From independent gems to major releases from powerhouse publishers, Joystiq's list represents the variety of experiences available to video game fans worldwide.
Here are Joystiq's first annual "E3 Selections."
Joystiq E3 2014 Selections
I firmly believe that games need to be less presumptuous about their players, and smarter about evoking mature ideas and complex emotions. But also, I would like to be an incredibly tall witch with gun-shoes and magical hair-dragon powers, who then fights other witchy types that have sword-shoes and can summon angelic cherub behemoths. Bayonetta 2 is very much a more-more-more kind of sequel, but it's another Platinum Games blend of hyper-stimulating graphics, nonsensical environments and a challenging game of dodge, defense and attack.
Splatoon delights with its syllables alone. Just say it! Roll that word around in your mouth. It's delicious. The playful cartoon shine of the game itself, the swift four-on-four competition, and the luscious, blotchy fun of shooting ink everywhere rather than blowing people up just make it that much better. Nothing on Wii U at E3 2014 was as surprising as this debut original from Miyamoto's junior team. Even the motion control aiming with the Wii U GamePad felt nice. Plus: No other shooter ends its matches with a morbidly obese cat declaring a winner with teensy flags.
The first time I played Alien: Isolation, it was in pitch black dark with all its slobbering, slithering horror pumped up to 11 through brain-deafening headphones. At E3 2014, I played it for the second time, and even in the cacophony of crowds and with light slithering into the booth, it still kept me jumpy. Don't just take my word for it: Here's some of the words my colleague Jess Conditt used to describe her experience playing it with Oculus Rift: "tense, terrifying, sweaty, and pants-shittingly awesome." Her words.
The Witness was one of E3's biggest surprises for me. As much as I want to enjoy classic adventure games, I often find myself stuck when I run up against a puzzle that requires an unexpected leap in logic. The Witness, in contrast, presents a series of puzzles that inform later challenges, conveying the knowledge players need to proceed through its lengthy quest entirely through in-world imagery. Solving a tricky puzzle using your intuition alone gives an unparalleled rush, and The Witness delivers a steady dopamine drip.
They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but apparently NetherRealm Studios never got that memo. Building on the dual successes of Mortal Kombat 9 and Injustice: Gods Among Us, the developer has infused Mortal Kombat X with a handful of clever tweaks that should make combat more compelling, diverse and interesting, while enhancing the blood-spattered hallmarks of the franchise. There's no telling how the hardcore fighting game community will react to these additions, but what I played of the game left me very anxious for the official debut of Mortal Kombat X.
Of all the multiplayer experiences available at E3, few were as reliably fun as Nintendo's upcoming Smash Bros. game on Wii U. The publisher is six years removed from the last entry in the series and still offers faithful interpretations of every character on the battlefield; the Animal Crossing villager latches on to opponents with their butterfly net while the Wii Fit Trainer practices a particularly lethal type of yoga. As the first Smash Bros. game in HD, the creative stages are glorious in their color and detail, with Punch-Out's boxing ring featuring springboard-like ropes and a roaring crowd. Super Smash Bros. is as wild as ever, and offered the most enjoyment of any game I played at the show.
Left 4 Dead taught us all that developer Turtle Rock knows how to craft an excellent cooperative experience. Based on what I've played, Evolve proves that the studio can make that experience even better. Pitting four human players against a human-controlled monster makes for a very intense competition. Chipping away at the monster while maintaining your team's health is a wonderful tug-of-war. Meanwhile, stalking the hunters as the monster and using its abilities to divide and conquer is thrilling. With enough monster and hunter variety, Evolve should keep you and your buddies busy for a long time. Or you could just solo as the monster, which is a perfectly valid choice.
I keep describing this game as "this year's Arkham" for a couple reasons. First, its combat certainly has that Batman: Arkham feel and that's not a bad thing. The other reason I call it that is because nobody is paying attention to this game and, if it delivers what I experienced at E3, it will be this year's surprise breakout hit like Arkham Asylum was several years ago. The great innovation in the game is the Nemesis System, a new mechanic that would take eight paragraphs to describe, so I'll just say it's likely to be influential to games going forward. Anyway, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is compelling and it's fine if you don't believe me now. You'll come around on October 7... unless you got something else to play on $300 day.
Titan Souls is the best hipster, retro-inspired, pixelated indie game at E3. Really though – Titan Souls is the most fun I had at E3 2014, and given that I played it in a cramped Airstream trailer in a parking lot across from the actual convention center, that's saying even more. Titan Souls began as a Ludum Dare game built under the prompt, "You only get one," and it stars a character with just one arrow who battles a wide range of giant bosses, and only bosses. It screams of Attack on Titan, Shadow of the Colossus and Risk of Rain, with clever and fun, one-on-one twists.
Going into Dragon Age: Inquisition, it seemed a safe bet that I'd enjoy the story, because BioWare knows how to craft an engaging tale, and that I'd be pleased with the mechanics, which have been refined to include things like a full tactical camera. What I wasn't expecting was the environments that ended up earning this game its award. Every location is stunning, detailed, and enormous. Huge islands of rock float in the sky, mountains loom in the distance, dragons ... the dragons are just freaking massive. (And angry. So very angry.) The scale of Inquisition is breathtaking, finally providing visuals that can match the series' grandiose storytelling. Inquisition makes the world feel vast, and you feel small within it. It's the perfect way to underscore the enormous forces that you'll be facing, because what's a hero without a mighty foe to conquer?
First revealed as a prototype at last year's FanFest – the annual event for EVE Online fanatics EVE Valkyrie has evolved into a much deeper product. Built for virtual reality goggles in mind, and coming to both PC's Oculus Rift and PS4's Project Morpheus, developer CCP intends to mold Valkyrie into a complete experience with a narrative that leverages its popular EVE universe. When I originally saw it, Valkyrie was powered by Unity. Now, the space dogfighting game is running on Unreal Engine 4 and looks gorgeous. Beyond that, CCP has recruited Starbuck – Katee Sackhoff from the Battlestar Galactica remake – to voice the universe's first Valkyrie pilot. She's your mentor, she's out for revenge, and she's fracking awesome. I've played a lot of games on VR, but only EVE: Valkyrie has me ready to crack open my wallet and buy new hardware.
As a MOBA lover, I'm always trying to bring more people into the genre. Unfortunately, the learning curve and idea of keeping up with a metagame (i.e. doing out-of-game homework) turns people off more than it intrigues them. Crytek's Arena of Fate trades the genre's signature complexity for simple, streamlined gameplay and reinvents things in a way that people just starting their MOBA journey can understand what they're doing right away. I dig it. It will no doubt taste like Diet MOBA to high-level players who prefer more intricate games, but to those just getting their feet wet, Arena of Fate looks to be an excellent introduction.
E3 2014 was filled with great games, but Fantasia: Music Evolved immediately separated itself from everything else I played. Swiping and punching through songs feels immediately comfortable, but remixing and tweaking the set list is the main draw for me. Also, any game that can make Lorde's "Royals" interesting again after Top 40 radio's year-long blitz of it is definitely special.