The E3 experience this year was so overwhelming that we needed to take the weekend to decompress and filter out the wheat from the chaff in our heads. Now that we’ve had some time to think about it, we’ve settled on the below list of ten games that stood out among the crowded halls and packed booths of E3 2017. Here they are in alphabetical order. Enjoy!
A Way Out
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Release Date: 2018
EA’s E3 press conference happened three full days before E3 actually started, and it had two huge pieces of sci-fi bombast. While we couldn’t go hands-on with the stunning-looking Anthem, and while major sequel Star Wars Battlefront II looks like an improvement all-around, one tucked-in-a-corner narrative game proved more captivating than both.
I was impressed after going hands-on with A Way Out, a “mandatory co-op” game from the creators of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Its eight-minute demo forced my gameplay partner and me to agree on choices the entire way through, starting with a tough one: which of us gets to hold our only gun during our robbery attempt?
The game’s two characters have diametrically opposed personalities, and developer Hazelight promises that their differences will feed into a series of tough choices. I’m not ready to sign off on this being a truly successful narrative game yet, but it’s already showed compelling mechanical twists that have seriously whet my narrative-gaming appetite.
Developer: The Hive
Platforms: PC VR
Release Date: TBA
Virtual reality didn’t splash as hard at E3 2017 as we’d anticipated, but that doesn’t mean VR game development is languishing. Experimental games led the VR fray at this year’s conference, and Ctrl Shift left the biggest impression of them all.
Much like Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes, Ctrl Shift requires two players to work together in the same room to complete missions. But Ctrl Shift feels way more like a full “adventure” game.
One player, called the spy, dons an HTC Vive headset and must break into an office whose various rooms are patrolled by guards. The other player, called the hacker, sits at a computer and must manage a dated, VGA-colored interface, complete with a building map and live camera feeds, to help the spy out. The hacker’s primary interaction method here is computer code commands, which the spy and hacker must figure out together. Each player has limited information, so both players must constantly talk to each other about what they see to keep the VR spy on the right track.
Ctrl Shift‘s early, incomplete version already comes complete with awesome puzzle-solving moments and an incredible sense of tension. My E3 VR runner-ups, by the way, are Doom VFR (covered in our Bethesda VR wrap-up) and Virtual Virtual Reality (covered in our E3 indie-game wrap-up).
Detroit: Become Human
Developer: Quantic Dream
Release Date: 2018
After the disappointment that was Beyond Two Souls, I’m a little wary trusting auteur David Cage to create a compelling video game story. That said, the small bits I’ve seen of Detroit: Become Human have me hopeful the final product could match the ambitious vision Cage obviously has in his head.
The demo shown at E3 follows newly revealed android Markus, who wants to spread his newfound self-awareness to his automaton brethren and send an un-ignorable message to humanity at the same time. Walking around a snowy urban scene, he debates a number of plausible ways to disable the security and break into an android showroom with android companion North.
There were a few key decision points where Markus had a limited time to decide how to react. With a police patrol coming, for instance, he could hide behind a planter, back off to the safety of an alley, or pretend to make out with North to allay suspicion. Running off means not freeing the androids in the showroom, but the story will continue even if you choose to “fail” the mission in this way.
In another playthrough, with new android followers in tow, Markus has to decide whether to send a peaceful message or to make his point with violence. The developer leading our demo chose violence, turning the quiet night scene into a riot of fire and broken glass in moments. “They’ll be afraid, and fear breeds hatred” Markus says after they’re done. “I’ll take hatred over indifference,” North replies.
We’ll have to wait for the final game to see how meaningful all of these decisions really are to game’s narrative. From this small slice, though, we’re hopeful that Cage has written a branching sci-fi story with real, meaningful decisions to it.
Developer: Ben Esposito
Release Date: 2017
Platform: PC, iOS
Back in 2004, I distinctly remember stumbling on Katamari Damacy in an unloved corner of a Namco booth and coming back multiple times to play it more. Donut County captures that same “sleeper gem of E3” feeling, with adorably novel gameplay that’s easy to get into.
The work of solo indie developer Ben Esposito (who previously worked on The Unfinished Swan), Donut County is probably the first game where you exclusively control a hole in the ground. As you move the hole via mouse, analog stick, or touchscreen (depending on your platform), you swallow up simple, low-polygon 3D objects as you go. Each object swallowed makes your hole a little bigger, until you’re able to clear the entire scene in a triumph of cathartic tidying up.
As some trapped critters in an underground cave recount their experience with said hole, you play through their memories, each of which puts a slight spin on the basic object-swallowing gameplay. One demo makes you swallow up charcoal embers and then use the resulting fire to light flammable wooden objects in the scene, eventually setting off some fireworks. Another sees you swallowing snakes to use their tails to scare chickens, setting off an alarm that releases even more snakes.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm
Developer: Deck Nine Games
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Release Date: August 31 (Episode 1)
With developer Dontnod working on a sequel to 2015’s episodic tale of teenage rebellion Life is Strange—which isn’t expected until 2018—Square Enix turned to Deck Nine Games to fill the gap at E3 2017 with prequel Life Is Strange: Before the Storm. The game tells the story of series star Chloe Price, now 16 years old, coming to terms with the death of her father and the loss of her best friend Max.
Unlike the original game, Life Is Strange: Before the Storm ditches the time-travel mechanic in favor of pure teenage melodrama. There’s no action, quick-time events, or convoluted character customization to distract from the act of telling a story. Chloe is an intelligent, moody, deeply conflicted person. Instead of showing us the best of her, Before the Storm invites you to explore her most difficult moments.
That’s what shone through in the E3 demo. The lack of Dontnod might be a dealbreaker for some, but for my money, Life Is Strange: Before the Storm looks every bit as compelling and progressive as its popular predecessor.