E3 2014 Was More Relief Than Surprise

2014 is something of an unusual year as far as E3 goes. We’ve had a lot of game delay announcements and even the games that weren’t delayed were still victims of a protracted development cycle. It’s meant that a lot of games that first appeared at E3 a year ago were still making their appearances this year. It’s also meant that a lot of time has built up for speculation, skepticism and even cynicism, but in some ways, a lot of the doubt was addressed by this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo.

There were a few surprises here and there, such as the unexpected debut of Splatoon or sudden announcement of Grim Fandango coming to the PS4, but by and large, the biggest announcements were the ones we were expecting. Destiny. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Assassin’s Creed Unity. Dragon Age: Inquisition. These are all known quantities, established franchises that people are familiar with. What many didn’t know was whether these games were going to please or disappoint their respective audiences. For the most part, this year’s E3 outing is one of confirmation; these games aren’t likely to suck.

Alien: Isolation for example, is a new kid on the block, but it has a lot of make up for thanks to the disappointing release of Aliens: Colonial Marines last year. For better or worse, Colonial Marines continued the sad tradition of movie-based games in general—and Alien games in particular—failing to capture what makes the franchise so special. For Creative Assembly (a studio better known for strategy games than horror) to pivot on a first person survival horror seems like a foolhardy move. But E3 2014 has come and gone, and with it, a lot of people got a chance to sit down and play the game. The result? Don’t immediately write this game off just yet. Unlike its predecessor, Isolation has tension by the bucket load thanks to a dangerous, frightening, single alien that is every bit the unstoppable killing machine it was in Ridley Scott’s 1979 SF/Horror classic. Skepticism is probably still a healthy thing to have at this stage, but after playing the game, it’s immediate to anyone that Alien: Isolation doesn’t have “instant fail” written all over it as many suspected.

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The same is true of Dragon Age: Inquisition. After the surprise disappointment of Dragon Age II, many thought BioWare had lost its way, and was on a decline similar to what Pixar is now experiencing. After all, no company can be amazing forever, right? Rather than call it Dragon Age III, BioWare is back with a game that needs to unravel that bad taste DAII left in the mouths of RPG fans everywhere. A comprehensive demonstration of Inquisition shows that the game is on the right track. Not only was the world vast, it happily avoided repeating the same dungeon endlessly, something DAII was particularly bad at. Even the more strategic combat of the original Dragon Age has made a return, this time even to consoles like PS4 and Xbox One. In other words, this game is the one that the fans wanted; less Dragon Age II and more Dragon Age: Origins. BioWare has to be credited with at least being willing to experiment with their series, but it’s just as important that they recognize when experiments fail, and it’s time to get back to basics.

Finally, there’s Destiny. Shown off at E3 last year, this is the first non-Halo, multiplatform game from Bungie in years. People were starting to wonder if Bungie was a one trick Master Chief pony, and the strong visual and aural resemblance to Halo made a bad first impression for Destiny. However, it’s an entirely different animal, and after allowing people to play the game and get a taste of the its “shared world shooter” concept, it’s becoming clear that even if this game doesn’t sell Call of Duty numbers, it’s actually trying something different. The idea of wandering around in a world and seamlessly encountering other players has already been experimented with both in friendly terms with Journey and not-so-friendly terms with Demon’s Souls. This is the first time a AAA shooter with a massive budget has gotten the treatment. There’s something very different about wandering the lonely wastes of a ruined, Russian Cosmodrome, only to hear shooting in the distance and realize that that’s another player, caught in a fire-fight, with the choice completely up to you to provide help, or continue on your own quest.

Even if E3 2014 didn’t have as many surprises and “megatons” as past shows, it still did its job. It informed the journalists and industry, and provided a welcome sense of relief that many of the game coming in 2014 might actually be worth their high asking price.

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