Of course, we here at Gamerz Unite join the rest of the gaming press in our excitement for E3, which will be starting tomorrow. But while in years past I’ve made predictions about what would be coming and gave tongue-in-cheek advice on how to avoid over-hype, this year, I think I’ll do something a bit different: Grade all the big presenters this year for their performance.
After all, it’ll be easier to get excited for what they promise in the future by keeping in mind how they’ve behaved in the past. And some of these companies have been very naughty indeed… while others have been A-OK.
So let’s stop dawdling, shall we? And let’s see just how our favorite game companies have performed since the last time they took the E3 stage…
EA has had a relatively safe year, with a few ups and downs. On one hand, the company had a resounding triumph by publishing Battlefront 1. While it was a far cry from consumer-first games that we’ve started to so strongly value, the first-person shooter was an extremely solid and ambitious title that showed a great deal of care; additionally, it was a sign that EA was far more responsive to fans than its main competitor, Activision. It was very well received and was exactly the breath of fresh air the FPS genre needed: just the same as the transition to the modern setting was way back in the early 2000s.
...But on the other hand, they also published Mass Effect Andromeda. And while they can’t shoulder much blame for that, it’s still the kind of game that would be shown off under their banner during E3 and other press shows, so like it or not, the well-intentioned but ultimately disastrous follow-up to the Mass Effect series is on their plate. Mass Effect Andromeda was regrettable for a number of reasons, and while the distance it put between itself and the main series was a saving grace, its performance still means EA will go a long time before publishing another Mass Effect game… unless you count the inevitable re-re-release of the complete trilogy.
On the bright side, they were able to avoid courting any massive controversies since the last E3. So, if nothing else, they’ve learned to keep their head down.
2016-2017 has proven to be a fruitful adventure for Xbox fans. Microsoft has been doing an excellent job slowly bringing more value to their console, edging out a console race that for a long time had been in Sony’s favor: their ever-growing roster of backwards-compatible games, the “controller sharing” feature that was recently added, and of course the Windows 10 cross-play that’s been more-or-less well received by the gaming public. While the “pro controller” was a bit of a stumbling block, Microsoft has proven itself to be a strong contender in the market… at a perfect time, too, now that both Microsoft and Sony are releasing upgraded versions of their consoles.
As far as exclusives, there’s less to report. Halo 6, Halo Wars 2, Gears of Wars 4, and ReCore were all good, but not… great. Nothing as humiliating as Sunset Overdrive or Ryse, but if anything were going to ship Xbox One consoles, it’s nothing on that list, especially since it was easier to port a few games to the ol’ PC.
Controversy wise, Microsoft has been keeping its head down as well. And in this category, well, no news is good news.
Bethesda has only released a handful of new games and DLC since the last E3: the Vault-Tec Workshop for Fallout 4, Nuka-World, Prey, which was released early last month, and The Elder Scroll Legends, a free-to-play Card game that wants really badly to be either Gwent or Hearthstone but can’t make up its mind.
As another company who’s managed to avoid any controversy over the past year, the only thing we have to grade Bethesda on is the games it's released and its handling of the issue regarding console mods for Fallout 4 and the re-release of Skyrim. Games-wise, this year has not been Bethesda’s best work, with two good but not great DLC packs, a noble - if far from perfect - love letter to System Shock, and that card game. That said, Bethesda has always been slow on the trigger in order to make perfect games, so blaming them for that is like accusing a baby of being a bit needy.
But they really stepped up this year with the issue of console mods. They were very transparent with users, made a lot of promises, and did their very best to keep them, even when handling a less-than-cooperative Sony. Plus, as always, they’ve proven to be responsive and playful with their fans. So while this was far from Bethesda’s best year, I can’t imagine them doing anything better.
Oh, this will not go well for you, Ubisoft.
You started the year so strong: you promised a break from Assassin’s Creed, you vowed to start treating customers more fairly, and you even said that you would stop putting up so many paywalls in your games. I, for one, was exceptionally hyped, especially for a little game called For Honor.
Hoo boy. Things went downhill fast.
Game-wise, Ubisoft has certainly had worse years. Watch Dogs 2 was a serviceable and certainly more fun sequel to the original game. For Honor was a refined, beautifully designed game trapped in two layers of poop, being connectivity issues and a transaction-heavy marketplace. The expansions for The Division were fine, but not enough to save a broken game, Ghost Recon Wildlands was a good Co-Op shooter that’s just not as good as Borderlands, and Far Cry Primal was… well… interesting.
If that’s all there was to it, then the company would have earned a solid B-. But then…
Ubisoft was no stranger to controversy this year. Perhaps the most flattering of their blunders was “censoring” a vagina in Watch Dogs 2, which was a gesture that was supposed to be nice but turned out to be kind of shallow: they must have known it was there, and the fact that you could still see a mountain of penises in the game speaks to some warped gender politics. We got more “baiting” of a Beyond Good and Evil 2, which won’t be at the show… and For Honor, wow - can I just say P2P was a huge mistake? The sooner Ubisoft admits that, the better. The worst of the controversies, however, has to belong to The Division and the game's constant crashes, bugs, and the punishing way Ubisoft treated fans who took advantage of the game’s bugginess, while being slow to fix issues that were literally destroying hours upon hours of a player’s time, effort, and maybe even money.
So, we’re giving them a C-. Not the worst company, but damn, Far Cry 5 will need to be gangrene to turn them around, and I’m not holding my breath.
Sony shot itself in the foot at the very end of last year’s E3 with its ill-conceived Kickstarter campaign for Shenmue 3, and things… didn’t really improve that much. They didn’t mess up any worse than that (much), but they also did nothing to really put smiles on people’s faces, so as far as controversies go, they’re still at a net negative. It’s not helped that they’ve been far behind Microsoft and Xbox in the “features” department.
But goddamn these exclusives. It’s not often you find a company who can rival Nintendo for must-buy exclusives but for 2016 and 2017, Sony stepped up. What Remains of Edith Finch, The Last Guardian, Gravity Rush 2, NieR Automata, Nioh, Tales of Berseria, Yakuza 0, Horizon Freakin’ Zero Dawn, and Persona 5? It’s enough to make you almost forgive them for being implicit with Hello Games' ongoing lie about Mo Man’s Sky. Almost.
Horizon Zero Dawn is enough to knock Sony up a letter grade, but great games, combined with an almost spotless record, gives them the best grade of the year. No plus, but we can’t all be CD Projekt Red.
Living proof that if you make good enough games, people will forgive you for just about anything. And Nintendo’s got a lot it should be asking forgiveness for: it continues to be a copyright monster on YouTube, it pulled a paramount of dick moves by requesting that fan remakes of their games get removed from consideration during game award shows, it continues to be ignorant of the eSports community that’s grown around Super Smash Brothers despite trying to turn Splatoon into one, for some reason. The Switch is nearly double its own asking price with all the hidden costs that come with the system, and on top of that, it’s got some pretty questionable design choices that can make it annoying if not downright frustrating to play. Oh, and never forget that mess with the NES Classic console. That was just disgusting.
But then, we have the games. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was released, as was Pokemon Sun and Moon. The remastered Mario Kart 8 is just about the perfect party game, and… yeah. For as much hype as people have raised about The Legend of Zelda and Mario Kart 8, Nintendo’s roster of games has actually been less than impressive, especially when compared with Sony. This was also the same year that brought us Paper Mario Color Splash, lest we forget.
So, Nintendo, I’m going to give you a grade I think many people think you don’t deserve. But I do. I think you deserve it so much.
And that's it! Here's hoping that this year, every one of these presenting companies does an even better job: it'll just be harder for some than others.