My picks for best of E3 2017

A Way Out (Hazelight, EA)

My pick for best of show is Hazelight’s “A Way Out”. This story driven tale requires two players, and was designed to play split screen on a couch. It is one thing to create a great single player experience with optional multiplayer, but this flips the assumption entirely when the story is specially crafted to be told from split perspectives simultaneously. Given the variety of gameplay shown and innovative story telling on par with a good movie, I feel this will be the breakout title of 2017.

Anthem (BioWare, EA)

Shrouded in mystery, this new IP from Dragon Age and Mass Effect creator BioWare looks like a solid challenger to the “Destiny-esque” throne when it is released in 2018. There are a few moments in this trailer that remain my favorite from all of E3 – there is something magical about the perspective of putting on power armor and arriving at the jump point prior to heading into the wilderness. The flight mechanics looked like a Iron Man dream come true, but with even cooler heavy weapons.

As a fan observation, I thought a few things here reminded me distantly of Mass Effect 3. The design of the lead narrator’s helmet, a few NPC that appeared to possibly be a familiar non-human race, and ruins of a giant ringed structure and storm that to me resembles a mass relay. No word yet if this world exists in the same universe as the Mass Effect series, or if the art style is just a nod to their prior work.

image credit vg247

Life is Strange: Before the Storm (Square-Enix, Deck Nine Games)

We had heard some chatter from developers that a new content in the Life is Strange setting was in the works, but I didn’t expect to see a trailer for it at E3, nor how soon its first chapter would be released. I was also unprepared for how emotional it would be to see these characters again. The story appears to be told from Chloe’s perspective prior to the events of the original series over the course of three new chapters. I’ve cleared my schedule for the day these come out, and look forward to these more than any cable tv series.

Edit: Corrected development studio to Deck Nine Games.

Ori: Will of the Wisps (Moon Studios)

The debut Ori and the Blind Forest was a masterpiece of difficult precision platform exploration puzzles that hail to an era of gaming I grew up with. Add to it gorgeous graphics, heartwarming story and a breathtaking musical score and you have Ori. Seeing Ori’s return in the 4K “Will of the Wisps” is very exciting news.

image credit vg247

Sea of Thieves (Rare)

Once you’ve seen actual Sea of Thieves gameplay footage from people who aren’t actors you immediately understand why they choose to use a typical gameplay scenario as the E3 trailer. This is a game that demos better than you could explain in as many words. Comedy, ingenuity, exploration and PVP mayhem. Oh, and Pirates, obviously. I can’t wait to play this with friends.

image credit Ubi Blog

Beyond Good and Evil 2 (Ubisoft)

A trailer for the long awaited sequel to Beyond Good and Evil was the big close to Ubisoft’s E3 show and was my favorite from the publisher this year.

 

Honorable Mentions:

Fortnite – Although it did not get a lot of screen time, Fortnite looks like an excellent twist on team survival defense games. It also has very interesting premium bundle pricing, the most expensive comes with two additional full copies of the game to give to friends. Given the team first emphasis of the game, it should do very well.

Forza 7 – It would be a rare show that didn’t have a Forza title to show off, but between the flagship Motorsport series and the openworld racing in Horizon, Forza enjoys a full lap advantage over the competition. Every iteration of the game improves on the last, and there is simply no other racer that compares to it in terms of pure driving enjoyment and vast range of features – nor one that looks half as good in 4K. It’s almost unfair.

Ashen – Beautiful water-color style cell-shaded graphics on what appears to be a co-op (?) dungeon explorer with freakishly awesome bosses not unlike those of Dark Souls. Can’t wait to see more on this.

image credit vg247

Mario Rabbids Kingdom Battle – an unlikely mashup of Nintendo’s Mushroom Kingdom and Ubisoft’s Rabbids, this tactical RPG-ish game packs signature crude humor and characters from both franchises into what looks like a riotous good time. I expect it will be a big hit.

Five of my favorite video game heroines

1) Amanda Ripley (Alien: Isolation)

Easily one of my favorite characters of any game, Amanda Ripley is the highlight of what might be one of the best games ever made. Alien: Isolation borders on perfect as a beautiful space/horror/survival title, and it owes a good deal of it’s success to its character writers. As the daughter of Ellen Ripley somewhere loosely following the events of the original 1979 Alien movie, Amanda is a skilled engineer whose quest to find out what happened to her mother leads her to take jobs that could one day lead her closer to the mystery surrounding the ill-fated towing ship. As the story progresses and she finds herself hunted as her mother once was, she uses her technical know-how and wits (rather than force) to evade all manner of gruesome death and find critical clues about her mother and her missing crew and the origins of the alien menace. The heart of this sci-fi thriller turns out to be very human, even occasionally touching – and never dull.

2) Cassandra (Dragon Age: Inquisition)

Although Cassandra is not quite a playable character outside of the combat sequences, she is otherwise central to the story in Dragon Age: Inquisition and definitely deserves a spot on a “best of” list of video game heroines. As a complex character defined equally by her flaws, faith, doubts and personal conviction, Cassandra lends a face and voice to a myriad of difficult moral conflicts told in the third Dragon Age. The game as a whole sports some of the best video gaming writing ever penned, and in a story that weaves together many modern issues including religion, war, government, sexuality and individualism, Cassandra’s personal character arc(s) capture more sense of growth and depth than found in any medium, let alone just games. She’s also somewhat of a rare gem, being a strong religious type that narrowly avoids every archetype she might have been compared to – and turns out to be a very likable, believable character that remains true to herself.

3) Max (Life is Strange)

Not quite your literary “everygirl” , the introspective and shy main character Max navigates the perils of high school, family, bullying, drugs and time travel in this unique and stunningly beautiful story-driven game from DONTNOD. We learn more about Max and the other characters in Life is Strange through the choices she makes, questions she asks, and places she explores. No matter if the player opts to make fun of the embarrassed bully or comfort her (among numerous other decision forks), the tale of choice and consequence that develops is far from ordinary.

4) Lara Croft (Tomb Raider 2013)

Unlike the character’s hyper-sexualized prior titles, the reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise in 2013 features the origin story of a much more believable, exceptionally well written young Lara Croft. As a shipwrecked student thrust into an epic, gritty story of survival she must work with the other members of the stranded science team to solve mysteries of the island ruins and escape.

5) Maggie (Evolve)

Even though one could argue that the playable hunter characters in “Evolve” aren’t in the same category of hero as the previously mentioned titles, Turtle Rock and 2K managed to squeeze in a surprising amount of “apparent depth” to the characters, dialog and almost-present plot arc in what is otherwise a pure PvP Battle Arena style game. Admittedly no less of a trope than the British safari guy with a white mustache, the grizzled would-be-at-home-in-the-Louisiana-bayou tracker and her alien pet dog pack some of the most interesting dialog and back story in the game.

“Life is Strange” quick graphics comparison

For the most part, although the graphics for “Life is Strange” did not vary much between the PC version and Xbox One, some scenes with effects or dramatic lighting did seem to look better on PC. Below is an example from one of the latter scenes in Episode 1. Mild Spoilers.

PC  – manually set to 1080p for best results:

 

Xbox One – manually set to 720p for best results:

 

Update: Finally sorted why it seemed I could not get my raw nvidia shadowplay files to stay at 1080p when I uploaded them to YouTube. One, lowering the shadowplay bitrate slider to 10Mbps from 50 made the file size more manageable without major impact to quality and two, most importantly I had to wait quite a while past the time YouTube said it was done processing before it allowed the HD resolutions to be selected. Whew.

Thought Provoking, Moving “Life is Strange”

image credit: dontnod / square enix
image credit: dontnod / square enix

As the credits began to roll, I sat stunned. Far more detailed and complex than the choice-driven story games it might be compared to, DONTNOD’s first episode of “Life is Strange” doesn’t hold back. Even as I poured over the myriad of choices and characters I had interacted with I wondered what I may have overlooked, or how differently my conversations might have gone had I gone down a different route, been a little less cautious, or explored more.

Pushing the limits for even the detail obsessed like myself, the lovingly crafted, vibrant world draws you in. As you explore, patience and curiosity are rewarded with new dialog options and choices, not all immediately for the better. Thankfully our protagonist “Max” has an uncanny ability to rewind time, even if just briefly, to relive a moment and retain cognition of what is to come.

Way cooler than just for puzzle solving, Max’s unexpected gift is at the heart of the story and drives much of the masterful character development that unfolds. Many dialog and story options only unlock after you’ve rewound a situation at least once, after which you may second guess yourself anyway. Even after making what seemed to be ideal choices in the majority of situations, I wondered if I had painted myself too narrow of a picture of the characters I had met or if I had missed something critical by playing it safe. Before it was done, I knew I’d need all of my save files to explore the full range of consequences that lay hidden in the incredibly rich story and environments.

Not too long, and not too short, Episode 1 of Life is Strange is a beautiful, fresh take on a “tell tale” style story with excellent writing, a fantastic original music score, and compelling characters. It is evident everywhere that much care and passion went into perfecting each nuance by the team at DONTNOD, and I am thankful that Square Enix gave them the creative room to let it become a title you’d want to rewind, many times.