We’ve already talked about my favorite games of E3 (part one, part two), but there’s plenty more going on at the Electronic Entertainment Expo than just game demos. The atmosphere of the show can be just as interesting as any game that’s on display and it so often goes unmentioned. E3 might be shrinking, but it’s still a weird video game wonderland, with roving mascots, ostentatious booths, and swarms of swag-obsessed animals. So we created the Gameological E3 Super Superlative Awards as a way to make some finer points about what we saw at the expo, whether it be the games, developer presentations, or the sights and sounds of the show floor.
One of the primary routes into the PlayStation booth was constantly clogged with people stopping to gawk at a game called Bound. Developed by Plastic, the studio behind the experimental PS3 oddity Datura, it’s an abstract platformer in which you, as a ballerina, explore strange, living worlds that represent a woman’s childhood memories. The game is gorgeous, with a look that takes inspiration from a swath of modern art styles and is brought to life with verve and imagination. The dancer moves with expressive detail, gracefully traversing this dreamscape with real ballet stances and techniques. (Professionals both choreographed and performed the motion capture for her animations.) Attendees, myself included, could not help but stop and stare at the hypnotic beauty of Bound, even if they only basked in the weirdness for a few seconds before looking around for the nearest line to wait to hear someone talk about a game with 20 times the budget.
While attendees tried to enjoy Bound’s soothing geometric psychedelics, they were also treated to the single most irritating thing on the entire show floor: Sony’s Gran Turismo Sport demo station. Consisting of several sleek, vaguely car-shaped pods, the GT Sport portion of the PlayStation booth emitted a non-stop storm of squealing for everyone within earshot to suffer through. Just passing through to check out the smattering of indie games in the booth’s inner sanctum? SCREECH. Trying to get your picture taking with a person in a Ratchet suit? SQUEAL. I couldn’t tell you if the game is any fun—besides, you already know if you’re the target market for a new Gran Turismo—but I know it has very realistic tire screeching.
Going into E3, ReCore was one of the few games I was dying to see. Developed in part by Keiji Inafune—one of the creators of Mega Man—and Armature Studio, which was founded by key developers of Metroid Prime, ReCore had remained a mystery since its announcement at E3 2015. This year’s show would prove to be its coming-out party, but I never did get a chance to play the game or get a good look at it. This is partially because the wait to hop on one of Microsoft’s demo stations was always shockingly long. Despite having close to a dozen kiosks, the line to play ReCore was always long enough to snake out of the booth, down the corridor behind it, and around a corner. Even when I got to the Convention Center early and booked it to the Xbox booth as soon as the doors opened, the wait was already upward of 40 minutes. I’m glad to see so much interest in the game, but those are queue times usually reserved for massive titles, not a $40 oddity from an unproven studio.
Virtual reality was huge at this year’s E3, and no VR experience came out of the show with more positive buzz than Batman Arkham VR. (“Positive” being the operative word, since Resident Evil 7 apparently made everyone other than me nearly puke.) Like most of the virtual reality things I’ve played, the demo of Arkham VR was a novel, if shallow, little trip. Using PlayStation Move controllers as Batman’s hands, you take an elevator down to the Batcave, suit up, throw a couple of Batarangs, and then head out to investigate the murder of one of your sidekicks (yeah, it gets real dark real fast) using a tool that magically recreates the crime in hologram form and observing as it plays out around you. That was a neat trick, but I couldn’t get over how adorable my little Batfingers were. Every chance I got, I’d stick my Batman hands in front of my face and pull on the controllers’ triggers to make them clench into cute little Batfists. We’re living in a truly amazing future, folks.
Even in our goofy community live chat, the reaction to the trailer for Sea Of Thieves, the new multiplayer pirate game from Rare and Microsoft, was not kind. This montage of moments, with commentary from a bunch of screaming players who were clearly told to ham it up, was just confusing and grating. But after hearing developers from Rare talk about their vision for the game and getting a better look at it, it became clear that devising a trailer that encapsulated the feeling of freedom and camaraderie Sea Of Thieves is aiming for would have been an impossible task. Rare has a lot of ideas for what the game will become—an online open-world adventure where players are free to live out their pirate lives however they desire, whether that be teaming up with other swashbucklers and ruling the high seas from your customized ship or setting out as a lone treasure hunter—and what was playable at E3 was a very small slice of that dream, giving attendees the chance to man a boat and take down other crews in naval warfare. Even with its limitations, the demo drew plenty praise and Rare’s concept for where the rest of the game is headed sounds promising, with a refreshing focus on simplicity and choice.
Unlike some people, I have nothing against David Cage and Quantic Dream. I thought Beyond: Two Souls was a cliché-ridden slog, but I loved the audacity of Heavy Rain and its approach to failure and multithreaded storytelling. Detroit: Become Human looks like it’s returning to those virtues, and it’s also bringing along plenty of Quantic Dream’s unintended goofiness that birthed meme-worthy moments in its previous games. Although I tried to stifle it, so as to be polite for the developers in the room, I definitely laughed more during my Detroit demo than at any other point in the show. The game is far from final, so these things are subject to change, but I caught myself chuckling at the voice acting on more than one occasion, especially when the little girl who was being held hostage by her android servant let out a hilariously insipid “Daniel, no!” after the rogue robot explained that she’s just as cruel as the rest of humanity. But my favorite moment had to be when Connor—the player’s character and an android who’s built to seek out “deviants,” the game’s term for androids gone wild—headed to the roof to confront the hostage taker. After stepping through the door, he was immediately shot in the shoulder, at which point the words “DEVIANT LOCATED” popped up in his augmented-reality vision. Yeah, no shit, Connor.
For anyone willing to wait hours upon hours to get into Nintendo’s crazy booth—which was basically a miniature Zelda theme park complete with life-size statues, fake trees, artificial smells, and sound/lighting effects that periodically changed from day to night—your visit included the chance to get some exclusive Breath Of The Wild merchandise. There was a blue T-shirt with the game’s logo on it and a hefty coin bearing the series’ Sheikah eye symbol. While waiting to get into day two of the show, I heard about these goodies and the high price they were fetching on eBay, and while the excitable dudes I was eavesdropping on might have exaggerated a little, they weren’t far off. As of this writing, these things are going for at least $50 each, and that’s dropped significantly since the show ended. People at E3 are ravenous, unfeeling swag monsters, and there’s no swag more desirable than Zelda swag. So when my Nintendo tour guide handed me one of those coins at the end of my demo, it felt like being given a bucket of chum and shoved into shark-infested waters. I’m happy to report I made it out unharmed.
My interest in the new God Of War has just as much to do with what I heard about the game as what I saw of it. Before running through the demo, Cory Barlog, the game’s director, spoke at length about the studio’s motivations for the series’ new direction, and his pitch was phenomenal. It wasn’t necessarily the content of it, although I was impressed by the amount of thought that went figuring out the details of how and why Kratos had moved from ancient Greece to ancient Scandinavia. What really rubbed off on me was Barlog’s passion for this series and this character and his desire to meaningfully challenge the notions of what they mean. He left Sony Santa Monica during the production of God Of War III, then roamed the industry searching for a new home and had a son before returning to his old stomping grounds—a journey that seems to have shaped Kratos’ story. Barlog came back specifically to make this game, to tear God Of War apart and rebuild it as something completely different. That kind of dedication isn’t uncommon in game development, but I’ve rarely heard it come through this strikingly. If that passion is going to manifest in the game itself, then God Of War will really be something worth looking out for.
The PlayStation booth is always the one with the most costumed mascot characters. This year, Sony stepped up its game even further. Every once in a while, a life-size version of one of Horizon: Zero Dawn’s robot dinosaurs would emerge from the depths of the booth, puppeteered to perfection and decked out with sound effects and game-accurate LEDs. Every time it appeared, a huge crowd with gather around to take photos and play with the thing. Its handlers even gave out toy spears for anyone who might want to try “hunting” it.
All the while, some poor sap in a Sackboy costume stood around as that dinosaur got all the attention. There’s something so sad about this particular mascot. The person in it is barely able move and doesn’t appear to have any control over Sackboy’s arms, which just awkwardly dangle in front of him. Together with his posture, the dead-eyed stare and forced smile seem to betray a great internal sadness, possibly because he’s been forced to parade himself for E3’s masses when there isn’t even another LittleBigPlant game on the way and his creator has left him behind for something newer and weirder. It may be time to retire this one to the great costume warehouse in the sky, right next to Daxter and the little paper dude from Tearaway.