Since 2019 things haven’t looked exactly rosy for E3. Following its cancellation courtesy of COVID in 2020, the trade show briefly returned in 2021 as the virtual ‘Electronic Entertainment Experience’. Its 2022 edition was skipped entirely, while this year’s iteration, intended to be its first physical event in four years, was axed at the last minute due to a lack of interest from major publishers. Some mourned its loss. Others responded with a shrug of indifference.
It’s hardly surprising given that E3’s absence has allowed online events to flourish. Take Sony, for example. After opting out of E3 in 2019, they’ve since been keeping fans up to date via their semi-regular State of Play showcases, while Microsoft have since adopted a similar format in the shape of the Xbox Games Showcase. More on that later.
Nintendo, meanwhile, are remaining extremely Nintendo about things, marching to the beat of their own drum and keeping things suitably unpredictable with their now legendary Nintendo Direct - its contents regularly guaranteed to be the subject of fierce speculation in the run up to broadcast.
So, with the big three accounted for, where does this leave the wider industry?
Enter Geoff Keighley
Now in its fourth year, Summer Game Fest was conceived by games industry legend Geoff Keighley in response to the cancellation of E3 and Gamescom during the pandemic and takes place over multiple live streams showcasing a variety of announcements, ranging from new releases, updates and hardware.
The 2023 edition saw Ubisoft kicking things off with the reveal of Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown, which sees the series returning to its 2D roots. This was followed by announcements for new titles, including Saber Interactive’s chaotic collaboration with legendary horror director John Carpenter, Toxic Commando and The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria, a new survival-crafting game from Free Range Games.
We found out that co-op actioner Remnant 2, published by Gearbox, launches in just a few months. Be sure to mark July 25 in the diary. Its new gameplay trailer showed off a bunch of new locations we can expect to explore, all of which will be procedurally generated. We spent hours with its predecessor, so we can’t wait to get our hands on it. It also has a dog in it. Woof.
PlayStation fans were treated to the long-awaited announcement of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, the second instalment in the three-part Final Fantasy VII remake series, which arrives in early 2024 on PlayStation 5. Meanwhile, Bryan Intihar, Insomniac Games’ creative director, shared the release date for one of the year’s biggest releases: Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. It swings on to PlayStation 5 exclusively on October 20 and already looks like a massive hit in the making.
Perhaps the most exciting reveal came courtesy of Remedy Entertainment’s creative director Sam Lake, who showcased the first gameplay footage of Alan Wake II. A story 13 years in the making, it marks the first time that the Finnish studio have tackled the horror genre, having dabbled in neo-noir, action-adventure and sci-fi to great success over the years. Also interesting to note is Remedy’s intention to forgo a physical release - they posit that many players have already opted for digital only purchases. Whether this will catch on for other studios remains to be seen.
While the games on show were plentiful, there’s something to be said for the lack of representation on display. Several publications noted that only men took to the stage for the entire duration of the show, which felt like a bit of a disservice to the industry at large.
X Gon' Give It To Ya
If Summer Game Fest was largely geared around updates and announcements regarding titles that we already knew about, Microsoft’s Xbox Games Showcase delivered the goods in terms of surprises - and new titles. Featuring 11 games from first-party studios and 13 from third-party studios, it was clear from the outset that Microsoft meant business.
An impressive in-engine trailer for the latest instalment of the beloved Fable franchise showcased an uncannily realistic CGI Richard Ayoade as a giant who is - we assume - taken down by a plucky heroine. It was a fantastic reminder that games are allowed to - and really should - have more of a sense of humour about them.
New titles included South of Midnight from Compulsion Games, announced via a stunning Henry Sellick-esque CGI trailer. We’re not quite sure what it is yet, but we know that we want it. The eighth Forza Motorsport was also announced, along with a brand new Flight Simulator, which boasts an unexpected expansion in the form of a collaboration with the Dune franchise. We have no idea how they keep this franchise looking as good as it does, but we’re certainly not complaining.
inXile Entertainment debuted Clockwork Revolution, a time-bending steampunk first-person RPG, which had more than a whiff of Bioshock Infinite about it. Obsidian Entertainment showed off Avowed, a brand new RPG, which takes place in the same universe as their Pillars of Eternity franchise, while 33 Immortals from Thunder Lotus Games very much piqued our interest. It’s a top-down co-op action-roguelike that, as its name would suggest, supports 33 players. We’re looking forward to seeing how this works in practice.
As expected, Starfield took centre stage, garnering its own standalone event immediately after the Xbox Games Showcase. Much has been made of the fact that it’s Bethesda’s first new IP in 25 years and it looks like fertile ground for the studio to expand on all the aspects that made the likes of Oblivion, Skyrim and Fallout so compelling. It’s going to be amazing.
We also got trailers for Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty, a brand new expansion introduced by none other than Keanu Reeves himself and the reveal of an expansion for Overwatch 2 that adds story missions into the mix. Microsoft also rounded things off with the announcement of new hardware - the Carbon Black Xbox Series S, which launches later this year.
Let’s push things forward
Weird dated references to The Streets aside, Ubisoft Forward was a much-needed showcase for a number of reasons - not least the fact that Ubisoft teased us with a CG trailer for Star Wars Outlaws at the Xbox Games Showcase. Here we caught a glimpse of the game in action, with Ubisoft dedicating a hefty 10-minute segment to our heroine dealing with a heist gone awry. If Respawn Entertainment’s Star Wars Jedi series is focused on serious thrills, this very much looks set to put the emphasis on fun.
In terms of big hitters, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, the movie tie-in was revealed to be launching this December. It’s a first-person action adventure and looks like a very pretty-looking Far Cry with blue people in it.
We were also given an extended look at Assassin's Creed Mirage, which focused on the series’ return to stealth mechanics. It takes place in 19th century Baghdad and launches in October. We were also treated to a teaser for Assassin's Creed Nexus, the franchise's first foray into VR, which doesn’t have a release date yet. The trailer was entirely CGI, so it’s tricky to know how this one will play - but we’re interested to see more.
Other reveals included the release date for The Crew Motorfest, the racing series’ third instalment, which launches in September, XDefiant, Ubisoft's upcoming free-to-play FPS, which arrives this summer and The Division: Resurgence, a mobile game based on the popular co-op shooter franchise.
We also learned that the upcoming open beta for the long-delayed Skull and Bones will arrive this August. It was accompanied by an ill-advised musical performance, which reminded us that sea shanties were best-left to pandemic induced lockdowns or, at a push, replays of Assassin’s Creed Black Flag.
Direct and (sort of) to the point
Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you won’t need us to tell you that no one does industry showcases quite like Devolver Digital. Since they first stepped into the game with their so-called ‘Big Fancy Press Conference’ in 2017, Devolver’s satirical spin on the tired format, which often descends into violence, has ensured that Devolver Direct has become the must-see industry event.
As much a showcase of their defiant, bullish personality as a showcase of their incredible roster of upcoming games, the 2023 edition saw Devolver upping the stakes with a presentation from ‘Volv-E’, a tech company that sees developers as surplus to requirements thanks to "generative algorithms and deep-learning techniques". A timely parody indeed.
When it came to the games, there was plenty to get excited about. Baby Steps, which is quite literally a walking simulator, sees players taking control of a “failson” called Nate, who has never taken a single step in his life. Think QWOP, but if it was a 3D platformer. And if awkwardness is your thing, then you’re in luck - Devolver also announced the development of Human Fall Flat 2, which promises to be a "bigger, better, and clumsier sequel". We’re looking forward to tearing our hair out playing both.
Speaking of sequels, The Talos Principle 2, which launches later this year, follows up the beloved 2014 first-person puzzler. This trailer accompanied the one shown at Summer Game Fest, revealing more quirky mechanics and mad puzzles. We also got to see a bit of gameplay for Wizard With a Gun, an online cooperative sandbox survival game that pits players against dangerous creatures in a magical wilderness as you gather resources to survive. The art style here looks absolutely gorgeous.
The devs will walk the earth
Day of the Devs, brought to us by Double Fine and iam8bit, shone a much-needed light on the smaller devs who are arguably doing some of the most inventive stuff in the business. There was so much to get excited about here and it’s fantastic to see this level of support for the titles on show. It seems kind of unfair to single things out here, but that’s exactly what we’re going to do.
Heart Machine’s Hyper Light Breaker, published by Gearbox, is the hotly anticipatedfollow up to 2016’s Hyper Light Drifter. It’s a procedurally-generated 3D co-opadventure set in the same universe and we were treated to footage of the game’sco-op rogue-lite gameplay, which looks absolutely gorgeous. It’s set to enterEarly Access later in the year. They already had us at ‘procedurally-generated’.As an aside, be sure to check out our Edge cover from earlier this year.
We also got a new gameplay trailer for Viewfinder from Sad Owl Studios, a mind-bending first person adventure in which players solve puzzles by bringing pictures to life by placing them into the world. Think Superliminal, but with a polaroid camera. It looks set to be a gorgeously contemplative experience and has an art style to die for. It’s set to be released on PlayStation 5 on July 18 and a demo is available now.
Speaking of beautiful games, Summerhill, the new title from Land & Sea, the creators of Alto's Adventure and Alto's Odyssey, sees players assuming the role of a young shepard who is accompanied by his faithful pooch. There’s no release date yet for this one, but its gameplay promises an engrossing journey across a lush pastoral landscape as you seek to reunite your scattered flock and uncover mysteries.
Finally, Inspired by the old school skating thrills of the Tony Hawk franchise, Helskate is a skateboarding action roguelite from Danish developer Phantom Coast. It sees players using their gnarly skills to take down the monsters of Vertheim and, in the face of death, learning from their mistakes and doing it all over again. It enters Early Access in early 2024 and, along with the re-launch of the Skate franchise and Devolver Digital’s Skate Story, it very much looks set to scratch that skateboarding itch. Rad.
Special thanks to Gamesindustry.biz for their brilliant ‘Microcast’ summaries of each of the showcases, which are well worth your time. Be sure to check them out here .