Friday 18 August 2017

E3 2017 best in show: the highlights from LA

With a barrage of booths and a tonne of titles, choosing the best of E3 is no easy task. But we had a go after days of walking around the venue sampling the brightest and most original.

Super Mario Odyssey will be a smash hit on Nintendo Switch
Super Mario Odyssey will be a smash hit on Nintendo Switch
The Last Night
Sea of Thieves
Minit
Crackdown 3
Strange Brigade
Middle-earth: Shadow of War
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
Lawbreakers
Transference looks nothing like in this in VR but they wouldn't let us show you the demo
EA Sports FIFA for Switch
Star Wars Battlefront II
Ronan Price

Ronan Price

More than 2,000 products were on show at the annual E3 videogames conference in LA last week - here's the pick from 13 acres of playable goodness at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Super Mario Odyssey

(Nintendo Switch, out October 27)

MAGNIFICENTLY barmy even by Mario standards, Odyssey adopts the sandbox style of the seminal Super Mario 64. The star of the show isn’t really the cheery plumber, surprisingly, but his new sentient hat, called Cappy.

Cappy enables Mario to transform into several different forms but also acts as a weapon and a tool. Bursting with ideas and teeming with things to do, Odyssey has all the hallmarks of another resounding hit for the Switch. Nintendo is on fire when it comes to its reimagining its key franchises this year. It just needs a little more support from third parties.

 

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Lawbreakers

Lawbreakers

(PS4/PC, out August 8)

THOUGH credited with a role in almost 30 games, Cliff Bleszinski built his reputation on designing Unreal Tournament and, later, Gears of War. So it’s no shock that his next effort revives the twitch gunplay of UT, filtered through the lens of recent team shooters such as Battleborn and Overwatch.

Lawbreakers resembles these latter two but demands lightning reflexes with little concession to the casual player. That’s disheartening at first but its hyper-kinetic action pushes all the right adrenaline buttons, delivering a rush as you gradually master the flow of the high-velocity, high-altitude matches. All of the classes (healers and tanks included) feel fun to play and the weapons are gas.

If Lawbreakers doesn’t spawn a devout esports following, there’s no justice in this world.

 

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Middle-earth: Shadow of War

Middle-earth: Shadow of War

(PS4/XO/PC, out October 10)

THIS sequel to the innovative Shadow of Mordor recognises that the best part of the original was the Nemesis system, which set up tales of revenge and rivalry among the orcs.

Shadow of War expands on the concept, enabling ghostly hero Talion to wage war on Sauron by enslaving, er, recruiting orcs as he lays siege to fortresses crammed with trolls, dragons and other filthy creatures from the bowels of Mordor. While it can get chaotic in the melees, Talion can always count on back-up from bodyguards and orc grunts fighting at his side.

The dramatically broader scale of the new open world offers far more variety to Talion, one of the few complaints that could be laid at the door of the first game.

 

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Minit

Minit

(PC, out late 2017)

ONE button, two colours, 60 seconds. That succinct maxim summarises the intriguing premise of Minit, a delightfully simple Zelda-alike in which you die and respawn once a minute. You frantically explore the monochrome world for those precious seconds and any items found become available on your next attempt.

Clearly, it’s a compact landscape but intricately built and gated according to the items found. Created by just two developers, Minit may be small in scale but it’s large in ambition. And if one minute appears too long, there’s always the 40-second hard mode for speedrunners.

 

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Sea of Thieves

Sea of Thieves

(XO/PC, out early 2018)

THE priceless piratical parody got its second E3 playable outing last week and the game has improved immeasurably in 12 months. Developer Rare has toiled to expand SoT’s horizons so that the four-player co-op mayhem now includes elements such as sword-fighting, shipwrecks, sharks and riddle quests.

It matters little whether your shipmates act the maggot or collaborate on shared goals because SoT sparks humour and drama no matter how it’s played. The “stories” the teams create are just as interesting when things go wrong as when the plan runs smoothly.

 

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Crackdown 3

Crackdown 3

(XO/PC, out November 7)

FIRST trailed three years ago, the super-agent’s return has been a long time coming. But at least we got to see more of Crackdown 3 than ever before in LA last week.

Certainly, the slice we played won’t win many prizes for originality but this is the wanton destruction of Crackdown as we remembered it, except on a far superior platform. It enables you to fulfil the superhero fantasy in a chaotic futuristic city overrun by gangs.

Insane weapons, hyper-agility and demolition on a grand scale combine for an extravagant sandbox adventure.

Best of all, you still take orders from the tremendously droll voice of Michael McConnohie as your agency boss.

 

Transference1.jpg
Transference looks nothing like in this in VR but they wouldn't let us show you the demo

Transference

(PC VR/PSVR, out 2018)

NORMALLY, we’d take Hollywood involvement with a pinch of salt but Elijah ‘Frodo’ Wood, a noted gamer, is on board as a producer of this psychological VR thriller.

The E3 demo was a curious beast, featuring neither Wood himself nor anything slated to appear in the final game. Yet it delivered enough chills and questions to pique the interest.

Exploring the home of a US veteran returned from Iraq, the scene flicks between two time periods and the lives of the family deeply affected by the war. It’s not what you’d called comfortable entertainment but compelling nonetheless.

 

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Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

(Nintendo Switch, out August 29)

As unlikely a crossover as you could imagine, made even more bizarre by its strong resemblance to an XCOM strategy title. Yet M+R has emerged fully formed and highly entertaining just a couple of months away from release.

Pitting Nintendo favourites against the loony Rabbids, Kingdom Battle plays out like fast-paced version of the famous turn-based series. But a pleasing degree of randomness, not to mention a heavy dose of wacky humour, means you don’t need to take it too seriously to have a whale of a time.

 

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Strange Brigade

Strange Brigade

(PS4/XO/PC, out 2018)

THE crazy crew at UK developer Rebellion have spawned another potential gem in the form of this tongue-in-cheek paranormal shooter set in the 1930s. Narrated by an amusingly sarky Brit, it features undead mummies, giant man-traps and furious co-op play with a rum cast of characters.

The E3 demo felt a little one-note with its waves of enemies but we’re assured the finished product will incorporate tombs and puzzles in addition to the frantic combat with a team of up to four. Think Raiders of the Lost Ark crossed with Left 4 Dead.

 

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The Last Night

The Last Night

(XO/PC, out 2018)

Blade Runner is just one obvious influence here but the art style of The Last Night manages to make even 16-bit graphics look mightily impressive in 4K. Admittedly, we’re judging it purely on the visuals but The Last Night seems to have an intriguing cyberpunk storyline about living as a second-class citizen in a dangerous future society.

Gamers with a nostalgic hankering for the likes of Flashback and Another World will understand its cinematic ambitions. Let’s hope The Last Night lives up to its dramatic debut at the Xbox E3 conference last week.

 

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EA Sports FIFA for Switch

FIFA Switch

(Nintendo Switch, out September 29)

THE big-brother versions will get all the attention, with their new episode of The Journey soap opera and ever-slicker animations. But for my money, this portable version of the beautiful game trumps the lot.

It can’t handle The Journey and, blown up on a big telly, it compares weakly to its console cousins. Yet for football on the go, FIFA on Switch juggles just the right amount of playability and control with 60fps visual flair to provide an enthralling package.

Hell, the Ultimate Team card mode is even built in, for the first time on a Nintendo platform.

 

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Star Wars Battlefront II

Star Wars Battlefront II

(PS4/XO/PC, out November 17)

ANSWERING critics of the first SW Battlefront's lack of story mode, B2 crafts an intriguing, bespoke single-player campaign featuring Emperor Palpatine and a 30-year story of revenge.

But there’s only so much mileage in such a storyline so it’s more likely to see fans gravitating toward the thoroughly engrossing multiplayer. The intricate city map on Naboo we played offered a tantalising glimpse at its more complex team strategies and weightier combat.

 

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