E3 is right around the corner, so just like last year, we’re going to take a quick peak at all the presenters this year and grade them on how they did in 2017-2018. These are obviously subjective, but when I lay out my reasoning I hope you’ll understand where I’m coming from.
There’s a lot to cover so there’s no reason to dally!
In order of appearance, we have:
Oh, EA. It’s so hard to believe you were the same company I defended just a year ago.
Needless to say, EA was more than just bad in 2017 and 2018, they were downright catastrophic, with only the smallest of silver lining to illuminate the dark shadow they cast over the entire industry. They shut down Visceral (and the single-player Star Wars game they were working on, shifting it to just another multiplayer ‘games as a service’), they released a series of frankly embarrassing sports games that were as abusive to your wallet as they were to the sport they were trying to render, they had the audacity to call Mass Effect Andromeda “finished”, and thanks to that, they’re basically shutting down the series and telling Bioware that if Anthem isn’t a smash hit, it’s over…
But of course, the biggest atrocity they released this year was Star Wars: Battlefield 2, a game that was supposed to be an apology for the rushed first game, but was instead a slap in the face to the game-buying public as the multiplayer exploited the most blatantly pay-to-win loot box system ever seen in a full-budget triple-A game. It was so bad, EA couldn’t defend it and had to quickly take it down. It was so bad, EA lost out on millions in sales as copies of the game went unpurchased. It was so bad, the friggen law came down hard on the games industry, with several countries going so far as to call loot boxes “illegal”. The game single-handedly soured a system that the Games Industry had been planning to ride for years, leaving developers quick to preface every single game announcement that followed that they wouldn’t have loot boxes. EA Games finally turned the word dirty, but they had to sacrifice an extremely promising, exciting game to do it.
Just about the only other good thing they did was improve upon Battlefield 1, and stand their ground on the gender issue of Battlefield V. Good and well but not nearly enough to buy them forgiveness.
It’s strange to say it, but despite not doing anything terribly wrong over the past year (in fact, they’ve arguably made quite a few good decisions), Microsoft and the Xbox has actually been losing pretty badly since the last E3. Not for any fault of their own: it’s just they lack Sony’s polish and Nintnedo’s raw, creative energy.
This year, Microsoft released the Xbox One S and the highly configurable pro controller, expensive updates to their system that would buy this generation a few more years on store shelves. They also released the really cool but highly under-hyped handicap accessible controller, which makes gaming way easier for the physically impaired. Minecraft has grown considerably, they had a number of highly-praised exclusives, such as PUBG, back when that was the bees knees, Hello Neighbor, and Cuphead. They also had Sea of Thieves, which was… less well-praised, but at least it has the potential to become something bigger. They also launched new services, such as the Game Pass, which was the “Netflix for games” that many people have been waiting for.
In a word, Microsoft and the Xbox were fine. Just fine. But it’s a good thing this is supposed to be their biggest E3 ever, because the studio really needs something if it’s going to become a talking point again.
Bethesda always struck me as a curious entry into the E3 gaming space, as they have always been a feast-or-famine kind of developer. Either they’re going to blow up the world with a new Fallout game, or they’re going to re-release Skyrim for the 100th time. 2017-2018 was definitely a famine year for them, although there were a few good bites here and there.
This was the year of Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, The Evil Within 2, and Doom VR, all games that were seen as functional but inferior follow-ups to the games that spawned them. About the best game that Bethesda can say it released this year was Prey, which was definitely an improvement over the original game, but still flawed in some profound ways.
This was also the span when they released their highly dreaded Creation Club, which was basically “DLC but disguised as paid mods”. While it raised a massive hubbub from the gaming public when it was first announced, and the first wave of ‘mods’ being sold were widely ridiculed, it was very quickly forgotten and ignored by the gaming public in the months to follow. Admit it: you probably forgot it was even a thing before I brought this up, didn’tcha?
Regardless, Bethesda didn’t do badly this year, but the real blockbuster will have to wait until we see what exactly Fallout: 76 is. This may have been a famine year, but Bethesda probably thinks that’s good: it means well be all the more hungry for what comes next.
Devolver Digital isn’t as important as either they or most games journalists would like to admit. Their in-your-face attitude, fictional CFO Fork Parker, and championing of indie games make them a darling to the public, but once you pull back the curtain you see they’re just a studio a bit too big for their britches.
2017 and 2018 was not a big year for Devolver, less so than even Microsoft or Bethesda. We got a series of Serious Sam VR games, Strafe, Genital Jousting, Crossing Souls, and Minit, as well as a handful of other games you probably haven’t heard of. Their biggest “accomplishment” was probably E3 itself, where their 20 minute biting satire was worth a few laughs and a cringe, but did little to actually hype up some of their upcoming games.
I don’t have anything against Devolver Digital, and there’s no one I’d rather have representing indie games at E3. But don’t talk the talk if you can’t walk the walk, fellas.
Square Enix did a lot in 2017 and 2018, but then, most of that stuff was re-releasing games for modern consoles and PC, including the awful Chrono Trigger PC port, the awful Secret of Mana PC port, a series of Dragon Quest games for PS4, and countless others. Otherwise, they’ve had nothing to follow up on the amazing success of NieR: Automata and Final Fantasy XV, which is more than a little disappointing considering they had so much momentum behind them.
Lost Sphear was the even more generic follow-up to the already pretty generic I am Setsuna, Dragon Quest Builders was a fun but unnecessary spin on Minecraft (years after the series has been relevant), and World of Final Fantasy was great for old-time fans who wanted something a little different but it offered nothing for anyone else. Even the next Life is Strange game was a disappointment, considering their inability to secure the proper voice talent.
This upcoming year looks promising with Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Life is Strange 2, Kingdom Hearts lll, and the FF VII remake, so the next report card will probably have more to say. But in the meantime…
People pile well-deserved hatred on Ubisoft for some of the stuff they pull, but at the risk of putting my foot in my mouth (as I did with EA), I argue that Ubisoft, at the very least, has shown that it understands the appeal and the advantage of Games as a Service, and more or less follows the “rules” those games are supposed to follow: frontloaded with microtransaction bullshit but also generous with routine free updates that include lots of new content to enjoy. They’ve done it with The Division, they’ve done it with For Honor, they did it with huge success with the Chimera event in Rainbow Six Siege, and they even did it with the new Assassin’s Creed game and the education mode, which I argue was a massive success on every metric.
They also released some surprisingly good games: Far Cry 5 is arguably the best Far Cry game ever made, South Park: The Fractured but Whole had more to say than many expected (even if it lacked the ‘oomph’ of the game that predated it) and everyone was shocked that Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle turned out as fantastically as it did.
I’d like to rate Ubisoft higher on personal experience, but I’m aware that the critiques levied against them (strict adherence to a very standard formula across all their major games, loot boxes, ect), so in deference to that…
(We’re gonna skip the PC gaming show because no one company can represent it or its decisions.)
Sony had a good year. The critically acclaimed God of War was released this year, which was so good it literally moved consoles. The next Yakuza and Persona games were released, which caused fanboy screaming that could be heard around the globe. They had the Crash Bandicoot trilogy released and tickling our nostalgia bones. They were able to secure Death Stranding as a console exclusive. And the games announced in the future of the console are looking mighty fine.
Sony also had a very bad year. Apparently they let the dust-free air of first place get to its head, and has made a series of truly baffling decisions. They remain obstinate and stubborn in their refusal to join hands across the aisle and participate in cross-platform play, something even backwards Nintendo can get behind. We also can’t forget their online storefront is turning into a mini version of Steam, with some baffling awful games (most famously Life of Black Tiger) not only being sold on the platform, but advertised on it. They also backed Quantum Dream, the studio who not only made the underwhelming Detroit: Become Human, but who was also wrapped up in a scandal when former employees accused David Cage of being a sexist/racist, and the workplace as being toxic. And the less said about Metal Gear Survive, the better.
Here at year’s end, it’s easy to let the glamor of the new God of War blind you to the fact that Sony actually did kind of awful. But nothing like a retrospective like this to shine some much needed retrospective light.
Grade: C-- (mostly for refusing to even acknowledge what’s going on with the Black Tiger business. Or take down the video that was clearly infringing copyright.)
With the afterglow of Breath of the Wild and the phenomenal launch of the Switch in the past, Nintendo is left standing bare and exposed before us, and the general reaction has been more of a confused shrug than anything. The console still has a reputation for having the best exclusives in the business, which was firmly cemented by Pokemon Ultra Sun and Moon and Super Mario Odyssey, arguably the best Mario game ever made. But if you strip those away… what’s left? A console with a better-than average indie market, true, but one that’s also about to be saddled with a cheap but largely useless online service. You have stunning and fun innovators like the Nintendo Lobo, which is literally taking video games to places they’ve never been before… surrounded by a bunch of re-releases of older games with a fresh layer of HD paint and little else.
Good games that deserve HD remakes, to be sure. But not at the exclusion of the actually new games the console desperately needs.
Throw that on top of the fact that Nintendo seems to be sinking into the very same honeypot that trapped the developers before it with their new mobile outings, and the fact that they got a new president who wants to double down on that approach, and you’ve got a developer who actually doesn’t look that good the closer you look.
Oh, and they’re also working with Illumination, the Minions studio, on the upcoming Mario movie. Can’t forget that.
The only other good thing you can really say is that they seem to have more or less fixed – or at least, improved – their stock and shipping issues, because people have actually been able to get their hands on Amiibos and mini classic consoles without having to sell an arm and a leg. But kind of fixing something they had already broken isn’t worth much.
As glad as I am to see Nintendo back in the game, now that they can no longer do no wrong, I’d like to start seeing them doing some more right for a change.
Well, that’s that. Catch me after E3 for our post-E3 report card to see who walked away the real winner.