Another year, another round of exceptional video games winning awards at the BAFTA Games Awards. This year featured a total of 18 awards distributed among different categories. Inside managed to snag four of these awards, while Firewatch and Overcooked were both able to bring in two each. Keep in mind that while the awards were given in 2017, the games themselves were released in 2016.
The Last Guardian has suffered yet another delay, and will no longer be making its originally projected October release date.
The E3 press conferences are, if past events are any indication, something of a preview for the 12 months to come. Not only do they reveal upcoming videogames, but the general tenor of the industry’s mainstream during the following year. And so, with this in mind, it seems worthwhile to go through a few of the most disappointing—or worrying— trends and announcements from this year’s E3 press conferences.
Remasters, Reboots, Rereleases, and Revivals
In last week’s Best Of article, I mentioned a handful of remasters (Final Fantasy VII), reboots (DOOM), and revivals (The Last Guardian; Shenmue 3) as highlights of the press conferences so it may seem strange that I also find the announcement of these games one of the most disappointing aspects of this year’s E3. The issue is that the whole trend is a complicated enough that it’s neither entirely good nor bad. On the one hand, as noted last week, it’s great that closure is being provided for players who desperately want to see some of their favourite concepts realized. On the other, there’s the fact that obsessing over projects—especially those that may have left active development for good reason—involves a degree of reverence for the past that stifles creativity.
Instead of hoping to see old series revitalized with new installments, why not look forward to seeing these same developers try something new? Remembering old games fondly isn’t a bad thing, but new ideas must be explored to keep the medium vital. Originality is essential for making videogames as interesting as they can be. It’s creative thinking, in fact, that made the titles these reboots are based on so beloved in the first place.
Guns, Grit, and Gore
Whether an increasingly noticeable trend or just general weariness on my own part, this year’s E3 press conferences seemed to feature an outsized number of games with detailed violence and “gritty” militaristic scenarios as key design elements. There’s the Arkham Knight trailer where the camera lingers over Joker’s body being cremated, the torture and cartel gunfights of Ghost Recon: Wildlands, the sword mutilations of For Honor, and the post-apocalyptic bandits fighting for survival in The Division. All of these games, regardless of how much promise they may show, share a tone that has become all too familiar to players.
Just like the “nostalgia problem” mentioned above, the real issue with relying on these topics isn’t necessarily the subject matter, but the repetition of well-worn themes and aesthetics. Nihilistic action titles and hyper-violent games can be great, but the medium’s mainstream needs to be willing to explore other forms of storytelling more often. Otherwise, everything begins to blend together—just like so many of this year’s game trailers.
Release Windows, Rather Than Dates
As with previous years, E3 2015 continued the trend of announcing games without providing specific release dates. Titles like Dishonored 2, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Tacoma, For Honor, Firewatch, The Last Guardian, Fire Emblem: Fates, No Man’s Sky, Kingdom Hearts 3, the untitled NieR sequel, and many, many more were revealed either without any launch date or only vague seasonal/financial quarter release windows.
More than an annoyance, this lack of specific launch dates speaks to the larger issue of videogames being announced before they’re close enough to completion to warrant publicity. Games take a long time to develop and it seems likely that premature reveals are tools for monitoring public interest or gaining quick bumps in market visibility, rather than any real indication that a given title is close to completion. It’s hard to see how this model helps players learn about upcoming games or allows developers to continue their work without the burden of unreasonable expectations.
Nintendo Treads Water
Nintendo was a highlight of last year’s E3 conferences, announcing plenty of new games that made its faltering Wii U suddenly look a lot more desirable. Rather than take advantage of the momentum it began building so recently, the developer/publisher used this E3 to show trailers for known quantities—Xenoblade Chronicles; Fire Emblem: Fates; Super Mario Maker—alongside uninspired-looking new additions to long-running series: Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer; Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam; The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes; Metroid Prime: Federation Force.
None of it was particularly exciting and all of it came together to give the impression that Nintendo is just treading water until it can begin publicly discussing its new system at next year’s conference. The lack of any truly novel upcoming games not only hamstrings the Wii U’s tentative rebound, but worryingly echoes the company’s willingness to stop supporting consoles—like last generation’s Wii—when other aspects of its business begin to take precedence.
Be sure to read Reid’s Best of E3 picks.
The E3 press conferences are, if past events are any indication, something of a preview for the 12 months to come. Not only do they reveal upcoming videogames, but the general tenor of the industry’s mainstream during the following year as well. And so, with this in mind, it seems worthwhile to go through a few of the most heartening trends and announcements from this year’s E3 press conferences.
The recent news of Sony abandoning The Last Guardian trademark had left many incredulous, and wondering if the long-gestating Team ICO project was finally canceled. Of course, Sony quickly dispelled those rumors stating that the game, which has been in development since at least 2009, is still indeed being worked on. This further suggests that The Last Guardian as folks know it, thanks to the infamous 4 minute E3 trailer, no longer exists but is, what should be obvious to most, taking on a completely different form. But, after nearly six years of silence and false hope, should people even care anymore?
Perhaps the easier question to answer is: Why have people cared so much about it in the first place? Well, the development team that’s behind The Last Guardian, the previously mentioned Team ICO, is something of a crown jewel within Sony’s Japanese first-party studios thanks to the developer’s impressive first two outings: ICO, and the much revered Shadow of the Colossus. Both titles took on a life grander than video games, they were the first evident examples of how games can be much more than just jumping on virtual enemies, and saving a princess that the player never really cared for from the start. Team ICO was able to deliver somber, quaint, and deliciously peculiar experiences that bravely avoided mundane, and cliché game design and narrative beats. They were, and still are the most effective pieces of art within the games medium.
In ICO, the player is solely tasked with looking after a princess, of whom you know nothing about, as a young boy with horns on his head. Apart from the opening cut scene, which subtlety implies that the young boy has been excommunicated by his people and locked up for, perhaps, his unusual physical appearance, there’s no other exposition, spoken dialogue, or cut scene for the rest of the game. ICO is eerily quiet, prides itself with its atmosphere, and devoid of any substantial combat or gameplay apart from solving platforming puzzles.
Fast-forward a few years later, and Team ICO delivered arguably one of the finest video games ever made: Shadow of the Colossus. The game is quite similar to Ico with its design, as it is also atmospheric, touching, somber, and mechanically simplistic. But, the studio delivered a more refined, interesting, and focused experience in Shadow of the Colossus. The main premise is familiar: Save a princess from her never-ending slumber as her lover, but, the player has to kill 16 innocent Colossi in order to do so. The studio managed to make players care about the Colossi they’re tasked with killing, the main protagonist and his horse Argo, and the princess yet again without dialogue, or exposition.
Perhaps now it becomes clearer as to why everyone is dying for any news about Team ICO’s next outing, and why the industry was glued to its seat salivating once that initial E3 2009 trailer rolled out. But the truth of the matter is, the studio hasn’t delivered anything at all for nearly a decade. Most of the major players behind both of Team ICO’s titles, including producer Kenji Kaido, executive producer Yoshifusa Hayama, and more importantly creative director Fumito Ueda, have moved on to other projects. That magic has waned, and all people are left with are grand memories, and nostalgia that’s still keeping them going to this day, but that’s quickly waning as well.
The Last Guardian looked to be like a continuation of greatness, a grand reminder of why video games truly are their own, exquisite art form; or at least people understandably just deemed it that. But other developers and games, such as Thatgamecompany’s Journey which retains that same simple, but effective design as Shadow of the Colossus, are filling this creative void that was once solely occupied by Team ICO. People are just not relying on The Last Guardian to meet their narrative demands. So, instead of watching that E3 trailer over and over again, everyone’s too busy playing games like LIMBO and Journey, and that’s quite fine.
Fans hoping for concrete information about when The Last Guardian will be making its return will be disappointed.
In response to a question from Game Informer regarding fans of the PS3 losing hope on a PlayStation 3 version of the game, Sony’s worldwide studios president Shuhei Yoshida told GI that Sony is still waiting for the proper time to “reintroduce it.”
With Sony preparing to take the stage, announcing the future of its PlayStation brand, industry members and fans wait in anticipation to see what the next generation of home gaming will look like.
The Last Guardian is still alive and kicking.
With the recent flurry of announcements from Sony about a special “future of Playstation” event due February 20
, most people in the industry—myself included—are betting that we’re about to get our first debut of the Playstation 4. This is an event that’s got me both excited and at the same time filled with a minor sense of dread.
The wait for the Last Guardian has once again been extended.