This is complicated.
This time of year for us crazy hardcore gamers used to be called “E3 Season”, named after the now seemingly deceased annual mega video game convention — Electronic Entertainment Expo (better known as E3). Every bit of gaming reveal news, trailers and gameplay was always grouped under this easy as hell to remember, reference and say moniker.
Now, these past 10 days have been labeled or awkwardly described as a cross between famed games journalist Geoff Keighley‘s Summer Game Fest and IGN‘s Summer of Gaming. Then you’ve gotta throw in a 2 week early PlayStation Showcase from Sony (thanks for that…), Microsoft‘s annual Xbox Games Showcase and smaller digital pressers like the Ubisoft Forward, Capcom Showcase, and, heck, a full blown Final Fantasy XVI Pre-Launch Celebration that felt like an entire evening on its own.
There are others (PC Gaming Show, Devolver Digital, etc.), but the aforementioned video game showcases and digital pressers are the ones I watched and shall rank. Strangely, there’s no Nintendo Direct this time of year, but they likely own 2023 already with landslide GOTY winner, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, so there’s absolutely no need.
1. XBOX GAMES SHOWCASE x STARFIELD DIRECT
DON’T CALL IT A COMEBACK: Bookended by arguably the greatest deep dive E3 presentation of all time (yeah, hyberbole, I’m going there), Xbox gave their players the summer Showcase they so desperately needed to give.
They opened with Playground Games’ long-awaited Fable (Day One Game Pass) and finished with 45-minutes of Starfield. Unless you’re a Sony fangirl/boi and keep trolling on the 8 years in the making Bethesda title being console locked at 30 fps, you’ve got to take your NASA helmet off to Bethesda Softworks and God Howard. Starfield looks like 5 games in one with its interplanetary exploration, spaceship travel/dogfighting, intense character creation/progress, mega Mass Effect-level dialogue decisions, much improved FPS/3PS combat, ship building, base crafting/farming, etc. Speaking of Todd, he was especially candid in a near 30-minute follow-up interview with IGN. Even if you don’t YET own an Xbox Series console, don’t miss ANY of the Starfield Direct.
LET’S NOT FORGET: a yearning to play Cyberpunk 2077 (again, or for the first time), thanks to a hella impressive Phantom Liberty expansion, starring Idris Elba and a returning Keanu Reeves (out September 26); Obsidian’s Avowed wasn’t set to be a star in this showcase, but I still wouldn’t sleep on it (Game Pass, baby — out in 2024); Compulsion’s South of Midnight received Microsoft’s seal of approval from the jump, so let’s hope it leads to more jeers from just a “Happy Few” on Game Pass; and inXile’s Clockwork Revolution turned some heads (or is that hands?) with its new steampunky, Bioshockesque Game Pass manipulator.
XBOX FIRST: to show off Massive’s Star Wars Outlaws (2024), a surprise new IP from Persona devs with Metaphor Re Fantazio (2024) and Persona 3 Reload (next year on Game Pass), RGG’s Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth was the funniest trailer of the season, too. In all, Xbox showed off more “Sony” type games than Sony did less than 2 weeks prior. Way to go, Phil. We forgive you for RedFAIL and all of 2022.
Xbox Showcase = 4.75/5 Whiskeys
Starfield Direct = 10/5 Whiskeys
2. FINAL FANTASY XVI PRE-LAUNCH CELEBRATION
Yeah, a singular game earned my second spot in the Summer Gaming of RIP E3 Game Fest thing. Actually, almost a single man won this spot. I give you new Square Enix CEO, Takashi Kiryu — whom I wish every other CEO was like on the planet. If so, we’d be living in so much happier times! Kiryu took to the stage at the tips of this FFXVI pre-release shindig and won the crowd over with childhood stories that have never been more relatable or even flattering from CEO-to-peasant. “One of us! One of us!” should have been the chant following the hardcore gamer/school-slack turned Square Enix success’ amazing opener.
That said, the Square Enix team did a wonderful job deep diving into every important aspect of the next Final Fantasy — from gameplay details to an incredible live-action trailer to the title’s score — kicking off with Creative Director Kazutoyo Maehiro and Localization Director Michael-Christopher Koji Fox.
FANTASY OF THRONES: the art direction and dialogue tone inspired by HBO’s Game of Thrones, Active Time Lore — a new system that allows players to gain information/lore on the current characters/setting in the current scene, and the fact that PlayStation players were able to download the FF XVI demo just hours (!!) after the celebration. I’ve consumed, finished, and ultra loved the 2-hour Prologue and I cannot wait to head over to Best Buy on June 22nd to pick up my steel case edition.
If only that super, huggable, loveable and stupidly expensive Torgal were 50% cheaper ($120 for a PLUSH! DUDE!), I would’ve been hard-pressed to give this game showcase a higher grade. All in all, a big recommend for modern day Fantasy fans.
4/5 Highball Whiskeys
3. UBISOFT FORWARD
Ubisoft seems to have the most bizarre Summer Games/E3 presentations, pressers, digi showcases year in and year out. While 2023 for Ubi was certainly no exception, beginning with a Just Dance thing and having some good ol’ boys drone on about Skull & Bones (which, I don’t even know what is anymore.. is it out?), there was a lot of decent to unpack here in the near hour and a half of hard-to-understand French accents and continuous push to do too many things at once.
SPEAKING OF TOO MANY: Why there gotta be so many Assassin’s Creed games, yo! We have Mirage, which I think is the mainline title, since looks like a 4K update of the old AC games. Then you have the long-awaited set-in-China Codename Jade, which is.. a mobile game. R.I.P. And Nexus is a VR game. Also R.I.P. Okay, okay — I know there are audiences for that; it just ain’t me, pimp. I’m also not sure if Mirage is for me, because I suck at stealth, and this is a return to stealth, and I really loved the intense open world combat of Origins, Odyssey and Valhalla (although, I didn’t dive in that one as much as I wanted). Sorry, but this is the least excited I’ve been about the franchise pre-Origins.
OUTLAWS WE RIDE: Really digging the Watch Dogs/GTA vibe set in Star Wars galaxy of Star Wars Outlaws. Without this game, this year’s Ubisoft Forward might be better off called Backward. But, I’m real thrilled for Massive (The Division devs) because this is the Star Wars game we never knew we wanted–and supposedly you can fly anywhere whenever within reasonable limit. Gameplay looks solid with cutesy alien companion assists and commands, and the dogfights certainly aim to rival that of Starfield.
TIDBITS: Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown is at least something new, a cartoony Metroidvania whose art style didn’t overwhelm; And, what in the DUNK was that presentation for the Captain Laserhawk: A Blood Dragon Remix anime? Great ambition, love the look of Netflix Castlevania appeal, Adi Shanker — but, man. But at least the Forward kicked off with Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora. I’ve never been an Avatar person, but this looks solid and far more ambitious than we imagined for a movie tie-in title and features online co-op. December 7th is a safe release date, too.
3.25/5 Blue Milk Whiskeys.
5. PLAYSTATION SHOWCASE
Spider-Man! Spider-Man! Literally, the only thing worth top-billing from the typically strong Sony summer shows this side of a surprise remake of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, which, when released, will be 20 years after its original iteration. Awesome. But, past Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 (which looks amazing, spectacular, sensational thanks to Insomniac), there was NOTHING from Naughty Dog, Sucker Punch, or even Bluepoint and Housemarque. Just.. weird. Maybe they saw their chief competitors so extreme on both sides of the spectrum (Nintendo winning the year no matter what with Zelda, and Microsoft losing forever with.. everything) that they took this “Summer of Gaming” for granted. And, releasing a “Showcase” 2 weeks before the usual E3 time is further proof of that.
Like I said above, Microsoft out-Sony’d Sony in this year’s summer of digi-pressers. That said, Sony has God of War, Horizon, Final Fantasy, Spider-2, Ghost of Tsushima, and 8 million other exclusives, while Microsoft has a dominant racing series and.. a whole lot of catching up to do.
3/5 Glasses of Spidey-Sauce
6. SUMMER GAME FEST
This show has “long covid” been an exhausting far cry replacement for the more appreciably compartmentalized E3. Back in the Before Times, you had Xbox Showcase kicking it off, typically followed by Ubisoft Forward, with EA Play (like, wtf happened to that?), Sony and Bethesda closing off the second day, with Nintendo owning that Tuesday morning as we wait behind hundreds of smelly gamers dying to crash the LA Convention doors to get 40th in line for a game they have to wait 6-hours to play. Oh, those were the days! Toss in a pointless Square Enix or Capcom stage direct here and there, and you had your E3.
Now, E3’s substitute, Summer Game Fest, I guess is.. a bunch of games — mostly small/unknown/indie schmindy stuff — from all developers, consoles (including the always annoying Mobile and PC-only), a bunch of celebrities, commercials/ads, interviews, movie things and celebrity/influencer jockying.
I DON’T HATE: The Game Awards, Summer Game Fest or Geoff. It’s just always AIGHT. This year, Mr. Keighley had the benefit of having Ed Boon on stage to show off an incredible Mortal Kombat 1 — a sequel/reboot that already has me forgetting about Street Fighter 6, which, like, just came out. Then, sure, he had Nic Cage talk to folks but it was a Dead By Daylight chapter, so meh. The Witcher Season 3 trailer was both sad and fantastic (yeah, I’m not happy about Henry either), but it’s not a game so there’s that.
BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT: there was a great pop from the crowd for Sonic Superstars — a 2.5D retro Sonic reimagined out this Fall; Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is a return to the classic beat ’em style Yakuza, set between Yak6 and the hit Like A Dragon (November 9); a teaser trailer for the Twisted Metal tv show; and, finally, the game that saved Summer Game Fest — Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth. Holy heck, Geoff better praise Square Enix for loaning him this one. Not only is it gorgeous and dreamlike and everything we wanted it to be, the game will also release on 2 discs — unheard of in current day gaming.
The rest of the show has several hours.. hell.. days of filler.
7. CAPCOM SHOWCASE
“What the hell was THAT?” was the immediate response IGN game journo dude Max Scoville shouted when his Podcast Beyond hit the air post-Capcom Showcase. Yeah, man. Exactly. I have no idea. Pretty sure Capcom just wanted to be relevant in this Summer Games space, but this was.. nothing. No DMC. No Resident Evil. And barely a blip of its just recently released hit Street Fighter 6. They could’ve at least teased some future DLC or something for it, rather than a 2-minute recap of what we already knew. At least we saw more of Kunitsu-Gami: Path of the Goddess (or, as my buddy Felipe labels the game: “Flowers May Cry”). I love the art style, it’s powered by the RE engine and seems like a very cool way to sink a few hours.
WE ALREADY KNOW, BRO: almost every game “showcased” here was already announced. Dragon’s Dogma 2 definitely had the most intrigue, with a lengthy gameplay reveal featuring NPC Pawns and details of the sequel’s sizable world. Dino hunter mech thing Exoprimal is out next month, but do you really care? It doesn’t look bad, but it’s not exactly pushed like the machine it could be. But what did look bad and incredibly boring (even one of the Beyonders claimed to have fallen asleep during this portion) was Ghost Trick. Yowzers. And before all that we got a moment of sadness with the announcement delay for Pragmata — a straight up hand-written apology, nonetheless. Classy, but I’d rather Capcom gave us a hand-written apology for this entire hour.
1.75/5 Whiskey Sours
8. XBOX EXTENDED SHOWCASE
Naw… I’m not even going there. Does this extended thing even count? The Games Showcase and Starfield Direct went SO GREAT that I’ll let this entire hour slide. At least Forza Motorsport had their own little mini demo direct on the side…