E3 2015: What Are We Excited About, Really?

I’ve always wondered who cheers and claps their hands and loudly yells “WOO!!!” during E3 keynote presentations; I’d been under the impression that they were press-only events, and even if “common folk” were allowed entry due to winning a contest, they’d still be outnumbered by the press by a wide margin.

But, then again, here are some of my Tweets during the Microsoft and Sony press conferences the other day:

in response to Microsoft announcing backwards compatibility:

in response to a Cuphead trailer:

in response to the Minecraft/HoloLens demonstration:

in response to the beginning of Sony’s press conference, before we realized we were seeing Last Guardian footage:

in response to the No Man’s Sky demo:

in response to FFVII Remake:

in response to Shenmue III:

So, yes, in the heat of the moment, I was very much jumping up and down and hooting and hollering, and if I’d been in the actual room surrounded by actual journalists, I probably would’ve forgotten myself and jumped up and down and hooted and hollered.   GUILTY AS CHARGED.

But now that it’s been a few days, and I’ve had some distance and some time to process everything we all saw, I’m feeling… well, maybe I’m still a bit pessimistic.

For starters:  almost all of Sony’s announcements, as dramatic and breath-taking as they were, did not contain any release dates – and when they did, almost none of them were for this year.

For another:  almost everything I hooted and hollered about above involved a known quantity.  I’ve already played Final Fantasy VII (well, the first 8-10 hours of it, I suppose); I’ve played ICO and at least half of Shadow of the Colossus and so while Last Guardian is technically “new”, it’s certainly somewhat familiar; I’ve played Shenmue 1 and 2 (and I have more to say on that in a bit); my primary reason for being excited for Xbox 360 compatibility (and cross-save support) is only because I love Red Dead Redemption too much to let it die (as do a lot of other people, too, apparently).

I’m very excited about what we saw of the new Tomb Raider; I’m hoping that Uncharted 4 doesn’t disappoint me the way that U3 did.  (The gameplay shown of each game at their respective presentations goes a long way towards explaining why I feel the way I do; both were exciting, but in very different ways – Tomb Raider’s slice was a very exciting and tense environmental gauntlet, whereas Uncharted 4’s slice began with gunfire and a car chase.  My favorite parts of both of these franchises are the non-combat environmental platforming, and Uncharted seems to be putting more emphasis on shooting people, and this is disappointing for reasons I’ve already talked about.)

I suppose I’m excited about Fallout 4, but when push comes to shove, I gotta say:  The Witcher 3 has raised the bar so fantastically high in terms of open-world RPGs that I’m not really 100% sure that Fallout 4 can hack it.  (And this is coming from someone who has devoured all of Bethesda’s big games, at least since Oblivion; the first time you play them, they’re quite stunning, but when you come back to them later they feel awfully stiff and archaic and janky as hell.)

I was impressed that Sony followed the Last Guardian reveal with a brand-new IP from the makers of Killzone, and which stars a female protagonist; I’ve already forgotten the name, and I don’t really know what it actually is.  I’m still really anxious to get my hands on No Man’s Sky, though even after the presser’s demo I’m still not 100% sure I know what that game is, and/or how I won’t eventually get bored with it.

And Shenmue… yeah.  We should probably talk about that.  I feel more than a little weird about the Kickstarter, as do a lot of people; on the one hand, I’m glad that people are giving it record-setting amounts of money, and I’m glad to know that I’ll eventually be able to play it, but it seems more than a bit strange that Sony would announce it in the form of a Kickstarter without also disclosing that they were going to contribute to its development.  I don’t pretend to know anything about Yu Suzuki or what he’s been up to for the last however many years, but up on that stage he looked like a man who’s been through hell, and the Kickstarter felt like some sort of strange attempt at maintaining pride and dignity.

And when I think about Shenmue 3…. do I even know what it is that I’m hoping for?  I finished the first game and got a few hours into the second one before getting incredibly frustrated by the controls and putting it down; I have no idea how the story ended.  Did I love the first game?  No, not particularly – I bought it because I owned a Dreamcast and I was contractually obligated to buy it, especially since its pre-release hype was breathtaking and deafening and I wasn’t yet properly cynical of these sorts of things (I have a memory of reading about its development – probably in the Official Dreamcast Magazine – and read something about how the game was so detailed that when Ryo went to drink a can of soda, the soda itself was motion captured), and yet it’s stuck with me in ways that many other, better games haven’t.  Something about it deeply resonated with me, even as I’m at a loss to explain what it was.  I remember it being somewhat stiff and clunky (especially Ryo’s voice acting), and I remember wanting to explore the city but always feeling pressured by the real-time clock and my in-game curfew; I remember the combat being better than expected, and the QTEs being interesting and innovative (Shenmue might’ve been the first game on that sort of grand scale to use them to their greatest effect), but also some ridiculously absurd forklift business towards the back third.  (Which, in a way, reminded me a little bit of GTA V‘s big heist, wherein part of Michael’s subterfuge involves literally mopping the floor.)   Above all else, I recall that Shenmue felt very honest and sincere about its intentions; it wasn’t being clever with its technology, but rather tried to be generous and inviting.  It had a story to tell and a world that the story inhabited, and the game very much wanted you to live that story in a way that no other game I’d played to that point had ever tried.

Time and technology have changed rather dramatically since those first two games, of course; I was 24 when I last played the first Shenmue, and when Shenmue 3 comes out – which, if it holds to its Kickstarter promise and is released in December 2017 – I’ll be 42.  I am curious; that’s about as optimistic as I can allow myself to be.

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