Last Level Press

The Black List: E3 2013 Edition

By: Cliff Davenport

Foreword: This article marks the first in what will become a running series for Last Level Press.  From E3 to PAX, including retrospectives at the end of each year, I’ll be compiling Mr. Black’s highlights of each year or event, to be collectively dubbed, The Black Lists.  Here are my top seven most anticipated games of E3 2013, so sit back, and enjoy!

This may well be the most hastily written article yet published by Last Level Press, but I feel that it’s prudent to sacrifice a bit of polish for the sake of timeliness in this instance.  Now, let’s get straight to what you clicked on this title for: the seven games I’m most looking forward to, as highlighted at 2013’s E3 Conference.   I honestly couldn’t rank them even if I wanted to right now, as I’m incredibly excited about each of these titles, so I’ll address them in no particular order.  

Tom Clancy’s The Division

Alright, Ubisoft, you’ve been playing too much Fallout lately.  Seriously, that intro?  Replay the intros of Fallout 3 or Fallout New Vegas, and tell me that isn’t a bold-faced rip.  That said, Fallout is an awesome franchise, and I approve of this inspiration, conscious or not.   The Division is looking to shape up into an open world, tactical shooter/ MMO, and it was the first of E3’s goodies to catch and hold my attention this year.  

Set in a post-pandemic United States, this particular trailer shows off a gorgeously detailed New York City and the fight to survive therein.  Players’ seamless encounters with both NPCs and other player-squads roving the city will keep action fresh, frantic, and engaging, to be sure, and the environments on display here are very impressive.  Character animations look very natural, players’ wrist-mounted computer menus (or should I say…Pip Boys?) look clean and organized, and the organic nature of encounters and events looks to cater, rather elegantly, to both the casual and hardcore crowds at once.  Looking for something to do for a few minutes?  Do a passive radio scan, and head for the nearest point of interesting chatter.  Looking for a PVP experience?  You’ll find no shortage of competition fighting over the city’s scant resources.  It’s not entirely clear yet just who players are in this bleak setting, but if previous Tom Clancy titles are any indicator, some manner of specialist military unit is likely.  

All told, I’m sold already.  

Final Fantasy XV (Formerly Final Fantasy XIII Versus)

Finally!  Finally, Square-Enix, you’ve answered the question we’ve all been asking for almost half a decade now!  I had begun to regard Final Fantasy XIII Versus as your own Duke Nukem Forever, but I’ve hardly been more pleased to stand corrected.  Gamers, Final Fantasy XIII Versus is, in a way, no more. No longer bound to the “XIII” name, that game will stand instead as a full-fledged entry in the Final Fantasy series, claiming the fifteenth numeral entry to date.  

Now, this is purely speculation, but I’m assuming that last year’s vague mentions of technical delays and total engine rebuilds, cited as the reasons for Versus’ prolonged development cycle, are now explained by the game’s re-imagining as a next-gen release rather than a current-gen.  XV’s E3 gameplay demo reveals a fast-paced, real-time battle system, sporting an impressively three-dimensional  aesthetic.  Lead character Noctis’ abilities of teleportation and wall-running will apparently be an integral part of XV’s combat, not relegated to the realm of cinematic cutscenes, as the demo shows off players’ seemingly effortless ability to dart about the impressively rendered environments.  Speaking of, Square-Enix certainly seems to be revving the engines of their next-gen processors, as the sense of scale apparent in several of the scenes in display is awe-inspiringly impressive.  Full-screen that demo, pause it at 2:13, and tell me that Leviathan doesn’t look genuinely gianormic.  

XV’s gameplay appears to lean closer to that of Kingdom Hearts than of more classical entries in the series, and there doesn’t seem to be much word yet regarding how, or even if, players will control the rest of Noctis’ party.  As a fan of Final Fantasy XII’s turn-based/real time action hybrid, I’m hopeful for a smoother, more intuitive combat system, whose roots lie somewhere between XII and Kingdom Hearts.  Now, before the torches and pitchforks come out, remember, folks: a turn-based combat system is simply a mechanical abstraction of in-game events whose purpose is the facilitation of in-depth, strategic combat.  That, I think, represents the core of the Final Fantasy battle experience, and that doesn’t necessarily require a turn-based structure.  If the same sort of mental engagement can be achieved in a more visually gratifying manner, especially if combat is rendered all the more entertaining for it, I think it’s positive progress.  Okay, now you can break out the torches.  

Mirror’s Edge 2

DICE, you’ve been teasing us for months now, and I’m glad that wasn’t where it ended.  If this trailer is any indication, Mirror’s Edge’s leading lady, Faith, is returning to the spotlight for Mirror’s Edge 2, and it looks like gamers can expect a prequel from the sequel, as we’re treated to intermittent cuts of Faith receiving her iconic tattoos throughout the trailer.  I have my doubts about how well this footage represents the end-product of Mirror’s Edge 2’s actual gameplay, as it feels a bit stiff and slow for in-game action, but if it’s representative of the direction the team is going in, I’m content with that.  

With all the tools available to next-gen developers with regard to multiplayer functions, I’m extremely hopeful that DICE will capitalize on the potential for intense competition in the world of Mirror’s Edge.  From real-time “runner” races to armed competition between “runner” factions and city law enforcement, there’s so much shared adrenaline just waiting to be tapped by DICE developers, and I’m anxious for more news of just how they plan on doing so.  While the utilization of the Frostbite 3 engine is a no-brainer with DICE at the helm, it’s what joins that logo in the closing seconds of the trailer that puts the widest grin on my face.  “Coming…when it’s ready.”  That, DICE, is the right attitude.  Hat’s off to you, gentlemen.   I’ll be happy to wait for the Mirror’s Edge experience that I know this franchise can deliver.    

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Need I utter more than the title?  I suppose so, but only because you asked so nicely.  CD Projekt RED seem quite content to pat themselves on the back throughout their E3 trailer, but, I’ll admit, they don’t much seem to be boasting so much as stating as-yet-uncontested fact with claims like The Witcher 3 sporting  “the most spectacular and dynamic combat sequences ever seen in a computer role-playing game.”

Already, I’m in love with this game’s soundtrack, and given the series’ track record, I doubt I’ll be at all let down by the final score.  The Witcher 3’s transition to an open-world gaming experience is a natural and exciting one, especially since the game’s world has been claimed to sit at 20% larger than that of Skyrim’s.  With its nonlinear story, and series standard of mature and realistic themes, despite the tale’s fantastical nature, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is poised to claim CD Project RED’s called-shot title of “a crowning achievement of the RPG genre,” and I’m only too happy to put that claim to the test.    

Also, am I the only one who got a seriously Disney vibe from the “..who could only follow his heart” line at 0:37?  

The Crew

Changing gears from medieval fantasy, Ubisoft’s The Crew looks to offer a unique and ambitious racing experience along the vein of a Need For Speed-style MMO.  Across a persistent world linking vast swathes of territory, from the claustrophobic streets of American cities to idyllic country hills in between, players will form “crews” amongst themselves with which to race and compete with other player groups, and to cooperatively complete campaign challenges.  

The amount of vehicular customization shown off in the trailer is truly impressive, delivering as in-depth an experience in the garage as one is comfortable with without seeming to require a working master’s degree in engineering to succeed.  While I question whether many gearheads will want to reach out for a social experience in their games, I applaud the team at Ivory Tower for attempting something with The Crew that’s never been done before.  That’s how boundaries are pushed, and come flight or failure, I’m eager to see what becomes of this game.  

Watch Dogs

Those of you following our Facebook updates know very well how excited I am for Watch Dogs, and the gameplay demo shown off at E3 has only invested me further in my anticipation for it.  Its blatant attack on Doug Walker aside (it’s because of “Ask That Guy,” I’m telling you, Doug), Watch Dogs looks like a gamer’s love letter to those wary of technocratic authority, a theme made all the more poignant by recent news.

Watch Dogs’ gameplay will offer a highly interactive, open-world experience, with lead character Aiden Pearce’s mastery of parkour and hacking allowing for unparalleled contextual use of players’ surroundings.  From triggered blackouts to identity theft, Watch Dogs’s hacking mechanics appear to influence every facet of gameplay, and allow for a wide spectrum of moral choice on the parts of players.  Resource allocation, mid-combat improvisation, and threat assessment all lie in the palms of players’ hands, and what they do with those tools will define their Watch Dogs experience.  

As demonstrated in the gameplay demo above, Aiden’s ability to hack the personal information of everyone around him also allows for not only a wide range of choice with regard to problem-solving, but also players’ narrative actions.  Stumbling upon some fact or another may lead players into organically formed side-quests of sorts, as the lives of others go on for better or worse around them.   Violent encounters, when they can’t be avoided, appear to be brief and brutal, distancing the game from more over-the-top open world titles like Grand Theft auto  and Saints Row.  Comparisons to those games notwithstanding, the influences of other open-world titles, and even somewhat more linear games from Ubisoft Montreal’s catalogue, such as Assassin’s Creed, do show through in Watch Dogs’ gameplay, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Good features are good features, and using them as a foundation as a solid strategy for building something new and interesting on top of them.  

I’ll be curious to get my hands on Watch Dogs, not only for its impressive-looking gameplay, but also for its narrative.  I hope the guys at Ubisoft Montreal keep up the momentum of their trend, tackling controversial topics, themes, and even places, and presenting admirably deep explorations of them all without outwardly favoring any one side.  A simple cautionary tale of the risks and sacrifices intrinsic to our technological security in the modern world would be wasted on a game like this, so I’m eagerly hopeful for something worthwhile out of this game.    

Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain

Fair Warning:  This is the mature, extended cut of this game’s trailer.  If you’re sensitive to depictions of violent torture, do not watch this video.  You’ve been warned.  

I just…wow.  Where do I even begin with this one?  Okay, you know what, I lied, I think I may have saved the best for last.  Yes, you read that right.  There will be another true, full-fledged, Metal Gear Solid game, and I just couldn’t be happier about it.  Graduating from the linear level structures of previous entries in the series, Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain will be an open world, “tactical espionage operations” game, and its leading man may surprise you.  

Knuckles white yet?  Relax, I lied again.  I just couldn’t resist my last chance at that.  

No, Raiden’s got a good gig rolling with Metal Gear Rising, and has nothing to do with Phantom Pain.  Rather, Big Boss, now going by the codename, Punished Snake, will be the primary character of Phantom Pain, and its placement in the Metal Gear timeline will bring the series full circle, poised as it is to serve as the definitive prequel to the very roots of the series, the game that started it all, Metal Gear.  Depicting Big Boss’ fight to form his soldier-nation, Outer Heaven, the atrocities that forced his hand into becoming a rogue warrior, the choices that led to his fall, and his vengeful war upon those who’ve wronged him and his are at the core of Phantom Pain’s narrative, promising the darkest, most controversial chapter in the Metal Gear saga to date.  

Its early development incarnation, Ground Zeroes, was almost barred from release due to fears of its confrontation of social and political taboos negatively affecting sales.  Kojima’s never been one to shy away from heavy subject matter though, having tackled complex explorations of war, conspiracy, and nationalism already.  Now, noting the strong emphasis placed upon violent interrogations and depictions of child soldiers throughout Phantom Pain’s extended trailer, I suspect I know just how justified such apprehensions may yet be.  That said, I deeply applaud Hideo Kojima for not only moving forward with the project, but refusing to water it down for the sake of the bottom line.  

And for those wondering as I did after watching the trailer, no, that is not David Hayter reprising the role of Snake.  Instead, Kiefer Sutherland will be donning the ol’ bandana, a choice Hideo Kojima explained as representative of his desire for "…a more subdued performance, expressed through subtle facial movements and tone of voice, rather than words.”

Tech-wise, Phantom Pain makes beautiful use of Kojima Productions’ in-house Fox Engine, and is, in my humble opinion, shaping up to be a visual work of art.  The lighting and shadow effects on display in its E3 release trailer are hands-down the best I’ve ever seen, and the dynamic weather mechanics are sure to drape a new layer of environmental factors over players’ tactical planning.  And the best part?  That E3 trailer isn’t even running the game on next-generation hardware, so it’s going to look even better once it releases for the PS4 and Xbox One.  A PC release has also been confirmed by Kojima, though it seems like gamers shouldn’t expect its release to coincide with that of the console versions.  Also, joining the rest of Phantom Pain’s gameplay in coming off the rails, mounts and vehicles will no longer be relegated to scripted encounters and railway shooting segments, though it’s unclear as yet just how important their roles will be in navigating the game’s environments.     

Lastly, and perhaps most poignantly, just as Metal Gear Solid 4 marked the end of Solid Snake’s story, Hideo Kojima has stated that Metal Gear Solid V will so mark the end of the Metal Gear Solid series.   It’s bittersweet for me to read that, as I’ve been a die-hard Metal Gear fan for many, many years, but I would much rather it end on the best possible note than watch the franchise burn out and fade into obscurity.  Metal Gear Solid 3 was the first and only game to ever bring a tear to my eye, and absent even a full understanding of Metal Gear Solid V’s narrative context, that trailer brought a tightness to my throat.  The legacy of Metal Gear will soon be laid to rest, and as its final chapter approaches, I for one salute the series for having come so far.  

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Last Level Press © Copyright Cliff Davenport  Est. 2013.   | Legal Notices

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