June has rolled around, meaning it is time for the Electronic Entertainment Expo, better known as E3. E3 is the biggest event of the year for computer and video games, as well as the hardware that runs them. Whilst CEO looks at incredible technology trends, E3 looks at the games you will play on them. This year virtual reality had a pretty major presence, although the reduced appearance by Oculus was felt, presumably as they see how well their Oculus Go will sell.
Nevertheless, there is plenty to talk about and plenty of game reveals and news. Usually, we would do the top ten best bits of the show, but this time we are going to go through each conference and rate each VR announcement, with either a “Thumbs Up” “Thumbs Down” or “Thumbs in the Middle” rating
Before and amidst the grand industry conferences there were quite a few announcements by various companies who did have main conference time. There were some interesting things revealed, including quite a few major VR announcements.
Before E3 even kicked off there was already a pretty major reveal by Enhance Studios, Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s studio responsible for the phenomenal Rez Infinite. The spellbinding, psychedelic revolutionary game in question? Tetris Effect. Yes, everyone’s favourite Russian game about shapes and lines has been brought into VR in the most excitingly trippy way possible. Mizuguchi was also responsible for a number of fantastic puzzle games in his own right (Lumines) and with its current PSVR exclusivity, it has breathed some new life into the glowing headset.
Thumbs Way Up
The sequel/expansion to Ready at Dawn’s seminal floating VR eSport Echo Arena wasn’t really a huge announcement in itself. We knew it was on its way and we knew it was to be part of eLeague’s VR League season 2. However, they did announce an Open Beta was to be launched 21st July, which is pretty major, and we will soon see what lessons they’ve learned from the great Echo Arena.
Thumbs in the Middle – Not a major announcement but nice nonetheless
Zoink studios, makers of Stick it to the Man, Fe and a few other quite unusual games have really excelled themselves in terms of artistic design, uniqueness and plain adorableness with Ghost Giant. A puzzle adventure game of sorts, you play a ghost giant who befriends a lonely boy by the name of Louis, by solving problems, looking around and messing around with everything. It looks really sweet, and like Moss has you in the position of a guiding another character around indirectly, navigating the world and solving puzzles. It is unlikely to be a lengthy or particularly deep game but it is wonderful that VR devs have found a way to provide a connection between the player and the story without you having to be in the centre.
Hyperbolic Magnetism’s rhythm Jedi game has been turning heads since it’s unveiling and Early Access release on PC, for obvious reasons of being fantastic. The news here is that the game is coming to PSVR, which is exciting more because this is a game that perfectly fits PSVR’s capabilities and the social VR dynamic Sony have been attempting with the device since its unveiling. A reveal more than the sum of its parts
Thumbs in the Middle – Hopefully, will lead to a few more PSVR sales.
Table of Tales: The Crooked Crown
Tin Man Games, the Australian studio responsible for a lot of gamebook style fare like the Fighting Fantasy adaptations and the riotous To Be or Not to Be, unveiled something a little bit more ambitious than that in the form of VR tabletop RPG Table of Tales. The proof will obviously be in how the mechanics work, but the style and concept are already a winner here, especially as VR needs more tabletop games.
Dream Reality Interactive have fashioned quite a visually striking physics platformer with Arca’s Path. The big gimmick is a hands-free control system to control a sphere through levels, which immediately is bringing to mind the Monkey Ball series or Marble Madness. Stylistically it looks great, quite how the controls will work in practice is anyone’s guess.
Space Pirate Trainer
Here’s a blast from the past. I-Illusion’s Space Pirate Trainer is coming to PSVR. Yay? The game is fine, but it was fine on HTC Vive last October. It may do well at a decently low price, but it’s difficult to build up much in the way of hype for it.
Thumbs Down – It’s Space Pirate Trainer on PSVR. It’s nice but not exactly a big deal.
Jupiter and Mars
Laser Dolphins ahoy! Tantalus have unveiled an interesting little experience, mixing a bit of Abzu with a bit of Ecco the Dolphin and a lot of neon. Not much to glean in terms of how it will play but it certainly looks absolutely gorgeous. If it looks that good on release on PSVR, it will be an absolute winner.
Electronic Arts are not exactly known for VR, and 2018 is no exception here. Apparently, that would get in the way of Mobile Command and Conquer, FIFA and the increasingly underwhelming Anthem.
Thumbs Down – Obviously we can’t be too mad as EA have never had VR at any of their E3 conferences but still disappointing that there is no VR support for FIFA yet.
With Microsoft, you always feel like you’re so close to the big reveal of that Xbox One VR headset, but once again VR announcements eluded the announcement. Instead, we get a Funko Pop Gears of War game that boggles the mind, along with the trailer for the awesome Cyberpunk 2077, which has VR elements to it. That’s as close as we get to VR during this conference
Thumbs Down – An otherwise good conference but no VR is once again a disappointment
Bethesda and Zenimax are hardly strangers to VR, both in terms of bringing excellent AAA games to the platform and suing their former technical pioneer. This year was no exception, with Bethesda experimenting with different VR formats, release methods and IPs, hoping to find something that sticks. This year there isn’t anything that matches the reveal of Fallout 4 VR, but regardless it was a good showing for VR from Bethesda.
Prey – Typhon Hunter VR and TranStar VR
Announced as part of the Mooncrash DLC reveal for Prey, Typhon Hunter is a new game mode coming out this summer, which allows players to don their headsets and play as “Mimic” enemies that can disguise themselves as other in-game enemies. There is also a single player mode that lets people explore Talos I in VR. Nice that it’s free but the VR reveal was secondary to the other Mooncrash revelations.
Thumbs in the Middle – Nice that we are getting a VR mode for Prey, but it should have been a bigger deal.
Wolfenstein Cyberpilot is a standalone game in the Wolfenstein universe that lets you pilot a giant robot dog. Wolfenstein, in general, is full of really awesome set pieces, but the 80s aesthetic combined with VR and robot dogs makes this an experience to watch out for.
The Elder Scrolls Blades
The Elder Scrolls Blades is equally interesting and confusing at the same time. The first thing is this is one of six announcements made regarding the RPG series, however Blades was the most intriguing. It is a dungeon crawler set in the Elder Scrolls Universe, with mobile-focused controls, but at the same time is seemingly designed for scalability, working on high-end mobile phones, PC, as well as low to high-end VR. It’s an odd all-in-one approach you’re seeing in modern free-to-play mobile games where they attempt to run it on absolutely everything. Time will tell to see what the game is like, but if free to play RPGs aren’t your thing, you have The Elder Scrolls Legends card game, The Elder Scrolls Online expansion, Skyrim on every single thing ever, Elder Scrolls 6…
Thumbs in the Middle – Probably a more interesting format than a game, but more Elder Scrolls in VR is not a bad thing.
Overall, it was a Thumbs Up for having VR and trying new things with presenting it to people.
No VR from Devolver, but then again they get maybe 20 minutes to present and usually have a lot of crazy things they need to fit in. Metal Wolf Chaos getting a re-release is fantastic non-VR news.
Thumbs Down – Devolver usually deliver in terms of VR but not at E3
Square Enix had a packed showing at E3 this year, but they didn’t fit any VR among the tons of Kingdom Hearts 3 news. Disappointing for those Final Fantasy XV Monster of the Deep fans out there.
Thumbs Down – May be a case that we get VR extra content down the line like with Rise of the Tomb Raider.
Ubisoft got quite a bit right this year, with some unique curveballs amidst the usual franchise fare, including some very interesting looking VR games.
Spectravision, Elijah Wood’s production company have presented a rather interested VR/Live action hybrid, reminiscent of those old FMV adventure games in the 1990s. Except with actual gameplay. Absolutely one to watch this autumn
This Zero-G shooter looks like absolutely amazing fun if the flying control scheme and tracking on Rift was anywhere near as good as it looked in the beta trailer. Reminds me of Shattered Horizon or Echo Arena or the upcoming Skyfront.
Overall, it was very much a quality over quantity showing, just about getting a Thumbs Up for Transference alone.
PC Gaming Show
The PC Gaming Show, a multi-publisher event that showcases a lot of the best the PC has to offer was provided with the usual all-sorts approach, which included a few interesting VR games
Skydance Interactive’s giant robot piloting game has gone through a number of changes in its push towards a full release, including adding free roaming multiplayer to the on-rails shooter and bits and pieces of content. This was more of a re-introduction than a major announcement however and most of the content is already available in a 25th May patch.
Thumbs Down – Bit of a non-announcement.
Insomniac Games, makers of a number of great VR games such as the Unspoken, have been rather busy as of late with their latest project. Named Stormland, it is a first-person adventure about an android gardener in a lush yet harsh future landscape. Whilst the design is impressive, what is interesting is the ambitions of Insomniac to build the game with the intent for people to spend long periods of time in VR playing, as opposed to a series of short bursts as many high-end VR experiences are currently. As part of this, the movement and locomotion look astonishing, although as with any attempts in this field the proof will only be visible when we get our hands on it. Very exciting stuff.
Overall a Thumbs Down for a lack of explicit VR announcements, although the development hell-stricken Star Citizen is confirmed to get VR support eventually.
Sony, makers of PSVR have probably the biggest vested interest of all the companies with a conference spot, as their Playstation VR is the biggest selling tethered VR unit so far. In terms of announcements this year, it was certainly a downgrade from previous years, where half of their slot would be announcements for VR games, but there was still some interesting announcements and a feeling they still value VR.
Trover Saves the Universe
Rick and Morty’s co-creators, Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon have contributed quite a bit to VR already. As well as Virtual Rick-Ality and of course Roy: A Life Well Lived, Justin Roiland has created another VR game with their distinct style, Accounting. This latest game, Trover Saves the Universe, is a bit more involved than the typical room scale toys that characterise their games so far. It is a third person platformer with RPG elements with a familiar art style and sense of humour. Should be one to watch.
Probably the sleeper of the entire show, Dark Souls creators From Software have created their first VR experience. Set in a boarding school in the middle of nowhere, the player is a spirit that must cleverly interact with the students of the school in order to prove its existence and build bonds. This over the course of the game can change their fates. The sepia art style and floating almost fairytale aesthetic is really refreshing and it is so exciting to see how it will look in the PSVR headset.
Thumbs Way Up
The final thing from Sony was a showcase of a good number of PSVR games, some already announced earlier or even already released, but still interesting nevertheless. It featured clips of:
Trover Saves the Universe – Shown earlier in Sony’s Conference.
Tetris Effect – Revealed earlier at E3.
Moss – Beautiful adventure game that has already been released.
Ghost Giant – Revealed earlier at E3.
Beat Saber – Revealed earlier at E3.
Firewall Zero Hour – Revealed at last year’s E3, will be released later this year. Looks to potentially be a great shooter going forward.
DOOM VFR – Released last year, a great VR version of 2016’s frenetic DOOM.
Creed: Rise to Glory – Gameplay footage for a fun-looking boxing game.
Evasion – Intense VR FPS, to be released this Autumn.
Star Trek Bridge Crew – Already released, with Star Trek: The Next Generation DLC content released last month.
The Persistence – A Procedurally generated first-person stealth-horror game. Fascinating in concept will be interesting to see how it turns out when it comes out in late July.
Star Child – Revealed at last year’s E3, this cinematic platformer still wows, although a release date is still elusive.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR – Released last year, this port of Skyrim with motion controls and VR features is fascinating, although very much lacking in polish.
Jupiter and Mars – Revealed earlier at E3.
Astro Bot Rescue Mission – Sony’s Japan Studio have created a great looking VR platformer that was announced in May. One to watch.
Vacation Simulator – Announced in November, the sequel to Job Simulator looks every bit as fun and adorable as Job Simulator was.
Superhot VR – Already released and one of the best games on VR in general.
Overall, it is a Thumbs Up, with some great reveals hampered only by the limited amount of time VR received this year compared to last.
Nintendo once again didn’t mention virtual reality in their conference, so an automatic Thumbs Down from us. We can still dream of a Switch VR system.
E3 was on the whole an excellent show, with a lot of major releases, some surprises and a lot of bizarre events on stage, such as the bizarre but welcome performance by chronic partier Andrew WK.
For VR however, E3 was a mixed blessing this year, which in some respects is understandable. 2016 had a ton of reveals from very close to the launch of the three main VR systems, and last year had particularly grand showings from Sony and Bethesda. E3 comes in the wake of a new generation of headsets, both standalone and tethered, and people are left waiting to see which way the wind will blow on VR.
There was a lot of good that came from E3, with Bethesda having an excellent showing that proved VR was a big deal for them, although it remains to be seen whether they go in the direction of VR versions of established games, extra VR content available either at no cost or part of DLC packages, standalone content or as part of a wider-reaching free-to-play mobile strategy. Sony were as good as ever and showed that there was, in fact, a great breadth and variety to their VR strategy, even if they admit the market is less of a gold rush than expected. Tetris Effect from the utterly beloved Tetsuya Mizuguchi and Enhance games may end up a killer app for PSVR the way Rez Infinite was in 2016 and looks positively inspired. And Stormland from Insomniac has some rather large ambitions to push VR going forward from a series of small experiences to much more expansive games and experiences.
It is understandable to see some negatives among the positives though. VR is not seen as the lucrative future with immediate dividends that it was even as late as last year, as seen by Xbox’s lack of any announcement related to VR despite their Windows Mixed Reality push as well as Nintendo’s more explicit denials of VR for the Switch. The game releases themselves seemed to be smaller in scale, although in fairness given that the biggest games in terms of scope was a VR version of a 2-year-old game and a VR version of a 7-year-old game (that itself had been ported so often that it has become a joke), that may not be a fair comparison.
E3 for VR is important but given that VR’s ambitions go beyond video games, a building year with around the same number of games as last year shows stability, and other events like CES are better barometers of Virtual Reality. There is plenty to be excited about going forward.