Progress is a funny thing. You might look at this year's E3 and thing that things are moving backward rather than forward. That tons of empty floor space means that there were fewer things to show this year. That there really wasn't a whole lot to get excited about. That the biggest vendors had even less to show off this year than in years past, and that even the ones who did have something to show put as many obstacles to seeing it in front of attendees as they could.
But you know what? It's not all bad news. Sure, you can't afford to get a VR headset to play the majority of the titles featured this year, but there were still plenty of 2D titles for us normies with our puny non-head-mounted TVs. And best of all, many of them are already available to play because they were released on Steam Early Access months ago! So you can shell out a few bucks and play along with this coverage at home! Just get a pair of sweat-covered headphones, move your monitor into the noisiest part of your home, put a glossy screen cover over it, and put a rotating array of colored lights behind you. BAM. You're living the E3 experience!!!
Or just read along with us and we'll give you all the finer points without having to find a quiet corner or a beanbag chair in a media lounge to sit in:
I've been playing the Dynasty Warriors series for years, and granted, Tecmo Koei isn't involved in this particular offshoot, but they practically invented (and some might argue "milked the shit out of") the genre of beating up enormous hordes of enemies.
I don't know much about the Fate series, apart from the fact that it began as an adult game and somehow transformed into a series that was far less pornographic but far more prolific. So I started the demo not knowing anything about the events that were unfolding, and by the end of it, I was somehow worse off than before. I know that computers factor into this somehow, but I don't know how or why. I think there were servants and masters. Someone off screen was feeding me information about things, but it was all subtitled and the subtitles appeared well below the flashing piles of enemy corpses that were flying everywhere.
The screenshots can't fully convey just how much was going on in this one screen. At any given moment, there were popups, minimaps, flavor texts, updates from some guy/gal, progress bars, enemy troop counts, meters of all variety, it was insanity. In the middle of all this, I seemed to be killing a lot of whatever it was I was fighting, but all I was hearing on the horn was how crappily things were going. Luckily, I was able to pick a direction that led to some kind of boss encounter where I was fighting a scantily-dressed waif while still swimming in all those nameless "aggressors".
Through a combination of pushing every button and furtively glancing at the control guide, I unleashed a series of super attacks punctuated by long introductory videos. Here's the thing about super moves: it can be fun to add some flair to them, but if you have to do them four or five times to make a dent in the enemy's health, then suddenly watching a 30-second windup starts to feel like you're being punished, despite the copious use of jiggle physics.
All of this makes sense to someone out there. I don't know them, and you probably don't either, but damn it they exist.
Look, I don't want to paint myself as an impatient sort. I don't mind a little setup to give my games some context. But when you're standing on a thinly-carpeted floor in a crowded convention hall, you want to see some shit and you want to see it now. So maybe blowing through the introduction and the combat training hindered my enjoyment of The Technomancer a little.
I went with some guy, probably my mentor, out into the badlands to Mars to get some shit done. Not sure what, but it hardly matters. We came across a couple of punks, and we both knew it was time to lay it down, and hard. Things went bad, like not great at all. I spun my fancy stick around like I was the varsity flag squad, but it did not impress the punks at all. Through nothing less than a Martian miracle, we beat them and I drained the water out of them like I was in Dune, sans wormsign. My partner got surprisingly judgmental about this, but he lit his own damn staff up with lightning, so who is he to pass judgment about whose juices I'm bottling up for later.
So we ran into another group of punks and incredibly, things went even worse. We got our asses beat once, twice, then a third time. At one point, I had missed with another showy attack and the punk just stood outside my swing, then reached in and stabbed me. I wondered what the hell had happened, and then it came to me: I had become the low-level trash mob in someone else's game. I thought I was the hero of this story, but I was just some idiot swinging a pole around. Just as I had received training (if I had listened), the punk I was fighting had received training of his own, and now I was the clumsy off flailing about while he dodged out of the way and snuck in hits here and there.
As bummed out as I was that I didn't get to such the liquids out of those guys with my pocket syringe, I like to think I helped that punk level up and then he went onto save Mars on his own. Good luck, nameless punk!
Let it Die
Last year, we featured a 2D Dark Souls clone called Salt and Sanctuary, by none other than Jim Silva of Zombie Smashers X fame. It was a solid game. And I hope it left you wanting more, because trust me, the world has yet to see an end to Dark Souls clones.
Suda51 brings us the next one: Let It Die. While it remains to be seen if the title is going to wind up being the opening joke to a thousand negative reviews ("They should've 'let it die', huh huh!"), what little we know about the game isn't all that encouraging. For starters, the game started off under a completely different title, Lily Bergamo, before inexplicably changing to Let It Die. A change that occurred two years ago. What's more, the game is being advertised as a Free-to-Play. I'm not saying all F2P games are crap... but it's probably around 95%.
One of the hallmarks of the Souls series is large, expansive environments filled with horrifying monsters. Let It Die features a lot of trash-strewn grey corridors filled with the same dude wearing slightly different clothing each time you meet him. Also, the weapons seem to have limited durability. I didn't think anything could detract from using a circular saw as a set of brass knuckles, but having it break after about 3 minutes of use makes it a little less rewarding.
I lost track of time during the demo, but after about three hours of wandering through tunnels and loading zones separating more tunnels, I happened upon a boss monster. He ran at me, I moved to the side, and then I chopped him as he hit the wall. It was bad enough as it was, but it was made all the worse by imagining that at some point in the future, someone will have inserted micro-transactions into this whole mess.
I don't know how best to explain Rainworld to the uninitiated, but the gist of it is that you play a sort of slug-cat creature that eats bats and crawl through tunnels. I know that doesn't sound like much, but it makes for some surprisingly compelling gameplay as you maneuver through ruins and try to avoid other sluglike creatures looking to eat you. The sheer tension of balancing yourself on a pole to try for a tricky jump into a small gap while a hungry monster thrashes about below you, and then trying to scramble out of the way before it snaps you up in its jaws because you totally botched that jump, it's really something.
I was a little unclear about the overall goal of the game, though. During the course of wriggling through confining tunnels on all ends of the map, I somehow made it to a dead end where the doors slammed shut behind me and the demo ended. The guy running the both said it was not often that people were able to finish the demo, though, so I'll take it. Domination.
Just like last year, Microsoft tried their best to hide a bunch of generic third-person shooters to stop you from seeing the much-anticipated Cuphead, but this time we found it. I suppose I should be worried that the game has been "coming soon" for more than 2 years now, but each new demo is looking better and better.
This time, the demo consisted of a Super Mario World-style map with a handful of different areas to choose from, being either boss battles or platforming segments. First up was the platforming segment and it broke our balls. What you've got here is a 1930s cartoon version of Contra, minus the spread gun, which is perhaps why our balls were so broken at the end of it. Supposedly, the full game will feature a number of different upgradable weapons, but it wasn't exactly clear how this would work. It may have something to do with the giant coins found in the platforming sections, but there was no Cuphead merch store to check out in the demo.
The boss fights seem like the star of the show, with the devs saying they want to have more boss fights in their game than any other shooter like it. The two we tried featured a giant flower and some kind of anthropomorphic airplane riding a unicycle, the latter with us flying planes instead of being on foot. These, too, were plenty ball-breaking, and we were playing on the lowest difficulty! I'm excited to see more. I'm just hoping we get to see more this year.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
Of all the things to see at E3, my most anticipated was Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. The game features the return of the team from arguably the best of the Castlevania games (I'm just kidding, there's no argument at all): Koji Igarashi, the man who reinvented the Castlevania franchise; Michiru Yamane, the composer who brought those games to life; and Ayami Kojima, the artist who produced all the iconic images from the series. I've been looking forward to it ever since they left Konami, a company that used to make video games but is known more for their current product lineup: pachinko machines, and a deep, deep sense of loss.
Sadly, the game is still a long way off, with the current release date estimated to be sometime in 2017. The demo gives a little taste of what promises to be a great mixture of combat and exploration seen in the "Igavania" genre (I know he kind of popularized that type of game, but come on). Nevertheless, I'm still excited about what the future holds for the game. Also, giant 2.5D monster boobs.
River City Tokyo Rumble
It didn't seem like this update of RCR would be making it stateside. Each time one of the games sneaks through, I always wonder if it's going to be the one where they give pretending that every character is from the US when even the most casual observer can tell it's a game about Japanese kids beating the hell out of each other. Regardless, this one features all the classic RCR elements, mainly beat-until-you-barf gameplay broken up by shopping sessions, along with the added bonus of having the dodgeball element included as a minigame.
It looks like fun, but I think I'm more interested in getting my hands on River City Underground. Provided that the game ever gets a release date.
Wild Guns Reloaded
Did you know there was a remake of Wild Guns in the works? I didn't. In fact, any info about it is a bit scarce. All we know for sure is that it features additional content and up to 4 players. The demo made it seem like they'd be using a lot of the same assets from the original game, so I can't help wondering if the additional content is just going to be palette swaps and other little cheats to pad things out. Still, even if they wind up doing that, it was a great game in its own right. They just better keep the price down if they're just reshuffling things.
Black: The Fall
I hadn't heard of Black: The Fall, but I was drawn in by the communist dystopia look. I just wasn't prepared for how literal the title would be; there was blackness, and there was falling.
It starts out simple enough with you riding a bicycle to open a door, like you do. During this sequence, There was a counter on the screen that counted down from 10,000 about once a second while you rode said bicycle. All I could think of was how it must have sucked to be the QA guy who had to test whatever happens when that counter reaches zero. Anyway, you soon happen upon a laser pointer that's used to manipulate human drones into helping you solve puzzles. And that was fine, apart from the booth attendant pointing out a fatal bug that required you to restart the demo if you didn't get off an elevator fast enough.
The problem came after one particularly long puzzle sequence when the game transitioned into a platforming game. At that point, it became apparent that the controls in this game needed to be tightened up a lot. A few minutes in, I was missing ledges because jumping from a particular spot caused you to automatically make a much larger jump than you normally would. Then I had to jump to an area off screen (once it became apparent that standing around waiting for some kind of sign led only to death). Finally, I had to jump across a dark pit. Not to the lit area on the other side, oh no. That was actually another pit. A stealth pit. No, I had to jump on an indistinguishable patch of blackness, and then immediately catapult myself onto the next one because that patch was only about a foot wide. I landed in a spot of total blackness. Then, a light came on, and a wall of fire killed me. It was as though I were playing I Wanna Be The (Russian) Guy.
But the worst part is that I learned that the title is because the main character is named "Black". That's just awful.
Mother Russia Bleeds
I was beginning to think I wouldn't see any significant carnage at E3 before I came across Mother Russia Bleeds. Thank goodness it had enough to make up for the rest.
You play one of four Russians who've been exposed to some kind of new drug by the Russian mafia. It's not really clear if it's intentional or not, but said drug makes you strong enough to rip off a man's head like a dandelion. Also you hallucinate, but considering that everyone else exposed to it is horribly mutated, that seems like a small price to pay.
On the surface, the game is a solid side-scrolling brawler akin to Streets of Rage. The thing that makes it stand out, though, is the drug gimmick: each player has a syringe full of some sinister green drug that they can use either to heal, or unleash a berserker rage. Once you've depleted your syringe, the only way to get more is to beat your enemies until they full down convulsing, stab them with the syringe, and hope you can keep everyone else away while you draw the life/death-giving juice out of them. Seems simple enough, but you'll have to alternate between beating your enemies to death, and beating them almost to death so you can juice them. Alternatively, you can try to focus on killing the shit out of everything really well so that you won't ever need to heal. Potentially possible, but enemies are not shy and even lowly drug zombies can hit surprisingly hard.
And the gore is just incredible. The jagged edges of those red pixels seems to make the exploding corpses and brain smatterings even more gruesome. Definitely looking forward to really diving into this one and working out the pummel/syringe mechanics down to a science.
Masquerada: Songs and Shadows
The Playstation pavilion featured another new Kickstarter-funded title: Masquerada. This one's a isometric RPG that takes place in a cartoony Venetian city where most everyone wears masks that denote social standing, and also grant magical powers. Mask-based intrigue arises and it falls on our bemasked heroes to sort it out.
Combat alternates between real-time and pausing to really coordinate things in case you don't trust your AI companion to figure things out on his own. Thankfully, I didn't need to do any of that because it was an early demo.
I did run into some trouble near the end of the demo where I ran into a group of thugs with a healer among them. My two guys had been cleaning up until that point, and suddenly the whole thing turned into a slog. We couldn't do enough damage to the healer to put him down, and when one of my guys got killed, the other would have to run around like an idiot until he revived. Unfortunately, the attendant got pulled away for an interview, so I wound up trading knockdowns with a trio of unremarkable bad guys for nigh on 10 minutes. There's no footage of this exercise in impotency because frankly, that would compromise the message of domination I'm trying to setup here.
Remember earlier when I said the Dark Souls-like games weren't done yet? Well here comes Eitr.
Their demo left me with a lot of questions. For starters, I wonder what the environments look like since I couldn't hardly see a goddamn thing. I know blackness and dungeons go hand in hand, but at least make it light enough for me to experience the sort of existential dread that's a hallmark of games like this.
Also, is there going to be a map in the game? When the level is dark and largely tile-based, figuring out where you are and where you want to go gets a lot more difficult.
Also also, it seems like you can just run around every enemy since you don't seem to get anything for killing them. After running out of the Estus Flask stand-in, I resorted to doing just that and had a much easier time of it until I ran right into a group of enemies I couldn't see because they were all bla- holy shit. I just answered my own question!
But still, you can enjoy this game and still enjoy Dark Souls. It's not a case of "Eitr/Or". :D
I'd say I've been waiting for the next Yakuza game for the longest time, but that would imply that I hadn't given up on seeing any more of them make it stateside. Nevertheless, I'm glad they're finally bringing it over.
Yakuza 0 is a prequel to the events of the Yakuza series, still starring gigantic tough guy/amateur dentist Kazuma Kiryu, this time alongside his alternating benefactor/malefactor Goro Majima long before the events of the first game. Somewhere in these games is a long and involved stories with a lot of interesting twists and turns, but as I told the attendant as I was skipping through page after page of dialogue, the meat of the game is the systematic ruination of faces and spines.
Ostensibly, the main character is a fighter who is trying to leave the violent world of organized crime behind, but introspection and regret make for a crummy demo. Thank goodness there were plenty of mooks hanging around on the streets just waiting to have their faces punched into custard. Being that he was only a translator for the game, the attendant wasn't able to give much direction vis a vis the "heat actions," but thank goodness the controls have stayed pretty much the same throughout the series. It's one thing to mash the punch button until your opponent is knocked out, but these games are all about building up a meter, pressing a single context-sensitive button, and suddenly you're cracking your opponent in the face with a bat, or mashing them with a bicycle, or repeatedly ramming their head into a concrete wall until they're "knocked out".
Better still, this installment includes a new twist: the ability to learn other fighting styles that you can switch to on the fly. The demo featured one where you simply produce a bat from thin air, and another where you fight by breakdancing. And let me tell you, it was the best style there was. Who would've thought spinning on your head would be the ultimate combat technique? 2017 can't get here fast enough.
I didn't have the opportunity to play Exile's End while at E3, but I did manage to play it months and months ago, on account of it already being out on Steam.
I really wanted to like this one. I really did. It seemed like a slam dunk for me: sprite-based artwork in a metroidvania-type game. Unfortunately, someone on the development team missed the note that when you make a game large, sprawling maps, you need to fill those maps with something. Besides fall damage, I mean.
And yet that's what you have here: a lot of backtracking across empty stretches of land and hoping that you're headed the right way because you don't want to have to schlep back across any more than you already are. And the note about avoiding empty expanses must have been written on the back of a note about making sure combat isn't tiresome either because somebody sure didn't get that message. Having to come to a dead stop in a game like this so you can plug a basic enemy over and over again with your limited ammunition is bad enough, but then you realize that bumping into one of them knocks your health down a surprising amount, and restoring it requires rare health drops or even rarer health packs.
Were the devs trying to make a survival horror? Survival means pressing through hordes of bullet sponges, and the thought of having to repeat any part of the game horrifies me. In fact, the guy playing the demo at E3 had come to a point where he needed to kill a monster on a ledge above him, so his only recourse was to hop up, shoot once, and fall back down. How many times he did this, I don't know, but he seemed exasperated when he discovered yet another monster on the ledge above that one.
Fun fact: the description of the game on Steam explicitly states the game is "NOT a metroidvania," but the user base has tagged as being just that. And they are right. Sorry, Magnetic Realms.
Killing Floor 2
I loved the original Killing Floor, so it should come as no surprise that I bought into Killing Floor 2 when it showed up on Steam about a year ago. Under normal circumstances, I might have some misgivings about supporting a game that's been in Early Access that long and it already talking about putting out a release on consoles (and apparently, a VR game too), but Tripwire took the unprecedented step of releasing a well-made, if somewhat small, game up and then spent their time in Early Access slowly building it up. Hence the reason why a game that is technically unfinished still played really well.
Naturally, I didn't see any reason to explain to anyone around that I had put in quite a bit of time at home on the game. No, better to just pick the Firebug and set about igniting everything that moves with a caulking gun filled with napalm. I don't know if it's the ability to damage large groups of enemies at once, or just the flailing and screaming of burning enemies that makes that class so much fun. That's a lie, of course. The amount of work they've put into the motion capture and gore engine in the game is pretty impressive. The best is undoubtedly the Microwave Gun, which plumps them up like cooked marshmallows before blowing them up like overripe... marshmallows? Juicier, though.
I don't want to say that having experienced the game outside of a noisy convention hall, but there was fire everywhere. And it was domination. At least until the very end, when the boss monster wiped the floor with all of us. Which was bullshit because if I had a chaingun/rocket launcher arm, hoo boy...
In the tradition of flash games that evolved into full titles comes Kingdom. You're the king trying to start a new kingdom from scratch using your three tools: a crown, a horse, and a coin purse. You ride around on your horse, doling out money to hire people and get things done, and you better hold onto that crown because no one respects a king with no crown.
It's simple enough that you can practically play it with one hand, but the tricky part is figuring out the flow of the game. At the start, you put up a crude wall, hire some peasants living outside the wall, and give them bows to defend/hunt or hammers to build shit. Then you have to keep pushing outwards to find new stuff so you can keep things going once you've completely wiped out the local fauna. As your kingdom develops, you'll to split your time between bolstering your kingdom at home and exploring the rest of the map to find new resources to exploit.
Exploration during the day, fending off faceless monsters at night. I did okay for the first couple days. The archers are all autonomous, so getting them to split up evenly among your two walls is tricky, but not as tricky as getting them to hit things consistently. While you can build watchtowers to give one or two of them a vantage point, the rest will just lob their shots over your walls, presumably guided by the relentless pounding of enemies on the other side. Now, I don't consider myself an expert on medieval fortifications, but it seems like a pretty standard feature of any wall is a little walkway along the top to take the guesswork out of archery.
And that's the excuse I'm going with to explain how just a few days in, monsters overwhelmed my wall of pointed sticks, knocked the bows/hammers out of the hands of my peasants, and eventually stole my crown. Knowing that the monsters are basically just knocking down your walls and risking life and limb just to humiliate you makes such losses even more crushing.
I have a sickness. When a new roguelike shows up, I run to it like I don't remember all the other times I've gotten totally fed up from having a solid run abruptly end because some random element popped up and wrecked my shit. That's why I was intrigued when I heard about Cryptark... when it showed up in Early access back in October. Now it's on the verge of coming out on the PS4. I think. There hasn't been any word on when the PC version is going to be finished, but they at least have a nice demo ready for the PS4.
In each level of Cryptark, you explore the ruins of a huge alien ship with the goal of reaching and deactivating the brain-like core so your team of salvagers can ransack the place. You accomplish this through only the subtlest of ways: hopping in a mech and methodically blasting away at the still-functioning security measures. The ultimate goal of all this is the capture of information leading you to the legendary Cryptark, an even more massive derelict lying somewhere in deep space. The demo didn't really get into the long-term stuff, including managing your finances because every weapon you bring with you costs money and your contracts for each ship come with extra time/challenge considerations, but the most important part, the shooty part, was on display.
Apart from trying to dodge enemy robots within the confines of the ships, there's additional strategy involved in laying out a plan of attack before and during your raids: go in the nearest door and fight your way straight to the core? What about the alarm system tied to it? Do you want to risk blowing it up while the security force bears down on you, or will you take a detour to blow up the alarm first? Maybe it would be worth it to take out the factory producing all those heavyweight robots, but do you have the ammo for that? The choices you have to make on each map add a good amount of depth to what might otherwise be a fun, but fairly standard, twin stick shooter.
If this sounds interesting, check it out in Steam. Odds are if you're reading this article, you can probably run it on your PC, and it's far enough along in its development that you won't feel like you need to buy it and sit on it for a while.
I have to admit it was a bit of a struggle to write up our coverage of this year's event. There were a few interesting titles like there usually are, but nothing really standing out as remarkable. It would be nice if we saw Cuphead come out this year, but Mother Russia Bleeds looks like it will be a lot of fun, too. And of course, I'll be looking forward to Bloodstained. Who knows, years from now maybe we'll be talking about the latest installment in the long-running, absurdly successful Bloodstained franchise. And a few years after that, we'll be talking about how the publisher shit the bed and liquidated everything that made people like them in the first place. Ah, the future.
For now, though, let's turn it over to Rog for insight on some of the interesting sights padding out the fairly blah showings:
There's still much more to see from
I-Mockery's coverage of E3 2016!
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