Working Casual’s E3 2019 Best in Show Awards: Top 3 Best Moments

My third and final post of post-E3 coverage is going to be a quick hitter. You can find the earlier ones by clicking on this link or that link.

Outside of the games themselves, there are major moments at each year’s show that ripple throughout the next year or more in the industry. I’ve gathered up three such moments slash trends, in my Top 3 Best Moments of E3 2019 awards.

Now is the moment when you read them. Thanks!

Microsoft’s Xbox Project Scarlett Reveal.

For my first best moment, Head of Xbox Phil Spencer formally revealed Microsoft’s next generation of gaming console called Project Scarlett during the Xbox briefing last Sunday. Its introduction was reminiscent of the powerful Xbox One iteration Project Scorpio from last year’s event, namely a short video featuring hardware engineers and designers. These folks rattled off buzzwords such as the box will have a custom AMD processor with GDDR6 memory, a solid state drive, 8K resolution support, 120 frames per second capability and more.

Which is kind of general, plus of course there was no actual showing of the box or mention of price. Not even the final name, as it’s still being decided according later interviews with Spencer. We do have a release window at least plus one launch title: Project Scarlett is targeting Holiday 2020 alongside 343 Industries’ Halo Infinite. It’s a major moment for the Xbox brand and console gaming, though there’s still so many details left for future events including next year’s E3 show.

Gaming Services: Google Stadia, Microsoft’s Project xCloud, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, Ubisoft’s UPlay Plus and probably more.

We can’t go a couple of weeks these days without another company revealing some sort of modern service for gamers, whether it be streaming or access to a digital catalog. The most significant of these started back on June 6th right before E3 weekend, with Google Stadia Connect. In a prepared video that felt more like a corporate presentation than gaming reveal, VP & GM Phil Harrison of the massive tech giant discussed more on its streaming service such as a November release window for early adopters in certain countries, Google Stadia Pro monthly subscription, a lineup of 31 games on sale at launch and that Destiny 2 would be included as part of the Pro tier.

The other streaming offering featured prominently at E3 was Microsoft’s Project xCloud, one of Google Stadia’s main competitors. A quick mention at the Xbox briefing was followed by hands-on demos for media folks. Details here are more vague, as the remote streaming service is in its earlier testing phases among employees with a more public beta period rumored for this Fall. I’m a vocal skeptic on game streaming due to the physical limitations of reducing input lag and the lack of widespread internet infrastructure in a number of areas even in the States, so both of these projects have a lot to prove in my eyes.

Then there’s the other types of services. Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which offers console and PC players a library of older games, first party exclusives plus Xbox Live online service for a friendly $15 per month. Ubisoft also shared UPlay Plus, a PC subscription giving access to the publisher’s suite of games for, again, $15 monthly. This has a firm release date of September 3, 2019. Not to mention there’s probably another one announced at the show that I missed, because these are popping up at a rapid pace. Which one will catch on and which will fizzle? I’m confident in the appeal of Xbox Game Pass, then UPlay Plus will carve out its niche, though streaming is the big question mark even though there’s no denying it’s the talk of the industry lately.

Square Enix E3 Showcase Revival.

Let’s be real. Last year’s Square Enix showcase wasn’t very good. The Japanese publisher redeemed itself this year in what I thought was the best of all the major companies, including Nintendo’s strong Direct offering.

The show began with a remarkable portion on the remake to Final Fantasy VII, a game I awarded one of my best in show. It somehow showed both a trailer and gameplay section without feeling overly bloated or boring. Plus, the March 3, 2020 release date reveal was a pleasant surprise.

Towards the end of its showcase, Square finally showed off the mysterious Marvel’s Avengers project. The game looked solid enough, though wasn’t able to capture a top spot on my awards. Presentation itself was good, though dragged towards the end when talking about future content when we don’t even really know that the game proper is. Surprisingly, we do have an exact release date, May 15, 2010. Earlier than I anticipated.

In between, Square boasted a number of games targeting both local and Western audiences. Some of which are internal, others it’s publishing. Dragon Quest XI Definitive, Dragon Quest Builders 2, Dying Light 2, Final Fantasy VIII remastered, Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, Kingdom Hearts 3, Oninaki, Outriders, Romancing Saga 3, Square Enix Collective indie titles, The Last Remnant remastered, Trials of Mana collection to name a few. Not all of these are my types of games, though I’m plenty interested in enough of them plus impressed enough with the showcase’s overall pacing that I’m here to award Square Enix with the title of strongest live show.

Sad to say, that about does it for E3 2019. Next year’s is already announced for June 9th to June 11th, 2020. Let’s do it all again then!

Sources: Companies included here, Entertainment Software Association, GamesPress, CNET.

-Dom

Working Casual’s E3 2019 Best in Show Awards: Top 10 Smaller Games

The prior entry in my E3 2019 Best in Show Awards covered what I called the “bigger” titles featured at this year’s event.

Now, let’s highlight “smaller” ones. As in, those made by smaller teams, built with lower budgets or created by independent studios that don’t fit into the traditional AAA mold. Some of the best stuff might not be featured at the major press briefings. It certainly will be here!

Quick note that my final post is now up, and it’s all about the best moments.

In no particular order, other than alphabetical of course, let’s work through my Top 10 “Smaller” Games of E3 2019.

12 Minutes

Developer: Luis Antonio

Publisher: Annapurna Interactive

Release Date: 2020

I’m always blown away when a game is made predominantly by a single person. The top-down interactive narrative 12 Minutes is such a title, on which creator Luis Antonio has been laboring for years. Its intense trailer starts innocuously enough with two lovers eating dinner. The woman is set to reveal she’s pregnant, when the man says he knows already. It descends into a series of quick cuts that reveal our characters are stuck within a repeating period of time, where the woman’s father is dead and someone is out to get them. Apparently it’s played in 12 minutes increments, hence the name, and it’s totally my type of mystery.

Creature in the Well

Developer: Flight School Studio

Publisher: Flight School Studio

Release Date: Summer 2019

As a known proponent of pinball in video games, Creature in the Well is an easy pick for one of my awards. Made by mostly a duo of two folks from Flight School Studio, which is a broader team of 30 across Texas and Canada, it’s a dungeon-diving, top-down action game where puzzles are achieved using pinball mechanics. Its striking art style plus clever gameplay elements add to its appeal. And the best news is that it’s set for a release sooner than later!

Fall Guys

Developer: Mediatonic Games

Publisher: Devolver Digital

Release Date: 2020

If I had an award for the best trailer of E3, no doubt Fall Guys would be a contender. The colorful, goofy “ultimate knockout” multiplayer title is basically a bizarre gameshow set in a 3D cartoon space. Contestants have to navigate obstacles then fight through the crowd in hopes of being crowned king of the arena. Word is that Mediatonic plans to treat it as a kind of indie live service game, adding events over time. A truly unique take on the somewhat stagnant battle royale genre.

Hollow Knight: Silksong

Developer: Team Cherry

Publisher: Team Cherry

Release Date: TBA

Challenging 2D action game Hollow Knight was a sleeper hit for me last year on Nintendo Switch, though technically out in 2017 on PC. Silksong began as an expansion for the original, and has increased in scope to become a full-blown sequel. The player will control the agile Hornet navigating across a new bug-filled kingdom, facing off against at least 150 brand new enemies and a variety of Team Cherry’s notoriously tricky boss fights. Can’t wait to jump back into the world with its subtlety beautiful art and haunting musical score.

John Wick Hex

Developer: Bithell Games

Publisher: Good Shepard Entertainment & Lionsgate Games

Release Date: TBA

Here’s how good this game looks: I’m not even a fan of the John Wick movies, I’m a novice tactics gamer and I don’t love isometric perspectives. But whew this looks so innovative in the context of what I’d expect from a John Wick game that I had to award it, if not just for its level of creativity. The coolest part is that once the player reaches the end of a level, they can rewind and see how it would look in real-time. Effectively replicating the frantic combat choreography of the film franchise.

Journey to the Savage Planet

Developer: Typhoon Studios

Publisher: 505 Games

Release Date: Early 2020

It’s so difficult for a game to be genuinely funny, as often times they walk a line between flat and cringey. Journey to the Savage Planet is neither of those things, in what looks like a hilarious first-person action-adventure set in a distant world. The player is there to catalog species and see if humans could inhabit the planet. Its creature design stands out immediately. Little round spheres with bulging eyeballs, giant dinosaur looking beasts then long-necked birds that split apart into more squawking birds when damaged. Definitely way into its tone and overall aesthetic.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Developer: Moon Studios

Publisher: Xbox Game Studios

Release Date: February 11, 2020

Set to release five years after Ori and the Blind Forest amazed many with its incredible art, masterful music and imaginative gameplay, this sequel is looking just as good and even larger in scope. Its familiar art direction and precision platforming stand out in its latest trailer, as we see examples of how the cute Ori’s suite of abilities improve this time around, though I’m also intrigued to learn about how its story expands on the events of the first. Plus, how about Moon Studios’ design of those massive enemies!

Psychonauts 2

Developer: Double Fine Productions

Publisher: Xbox Game Studios

Release Date: 2020

My next award goes to Double Fine’s long-awaited sequel to cult classic Psychonauts, as the studio revealed its first gameplay trailer. This tease shows off how the quirky 3rd person adventure looks in action, plus its crazy characters and setup that everything exists within someone’s mind. Microsoft announced its acquisition of Double Fine during the former’s press briefing, though folks that don’t own an Xbox shouldn’t fret. It’s still coming to all of the platforms announced during its Fig crowdfunding campaign, including PlayStation 4.

Spiritfarer

Developer: Thunder Lotus Games

Publisher: Thunder Lotus Games

Release Date: 2020

I bet it’s the art style that instantly catches one’s eye when seeing images of this beautiful 2D adventure project. Though what really inspired this award is its premise. Beneath that beautiful design is a game about being a “ferrymaster to the dead,” the titular Spiritfarer, and exploring a game world while chatting with recently deceased spirits before guiding them to the void beyond. It’s meant to be a more upbeat portrayal of mortality, which is super unique within the medium. Not to mention you have a friendly kitty sidekick named Daffodil. (I’m more a dog person, but I ain’t complaining.)

The Sinking City

Developer: Frogwares

Publisher: Bigben Interactive

Release Date: June 27, 2019

There’s plenty of fiction drawn from the work of H.P. Lovecraft, especially when it comes to art direction or enemy design. Frogwares’ latest applies it to a 3rd-person investigative mystery with exploration and light combat elements. Set amidst a whole lot of weird folks living in a New England town being consumed by water and madness, its gameplay looks familiar enough. Searching for clues to solve crimes and even murders. The real intriguing part is the eerie plot and cosmic horror often seen in Lovecraftian settings. Not to mention I’ll be dusting off my investigative skills very soon when it’s out in mere weeks.

Honorable Mention:

Afterparty

Developer: Night School Studio

Publisher: Night School Studio

Release Date: 2019

Main reason for a mention here rather than an actual award is that Night School was present at E3 in a panel, though we didn’t actually see much more from the game in which a pair of friends has to outdrink the devil in order to win their way out of hell. Yes, that’s actually what it is. I really liked the studio’s 2016 title Oxenfree, and this latest project has many of the same trappings including dialogue pop-ups that the player picks. Was really hoping to hear a release date since it’s supposed to be out quite soon.

That concludes this round of awards. The third and final piece will be on the Top 3 Best Moments of E3 2019. Thanks much if you made it this far!

Sources: Companies included here, Entertainment Software Association, GamesPress, CNET.

-Dom

Working Casual’s E3 2019 Best in Show Awards: Top 10 Bigger Games

While I wasn’t one of the 66,100 folks in attendance at this year’s Electronics Entertainment Expo gaming convention last week, I was able to follow along with all the E3 festivities because it’s 2019 and the internet exists. (For better or worse. The whole internet part.)

General hype was subdued after companies like Sony and Activision Blizzard said they wouldn’t be at this year’s showcase, though I won’t let that sentiment impact my enjoyment. So many talented teams are out there showing a number of seemingly awesome games, how could I possibly not be excited?

We heard of some projects ahead of time, due to teases or rumors. Though there were plenty of others that not even the internet leakers could ruin. For real, a new Zelda?!

Now that the company press conferences are over, the show floor is closed and everyone is recovering, I’ve mapped out three posts to celebrate the biggest gaming event of the year. This is the first one. The other two are here and here.

First up is the Top 10 “Bigger” Games of E3 2019! (In alphabetical order. Because rankings are hard.)

Cyberpunk 2077

Developer: CD Projekt Red

Publisher: CD Projekt Red

Release Date: April 16, 2020

Keanu Reeves became the talk of the show with his appearance at the Microsoft press briefing, revealing he’s playing a character named Johnny Silverhand within Cyberpunk’s futuristic open world. The game itself received widespread praise from media, privy to a stunning, lengthy behind-closed-doors demo, namely for its blend of narrative excellence combined with player choice in approaching situations within its dense and dangerous Night City setting. CD Projekt Red is taking home a ton of awards to its homeland of Poland, including one of my coveted Top 10 spots here!

Destiny 2: Shadowkeep

Developer: Bungie

Publisher: Bungie (Finally free!)

Release Date: September 17, 2019

It wouldn’t truly be a post from me if I didn’t at least mention my beloved Destiny 2, especially now that Bungie is fully independent from Activision Blizzard. Not only does the Shadowkeep expansion center on a host of new nightmarish enemies inhabiting the Moon, one of the best locations from 2014’s original, the studio is implementing tons of smart changes in its space shooter in September. These include the introduction of cross-save across multiple platforms, a release on the Google Stadia streaming service and a base game rebrand to a free-to-play offering called Destiny 2: New Light. Eyes up, Guardians!

DOOM Eternal

Developer: id Software

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

Release Date: November 22, 2019

The next installment in the groundbreaking DOOM franchise ripped and teared its way to being the highlight of Bethesda’s showcase, featuring both a story teaser trailer and a sizeable gameplay demo showing off its classic frenzied combat alongside new movement capabilities plus a myriad of added enemy types. Between this and hearing from E3 attendees how amazing it felt, late autumn 2019 is the one time when I’ll welcome someone telling me to “go to Hell.”

Dying Light 2

Developer: Techland

Publisher: Techland Publishing & Square Enix

Release Date: Spring 2020

Among all the sequels featured at E3, the follow-up to 2015’s surprise gem Dying Light is the one for which I’m most excited. Especially after seeing more from the open world action title, where choices now have drastic impact on the world plus the main character Aiden Caldwell has expanded parkour abilities compared to his predecessor Kyle Crane. I’ve heard overwhelmingly positive reactions from those that witnessed it during the show, further solidifying its spot on my Top 10 award list.

Elden Ring

Developer: From Software

Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment

Release Date: TBA

Despite its title and dark fantasy action role-playing premise leaking before E3 began, the reveal of Elden Ring was still a major highlight of Microsoft’s briefing. There’s still so much we don’t know about it, other than it being a collaboration between Hidetaka Miyazaki’s From Software team and A Song of Ice and Fire creator George R.R. Martin. Which, honestly, is enough in itself to land it among my favorite big games from last week.

Final Fantasy VII Remake

Developer: Square Enix

Publisher: Square Enix

Release Date: March 3, 2020

The remake to 1997’s Japanese role-playing epic Final Fantasy VII has been in development for so long that cracking jokes about it became old a while ago. Its tardiness can almost be forgiven now that Square Enix has solidified a March 2020 release date. We saw more from the project’s modernized aesthetic, awesome character models and revamped action-style battle system that maintains elements from the original’s turn-based approach. Want to know how good it looks? I have zero nostalgia for the franchise, and it’s vaulted to being one of my most-anticipated of next year after this showing.

Ghostwire: Tokyo

Developer: Tango Gameworks

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

Release Date: TBA

I’m not sure which was better: Creative Director Ikumi Nakamura talking about this “spooky” cinematic adventure, helmed by masterful producer Shinji Mikami, or the lonesome trailer that teased just enough for me to be totally intrigued. It’s a brand new game, a rare sight lately, where folks from Japan’s largest city are disappearing and the player will need to navigate paranormal events while interacting with ghosts that could be friend or foe. This was probably the best surprise reveal of the entire week.

Halo Infinite

Developer: 343 Industries

Publisher: Xbox Game Studios

Release Date: Late 2020

Halo is Microsoft’s flagship, which means that the team had to nail its more formal reveal after last year’s vague teaser. And it delivered. The trailer hits in the feels harder than a rocket launcher on Blood Gulch, following a stranded pilot viewing a hologram of his family then stumbling across a suspended-in-space Master Chief. While only cinematic, there are hidden details suggesting where and when this new game takes place (Zeta Halo a couple years after Halo 5 Guardians), plus we learned it’s a launch title for Xbox’s next generation hardware. “We need to fight,” says the Chief. I’m so ready.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Sequel

Developer: Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo

Release Date: TBA

Sure, it’s cheating to give it an award. Yes, we don’t know its name. Indeed, its trailer was short. No doubt, it has no release window. All of that can’t stop the sequel to my 2nd favorite game of 2017 and an amazing entry in the storied franchise instantly making this list on hype alone. Zelda aficionados have dissected its teaser, speculating that it’s a darker iteration using the same art style of modern masterpiece Breath of the Wild. A la Majora’s Mask to Ocarina of Time. Plus, there’s the renewed speculation that Zelda herself may finally be a playable character based on her prominence in this teaser. Who knows when we’ll hear more. I’m just super pumped it actually exists.

Watch Dogs Legion

Developer: Ubisoft Toronto

Publisher: Ubisoft

Release Date: March 6, 2020

There’s no doubt in my mind that Ubisoft introduced what might be the most ambitious title in the history of gaming with this third Watch Dogs installment. Set in London after Brexit, rather than a singular main character like the first couple of third-person open world hackathons, the player now recruits any civilian to be part of a crew trying to overthrow a regime. Yes, this includes an older woman that used to be an assassin and really knows her way around a spider drone, as shown quite hilariously in its extended gameplay demo. I don’t know how Ubi will pull it off, though I’m confident it will be truly epic if it does.

Honorable Mention:

Deathloop

Developer: Arkane Lyon

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

Release Date: TBA

Apparently Bethesda had a pretty good showing, receiving two awards on my coveted list in addition to an honorable mention. I’m not quite sure what the actual end result will be, or if it will be single-player or multi-player, however the premise of Deathloop immediately caught my attention. Two skilled assassins stranded on an island while stuck in a seemingly endless loop of hunting down one another. If.. executed properly, Arkane Lyon’s new IP could be one of the more unique hits this generation.

Very much appreciate you swinging by! Up next will be the Top 10 Best “Smaller” Games of E3!

Sources: Companies included here, Entertainment Software Association, GamesPress, CNET.

-Dom

It’s That Time: Boring & Bold E3 2019 Predictions!

It really is a holiday in June, for gamers and tech heads!

The Electronic Entertainment Expo 2019 officially kicks off next Tuesday in Los Angeles, though pre-E3 festivities start well before then as game companies large and small try to dazzle enthusiasts (and, in some cases, investors) with live presentations or pre-recorded digital shows.

Now, it’s super easy to do a recap of what we already know. Especially since this week has seen numerous leaks or early teases, from the likes of Ubisoft with Watch Dogs Legion to the rumored From Software and George R.R. Martin collaboration now called Elden Ring.

It’s also a snoozefest typing up a list of safe predictions. What’s the fun in that? It’s freakin’ E3! No matter how much comes out before the event itself, you and I both know there will always be reveals that no one is expecting.

Which brings me to this post. Across the next week, we’ll be bombarded with information on what’s new in gaming and related technology including consoles, streaming and even virtual reality. I’m going to write one boring and one bold prediction for each of the major company events, then a little something something for E3 proper.

If you need to follow along with the general calendar, the E3 Media Site and IGN’s Wiki Page are good resources. Let’s get this.. show on the road!

Electronic Arts: EA Play, Saturday, June 8th, 9:30 AM PT / 12:30 PM ET.

Boring: EA is scrapping its traditional (and honestly pretty tame) E3-adjacent press conference for a series of live streams starting later today as part of its EA Play fan event in Hollywood. This features previously released titles like Apex Legends, Battlefield V and The Sims 4 in addition to new iterations in its sports franchises. The major headliner is Respawn Entertainment’s Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order, starting right at the beginning of the live show with a gameplay reveal.

Which brings me to my first boring prediction. EA is going to reveal details about Season 2 of its battle royale game Apex Legends, complete with a new character. We’ll see gameplay from that character today, and a start date right after its recent The Legendary Hunt event concludes on July 2nd.

Bold: Noticeably absent from the schedule is BioWare’s Anthem, the online action game that released in February to mixed reviews. Personally I enjoyed its mechanics, though acknowledged it was certainly rough around the edges. It’s baffling that older games like Battlefield V and The Sims 4 would be here while Anthem isn’t. I know its player count is dwindling plus BioWare hosted a separate stream recently for the game. However this is supposed to be EA’s flagship stream and one of its most recent high profile games is nowhere to be found?

I’m not sure how to read this absence, so let’s naturally go in a completely irrational direction. During today’s set of live streams or at its fan event, we’ll hear at least a bit more of what BioWare is working on next. Which is the next Dragon Age. While there was a quick tease at last year’s Game Awards, there’s been nothing since. If the developer has symbolically moved past Anthem, it has to.. slay any concerns fans have and reassure about its future.

Microsoft: Xbox E3 Briefing, Sunday, June 9th, 1:00 PM PT / 4:00 PM ET.

Boring: This is a huge E3 year for Microsoft. It’s even said as much. Its major competitor isn’t there. It’s building a new generation of consoles. It’s been gobbling up studios in hopes it can bolster its game lineup. It’s expanding on services, from Xbox Game Pass to Project xCloud. I’d argue this is the most important moment for Xbox as a brand, perhaps ever.

A bit dramatic? Absolutely. But also true. In fitting with this theme, even my boring prediction is massive: Microsoft will formally reveal its next generation of Xbox hardware, nicknamed Xbox Scarlett. This being the two rumored models: One more powerful then the other more entry-level. Nothing on price, timing or the boxes themselves. Just a teaser. If these are out in the fall 2020 timing that I’m estimating, we won’t see a blow-out until next year.

Bold: No, I don’t think Microsoft is going to acquire Capcom. Or Konami. Or any major publisher because that’s not going to happen. If anything, perhaps a smaller development team that isn’t publicly-traded.

That’s not going to be my bold prediction, of course. This is: We’re going to learn about not just one, not just two but THREE brand new, next generation titles from Xbox Game Studios. Head of Xbox Phil Spencer already said we’ll see 14 games from its teams. Not satisfied? Let’s say one of them is from one of the newly-acquired developers. Had enough? Lastly, the biggest of those games will be.. finally, a new Fable. Created by, you guessed it, Playground Games.

Bethesda Softworks: Bethesda E3 Showcase, Sunday, June 9th, 5:30 PM PT / 8:30 PM ET.

Boring: Late night on Sunday, when everyone else is dreading work the following day, gamers will be stoked to see what independent publisher and always wildcard Bethesda will bring to the table during its showcase. Safe bets are DOOM Eternal, Wolfenstein Youngblood and more DLC for Rage 2, which I reviewed recently. I predict we’ll see all three of these, plus more from at least one of its mobile offerings.

Bold: With director Todd Howard crushing dreams in saying recently that big-budget projects like Starfield and Elder Scrolls VI will not be making E3 appearances (which sense as there’s no way either of these is coming out this generation), what kind of crazy surprise might we see that’s unrelated to these much-anticipated games?

Well. I could use this space to predict that Bethesda will tease a new Evil Within title from legendary horror designer Shinji Mikami, who we know will be at E3. I could use this to say that Fallout 76 will receive a major update and go F2P at the same time. While both of those can certainly happen, I’m going elsewhere: Bethesda will finally reveal that Arkane Studios has been cooking up something real juicy. Twist! It’s not going to be within the Dishonored or Prey universes. It’s new. And it’s probably going to be awesome.

Ubisoft Entertainment: UbiE3 Press Conference, Monday, June 10th, 1:00 PM PT / 4:00 PM ET.

Boring: If we’re talking about guesses for French publisher Ubisoft, shoot almost all of them might be considered boring since we likely know its lineup before it even happens Monday afternoon. I mentioned Watch Dogs Legion before. October release Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint will assuredly be prominently featured. We’ve even heard rumblings from my buds Nibel and analyst Daniel Ahmad plus Kotaku’s Jason Schreier of multiple new projects, including co-op shooter Rainbow 6 Quarantine, an RPG codenamed “Orpheus” plus even a roller derby title dubbed Roller Champions. Everyone seems to be getting in on the action!

The snoozer part of my prediction is that we’ll see all of these. Then another Just Dance, which will undoubtedly be revealed alongside a dancing animal of some sort.

Bold: Always animated Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot is a staple of these live shows, thankfully so, which means it’s easy to say he’ll be there again. That’s not my guess.

My super bold prediction is that new Nintendo of America President Doug Bowser (yes, Bowser) will make a special appearance together with Guillemot. Because the two gaming powerhouses are going to announce a spanking new collaboration! The easy guess is a Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle 2. This isn’t a place for easy. I’m thinking something new, a different blending of two brands, along the lines of Rayman and Yoshi. Trials and F-Zero. Something innovative. That no one is expecting, except me!

Square Enix: Square Enix Live E3 2019, Monday, June 10th, 6:00 PM PT / 9:00 PM ET.

Boring: Out of all this year’s live shows, I think Square is going to be the most surprising. In the best way possible. The Japanese publisher needs to redeem itself after last year’s average showing. I believe it will.

Easy predictions include headliners Marvel’s Avengers from Crystal Dynamics and the long-awaited Final Fantasy VII Remake from Tetsuya Nomura’s internal team. It’s unlikely we see anything more than a cinematic trailer for the former, though a gameplay demo for the latter is certainly feasible if not likely. I also think there’s a high likelihood we see gameplay from action-adventure Babylon’s Fall from PlatinumGames, plus the official reveal of People Can Fly’s shooter Outriders as it was teased on Twitter a couple days ago.

Lastly, in an interesting twist, Polish studio Techland revealed a week ago that Square will be publishing its upcoming open world zombie game Dying Light 2. Which is curious considering that the original was distributed by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. I’m thinking we see a lot from this game here, plus a release window of Q1 2020.

Bold: As impressive as the above is, I’m betting Square will still surprise us and elevate its show to being a standout amid its competitors. Gematsu recently posted about an announcement event for mobile title Dragon Quest Walk, during which produce Yuu Miyake made mention of Dragon Quest XII in vague terms, hinting at some sort of announcement on the storied JRPG franchise despite the game being early in development. Being bold, I say we’ll see a tease along with its subtitle and a logo, similar to how Bethesda revealed the upcoming entry in its Elder Scrolls series!

Nintendo: Nintendo Direct E3 2019, Tuesday, June 11th, 9:00 AM PT / 12:00 PM ET.

Boring: Nintendo is once again slotted in on Tuesday mid-day, technically right before the start of E3 itself, with its Direct and then Treehouse Live stream. We’ve already got a good sense of what it will feature for its Switch hybrid platform, plus some.. inkling of what it could reveal. Pokémon Sword and Shield will be the headliner, after the reveal of its November 15th release date among new pocket monster variations in addition to more about its systems. Super Mario Maker 2 is out this month and Fire Emblem: Three Houses hits July, which means both should have lengthy demo sections.

I’m also betting we see gameplay from The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening remaster, plus a potential release window. Luigi’s Mansion 3 should be shown in some capacity, along with exclusive-to-Switch Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order. Easy ones, done-zo.

Bold: If the aforementioned prediction on a crossover project with Ubisoft isn’t enough, you’ve come to the right place. Minuscule chance of Bayonetta 3 or Metroid Prime 4, though I’m not betting on it. However, what’s up with Animal Crossing for Switch? Nintendo still lists it as a 2019 game in recent reporting, though we know virtually nothing about it. Part of my bold prediction is that we’ll get the full blow-out. Cinematic trailer. Gameplay walk-thru during Treehouse. Plus! A December release date.

But that’s not all. It’s about time.. for Mario Kart 9. That’s right. A new Kart game, exclusive to Switch. Its predecessor is selling so well that this might be my most ridiculous pick of the day, but who cares! I went there. Let’s see if Nintendo does, too.

E3 Show Hours and E3 Coliseum: Los Angeles, Tuesday, June 11, 10:00 AM PT / 1:00 PM ET to Thursday, June 13, 6:00 PM PT / 9:00 PM ET.

Boring: All this said and we haven’t even started the show! On Tuesday, the expo itself opens its doors to exhibitors, press, influencers (ugh) and fans alike. There’s so much that I haven’t even mentioned here that’s a shoe-in to be there. Destiny 2! Cyberpunk 2077! Baldur’s Gate 3! Call of Duty: Modern Warfare! That’s not to mention all the independent developers showing off their sweet upcoming projects, of which there will be at least a handful of standouts. Untitled Goose Game, plz!

I’m thrilled to learn more about these plus see the myriad of panels featured at E3 Coliseum, which is a fantastic mini-event during the broader show. This year’s has so many talented people sitting down to discuss their games, including folks from Bungie, Respawn Entertainment, id Software, Xbox and more. It’s less a prediction and more a guarantee that this will be exceptional.

Bold: Alright. What the heck. I know Take-Two Interactive and 2K Games is focused on marketing Borderlands 3 this year ahead of September drop date, however I’m still forever hoping for a new BioShock game. My final bold prediction is that, somehow someway, we hear a rumor or tidbit about the secret BioShock project. Give me anything at all!

Whew. Being bold is tiring work. Whatever your opinion on E3, however many things leak in advance, I’m always going to be pumped this time of the year.

I’ve sent out a question on Twitter related to this post, asking for one boring and one bold prediction from all of you. I expect big things. Don’t disappoint, and enjoy this year’s gaming spectacle! I know I will.

Sources: Entertainment Software Association, All companies and tweets above, Kotaku, The Verge, PC Gamer.

-Dom

Sci-Fi Shooter Void Bastards Is Fun In Bursts, But Fits Too Many Genres In One Space

Minutes into Void Bastards, it’s clear what kind of experience it’s going to be.

“Don’t worry,” it shows as my character is overwhelmed by enemies. “The game expected you to die.”

During a hectic opening sequence, this tone is quickly established then permeates the latest work from Australian indie studio Blue Manchu. It’s a genuinely funny game, a shooter strategy hybrid set in space presented as a science-fiction comic book come to life. The basis of its humor is the setting: a bureaucratic galaxy with friendly robots, invading aliens and tons of obnoxious legal paperwork. However, like its endless lineup of player characters, certain parts wind up being expendable.

Its attempt to mix genres and influences occasionally works, as I had a good enough time in short sessions though not nearly all the time. Void Bastards is part first-person shooter, strategy sim, survival game and roguelite, the last of which being a more focused genre within the broader “roguelike” such as character perma-death plus random or procedural levels. Based on there being less than a dozen folks at studio Blue Manchu, this was clearly an ambitious task. I commend the effort, even if I wasn’t dazzled by a few of its parts.

One of the team’s main designers Jonathan Chey co-founded Irrational Games and was instrumental in System Shock 2 and BioShock, obvious inspirations here. Picture one of these games, remove the engaging story and fascinating lore then add strategy elements, a cumbersome crafting system plus survival gauges and this is essentially the result.

The player takes control of an escaped prisoner, the titular “bastard” from the void. A random felon that hijacks an intergalactic vessel with the intention of leaving the Sargasso Nebula. Upon creation, he or she is assigned characteristics such as being fast on their feet or even colorblind. When that person meets an untimely end, it’s replaced by a new one. Items and materials are lost however upgrades and crafted items remain. Which is a smart design decision, as the game is punishing enough already especially on higher difficulties.

The basis of its humor is the setting: a bureaucratic galaxy with friendly robots, invading aliens and tons of obnoxious legal paperwork. However, like its endless lineup of player characters, certain parts wind up being expendable.

Starting with my first character, a smoker with a random cough that alerts enemies, it actually takes me a couple hours to get my bearings. To understand what my goal is. The beginning requires one to search for crafting parts to a piece of futuristic technology. Perhaps I missed a story or dialogue prompt, I wasn’t exactly sure where to go or what to do. Better on-boarding (pun intended, as expected) or a tutorial area would be welcome.

Though this carries forward into later game as well, feeling of aimless despite possessing a star-map. Based on the developer’s description, this is because the player gets to pick where to go. Even so, it’s overwhelming. Progression is driven by crafting pieces of the spaceship that will allow faster-than-light travel, in an attempt to leave the local nebula.

The major stand-out feature of this Humble Bundle-published title is its artwork. It truly resembles an interactive comic. Space crafts feature stunning, colorful 3D spaces. It’s easy to be distracted by the most minute of details, such as in-game posters or gadgets strewn about the area. Its semblance of a narrative is conveyed in a manner that looks like a visual novel, complete with animated panels and dialogue bubbles. I found myself stopping to admire this art design constantly, and hovering on the story panels as if to soak up the style.

Another strength is, intriguingly enough, its voice acting. Super creative, even subtle at times. Robot AI named BACS (for the British tax-collecting organization) works as a narrator along the journey, and is especially humorous during downtime between boarding ships. The player character is speechless, though enemies will quip and react to one’s presence. On-board intercom messages continue despite stations being empty, many of which are quite clever and give a sense that the world which existing previously certainly had its share of issues.

“I bet you are wondering what happens when you die?” BACS presents, appearing philosophic.

“Others will enjoy what you leave behind.”

Downtime here is where the strategy simulation kicks in, plus the player has an opportunity to craft from the materials collected while exploring ships. Time is spent plotting a course across the cosmos then building stuff to help make it easier. Deciding where to go based on the descriptions of each ship, which detail what sorts of enemies or resources are present. The cool part here is that there are virtually no loading screens, it moves quickly between the different menus. The transition from map to gameplay is seamless.

Unfortunately, it’s a shooter where the shooting is serviceable at best, flimsy at worst. I know it’s not the sole mechanic, though as the primary interaction with the game space, it is noticeably inconsistent. And desperately missing a melee attack.

Its semblance of a narrative is conveyed in a manner that looks like a visual novel, complete with animated panels and dialogue bubbles. I found myself stopping to admire this art design constantly, and hovering on the story panels as if to soak up the style.

In terms of enemy, combat and weapon variety, it’s solid enough to keep engaged in the short-term. There aren’t actually that many enemies. For instance, the Zec are alien humanoids with shields, while Patients are a set of floating severed heads that require precision shots. Stronger versions appear deeper in space. This makes sense because it’s made by a smaller studio, however this fact doesn’t break the monotony of seeing them so frequently.

Weapons and explosives are much better. The player unlocks more powerful, varied instruments of combat through a crafting tree. One of my favorites is the Kittybot, a cute killer that distracts foes then explodes on a timer. The other is the Rifter, a gun that captures enemies then spits them out on command. This allows for unique engagements, like locking opponents into vacant rooms or dropping them directly into an environmental hazard.

Even though the game implies stealth is possible, mainly on surfaces like carpet, I was never successful in hiding my presence. There’s a smart design in how the game signals enemies are around, at least. Phrases show up in the world, like Batman’s fight-words style, then increase in frequency when approaching a baddy. These pop-ups also show up with more pizazz during combat.

As mentioned earlier, the character trait system is a major feature. Especially since once a character dies, it’s gone forever. It’s an intriguing system, though can be frustrating depending on which combination pops up. “Diminutive” stature is an example, which means the camera shifted accordingly. It’s like playing as the shorter Oddjob in GoldenEye 007.

The downside of procedural generation and random attributes is one that’s more general when I play the genre: fear of missing out. The only way for me to see all the traits is by failing constantly or seeking out gene banks, which are areas in certain ship types that allow for swapping of traits. No matter how my character is built, I know there’s likely an even better ability that I’ve never seen.

Then, boarded ships have mostly the same features throughout. Jumbled up depending on which type, such as a medical vessel or fuel stations. This gets tedious in later stages, to the point where exploration feels a chore when it really should satisfy curiosity. Combine this with survival parts like juggling hunger, gas and oxygen levels, it’s easy to get bogged down in laborious mechanics.

Perhaps this is nitpicky, I find controller options to be paramount for shooters. There’s only one configuration I could find here on console, no sort of mapping or reworking controls. There also isn’t a way to turn off elements of the HUD, which would be fine if not so invasive. Lastly, the crafting system is messy. Forces the player to cycle between screens and constantly guess at how spending one set of materials will impact the potential for building something else. Multiple times I built one item not knowing it would set me back in my progress for another.

A question before wrapping up, this from Nick at The Inner Circle. Has there been any game I’ve played like this? It’s a tricky one to answer, as I’m admittedly not a strategy enthusiast. I made the above comparisons to “Shock” games, though a series I feel has the same vibe is, wildly enough, Toe Jam & Earl. The action-adventure from the Sega Genesis days doesn’t take itself too seriously, features random characteristics and was an early example of procedural elements on console. Plus there’s the whole space ship building part!

All of this together means Void Bastards is much better in short bursts than long sessions. Tedium sets in while boarding yet another ship with the same rooms, inhabited by enemy types seen before. Especially when facing them at higher difficulties, without the necessary resources to succeed.

There’s some cool possibilities in the game’s overlapping systems, though it’s far from a revolutionary genre-blend that it has the potential to be. I had enough fun with it to warrant at least checking it out, though not near enough to maintain my attention over a long haul. Let alone a trip across the galaxy.

Title: Void Bastards

Release Date: May 29, 2019

Developer: Blue Manchu

Publisher: Humble Bundle

Platforms: Xbox One and Xbox Game Pass, PC (Steam, Humble Bundle)

Recommendation: Solid enough to try, especially for strategy enthusiasts and those with Xbox Game Pass, albeit not good enough to drop everything and play right away or stick with over time.

Disclaimer: Xbox One review code provided by Humble Bundle.

-Dom

A Plague Tale: Innocence Is Both Pure & Painful To Play, That’s Why It’s So Powerful

Amicia and Hugo tip-toe across cadavers strewn about a now empty battlefield, devoid of life except for them, where men had fought face-to-face and died together.

“Are we hurting them?” the boy Hugo questions honestly, with equal levels concern and naivete in his voice that makes one feel the men might actually be alive when you know they will never be again.

This uniquely harrowing and tender sequence represents the essence of A Plague Tale: Innocence, a game in which small bits of purity often exist amidst total and utter despair. It’s a place where video games seldom have the courage to go, or fail in an attempt to do so.

Asobo Studio’s stealth-adventure isn’t like other games. Incredible, heartbreaking and often downright repulsive, the French team’s creation is a special experience that proves a game doesn’t have to be fun in order to be enjoyable. In fact, I’d argue that the struggle of playing through its jarring environments and painful moments is intentional. And precisely what makes it so memorable.

To confirm, it’s not the mechanics or systems that make it painful to play. In fact, directors David Dedeine and Kevin Choteau create fluid stealth and combat abilities, as I’ll dive into later. It’s because of the setting, its aesthetic and overall tone. Its decaying environments. The ghastly corridors. That sickening feeling of trudging through the of world and its timeline, as children nonetheless. These aspects are chilling, approaching unbearable, that I won’t be able to shake them for a long time. This sort of emotional difficulty stands out just as much as the challenging combat of a Dark Souls or pinpoint platforming required in a Kaizo Mario. This struggle, more than anything, is the defining characteristic of A Plague Tale: Innocence.

Set in France during the 14th Century, this interactive narrative published by Focus Home Interactive follows the children of nobles Beatrice and Robert De Rune amidst a blood plague and the Inquisition. The player controls teenager Amicia, often alongside her five year-old brother Hugo, the latter of which starts the story in quarantine at the behest of his mother due to suffering from a mysterious illness.

In the opening scene, Inquisition soldiers storm the De Rune residence looking for young Hugo. It’s here the game introduces its main features: stealth, deception and light combat elements. Amicia boasts a variety of distraction and even lethal techniques, plus can direct her companions to help clear a path or unlock areas. It’s a clever system that peels back deeper and deeper layers throughout the game, even up to its final act, and tailors Amicia’s tools based on who is with her at a particular time.

The siblings escape the estate, though Robert and Beatrice remain behind with their Inquisition captors. Robert is slain and Beatrice appears to be as well. What follows is a narrative normally not attempted in games, focusing on teenagers and children plodding through a war-torn region plagued by a number of atrocities. Albeit still very much a game, speckled with familiar mechanics and tropes within its genre.

This sort of emotional difficulty stands out just as much as the challenging combat of a Dark Souls or pinpoint platforming required in a Kaizo Mario. This struggle, more than anything, is the defining characteristic of A Plague Tale: Innocence.

As the pair crosses through villages, monasteries, farms and chateaus, they face the game’s primary obstacle and most notable piece of technology: Rats. Not just any old vermin. Rabid, swarming groups of rats that devour anything not near fire or light. These are plague rats, as deadly as they are disgusting.

These swarms and Inquisition soldiers become the framework for most of the environmental puzzles. The De Runes must leverage Amicia’s sling to fling rocks and specific concoctions that can put out fires, daze foes or even blast holes through large groups of vermin. This presents all sorts of options, and while the early puzzles are rudimentary, the later game opens multiple paths to allow more elaborate combinations of tactics. Since Amicia isn’t durable, it behooves one to take a more delicate approach. That’s not to say the lethal option isn’t effective. It’s impressive how much the game promotes creativity in this regard.

To supplement Amicia’s stealth capabilities, there’s crafting of different rock “formulas” via an alchemy menu. Spells have Harry Potter-esque names like Ignifier or Luminosa. Combining is essential as both human and rodent foes become more varied in later encounters. There’s also upgrade trees for her sling, equipment and ammunition, so scouring areas for supplies is essential. This and the game’s other systems are deeper than initially thought.

It’s also more open than it seems. Branching paths create a sense of wonder, creating the sensation that its spaces are actually larger than they are. Walking with a side character into a nook within a broader room gives an opportunity for private dialogue and world-building through a handful of different collectible types. While it’s linear overall, A Plague Tale: Innocence has its share of intimate, optional moments.

One minor area of frustration for me was facing off against the game’s “bosses.” These battles are so difficult to design in this context, trying to balance stealth and combat. They can feel clunky or out-of-place, as they do here. I understand why they are present, helping to signal climaxes within each act, and I appreciate the effort despite them being my least favorite part of the game.

Since Amicia isn’t durable, it behooves one to take a more delicate approach. That’s not to say the lethal option isn’t effective. It’s impressive how much the game promotes creativity in this regard.

More broadly speaking, art direction is masterful in its depiction of what a plague-ridden Europe would look like during this period of history. It’s strikingly beautiful, a direct parallel to how its characters fight against the ugliness of their time. Kudos to the team. It’s hard to even describe: Diseased corpses, decaying animals and dilapidated buildings that were once beautiful litter the game spaces. Sometimes literally under Amicia’s feet. It’s haunting, stomach-turning stuff.

Plus, the narrative. It’s hard to describe how engaging writing lead Sébastien Renard makes it, between superlative character development, a main arc surrounding the plague then to genuine twists during late game. Especially given it centers on a pair of kids and the teenagers they meet while trying to deal with Hugo’s symptoms, finding respite amidst a world that isn’t fit for youngsters.

Amicia and Hugo’s relationship begins as distant, as the latter deals with loss for the first time. It progresses in conjunction with the game’s overarching story, as Amicia decides she’s willing to do just about anything to help her brother. They grow literally alongside one another, holding hands while solving puzzles. Hugo will bravely crawl through crevices or sneakily unlock doors. This highlights his growth, as previously he was cooped up in his bedroom. A victim of his affliction.

The game escalates quickly across 10 to 12 hours, from its more modest beginnings through a robust second act then a grand finale. Grand Inquisitor Vitalis targets Hugo throughout, as we learn how the boy, the rat plague and this twisted man leading the Inquisition are interwoven. While it gets fantastical at times, it’s forever grounded in its character relationships, motivations and determinations. I also respect that there’s equal chance the game serves up beautiful reunions between characters as it does extreme punishment, akin to the style of author George R.R. Martin.

The art direction is masterful in its depiction of what a plague-ridden Europe would look like during this period of history. It’s strikingly beautiful, a direct parallel to how its characters fight against the ugliness of their time.

Even secondary characters shine in their specific roles: The alchemist Lucas, orphan twins Melie and Arthur plus the blacksmith apprentice Rodric. All forced to mature and harden themselves way too early in life, something that children should never have to do. It’s notable how well-paced the game is, too. In that, it does downtime well. Quiet times in a Middle Ages castle that the group adopts as home or branching off to find a collectible with Hugo lull into a sense of respite. Then, that false comfort is shattered.

And I never thought I’d say this about any title: The “rat technology” of how the critters move in big groups and react to environments is impressive. This tech is crucial to so many puzzles that I don’t think it’d be near as effective without Asobo’s extensive animation and artificial intelligence work.

Voice acting and dialogue are also standout. It’s so difficult to feature children in games, which is why there are very few that do it successfully. A special shout out to Hugo’s English voice actor Logan Hannan. His performance is subtle and refreshing, even hopeful.

At one point, Hugo bemoans his torment. “I’m scared of what’s in my head,” he trembles to Amicia.

“Don’t worry.” she comforts. “We’re all scared of what’s in our heads.”

It’s a tender consolation, an understanding between the siblings. A morbid sort of comical relief that draws them closer. The boy never forgets his courtesies during the play-through, throwing in “Thank You’s” and “You’re Welcome’s” in the most charming of ways, as casually as if he was back at the De Rune estate eating dinner.

(Here’s a video featuring the actors alongside their characters.)

And the sound design! Strings escalate the tension as rats rush away from a light source. Lightning snaps across the backdrop of a fortress. The attention to this kind of detail is all the more noteworthy given how small the development team is.

What ultimately makes it special is that, while it certainly has villains, it’s hardly a good against evil cliche. It’s not merely a “surviving against the odds” tale. It’s young people attempting to maintain humanity when the world is chaos. A juxtaposition of purity and destruction. The symbolism of hopefulness while despair is ever-present.

Hugo will often find flowers throughout the world, and offer to put them in Amicia’s hair. Continually reinforcing the theme of contrast. This small, touching moment embodies what it means to stay positive within a decaying world. Characters looking for anything by which to feel a sense of normality. Fighting against those that would steal it away.

As far as historical adventures within the medium, A Plague Tale: Innocence is near a masterpiece of its genre. I’m ecstatic I gave it a legitimate chance despite my reservations about its rodents. I’m still not anywhere near comfortable with the swarms and the game’s many rotten elements, and I’ve learned that’s exactly the point.

Title: A Plague Tale: Innocence

Release Date: May 14, 2019

Developer: Asobo Studio

Publisher: Focus Home Interactive

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Recommendation: Unless you are deathly afraid of rats, or dislike excellent games, this is undoubtedly a must-play.

Sources: Asobo Studio, Focus Home Interactive, Screenshots from Xbox One X.

-Dom

Mortal Kombat 11 & Nintendo Switch Kombine to Top April’s U.S. Video Game Sales Report

Lots of fighting game fans exclaimed “Get Over Here!” to NetherRealm Studio’s latest installment in the storied franchise, Mortal Kombat 11. The brutal beat-em-down title, published by Warner Bros Interactive and released on April 23rd, was the best-selling game of last month in the States according to The NPD Group’s latest report.

Mortal Kombat is one of the most well-known gaming series ever, partly due to its controversial graphic violence and propensity to upset pearl-clutching government officials. This most recent game’s predecessor Mortal Kombat X (2015) went on to be the biggest commercial success in franchise history, eclipsing more than 11 million units sold per famed co-creator Ed Boon.

While we don’t know global unit sales for Mortal Kombat 11 just yet, we now know that this latest entry is selling well domestically. It not only topped the April monthly chart, it also instantly entered the year-to-date list as the 2nd best-selling of 2019, second to only Square Enix’s Disney mash-up Kingdom Hearts 3.

Interestingly, it was tops on all four of its platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC and even the Nintendo Switch. An impressive result all around, and I expect it will continue to chart at least during a slower summer release calendar.

Second place for April went to open world zombie game Days Gone from Sony Bend Studio, a PlayStation 4 exclusive title. I wrote recently that, despite thinking the title itself was mostly mediocre, I prognosticated that it would have broad market appeal and sell quite well. I even thought it might top the list of best-sellers last month.

While I was too bold in my prediction, arriving at #2 is a very good result. Namely since it’s limited to just the one platform. Days Gone also had the 7th best launch month for a Sony-published game in NPD’s tracking history, plus became Bend’s top-selling game ever after being on sale less than a full month.

A quiet success story unfolding as we approach mid-year is the solid momentum of another title only available on PlayStation 4, that being MLB The Show 19 from Sony San Diego. The baseball sim has achieved the #3 spot during the past two months of charts since its release on March 26th. It’s also moved up into the Top 10 of the year so far, hitting exactly #10.

MLB The Show 19 is currently the best-selling sports title of the year to date, and it’s still the fastest launch for a game in the franchise when lining up all the relevant launches. I bet the development team is.. having a ball!

Rounding out the Top 5 respectively are Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, the shared world military RPG that was last month’s best-seller, then Nintendo’s ever-present party fighter Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. The latter of which recently eclipsed a crazy 13.81 million units sold globally.

And of course, Rockstar Games continues to live up to its moniker by having not one but two of its works present on April’s list. Grand Theft Auto V being the leading one, coming in at #6 despite releasing all the way back in 2013. It’s a theme we’ve seen in most monthly charts, and I’ve continually stated it will be this way until its successor is out.

Below are April’s main software charts, which focus on strictly the U.S. market:

Top-Selling Games of April 2019 (Includes Physical & Digital Sales):

  1. Mortal Kombat 11
  2. Days Gone
  3. MLB The Show 19
  4. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2^
  5. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  6. Grand Theft Auto V
  7. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice^
  8. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4^
  9. NBA 2K19
  10. Yoshi’s Crafted World*
  11. Red Dead Redemption 2
  12. Mario Kart 8*
  13. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
  14. Minecraft#
  15. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe*
  16. Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD
  17. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*
  18. Jump Force
  19. Battlefield V*
  20. Borderlands

Top-Selling Games of 2019 (Year to Date):

  1. Kingdom Hearts 3
  2. Mortal Kombat 11
  3. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2^
  4. Anthem^
  5. Resident Evil 2 Remake 2019
  6. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  7. Red Dead Redemption 2
  8. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice^
  9. Jump Force
  10. MLB The Show 19

^PC Sales Not Included, *Digital Sales Not Included, #Digital Sales on XB1 & PS4 Included

Flipping over to consoles, Nintendo Switch saw its 5th consecutive month atop the hardware chart as measured by both dollar sales and units. It’s still the best-selling console of the year, as well. The last time it was outpaced by Sony’s PlayStation 4 was during the pre-holiday rush of November. Even then, Switch generated more revenue. PS4 just happened to see higher unit sales because of heavy discounting.

Consumer spending on games in the States crept up 1% in April, to $842 million overall. This was driven by PC and console software, up 15% to $427 million, and the Accessories segment as it bumped 5% to $256 million on the strength of Amiibo and DualShock 4 sales. These two segments offset a 29% decline in hardware, which fell to $160 million.

For 2019 so far, consumer spending in the games market totals $4 billion. A figure that’s down 2% when compared to the same time period last year. Out of that, software has contributed almost half with roughly $1.9 billion in dollar sales.

My read overall on April is that the top three sellers in particular are impressive, even though I was wrong about which would be first. Especially Mortal Kombat 11.. fighting its way to the second spot on the year-to-date list. That indicates to me that early demand is strong. I’m not sure it can reach the lofty heights of its predecessor, though I’m confident it will carve up a good chunk of commercial success before we see what NetherRealm does next.

Another story that I think warrants more attention is BioWare’s Anthem, published by Electronic Arts, maintaining the 4th spot of 2019 so far. Granted, it’s way early. Then EA said during its Q4 earnings call recently that the game’s early sales came in below the company’s targets. It’s worth seeing if it maintains this position as the year progresses, with more major releases scheduled for the late part of the summer into the autumn rush.

Hardware sales are going to be uneventful until, honestly, holiday season at the earliest. If not next year, when I’ve been saying that the next generation of consoles will start during the second half.

Additional details on individual platform results can be found at the linked video above, from NPD Analyst and friend of the site, Mat Piscatella.

So. How did your predictions go? Any big surprises? Please share in the comments or let’s catch up on Twitter! Thanks for stopping by, as always.

Sources: The NPD Group, NetherRealm Studios, Sony Bend Studio, Sony San Diego, Nintendo, Electronic Arts, Wikipedia.

-Dom

Stylish & Unabashed, Rage 2 is the John Wick of Video Games in 2019

Within hours of playing through Bethesda Softworks’ new open world action shooter, I found inspiration.

Rage 2 isn’t Mad Max: Fury Road, as many would have us believe. It’s the John Wick of 2019 video games.

As does John Wick, the game knows exactly what it is. It’s pure action, style as substance and unapologetically intense. And certainly not ashamed of it. It even basks in its absurdity. Bursts of action coalesce perfectly as the player combines weapons, throwables and abilities, leading to the familiar choreographed feel of watching Keanu Reeves effortlessly come up with tactics on the spot to carve up his myriad of foes.

As I progressed, the comparison solidified. Both begin with a tragedy. In the case of the game released this past week, a collaboration between storied developer id Software (Doom, Quake) and Avalanche Studios (Just Cause, Mad Max), this is a decimation of the protagonist’s stronghold called Vineland and the death of its matriarch at the hands of the cruel General Martin Cross.

What follows is, similarly, a straightforward revenge tale against the villain and his followers, collectively dubbed The Authority. Controllable character Walker dons the armor of the elite Ranger class of soldier, leveraging technology based on “Nanotrites” (yay science!) to power special abilities including a seismic ground pound and quick dash.

Bursts of action coalesce perfectly as the player combines weapons, throwables and abilities, leading to the familiar choreographed feel of watching Keanu Reeves effortlessly come up with tactics on the spot to carve up his myriad of foes.

(I’ll admit momentarily that I don’t have much more than minimal experience with 2011’s Rage, so I’d argue it’s not a requirement. Though there are obviously callbacks and it can enhance the experience.)

Walker, with the help of best bud and mechanic Lily, is tasked with finding three individuals: a grizzled resistance leader named Marshall, Mayor Hagar who runs the game’s major settlement plus ex-Authority scientist Kvasir secluded in the swamp lands. These folks are integral to a project designed to halt General Cross, a maniacal jerk that’s been cloning himself in hopes of “living forever.” Upgrade progression centers around three skill trees, each based on character specialties. For instance, investing experience points into the resistance leader will enhance combat while the scientist will help with gadgets.

Now, I’m a firm believer that a game’s mechanics are of utmost importance. “Game feel,” as I say. If a shooter especially doesn’t feel right, if there isn’t enough feedback when shooting or indicators that the player is getting damaged, it can’t ever elevate above average. Luckily, Rage 2 is centered around its amazing gameplay, rivaling predecessors Doom and Quake which are both on the same game engine.

It feels like an open world Titanfall 2, with cooler combat abilities (minus the Titans, of course). Most of its weapons are distinct, from a standard assault rifle to a unique gravity gun that attaches to foes before swinging them where one’s heart desires. Each one is fully customizable with individual upgrade paths. Plus there are two different “modes” for each, hip-fire and aiming down sights, adding to the tactical possibilities. The standout here is the shotgun, a staple of these kinds of action titles. The punch of this particular shotty is near unrivaled in the history of shooters.

In terms of layout and pacing, this is where the map opens up; Giving freedom to progress any which way, to whittle away the defenses of each enemy faction: Authority, Goons, River Hogs, Mutants and the ominous “Shrouded.” A variety of vehicles, including a fantastic gyro-copter, allow for traversal across the wasteland. There’s noticeable downtime when driving, since hostile convoys are rare, however there’s normally a spot in proximity that catches the eye, enticing a visit. It’s almost like a The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild formula, built on distractions that emerge as bespoke endeavors.

We gradually learn about how the game doles out points of interest. Exploring an area yields a question mark on the map and heads-up display, which could be any number of activities: bandit camp, towering turret, roadblock, power plant, fueling station, crashed meteor, resting place of a fallen comrade or the treasured “Arks” that house new weapons and sweet abilities.

While gameplay is essential, I also believe the player needs to be rewarded for their effort. What’s the point of all this spectacle? Rage 2 showers the player with experience points, materials, upgrade points and currency, which means that side activities and poking around the world are absolutely worthwhile. As I’ve said in the past, open world games are inherently repetitive. It’s how a game conceals its repetition that truly matters. Not to mention, opening a crate by punching it never gets old!

One aspect I’ve heard critiqued is its story structure. There aren’t many main missions, granted.

I pose a thought: Why is this necessarily be a bad thing? This actually gives flexibility for different player types. It’s setup in a way that it could be a tight, 8 to 10 hour experience if someone wants only to see the campaign. The alternative is to spend dozens of hours perusing the wasteland and racking up every ability and weapon, finding secrets along the way. In the world of Rage 2, high tech “Arks” are large vessels with goodies inside normally guarded by enemies. I found it tantalizing to seek these out, and felt an adrenaline rush whenever Walker spots a new one.

Even though it’s a plus that the game can be “mainlined,” it’s no doubt a generic action story that left me wishing it had more missions. It’s almost as if the team knew the fun would be in the open world rather than in its narrative, which isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker but more of a mild disappointment.

I’ll point out that the story missions themselves are quite fun, especially for the scientist Kvasir, one of which has the player breaking into a space center to bring a satellite down from orbit. Its scope is particularly notable in a game that’s usually grounded.

Tonally, I noticed early on a disconnect between how the marketing campaign portrayed it versus what it actually is. Absolutely for the better. I was vocally skeptical about its tone being too cringey, with dancing enemies and “wacky” characters amidst bright pink and yellow color splashes. It’s actually more humorous and even can be charming. Item descriptions are creative, as are the names of non-playable characters (NPCs) at outposts. Combine this with a talking vehicle, voiced by Wonder Woman herself Lynda Carter, and the unique personas of the three main helpers, this tonal imprint is more subtle than the advertising proclaimed.

Yes, there’s an enemy type that uses a baseball bat to hit grenades towards Walker. Which means, of course, that Walker can volley them back by pressing the melee button. When throwing a “Vortex” gravity bomb at enemies, they will bobble the sphere in an attempt to catch it before it sucks them up and launches them into the air. These small touches help to shape the game’s tone just as much as its frantic action does.

From a tech standpoint, it’s a mostly smooth experience on Xbox One X. Super crisp frame rate, even amidst the most frenetic of sequences, without noticeable hitching. Unfortunately there were a few hard crashes in the first third of my 30-hour play through, though luckily none after its latest patch. Really the only sticking point was how slow the menus are, which is ironic since everything else in the game is fast-paced.

When throwing a “Vortex” gravity bomb at enemies, they will bobble the sphere in an attempt to catch it before it sucks them up and launches them into the air. These small touches help to shape the game’s tone just as much as its frantic action does.

I will note its desolate setting means that the world doesn’t feel as “lived-in” as other titles, even those within the genre. The wasteland is technically true to form in this regard, though I’ll reiterate that the spacing between areas is smartly designed in that activities are never too far away.

While I had a blast, it’s certainly not perfect. Driving around is fine, though vehicular combat leaves much to be desired. In fact, I had more fun flying in the mini gyro-copter than any combat encounter on the open road. Additionally, there’s only one upgradeable vehicle. I was hoping for more flexibility here.

There’s also a type of horde mode called Mutant Bash TV, which adds to the world-building however I found it to be underwhelming. Racing, on the other hand, is way more fun even if a temporary distraction. Occasionally, one of the NPC from the game’s racetrack will flag Walker down on the road, trying to coax into an impromptu race.

Ultimately, I went into Rage 2 with minimal expectations, if not expecting to be turned off by its tone and determination to be “cool.” I’m happy to say with certainty that I was wrong about it.

It’s a special thing when a game subverts expectations to leave a more lasting impression than ever thought possible. This is my experience with Bethesda’s latest, a wild ride with quick combat sequences and more subtle world-building than appears at first glance. If John Wick is the movie equivalent of a video game, then Rage 2 is its often thrilling and always unabashed gaming counterpart.

Sources: Bethesda Softworks, Internet Game Database, Rage Wiki, Screenshots captured on Xbox One X (Except Artwork & Enemy Close-Up).

-Dom

Slow, Curious & Tragic, Life is Strange 2 Stands Out on its Own

Impressions are based on the three episodes available for Life is Strange 2 out of its scheduled five. Mild spoilers ahead.

As far as adventures in video games go, Life is Strange 2 is powerful and thoughtful enough to be celebrated on its own. Separate of its predecessor. It’s deliberate, mysterious and often emotional, forcing the player to make critical choices that drive the narrative and have unexpected consequences. Being the one that chooses how the protagonist acts, and what happens to characters as a result, makes it that much more impactful than a traditional linear story.

Even though it’s labeled as if it’s a sequel, the adventure game from Dontnod Entertainment that’s published by Square Enix is not a follow-up in the usual sense. It doesn’t feature characters from 2015’s Life is Strange, which centered on the story of time-manipulating teenager Max Caulfield and her best friend Chloe, and instead shifts its focus to a Mexican-American family of three living in Seattle.

Life is Strange 2 is episodic, while played from a third person perspective. It began in September with Episode 1: Roads then continued with January’s Episode 2: Rules through Episode 3: Wastelands, which released days ago. What separates it from other narrative-focused titles is choice, then repercussion. Decisions don’t just have ramifications, they drive the story forward and force us down one of a various branching paths.

Across these episodes, the game delves into the relationship between Sean and Daniel Diaz, regular brothers from the Northwest that can’t seem to avoid terrible events. The Diaz brothers’ single father Esteban is slain by a police officer after he tries to defend his sons during an altercation, after which younger bro Daniel mysteriously causes a destructive shock-wave that accidentally kills said police officer. It’s an intense, saddening sequence, something that unfortunately turns into a theme for the siblings.

Whether it’s pure panic or fear of being persecuted, the boys flee from the scene then opt to venture to their father’s homeland of Mexico. It’s a rash decision, though somewhat understandable from a teenager and 9-year old. The elder Sean turns into Daniel’s paternal influence, while trying to repair their friendship that became fractured as Sean matriculated through high school.

What follows is both a literal and figurative journey for the pair, plus the player itself. We control Sean, as the two bond and bicker while coping with the desperate feeling of loss. Simultaneously, they work to understand Daniel’s special powers, which seem to be a kind of telekinesis as he can manipulate objects with his mind. Daniel is also curious of his mother, Karen, who Sean resents because she left the family before the game’s story begins.

Pacing is slow. Methodical, even. This approach, which might be a hindrance in other cases, is the opposite here. It allows exploration through the game space. Accentuates the intimate character moments that many other titles don’t even attempt, for fear of disrupting the action. Dontnod challenges players to be mindful in their wandering, frequently rewarding with tidbits of character detail and world-building akin to something like a BioShock.

The initial episode is its most sorrowful, as the brothers move south through the wilderness. Small moments of solace, such as those where Sean patiently teaches Daniel how to skip stones or they race to gather firewood, are quickly interrupted by the ever-present feeling of despair that they can likely never return to a normal existence.

Now, not everything is handled with this level of subtlety. The game is heavy-handed in its portrayal of stereotypes, especially when the brothers encounter a “racist redneck” that kidnaps Sean while throwing slurs as much as fists. This pops up again in a couple spots. Though I understand the game’s writers wanting to convey character prejudices overtly, I found myself hoping for a more delicate approach.

After escaping the racist, the boys receive help from friendly travel blogger Brody then move further towards their intended destination. Episode 2: Rules finds them occupying a winter cabin, alongside a new puppy named Mushroom. One theme that arises here and continues throughout is Daniel’s relationship with those other than Sean, as the latter moves into an authoritative role. Their quiet existence is upended as tragedy strikes again, with Mushroom being attacked by a wildcat. Throughout these moments, the player can decide to encourage Daniel to use his powers or to avoid them at all costs. As with everything, this has its impact on one’s individual story line.

Sean decides the boys should meet their grandparents on their mother’s side, who live in a small Oregon town. This brings a familial element that was noticeably lacking, providing momentary stability. It also stokes Daniel’s curiosity about his mom, which Sean is reluctant to even mention yet alone explore.

During this time, Daniel saves and befriends Chris, the main character from Dontnod’s standalone demo The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. Chris has also faced tremendous loss with the death of his mother and an abusive father, so he escapes into his fantasy of being a super hero. With Daniel at his side controlling objects floating in space, he believes he has actual powers. It’s another example of Daniel’s independent character maturation. The player can either plead with him to reveal his powers to Chris, or keep it a secret. One particular consequence of this choice is shockingly catastrophic.

This is also where we meet key characters for the next episode, while the group is shopping for Christmas trees with Chris’ father. The boys briefly chat with street musician Cassidy and her friend Finn, both of which are “train hoppers” living free from the cares of society. It’s clear that Sean is envious of their more carefree attitude, revealed during this scene that mainly acts as foreshadowing.

As usual, the brothers must bounce when the police stop swing by on a tip. This is especially painful, since their grandparent’s home seemed a fitting spot for them to settle down. Plus, Daniel openly expresses that he’s sick of running away and wants to find his mother.

Episode 3: Wastelands is in my opinion the weakest so far, as it’s the most cliche with a predictable structure. This doesn’t mean it isn’t good. In fact, because we get to know so many new faces, it has the best character moments yet. It’s just that the story arc is more typical than the prior two episodes. I will say the end is explosive, showing how much their situation is escalating the more they get involved with people out on their own.

The setup here is.. convenient. (As happens in media, to bring characters together and progress stories in parallel.) Sean and Daniel somehow meet up with Cassidy and Finn, then begin working on an illegal weed farm in Northern California to save up cash for Mexico. The campgrounds in the woods is liberating and constrictive at once. These folks are free to do what they please outside of work, but have a rigid regimen when laboring for a dangerous landowner and his goon partner.

A standout sequence of this episode is a fireside gathering, where group members exchange depressing stories. It’s uniquely powerful to hear everyone speak so openly about their lives, and reinforces a general theme that looking towards the future can help alleviate hurt caused by one’s past. Both Sean and Daniel can share memories, depending on player action.

This portion also allows choices related to sexuality. Finn presents as bisexual, while Cassidy is interested in men and flirts with Sean. The player can romance either, which is refreshing and speaks to the freedom theme. Our protagonist is at the age where he’s still exploring his sexuality, so it’s a poignant sequence that shows he’s still so young despite having the responsibility of caring for his brother.

As noted, the episode concludes with an intense sequence that I won’t spoil. Other than to say that Daniel and the player have a lot to learn about how powerful he can be.

At this conclusion, multiple mysteries are still unfolding. There’s the overall trajectory of the boys’ intention to reach Mexico juxtaposed against the allure of settling down. Is that even realistic? Can they ever return to their childhood town? The lingering questions about their mother remain, especially as the Diaz boys disagree: Daniel wishes to track her down while Sean wants nothing to do with her.

One critique is that I wish it had more details on choices and consequences after you finished a sequence, similar to the flow chart approach of Detroit: Become Human. Each episode shows a recap of decision points, though provides less detail than its peer.

Another minor point is that you can circle back in what’s called “Collectible” mode, however these don’t apply to your main save. I wish that any souvenir or backpack customization option found in this mode could be used during my main progression. It’s fun to make Sean’s backpack look unique, but I don’t want to reply entire sections just to get those I’ve missed.

Misery surrounds the Diaz brothers. However, they fight to avoid being defined by it. There’s a youthful hopefulness in their progression, especially Daniel’s innocence amidst great power, that I really would like to carry throughout the remaining installments.

Strangely enough: Despite their dreadful circumstances, I’m continually hopeful.

Sources: Dontnod Entertainment, Square Enix, Screenshots captured on Microsoft’s Xbox One X.

-Dom

Days Gone Is Mostly Mediocre, Morbidly Mundane And Will Still Sell Better Than Many PS4 Exclusives

Disclaimer: This is not a review, as I have not completed the game yet. It’s a series of impressions and sales predictions. Minor spoilers follow.

I went into Days Gone, the latest in post-apocalyptic PlayStation 4 exclusives, mostly curious. Minimal expectations, hoping to be surprised. I’ve felt this way since Sony revealed it back during 2016, when it was featured prominently during its E3 stage show.

Turns out that the open world biker game did in fact surprise me. Just, not in a good way.

Made by Sony’s Bend Studio out of Bend, Oregon, a team known for the Syphon Filter series and handheld Uncharted titles, Days Gone checks all the boxes for features in a standard “AAA open world” game, though fails to deliver anything extraordinary with any one of them.

The third-person game opens on the semi-ridiculous premise that the protagonist, Deacon Saint John, leaves his wounded wife Sarah to fly away to a government camp while a mysterious outbreak occurs around him, to stay behind with his best bro Boozer. I appreciate the “no man left behind” mentality, though couldn’t help feel both contempt and indifference towards Deacon after seeing him abandon his helpless lover. A main character doesn’t have to be likeable (see: Joel from The Last of Us, Nico Bellic from Grand Theft Auto IV), though I should at least give a damn about him.

Fast forward a couple years, the Pacific Northwest setting is overrun by infected (I refuse to call them Freakers and I’m mad that I just did), scumbags, settlers, wildlife and “drifters” like Deacon, who considers himself honorable because of an ambiguous code which I gather is mostly that he doesn’t kill women. Unless he has to, of course.

What follows is a classic example of bloated modern game design, flooding the player with crafting, skills and systems to satisfy the endorphin rush of seeing an experience bar increase or watching numbers go up.

Within the first half hour, I was forced to smash infected children (who Deacon specifically said would mind their own business if I left them alone), because they were in my way to an objective. The game said I could avoid them then put them right in my path, overwhelming me with enemies. In fact, main missions so far have been overly restrictive to the point of “Leaving Area” signals alerting you incessantly if you stray too far.

Movement is rigid, which means Deacon is occasionally difficult to control, especially when enemies are off-screen and the camera can’t quite catch up to controller inputs.

Driving the bike is mostly competent, though the gas mileage is unforgiving early on. Who wants to stop constantly in a video game to fill up their virtual gas tank, when we do that enough as it is in real life?

Thing is, I’d be mostly forgiving of flaws if the actual content was fun. Turns out, there’s not much to it outside of the campaign. See that infected nest? Throw a molotov cocktail into it. See that outpost? Murder everyone. See that government checkpoint? Cut down the speakers, fill the generator with gas and open its doors. Then do it again. And again. Until you find another one, where you can do it all over again.


Then there’s the camp system. One of the early camps is run by a freedom fighting gun nut, whose worst offense is that he feeds obnoxious radio blasts into your ear. Which you can thankfully skip.

It’s the other camp that bothers me. It’s run by effectively a slaver operating a “labor camp.” You’d think Deacon would want to capture this camp and free its prisoners, based on his apparent moral compass, but I don’t think the game allows for that decision. You can, however, gain access to new guns when you help its leader by doing jobs or sending random survivors to work in the digging fields. And from what I can tell, there’s no consequence of choosing to work with one group over another. So morality be damned, in the name of sweet guns and bike upgrades!

I haven’t even mentioned the technical issues I’ve faced or heard from impressions online. From enemies disappearing, characters and the bike getting stuck on geometry or falling through the world, slow loading times and severe audio glitches, it’s not deal-breaking though can be annoying when considering the game’s other flaws. (Fingers crossed for more patches, since the game was already updated multiple times in classic day-one tradition.)

I’d be remiss to mention that there are certain aspects I’m enjoying, or at least aren’t interfering with my progress. It isn’t all negative, I want to make this absolutely clear.

It’s mostly stunning when it comes to visuals and art design. The setting is picturesque, and the attention to detail in parts of the world is exceptional. The artists and animators at Bend did a heck of a job. Tire treads kick up mud with a slogging sound. Light shines through tree branches before glinting off water. A foreboding sky reveals infinite stars as dusk approaches. For a dreary game, it can be remarkably majestic.

The infected horde tech is impressive, showing dozens upon dozens of distinct enemy bodies all at once that flow together like rainwater down a drainpipe. Bike customization is cool, though I wish there were more stimulating visual options. There’s a good variety of weaponry, throwables and traps for your forays into the wilderness, and shooting is competent enough. Crossbow bolts that cause enemies to turn on one another is an especially fun toy.

Survival elements aren’t overly difficult or constrictive, though it involves searching. A lot of searching. And holding down the search button. Which can break up the pacing of the game, especially when running low on materials. This was one of the main critiques of Red Dead Redemption 2, and it’s just as bad here.

Excitingly, I finally hit a narrative beat that opened up a level of intrigue. Enough so that I will be playing more to see where it goes and if the game can change my mind at all.

Here’s the thing. I’m fine being an outlier when it comes to my tastes or experiences. This time, I’m far from the only one who feels this way. Consensus on review aggregator OpenCritic is sitting at “Fair,” with less than half of the 90 critics recommending it.

One particular piece that expresses my overall hesitation is authored by Patrick Klepek at Waypoint. He writes:


Days Gone refuses to settle on what it wants to be or what it wants to say. Rather than settling on a direction, it proceeds in all directions, hoping a more-is-better philosophy will prove blinding. This is true of both the clumsy mechanics, which are ever present and impossible to ignore, and its story, following the boring moral compass of biker Deacon St. John, who roams the world in the years after an event turned the whole world to shit, claiming to operate by a “code” but refusing to allow said code to operationally manifest into action.

Marvel’s Spider-Man is currently the fastest-selling PS4 exclusive.

Mine and Patrick’s thoughts aside, where does this leave us in terms of commercial potential?

I’ve joked about it in the past, and said that I started tepid on its sales prospects. The irony is that, despite my impressions and the average critical assessments, I now actually think it will sell relatively well. Better than many games exclusive to the platform, if not becoming one of the three fastest-selling to date.

This distinction currently belongs to 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man and God of War, which sold 3.3 million and 3.1 million units respectively during their first three days on market. These are excellent figures, though I wrote last year that I expected a licensed property like Spidey to perform that way.

Next up, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End moved 2.7 million units in a single week during 2016. Ever so slightly behind that was 2017’s Horizon: Zero Dawn at 2.6 million copies, though it was across two weeks.

Right about here is where I expect Days Gone to settle at launch. Between 2.5 and 3 million units, within say the next two weeks. Which means it will beat out games like Killzone Shadow Fall (2013), Bloodborne (2015), Detroit: Become Human (2017) and Nioh (2017), which all saw a million units near launch except for Killzone, which hit 2.1 million within a couple months on sale. (Detroit and Nioh are no longer platform exclusive, though were near launch.)

Sony has intensified its marketing push lately, not just in retail but also online and traditional media. Big networks like ESPN have been steadily running promos. Plus if there’s one thing that people like these days, it’s post apocalypses and zombies. Early rumblings are positive in terms of shipments from Sony, according to my bud Benji. And I expect demand especially from casual buyers will be enough to purchase most of those inventories going to retailers.

Similarly, I predict it will be the best-selling game of April in the United States, when NPD Group reports sales results next month.

After this mostly successful launch, how will it sell longer term? I can see it maybe settling right at the bottom of 2019’s Top 10 sellers, though as an exclusive it’s already at a disadvantage compared with multi-platform titles. The more titles hit release dates in this year, the tougher it gets. Lifetime units sales of 7-8 million is feasible, especially as the console’s user base approaches 100 million.

It’s always a question if single-player games can maintain strong momentum over time. At least out of the gate, I think Days Gone is more likely to.. accelerate to success than not.

All this said, should you play it? (I know many of you will, just look at my sales prediction.) Well, depends on what you like. The ultimate problem with Days Gone is that it tries to do so many things, then loses any semblance of focus. Maybe it suffered from feature creep, trying to do much more than originally intended. Or it bolted on too much close to launch. Perhaps a lack of decisive leadership during its earlier stages. What’s clear is there are other games that do these things, and do them very well, that I’d rather play.

Do you like a massive, beautiful world to explore? Play Red Dead Redemption 2.

Want stealth action and engaging character arcs? Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.

Like storming enemy encampments and taking over areas? Pick a Far Cry.

Zombies and crafting with a dynamic night-and-day cycle? Dying Light.

A sprawling world with expertly-written side quests? The Witcher 3.

Ranged combat encounters with unique enemies? Horizon: Zero Dawn.

Cinematic narrative in a post-apocalypse: The Last of Us. (Seriously if you haven’t played it, you should be doing so instead of reading this.)

Technical hiccups, repetitive side content, stiff movement, serviceable shooting, laughable enemy AI plus lots and lots of rifling through cars or houses to find crafting materials? Which are used to get caught in a tailspin of monotonous gameplay loops which serve only to make experience bars fill up, all the while questioning why you should empathize with its characters?

Shoot. Then I’d still probably play something else.

Sources: Sony Interactive Entertainment. Internet Games Database. Bend Studio. Quantic Dream. Insomniac Games. Team Ninja. From Software. Waypoint. Open Critic. Benji-Sales.

-Dom