Best of Electronic Entertainment Expo

Top of their game: 6 games that dazzled The Straits Times at E3

Here are six games that dazzled The Straits Times, from cyberpunk role-play to flying in an exo-suit

Can there be too much of a good thing? Last week's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), one of the world's biggest video-game showcases, must have seemed like that to attendees trying to take in everything, given the sheer number of quality titles it packed.

Games that were not quite ready, but showed great promise, were also shown at the annual event that was held at the Los Angeles Convention Center between June 12 and 14.

So coming up with a list of the best six games that knocked our socks off was very difficult.

It also meant that teasers that revealed very little - such as the highly anticipated Halo Infinite, Nioh 2, Starfield and The Elder Scrolls VI - were struck from our shortlist.

Here is what this writer thought of six of the most impressive games from E3, in no particular order.


1 GHOST OF TSUSHIMA


The game boasts lush visuals done with a cinematic flair that recalls the aesthetics of Zhang Yimou's 2002 film Hero. PHOTO: SONY

Platform: PlayStation 4

Release date: Not available

This open-world, third-person action adventure game set in feudal Japan on Tsushima island is a cut above the other samurai games shown at E3 for its stunning artistic style and focus on the samurai code.

The game boasts lush visuals done with a cinematic flair that recalls the aesthetics of Zhang Yimou's 2002 film Hero. For instance, a gameplay reveal trailer showed a side-quest battle under a maple tree - amid falling autumnal leaves and the setting sun - playing out like a dance awash in red and gold.

 

Not surprisingly, the game is inspired by the late director Akira Kurosawa's movies and the game world takes cues from the "sublime beauty of nature", according to developer Sucker Punch.

Weather and day/night cycles feature in the game, as well as a photo mode I will likely indulge in to take stunning in-game vista shots.

While no hands-on trial was available at E3, the trailer showed off plenty of visceral katana action.

Besides slashing, stabbing, blocking, parrying and countering enemy attacks in bloody fashion - there is dismemberment - with the traditional Japanese sword, the hero can strike down a foe with one blow, but this requires "lethal precision".

More combat moves and weapons will become available as the game progresses, but do not expect Ghost Of Tsushima to be as punishingly difficult as FromSoftware's action role-playing game Bloodborne.

You can sneak up on enemies to take them down instantly in quick succession if your timing is good. This may require getting into position by climbing up roofs with the help of a grappling hook, then dropping down to assassinate foes.

Gamers can also choose between English or Japanese voiceovers in the final game.

Unlike the trailer, the game will have a heads-up display. However, Sucker Punch said the interface will not be all over the screen and might get even less intrusive, which is great news.


2 CYBERPUNK 2077


Customise your own character in role-playing game Cyberpunk 2077, which brings to mind science-fiction movies. PHOTO: CD PROJEKT RED

Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One

Release date: Not available

One of the most talked about games at E3, Cyberpunk 2077 is a roleplaying game (RPG) from developer CD Projekt Red (CDPR) of The Witcher 3 fame.

It is a very ambitious title that is shaping up to be a love letter to science-fiction movies such as Blade Runner (1982) and Ghost In The Shell (1995).

Cyberpunk is set in a violent and dangerous American metropolis called Night City. Based on a demo from the developer (no hands-on trial was available), the game is not afraid of tackling adult and mature themes.

In it, you create and customise your own character without a specific job or class and play in first person, except in driving sequences (no word on driving a flying car yet) and cut-scenes.

I prefer third-person games, but Cyberpunk's first-person perspective could immerse players.

For example, a sequence where you buy an eye implant is not your usual shopping affair. The entire process is animated from your character's perspective, as if you are getting your eye plucked out and replacing it with a new one.

Then there is the game's sense of scale and attention to detail. Night City looks huge, with soaring buildings, and feels lived in, with its many denizens and urban details.

There is also a decidedly 1980s retro-futuristic look to the game's technology, such as its cars, that I love.

Missions can be dealt with in multiple ways and unpredictable situations do play out.

Combatwise, it is like a first-person shooter. But being an RPG first, CDPR said there will be other combat options for players who are not great at shooting, but love RPGs.

Besides taking cover and gunning down foes, you can also use swords and ricochet bullets off walls to hit enemies hiding behind cover.

If CDPR's demo is anything to go by, there is certainly much to be hopeful about Cyberpunk 2077.


3 FORZA HORIZON 4


The Forza Horizon 4 racing game is set in Britain and looks different and plays differently when the seasons change. PHOTO: MICROSOFT

Platform: PC, Xbox One

Release date: Oct 2

The latest entry in the popular arcade racing series is shifting into high gear with English charms, seasons that change weekly and more than 450 cars to choose from.

Set in Britain with race courses in the Lake District, Edinburgh and other locations, Forza Horizon 4 looks different and plays differently when the seasons change, and comes with seasonal events too.

The demo I tried started in autumn, with quaint British homes and trees draped in gorgeous red and gold lining a countryside track, a pretty scene that can be snapped with the final game's photo mode.

But when the demo moved to a rainy, spring level with lush green trees and a muddy dirt track, the course became more slippery.

The wet surface I drove on could be the culprit, but the new vehicle I was in could have played a part too.

Developer Playground Games said temperature affects surfaces in Horizon 4, like in the more realistic Forza Motorsport games, so changes to the time of day and the weather - which make a return from Horizon 3 - can affect car manoeuvrability.

It added that new racing routes, such as one running across a frozen lake in winter, may open up when the seasons change.

The game is playable solo and offline, but can be tackled online with other gamers.

And unlike the previous game, you can now create truly custom race tracks from scratch to share with others.

While Horizon 4 promises goals, for instance becoming a top car painter, and allows you to buy homes, the biggest draw for me is still the driving.

Cars handle tightly and drifting is a breeze, although driving assists could have been switched on during my demo.

There is a new rewind feature to undo mistakes you have made, but as cool as this sounds, blunders such as crashing into low stone walls are oddly enjoyable.


4 SUPER SMASH BROS ULTIMATE


Super Smash Bros Ultimate features the biggest cast in the series, with more than 60 playable characters from a multitude of games. PHOTO: NINTENDO

Platform: Switch

Release date: Dec 7

Nintendo's latest entry in the hit Smash fighting games boasts the biggest roster yet, with more than 60 playable characters taken from a multitude of games.

They include all the characters from previous Smash games - such as Mario, three versions of Link and Metal Gear Solid's Snake - as well as two new ones, the dragon-like Ridley from the Metroid series and the Inkling squid kid from the Splatoon games.

Other tweaks include rebalancing and retooling the moves of all characters; making you prone to attacks if you dodge too much; and much faster final smash attacks so you can get back to pummelling your foes faster.

Details on the single-player or party modes of Ultimate are still unclear. But going by a brief hands-on I had, expect the same responsive, fast-paced high-octane fun and craziness.

You are pitted against up to eight players in a side scrolling battlefield, with many returning stages and two new ones from Breath Of The Wild and Splatoon.

Like past Smash games, there are perks and hazards to look out for, such as the stage turning upside down or becoming partially obscured by a cute puppy that appears out of nowhere.

Ultimate feels like a souped-up version of the Wii U version of Super Smash Bros. But it might not matter that the game has not changed that much, because the Wii U game's audience was limited by the console's poor sales and Ultimate is just so much fun.


5 ANTHEM


What sets Anthem apart from other shooters is flight - you control an exo-suit to run, hover and fly around. PHOTO: ELECTRONIC ARTS

Platform: PC, PlayStation4, Xbox One

Release date: Feb 22, 2019

There might be concerns about its development, but BioWare's online third-person, role-playing shooter Anthem is turning out pretty well.

From its controls, gunplay, graphics and music, there is a lot to like about it, going by a demo I tried.

What sets Anthem apart from other shooters is flight - you control an exo-suit to run, hover and fly around in the game's open world.

Moving in the mechanical suit is incredible - it is very responsive and empowering and I feel like I am Iron Man from the Marvel movies.

One moment, I can be sprinting on the ground, the next, double-jumping and hovering in mid-air. With a button press, I am soaring over treetops, while tapping another button makes me perform a barrel roll.

The game's lush, vibrant and inspired world also makes flying a real treat, with no visible loading screens to break the immersion.

To limit the heroics you can do, your suit heats up over time in the air, so you will need to land to cool off.

Engaging enemies with guns, grenades and even a super attack is fuss-free fun that is fairly fast-paced and exciting, although the demo's difficulty might have been deliberately dialled down.

You can fire while hovering, which means you can reposition yourself in the air to aim at enemies more easily.

By chaining attacks, you can deal more damage too. This might be easier to do by teaming with up to three players, though you can still play solo.

For your troubles, the game has a bevy of loot, but there are no loot boxes with random rewards.

There is no player-versus-player mode in Anthem, so hopefully, this means less balancing woes.

I would love to know how the game's narrative plays out when it is released.


6 THE LAST OF US PART II


The first game's female protagonist, Ellie, takes the lead in the zombie-infested, post-apocalyptic world of The Last Of Us Part II. PHOTO: SONY 

Platform: PlayStation 4

Release date: Not available

This upcoming third-person action adventure game is a sequel to 2013's The Last Of Us, which is set in a zombie-infested, post-apocalyptic world with personal stories and dilemmas.

The second game looks to up the gore factor, going by last week's E3 gameplay reveal trailer, with bloody jabs at foes, gut-spilling and more.

There were no opportunities to try the game, but going by the trailer and interviews, it puts you in control of the first game's female protagonist, Ellie, who looks more grown up, a lot more hardened, and has a love interest to boot.

Developer Naughty Dog said she is the only playable character in the game. Expect her adoptive father Joel, the main character from the first game, to also be in the sequel.

Several mechanics from the first game return here with tweaks.

You can sneak and hide under vehicles when discovered by enemies, though they can still flush you out.

Item crafting has been overhauled and looks easier to pull off.

Ellie can take out enemies with a well-aimed arrow shot from afar, and when foes get too close, she can disarm them and hit back.

And, boy, can she hit back. She strikes with a brutality that might be alarming, but understandable, due to the events of the first game.

Enemies have new tricks too - they are said to be smarter now and some can fire arrows.

If Ellie gets hit, it affects her aiming. Other ailments can afflict her as well. Fortunately, she can deftly dodge enemy attacks and, apparently, the fluid combat moves in the trailer are not scripted.

Multi-player mode will also be returning, but there are no details for now.

How the game handles its characters and story could be the deal breaker for players who value good storytelling. But going by reactions to the E3 trailer, many gamers have already been won over.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2018, with the headline 'Top of their game'. Print Edition | Subscribe