, they’re back. Why?
Well, before we answer that, let’s say this – their returns are welcome. Some franchises don’t suit the annual release schedule favoured by Fifa or Call Of Duty, but that’s not to say they should disappear forever. If care and attention has been paid to them, if there’s a good reason for them to exist, we want to play them. So let’s get back to ‘Why?’
Two years after the PS4 and Xbox One launched, the focus changes. Most of the ‘hardcore’ audience will have upgraded their consoles, now it’s time to entice the more casual gamer – the ones who’ll remember multiplayer Guitar Hero on Xbox 360, or Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 on PS2. But, actually, it’s good news for everyone.
2. Is VR the future?
Let’s answer that immediately – virtual reality is the future.
That was easy. Good news for Facebook’s Oculus Rift, PlayStation’s Project Morpheus and Microsoft’s HoloLens, then? Let’s not get too hasty. The future covers quite a long time period. For the immediate future (the next two years, say) it seems less likely VR headsets will become a fixture in modern homes. How often do you wear the glasses for that 3D-enabled TV? Exactly. There’s a convenience barrier.
That’s not to say these VR headsets aren’t good. They are, shown by Capcom’s unnerving horror demo Kitchen being the must-play experience of the show. And the sense of speed when you’re sitting in a ‘moving’ vehicle in sci-fi tank shooter Battlezoner or London Heist: The Getaway is remarkable given you’re not actually moving.
The question is more: ‘Will people buy them?’ and then, ‘Will they use them enough to create demand for continued developer support?’.
Because that’s where motion controls died. Beyond a few Wii titles (and Kinect, if we’re being generous) there just wasn’t the support, innovation or demand.
Hopefully, VR can swerve these issues – Minecraft on HoloLens was a ‘wow’ moment from Microsoft, and a three-on-three shooter called Rig was announced for PS4 (with the promise of 30 or so titles in the works). But the honest answer is still ‘wait and see’. So, it’s a cop out from us. Sorry.
3. Can the niche titles break through?
The Last Guardian (above) is the spiritual successor to PS2 title Shadow Of The Colossus. Development began in 2007, it was announced in 2009 and due on PS3 in 2011. But for years we’ve heard nothing and it was spoken about in the hushed terms usually reserved for Orson Welles’ lost cut of The Magnificent Ambersons, Shakespeare’s missing play Cardenio or Mexican Coca-Cola.
The problem is, no one had played it. And they still haven’t – it wasn’t available at the show. And while there’s a certain type of fan clamouring for it, it’s not exactly an Uncharted-style crowd-pleaser.
Those fans are similar to the ones apoplectic with rage that sequels to games such as Beyond Good & Evil 2 or Psychonauts 2 don’t exist, even though it’s unlikely many people would buy them.
Another to add to that list would have been Shenmue 3, but Sony surprised everyone by announcing it last week. Not everyone was surprised for the same reason, though – some were surprised at its existence, but many were surprised such reverence was being paid to a series they’d never heard of.
And here’s another thing – technically it wasn’t announced by Sony. Only the Kickstarter campaign was announced. Sony wasn’t willing to risk funding the game without proof of interest, but thanks to the hype (and some people pledging $10,000), it hit its $2m target in record time.
Of course, if you’ve paid 10 grand, you’d expect that game to be good. So the pressure’s on…
4. Is gaming becoming less sexist?
This time last year, Assassin’s Creed Unity was being hammered for not offering the option to play as a woman. The level of outrage was overblown, but it hit a nerve because there is a bigger ongoing issue – aside from the amply-chested Lara Croft (a character with obvious appeal to men), the ratio of female to male protagonists in gaming doesn’t favour women.
There’s been a reaction – Fifa 16 will include women’s teams for the first time; Fallout 4 made a point of allowing the main character to be male or female; and this year’s Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is pushing the information you can play as both Jacob and his twin sister Evie to the forefront of its marketing campaign. Then there’s a new franchise from the makers of Killzone – Horizon: Zero Dawn – which appears to only have one protagonist, a tribeswoman called Aloy.
There’s some way to go yet, but it does feel the genuine complaints have been noted and acted on.
5. What next for Nintendo?
The main focus was on Sony and Microsoft, but what of the Wii U? Well, little news. Partly because rumours persist that Nintendo will reveal more about its successor (code-named NX), starting next year. There was no information about the upcoming Legend Of Zelda (although there is one on 3DS) so Star Fox Zero is the big game for this Christmas (and Super Mario Maker in September). The former feels like a game that can stand alongside Mario Kart 8, Splatoon and Super Mario 3D World as one of the best games on an underrated console. It’s just a shame there isn’t more to report.
6. Should I buy an Xbox One or PS4?
A question always reassessed after the big gaming shows, and last year best answered by: “A Wii U”.
This year, Microsoft had a strong show: new exclusives (Gears Of War 4, multiplayer pirate game Sea Of Thieves) were announced, and there was new footage of the only-on-Xbox games coming out in 2015, most impressively Forza Motorsport 6, Rise Of The Tomb Raider and Halo 5: Guardians.
Sony also did well with exclusives: the long-awaited, presumed-dead The Last Guardian was shown, as was Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and Street Fighter V. The key difference is none of the big PlayStation-only games will be available before 2016. It’s not a deal breaker – the multiplatform likes of Batman: Arkham Knight, Destiny: The Taken King and Call Of Duty: Black Ops III will all have exclusive extra content on PS4.
Desperate for the mix of action and exploration provided by the Uncharteds and Tomb Raiders of this world but absolutely can’t wait for next year? Then opt for an Xbox One. Able to exercise a certain amount of restraint? There’s some subtle weighing up of the pros and cons of both to be done.
But often it comes down to this: if you don’t have a strong attachment to one or more of the exclusive games, then it becomes a question of which console your friends are playing on or, indeed, on which you can get the best deal. Because there’s very little to split them.