Checking in with our E3 2016 games to watch in 2017

New video games come and go so fast these days. It seems like we never really get to sit down, take a deep breath and analyze our relationship with games that came out even mere months ago. Prior to this E3, I decided I wanted to take a look back at the games I was excited about last year, and check back in with how my expectations lined up with reality. Some of them exceeded my hype and some of them certainly didn’t, while others haven’t come out yet. For those ones, I updated my release date predictions and tried to find updates we’ve heard from the developers since last year.

I hope you enjoy this peek back through time.

Here’s the original article I’ll be responding to.

 

20. Death Stranding (Kojima Productions, PS4, ~2018)

Ugh, I want to know more about this game. We got a new trailer showing off some new characters — acclaimed film director Guillermo Del Toro playing a baby-stealing aristocrat and Mads Mikkelson (‘Rogue One’) as some sort of soldier with Lovecraftian powers. There are some cool YouTube analysis videos that found interesting connections between the two trailers released so far, but other than that, there’s not much news to share on this one. Frustratingly, we’re still completely in the dark about what kind of game Hideo Kojima’s project will be besides the vaguest utterance of genre labels  it’s an open-world action game, according to a September Kotaku article, and will have some sort of online component. The best news we’ve received so far? The game’s being created with Guerilla Games’s astonishing Decima engine, which was the standout part of their very solid “Horizon: Zero Dawn” (we’ll get to that one later in this article). That means Kojima’s team will have to spend less time crafting an engine and more time getting creative.

There’s a very solid chance we’ll see our first bit of gameplay at Sony’s press conference. If we don’t, then we’ll certainly get another trailer. Sadly, I highly doubt Kojima will get this game out in 2018, like he said he would at last year’s Tokyo Game Show. Having only begun development earlier this year, this is a spring 2019 game at the absolute earliest. At least we’ll have Kojima’s adorable tweets about his crush on Mikkelson to tide us over.

19. Pokémon Sun and Moon (Game Freak, 3DS, November 18, 2016)

I bounced off my copy of “Pokémon Moon” pretty quickly after it came out. Speaking as someone who hasn’t really been a big fan of the series since the third generation (“Ruby Version” is my jam), it didn’t feel different enough to pull this wandering Ampharos back into the Poké-flock.

That being said, the hardcore Pokémon fans in my life loved it, and it reviewed very well.

It’s worth noting the recent announcement that a semi-upgrade of the game will be released later this year, so you might as well pick it up then if you haven’t already. But what is it? Is it a sequel like “Black and White 2,” or is it just a remake with extra features? But why re-release it on the same hardware without porting it over to the Switch? Nintendo never ceases to puzzle me.

18. Mafia 3 (Hangar 13, PC, PS4 and Xbox One, October 7, 2016)

I won’t mince words: “Mafia 3” was easily my biggest gaming disappointment of 2016. It completely squandered its superb framing (an excellent cast of characters, a unique take on documentary film aesthetics, a vibrant southern setting and an interesting narrative about race set during the tail of the Civil Rights Movement) on boring, generic third-world action gameplay. This game solely convinced me that open-world games were on their deathbed, until “Horizon: Zero Dawn” gave the genre a pulse again in February.

Hangar 13 is clearly a talented developer, and narrative is their strong suit. I hope 2K Games has enough sense to keep this studio swinging until it knocks one out of the park. I know they can do it.

17. Days Gone (Sony Bend, PS4, ~Holiday 2017)

Zero substantial updates on this one since last year’s E3. However, I’m extremely interested to see what this game means to Sony now that “The Last of Us 2” is in play (it was revealed at PSX last December). This is Sony Bend’s big chance to make a name for themselves. I truly wish them the best on this one.

There’s absolutely no way it doesn’t show up at Sony’s conference. I have a sneaking suspicion that this game could be bumped to a February 2018 release à la “Horizon,” but I don’t feel strongly enough about that to change my prediction from last year. It could very well be Sony’s big holiday game this year. It’s certainly been in development long enough.

16. The battle of the bro shooters: Battlefield 1 (DICE, PC, PS4 and Xbox One, October 21st, 2016) vs. Titanfall 2 (Respawn, PC, PS4 and Xbox One, October 28th, 2016) vs. COD Infinite Warfare (Infinity Ward, PC, PS4 and Xbox One, November 4th, 2016)

Wow, I actually played through all three of these games. Also, I recently bought a salmon button-down for the first time, and I’ve had quite the craving for Hamm’s lately. Are these events correlated? Am I turning into a Teke bro? I’ll let you decide.

But for real, I think I’m going to go with this on these three all-around pretty good shooters: “Titanfall 2” > “Battlefield 1” > “COD Infinite Warfare.”

“Respawn” absolutely knocked “Titanfall 2” out of the park as far as I’m concerned. For their first single-player campaign in the franchise, they could have tacked on something generic, but no  it featured genuinely heartfelt writing about a pilot and his robot buddy, heart-pounding gunplay and without giving spoilers, the single most innovative and interesting first-person level since “Portal 2.” And its multiplayer evolved in interesting ways while remaining as incredibly addictive as its predecessor. It was my fourth-favorite game of last year.

“Battlefield” needs to innovate its multiplayer more than it has been. It’s felt largely the same since “Battlefield 1943” on PS3 and 360. However, DICE took the proper risks with its campaign, setting it in a largely unexplored war for video games, and separating its stories into four swashbuckling anecdotes. It ripped from Spielberg, David Lean, Ubisoft and Naughty Dog frequently, but intelligently. It’s worth the buy for the campaign alone. It was my tenth-favorite game of last year.

The latest “COD” iteration stole from other sources  “Mass Effect” and “Firefly,” surprisingly. Its campaign was mildly entertaining compared to others in the series, and looked jaw-droppingly good as usual. I didn’t play much multiplayer before I sold the disc back to GameStop, but from what I’ve been able to tell, many fans online felt it was a downgrade from “Black Ops III,” 2015’s entry.

“Battlefield” always sells big, but for the first time it felt like the game was finally able to take a bite out of “Call of Duty”’s cultural consciousness, especially on YouTube, the place where popular shooters thrive. Good for them, but I wish some of that success had been doled on “Titanfall 2,” which apparently criminally underperformed. I’m praying to the shooter gods that EA doesn’t put “Respawn” on ice after this one.

15. Batman: The Telltale Series (Telltale, PC, iOS, PS4 and Xbox One, August-December 2016)

Boy, I stopped caring about this one real fast. I can’t actually articulate why, though  the first episode was certainly pretty solid. I can’t tell you why I didn’t pick up the remaining episodes, other than I think I’m pretty burned out with Telltale at large. To be fair to the “Batman” team, I haven’t played any of this year’s “Walking Dead” or “Guardians of the Galaxy” stuff either.

What I can articulate is that Telltale needs a new engine, built from the ground up, and fast. That graphics engine wasn’t really “vastly upgraded” after all. “Batman,” like pretty much every game they make, was riddled with technical problems, but the real issue is that I feel like their current tech limits gameplay and narrative innovation. It’s really the only way I’ll be compelled to play any more of their work.

14. Detroit: Become Human (Quantic Dream, PS4, ~Q3 2018)

After this game was notably absent from PSX this year, I’m pushing back my prediction from this year to third quarter (as in fiscal year, April-May-June) 2018. The only real updates we’re getting are from director David Cage on Twitter, and it seems to me like they’re still mucking about in the motion capture studio (I mean that in the best way possible, their technology is incredible).

“Beyond: Two Souls” wasn’t great, but this could be. The future-noir “Blade Runner” stuff still has me excited. Let’s see.

13. Spider-Man (Insomniac, PS4, ~2017)

Here’s yet another Sony exclusive we’ve received pretty much near-radio-silence on since it was revealed at last year’s E3. Apparently, though, the studio confirmed a 2017 release date on a Marvel livestream. It’s likely, considering they’ll want to line it up somewhat with “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” which releases in July.

I still believe in this truly inspired developer-IP combo. What a wonderful thing it is that Sony’s first and second-party studios have such a healthy competition right now  Santa Monica, Sony Bend, Quantic Dream, Kojima Productions, Guerilla and now Insomniac are all vying for Naughty Dog’s crown. We’re gonna get a lot of great art out of these folks.

Now let’s see if Sucker Punch, Ready at Dawn and/or Supermassive do something crazy at this year’s show and gets their seats at the table back.

12. Horizon: Zero Dawn (Guerrilla, PS4, February 28th, 2017)

“Horizon” is the best open-world action game since 2012’s “Far Cry 3,” which isn’t actually as big of a compliment as it sounds. I don’t think I speak for the masses on this one, but I think this genre fucking blows. All of the game industry’s worst tendencies seem to fall on the open-world action game’s shoulders  addiction rewarded over artistic innovation, sequel potential over solid narrative, “iterative” combat that really just feels like the last year’s game.

But even as a game-genre hipster who reels with nausea at the sight of yet another “Assassin’s Creed” game on the, heh, horizon  this game is a major exception. Great performances mix with a face-meltingly gorgeous world and open-world combat that actually feels,g well, open. The feeling of having to form unique strategies to take down each of the game’s staggeringly unique mechanical beasts is one of freedom and dynamic gamesmanship that I haven’t felt in quite some time. I actually wasn’t as crazy about the narrative in this game as most critics were, but it was certainly competent, which is more than you can say for almost anything else in this creatively bankrupt genre. The star of this game is truly its engine, helping “Horizon” surpass “Uncharted 4” to become PS4’s best-looking game (although “Uncharted 4” is still a better game overall).

I certainly won’t count out Guerilla’s inevitable sequel to this game, no matter how I feel about playing yet another open-world action sequel. That being said, I’m actually probably more excited for what Kojima’s doing with Guerilla’s new engine than what Guerilla’s doing with it.

This is currently my fifth-favorite game of the year.

11. Mass Effect Andromeda (BioWare, PC, PS4 and Xbox One, March 21st, 2017)

I truly can’t believe that I skipped a new “Mass Effect” game. I adored the last two games in the series, with “2” in particular skyrocketing to the top of my “favorite RPGs ever” list. But this one was met with such universal revulsion from the fans and such indifference from critics that I couldn’t bear to pick it up on day one. The only person I know that likes this game is a grad student friend of mine whom I like very much, so I’ll probably see what all the fuss was about once this game drops in price. But for now, it’ll remain an ugly spot on my backlog.

Yikes.

10. Cuphead (Studio MDHR, PC and Xbox One, ~Mid-2017)

At this time last year, this guy was supposed to come out at Christmastime, which didn’t happen. I’m beginning to lose patience with this game. Our most recent update was in October, when we heard the game was out in mid-2017.

It still looks like an unbelievable tribute to Fleischer, which I adore with all my heart, but Studio MDHR has delayed this game one too many times for me to keep an active interest.

The concept alone means this game will always be a day-one purchase for me regardless of when it comes out; I just hope the team executes.

9. ReCore (Comcept & Armature, PC and Xbox One, September 13th, 2016)

I passed on “ReCore” after seeing the extremely negative reaction to the game from critics I trust. It’s too bad. The game really had potential, and there aren’t many good action-platformers anymore.

Keiji Inafune had a rough 2016 between this and “Mighty No. 9,” now legendary, but not for good reasons. He’s one of the great creative voices in games, so I hope his rebound happens as quickly as possible.

8. INSIDE (Playdead, Xbox One and PC, June 29th, 2016)

Is there a dictionary for idioms? Because Playdead should be in that dictionary next to “outdoing yourself.” Please ignore that terrible intro to this write-up, because holy shit, this game is absolutely incredible. The difference in quality between the already-classic “LIMBO” and the masterful “INSIDE” is “Star Wars” to “Empire,” “Terminator” to “T2,” Original Series to “The Next Generation.”

But I don’t want to get into specifics on this one, oh no. It’s a game that can absolutely be ruined. Each heart-wrenching twist and turn is valuable, and its Coenesque ending must be seen to be believed.

“INSIDE” is like if David Lynch and Gabe Newell sat down and made a “Super Mario Brothers” game. Take that how you will.

It was my second-favorite game of last year, being narrowly beat out by masterwork “Uncharted 4.” It’s the best puzzle-platform game ever made, and you should probably stop reading this and go play it right now.

7. Sea of Thieves (Rare, PC and Xbox One, ~2017)

Nothing new on this one, really. In fact, I really haven’t heard anyone talk about this game at all since last year. Not much to say besides that I hope it’s good. It’ll definitely be at the Microsoft press conference, and I could totally see it launching alongside Project Scorpio.

6. We Happy Few (Compulsion, PC and Xbox One, ~Holiday 2016)

This game went into early access on Steam soon after last year’s conference, and a major update was released for the early access version of the game in March. It has an extremely positive reaction from Steam’s user base  however, I haven’t played it.

My reason for not doing so is twofold. First, I used to have a “no early access games period” rule, which I admit was dumb. “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” has shown me the light, and I never intend to return to my place of darkness.

My second reason still stands  Compulsion states very openly in their Steam page that there is absolutely no story content in the early access version of the game. The cool stuff, at least to me, about this game’s E3 trailer was its extraordinary concept, great music and wonderful setting. As I made clear in my original write-up, the randomly generated survival elements just don’t interest me at all. When this game’s out for real, I’ll bear the brunt of the latter to get to the former. In the meantime, definitely check YouTube if you’re interested in the current state of the game.

Weirdly enough, Gold Circle  yes, the fine filmmakers that brought us “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” and the entire “Pitch Perfect” series  bought the rights to make a film adaptation of the game in March. I hope they brush up on their British satire.

5. Final Fantasy XV (Square Enix, PC, PS4 and Xbox One, November 29, 2016)

“FFXV” surpassed my expectations, instantly becoming my second-favorite entry in the franchise behind “VII” and my third-favorite game of last year. Please read my full review for the Daily here; it’s some of my better work.

4. Resident Evil VII (Capcom, PSVR, PC, PS4 and Xbox One, January 24th, 2017)

“Resident Evil VII” is shockingly good. It’s better than every other released game on this list. It truly is a return to form for the series, and the second-best in the franchise behind “RE4.”

Imagine if Sam Raimi directed a first-person remake of the first “Resident Evil,” but set it in the Deep South. That’s what we’ve got here. “RE7” is packed with warmth and silliness, but also truly unnerving scares. It’s violent exploitation camp married to near-perfect first-person action gameplay, and I swear I played this game every spare minute I had until I reached its conclusion.

To name a few highlights: the save room music, the boss designs, the section where it becomes a “Saw” movie for 20 terrifying minutes and the tiny little secrets hiding everywhere on the Baker plantation.

“RE7” was my game of the year until I fell head-over-heels for “Persona 5,” Atlus’s masterpiece. It now sits at a solid second place.

3. The Last Guardian (Team ICO, PS4, December 6th, 2016)

In my writeup for this game last year, I questioned whether “The Last Guardian” would be worth the wait. The short, sad answer is no. I didn’t like this game nearly as much as the previous two in the series. It looked and sounded absolutely astonishing, but I felt it had much less to say about its themes of man’s relationship with nature, which I felt were better explored in the previous game. It was a smaller-scale adventure, one that would have benefitted from tighter controls and better environmental storytelling. It breaks down into a series of puzzles that aren’t really fun to engage with, especially considering your A.I. teammate, while breathtaking to look at, is purposely unresponsive in a way that really hampers the relationship between the player and their controller.

Yet, I have a feeling this game will age well. When I’m looking at it in a few years as an old art game rather than a blockbuster a decade in the making, I imagine I’ll grow closer to this game. I have no idea what’s going on within Team ICO currently, but I hope they’re in some semblance of a shape that they can continue working.

2. God of War (Sony Santa Monica, PS4, ~2018)

Radio silence. But even though I’m pretty convinced now that this game isn’t hitting this year, my hype for it is unchanged.

I could be wrong about this, but I seem to recall a special feature tucked away in the bonus menus of the original “Uncharted” game back in 2007 in which the developers at Sony Santa Monica and Naughty Dog played a friendly game of dodgeball against one another. Now I’m sitting here wondering if something dark and scary happened at that dodgeball game between the two devs, because their friendly rivalry is developing into something beautiful and terrifying. A newly-bearded Kratos is breathing down the neck of my favorite game developer.

I’m just messing around, of course. I just love how much it truly seems like everybody who develops under the Sony banner is throwing their artistic all into everything these days. It’s a wonderful time to be a geek.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo, Switch & Wii U, March 3rd, 2017)

It’s pretty crazy that only a year ago the Nintendo Switch was still called the ‘NX’ and this game was but a distant dream. Time really does fly. So how did this game end up coming together?

Deep breath.

Whoosh.

“The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” is overrated.

It is not a 10/10, as so many critics declared it. It might not even be a 9/10.

I promise I’m not saying this to be a contrarian or an edgelord — I wouldn’t do that to a series so important to me. But yeah, I’m saying it. This is a good game, perhaps bordering on great, but it’s low in the rankings of the greatest “Legend of Zelda” games.

If you’re as big of a “Zelda” fan as I am and you love this game, first of all — good for you! But I want to do a little experiment with you that I tried with my friends:

I want you to name me three interesting things about Windfall Island in “Wind Waker.”

I can name far more: Tingle’s prison cell, the dancing elvis guy, the weird tracksuit guy who you have to spy on, the sidequest where you sabotage the windmill, the weird emo guy who wants a picture of the moon, smashing the expensive jars in the rich guy’s house, the potion shop with the cool sitar music, the vaguely racist trader guy, the secret invisible chest, the part where you sneak into the docked pirate ship, the milk bar, throwing the pigs off the cliff into the water and laughing maniacally…

I promise I didn’t google any of those. They were just on my mind. Now, I’d like you to name three interesting things about Breath of the Wild’s Hateno Village.

If you can, again, good for you. I can’t. I can name one: the ability to purchase a house. Other than that, it’s an incredibly generic tribute to Ocarina of Time’s Kakariko village, but with half the charm and double the boring fetch quests. I can’t remember a single character detail, not even of the guy that gives you a tour of the town. What did he even look like?

What’s the point I’m making here? In general, “Breath of the Wild” has a massive problem with specificity. What I fall so deeply in love with in “Zelda” games are intimately crafted spaces to explore, not generic open-world locales meant for systemic and mechanical experimentation. Those YouTube clips of Link flying across the open world on boulders and solving puzzles with creative physics glitching are great, but I’m much more interested in the types of rewarding environmental exploration the older 3D “Zelda” games offer. Too often, “Breath of the Wild” feels like a mere platformer with bad platforming mechanics. Is it really that all that fun to spend a half hour climbing this cliff face?

The thing is, I could spend hours both ranting about and praising this game. I love the four main dungeons and the final excursion into Ganon’s castle  they’re masterful sequences. I love the well-over-100 puzzle rooms scattered across the world. I’m not crazy about the enemy variety, but the combat itself is very fun. The generic enemies have never been more engaging to fight, but the boss encounters have never been this lame. That one island (if you’ve played, you know what I’m referring to) is a brilliant hidden gem, but there aren’t enough things like it in the game. There are so many great things but so many caveats.

I thought it inconceivable that “Breath of the Wild” wouldn’t be my 2017 game of the year, but there it is sitting at #3 below “RE7” and “Persona 5.” I can’t help but be a tad disappointed.

But maybe you shouldn’t take my word for it. After all, Rich and Jack from Red Letter Media love the hell out of this game.

Next week in the Daily, we’ll be providing an all-new list of the best games of E3 2017. Don’t miss it.

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