E3 is a strange beast. It’s often been called the “Super Bowl” of the video game industry. Though it certainly has the commercialism to match America’s biggest sporting event, I’d be more compelled to compare it to the Detroit Auto Show — another tradition of American capitalism, a future-embracing technological display in which the biggest companies in the industry show off their shiniest, most advanced products yet. This year in particular felt packed with new titles in development, so much so that my original list of ten excellent-looking games blossomed into a list of twenty. The following are unveiled video games that I think you should pay attention to in the coming months and years, available on a diverse selection of platforms and release windows.
20. Death Stranding (Kojima Productions, PS4, ~2018)
A marooned, butt-naked Norman Reedus bearing a C-section scar is certainly one way to introduce your game to the world. However, I’d expect a trailer no less bombastic from Hideo Kojima, the acclaimed “Metal Gear” director who swaggered onto Sony’s E3 stage on a projected bridge of white light, blasting the theme from “Mad Max: Fury Road” over the loudspeakers. We know next to nothing about this cryptic game with an even more cryptic title, which shouldn’t be expected for another two years at the very least. What we do know is Sony’s giving Kojima enough money and freedom to do whatever he wants with his next game, and that notion is more exciting than any trailer could be.
19. Pokémon Sun and Moon (Game Freak, 3DS, November 18, 2016)
That little owl is probably the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. Come on, it has a bowtie. It probably hosts adorable little tea parties for the other Pokémon. Being the second generation of Pokémon games for Nintendo’s current generation of handhelds, there wasn’t much here to impress us technically. But “Sun and Moon” ’s new Hawaii-inspired Alola region looks to be a joy to explore, and the little information Game Freak has released about the new characters looks incredibly endearing.
18. Mafia 3 (Hangar 13, PC, PS4 and Xbox One, October 7, 2016)
Mafia 3 was emblematic of the biggest trend of this year’s E3: sequels to major triple-A game series breaking the mold and delivering something that feels simultaneously familiar and new. Hangar 13 is a brand-new studio comprised of former members of 2K Czech (“Mafia 2”) and several new hires including writer Haden Blackman (“Star Wars: The Force Unleashed”) making his directorial debut. This game whisks the franchise away from the tired “Goodfellas” tropes of the previous games and sets itself in a colorful New Orleans-like city. The story, in which a member of the black mob sets out to take revenge on the Italian mobsters who wiped out his family, seems to take much inspiration from ’70s exploitation films — a genre that has thus far been largely unserviced in the medium. It’s also packed with excellent licensed ’60s pop songs, which are, in fact, the quickest way to my heart.
17. Days Gone (Sony Bend, PS4, ~Holiday 2017)
Playstation 3’s seminal classic “The Last of Us” was released three years ago this month, so it’s about time for us to start to see games influenced by Naughty Dog’s cross-country, zombie-slaying road trip. But thanks to some impressive new zombie horde tech (I’ve never seen so many dynamic onscreen enemies moving at once before), “Days Gone” has just enough new-looking gameplay to be exciting. Plus, the idea of playing as a post-apocalyptic bounty hunter in a motorcycle gang sounds way too cool to pass up.
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)
First-person shooters absolutely dominate the console space in terms of sales numbers, and have for quite some time — that’s why blockbuster shooter franchises like “Call of Duty” and “Battlefield” have taken to producing an entire game every year. But rarely has the October-November battle between the FPS franchises felt as heated or interesting as this year, where both EA and Activision seem like they’re producing the most ambitious entries in their respective franchises yet. The fans have already seemed to side with DICE’s “Battlefield 1,” which is breaking new ground by heading to the mostly-untapped well of the first World War (a million games take place during WW2, but shockingly few have treaded into WW1 territory). But don’t count out Infinity Ward’s “Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare,” which debuted some excellent, groundbreaking zero-gravity shooting sequences at Sony’s press conference. The dark horse is Respawn’s “Titanfall 2,” whose promising “Avatar”-influenced single player campaign is sure to make headlines. This year, the battle between these violent franchises almost seems more exciting than the multiplayer shooters themselves.
15. Batman: The Telltale Series (Telltale, PC, iOS, PS4 and Xbox One, ~Late Summer 2016)
Adventure game developer Telltale proved their mettle with their groundbreaking, award-winning “Walking Dead” series back in 2012. Since then, fans have begun to complain about how their recent games have begun to feel tired and dated, helped in no small part by their jerky, lackluster animation. Telltale has promised their new Batman game will improve things, but the notion of a vastly upgraded graphics engine is only a part of why their turn with Batman sounds so exciting. Apparently, around half of the game is spent playing Bruce Wayne — no game has attempted such a storytelling device. That probably sounds boring on paper to many comic book fans, but a Batman game focused on conversations and detective work rather than violence sounds extraordinarily appealing to me.
14. Detroit: Become Human (Quantic Dream, PS4, ~2017)
Paris-based developer Quantic Dream has a relatively spotty history — their most recent effort, the Ellen Page vehicle “Beyond: Two Souls,” was their most incoherent, heavily criticised project yet. However, the demo they showed from their new sci-fi epic looked fascinating. It’s a neo-noir set in a futuristic Detroit revolutionized by a tech boom. You play as Connor (Bryan Dechart, “The Remaining”), a police-model android tasked with tracking down other androids who have mysteriously deviated from their programming. If the promising setting alone didn’t catch your eye, the gameplay certainly did. Quantic Dream showed off nearly a dozen ways a dangerous hostage scenario could end, and each seemed to have fascinating story implications. I’m doubtful the french developer will show an educated understanding of Michigan culture, but I’m cautiously optimistic that “Detroit” will be an avant-garde mystery worth playing through.
13. Spider-Man (Insomniac, PS4, ~2017)
The idea of a brand new open-world Spider-Man game in the vein of “Spider-Man 2” is exciting in itself, but the news that acclaimed “Ratchet and Clank” studio Insomniac is helming the project is shocking. Big comic book games have been multiplatform for long enough that the notion of Sony stepping in and scooping up Marvel’s single biggest license as a PS4 exclusive is downright huge. Like with “Death Stranding,” we really don’t know much about the game yet, but the footage they did show was totally gorgeous and action-packed. There’s so much potential here.
12. Horizon: Zero Dawn (Guerrilla, PS4, January 28th, 2017)
I listen to what’s likely to be an unhealthy number of video game podcasts every week, and this seems to be the game that’s got industry pundits the most excited coming out of E3. It’s an open-world opus from the developers of Killzone, and it certainly looks promising. The setting in particular seems fascinating, taking place in what the game’s creators have called a post-post-apocalypse where humanity has taken on a culture similar to cavemen yet simultaneously technologically capable. I’m iffy on whether the gameplay will hold up to the game’s excellent-looking graphics and character/monster design, but regardless, I commend the Amsterdam-based Guerilla Games for taking a huge risk in abandoning their signature franchise in favor of new IP.
11. Mass Effect Andromeda (BioWare, PC, PS4 and Xbox One, ~2017)
I’m incredulous we still haven’t been given a real trailer for BioWare’s next “Mass Effect” game. The fact that we received yet another awkward “developer diary” style presentation instead makes me think “Andromeda” likely won’t hit its Q1 2017 release window. Though new footage was scarce at EA’s presentation, the footage we did see looked great and the promise of a “Mass Effect” game set in a new galaxy with all-new races of aliens still rings as one of the most exciting projects happening in game development right now. 2010’s “Mass Effect 2” is one of the great games of all time — it’s time for BioWare to live up to their accolades and deliver another top-tier space opera sequel.
10. Cuphead (Studio MDHR, PC and Xbox One, ~Holiday 2016)
This marks the third E3 that new “Cuphead” footage has screened, and my hype hasn’t slowed a single bit. The animation simply looks too good to be true — run-and-gun platformer “Cuphead” looks straight out of a 1930s-era Fleischer Studios cartoon, an aesthetic that no game previously has achieved. As someone who grew up with Fleischer-era Popeye and Superman cartoons, the first-time developers at Studio MDHR have me massively excited for their debut. In this particular demo we saw the introduction of Mario-inspired platforming levels, where previous gameplay demos exclusively showed boss fights.
9. ReCore (Comcept & Armature, PC and Xbox One, September 13th, 2016)
With the aforementioned dominance of the console space by first-person shooters, it seems as though the third-person action-adventure genre has fallen by the wayside, as has the mid-tier game budgeted between the triple-A and the indie space. Besides Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series holding down the fort, “ReCore” was the only game in the genre that had me hyped. Though Comcept’s first game “Mighty No. 9” was received disastrously upon its launch this week, the primarily Armature-developed budget title “ReCore” still looks like exactly what I’m looking for, with innovative action-platformer mechanics and a cast of fantastically-animated robot buddies helping the protagonist on her quest. And at a mere $40, the price is certainly right to give this one a shot.
8. INSIDE (Playdead, Xbox One and PC, June 29th, 2016)
It’s been six years since Danish studio Playdead released their indie masterpiece, “LIMBO,” on Xbox 360. A whole console generation later, I can’t wait to see whether they can clear the massively high bar they set with their moody, atmospheric puzzle-platformer. I won’t have to wait long — their disturbing-looking new game is out next week.
7. Sea of Thieves (Rare, PC and Xbox One, ~2017)
Rare did their best to make the “Sea of Thieves” presentation at the Microsoft press conference on Monday as unappealing as possible — the demo’s “players” forced out embarrassingly cringey dialogue reminiscent of the worst of YouTube let’s players as they scuttled about on the decks of their pirate ships. But despite their best efforts, I still thought this game looked outrageously fun. A multiplayer open-world game with what appears to be elements of the ship combat from “Assassin’s Creed,” the bright, colorful “Sea of Thieves” clearly wants to scratch the “Zelda: Wind Waker” itch that frustratingly never seems to be reached by big-budget developers anymore. I can’t wait to go exploring for pirate treasure with my friends next year — my only concern being Rare’s awful contemporary track record. Here’s hoping “Sea of Thieves” is where they redeem themselves.
6. We Happy Few (Compulsion, PC and Xbox One, ~Holiday 2016)
The “We Happy Few” demo at the Microsoft press conference was perhaps the strongest of the event, and certainly the most literary. The first-person survival game seems to have chosen a unique and daring setting, an alt-history 1960’s Britain that defeated the nazis by using an extraordinarily brutal measure referred to only as the “Very Bad Thing.” Since then, the citizens have all become addicted to “Joy,” a drug that causes the user to forget all of their bad memories while leaving only the good ones. The game looks psychedelic and terrifying, with visual cues taken from “Bioshock” and many narrative features taken from Orwell. The beautiful Beatles-influenced music featured in the trailer is the icing on the tantalizing cake. Were it not for the mixed reception the procedurally-generated gameplay received on the show floor, this would likely be placed at #1 on this list — it looks that good.
5. Final Fantasy XV (Square Enix, PC, PS4 and Xbox One, September 30th, 2016)
I love the idea of a road trip within a video game — an idea that likely thanks to technological limitations hasn’t been implemented in many games besides “The Last of Us.” Surprisingly, the latest game in the ludicrously prolific “Final Fantasy” franchise seems to be fully dedicated to such an idea. The game is focused on a group of four anime-inspired male characters on a road trip together — the inspiration of films like “Stand By Me” being at once subtle and completely overt. This is one of two games on this list that I’ve had the chance to actually play, and upon first glance the gameplay is heavily inspired by “Kingdom Hearts.” It’s unsurprising, since “KH” director Tetsuya Nomura took the franchise over from longtime franchise director Hironobu Sakaguchi for this one. After the last console entry in the series failed to impress most of the people that played it, it’s wonderful to see a “Final Fantasy” game that looks to be coming from a place of real heart and inspiration.
4. Resident Evil VII (Capcom, PSVR, PC, PS4 and Xbox One, January 24th, 2017)
That the latest game in the “Resident Evil” franchise would be built from the ground up for Virtual Reality is a surprise almost no one saw coming. In fact, it’s probably the biggest news from E3, period — and on top of that, they released a playable demo to anyone with PlayStation Plus at Sony’s conference. It was so cool not only hear this incredible news, but to be able to get my hands on the game the very next day. And I’m happy to report that the game looks and sounds absolutely incredible. In fact, the demo was tense enough to make me never, ever want to play it with a Virtual Reality headset. That amount of immersion doesn’t vibe with how much of a scaredy-cat I am at all. Regardless, it’s insane to see the huge franchise pivot once again from the much-maligned action game format of “RE6,” instead going for a much subtler psychological horror experience reminiscent of Konami’s ill-fated “Silent Hills.”
3. The Last Guardian (Team ICO, PS4, October 25th, 2016)
It has a release date. It has a release date, that I just typed out in the heading of this paragraph. I still can’t believe this game is happening, let alone that it’s coming out over a decade after Team ICO’s last game, the masterful “Shadow of the Colossus” (which is one of my favorites of all time). That’s 11 E3s later. In four months, PlayStation gamers will finally get to experience the latest from perhaps the most acclaimed Japanese game studio of all time. Will it be worth the wait?
2. God of War (Sony Santa Monica, PS4, ~2017)
If you had told me two weeks ago that I would give any amount of a shit about a new “God of War” game, I would not have believed you for a second. I can’t believe I’m sitting here putting it at the top of this list. I’m absolutely floored that “Sony Santa Monica” ’s sequel not only looks absolutely amazing graphically, but looks completely reimagined from the ground up. Deviating thoroughly from the character action genre in favor of over-the-shoulder third-person action, “God of War” takes the angsty, ultra-violent character of the demigod Kratos and gives him some much-needed depth, establishing an intense, caustic relationship between an older version of him and his son. The combat now takes inspiration from “Dark Souls” rather than “Devil May Cry,” emphasizing dodging and timing over mindless button combos. The new weapon, an Ice Axe that can be recalled from anywhere like Thor’s hammer, is stupidly awesome. The shift to Norse mythology from Greek mythology is inspired. Everything about this game looks like a both a major risk and a product of absolute passion for big-budget game design.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo, NX and Wii U, ~March 2017)
“The Legend of Zelda” is my favorite video game series. It’s the favorite video game series of so many people. It’s an eternal franchise so storied and treasured by fans that it holds one of those special places where it’s subject to the highest of scrutiny — when people care very deeply about something, like Batman or Harry Potter or Zelda, they are harsher towards it than anything else. Reviewers often claim particular entries in the series are “great, but not for a Zelda game” or something similar. Anytime any trailer is released for a Zelda game these days, it’s instantly criticized by anything deemed by fans to be outside of the norm, and it has proved difficult for Nintendo to innovate within the franchise without pissing off large portions of their fanbase. It’s a small wonder to me that the reaction to the new footage of the excellently named “Breath of the Wild” has been universally positive, from both critics on the E3 show floor and from fans at home, even though the game seems to be taking the biggest risks the series has ever taken. A prominent physics-based puzzle system? Ragdoll? Cooking and crafting? Weapon degradation? Weather that affects player health? Are you kidding me? “Breath of the Wild” looks innovative, heartfelt, and strikingly gorgeous, adopting the aesthetic of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated classics like “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Spirited Away.” And it’s Zelda’s biggest world yet. According to Nintendo, the huge, lengthy demo they showed was merely 1% of the game’s final scope — a daunting notion to say the very least. The development of this game is emblematic of a Nintendo that’s backed into a corner and hissing, coming off of the failure of the Wii U platform and seemingly more ready than ever to deliver an absolute classic (which, if I may add, they haven’t done since 2010’s “Super Mario Galaxy 2”). Nintendo needs “Breath of the Wild” to be a timeless masterpiece, and it certainly looks (and feels, according to the lucky bastards that have played it) to be shaping up to be one.