I played 59 video games, demos and prototypes at this year’s E3, a mere 16 of them on the expo’s third and final day. Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst or Just Cause 3 would have made it an even 60, but EA took close to 90 minutes of my two-hour booth tour to get me through Star Wars Battlefront, leaving no time for Mirror’s Edge, and Just Cause 3 cancelled its playable demos at the Square Enix booth on the show floor the night before E3 began.
But enough grousing. Here is what I liked most at E3 on Thursday:
1. Sony’s Project Morpheus demos. I can’t tell you whether virtual reality is a fad. I can tell you that many (not all) of the VR prototypes and demos at E3 were the most mesmerizing things at the show. Of the six Morpheus demos I tried Thursday, my favorites were Superhypercube, The London Heist: The Getaway, Battlezone, and VirZoom’s insanely, wonderfully weird bicycle horse.
Superhypercube combines the spatial rotations of Tetris with the trippy, trancelike appeal of something like Rez, with graphics that recall the warm, analog glow of the arcades of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Unlike Tetris, oddly shaped blocks must be rotated in three dimensions, and the player must peer around them in order to see the shape of the holes where each shape must fit.
The London Heist: The Getaway is the second London Heist demo I’ve tried. This one casts the player in the passenger seat (on the wrong, er, other, er, left side) of a getaway car during a highway chase. While gripping two Move controllers, I shot an Uzi at my pursuers, using my left hand to reach into the car for clips when I needed to reload.
Battlezone is a remake of the 1980 Atari arcade game that was one of the most notable early video games to employ a first-person perspective. It was a tank battle, in VR. What’s not to like?
VirZoom is a company in Cambridge, Mass., largely made up of former Harmonix developers. Their prototype is designed to be affixed to an actual bicycle—either your own, held stable by a training device, or a stationary exercise bike. But it’s not a bike simulator. Instead, VirZoom wants to use your bike to make you feel like you’ve metamorphosed into a new form. It could be a tank, or a butterfly. At E3, it was a horse.
The bike uses three sensors—one on each wheel and a button on the handlebars—and a Morpheus. In the E3 demo, peddling made the horse I seemed to be riding go faster or slower, as expected. But then I grabbed a power-up that gave the horse wings, and peddling faster made the horse climb skyward. Pegasus Simulator!
2. Adr1ft. Adam Orth, you may recall, resigned from Microsoft after using Twitter to defend, intemperately, the Xbox One’s “always on” Internet connection. (The always-on Internet connection later resigned from Microsoft, too.) The backlash Orth faced from angry players would have made him a good subject for Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.
Now Orth has made a video game informed by his experience as a social-media outcast. “The game is about the Twitter thing,” Orth said before I played his E3 demo. “It’s totally about that. It’s, I think, an obvious metaphor.”
In VR, Adr1ft felt a bit like Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. You play as an astronaut trying to survive in the debris of a space station. It will have to play well on an ordinary computer screen, too, however: Adr1ft will be released in September, before a head-mounted display for consumers has gone on sale.
3. Super Mario Maker. I played Super Mario Maker on Wednesday, actually, and just plumb (sorry) forgot to include it on my list. While making Mario levels (for Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U) seems grand, I’m more interested in playing new Super Mario Bros. levels. The online components look to be robust and well thought out. And the Nintendo-designed level of Super Mario Bros. that I played was a devious subversion of the design principles of the original game—I had to travel to the left to complete it, for one thing—that reminded me of the so-called “lost levels” of Super Mario Bros., which I prefer to call The Real Super Mario Bros. 2.