This is the season the games industry chooses to quietly slow to a standstill until September. But first came the small matter of E3 – the Electronic Entertainment Expo – in LA, otherwise known as the annual multi-million-dollar bunfight where games ...and more »
Itâ€™s officially summer time, which means â€“ even for gamers â€“ itâ€™s time to venture outside, blinking into the unfamiliar daylight. This is the season the games industry chooses to quietly slow to a standstill until September. But first came the small matter of E3 â€“ the Electronic Entertainment Expo â€“ in LA, otherwise known as the annual multi-million-dollar bunfight where games publishers tout their sparkly upcoming wares.
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Among the morass of virtual reality demos, the biggest news from this yearâ€™s show was of two sort-of-new console launches: PlayStation Neo and Xbox Scorpio. Theyâ€™re designed to supply 4K visuals and more processing power but, in a bid not to make owners of the current console generation feel as though theyâ€™re being left behind, both Sony and Microsoft stuck vehemently to claims that the new consoles would have â€œno exclusivesâ€. They will simply play the same games as PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, with slightly prettier graphics. If that really is the case, itâ€™s hard to get too worked up about their potential. In the long run, it seems more likely that this pretence at inter-console equality will fall away, letting developers get to work properly on what the partially new machines can do.
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Luckily there were some cracking games to go with the baffling hardware announcements. Dishonored 2 (PS4, Xbox One & PC) is shaping up to be one of the highlights of 2016, its spellcheck-defying American-English name the only dubious thing about it. Bringing back Corvo, hero of the original, you can also now play as his daughter Emily, who is the ruling empress but conveniently also a dangerously potent assassin. Unlike most action adventures, your choices in the first Dishonored had meaningful consequences, your characterâ€™s upgrades and whether or not you used lethal force palpably changing the gameâ€™s beautifully realised world. Its sequel promises even more of that giddy sense of freedom in solving problems your way.
Nintendoâ€™s showing was limited to one title, The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild, the newest outing in a series that turned the big 3-0 this year. Ignoring its forthcoming NX console launch and revealing no other software whatsoever, Nintendo left it to green-hat-wearing hero Link to help ease the pain of Wii U owners, whose console is soon to run out of extra lives. The game they demonstrated was regarded by many as E3â€™s most exciting, letting you loose in a truly open world to walk, ride, swim, fly and climb wherever you want to. Although not as graphically shiny as games on PC and other consoles, itâ€™s still glorious-looking and guarantees Wii U users a fitting last hurrah.
A bigger surprise was Resident Evil VII: Biohazard (PS4, PSVR, Xbox One & PC), the latest in a franchise that, in contrast to Zelda, has been getting steadily less interesting for years. It abandons the gameâ€™s third-person view in favour of a claustrophobic and personal-feeling first-person perspective, and also distances itself from the franchiseâ€™s lurch into bullet-riddled action game territory, with a renewed sense of creeping dread and horror. Combine that with PlayStation VR, Sonyâ€™s entry into home virtual reality thatâ€™s due for release in October, and this could be wonderfully disturbing to play.
Back in the real-ish world, Everest VR (PC & HTC Vive) isnâ€™t a game but a virtual reality recreation of a climb up Mount Everest, an undertaking that few are strong, determined or deranged enough to tackle in real life. Along with an interactive diorama-style Everest that lets you peer into all its nooks and crevasses, there are also interactive areas at famous parts of the climb. With the headset on, as you inch your way along the knife-edge ridge leading to the Hillary Step, an 8,000ft drop on one side and 12,000ft on the other, and despite internally screaming at your brain that youâ€™re walking on your carpet, the sense of danger is palpable.
Although more traditional, Inside (Xbox One, PC) was almost as capable of knotting your stomach. From the makers of the beautiful and bleakly atmospheric Limbo, itâ€™s another wordless game of mystery and discovery via exquisitely designed puzzles that require experimentation and lateral thinking to reach their â€œEureka!â€ moments.
And finally this month, there was PokÃ©mon GO (iOS, Android), a game that actively encourages you to go out wandering the real world looking for cartoon monsters to catch. In it, you use your mobile as an augmented reality â€œwindowâ€ to track down and stalk PokÃ©mon, your phone digitally drawing them on top of the camera view. Despite numerous glitches, server overloads, unexpected error messages and the fact that itâ€™s only currently on test release in a few countries, PokÃ©mon GO is whipping up the web. Cue pictures of people hunting virtual beasts hiding everywhere from hospital rooms to dustbin sheds emerging online. Itâ€™s already the highest-grossing app on the US App Store and has now been released in the UK, meaning our pavements are set to be littered with PokÃ©mon hunters.