“We’ve Got a City to Burn” – The Best of E3 2019

While in recent years the E3 conference may have devolved from a beautiful smorgasbord showcasing dozens of new, innovative games worth getting excited over to a deflating hype machine populated largely by AAA corporations almost exclusively churning out sequels, updates, and other creatively bankrupt enterprises, each year there are a few games here and there that catch our sleepless eyes. So, for those of you who slept straight through this year’s E3 and steered clear of coverage until now, here’s a quick recap.

Cyberpunk 2077 Now Has a Fitting Release Date, Features Keanu Reeves

CD Projekt Red has finally given us some more news, with an updated trailer released last Tuesday at E3, along with the shocking revelation that Keanu Reeves will be featured in the video game as Johnny Silverhand, a character from the original Cyberpunk 2020 RPG who has been digitized. I, along with the rest of the internet, took a gasp of ecstatic surprise when Keanu appears out of nowhere at the end of the video game trailer. This may solidly cement Reeves’ status as our Digital Lord and Savior, as this role is merely the latest in twenty-five years of leading roles in cyberpunk media such as Johnny Mnemonic and the Matrix franchise. In addition to quickly making it to the front page of Reddit, users are also comparing how Keanu looks in his digitized form in the video game compared to how he looked in the relatively successful single player games Enter the Matrix and Path of Neo (both of which I played extensively, and absolutely loved growing up).

Keanu videogame then and now
Keanu only gets better with age.

After the new video game footage was displayed at E3, Keanu himself walked out onto the stage to finally announce the release date of Cyberpunk 2077: April 16th, 2020.

It was surreal to see Keanu in the game and then make a personal appearance, so I can’t imagine what it must have felt like to be there in the audience in person. One particular attendee expressed our collective adoration when Keanu announced, “Walking the streets of Night City is breathtaking,” to which one crowd member responded, “YOU’RE breathtaking!” Without missing a beat, Keanu responds with, “No, YOU’RE breathtaking—you’re all breathtaking!” Being the humble and friendly neighborhood Keanu that he is, the moment is also being immortalized on the internet as a classic awww moment. And to top it all off, that fan in the crowd was awarded with a free copy of Cyberpunk 2077. Whether this idea was Keanu’s or whipped up by someone from CD Projekt Red, what a fantastic gesture!

With the announcement of the release date, Steam made Cyberpunk 2077 available for pre-order for $59.99, and has already reached #1 in sales. And it won’t even be available for another 10 months.

Deadsec Rises in the New E3 Trailer for Watchdogs: Legion

First, let’s get this out of the way: I REALLY want to play as an old lady hacker, tazing the whippersnappers as I go. Like a lot.

I mean look at her!

Deadly old ladies aside, there is a lot to love in the first gameplay trailer of Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs: Legions. This will be the third installment of the hacker/vigilante/revolutionary focused series, with the games going from ‘eh’ to ‘ok’ in that order. The biggest change is that instead of a single protagonist, you can recruit many playable characters who all make up the hacker/rebel collective Deadsec. From what can be seen all characters have their own bio, abilities, drawbacks, and appearances. The plot seems to be standard Watch Dogs fare, but instead of a near future with familiar technology in a semi-possible setting, this a very real farther future with advanced technology with us playing in a very possible post-Brexit London where an extremely oppressive regime has taken hold. To fight it, you will take control of deadly assassins, hackers, and I hope just regular people to bring your oppressors down.  

I have high hopes for this one, but I worry Ubisoft will repeat past sins concerning gameplay trailers. Time will tell, but for now keep your fingers crossed.

Youngblood Injects Wolfenstein with a Shot of Retro-Cyberpunk and Fun

With the coming of this year’s E3 comes the taste of Nazi blood with some new gameplay footage for Wolfenstein: Youngblood.

In this installment of the Aryan killing stress reliever we are going to the streets of Nazi controlled Paris as the two daughters of B.J. Blazkowicz, Jess and Soph, as they try to find their father and mutilate any bootlicker who gets in their way. We mentioned this game before, but haven’t had any actual demo footage until this year, which seems to bring some changes to the basic premise of “point gun bangbang dead fascist heehee”.

The first obvious change is that you are not alone, with co-op online play (and hopefully splitscreen) deeply encouraged. Enemies are about as dangerous as they ever have been with what looks like new types, and now have a handy health/armor bar above their names as well. It’s also less strategic, as you help your friend blast through rooms of goons, help revive one another if downed, give each other a shout of encouragement in the form of small state boosts called ‘pep boosts’, and occasionally high-five. I scratched my head at first at the silver coins you can pick up in the game, but discovered there will be a type of hub area where the coins can be spent on upgrades adding a bit of an RPG feel to the shooter. The hub will also act as level select screen, letting you take on missions in any order you like. I think the changes are refreshing in what will hopefully bring a more arcade feel to a series that has largely been grim and linear.

Deathloop: If at First You Don’t Succeed, Die, Die Again

One of E3 2019’s more enigmatic features, Bethesda’s new FPS Deathloop may not be completely cyberpunk, but it sure as hell looks the part. Developed by Arkane Studios, who is known as the creative force behind Dishonored and Prey, their newest effort takes place on a lawless island known as Black Reef and follows two assassins, Jules and Colt, as they perpetually try to murder each other in the most vicious, bloody ways possible in a never ending conflict trapped within a time loop. Not much else is known about the game at this point.

Image result for deathloop

Obviously it’s too early to tell what exactly the game has in store, but the first impressions are strong. While time travel, teleportation, and telekinesis are all on shaky ground when it comes to genre, there is something so cyberpunk to me about a femme fatale manning a plethora of massive firearms. Maybe it would be more accurate to compare this to grindhouse films of the 1970s—it’s clear that’s what they’re aiming for stylistically, as indicated by the trailer. Also, can I just say how refreshing it is to see two black leads in a video game? This really shouldn’t be something I’m applauding since we’ve had thirty-plus years to flesh out the kinds of stories that can be told in the medium. Barring games that allow you to choose characters of color through customization or selection, the last and only time I’ve seen that level of representation was in Telltale’s The Walking Dead, and that came out in 2012. And I’m not saying this out of altruism, either—I’m just kinda tired of macho white dudes or waify girls as the leads in action games, so it’s nice to see that the boundaries are finally being pushed. But, seeing as I am a white guy, I’ll leave it to everyone else for the social criticism of the video game industry.

Anyways, let’s see which boxes we can fill out based purely on first impressions. Dystopian environment? Check. Big sci-fi-looking guns? Check. Looming tech-heavy architecture? Check. Lowlives? IN SPADES. I’d say this game is gonna need a lot of body bags, but it looks like Arkane Lyon wants to grant us one of our darkest wishes: a world without consequences. They’ll force feed it to us if they have to.

Bleeding Edge: A Cyberpunk Arena Hack ‘N Slasher

Ever since Overwatch took the gaming world by storm and subsequently dethroned by an oversaturated battle royale genre, the demand for colorful, borderline-cartoony science fiction arena shooters has been on the rise, and cyberpunk has not remained untouched. A couple years back we got Agents of Mayhem, and hopefully Bleeding Edge will improve on the formula. While the latest project by Ninja Theory was announced prior to E3, this is our first real look at what they’re putting together.

While Bleeding Edge’s 4v4 structure in futuristic environments with a wide array of colorful characters may seem pretty standard at this point, Ninja Theory is promising players the kind of combat that’s come to be expected through their past projects, including Devil May Cry and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice: close quarters combat. However, being a multiplayer game, I suspect this kind of gameplay will result in one of the things that punks hold most dearly: a good old-fashioned street brawl. And despite the bright tones schlacked onto a genre that prides itself on cranking up the resolution and seeing the fractal dirt in the corners, Bleeding Edge looks otherwise exclusively cyberpunk, featuring weaponized characters with heavy augmentations or otherwise sporting elements very fitting of the genre. In fact, customizing your characters’ mods is part of the draw, as the premise of the game is a “friendly” competition in which cyborgs beat the shit out of each other with their latest upgrades in the 2060s. And the roster already looks impressive—take Buttercup for instance, a badass woman with buzzsaws for hands, or Daemon, who sports a katana and an oni gas mask. There’s even a character who’s rigged himself with a flamethrower in place of an esophagus.

So. METALLLLL

While it does look like one hell of a brawl, again, it’s too early to tell if Ninja Theory is making promises it can’t keep, though I’m sure we’ll start to get a better picture once testing for the technical alpha starts on June 27th. No word yet on whether the game will include microtransactions.

Final Fantasy VII Remake Might Be the Remake We Need

At last, nerds the world ‘round can rejoice: Square Enix’s Final Fantasy VII remake is real, and it’s coming March 2020. Those who were paying attention already knew this, of course, but it’s always nice to have a little proof. Judging by the gameplay presentation (unfortunately co-hosted by a fairly obnoxious hype man), it looks like one of the first examples of cyberpunk fused with fantasy (outside of the revered Shadowrun) is getting a much-needed overhaul. The game’s producer, Yoshinori Kitase, explained prior to the gameplay trailer that Final Fantasy VII Remake is more than just a fresh coat of paint on a much-loved classic: Combat will be more in-depth, swapping turn-based battles for real-time tactics in the vein of an action RPG, to the delight of everyone who’s sick of the tedium of traditional JRPGs. In addition to immensely improved graphics and music, full voice acting, and Cloud’s anime hair looking slightly less anime, Kitase also explained that the remake has given the development staff an opportunity to deepen and explore the world of Midgar and the characters therein, and the game’s use of cinematics support this claim. In fact, there’s apparently going to be so much content for FF7R that it’s reportedly going to use up the memory on two Blu-Ray discs.

At this point in the article reminding readers that a huge game developer like Square Enix might not come through on all of its promises is more for my benefit, but I just can’t help myself. I’ve been abducted by the hype train.

The Surge 2 E3 Cinematic Trailer Promises More Cyborg Smacking

Who remembers The Surge? It was a fine (if clunky) sci-fi Dark Souls -like game from Deck13 and Focus Home Interactive, with plenty of giant robots and zombie cyborgs to hack apart with a re-purposed sections of machinery to keep one entertained between inevitable deaths. Besides cool visuals, you had the ability to target specific limbs in combat, which was a refreshing take on a 3D metrodvania game. With an unexpected sequel dropped upon us though, we are left with more questions than answers.

We don’t have much to go on with The Surge 2, this being a cinematic trailer, but there are a few bits to work with. For one, not everyone shown is a machine trying to kill us or a zombie cyborg thing, but some actual people (and I use that word loosely). The baddies are wonderfully ‘borged, with a hint of plot with them worshiping at some sort of makeshift shrine. The little girl, the only unaugmented human we see (and highly debatable if she is actually human at all) is another plot point which we will have to wait an see about. As always though, I am both excited and cautious (for I cannot feel joy, the editor’s curse) and will be keeping a close eye for any other information up till the games release on September 24th.

Google Stadia: Is Streaming the Future of Gaming?

Image result for google stadia

Before you jump to conclusions, I’m not about to say how great I think a video game service set up by a trillion-dollar tech conglomerate is going to be. For those of you who don’t know, Google Stadia has been described as “Netflix for video games”, allowing subscribers to purchase and download titles from a marketplace and stream them from dedicated offsite cloud servers. I’ll admit, the concept is revolutionary, and it’s looking like it’s got a lot of clout—it’s like what the Ouya wanted to be, but also for blockbuster games. Making claims that they want to make gaming more accessible for everyone, Google has a lot of major developers and titles backing the service already and is promising access to upcoming titles like Destiny 2, Borderlands 3, and the rumored—that is, until Google’s E3 presentation confirmed its development—Baldur’s Gate III. Funny, most of these games are sequels in some sort of triple-A series. Apparently, Stadia will only need a 10Mbps internet speed for games to run smoothly—still an impossibility for someone like me, who is broke as fuck and is lucky if his wi-fi is working at half that speed. Nevertheless, Google Stadia almost seems irresistible, with a cost of $130 when the Founder’s Edition hits shelves this November, bundled with a controller and three free months of their subscription service, Stadia Pro. Fuck all these other $1000 gaming systems with their mandatory accessories, just give me a controller and let me play.

And that’s what kinda freaks me out. In this age of DRM and streaming, advancements in technology seem to be chipping away at our collective sense of ownership. There’s a charm to physical media, at least for me, in that it belongs to me, and I can do with it whatever I wish. If a friend wants to borrow a movie or a music album I own, I can hand it to them in person. When a contract for the same movie on Netflix expires, I don’t have to wait for it to pop up again. If I so choose, I can even throw it into a garbage fire. And there are all these little details, like album liner notes, that most people seem to take for granted. But the sense of security in owning a physical copy of digital media is just the rambling of a 27-year-old coot. The bigger issue here is this: first we saw the rise in video game marketplaces like Steam, which allows users to download games directly onto their PCs. So, even though you never purchase anything you can hold and exchange with fellow gamers, your games were still on your hard drive, and you could still claim ownership. Now, with Google Stadia at the forefront of what will undoubtedly be a wave of new video game streaming services, you will never have full possession over what you buy. While Google at this point doesn’t seem to be as wildly unscrupulous as, say, Facebook, they still have engaged in some shady business practices that have gone unpunished, and I fear that arrogance may carry over into Stadia. Worst-case scenario, if a server tower in one of Stadia’s data centers happens to crash, you could lose hours or even days of save data, and Google may not be held accountable for it. After all, they are just games, and much worse things could happen to individuals. But what if, say, a developer or publisher faces a scandal and Google decides to pull their games from the marketplace over it? Do players get a full refund? At least in the old days, when a gamer lost save data, that responsibility usually fell on the individual.

My fear surrounding Stadia is based on the cold war over digital rights management. It seems to represent an ideal scenario for corporations; they control the product even after it’s been sold to the consumer. In fact, it seems like whatever control players have outside what to buy and when and where to play will simply be tokenisms.

Granted, I could be fearmongering. Google doesn’t seem to have laid out any specifics about how they’ll be handling DRM with Stadia in their presentation, instead focusing on all of the features and perks of the new platform, but I have to admit that it seems like it’ll be leveling the playing field in an industry that keeps jacking up the price with each new console release. But are all these promises concealing potential backslides in player autonomy? My advice: be wary. Stadia might take the expression “the things you own end up owning you” to a new level.

Pretty soon, it’ll be us in those servers.
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