Rare Air - AusGamers’ Official Top 10 Best Games of E3 List - Part 1
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 06:14am 17/06/18 | Comments
Welcome to our newly-minted "Rare Air - Top 10 Best of E3" awards list, which will feature annually on AusGamers from here on out...
After 17 personal E3s and more than 20 years in the industry, I -- and we collectively at AusGamers -- can authoritatively declare that games are experiencing an absolute renaissance period in terms of quality, design, choice and maturity. And amidst SO MANY games being shown at E3 in 2018, we’ve un-enviably come up with a list of the 10 absolute best. Games we were given a chance to experience, play and just be exposed to.
A top 10. It’s come down to this. Other sites will give you a category and genre-filled outbreak of amazing games; lists the length of your arm, and that’s fine. As official Game Critics Awards “Best of E3…” judges ourselves, we’ll be submitting a number of games in similar fashion, but for our own site we wanted to simplify the process. We wanted to bite-size it, just a bit, because this year, next year and maybe a year or two beyond, there’s a lot to look forward to. And we saw most of it at this year’s event.
Specifically, at this E3 (2018), we’ve been shown a number of games without specific release dates. Some we know are this year, others filling out 2019. And still others potentially further along (but hopefully next year, at the latest). We’ve already talked about a few of the games we’ve seen, and we have some serious deep-dives incoming over the next little while. But ahead of that, and because we’ve just been doing this for so damned long, we wanted to focus on 10 of the absolute very best. These are games capable of making even the most jaded games writer’s neck hairs stand on end. And yes, this is in order of best to… well, 10th best, beginning with 10th. And over the next three days we’ll be splitting this “bite-sized” feature up into three parts, because it actually got bigger than we expected. But hey, what can you do when you’re passionate and excited about a seriously incredible future of releases headed our way?
So, without further ado, let’s kick off our very first Rare Air -- AusGamers’ Official Top 10 Best Games of E3 List
“Number 10!?!” you say, angrily? Well weighing everything up, the reason was simply that this is the same game we’ve been given over a number of years. It’s faster, has the largest roster of playable characters (slightly rebalanced as a result of the faster pace), and is portable given it’s on Nintendo Switch -- all massive positives. And you also need to realise that this list is the 10 VERY BEST, so being the opening game in our countdown is not even remotely a negative.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is as chaotic as ever. And taking on characters new and old in my hands-on gave me a glimpse at a future for the largest entry in the series that could very well be esports explosive, despite Nintendo’s insistence that the game really isn’t balanced for such an explosion. But we think this is going to be a big surprise hit in that space. And they might be being a bit cheeky too, because level-select, this time around, comes before character-select. This is important, because there are levels that change, that favour character and play-styles, and will, ultimately, affect the dynamic outcome of a match, if strategy is applied. And as fast-paced and over-the-top as the game actually is -- and most ‘pro’ Smash players will tell you this -- there is strategy.
So, yep it’s number 10, but on the whole, it’s still as much wanted on our TVs as anything else in this list. And with that ‘here’s every character that has ever Smashed’ roster, damn!, we can’t wait to get our Smash on.
9. Call of Cthulhu - Developer: Cyanide Studio - Release: December, 2018 - Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Call of Cthulhu is in “Rare Air” because it’s doing something pretty rare. It pips Smash above because this is something new -- “Investigation RPG”, which can be likened back to Point & Click Adventure and Pen & Paper games, but the truth here is this is much, much deeper than ‘borrowed’ mechanics. And each time I see the game, the team reveals a little more that just adds to the overall separation of those disparate design principles. Principles that aren’t specifically ‘driving’ design, rather they’re inspiring it.
That’s an ambiguous statement, sure, but the game in and of itself is kind of ambiguous. Not so much in its systems, more so in how these are being applied across a player-driven narrative. Relationships, exploration and extrapolation count for a lot here -- but what that ‘lot’ really is, remains a mystery. In this way Cyanide Studio hasn’t just done a great job of getting us excited, they’ve done a great job of keeping real secrets. We know you’re a Private Investigator, we know you’re looking into a suspicious fire that took the lives of a prominent family on the Isle of Darkwater, just off the shores of Massachusetts. We know that the player’s sanity will be tested and that it does have an impact on how your narrative plays out. Combat ‘sort of’ exists, but kind of doesn’t -- see, "ambiguous".
We’re okay with this though, because the true majesty of great game-design; in how you unfold an interactive story, or experience, is in how you keep those specifics at bay. And the growth in the game is being ever-present in how Cyanide delivers its information. Demos past, it was an odd mix of systems. But from this E3, it’s noire-esque, it presents more confidently (despite a lack of visual sheen), and it stands tall amidst so many other Triple-As because they’ve iterated and listened.
We’re delighted with the prospect of a confirmed “10-12” hour experience with Call of Cthulhu, not adding in replayability due to its multiple endings, and that it is entirely possible to play the game defensively against the encroaching insanity system, but that alone is a challenge in and of itself.
8. The Last of Us II - Developer: Naughty Dog - Release: Unknown - Platform: PlayStation 4
We settled here because it’s difficult to fault the game’s E3 presentation. In our behind closed doors session, questions were raised from European press because we watched a like-for-like playthrough as the one shown at Sony’s “interesting” press conference. And those questions were answered with “no, he’s playing the game -- they’re just very good at delivering the experience we want to convey at a show like E3”. But in all honesty, it really didn’t matter to us, because there are games that game and there are games that elevate the experience.
The Last of Us II, whichever camp you’re in, is telling a story, but it’s doing so in a way other story-heavy games tend to fail. We absolutely need to see more gameplay, and the presence of a broader approach to action sequences, how exploration, discovery, conversation, crafting and more, plays out, absolutely needs to be known. But we’ve also played their games before -- Naughty Dog’s One Wood is storytelling in high, high, higher-end visuals. They don’t tend to move into game breaking territory, from gameplay perspectives. And that’s fine.
So what we have here is a game that will tell a very human story in a very dark time. It promises, through its open approach to characterisation and progressive storytelling, to give us something that will likely break our hearts -- hope isn’t a bandied about term in this game-world, but hope does exist through player-attachment to scenarios and situations that require thought, respect, love and determination. Don’t get us wrong -- we need to see more, but if the more we see is of the calibre shown at this year’s E3, then this is a no-brainer to list in your “must-have” games of this generation.
7. Forza Horizon 4 - Developer: Playground Games - Release: October 11, 2018 - Platforms: PC (Windows 10), Xbox One (Xbox One X Enhanced)
What’s not to say about this, arguably the best-looking and most inspired open-world racer so far? Yeah, it’s Forza Horizon 4 -- Forza parties and events, races, car meets, barn finds, music stations, silly boss battles and more -- we know all of this will be in tow. But, this time around seasonal weather plays a pivotal role, and it’s something they’ve been building towards since Forza Horizon 2’s Storm Island DLC and coalesced with the brilliant Forza Horizon 3 Blizzard Mountain content.
But what is weather, really? It’s a dynamic and systemic function of Mother Nature, seemingly designed to forever keep us on our toes. And while game journalists around the world are renowned for asking the question “will there be dynamic weather and a day and night system?” in open-world game interviews, it seems like Playground -- armed with all they’ve learnt from the past two weather-specific expansions to the past two games -- decided that static seasons in their games was holding back what weather could truly bring to the fray. Thus enters the concept of seasons in their new driving stomping ground -- the UK.
England might not be known for the sunny beaches, blistering summers, dense rain forests, and arid deserts that Australia is, but it is known as a picturesque postcard to history. With rolling hillsides, dilapidated castles, still lakes and rivers as well as dense woodland, among equally dense cities, villages and rural spaces. England has a lot to offer in terms of biome diversity. But it also has intense seasons, which the studio has looked into its own backyard to harness beyond eye-candy, with truly ever-changing exploration options for the players where lakes once gated due to them being, well, lakes, open up in the cold, harsh winter as frozen playgrounds for ice drifting heaven.
We played only the E3 demo of the game, but built almost specifically to be best on Xbox One X and featuring the above, awarding it a “Rare Air -- AusGamers’ Official Top 10 Best Games of E3” award wasn’t too hard a choice. This is the driving game you’ve been looking for.
6. Rage 2 - Developer: Avalanche Studios - Release: 2019 - Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
A mayhem-filled demo followed, showcasing the beautiful insanity of RAGE 2. In the hands of an experienced player it was hard not to be impressed with the world. A stroll through a lush forest environment gave us our first taste of the new and creative art direction and ambient atmosphere, in addition to some truly stunning sunlight-through-the-tree effects. It wasn’t long though until the fun, over-the-top, and, well, insane side of RAGE 2 began to surface. Which naturally happens when you find yourself chatting to a small, cute cactus - silly hat in tow. The chatty little weirdo would directs you to the lab of returning character Dr. Kavasir. Looking a little more weathered, the good doctor sheds light on the situation and guides you to the Eden Space Centre which is overrun by one of the many violent Factions of the Wasteland - a bunch of Tank Girl-esque mohawked bandits called The Goon Squad.
The experienced guy with the controller dispatches this mob in style, using an array of Nanotrite abilities which Tim explains form the “cornerstone of combat,” and have “evolved since RAGE,” apparently along with almost everything else. RAGE 2 appears to retain many of the well-loved elements of the first game, with a hefty amping up across the board. The Wingstick is back (yes!), it is upgradeable, more powerful and features a new target lock-on ability. Mutants have also, well, mutated more, and acknowledging that “everyone loves giant mutants,” Tim assures us they won’t be few in numbers, but will be “more dynamic, and more in the environments. Yes, yes, yes!”. One such formidable beast, Digg The Masher, leaps down a rock face during the demo, all gnashing teeth and flinging saliva. Deliciously disgusting, he takes a lot more firepower and carefully crafted combo moves to bring down.
More than a sea of brown, greys, and endless arrays of rock and sand, RAGE 2’s new environments are vibrant, buffed, and shiny. Introduced in the sequel is the concept of space-bound Ecopods harbouring fresh technologies, which have started to descend to the wasteland and either deploy perfectly or misfire with leaking fission reactors, creating the framework for the creative teams to design a multitude of new territories and vegetation, alternative biomes and twisted creatures. Despite the dreary name, the wasteland as seen here will now feature jungles and swampland, and a vastly expanded environmental colour palette.