June is one of the big months for gaming, and not just because the long-awaited sequel to The Last of Us has been released and unanimously praised by critics across the board. This would also have been the month where the majority of gamers place bets on who will give the most cringe-worthy presentation, who will have the best celebrity guest, and how many lies will Todd Howard spout.
Yes I’m talking about the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3 to you and me. The three-day gaming extravaganza, where publishers and console giants take to the stage and peddle their wares to the bloodthirsty gaming press, and those lucky enough to nab a ticket before they sell out.
This year however, the world went to shit. The pandemic hit, lockdown started, murder hornets were a thing. All we need now is an alien invasion, an asteroid strike, and some well-meaning but ultimately short-sighted old duffer to unleash a horde of retro-engineered dinosaurs on us and my apocalypse bingo card will be complete. Oh, and zombies as well. Never forget the zombies.
And so 2020 is the first year since the launch of E3 that the event did not occur.
Given last year’s E3, it’s fair to say that expectations for this years’ event were a bit low. PlayStation were notable by their absence for the second year in a row, Nintendo would only be providing a pre-recorded presentation, and there were murmurs of bringing more “celebrity gamers” in to make appearances. These random celebrity appearances and other spectacles have either ranged from the sublime (Keanu Reeves you are breathtaking) to the cringeworthy, I’m looking at you Andrew WK.
Last year’s E3 also took a lot of criticism for its astounding lack of actual gameplay and reliance on remakes, ports and sequels. The working standards of video game creators also felt more prominent that year as we heard more about the punishing 100-hour weeks many were forced to do in order to finish a game in time for its scheduled release date. All while studios were shutting down and jobs were being cut.
Then there was the data leak which saw the personal details of over 2,000 journalists and analysts captured in a spreadsheet on the ESA website that literally anyone could access.
No wonder that enthusiasm for E3 2020 was a little underwhelming.
Then of course Covid hit and it was only a matter of time before E3 would shut its doors. There were talks of holding a virtual event, then publishers and gaming sites took matters into their own hands and created their own digital events and E3 style alternatives.
There have already been presentations from Xbox and PlayStation as they both prepare for their next gen console launch. EA have recently broadcast their offerings and Ubisoft are the next big name up to bat with their “Ubisoft Forward” E3-style showcase on Sunday 12th July.
Inside Xbox tried to bring the hype in May for the Xbox Series X. While there was a constant promise of gameplay it never really materialised. The offerings were also sparse with trailers for just 7 games, 3 of which were continuing franchises; Dirt 5, Madden 21 and the highly anticipated, but not exclusive Assassins Creed Valhalla.
There were a couple of Xbox Series X exclusives; the H.R. Geiger sex dream Scorn, and The Medium, another offering from Bloober Team, which looks interesting and is hopefully better than Blair Witch. But again these were just trailers which gave very little in terms of gameplay and what to expect. Other new releases included Chorus, a space combat shooter and Bright Memory: Infinite a timey-wimey FPS and hack and slash game, which has been developed into a full-length game following the release of “Episode 1” on Steam Early Access last year.
Step forward PlayStation who gave their presentation earlier this month, showing off a significantly larger haul of 26 games, with around half being exclusives and the majority being new IPs. The obvious exception being GTA V which seems to be turning into a bit of a Skyrim now that we can’t possibly release another version of that. Unless they make the Randy Savage dragon mod official!
I’m not going to go through every single game announced, but I certainly feel like PS5 won this next-gen console round and there’s a lot that I’m excited for. Resident Evil: Village, while not an exclusive, looks incredible and it would seem that the rumours about a European setting, folklore horror, Chris Redfield, hallucinations and being stalked by a witch were true. There was also something of a Resident Evil 4 vibe to it, which maybe explains why that game is up for a refresh.
In terms of new IP, and despite my feelings towards Mr Howard, I’m actually looking forward to the offerings from Bethesda. Both Deathloop and Ghostwire Tokyo were teased last year and it was interesting to see a bit more. However the exclusive I am most looking forward to has to be Horizon: Forbidden West. While there was nothing especially revolutionary about the gameplay of Zero Dawn, as it trod the comfortably familiar path of many other RPGs, I absolutely loved the juxtaposed beauty of the wilderness and the machines.
EA Play’s offering, like Inside Xbox, was short and sweet. It opened with a first look at Apex Legends, Season 5: Fortune’s Favour and the Lost Treasures Collection Event, along with announcing its move to the Nintendo Switch. A bunch of EA titles are also moving to Steam including Sims 4, Titanfall 2, A Way Out and Dead Space 3, and because we all love a trend, Rocket Arena – basically Overwatch but with rockets has been announced.
Of course the big news from the EA Play presentation was Star Wards: Squadrons. If space combat games are your deal and you love a bit of Rebel on Empire action, then you can immerse yourself in a single-player story which follows the aftermath of the Battle of Endor and the destruction of the second Death Star. There’s also a multiplayer mode and you can upgrade and customise your pilot and ship, because who doesn’t want an Ewok bobble-head on the dash of their Y-Wing!
It was nice to hear Bioware get a mention, especially after the hot mess that was Anthem. It gives me some hope that EA aren’t going to do their patented shut-down and absorb manoeuvre, and maybe I might get to see Dragon Age 4 and set fire to that elf jerk Solas!
With Ubisoft up next in July, I’m sure we can expect more of Assassins Creed Valhalla, and I’m hoping to hear more about Watch Dogs: Legion, because if they manage to pull off the ability to recruit and play literally anyone you see in the game, that would be pretty cool.
So with announcements from studios carrying on regardless, and the increasing shift towards digital events, does E3 still have a future?
Nintendo Direct and Sony State of Play have already been leading the revolution with their game focused video-bites of trailer and gameplay. These no frills announcements are arguably better for both the viewer and the studio as they can release these according to their own production schedules instead of storing it up like a Hamster ready for the E3 wheel. Not to mention the return on investment for participating in events like E3 might not even be that high.
This year should have been the 25th anniversary of E3, but did any of us actually miss it or has it just become a video game Eurovision? Maybe a year off is what it needs, to take stock and come back better than before, or maybe it’s time to say farewell?
Let’s see what happens next year, unless the aliens invade…