Some E3 Highlights

Hello folks. Hope you’re all in fine fettle.

We are currently at the tail end of E3. Or, we sort of are. For those not in the know, E3 is an event held in Los Angeles (almost) every year where scores of video game developers and publishers from around the world come together in one sweaty venue in the summer to hold press conferences, announce games/show off already announced ones, show off a new console if it’s that in the lifecycle and generally get all sorts of info and news out there. There are lots of events like this throughout the year — Gamescom, Tokyo Games Show, etc. E3 though, is the locus around which the industry revolves.

For reasons that I think you may just suspect without me telling you, E3 didn’t happen in a physical, on-site capacity last year and isn’t this year either. During this period it has been replaced with a sort of online festival. E3 still exists as a website that is pushing coverage, but really it’s largely unrelated to anything that is going on and is just a branded excuse for people to do the same things they would at a normal E3, except in virtual space rather than meat space. If E3 the organisation shut down tomorrow all of this would still happen.

At the time of writing we have seen various presentations from big dogs like Microsoft and Ubisoft (Sony noticeably absent this year for some reason) and smaller indie showcases. There’s still a few left to go but, aside from Nintendo, most have already confirmed they wont be showing any new games. I’ve seen basically everything there is to see so far and I thought it’d be good craic to pick through it all and present some things I think you should keep an eye out for. If anything crops up from the later conferences (or I just remember something I forgot) I will add it to the list and give it a bump on Twitter.

The only hard rule narrowing the choices I’ve made here is that I’m not allowing any games that were just announced without any meaningful showing of what the game is actually like. E.g: one of my favourite dev studios, Arkane, announced a game called Redfall at Microsoft’s presentation. I’m excited for that game but all they showed was a CG trailer with no real gameplay, something which is common for bigger budget games just getting revealed and is a bit dull. So none of that on here.

For the most part, the entries on this list are something that I am interested in to some degree. I considered including games that I’m not interested but thought might appeal to others, only to reconsider when it became clear that it would go on forever. Still it is more of a public service list rather than being purely a selfish brain-dump (the Elden Ring section is that selfish brain-dump so feel free to skip over it). There’s also a skew towards smaller games, half because that’s just what I liked from what I saw and half because you don’t need me to tell you about Starfield or anything like that.

If you’d like to peruse for yourself the many, many games that have been announced or just otherwise shown off across the various outlets, there’s a fantastic website called E3Recap which gathers them all in one place with info about them, any relevant trailers/videos, where they were announced and lets you filter them all sorts of ways. If you have the time I recommend checking out the full Wholesome Direct and Guerilla Collective shows, as lots of the games on this list appeared there alongside many other games which may be up your alley.

I hope you find some things that you like. Be well and have great days.

Atomic Heart

Myriad trailers have been shown for this game at events down the years. I’m not particularly convinced it will ever actually come out and if it does it might be a jankfest (there have even been rumblings that development on it has been a bit of a mess, which certainly tracks with how long it has taken) but I hope it does because coalesce eventually because it appears to be a quite outré take on what is possibly my favourite genre: the immersive sim (think System Shock, Deus Ex, Thief, Dishonored etc). The strange world design is especially captivating.

I don’t know why this is called the ‘Official Announce’ trailer. This game was announced like three years ago.

Bird Problems

Appears to be a playable sitcom starring a cast of vibrantly-coloured birds. Not sure why you could want any info beyond that?

Black Book

Intriguing mix of what adventuring through a world of Slavic myth and a JRPG-esque combat system with an injection of card game mechanics. Some striking 3D art too.

Button City

Adventure game set in an adorable world of lil animals in diaroma landscapes. Hints at having fun experimenting with shifting between distinct gameplay types — there’s an isometric action RPG, a racing game and a rhythm game in the trailer alongside the narrative bits. Again, check out those colours! Apparently coming Q3 this year.

Citizen Sleeper

From the developer of In Other Waters, a wonderfully introspective game from last year about exploring the ecology of an alien planet (currently 50% off on Steam!). Citizen Sleeper appears to be some sort of cyberpunk narrative/hacking game. Frankly I have no idea what’s going on but it sure does capture the eye and it’s worth checking out anything from this dev.

Death’s Door

Isometric action adventure with more than a hint of Dark Souls about it in its combat and the bosses (the developers also made Titan Souls, a direct homage to From’s series. The world is really charming, with a melancholic sense of humour and a sharp identity. Lots of nice touches in the animations like how you pick up an umbrella, use it as a weapon and then, when not attacking, it just rests open on your bird shoulder.

Demon Turf

Drop dead gorgeous 3D platformer (and perhaps some action adventure-y elements?) with 2D characters. Bursting with visual creativity. Has been on the horizon for a while, no firm release date except for ‘2021’. There’s a demo you can play now. Super into it. There’s another game called Here Comes Niko! that has a similar art style but is decidedly more cozy if that’s your preference.

Dodgeball Academia

Dodgeball RPG! Brazilian studio Pocket Trap are making a cartoon dodgeball RPG! I need say no more. Looks great.

Dordogne

A relaxed adventure game about revisiting nostalgic memories of your childhood. Just watch the trailer though. Look at that art!

Elden Ring

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah, right then.

Elden Ring, for those who don’t know, is the newest game from FromSoftware (from from, from from), a developer who has been around for decades now but has soared in popularity since 2009 with the release of the Souls series (Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls 1/2/3) as well as Bloodborne and Sekiro, which were twists on the Souls format.

Elden Ring was first announced in mid 2019 with a short trailer and there has been almost total radio silence since then. In this time the Souls community managed to drive itself insane, somehow convincing themselves that the game didn’t exist or it was just in perpetual development hell and reading whatever could possibly read into even the smallest scraps of info and rumours. This always struck me as completely ridiculous given that a) games are incredibly complicated undertakings that take ages to make, especially at the scale that From are aiming for with this game (it’s their first proper ‘open world game) and b) a worldwide pandemic kicked into gear in 2020 that might have had an effect on things, y’know. Regardless, we got a trailer last week and along with it an actual release date of January 2022.

A bit of personal storytime if you’ll indulge me: my relationship with the ‘series’ has changed a lot. The first one I played was the original Dark Souls when it came out in 2011 and I loved it for all the reasons everyone else did. The heavy combat, the opressively bleak world with smatterings of strange humour, the layered level design, its willingness to obscure gameplay elements and generally treat you the player with little care, no more than another being passing through the land. I played all the subesequent releases as they came out (as well as going back to play Demon’s Souls), liking some more than others but thinking they were all great in their own way. Then came Sekiro.

Sekiro is the most divergent of the ‘series’. It doesn’t have any multiplayer. It’s set in a real-world location (Japan). It removed most of the RPG aspects and gave you a set character to play as with a role in the story, rather than letting you create one. It changes the fundamental combat of the entries that proceded it to something faster. It is also hands down the best of the Souls games and probably my favourite game of all time.

The tightness of the combat, the enemy designs, the fluidity of the animations — all of it is a level beyond the prior games. Recently I’ve gone back and played all of the Souls games except for Dark Souls 2 (nothing against that one, I just didn’t have it to hand on any system). They’re still fantastic games but parts of them seriously do not hold up any more. Demon’s Souls was the first one and of course The bosses in DS1, which so terrified me at the time, now look sometimes comedically simple and flatout janky in retrospect. Bloodborne is a game I have many issues with which I wont get into here but I certainly don’t see it as the immortally brilliant game many do. DS3 is pretty solid but a tad generic in comparison.

Hidetaka Miyazaki (the creator of the series and director of Demon’s Souls, DS1, Bloodborne as well as co-director of DS3 and Sekiro) said early on that Elden Ring would be closer to Demon’s/Dark Souls than anything else. Not exactly bad news for me by any means, we’re still talking about some of my favourite games of all time here. But, while I was obviously not involved in development of these games, it seems reasonable to suggest that reason Sekiro was so front-to-back killer was precisely because it removed all the typical Souls systems. If you don’t have to spend time balancing multiplayer, or worrying about various RPG mechanics you will naturally have more time to spend on everything else. I am of course fine with them going back to the Souls well, but my expectation is it would lose what made Sekiro my favourite. Enter the new Elden Ring trailer:

Ah fuck they got me. I’m all in.

First and foremost regardless of anything else, that is a wild trailer. The raw amount of stuff they packed in there certainly makes up for all that time without anything. It might actually be too much for some, the number of probable boss fights shown is crazy. Either way it’s all top notch. The creatue/character design is as creative as From has ever been. The giant crawling giant hand, the walking pot with arms, the red-haired lady who has to attach her own arms, the big fella who is made out of arms and has feet made of feet. Shit, there’s even a dragon who shows up and you’re like “oh yeah ok dragon, seen a lot of these but cool” and then the dragon CATCHES A BOLT OF RED LIGHTNING OUT OF THE AIR AND THROWS IT AT YOU.

What really revitalised my interest though is the accumulation of suggestions that it will be less flabby in its gameplay. You can see the player in this trailer doing things you just couldn’t do in Demon’s/Dark Souls — jumping over attacks, a Bloodborne-esque dash, moves flowing together more seamlessly, a hint of a Sekiro-esque counter parry and even stealth crouching. The fluidity of the animations is that step above too. Miyazaki went into more detail on these changes in a new, lengthy interview with IGN. Things like the stamina bar being less influential on your actions really helps sell me on this idea that the gameplay will be less stodgy. He’s emphasizing a freer approach to combat and I’m overall more confident that this game will just generally be more solid from moment-to-moment. If that’s the case, and we also get the classic Souls world design and various accoutrement on top of that? Jesus.

Fire Tonight

Puzzle adventure game that focuses on the story of two people trying to reunite when their city is, as the title suggests, set on fire. More light-hearted than that implies.

Game Director Story

Visual-novel-y narrative game satirising game development, a topic that is pretty ripe for this sort of thing. Super interested in this but cant find a link for a trailer so I’ll just give you the Steam page instead, which does contain a trailer. Looks great so do check it out!

The Gecko Gods

A platformer-y puzzle game set on a mysterious island starring, well, a cute gecko! Controlling the gecko looks like a lot of bouncy, physics-y fun. Like basically every other game here it also is properly easy on the eyes.

Gloomwood

Gloomwood is another take on the immersive sim that has become somewhat of a pre-release rising star. It’s being published and developed by New Blood, who have become beloved in recent years for putting out games that capture what the FPS genre was like in its earlier years (eg: Dusk as a reimagining of Quake or Blood). Gloomwood appears to be doing the same thing but for immersive sim classic Thief (and Deus Ex to an extent), adding some nice new ideas on top. The inventory being an in-world object and not just a menu you pause to interact with is a particularly great choice.

Halo Infinite Multiplayer

They showed a short cutscene from the single player of the new Halo game at Microsoft’s conference which didn’t do much, but what really caught me off guard was the multiplayer gameplay trailer and just how rad it looks. Halo was huge for me as a wean — Halo 3, ODST and Reach were games I played endlessly with my mates at the time and had some of my most cherished gaming memories. Ever since Halo 4, though, I’ve been so-so on the series as a whole, just dipping in and out to play the single player campaign and maybe spend a short while in multiplayer before putting it down til the next game.

This though? You do indeed have my attention. There’s so many neat choices in here that spice up the gameplay. The grapple hook in particular is just a colossal addition. Check out the 1 minute mark where dude grapples onto an enemy aircraft and hijacks that motherfucker in midair. Properly into it. And they’re releasing the entire multiplayer portion of the game for free!

Harold Halibut

Not hard to figure out why this one has tongues wagging. The claymation visuals will stop you in your tracks, and it looks like a kind-hearted adventure even outwith that.

Inscryption

This is the genre mashup stuff you just love to see: some combination of card-game, board game and horror narrative (including what looks to be FMV bits?). From the same developer as Pony Island, which, if you know that game, you know things might get intense here.

Lake

First revealed last year this is, simply put, a game where you play a postwoman doing her job, meeting all sorts of folks and just generally living life in lovely small town. Really hoping this one turns out well. Annoyingly I cant find the trailer they showed at the Guerilla Collective show a few days ago so I’ve gone with the trailer they put out in March.

The Legend of Wright

An RPG adventure of sorts that takes place across the sketches and handcrafted cardboard lands of creative young’un. Bursting with inventiveness in how it presents itself.

Mechajammer

Another immersive sim style dealio, this time with an isometric perspective and a tilt towards some exploratory, RPG-y tendencies. Usually not huge on this kind of pixelart used on the characters here but it looks great when combined with the PS1-esque throwback 3D models and the modern lighting.

Metal Slug Tactics

Absolutely what it says on the tin: the long-running classic side-scrolling shoot-em-up series Metal Slug, excepct now it’s a turn-based tactics game. Looks great!

Minute of Islands

Fucking beautiful puzzle-adventure game which has been kicking around for a while but, out of nowhere, was announced yesterday as being out now! RPS reviewed it and gushed about it. Hope to get to this one soon myself.

Moonglow Bay

The 3D take on NES-esque sprites has been present in indie games for a while now (think I first saw it in 3D Dot Game Heroes) and again is not one I’m super into, but everything else here looks fantastic. Just living your peaceful life as a fisher in a calm town and helping out your buds. Check out that map screen too, so pretty.

OlliOlli World

Third entry in this top-class 2D skateboading series. Now with a delightful new art style.

Planet of Lana

2D platformers with charming art styles and stories that attempt to poke your brain’s emotion fiddlers have been a genre du jour for about a dozen years now, first in the indie space with games like Braid, then gradually becoming more prevalanet from big studios too. However, an unexpected mini-trend that’s emerged from this year’s E3 is games in this style taking it more in the direction of the classics Another World, Prince of Persia and Flashback. 2D platformers with an emphasis on cinematic flourishes and elaborate jumping/climbing animations that attempt to communicate actual heavy movement.

Planet of Lana seems to be doing this (the developer’s website literally describes it as “a cinematic puzzle adventure”) and looks so, so pretty while doing so. Those painterly backgrounds. Mwah.

Rainbow Billy

A lovely, kid-friendly game (or at least it seems from this trailer) with a mix of art styles and gameplay types. Seems like a mix of exploratory platforming, adventuring, RPG-y bits, fishing and all sorts else.

Replaced

Right, so this looks incredible. Another cinematic 2D adventure that oozes all sorts of style in its world and evocative animations. However I’m not entirely sure I buy it. The trailer has awhiff of the overly-manicured about it and I’m not sure it will all translate into a final game that actually looks like this. The combat animation in particular does not look like real gameplay. Could be entirely wrong though. In the meantime, I’m more than happy to take it on its immensely eye-catching face.

Riders Republic

The one thing that caught my eye from Ubisoft’s show. Essentially seems to be bringing together all sorts of extreme sports (their website names biking, snowboarding, skiing and flying in a wingsuit) into one world where up to 50 players are all banging about breaking their bones together at the same time. Extreme sports can great craic in games when embraced properly (SSX!) so it would be nice if this hits the spot.

Sable

Sable was first announced in 2018 and has been one of my most anticipated games for most of its public existence. It’s a purely exploratory game with a graphical style influenced by legendary artist Moebius. Again, please just watch the trailer. How fucking good does that look??? The way the player character animates at a lower framerate than the world around them is such a great touch. It also has music by Japanese Breakfast, who I know have a lot of serious fans ( and I do like them too despite not really being a fan of indie pop/rock anymore). With the trailer put out the other day we also finally got a release date of September. It’ll be on Game Pass for Xbox and PC so if you’re subscribed to that you’ll be able to play it there day one.

Serial Cleaners

Sequal to a stealth game from a few years in which you remove corpses from muder scenes. The first game was neat and plenty stylish in its sharped edge art even if it had a real proof-of-concept air to it at times. This one follows in the same vein but with a new, more clearly 3D visual style and seemingly less abstract gameplay.

Shashingo

Photography game that is also attempting to teach you Japanese as you snap your pictures. Love this as an idea and hope it gets support past its initial release for more environments/objects.

She Dreams Elsewhere

Evokes memories of a few RPG/JRPG staples both new and old (Shin Megami Tensei and Undertale most prominently) with some striking designs that are all its own, particularly in the enemies and the combat screens. Promises to be dealing with themes of mental health and comes across somewhat like a brighter cousin to fellow surreal RPG World of Horror (already released in early access and well worth checking out). A lot to like.

Shredders

As noted with Riders Republic, we could always do with more extreme sports games and Shredders is another one, this time focused on just the snowboarding. Hope it’s good!

Sifu

French studio Sloclap put out a fascinating game called Absolver in 2017. Taking from fighting games and developing several different fictional, complex hand-to-hand combat styles you could use as you wandered around this beautifully rustic, decaying world. It was lovely but the sticking point was that it was multiplayer-focused and not particularly welcoming to folks who just wanted to fiddle with the combat and explore. Well now they’ve taken their experience building that game and put it into Sifu, which has the same elegant fighting but has transposed it into a singleplayer story-focused game with a few unique quirks. Really intrigued how this one comes along. It looks fluid in a way that enjoyably emulates kung-fu movies.

Signalis

Announced a year ago, along with Sable and one later game possibly my most anticipated game on this list (non-Elden Ring division). A survival horror game in the style of the classic, fixed perspective Resident Evil as well as the harrowing tone and terrifyingly convulsive monster designs of Silent Hill. You seemingly play as an android “searching after her lost dreams” so it might even be getting some Blade Runner in there. Like they’re surgically targeting my brain.

SkateBIRD

SkateBIRD.

Somerville

This is the debut game from a studio that’s span off from Playdead, the developers behind indie darlings Limbo and Inside. This has a basic visual resemblance to Inside but rather than being a 2D platformer is a 3D adventure. The trailer for Somerville really stuck with me because it seems to be hitting on that War of the Worlds-esque ‘how does a person/family deal with a potentially world-ending event as it’s happening’. The sense of dread inherent in this type of media and the monolithic images it can produce (check the shot at 0:40 in this trailer, just wow) is total catnip for my brain and I’d love to see a game plough this furrow with care.

Toem

Yet another of these wonderful hand-drawn artstyles, channeling the black-and-white adventures of an adorable creature with a love for photography, roaming the land and helping people out.

Tracks of Thought

Combines a lot of things I’ve already talked about on this list: gorgeous art with non-human characters (bugs this time), RPG-y interactions, a card-based combat system for navigating said interactions with folks and a general wholesome tone.

Trek to Yomi

A tinge of the cinematic side-scroller here but with a big combat component this time. Like Sable, it’s playing with intentionally off-kilter framerates on its animations and it looks exceptional. At times it almost has a Harryhausen-esque stopmotion quality to it. Rooting for this one to come together as a full game big time.

Unbeatable

My other most anticipated game on this list (non-Elden Ring division again). One-part adventure game, one-part rhythm game and one of the most vibrant, flat-out stunning art styles I’ve seen, reminiscent of something like Kill la Kill or FLCL. Set in a world where, to quote their own blurb, “music is illegal and you do crimes” and I am super ready to do crimes. There’s a demo of sorts available on Itch. It’s a loooong way off (anticpated for 2023) but I am happy to wait for them to nail it (I am lying about being happy).

Unpacking

A puzzle game in which you explore the course of a person’s life by, literally, unpacking their belongings as they move into new spaces at different points in their life. A delightful lil idea executed with some great diorama-esque rooms.

Venba

Just going to copy and paste the devs’ description from Steam here because it does the work for me: “Venba is a narrative cooking game, where you play as an Indian mom, who immigrates to Canada with her family in the 1980s. Players will cook various dishes and restore lost recipes, hold branching conversations and explore in this story about family, love, loss and more.” Doesn’t that sound brill? Sure looks it too. There’s a longer trailer in the steam link in the tweet.

We Are OFK

Another game about a fictional band, this one being a more straightfoward narrative dealio as they put together their first release, with dialog choices and the like. At one point in the trailer there’s an option to ask a character “thoughts on hentai?” which is obviously great. It seems to be pulling from a world of young people in LA who have a specific, energetic way of communicating in texts/DMs with each other and are probably posting tweets every day that have sentences that don’t start with capital letters and always end with multiple exclamation marks. It’s a world I do not identify with at all but there’s plenty here grabbing my attention anyhoo.

Wolfstride

Hot, black and white, turn-based one-on-one mech action. Giant robot bastards boxing and occasionally pulling out a gun. Features a character called ‘Knife Leopard’.

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Euan Dewar

Euan Dewar

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