High sea pirate adventures, supernatural action and overblown anime fights collide at E3 2018

Made by Ubisoft Singapore, Skull & Bones will be released sometime between 2019 and 2020. PHOTO: UBISOFT
Made by Ubisoft Singapore, Skull & Bones will be released sometime between 2019 and 2020. PHOTO: UBISOFT

LOS ANGELES - From battles on the high seas to fighting possessed agents in a shape-shifting building and brawling with super humans and aliens in New York City, the recent Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) showed off games that appeal to a wide range of gamers.

For players who like more strategy in their action games and love pirate adventures, there's Skull & Bones.

Fans of horror and all things supernatural might take a liking to Control where players use a transforming gun and psychic abilities to battle an unknown threat.

And for anime and manga fans who adore bombastic, high-octane action, there's plenty of that in Jump Force.

Here's a look at what we thought of these three games that were shown off during E3 from June 12 to 14 at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Skull & Bones

Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One

Release date: 2019

This multiplayer online pirate ship game was one of the surprises to come out of E3 last year, more so since developer Ubisoft's studio in Singapore is taking the lead on it.

From my brief hands-on with the game, in which you play as a captain commanding a pirate ship in the 18th century, it's easy to see why there's still so much interest in the game, even at E3 this year.

The demo I tried gave me a number of ships I could choose from with different attributes, such as how much damage they could take before sinking and their sailing speeds.

Ubisoft said that the game's various ships resemble the archetypes in role-playing games, such as tanks (that can soak up a lot of damage) and damage dealers.

Entering the game world, I was struck by how good it looks and sounds - the sea looks incredible with its believable wave animations, and the crack of my ship's cannons as they fire is satisfying.

You control your ship with your captain in third-person view while sailing, but as you attack other ships with your craft's cannons, the camera moves and zooms in on your firing weapons, which causes the perspective to shift slightly to something more akin to a first-person shooter.

If you fire your cannons or secondary rocket weapons in quick succession, the game puts them on a quick cooldown to simulate reloads, quite similar to what you get in some other shooters.

Each ship has a special attack, too. Ramming enemy ships in the demo was very fun, so smashing opponents with my ship's souped up ramming special attack was a blast. To balance its power, such an attack goes on a longer cooldown before it can be reactivated.

But what sets Skull & Bones apart from other shooters is manoeuvrability - the lumbering weight of your ship means that you can't move or turn corners as quickly as players in a standard shooter.

So, if you need to double back to open a second round of fire against an enemy ship after your initial approach, it'll take a while to get your ship back into firing position.

Also, the wind can slow you down if you're against it, or give you a speed boost if it's in your favour.

This all means the pace of Skull & Bones' action is a tad slower, but feels more considered and strategic than typical shooters. And figuring out how it all comes together is a lot of fun to boot.

It helps that the game's controls do a good job at adding a certain heft when steering your ship to create the illusion of being on an actual pirate ship, while not making the experience feel lethargic at the same time.

The demo allowed me to freely explore the sea, too, and I could go off to search shipwrecks, battle other players, or even work with them to tackle mission objectives.

The shipwreck I found offered some loot but going by Ubisoft's gameplay trailer, others may allow you to find materials to disguise your vessel to pass off as another ship and sneak past certain enemy ships.

While I didn't get to experience co-op in my playthrough, Ubisoft's trailer showed that you could band with other players to take down a tough enemy ship, with a beefier vessel drawing enemy fire while the rest swoop in for the kill.

But the game isn't just about naval battles. You can also get new ships and customise your vessels in several ways, such as by tweaking a ship's weapons, crew, captain and other physical features such as the figure head adorning the prow of the vessel.

There are some doubts, however, such as what else gamers can do in the game to keep them sticking around, and how loot boxes with random rewards work in the game, although Ubisoft did say last year that it's avoiding a pay-to-win scenario.

Still, the game looks promising, going by the enjoyable demo so here's hoping Ubisoft can deliver a solid adventure on the high seas.

Control

Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One

Release date: 2019

While Control might not have impressed me the most at E3, it was the game that intrigued me the most, in part because it felt fresh.

Control is, in a word, weird. The third-person action-adventure shooter is a bit like The X-Files meets X-Men, something I haven't seen in a while.

You play as Jesse Faden, the new director of the Federal Bureau of Control, a mysterious government organisation that deals with the supernatural.

Based in a sprawling New York building called The Oldest House, the bureau is under threat from a force or entity called the Hiss that's corrupting bureau agents.

You have to wrest control of The Oldest House back from the Hiss and, in the process, learn how to control your own supernatural abilities - at least that's what developer Remedy of Max Payne and Alan Wake fame said of the game's name.

There is an otherworldly quality that permeates various facets of the game, going by what I saw in a trailer and a hands-off demo.

The most obvious is the game's arresting visuals - a starkly lit corridor can twist and warp into a beautiful but freaky spiralling tunnel, while afflicted agents in an office float in an unsettling, trance-like state in the air.

Opening doors and paths in The Oldest House - called a world within a location - can also lead to unexpected places, such as a motel hallway that's very out of place in what I wrongly assumed initially was a standard office complex.

In many ways, the game reminds me of the reality-bending scenes from the movies Inception and Dr Strange.

Combat in the demo with possessed agents and flying spectral horrors happens in short bursts that involves a lot of shooting with Jesse's shape-shifting pistol that can transform into what's essentially a close-range, high-damage shotgun.

Jesse also wields psychic powers that change things up from your standard shooter, and it all looks very kinetic when you throw in the gunplay, with some neat environment destruction along the way.

In between shots, Jesse can lift objects like a door or chair with an invisible force to hurl at enemies like in Star Wars; create a shield of debris to protect herself from hits; quickly dodge with inhuman speed; and levitate across gaping spaces or reach a location high up.

Levitation can also be used during fights to quickly get away from enemies as well as attack from the air, while looking really cool at the same time.

But there are limits to Jesse's super-hero antics, as Remedy said using her abilities does drain resources.

There are also side-quests to tackle and Remedy said these missions have stories tied to the main plot.

After the main game, the developer added that you can engage in end-game content and challenges. There will also be multiplayer available in Control, though details were scant.

While I didn't get to see this, Remedy said Jesse's gun and abilities can be powered up, with new gun forms to unlock, too. She can learn new abilities from ancient artefacts as well, which can allow her to access areas previously inaccessible.

Remedy said that Control has a twisted story and is the most ambitious game it has made so far. With its eerie locations, crazy telekinetic powers and freaky enemies, this is one game to watch.

Jump Force

Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One

Release date: 2019

I have a soft spot for over-the-top anime action, so fighting game Jump Force was my guilty pleasure during E3.

The game is a tribute title to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the popular Japanese Weekly Shonen Jump magazine, which has featured many notable manga like Dragon Ball Z, Naruto and One Piece.

Not surprisingly, fan favourites from those comics take the stage in Jump Force, such as Dragon Ball Z's Goku and Frieza; Naruto's titular character and Sasuke; One Piece's Luffy and Zoro; and Bleach's Ichigo - it's like an action anime fan's dream come true.

The stages where players battle are modelled after real-world locations, such as New York City's Times Square and the Swiss Alps.

Unlike other fighting games like Street Fighter, Jump Force allows you to choose three characters to battle your opponent's own team of three. You control one combatant at any one time but characters can be easily swapped out with a button press, although they all share the same health bar. Once that bar depletes, you lose the round.

Skirmishes take place in third person in a fairly large 3D stage, unlike the smaller 2D, side-scrolling nature of Street Fighter games' levels.

While this adds an extra dimension to brawls in Jump Force because you can dodge in various directions to avoid hits, it doesn't matter much because the camera is mostly locked onto your target so it's difficult to lose sight of your foe, going by a demo I tried and videos I've seen.

Also, you can dash very quickly towards your enemy to land blows so this negates the size of the arena to an extent, although its scale sets the stage for mind-boggling action.

Extra care was taken to ensure almost every action and move is exaggerated in ridiculous anime fashion - a dash results in the air blurring in the direction your character moves, while a punch results in sparks and energy particles exploding in your opponent's face.

You can chain a series of punches and kicks into a combo by pretty much mashing attack buttons - there are your usual light and heavy attacks - and it's not very complex. Swapping characters also allows you to chain more combo attacks.

You can block, too, though timing it right allows you to perform a counter attack.

And then there are the special moves which seem to be faithfully recreated from their manga and anime counterparts, like Goku's kamekameha energy blast attack.

Pulling them off is extremely easy. Once a special meter has filled up, press a couple of buttons and, voila, you rain down massive destruction and explosions on your enemy.

Characters can also enter a more powerful state, called "awakening", after another bar fills up. In Goku's case, this means turning into his super saiyan form. Awakenings are also very easy to activate with a button press and allow characters to execute more jawdropping attacks.

If it's not already evident, Jump Force is fan service in extreme overload. Fights are fluid, fast-paced, smoothly animated and spectacularly flashy affairs that could have come right out of an episode of an anime.

The game's simplistic nature, for now at least, might turn off more serious fighting game veterans. But for everyone else, it's a lot of silly fun.