With E3 2018 safely over our shoulder, we pick the best games we saw at the show.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
When Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was first revealed at the Xbox press conference, it honestly looked like Dark Souls: Japan. I figured it'd be the same riff on ancient Japanese history in the way that Bloodborne twisted Victorian England. But man was I wrong. Not only is Sekiro gorgeous, it's also a near complete subversion of everything we associate with Dark Souls. It's not an RPG, it has no multiplayer, and it's character isn't customizable.
But for each piece of that formula it rips out, From Software sticks a new one in. Sekiro is much more open-world, with levels designed to be scaled vertically using a cool new grappling hook. While it still has the same combat, it's completely reworked to capture the feel of dueling rather than hacking enemies to bits. It has stealth and enemies that look a lot more intelligent than your average Dark Souls lot. Simply put, it's everything I could have wanted from the next Dark Souls—which is to say, it's nothing like Dark Souls. —Steven Messner
With a transforming, supernatural gun and powers like levitation and telekinesis, Jesse is sent in to figure out what went wrong inside The Oldest House, which won't be the linear environment we've seen in games like Alan Wake, but more metroidvania in its structure. My favorite part of the demo was when Faden comes upon an employee inside an observation chamber. As he hears Faden approach, he starts begging for her help: "Oh god, are you here to relieve me?" He's been staring at a refrigerator for days, possibly longer—if someone isn't looking at it, he warns that it will "destabilize." This is but one strange side quest within The Oldest House, Remedy says. —Evan Lahti
My Friend Pedro
Devolver Digital's surreal anti-conference, now in its second year, has become a highlight of E3. After last year's frenzy of satire somebody obviously said, "Hey, that was quite popular but maybe we could show some more games next time?" And so they did. Between Metal Wolf Chaos XD and SCUM was a trailer for My Friend Pedro, a game you'd be forgiven for thinking was just another of their blood-drenched parodies. But no, I've been following My Friend Pedro's development on Dead Toast's Twitter for a while now, and it's definitely real.
The pitch is basically "2D Max Payne but even more over-the-top". There's a generous bullet time meter and physics has been bribed to look in the other direction while you flip and pirouette your way through levels, doming bad guys with bullets and sometimes frying pans. The frying pans can also be used to ricochet bullets off, making for the wonderful possibility of throwing one up in the air, slowing down time, pinging a few bullets off it into bad dudes, then kicking the frypan out of the air and into a final enemy's face just as time spools back up again.
There's also skateboarding and motorbike chases and dual-wielding that lets you lock onto separate targets with each gun. Best of all there's a built-in capture that saves your best moments in each level and lets you upload them as a gif, like Opus Magnum but with more slow-motion headshots. When this game comes out next year Twitter's going to become a parade of nonsensical violence. It'll be like that one cool fight from Deadpool only I won't have to sit through all of Deadpool again. I'm down with that. —Jody Macgregor
The action is turn-based XCOM-style strategy featuring both stealth and shooting, but successful extraction from a mission doesn't result in anything as grand as an armored airlift. Instead, a nondescript van pulls up to the curb and then speeds away once your agents are inside. Your army in Phantom Doctrine, being developed by CreativeForge Games, isn't comprised of soldiers, but spies during the Cold War of the 1980s.
Between missions, when you head back to your upgradable headquarters, Phantom Doctrine is awash with paranoia. It even has a conspiracy board, where you can examine gathered intel and link clues together with red string and pushpins to unlock new missions. While you're dressing up your agents and forging them new passports you'll also want to rifle through their skills and abilities looking for anything that wasn't there the last time you checked. There's a chance they may have been captured while out in the field and brainwashed by your mysterious enemy. That's right, one of your own spies may be a double agent, and the presence of skill you didn't assign them might be your only clue.
The idea of having a squad of NPC agents you can never completely trust is wonderfully intriguing. So is the fact that you can brainwash enemy agents yourself, and then activate them during a mission, essentially flipping them to your side. You can even plant a tiny bomb in the head of an agent, so if they're captured they won't have the chance to talk, with the added bonus that they'll blow up whoever captured them—though this will mean the loss of whatever intel happens to be in the room when it explodes. Er, plus the loss of your agent, naturally.
The cat-and-mouse one-upmanship of espionage and counter-espionage looks incredible and makes me desperately wish Phantom Doctrine was out right now (it's coming this summer). There were a lot of great games on show at E3, but this one especially piqued my interest. Jody also got some hands-on time with it recently. —Chris Livingston
Destiny 2: Forsaken
Look, I know. I bloody know. I am the boy who cried Destiny, and I do not blame you for not wanting to hear more about it. And certainly not how this next expansion is going to fix most of what went wrong. But, but, but! From speaking to Christopher Barrett and Scott Taylor at E3, it's clear that both Bungie knows it has a mountain of trust to earn back, and more importantly has a plan that addresses the most egregious problems. That means bringing back random rolls on weapon and armor and leaning into the endgame activities that keep players coming back.
Of what I was able to try at the show, the slice of opening story mission featured typically bravura alien-shooting, with Cayde-6 front and centre Golden Gunning-escapees from the Prison of Elders and then nonchalantly tossing a 'nade over his shoulder to clear up the survivors. Until he isn't. Suddenly I was jump cut into the climactic cut scene in which Cayde dies at the blue hands of Prince Uldren. It was different, and even colder, than the moment in the story trailer released during E3. If we ignore the slight suspicion that the developer just didn't want to keep paying Nolan North for voice work, then it really does feel like Bungie is full committed to Forsaken taking a much darker turn.
Perhaps even more of a surprise was what an instant hit the new Gambit mode felt like. This hybrid of PvP and PvE provides plenty of scope for 'hero moments' as players hop into each others' arena to wreak havoc or face plant spectacularly. In order for Gambit to truly stick around, the four promised maps will need to be sufficiently varied and the loot pool will have to be worth grinding for. That latter point will conclusively answer whether the game is back on track, but with September 4 looming I now feel pretty optimistic. Don't make that face. —Tim Clark
Dying Light 2
Dying Light has quietly become one of the best and most successful zombie games in modern memory. It's basically a dramatically improved version of Dead Island: more satisfying melee combat, smoother shooting, more interesting RPG elements, and topped off with a first-person parkour system that, for my money, is infinitely more fun than holding up to climb in Assassin's Creed or Tomb Raider. Plus it lets you dropkick the hell out of zombies.
It was darn good at launch, and it's only gotten better as Techland's handed out heaps of free content over the years. But Dying Light has one problem no amount of DLC can fix: the writing is terrible. I remember exactly two things about the main story: there was a bit where a kid got turned into a zombie and I wasn't sad at all, and the main villain had a bit where he screamed the protagonist's name at the sky like that scene from Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan. The dude you play as is so forgettable that I don't even remember the name the bad guy screamed.
But! Dying Light 2 is a golden opportunity for Techland to deliver a good story and a fun zombie sandbox, and it sounds like they're making good headway. They've enlisted the help of some of The Witcher 3's writers, for starters, and based on what Steven saw at E3, he reckons the sequel is ripe with meaningful, world-altering decisions. And I'm so down for a humanity-driven Dying Light that takes itself seriously. — Austin Wood
“Just a small town shark. Livin’ in a lonely seaaaaaaaaaaaa. I killed a load of stuff to upgrade my teeeeeeeeeth.”
I was knee-deep in magazine deadline when I watched the Maneater trailer from the PC Gaming Show. As a trailer it seemed pretty average. It was the moment after the trailer finished which had me enraptured. Sean ‘Day9’ Plott clarified that you play as the SHARK and it’s an RPG kind of thing so you can upgrade your shark to fulfil its lifelong dream of killing all humans (and some other fish). Then I read a bunch more promising details in Wes' Maneater interview.
Obviously there’s a bit of dissonance here—sharks are amazing, beautiful, curious creatures and we are far, FAR more of a danger to them than they are to us. But it’s also an RPG where I get to be a SHARK on a revenge quest instead of some blank-faced human on a revenge quest. I hope this ushers in a golden age for animal RPGs—geese, praying mantis protagonists, mage bees… Turns out I’m perfectly happy to park my “we shouldn’t anthropomorphise creatures” philosophy if it means I can ruin human holidays. —Pip Warr
WINNER - Cyberpunk 2077
I never want to forget that weird feeling of vertigo I had during the opening moments of the first-ever showing of Cyberpunk 2077's behind-closed-doors demo. I had a mountain of expectations, of course, but CD Projekt Red toppled all of them the moment the character creation screen closed. It almost took me a minute to understand what I was seeing—is Cyberpunk 2077 a… first-person shooter? Holy hell. I don't know why I didn't see that coming.
The next 50 minutes held several more moments when I had to sit back and check my expectations for what kind of game this would be. Drivable vehicles? Real-time dialogue choices that don't break up the action? One of the most densely packed and detailed cities I have ever seen in a game? Cyberpunk 2077 wasn't content with merely being The Witcher 3 but with androids—but it all was still pinned together by those familiar RPG systems.
It was an impressively meaty showcase (one that was running on a single 1080 Ti to boot) that showed CDPR was willing to take bold risks and try new things. And, when you consider the leap from The Witcher 2 to The Wild Hunt, that's exactly what made The Witcher 3 so great in the first place. It was a great demo that offered an exceedingly detailed look into a game that might not be out for years, which is a refreshing reveal to have at E3. So, yeah, Cyberpunk 2077 was definitely the best thing I saw all week. —Steven Messner