The annual E3 Show in Los Angeles is the most significant event on the games industry’s calendar – it’s where the next crop of blockbusters are revealed for the first time, and often the first place we get to play them. 2016’s show, according to consensus, was something of a classic and there's no denying the fact that there were a large number of very fine titles on show.
Before the show got going in earnest, the big players tried to outdo each other with the customary round of razzmatazz-filled press conferences. For our money, Microsoft won those exchanges, announcing a new console, codenamed Project Scorpio, which will arrive at the end of 2017 and bring with it full 4K TV output and some (as yet unspecified) element of upgradability. Sony acknowledged that it is working on a similar uprated version of the PlayStation 4, called PS4 Neo, but refused to talk any more about it. Sony’s message at the press conference was that it was concentrating on the games but then, oddly, it seemed reluctant to show us any of them.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
To describe the next instalment in the legendary Zelda series as “much anticipated” would be an understatement. We’ll still have to wait until some unspecified time in 2017 to buy it, but having – finally – played it, we can confirm that it adds plenty of new aspects to a much-loved formula. In Breath of the Wild, a teenage Link wakes after 100 years in suspended animation, to find Hyrule terrorised by an evil demon called Calamity Ganon, currently imprisoned in Hyrule castle.
Hyrule is now a gorgeous-looking land (the game has lush, impressionistic cel-shaded graphics) which, for the first time in a Zelda game, you can wander around seamlessly. Another major change sees the abandonment of health-restoring hearts; instead, you must collect food, cook it on fires and combine objects using a crafting engine. Link has some new moves, too, such as the ability to jump on his shield as if it were a snowboard and slide down inclines.
The next instalment of Electronic Arts’ sandbox multiplayer shooter has all the ingredients for smash-hit status. Using developer Dice’s amazing Frostbite engine – which powered Star Wars Battlefront – it recreates World War I in a brutally realistic manner.
We played 64-player multiplayer, although we're assured that, unlike previous Battlefield games, Battlefield 1 will have a meaty single-player experience, taking in various locations inlcuding Arabia. The multiplayer, which we experienced on a huge map in a French village, in which there were six objectives to secure, is thrillingly full-on. As ever, you can jump into tanks, armoured cars, biplanes and even, if your side is losing, a giant Zeppelin; everything is fully destructible, so what started off as a village ended as a pile of rubble. Will Battlefield 1 end Call of Duty’s traditional dominance of this year’s Christmas games charts? it's a distinct possibility.
Ghost Recon Wildlands
Due in March 2017, Wildlands goes a long way towards reinventing Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy-branded tactical squad-based shooter. It’s set in a parallel universe in which a Colombian drug cartel, in conjunction with a corrupt government, has effectively taken control of Bolivia – so the elite Ghosts are fighting the military and a drug cartel.
Wildlands is a fully open world game, set in the biggest game-world Ubisoft has ever constructed. You play as a member of a four-man squad, which can be populated with AI players or real humans, with the latter dropping in and out as they please. It’s much more action-oriented (you can, for example, parachute out of helicopters) and pick-up-and-play than previous instalments of Ghost Recon, and proved an absolute joy to play.
Gears of War 4
We didn’t get to play the latest instalment of the third-person cover-shooter, but a hands-off demo confirmed that its gameplay will be much more varied than that of its predecessors – one sequence, for example, saw you and your squad struggling against a raging storm, and using the environment to take out enemies.
Gears of War games have always had finely-honed control systems, but weighed against that have been clichéd characterisation and gameplay that eventually started to feel monotonous. But Gears of War 4 appears to have avoided falling into those traps this time around.
Resident Evil 7
Prepare to be terrified: after a couple of much-criticised forays into more action-oriented gameplay, the seventh instalment of Resident Evil is returning to its survival-horror roots. The demo of the game which we played at E3 sees three ghost-hunters enter a haunted house, only for death and general scariness to ensue.
It has been suggested that Resident Evil 7 is reminiscent of the Silent Hill games. One thing is for sure: it will be very, very scary. And you can sample it right now: the E3 demo is available for free download to your PlayStation 4.
Watch Dogs 2
The first Watch Dogs promised much but ultimately failed to deliver; however, we have very high hopes for its successor. Set in a brilliantly realistic San Francisco, it casts you as hacker Marcus Holloway, righting the world’s wrongs via his work for hacking organisation Dedsec.
With great gadgets, sandbox gameplay which lets you take a variety of approaches and a really cool vibe in terms of visuals and humour, Watch Dogs 2 has clearly eliminated the first game’s major drawbacks, including dodgy car handling and an unsympathetic main character. Watch Dogs 2 felt inventive, absorbing and likely to be a big hit.
Forza Horizon 3
The third version of Microsoft’s open-world arcade-style driving game sees the Horizon circus move to Australia: a gorgeous-looking backdrop for its customary extreme petrol-head antics. If anything, it’s even more over-the-top than its predecessors. Not only does it put you in some of the world’s most exotic machinery, but we found ourselves, at one point, racing against a car which was suspended from a helicopter. Gloriously bonkers, and fabulous to behold.
For Honor is an up-close-and-personal sword-fighting game, in a world in which knights, samurais and vikings are locked in a constant cycle of war. Which proves to be brilliant fun, since For Honor is one of the first games ever to crack the conundrum of creating a control system that really lets you feel as though you have a sword (or axe, or katana) in your hand.
With four quadrants representing different angles of attack mapped to the controller’s right stick, it makes sword fighting feel intuitive. And with a close-in camera and plenty of action-adventure elements, it really sucks you into its mediaeval-style world.
Bethesda Softworks’ inventive assassin-game is set to return this November with lush new visuals and the chance to play as Emily Kaldwin – daughter of Corvo Attano and the assassinated Empress – and her dad, each with different skills and play-styles. It promises to be every bit as hardcore and steampunk as the original.
The third chunk of 2K Games’ much-loved evocation of the murky world of the American mob takes place in 1968, and adopts an unusual spin on the mafia-game blueprint. That’s because you play Lincoln Clay, a Vietnam vet returning to the fictional city of New Bordeaux, who is on a quest to avenge the death of his friends at the hands of the mob. So for once, you’re fighting wiseguys, rather than becoming one.
Mafia III looks incredible, with lashings of Swinging Sixties atmosphere, and has some great voice-acting and characterisations. The Mafia franchise has been regarded as something of a cult-favourite in the past, but Mafia III could take it into the mainstream.
Sniper Elite 4
If sniping is your thing, then you’re in for a treat: the fourth version of British developer Rebellion’s Sniper Elite is by far its best yet. Set in World War II Italy – although you’re mainly taking down Nazis – it’s utterly rigorous, with pretty tough AI, requiring you to mix your sniping up with setting traps and stealth sequences. Basically, it casts you as a one-man army. Hard, but very rewarding.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole
Once again, Matt Stone and Trey Parker have been exercising their games development muscles, and their second South Park game was by far the funniest (and filthiest) on show at E3. Careful how you pronounce its name… This time around, you again play the new guy. But as a superhero – Cartman, Kyle, Stan and co have been off on one of their superhero flights of fancy, and have fallen out due to disputes over which of them should get their own movies, and which should be banished to Netflix. So they have split into two groups and are fighting each other.
The Fractured But Whole is another homage to old-skool RPGs, but the second wave this time, so while it’s still turn-based, you can move around and employ more strategies in combat. Plus, of course, outrageous superhero moves. Likely to be the funniest game you will play this year.
We Happy Few
This hitherto obscure download game – from Compulsion, the Montreal-based developer behind the early PlayStation Plus game Contrast – created quite a stir at Microsoft’s press conference (it will launch first on the Xbox One). A bizarre, dystopian survival-game, influenced by the likes of Brave New World, 1984, Brazil, A Clockwork Orange and (we kid you not) Dad’s Army, it casts you as wage-slave Arthur Hastings, who stops taking the Joy pills distributed by the government and is cast into a hostile, but amusingly 60s-style world, branded as a “downer”.
We Happy Few is surprisingly high-tech – it makes use of procedural generation to make sure that no two people who play it will have the same experience. And it is both hilarious and thought-provoking. Our standout as the best indie game on show at E3.