E3 2015: Seven fantastic surprises

E3 is over for another year. Tired journalists are boarding their return flights, trying to make sense of the incomprehensible messes scribbled on their notepads, while those who held the fort at home attempt to scrape every morsel of information out of those glitzy game trailers.

We saw Minecraft played on a coffee table, EA show their caring side via a simple toy made of string and Reggie flex his foam pecks. His puppet body was ready.

Many agree that it was the best E3 for years – the beginning of an era where publishers actually listen to gamers and give us what we want. These seven surprises played a large part in that:

Fallout Shelter

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It was a given that Bethesda would have an E3 surprise or two up their power-armoured sleeve. Why else would they choose to host their first ever conference this year? Rumours around Dishonored 2 and Dishonored: Definitive Edition have been circling for yonks and as such their announcement was met with a mild cheer rather than a rapturous roar. Fallout Shelter on the other hand was something both new and unexpected. And best for all, it’s out now.

The free-to-play mobile release involves looking after your very own Fallout vault – build as many rooms as possible, keep the vault dwellers happy, repel attacks from Radroaches and bandits, all while keeping a careful eye on the power, light and food resources. Adventure elements are present too, providing a chance to send your men and women into the wild to collect new gear. Fallout Shelter provides a new way to become absorbed into the world of Fallout, and that’s why it made the list.

At the time of typing it’s also the highest grossing mobile app right now, toppling even Candy Crush Saga. That’s got to be good for brand recognition amongst the masses.

Nintendo Skylanders

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Nintendo are incredibly protective over their characters, so to see plastic incarnations of Bowser and Donkey Kong making their way to the Nintendo versions of Skylanders Superchargers was unexpected. That said, we did have a feeling that it would offer amiibo support – each Nintendo amiibo unlocks a new hat or something along those lines. Two exclusive characters went beyond our expectations, however. Each has their own vehicle too. Purchased separately, of course.

Bowser and Donkey Kong are perfectly suited to the series, both known for throwing their weight around. Off the top of our heads, we fail to think of any other Nintendo characters that would fit as well. They can also be set to ‘amiibo mode’ at the flick of a switch so that they can be used in Nintendo’s own games. A nice touch.

Although Activision has kept Wii U support to a bare minimum this year, they’re still one of the system’s biggest third-party publishers. This deal appears to be a means of thanking them for sticking with the Wii U. Who knows – maybe we’ll even get to jam out to the ‘DK Rap’ in Guitar Hero Live.

Shenmue III

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The long-awaited final chapter in Yu Suzuki’s trilogy has been an outright cause for celebration this week. Despite the fanfare though, it’s hard to ignore the controversy surrounding the already fully funded Kickstarter. When it was revealed that Suzuki was in need of $2M from fans, people began to question that budget. The original Shenmue had a budget of $70M and that was back in 1999.

It soon transpired that Sony are assisting with development, which begs the following question – was the Kickstarter campaign really needed? Sony also revealed that it was the most frequently requested third-party release, suggesting that they knew there was demand. Somebody, at some point, has some explaining to do. For the record though, Yu Suzuki had been considering turning to Kickstarter for a while. Presumably then, the full project would have only received Sony’s backing if the Kickstarter was met.

Enough speculation and ambiguity – the fact of the matter is that Shenmue III is a reality. It’s really happening – the Kickstarter was funded in less than nine hours and continues to grow, with each stretch goal adding new language options and gameplay elements. Long time lovers of Ryo Hazuki will finally be able to conclude the story while Yu Suzuki will too at last have closure. We just hope there’s a new line of in-game capsule toys to collect – there’s satisfaction to be had in popping them open and seeing what’s inside.

Xbox One backwards compatibility

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It’s understandable, at least from a business perspective, as to why Microsoft didn’t include Xbox 360 compatibility out of the box. They wanted gamers to go out and buy brand new £59.99 Xbox One games rather than making do with Xbox 360 games they already own.

That was a year and a half ago – now the time has come to mop up the last-gen stragglers, and the easiest way to do this is make the promise that they can play all their older, and beloved, Xbox 360 games on Xbox One. There’s a console war on, don’t you know?

It’s looking like Xbox One backwards compatibility will be integrated smoothly, with Microsoft claiming that any XBLA games already owned will simply start to filter through into the Xbox One game library. Around 20 games are backwards compatible now – available to preview program members – and that number will grow to around 100 later in the year. Screenshots can be taken, video clips saved and shared and even online play will be possible. Assuming the game in question’s servers are still up and running, presumably.

The Last Guardian

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Sony must have developed supernatural powers over the past year, giving the ability to reanimate the remains of long deceased videogames. Or to be more realistic, they’ve simply listened to fan’s demands.

The Last Guardian – from Ico and Shadow of the Colossus creator Fumito Ueda – was last seen at E3 2009 running on PlayStation 3. It has now jumped to PS4 – a system able to cope with Ueda’s vision. “In 2011 the progress became super slow,” Sony Worldwide Studios boss Shuhei Yoshida told Kotaku. “There were lots of technical issues. The game was not performing at speed. The video we showed, the trailer on PS3, was specced up. The game was running at a much lower frame rate. Some features were still missing. It was clear that the team had to make a compromise in terms of features. But in the meantime PS4 arrived, the development environment was available. So in 2012 it became apparent we should move it to PS4 to achieve the visual [ideal]”.

While the mystery of the game’s disappearance has been solved, The Last Guardian remains mystical itself – there’s still lots we don’t know about it, including storyline. Publishers usually use the run-up to a game’s release to drip feed new information, but like Ueda’s previous works this isn’t your typical game. His creations are always filled with ideas and elements for gamers themselves to uncover. As such, much of The Last Guardian could remain a mystery until launch day.

Final Fantasy VII Remake

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RPG fans have fantasised about a Final Fantasy VII remake for the last decade. Every few years, fan-made renders and concepts of modern FFVII interpretations hit the internet and get fans drooling. Now it’s a reality.

Details were sparse – just a brief teaser trailer showing glimpses of the Final Fantasy world and the back of Cloud’s head – but Square Enix have made it official. Final Fantasy VII is being remade and coming first to the PS4. No release date was revealed, but 2017 will be the 20th anniversary of the original, apt timing.

There are few games that have ever been as deserving of a modern remake as Final Fantasy VII, so this announcement truly set the tone that this E3 was for the fans, finally after many years giving us exactly what we’ve been asking for.

EA’s Unravel

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Why would EA make a heartfelt adventure about a loveable creature formed of string? Two reasons spring to mind. 1) To show that the company isn’t just about shooters, annual sports games and seemingly endless expansion packs for The Sims. 2) Smaller artistic games developed by close-knit teams (if you’ll excuse the pun) can bring in big bucks. Case in point: Ori and the Blind Forest was profitable after just a week on sale. EA wants a slice of that pie.

To see EA trying their hand at something different is actually quite warming, all negativity in that previous paragraph aside. Unravel sees a small, handcrafted critter known as Yarny step forth to explore the great outdoors. From woodland creatures to flash floods, his string is used to escape danger and progress. The trailer showed Yarny tying himself to a kite in order to take to the skies and also using his own string to catch a fish while sitting on a makeshift raft. You can probably guess what happens next.

A lack of a release date suggests EA is taking the ‘it’s done when it’s done’ approach with this one. Good on ‘em.

Matt Gander

Matt is Games Asylum's most prolific writer, having produced a non-stop stream of articles since 2001. A retro collector and bargain hunter, his knowledge has been found in the pages of tree-based publication Retro Gamer.

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