9) Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Windows
What?!? Deus Ex this far down (or is it up?) the list? Relax, it's one of my most anticipated games of 2016. However, I only played its challenge mode, Breach, and it isn’t much to get excited about. It has you hacking servers as a virtual avatar, and it plays a lot like the campaign: you level up, unlock weapons and abilities, and go stealth or full noise. However, the gleaming walls and clean lines of the levels lack the personality of the grimy Deus Ex world, and there’s little story-wise to hold on to. As such, I don’t imagine I’ll spend much (if any) time in this mode.
8) Styx: Shards of Darkness
Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Windows
I lasted about 15 minutes in the first Styx game before noping the hell out of there, so my hopes aren’t high for this one. Even so, Cyanide Studios has committed to improving the franchise: stealth-‘em-up Shards of Darkness runs on Unreal Engine 4, features better cinematics than its predecessor, and grants the titular goblin new items like a rope to swing on and slide down, as well as a new skill tree. The demo we saw had him sending out his scout clone, using amber vision, crafting things, dropping chandeliers on people, and of course, climbing, peeking through keyholes, hiding, and generally being sneaky. There looked to be many paths through the pleasingly open demo level, and I do love stealth games, but I find Styx and the world he inhabits off-putting. The franchise does look improved, though, and this time you can play through the campaign in co-op, so perhaps I'll give it another chance.
Xbox One, Windows PC
“Oh man, have you seen Recore?” is something I heard a lot on the floor at E3 this year. People seemed to be really digging this game from Armature Studios in partnership with Comcept (Mega-Man, Mighty No. 9) and Microsoft. However, even after a long-by-E3-standards hands-on (20 minutes) it never hit for me. There are many reasons this may have been the case. I played it at the tail end of a long day of back-to-back appointments. It was difficult. I didn’t like its visual style. The overwhelming nature of E3 has a tendency to skew your thoughts. Or maybe it’s just not that good yet.
Whatever the case, Recore is a hardcore 3D shooter that does away with cover mechanics in favour of double jumping, dashing, and weaving. Two mechanics immediately separate it from the pack: enemies of a certain colour are damaged more by that colour ammunition (“affinity”), and you can pull the core out of a machine and repurpose it.
Our hands-on began about four hours into the game on Far Eden, a planet humans are terraforming as Earth is now nigh-uninhabitable for reasons we aren’t clear on. As in The Surge, protagonist Joule has awoken to find everyone missing and that robots have turned against her. Most robots, at least: she still has the dog-like Mack and spider-like Ion robots on her side – companions assigned to her via personality testing at the commencement of her work on the planet. She marches out into the snow to deduce what has happened, and what followed was a lot of shooting in large, plain hall-like environments. It’s not a game about aiming, though – a lock-on system takes care of that. Instead, it’s about positioning and timing, and the judicious use of your companion’s special attacks.
“The story alone is quite compelling, but the gameplay is very engaging,” Inafune later told me. “I’m proud of the balance we’ve been able to establish. Joule is both approachable and has a lot of depth.” I hope for his sake he’s right, because I didn’t see much indication of any of that at E3.
6) Dead Rising 4
Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Windows (timed exclusive on XO and Win)
I thought Dead Rising 3 was a lot of fun, but 4 looks to simply be much more of the same, and this deep into the franchise I was hoping Capcom would shake things up. The four player co-op will drag me in, but I hope the finished product runs better than the E3 demo I played did (and better than Dead Rising 3 does) – the frame rate was seriously unstable. I also pray the story is better than that of 3, but I’m not holding my breath.
5) Halo Wars 2
Xbox One, Windows PC
Yep, that looks like Halo Wars alright!
It’s tempting to leave it at that, but here are some more tidbits:
◆ Microsoft has a big goal in mind for Halo Wars 2: “to make an RTS for anyone”
◆ The game begins 28 years after the events of the first, and five years after the events of Halo 5
◆ The villain is Atriox, an incredibly strong and incredibly cunning foe who is also a brilliant strategist, and “a lot less black and white than a lot of our villains have been”
◆ The PC running the our demo crashed, then the backup PC crashed. It's sometimes fun watching developers squirm.
◆ There’s a lot of tracer fire so it’s very clear who is shooting who
◆ You can set up up to 10 battlegroups on PC, and up to four on console
◆ The tank barrage ability looks great, so do fire units
◆ The cool base animations are back: “we wanted to give it a good sense of life, that it isn’t a static entity”, said MS
◆ The Ultimate Edition includes a Season Pass, campaign expansion for UNSC, and Halo Wars Enhanced Edition (also coming to PC)
◆ There is no cross play – MS looked at it early on, and is keen for it in the future
◆ There are seven new units on each side
◆ Keyboard and mouse will be supported at some stage on Xbox One
◆ The campaign is 10-12 hours long
PC, Mac, Linux
Strafe is an awesome-looking indie shooter that harkens back to the glory days of the mid-‘90s. It also contains roguelike elements. I'm told there were three design pillars: speed, gore, and secrets. Taking cues from Brutal Doom, all gore in the game is persistent. This makes it easy to tell where you’ve been, but also allows you to cover environmental hazards like acid blood from enemies with normal blood so it doesn’t hurt you. Strafe also differs from many FPS titles in that you pick a shotgun, machine gun, or railgun at the start, and that’s you for the game. You can upgrade your weapon, but that involves sticking it in a vending machine for precious seconds and dodging around like a maniac until it is ready.
You can use enemy weapons, but you only get one clip of ammo each time you pick one up. After that, you can use it as a club (or ninja star in the case of the pistol). As in Doom, enemies can hurt each other, so it pays to kite them around – especially if there is a giant dude with an area of effect attack lurking anywhere. Like the newest Doom, there are no hitscan weapons in the game either, just heaps of side-to-side action and buckets of blood. There won’t be deathmatch (“that would be fulltime work only for people not to like it” said developer Pixel Titans), but there will be daily challenges, and perhaps weekly speedrun oriented challenges as well. “I was like I love Quake, I love playing it, but I remember where stuff is," says that’s what beautiful about that roguelike, it’s about that feel.”
3) Space Hulk: Deathwing
Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Windows
A tactical FPS, Deathwing looks like it hits all the important beats for the Space Hulk universe: space marines are fanatical walking tanks with big guns and blades, ships are flying cathedrals, and enemies are grotesqueries straight from the mind of HR Giger. It casts you as a Librarian class marine with wide range of physic abilities, who – alongside three other computer or human-controlled marines – must seek and destroy genestealers and tyranids over the course of a 15 hour campaign. The demo I saw began with the marines equipping iconic 40K weapons like the Storm Bolter, but co-developer Streum On Studio has also included some original weapons in the game. The squad was then teleported to a ship called the Sanctum Imperator, where they prepared to move through an infinitely respawning army of genestealers to secure an objective. “This is a game about crisis management,” said the developer.
The ship is large, complex, and stuffed with secrets and hidden passages, so keeping an eye on radar is important. Fortunately, as a Librarian we get precognitions that something bad is ahead every now and then as well. When the fight comes, it barely relents for the rest of the demo, the genestealers pouring in from all directions. The recoil on our bolter is high, but we also have a shockwave psychic ability to push back enemies all around us, a chain lightning ability that bounces between enemies, and a force sword which can be used to dismember enemies or block melee attacks. Sealing entries and exits keeps the hordes at bay for a while, but our movement is slow and heavy, and damage is localised, so our legs can be crippled before we are finished outright. There are more advanced genestealers too – hybrids that use guns and rocket launchers – and the demo ends after a battle with a heavy-armoured acid-spitting genestealer boss. Deathwing certainly looks faithful to its source material. My only concern is that the slow movement mightn’t make for the most exciting gameplay. We'll see, I suppose.
2) We Happy Few
Xbox One, Windows PC
I fear we may have already seen the best part of We Happy Few: the “he’s a downer!” sequence from the E3 trailer above. Part of the game’s opening, it’s a terrific mood-setter – a perfectly directed passage that nimbly sets up the game’s world. However, beyond the clutches of protagonist Arthur Hastings’ colleagues lies the procedurally-generated town of Wellington Wells, a place that’s currently nowhere near as unique or interesting as what came before.
Fortunately, this is a game still very much in development, and the setup is a doozy. As per the developers: “In alternate history England of the 1960s, We Happy Few is the tale of slightly terrible people trying to escape from a lifetime of cheerful denial.” The objective of the demo was to escape Wellington Wells, but the only bridge out of town is protected by high fences and what looks like a person-vaporising tesla coil. From here, WHF plays a lot like a survival game. You must keep an eye on your hunger, thirst, and health, scavenge and craft, and blend in with or hide from the township’s locals. In my half hour with the game I beat a homeless looking dude to death, slept in his bed, was rumbled by his furious neighbours, evaded the cops after dark, picked flowers, and had my raggedy clothes judged by members of the upper classes.
There is a lot of potential here, but I’m wary that that also applied to developer Compulsion Games’ platformer Contrast, and that one didn’t turn out so well.
1) The Surge
Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Windows PC
A near future dystopian actioner from Lords of the Fallen studio Deck 13, The Surge is “a prediction of things to come”, says the developer. We are Warren, an average guy who got a job at an atmosphere cleaning facility. However, he blacks out after being fitted with his exo-suit, and when he wakes, all the facility’s machines have turned against him, and his colleagues appear to have lost their minds (one is repeatedly smashing his head against a wall).
What else is there to do but attack everything with a pickaxe? As with Lords, combat is very Souls-like here: stamina-based and brutal. However, there is one wrinkle: you can target a particular body or machine part to inflict status effects, and if you build up a combo, you can remove that part altogether and use it yourself. For example, you can decapitate your former colleague and wear his helmet, or smash part of a robot off and use it as armour. According to Deck 13, 95 percent of the look you get is from taking things from enemies, which is pretty cool.
During the hands-off demo we saw Warren fitting fit implants on himself, finding hidden items, and cutting a couple of guys in half. There was also a huge ED209-style boss robot fitted with chainsaws and missile launchers, and again, the way it was defeated by Warren determined the gear he got as a result. (The player in this instance waited for it to fire homing rockets then ran between its legs so it destroyed itself.) However, things won’t always be so easy: you will need to explore, or you won’t be able to defeat the bosses, says Deck 13. I didn’t enjoy Lords of the Fallen much, but this one has my attention for sure.