Better than all the rest
Good games bring out the best of E3 - and a good E3 brings out the best of games. That relationship is always true but not always adhered to, making E3 2015 one of the finest shows in years. Finally, the platform holders and big publishers are rolling up their sleeves for reasons other than showing off the latest military arm-hair rendering technology.
Both PlayStation and Xbox made investments in new, large-scale games, while the showing from independent studios came with a ferocity and appeal not seen in years past. As a result, and after 3 days of playing as much as we could, weve assembled this list of E3 2015's most exciting games. Just over half of them are original, one is available already, and those that return from existing properties really earned their spots. Good job, E3.
The Last Guardian
One stray white feather was all it took for all of us to collectively lose our minds during the Sony press conference because it has been so, so, long since wed heard anything about The Last Guardian. Anyone familiar with Fumito Uedas Ico and Shadow of the Colossus may notice that his next game appears to be a mash up of themes from the two. It combines the massive sense of scale from Shadow of the Colossus with the touching, personal relationship portrayed in Ico. We dont know much about the protagonist (a young boy who has been kidnapped under bizarre circumstances) but what we do know is that his griffin-like catbird friend Trico is there to help him get out.
We didnt see any other living creatures this time, but danger doesnt have to lurk in the shadows. The environment itself is treacherous, and from what weve seen youre always surrounded by soaring towers with no hint of where the surface of the world is when you look down. Using Tricos strength and the boys small stature, the two make the perfect puzzle-solving pair. Its the details that make The Last Guardian something special, from the boys exaggerated animations to Tricos dog-like mannerisms. And thats what were dying to see more of: the budding relationship between the two, which will hopefully culminate in a beautiful happy ending where they both make it out and ride off into the sunset. No one needs to think about the alternative
In addition to being one of the best games at E3 2015, Fallout 4 should also take home the award for being the most hyped game at E3 2015. After its official announcement during the Bethesda press conference, Fallout 4 has sent the industry into one giant fanboy freakout. You all can't get enough of it, we can't get enough of it, and pretty soon, come November, we're all going to get our chance to play it. And why shouldn't we be excited? The core Fallout series has always maintained that ideal balance of strategic gameplay and dark, apocalyptic humor. Fallout 4 promises all that, and so much more.
For starters, you can play the role of an urban planner. Fallout 4 will let you custom build your own home, which can then grow into a settlement and attract traveling item vendors to supply you with new goods. You can roam the countryside with Dogmeat, your indestructible canine companion who fetches items for you. Then you can use those items to fine-tune your makeshift weapons through numerous add-ons and modifications. Of course, these minor details are really just the tip of the iceberg as there are (probably) tons of surprises waiting to be revealed between now and November. Time to refill that Rad-X prescription, because we're headed back to the wasteland.
Amidst all the explosions and noise from Star Wars Battlefront (were not complaining) and fanfare around the latest sports title, it was great to see EA back a whimsical-looking game featuring a walking yarn creature, aptly named Yarny. As Yarny, you use the yarn that youre made of to cross obstacles and swing yourself from one place to another. You make your way through lush gardens, rainy streets and other dreamy settings that were inspired by real-life locales in northern Sweden, where the developers from Coldwood Interactive are based.
This physics-based puzzle platformer comes with a sentimental story, as hinted in the trailer and described by the creator, Martin Sahlin. Its hard not to get a bit misty-eyed when you see the struggles Yarny has to face in the harsh, real world. Okay, maybe it had more to do with the melancholy music. Either way, the red thread represents all the bonds that we form with people in our lives. But then, what happens when all that unravels?
Mirror's Edge Catalyst
Its a marvel for Mirrors Edge Catalyst to even exist in its current form. Its priorities are at odds with many major franchises, more rooted in acts of graceful escape than full-on violence, and its vibrant look somehow finds beauty in a sterile, corporatized city. Its now impossible to pick up a gun as you bounce between soon-to-be-KOd enemies like a kung-fu bunny.
But whats most interesting about Mirrors Edge Catalyst, beyond the immediate quality of its motion, beyond its clever integration of speed-running challenges in a city of reflective shards, and beyond its intriguing heroine, Faith, is that much of this could have been said about the previous game. It had such an impact that you cant help but view its return with suspicion, scanning for the catch, waiting for that whiff of a vision compromised in some disappointing way. But with no gunplay (for real), a three-dimensionally expanded world and a demonstrable attempt to rebuild Faiths story, Catalyst looks like the game DICE really wanted to make all those years ago.
Horizon: Zero Dawn
The creators of Killzone are working on a game that remarkably doesnt look like a game from the creators of Killzone. Nature has reclaimed the world of Horizon: Zero Dawn, a thousand years after humanity has shriveled and settled itself as primitive counterpart to new breeds of cybernetic animals. Youll hunt them as Aloy, a human warrior with a warm heart and quiver full of specialized arrows.
Horizons world seems fresh and imaginative, with thunderous cyber-beasts serving as both mystery (who made them?) and formidable opponents in combat. Guerrilla exudes an exceptional attention to detail in this aspect of Horizon: Zero Dawn, granting Aloy different arrows and ropes to pin beasts down, or tear off individual pieces of armor. And when their nuts-and-bolts spill out, she finds new uses for them in crafted armor and weapons. Aloy proves her mettle not only as hunter and engineer, though, but also as an emphatic, quick-witted personality.
Super Mario Maker
Good ol' Mario. He's kept us entertained for 30 years with his his joyful koopa-stomping, princess-saving adventures, and Super Mario Maker is a celebration of that legacy. Dubious looks may have been shared over the concept from time to time (did Nintendo just design half a game and give the rest to the players?), but in practice Super Mario Maker is a solid experience that truly combines the fun of Mario's 2D adventures with a lot of creative fun.
Letting you change the style of your level between four different 2D Mario games, Super Mario Maker gives you access to almost all the different pieces of the Mushroom Kingdom and sends you out into the wild. It's a ton of fun designing impossible levels (which the game happily lets you do), putting a flying Koopa on top of five springs and watching the resulting mayhem. But once you get over your desire for chaos, Super Mario Maker gives you solid tools to design levels that are every bit as good as those in the original games. You can then share those levels with other players and try out their designs in return. Plus, no need to worry about trolls - a creator has to be able to beat their own level in its current form before releasing it to the world. Super Mario Maker is good, clean, creative fun that makes doing all the work fantastic.
ABZU is the ocean of wisdom. At least, that is what it means when you combine two ancient words AB for ocean and ZU meaning to know. ABZU stood out as one of the most serene experiences during the week of E3 2015. In this beautiful underwater exploration game, creator Matt Nava (and former lead artist on Journey) wants to create a fluid world for a player to explore and discover.
Where Journey made your destination fairly obvious, ABZU is more open, and designed in a way where youll naturally end up where you need to go next. The world beneath the waves is vast, and theres so much to see. As a diver with no health gauge to worry about, you can swim around and explore, do flips, ride on the back of a manta ray or swim with a school of fish. Its peaceful, refreshing, and easy to get lost in.
Star Wars Battlefront
It isn't just Battlefield with Stormtroopers. Star Wars Battlefront takes an arcadey approach to large-scale online battles, one that's clearly in love with its source material even as it reshapes cinematic moments into thrilling multiplayer flashpoints. The hands-on E3 demo had 20 Rebels and 20 Imperials fighting in the Battle of Hoth, with Imperial forces escorting a pair of AT-ATs toward Echo Base's shield generators and the Rebels trying to destroy said walkers. Oh, and unlike in The Empire Strikes Back, the Rebels can win.
Trading blaster fire feels like a pretty standard first/third-person shooter, but movement is surprisingly bouncy, especially with a jetpack in your loadout. Picking up a TIE Fighter or Snow Speeder token lying around the map allows you to call in air support, sending the camera sweeping up and away to follow your new ride. It's immediately ready for action, letting you transition straight to aerial battles without interrupting your frontline momentum. Battlefront's full of smart, unexpected choices that all get you doing cool Star Wars stuff faster, making it far more interesting (and fun) than just a force-flavored Battlefield clone.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
When the Tomb Raider reboot came out in 2013, it felt like meeting an old for the first time in a long while. Lara was different, but in a good way. Always a scholar with the uncanny ability to go exactly where the trouble is, now she's also a survivor with an indomitable will. We didn't just want to go with her on an adventure - we wanted to see her beat everything the world tried to throw at her. Now she's back to it all over again, but this time she's on a personal journey to find her place in the world and become the person she was always meant to be. And that means raiding a lot of tombs.
Rise of the Tomb Raider takes what worked so well about the previous game - a revitalized Lara, refined combat, interesting collectibles, and fun sidequests - and mixes it together with improved stealth and crafting systems. Now you can customize weapons to fit your play style, and blast through packs of enemies without firing a single bullet. Most importantly of all, its tombs are several times as detailed, latching onto one of the taproots of the series that made us love it in the first place.
In Norse mythology, Eitr is a poisonous substance and yet the source of all life. At E3 2015, it was a surprisingly excellent action RPG, inspired in equal parts by Diablo and Dark Souls. As in Dark Souls, you may be able to take down a few monsters by mashing buttons, but all your little wounds will add up quickly. It's better to focus on an individual target, feinting, counter-attacking, and dodging in a deliberate tango which will vary by your creepy monstrous dance partner. It feels great, partly because managing all those little parries and thrusts as you keep track of foes is actually quite a bit easier with a Diablo-style isometric camera than in third-person 3D.
Of course, it wouldn't be a proper Diablo-like without scads of randomly generated loot. But equipping a shiny new weapon in Eitr feels much more substantial, since you're not just clicking on enemies until they're dead - different weapon combinations offer different combos and timing to keep in mind. Not to mention Eitr's heroine makes an impressive show of sweeping around the dark, crumbling, and beautiful world, and the minimalist, groaning soundtrack adds a freaky edge to intimidating boss battles. Eitr clearly hybridizes some familiar ideas, but each individual element feels even better for the transformation.
Dark Souls 3
Dark Souls is a series obsessed with finding beauty in destruction; a death poem set in motion. Your hero - stoic and resolute - expresses himself from the tip of a sword, or a handful of gestures. Words are not needed in this shrouded land of death. Your weapons fill the silence, and in Dark Souls 3 they have more to say than ever before. Each armament - from longswords to bows to magic - has some unique action tied to it. The shortbow, for instance, lets you channel your inner Legolas by firing off quick shots after a dodge roll. The longsword can circumvent an enemy's shield with a rising slash that punches through it. The goal here is to create a more active Dark Souls, one that lets you personalize your fighting style let never before.
The backdrop for all this is a ruined world on the brink of oblivion. "Withered beauty," was how game director Hidetaka Miyazaki described it. An unspecified apocalypse looms heavy over this land, its withered denizens turning to the corpse of dragon and other fallen gods for some last-ditch hope of salvation. Not even direct sunlight reaches this place; the rays intercepted by perpetual cloud cover swirling the skies above. But while the end may be inevitable, how you choose to face it - right down to using a longsword over a shortbow - is entirely up to you.
What Remains of Edith Finch
Not everything is going to make sense, the narrator of What Remains of Edith Finch warns at the beginning of the game, and goodness, she is not kidding. What begins as a fairly straightforward visit to a childhood landmark very quickly turns into a bizarre tale involving the death of a little girl, an owl, a sea monster, and a family with a dark and mysterious history. Theres a lot to discover (not least of which is the question posed by the title), and none of it is ordinary.
Developer Giant Sparrow prides itself on creating surreal experiences people have never had before, and it certainly hits that mark with Edith Finch. Whatever may be going on in that house, its not your typical gaming experience. In much the same way that Giant Sparrows previous game, The Unfinished Swan, tapped into new areas of creativity to tell its story of a boy in search of closure, Edith Finch avoids the ordinary in favor of the intriguing. You think you know whats coming, but you dont; whats coming is, at least from what weve seen so far, far more unsettling than anything you might imagine. How wonderful.
Mobile games often get snubbed at E3 because theyre not big or flashy and, if were being honest, not often thought of as "real" games. Bethesdas Fallout Shelter, meant to tide us over until Fallout 4s release in November isnt big or flashy, but it is most certainly a real game, one with depth and personality. Perfectly tuned for its mobile format, Fallout Shelter is gorgeous to look at, has a surprising amount of detail, and its simple Vault-building concept is shockingly addictive. It is, dare I say, S.P.E.C.I.A.L. (Im sorry. I just couldnt resist.)
Plenty of mobile games are free to play and supported by microtransactions, but so many of them fail by letting those in-game purchases get in the way of the fun. Fallout Shelter doesnt make that mistake; you can purchase bonus-containing lunchboxes if you like, but its entirely optional. You dont have to shell out a single cent to enjoy Fallout Shelters irreverent and surprisingly challenging approach to rebuilding society. Keeping people happy and alive in a radiated wasteland is, as it turns out, really hard. You think theyd be content to just have a roof over their head, but nooooooo. They want food and water and power and music, too. Ungrateful jerks.
Wattam is what you would get if Katamari Damacy and Noby Noby Boy had a baby - and then gave that baby crayons and cake. It's colorful, silly, and joyous. It's a celebration of everything that links us together; of our common bonds and togetherness. Its about blowing things up in order to bring people together, which makes absolutely no sense, but thats ok, it doesnt really have to.
The Earth was fighting with a Bad Guy and in order to save everyone on the planet, she blew herself up and scattered her inhabitants to the four winds. (Yeah, its a weird choice, but run with it.) The Mayor is the sole survivor, and he wants to bring everyone back, which he does by forming increasingly large chains of friends, which he then explodes by setting off the bomb under his bowler hat. (Mm hmm, I know, just stick with me.) Wattam is simple to play, but theres a lot to discover, like what happens when a coffee bean befriends a pillow or when The Mayor meets his long-lost siblings. The art style is utterly endearing; even the poop is cute. (Yes. Theres poop. Golden poop, even.) To make things even more charming, the characters you encounter take their names from your PSN and Facebook friends. Whether or not you tell your mom that shes now a chibi lawn mower is up to you.
Flame in the Flood
The little Kickstarter game that could, Flame in the Flood takes you with one simple objective: survive. Well, two objectives, since you're floating down a mammoth river toward something that I'll just call Hope. It's waiting for you at the river's end, but first you have to survive the miles of treacherous post-apocalyptic terrain that lies ahead. To do that, you'll have to keep yourself hydrated, well-fed, warm, and rested, all of which are difficult to do when everything from the wolves to the bacteria in the water is out to get you.
Flame in the Flood doesn't pull any punches, and you will die very quickly the first time you play. You'll have to master necessary survival skills by trial and error, and slowly build up a bank of knowledge to see you through. Dying of septic teaches you not to drink suspicious water. Collapsing from blood loss proves that you can't fight off wolves with just a stick. Starving after eating every plant you find highlight that meat is the key to survival. And you'll learn what objects are important when you realize they could have saved you. It's a slow build to success, but every time you get a little smarter, and feel an ever-stronger urge to push further.
Though Uncharted 4: A Thiefs End didnt impress us by venturing into new thematic waters, it did show Naughty Dogs peerless approach to the blockbuster action game. The over-the-top destruction on display in the games wild car chase somehow reflected an elegant, economical approach to storytelling. When Nathan peers over a railing to take in a huge city crawling down a hillside, its not just for looks - were seeing the road to the next story beat, and by the time the chase concludes, weve traversed the entirety of what seemed like just a pretty picture before.
This willingness to devote resources be it time, money or the hard work of artists into a wide shot like that, only to have it become a real constructed environment and unfurl as part of the gameplay, is what put Uncharted on the map. The framing of the chase sequence borrows well from Hollywood, and the witty repartee brings the script up to a matching level. Whats even better, though, is the brewing mystery in the storys title. Between our trio of thieves, Nathan Drake, brother Sam and companion Sully, were already wondering whose epitaph Uncharted 4 will be.