E3 2014 Special: Best and Worst

E3 2014 is officially behind us, and we’re sifting through all of the news to find the best and the worst shown off at the expo. Can Sony top its promises from last year, or will a dark horse storm in to steal the show–and with it, our hearts?

As usual, a transcript is below the jump.

Transcript

E3 2014 has come and gone and while it didn’t quite match the highs of last year, there are still plenty of things to talk about. For our wrap-up special we will be counting down our five biggest disappointments as well as the five things we loved most about this year’s show.

Our first disappointment this year was the lack of a Beyond Good & Evil 2 announcement from Ubisoft. While Ubisoft’s press conference this year was a rollercoaster, nothing could compare to the dejection we felt from the absence of Jade, Pey’j, and the world of Hillys. E3 2015 will mark 12 years since the original’s release, which is far too long to leave one of gaming’s most vibrant worlds and protagonist in limbo.
On the other hand, a surprise announcement almost made us forget: Sony’s bringing back Grim Fandango. Grim Fandango is a game often cited as one of the best from LucasArts and Tim Schafer’s portfolios, but ever-changing technologies make it difficult for a generation of gamers to actually play it. Sony’s surprise announcement–framed, partially in jest, as rescuing it from the clutches of Disney–is emblematic of Sony’s recent outreach efforts on Playstation 4. Whether it be courting indies or making hard-to-find classics accessible, Sony has developed a reputation for backing weird and wonderful games. That’s something we can get behind.

Grim Fandango is a game often cited as one of the best from LucasArts and Tim Schafer’s portfolios, but ever-changing technologies make it difficult for a generation of gamers to actually play it. Sony’s surprise announcement–framed, partially in jest, as rescuing it from the clutches of Disney–is emblematic of Sony’s recent outreach efforts on Playstation 4. Whether it be courting indies or making hard-to-find classics accessible, Sony has developed a reputation for backing weird and wonderful games. That’s something we can get behind.

Meanwhile, back at Ubisoft, we were disappointed that the final game announcement was not Beyond Good & Evil 2, but the return of Rainbow 6. The crowd went wild when Ubisoft announced the first entry in the franchise in six years, and while it looks fun, and we were happy to see female members of the squad, there was something discomforting about the demo’s objective. In the alpha footage, the team of players was tasked with rescuing a hostage from a re-enforced home-turned-enemy-fortress. Essentially, it was a military-coded game of capture the flag with its woman-hostage as the flag, dipping into the uncomfortable tradition of women as object or even prize. The disregard for the woman’s safety and agency was made all the more apparent when our demo player-character successfully rescued her, holding her in front of him as he faced enemy fire. For players, her presence in front of the camera is surely meant to indicate that yes, they have her–they possess the flag. But we also saw an enemy holding her the exact same way earlier in the level–as our scripted player exclaimed in disgust–they’re using her as a human shield. Apparently once she is in player’s possession, this blocking is both acceptable and necessary.

Some gameplay that did impress us was the footage of Dragon Age: Inquisition during EA’s conference. We at Push to Smart loved the first two Dragon Age games inspite of their flaws. The stories and characters were compelling but the combat and artistic direction left much to be desired. With overhauled gameplay newly powered by the next generation Frostbite engine, Bioware might finally put these issues behind them. This year we got a glimpse of the combat, showcasing both an active, action-oriented system, as well as a more strategic top-down view that stops the clock while the player determines the best possible action. With this much work being put into the combat, hopefully Dragon Age: Inquisition will be just as fun to play as its predecessors stories were to experience.

And then there’s The Order 1886, a game we just can’t get behind. The Order was one of the first games announced for the PS4 during E3’s press conference last year. It had a striking trailer with a victorian setting featuring all sorts of supernatural creatures. Unfortunately, the intriguing setting appears to be wasted on another cover based shooter that shares the same tired game mechanics we’ve been seeing for the past decade. with the announcement of two more victorian horror games, HUNT: Horrors of the Gilded Age and Hidetaka Miyazaki’s Bloodborne, The Order: 1886’s boring cover-based shooting and quick-time events might just be left in the dust.

One game that’s in no danger of being left in the dust is No Man’s Sky. Hello Games’ surprise follow-up to their debut success, Danger Joe, was first unveiled at the Spike Video Game Awards, but it really stole the show during Sony’s E3 presser. While its promise of an endless, procedurally generated universe is a lofty one, the trailer full of limitless vistas, dinosaurs, and space ships showed great promise and imagination. We might not know if it’ll live up to its word, but this is definitely a game to watch.

Never mind procedurally generated planets and universes, Ubisoft can’t even figure out how women work. Assassin’s Creed: Unity got a lot of stage time in both Microsoft’s and Ubisoft’s pressers, showing off its four-player co-op and French Revolution setting in extended demos and animated trailers. Weirdly-fetishized beheadings notwithstanding, it looked pretty fun. However, something started to stink once the creative team fielded developer questions the next day. When asked if the co-op characters would include women, both technical director James Therien and creative director Alex Amancio said they really wanted to include women in their game, but it just would have taken too long and used too many resources. Not only did this smack of the all-to-common attitude of women as auxiliary to the default man–something to include if time and budget allows–it also wasn’t true. As animator Jonathan Cooper pointed out, the work required to create the female rigs and animations would only take “a day or two,” as opposed to the 8000 animations and overtime Therien originally quoted. And Cooper should know, he was the animation director on Assassin’s Creed III–working closely with the Liberation team–and the the former lead animator on Mass Effect games.

Their argument also failed to explain why none of the four characters where people of color, a simple diversification which certainly wouldn’t have doubled the amount of work put into development. Instead of facial hair being the only distinguishing feature between its protagonists, Ubisoft missed the opportunity to show how diverse the individuals partaking in the French Revolution actually were. It’s one thing to maintain the status quo; it’s another to create an elaborate lie about it. The best we can hope from this is more games with interesting characters like Aveline.

While we didn’t get a new Aveline in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, EA brought us the return of Faith in the new Mirror’s Edge game. Sandwiched between eye-roll inducing announcements of extreme sports and the Battlefield: Hardline reveal, Mirror’s Edge 2, while not a surprising announcement, was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise monochromatic press conference. Faith is back and EA looks to be taking her return very seriously with tightened parkour controls, and a new spin on combat. Where the first game cut Faith’s free-running short with enemy encounters, DICE is now looking to incorporate combat into the flow of the game to keep the momentum going. The emphasis on Faith’s capabilities and motivations as a protagonist during the presentation was fantastic, and shows a kind of respect that female characters are rarely afforded. We hope to see more presentations like this in the future, where a female character’s strength is defined on her own terms as opposed to how well she can emulate a male protagonist.

But the biggest disappointment from the year also came from EA. Battlefield: Hardline was all over E3 this year, and appeared to be the biggest game announced on the first day. Using the expansive locale of Los Angeles for an all-out war between the police and criminals, Battlefield: Hardline looks to be ratcheting everything up to 11, including EA’s lack of social consciousness. Critics tore into the game on twitter, and for good reason, one such critic, Chris Franklin called it “the absolute worst of videogames. It’s super-expensive spectacle that doesn’t care what it’s actually about.” This is due to Hardline’s weird celebration of police brutality. It fetishizes collateral damage, making a spectacle of construction equipment crashing into buildings. Even Michael Bay would include a shot of the American military heroically coming to the aide of civilians trapped in those buildings–albeit in helicopters and against a setting sun. When your game looks like something that Michael Bay wouldn’t touch, you know you’ve done something wrong. But the military is nowhere to be found, instead the police force has militarized, a terrifying concept that has far more baggage than EA would like to admit, as Rowan Kaiser pointed out, the militarization of police “is a huge civil liberties issue.” Hardline is irresponsible with its socially-charged imagery, and the pageantry of violence was especially tone-deaf. While there were games with similarly problematic elements at the expo this year, the amount of time Hardline was afforded on stage was disheartening.

 

Thankfully, it was Nintendo to the rescue! After an exhausting day of press conferences, Nintendo snuck in with their digital event and floor demos to save the day. Not only did they give us the Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney release date we were pining for, but they gave us our first look at Zelda on the Wii U, made good on the rumors of figure tie-ins for Super Smash Bros with the new Amiibo line, and gave us not one, but two playable princesses in Hyrule Warriors.
The colorful, surprisingly diverse line-up was a complete 180 from the parade of somber shooters, combatting nearly every problematic design choice made on the main stage the day before with a straightforward display that games are for everyone. This was never more true than when Nintendo revealed its own spin on the shooter with Splatoon–a third person shooter in which players, as cute “squid girls” aim to cover the war zone with more ink than their opponents. Nintendo’s women-friendly line-up was a great sign, and we hope they incorporate criticisms of last month’s Tomodachi Life to make their games even more inclusive. They still have a ways to go, but this was a giant leap in the right direction.

So that does it for the best and worst of E3 2014. Join the conversation in the comments section, and let us know anything you agree with, disagree with, or other thoughts about the expo. It was huge, a lot of games were announced, we couldn’t cover it all. So have at it! And join us next time when we’ll be discussing Supergiant Games’ Transistor at the Push to Smart Water Cooler.

 

 

English Nobleman: What?
Sir Percy: No that’s the title.
They seek him here.
They seek him there.
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven.
Is he in hell.
That damned illusive Pimpernel!

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2 thoughts on “E3 2014 Special: Best and Worst

  1. Ubisoft would have looked way less ridiculous had they said that the reason for no playable PoC or women in ACU co-op was that everyone’s player avatar is supposed to be Arno (with the customizability being what their avatar looks like to the other players in the session) instead of citing workload and animations.

    • I’ve been thinking about this, too, and I keep going back and forth. On one hand, coming out and explaining how Unity multiplayer differs from that of previous games would have saved us a meme and Ubisoft throwing animators under the bus. But on the other, I’m not sure if it’d be less ridiculous or just ridiculous in a different way. For instance, if Arno is our player-character and the other assassins are just different skins for co-op we don’t actually see in our own game, why are these other assassins featured in the detailed, CGI promotional portraits? Why are they being marketed to us as other characters to presumably identify with and become invested in? And it still doesn’t provide a reason for why these assassins are only grizzled white men. While the reasons first given for the lack of diversity are really, truly ridiculous, I don’t think there’s a good, not-ridiculous reason for it.

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