Spider-Man, Cyberpunk 2077, And Tetris!? The Seven Most Exciting Games Out of E3 2018

With another E3 in the books, it’s time to take stock, do a post mortum analysis of everything that worked and everything that didn’t, and, of course, arbitrarily and subjectively list our favourite games from the show. As always, there were plenty of upcoming games to get excited about coming out of the LA convention, but at the same time, the pacing of the show was weird and it felt somewhat transitional; both because E3 is turning into more of a PAX-like fan con and moving further away from the industry/press show that it’s usually been, and because we’re probably at the furthest point away from any new hardware being announced, with the Switch up and running at Nintendo and Sony and Microsoft basically saying they’re a few years away from the next generation.

So as publishers and developers try to figure out what this new version of E3 is supposed to be, we as onlookers were left with some weird, disjointed press conferences. Some were good, some were bad. Some decided to focus on a handful of upcoming major titles, while others bombarded us with a flurry of announcements, some of which we might not even see until the aforementioned next generation, even though it’s so far away. And quite frankly, that sort of thing affects my perception of what I see coming out of the show. Why should I care about a title screen of a game I know nothing about that will come out on a console I might decide I won’t even want to own?  And while it’s more exciting to see a fully-formed game that’s coming out in a few months, how can it stand out in a sea of similar games that I’ll have in my hands by year’s end? It was interesting to see the two strategies play against one another.

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Sony is likely the most interesting case study in this regard, because after years of being the company that buried you under a mountain of exciting announcements, this year they chose to focus in on only four games; albeit with meatier demos and trailers. They had other things to show and announce at their Monday night press conference, but for the bulk of the show, we got to see extended looks at Ghost of Tsushima, Death Stranding, Spider-Man and The Last of Us: Part II. And while some may focus on the weird pace of their show, or the lack of much of anything new, you can’t deny that all four of those games look incredible. Three of them made the top eight below (I decided to leave Death Stranding off because, as weird and unique as that game continues to look, this is like the fourth or fifth trailer we’ve gotten from Hideo Kojima’s upcoming magnum opus, and I still don’t know what it’s supposed to be about or what I’m doing in it. But I’m excited that Lea Seydoux and Rachel Wagner are in it, I guess), and two others that weren’t even the focus of the show are on there as well, so it’s hard not to consider Sony the “winner” of E3, whatever that’s supposed to mean anymore.

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But others came close, as most were happy with Microsoft’s press conference, which veered in the exact opposite direction, featuring a whopping 50 games, including 15 world premieres and 18 exclusives. Those are some nice big numbers that play well with fans and the media, but the cynic in me is left wondering how many of those games is capable of standing out, how many of them are around the corner and not super far down the line, and quite frankly, whether or not Microsoft’s goal was to distract us from its lack of a meaningful slate of first party titles with shock and awe. Sure, there were new Gears and Halo games showed, but we didn’t really get to see much about them. And it was interesting to see Phil Spencer announce the acquisition of five new studios, but the only way that affects me as a consumer is that, in the long term, I might have less options of where I can play Ninja Theory and Undead Labs games. And I really don’t mean to seem like I’m just shitting on Microsoft, because I am excited about many of the games they showed and I was impressed with Phil Spencer’s performance, which carried into his lengthy interview with Giant Bomb’s Jeff Gerstmann, always a highlight from E3. I’m just having trouble seeing how any of that stands out, other than maybe the Cyberpunk 2077 trailer (but more on that later).

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As for Nintendo, I suppose things are (princess) peachy for you if you’re a Smash fan, because, boy, they sure did show us a lot of Super Smash Bros Ultimate. Going even further than Sony, the lion’s share of Nintendo’s Direct presentation was devoted to excruciating, painstaking details from the upcoming game, and most would probably agree that it’s somewhat disappointing for a big publishers to zero in on such a narrow path at such a big show. Of course, like Sony, that’s not all they had to show, but it’s an interesting strategy. Nintendo is telling us that they’re immediate focus is on Smash Bros. But is that Nintendo trying to drum up as much excitement as they can for a big game (considering that thing was going to sell like hotcakes anyway), or are they trying to distract from the lack of a richer a array of first party titles? Microsoft did that by drowning out their weaknesses in a sea of announcements. Nintendo did it by bashing us over the head with a copy of a singular video game and hoping we’d forget where we were.

Looking at the third party publishers, between Bethesda, Square Enix, Ubisoft and the clusterfuck that was the EA press conference, it was hard to find too much that stood out. Don’t get me wrong, like with Microsoft, there are a lot of games out of those four that I’m excited about, but all four kind of presented different strategies in what I keep parroting is a weird year for video games and E3, and it was hard to find too much that was awe inducing.

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EA had Anthem, which, going in, many would have predicted to be the game of the show. It’s a cool armor suit game where you can seamlessly fly and swim and explore what appears to be a colourful world. But EA’s press conference was a shitshow and little more than a few minutes of gameplay were buried underneath a poorly thought out on-stage panel, so all we have to go on is third-party accounts from people who got to play it on the show floor. And while I want to be more excited for this game, I’m still not entirely sure what I’ll be doing in it. Is it a Destiny clone? Is it more along the lines of Bioware’s previous franchise, Mass Effect? This was the E3 where EA should have come out guns blazing with answers, and the fact that they didn’t detracts from any positive accounts or good trailers.

Square Enix’s video presentation was fine. I’m looking forward to Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Just Cause 4 (and Kingdom Hearts 3 if you’re into that sort of thing), but they’re sequels to existing franchises and they’re all coming out in the next half-year. It could be argued that Capcom had just as good a showing with Resident Evil 2 Remake and Devil May Cry 5, and they didn’t evne need a press conference.

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As for Ubisoft, well, they were Ubisoft. Their press conference started with a Just Dance segment that went on to long and they had plenty of games to show including The Division 2, Skull & Bones and Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, all of which I’m excited for, but none of them really stood out in any meaningful way. I suppose a lot of people are excited for Beyond Good and Evil 2, but that was a good CG trailer and little else.

Of the third party publishers, though, Bethesda is probably the one I have the most #thoughts about. That thing felt like it was produced by someone who stopped watching E3 press conferences in 2008. It felt super old school, it featured way too many announcements that had no gameplay and are likely years away (Doom Eternal, The Elder Scrolls VI, and Starfield, to name three, were ostensibly just title screen reveals), and we already knew the two big games on their show. Don’t get me wrong, both Rage 2 and Fallout 76 look like good games, but it says a lot that two big Bethesda games that gave us a lot of details and gameplay footage aren’t even in the conversation for game of the show. I’m reticent about another Rage game after all these years, but Avalanche does good things with open world and if this games me a more fluid, colourful Mad Max style of game with creative combat in the vein of a Just Cause, then that’s good, but that’s a game I only really want to think about when it comes time for its release. And as for Fallout 76, it looks like more Fallout, but online. I feel like that could go either way, so it’s another wait and see.

With a barrage of announcements that didn’t feel like anything more than name drops and only two major upcoming releases, it didn’t sem like a good enough reason to hold a huge, high budget show like they did, so it comes off as if they’re trying way too hard to justify their own raison d’etre.

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I know I’m sounding like a bit of a Debbie Downer, and I don’t mean to be, because honestly there was a lot at this year’s E3 that has me interested, probably even more than in the last several years. But we get game reveals all year long, and while E3 as a thing transitions and console makers hold out on new hardware, it just felt like everyone knew they were in a bizarre kind of holding pattern, and that made for some weird, easy to critique conferences.

Still! There are plenty of games I’m excited for coming out of of this year’s show, and it was pretty hard to whittle it down to a top 7. So without further adieu, here are the games I’m most excited about after E3 2018!

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HONORABLE MENTION: SUPER MARIO PARTY & HITMAN 2

I don’t plan on playing either of these games, but as a big fan of Giant Bomb, both of these franchises have provided me with hours upon hours of entertainment with previous iterations, and I can’t wait to see what kind of content these two games produce at that outlet.

HONORABLE MENTION: FALLOUT 76 & ANTHEM

I’ve already spoken at lenth about these two, so let’s just say that they’re the two biggest “wait and see” games from this year’s E3. Fallout 76 looks like an improvement on what we already know of Fallout, only online, which could wind up being very janky and very terrible (depending on the player pool), and as I already mentioned, I haven’t seen nearly enough about Anthem to get excited about it beyond any cursory level.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: JUST CAUSE 4, DEVIL MAY CRY 5, THE DIVISION 2, WOLFENSTEIN YOUNGBLOOD, ASSASSIN’S CREED ODYSSEY, SHADOW OF THE TOMB RAIDER…

Here’s the part of the show where we get excited for a slew of sequels that will all probably be good and fun but not huge enough to stand out for a show like E3, either because we haven’t seen enough of them yet, because they’re pretty close to release or because they’re not different enough from previous iterations to stand out. DMC 5 is probably the most exciting thing on this list, since it’s been a minute since the last game in the franchise, otherwise I’m fairly whelmed by all the others and looking forward to playing them this fall or whenever else they’re coming out.


7. CONTROL

Control was only shown briefly during Sony’s press conference, but that small glimpse at its gameplay (and accounts coming out of the show floor) has me very excited for it. The game has you play as the director of the Bureau of Control, which leads the fight against supernatural forces threatening earth. It takes place in the Bureau’s headquarters, which in the vein of a Metroid type of game, changes with every new ability you get and as you progress in the game. There are puzzles, the combat and progression look dynamic, and you get a weird breathing gun. The setting gives the game a sort of Die Hard/Snowpiercer single location feel, and everything about it looks more fluid and better paced than Remedy’s previous games, Alan Wake and Quantum Break. It might not be the flashiest E3 game, but I’m very much looking forward to it.

6. TETRIS EFFECT

That’s right, we’re going to get excited about a Tetris game in 2018. And I’m unapologetic about it, because Tetris Effect is being developed by Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the mastermind behind Rez and Luminus, and because it seems as if, for the first time in years, someone’s putting thought into how to make a unique, modern game out of a concept that’s been around for decades and that’s been played by just about everyone on the planet. As an added bonus, the title of the game and much of the thought behind it is based on the real life concept of the same name. I can’t wait to play this, and I can’t believe a pre-E3 Tetris announcement upstaged so many other things at the show.

 

5. SEKIRO: SHADOWS DIE TWICE

Who would have thought that E3 2018 would be the year of the sword-swinging third-person Japanese culture games? There’s another one of these on the list to come, but I’m almost as equally excited for Sekiro, From Software’s latest and the perfect antithesis to Ghost of Tsushima. It is a supernatural reimagining of the 16th century Sengoku period in Japanese history which has you playing as a one armed ninja seeking revenge on the Samurai that left him for dead. FROM seems to be taking the idea of doing right by this under-served segment of gaming seriously, and it also seems like it’s a fairly large departure from the SOULS games (Sekiro features no multiplayer, no RPG elements and single-hit kills), so this is definitely a game to keep an eye on.

4. GHOST OF TSUSHIMA

While there are games I’m just more naturally excited about on this list, the gameplay footage from Ghost of Tsushima that Sony showed off on Monday was a very exciting highlight from E3 this year and possibly the show’s most beautiful-looking game. As mentioned, it’s the other ninja/samurai game, but unlike Sekiro, it features an open world, quest lines and upgrades (although both have single-hit kills). If they come out anywhere near one another, they’re inevitably going to get compared, but I can’t help but get excited for both, and for very different reasons. Sucker Punch’s latest looks dark, polished, cinematic and very well-made, set in a compelling world in an interesting period of time that a lot of gamers probably don’t know much about. As mentioned with Sekiro, there aren’t a lot of games in this vein, so this will easily make its way to the top of my most anticipated list in due time.

3. CYBERPUNK 2077

Cyberpunk 2077 will likely be at the top of a lot of Best of E3 lists. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see the hour of gameplay that a lot of people at the show did, so all I really have to go on is the three-minute CG trailer above from Microsoft’s conference, the takes of people at the show and Game Informer’s beautifully written and detailed piece on what we’ll be doing in the game. And quite frankly it’s hard not to partake in the hype. Like the two aforementioned samurai games, Cyberpunk is a genre that you don’t see much of in the AAA space. What’s more, this trailer gave me real Rockstar/GTA vibes, while the more detailed accounts of the gameplay suggested it borrows a lot from Fallout and Deus Ex, with a dash of Watch Dogs. I’m not sure how I feel about this being a first person game, but by all accounts even that seems to be justified in that gameplay demo that has so many people buzzing. It doesn’t really seem like Cyberpunk is doing too much that’s wholly original, but if CD Projekt Red’s goal is to do a lot of familiar things better than we’ve ever seen them before, then that’s something to get excited about, especially with what we know they’re capable of following The Witcher 3.

2. THE LAST OF US: PART II

Some people are questioning whether a game as good as The Last Of Us even needs a sequel. And, to be honest, I can see where they’re coming from, why some would be nervous about whether or not that same magic can be recreated. But I know something that they don’t. I know that Naughty Dog just doesn’t fuck up anymore. The Uncharted games kept getting better and better, why can’t The Last of Us? And while Sony’s demo may have felt familiar in that the combat mechanics were the same as was most of the gameplay, I think what’ll make TLOUII great is the little things. Watch the demo again, and look at the subtleties of how Ellie movies around and fights versus Joel in the first game. How she has to pounce on her enemies and how she hides,  how she crawls through and under obstacles that would have never been an option for Joel. Playing with Ellie means you’re playing smaller, possibly weaker versus a lot of enemies, and I think that’s going to allow Naughty Dog to get even more creative with the combat. And we haven’t even begun to talk about how bone chillingly good the cutscene at the beginning of the demo was. That kiss though. It’s going to take a lot for Naughty Dog to disappoint me, and this demo proves that once you really get into the nitty gritty of it.

 

1. SPIDER-MAN

Despite the narrative that I present above, one of the more interesting aspects of E3 this year for me was something that no one really talked about. E3 2018 was kind of a battle between existing IP and new stuff with setting and genres that haven’t been explored much in recent years. I’ve already talked a lot about how I’m excited for two samurai games, for example, and chose to lump a bunch of sequels that I’m excited for into one entry. And despite a sequel taking the second spot, that line of thinking is part of what drove me to naming Spider-Man my game of E3.

I’m a big fan of comic books, superheroes, and superhero games. I’ve played pretty much every Spider-Man game out there, one of my favourite series of all time is the Arkham games. So you can probably understand why I’m so excited for the first great-looking Spider-Man game in a long time, no less a game that seems to have studied what made those Batman games work. The world of Insomniac’s Spider-Man game seems infinitely explorable, the combat and movement precisely as fluid as you’d want them to be in a Spider-Man game, and as the trailer above showed us at Sony’s press conference, not only are we in for great, big set-pieces and boss fights, but it looks like we’re finally getting a good Sinister Six vs. Spider-Man story in a game. But maybe what truly makes Spider-Man #1 for me is how polished it looks. Which makes sense considering we’re only three months out from release, but that doesn’t make the glimpse into this game at E3 any less impactful.

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A Bittersweet, Melancholic Series Finale Leaves ‘The Americans’ In The Perfect Place [Review]

WARNING: The following review contains *SPOILERS* for the series finale of The Americans. Read ahead at your own risk!


 

It’s rare for a series finale to leave you entirely satisfied. Even rarer is it for it to also leave you wanting more. In fact, those two things sound like they should be at odds. How can a show have you feeling as if there’s more story to tell with its characters, yet also leave you in a place where you don’t necessarily want to see any of it? It’s a paradox I’ve been trying to reconcile since the final moments of “Start”, the series finale of The Americans. After a six-season long journey following Philip and Elizabeth Jennings on their quest to pillage Washington, D.C. in thename of the Soviet Union, during the height of the Cold War, their journey comes to an end in a way that I don’t think many of us expected; Philip and Elizabeth get away scot free.

That’s right; after a season where Elizabeth basically becomes a Russian killing machine and Philip is dealing with the malaise of being a former spy incapable of making his American dream work, the final scene of The Americans isn’t either of them getting their comeuppance, or facing consequences for their actions, it’s Philip and Elizabeth re-becoming Mischa and Nadezhda, staring out at their native home from atop a bridge, wondering what comes next for them, for their children, and for the country they sacrificed their lives for.

In a surface level kind of sense, or for someone who may have previously given up on the show, this might seem completely inadequate, unsatisfying way to end a show where the protagonists are antiheroes. Even when their finales shock and wow us, shows like Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, The Wire and so many more have taught us that bad guys generally tend to get what’s coming to them, even if they’re the main characters, or if they have a redemption arc. Despite the fact that they might tell angry FBI agent that they were just doing their job, or how they’re actually the people they always appeared to be, Philip and Elizabeth Jennings are bad people, doing bad things for bad reasons. Logically, nothing short of capture or death would be an appropriate or satisfying end to their tale, especially after a final season where, at long last, Stan opens his eyes, figures out what’s been happening under his nose and ostensibly becomes the show’s hero.

But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that Philip and Elizabeth don’t exactly get a happy ending. They don’t seem pleased to be back in Russia, even if they’re in awe of what their nation has become in their years away. They don’t seem satisfied with the decades of work they put in, or the situation they’ve left behind. They’re merely escaping because that’s what they’ve been instructed to do. And they don’t get to see the results of their work, or even the results of their betrayal, as the catalyst to the finale’s events involve Elizabeth going rogue after realizing that her handlers were working against her in order to orchestrate a coup on Gorbachev. But neither of them ever seem to consider, for example, surrender as a logical course of action. The only course of action they know is to go back, no matter what the cost (in this case, their children), so that’s the conclusion we get. It sort of makes sense. Philip and Elizabeth still fail, they still sacrifice their mission, yet they get to prove one last time that they’re badass spies capable of just about anything under the right circumstances.

It’s a bittersweet ending that shouldn’t work, yet does, not only because it’s so well acted or because it’s an unexpected twist for these kinds of shows, but also because, when you think about it, the show has been subtly hinting at this kind of thing for years. It sacrificed the pacing of its entire fifth season last year simply to get us to a place where Philip has to quit his job, even though we all kind of saw it coming, to get us to a place where Elizabeth becomes complacent and consumed by her work, to beat us over the head with the fact that is and always has been a show about the mundane and prosaic nature of American life, even when you’re a freaking spy doing cool spy shit. Even in this final season, which was markedly better paced and more exciting, finds time to spend on Philip running a travel agency and going line dancing, or his strained relationship with his family. All the while, Elizabeth clocks in at an 11, killing at least one person and episode and dealing with a clandestine plot to overthrow a government, even roping Philip back in for  One Last Mission several weeks before the finale, a mission which, by the way, fails catastrophically and leads to Elizabeth figuring out that her handlers are working against her and eventually questioning her work and betraying them, a moment six seasons in the mkaing. Philip leaving the service and forcing Elizabeth to take the brunt of the work also leads Stan to finally getting a whiff of what they’re cooking. But they leave most of that on the table and abandon it prior to the finale so we can get long scenes of Elizabeth and Philip riding planes, trains and automobiles, of Stan staking out multiple buildings, in order for it to be more reflective and melancholic.

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Even in the finale itself gets its tensest and most exciting scene out of the way relatively early. The “garage scene” is something you’ll likely hear TV fans talking about for a good long while, as it instantly feels like something poised to go down as one of the best scenes in television history. Stan hasn’t yet confirmed that Philip and Elizabeth are Russian spies, but his hunch eats away at him enough that he stakes out Paige’s apartment. Sure enough, the Jennings arrive to take her away, so he confronts them in the parking garage. What follows is a heartbreaking, anxiety-inducing scene where Philip first tries to deny Stan’s accusations and feigns ingurance, before he surprisingly comes clean, and tries to appeal to Stan by saying that they were merely doing a job for his country, much like Stan does. Stan doesn’t buy it, because he’s (rightfully) betrayed and because he’s smarter than that and his job doesn’t entail that much murder, so Philip digs deep and decides to appeal to the version of Stan that still remembers him to be his best friend. And in truth, as Philip sheds his layers of deceit, there’s a sincerity to what Philip is saying. He hasn’t been a spy for the better part of three years. He resents Elizabeth for still doing it and for roping Paige in, and he hates how their work has ostracized their son. On top of that, he’s useless as a travel agent and has largely wasted the last three years of his life. He’s pathetic, the same way Stan feels pathetic, and his appeal manages to convince stan to let them go.

Deep down, you probably know Stan’s going to let them go. That’s the kind of show that The Americans is, and there’s still like half an hour left in the episode. But if there was ever a moment for them to pull the trigger, figuratively and maybe even literally, this would have been it. If there was ever a moment for them to fall into the trappings of the kind of show that The Americans pretends to be as expertly as their main characters pretend to be The Jennings, this is it, in this long, uninterrupted scene where a shaken Stan doesn’t actually shake one bit, holding a gun in the general direction of his best friends for a solid ten minutes. This is where Stan or even the Jennings might do something unexpected, and we spend the entire time wondering when it might happen. But like I’ve already said, this isn’t really that kind of show. It isn’t a twist-based show, it’s a character study, and whether or not he feels betrayed Stan is still Stan. It makes much more sense for him to let the Jennings walk all over him, the same way he let them walk all over him for years prior, and live with the shame of what he did. It makes sense for Philip to bare his soul to his best friend, like he’s always wanted to do, but then still do the selfish thing, even kicking him while he’s down by suggesting that his wife might also be a Russian spy. That’s something that Stan has to live with, and it’s entirely Philip’s fault, but it makes sense in the context of who they’ve always been. And it makes sense, a few moments later, in the shows final crescendo (once again, figuratively as well as literally, as the sequence is set masterfully to U2’s With Or Without You), when after escaping all the way to the Canadian border, Paige decides to abandon her parents and go back, presumably unable to live with who they are, what they’ve done, and what awaits them back in a country she’s never truly known.

But we’ll never actually find out why Paige left, or what happens to her. She goes back to Claudia’s abandoned apartment and has a drink of Vodka, but we’ll never find out if she turns herself in, or what happens to her. We’ll never find out what happens to Stan. He goes home and sleeps on the chair next to his bad, suddenly distrusting of his wife. We’ll never find out if she actually is a spy, or how Stan copes with not only the betrayal of the Jennings, but also his utter failure at doing his job. We’ll never find out what happens to Henry. After he sarcasms his family off the phone as they’re trying to say their final goodbyes, we only see him as Stan breaks the news, and he seems more disappointed than shocked. We don’t even get to see what becomes of poor Oleg, his final moments on the show spent in an FBI holding show.

The show leaves all of that to our imagination so that Philip and Elizabeth can return to Russia and stare wistfully out across a bridge, pondering whether or not what they did was worth it and declaring that they’ll find a way to survive, as they always have.

It’s an ending that may play better with critics than with general audiences, but it makes me feel like Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg leave it in a perfect if unsatisfying place, which is an exact mirror both of reality and of what The Americans always has been. The Americans drew you in with action, sex and intrigue, but it was never about that stuff. It was about life and people, and that’s exactly how it decides to end.

“Start” is a perfectly balanced series finale, so it gets 10 perfect musical cues out of 10. Season 6 as a whole gets 9 discarded wigs out of 10.