Waiting on a Prayer for Doom Eternal

Imagine you’re at a restaurant, and you’re about to eat your favorite meal. The savory dish is sending off aromatic scents that make your stomach rumble. You pick up your fork, about to plunge it into your food…

…but then it is snatched away before you can take even a single bite!

That disappointment you’re imagining, that’s basically me when I found out that Doom Eternal was going to be pushed off for three whole months.

We were so close, you guys. So close. Doom Eternal was set to release on November 22. I had pre-ordered it and already cleared an entire day of work with my boss so that I could spend it playing my most anticipated game of the year.

And now I have to wait till March!

Side note: Yes, I’m aware this is very much a first-world problem.

I don’t buy games often. I usually prefer to spend my time replaying games that I already have in my library. On average, I purchase about two games a year. Since it’s so rare when I buy a game, I take the selection and purchasing process very seriously. I like to know ahead of time that I’m going to enjoy the game I spend my money on.

Doom Eternal was going to be one of those games for me this year. I’d played the demo at E3, so I’d had concrete evidence that the game could potentially be the best thing my console ever ran.

And now I have to wait.

Three months doesn’t seem like much, and in retrospect, I am totally making a mountain out of a molehill. But it has seriously derailed my Thanksgiving plans. Now, I don’t have a valid excuse to laze away the beginning of my holidays.

In addition to that, I now feel worried about the status of the game. I originally had so much faith in the developers, but this news that they’ve pushed off the release has me anxious about why they need those three extra months. What bugs do they meed to fix? What glitches are permeating the game? Are they trying to add last-minute features? These thoughts are all crowding around in my head and I can’t get rid of them.

More optimistic fans take this delay as a good sign. They say that the developers are making sure that when the game releases, it is a polished, finished product. But what amount of polishing, the pessimist in me replies, could they accomplish in three months?

Instead of letting my worries consume me, I’m trying to fill my gaming hours with intensive sessions. I’m trying to burn away all the Doom Eternal longings I have within me.

I’m also buying unnecessary toys related to the franchise at my merest whim as a sort of consolation.

Hey, we all have ways to cope.

We Were Here Review!

I have a friend named Fro who gets sent to these awful assignments in San Francisco as part of his work. While it majorly sucks that he’s sent there for weeks, it does make for some great Xbox Live playtime.

A few days ago, we thought we’d try out one of the games that was offered for free on Xbox Live Gold. It was titled We Were Here, and neither of us knew much about it except that it was an online co-op experience.

So, we both thought, ‘Why the hell not?’

What followed was the most enjoyable three hours I’ve ever spent playing a video game.

The controls are simple and easy to learn. The game is played in first person, so you have the typical configuration of right and left sticks controlling the camera and movement respectively. There are a crouch and a jump button, but since the game’s not a platformer, you don’t have to worry about those too much. A button to pick up items is the most important control, followed by the delightful walkie-talkie button.

That’s right, folks. The game insists that you abandon that Xbox Live party since the game’s in-chat system is an integral mechanic. The two players have to radio each other, using a bumper to pull up a radio that they speak into. Only one person can talk at a time, and in a game where the two of you are separated for the entirety of the game, communication is key.

In essence, We Were Here is a puzzle game. It was developed by Total Mayhem Games, and I’m so surprised no one else has struck the gold they did with this game concept. If I were to try and describe it in a single sentence, I’d say it’s an escape room in video game form.

One player is the explorer, and they have to make their way through a confusing and treacherous castle. The other player is the librarian, and they’re stuck in a room with charts, books, projectors, and paintings that can help the explorer on their journey.

Together, the two of you have to escape.

This game is absolutely delightful. I had a blast playing it, and I can’t say I’ve had the same experience while playing any other game.

It’s challenging, but not too hard, finding that perfect balance between testing your brain and breaking it. It really and truly relies on communication because the explorer and the librarian do not know what the other is seeing unless they’re told.

Fro and I actually had to say, “over” after we were done speaking so that we didn’t clog up the line of communication and speak over each other. And we really brushed up on our…describing skills.

Plus, the game has a touch of fright. When the explorer is in a certain area, some kind of monster haunts the hallways. Fro started flipping out over the walkie-talkie when he saw it, since he was the explorer, and I was just safely in my little library trying to help him out.

The ending to the game would be my only gripe, but I’m not going to say what it is so that I don’t spoil it for anyone. Let’s just say it leaves you thinking there’s more, when there isn’t. (Unless there is!)

We Were Here was perfect for a single sitting-game session. It’s available on Xbox and on PC. If you get it, I can guarantee you won’t regret it. Just be sure to play with a friend.

I rate We Were Here a play-with-a-person-you-know-and-can-joke-with-and-it-also-wouldn’t-hurt-if-they’re-on-the-intelligent-side.

Gears 5 Review: Balancing on a Lancer’s Chainsaw

I first picked up Gears of War 3 because I was bored. I knew nothing about the game except that it involved beefy muscle-men shooting up these alien-looking creatures. Little did I expect to be drawn in by the lunky cover-based mechanics and absolutely awesome co-op nature of the game.

I ended up playing Gear of War 4 on the first day it came out (which led to a very hilarious midnight game time with my friend Bubba), and this prepped me for being fully thrilled for Gears 5.

Plus, as I haven’t been shy about posting here, I went to E3 this past summer. The previews for what Gears 5 would be had me super excited in LA. It was no Doom Eternal in terms of my pumped levels, but I was still looking forward to it.

Fast forward to the day it released, and I downloaded it and started playing it immediately. I was totally fresh when it came to the game, no prejudices, I swear. (Well, except for some lingering confusion as to why they shortened the name from “Gears of War” to just “Gears.”)

My final thoughts? There is a lot to like about Gears 5, but it is plagued by some truly frustrating moments.

Now, bear in mind that I’m a campaign gal. I’m not a very good judge of multiplayer aside from “that was fun” or “that totally sucked.” So this review is going to focus on the story mode.

On that note…SPOILER WARNING!

Let’s start with the gameplay first.

Gear 5 played better (at least for me, your Below Average reviewer) than Gears of War 4. Something about the controls felt less clunky, more fluid than its predecessor. My character moved faster (except when slowed by an obligatory story moment). Since I’m a predominantly first-person shooter player, I’m not always used to the heaviness of an over-the-shoulder, third-person shooter. It takes me a while to get used to it. I was able to acclimate to Gears 5 more smoothly than the other two Gears games I played.

The guns also felt wonderfully unique.

Anybody here play Halo 5: Guardians? While playing that game, I couldn’t help being bored with the weapon selection. They all felt so…similar. That wasn’t an issue for me in Gears 5. The Lancer felt different from the Hammerburst. The Gnasher felt different from the Overkill. The Boltok felt different from the Snub.

Side note: Fuck the Snub Pistol. I hate that thing.

Aside from the cool reload mini-game, I looked forward to using each weapon, at least once to try it out, just to see how unique it would feel.

And when you get to know the cover mechanics (and you stop running out like a fool playing Doom), the game is thoroughly enjoyable. You pop in and out of cover, blast the Swarm with your bullets, spikes, or shrapnel, dive to the next spot of cover, and then repeat. It’s all very fun.

But wait, you may say. All of this was in the previous Gears game. How did Gears 5 up the ante?

Well, they threw super powers into the mix.

The main characters get an AI robot buddy named Jack to fight alongside them, and he gives them perks during a battle. Some of these perks are passive upgrades to Jack himself, things that will help him survive. Others are more aggressive.

With Jack by your side, you can let out a Pulse to highlight enemies that are behind cover. You can send out a Flash to stun them out of cover. You can even create a little Shock Trap for them to stumble onto. I think you get the gist of these things.

During the campaign, you can collect components to upgrade these abilities, which provides players with more of an incentive to explore than simple collectibles. And the abilities do end up proving useful when you’re in a pitched battle with Swarm soldiers and Snatchers surrounding you.

But those cooldowns are insanely long.

Please tell me it wasn’t just me. I mean, I spent the components necessary to shorten the timer on those abilities, but I seriously felt those things took forever to recharge. You’d think with all the improvements to technology going on, Baird would have figured out a way to make those cooldowns shorter.

But whatever, that’s not my major complaint with Gears 5. The only thing those long cooldowns truly gave me was more time relying on my own weapons, which is not a bad thing in and of itself.

Let’s move on to the story bits.

Bottom line, Gears 5’s story works. It does its job. As a matter of fact, it worked better than I thought it would. Why? Because the story doesn’t just rely on Kait’s descent into Locust madness like I thought it would. The emotional focus of the story centers on regret and friendship, and those two hefty themes can carry the game to the moon and beyond, especially with that dialogue.

Despite myself, I found myself guffawing along with the hardeeharhar wit and bravado that accompanies a Gears game.

And damn it if I didn’t start liking Fahz by the end of the game. I normally hate the stereotypical douche-bag character, but he won me over. Don’t know how that happened. Probably the dialogue’s doing.

And Jack’s an interesting addition to the story as well as to the gameplay. Though I do wonder why Swarm Leeches never decided to infect and take over Jack when every other machine was being possessed.

Kait’s discoveries and struggles are mesmerizing, engrossing as heck, but they do feel a little vague. I’m still not one hundred percent clear why her dead mom was in her brain and how this strange incarnation of her ended up getting released, but I’m not going to complain too much about the fiction part of my science-fiction game.

What really interested me in terms of story coalesces at the very end, with that terrible choice the developers have you make.

Here’s some brief backstory for those of you not in the know:

The three main characters, Kait, Del, and JD, are the closest of friends. You get the sense of that in Gears of War 4 and in the beginning chapters of Gears 5. But JD makes some very poor decisions (for the right reasons), and it actually damages him physically and emotionally. He cuts himself off from Kait and Del, becoming a pseudo-jerk like Fahz. This results in the majority of the game being about Del and Kait on their adventure. Toward the end, JD reconciles with his two friends, and you three tackle the final mission together. It’s a strange sort of redemption story.

And that’s when Gears 5 kicks you in the balls.

Kait’s mother/not-mother wraps her tentacles around both Del and JD’s throats, and for the first time I can recall in a Gears game, you have to choose which character lives or dies.

Side note: You do this by choosing which tentacle to chuck a sword at, the one holding Del or the one holding JD. Don’t know why you couldn’t just chuck it at Kait’s mom’s face.

And this is not some phoney-bologna choice. Whoever you don’t pick to live, dies. I panicked like a chicken without its head when I had to make this choice. I ended up saving Del, because he was my broski for most of the game, and it would have been terrible to just let him die.

But then I had to contend with the fact that I let Marcus Fenix’s son die. Marcus’ face (yes, his computer-animated face) had me writhing in shame and guilt.

Side note: Yes, I do plan to play the game again and have JD live, so I have a save file with each option.

Anyways, it is a ton of fun experiencing Gears 5 with another person by your side, and it tickles me pink that you can play it with three people couch co-op style.

However, this is also where I ran into major problems with the game.

More than once, scripted in-game events failed to occur, leaving me and my partner stranded in this interminable moment of time. We had no choice but to restart from our last checkpoint. For example, I once got stuck under a downed helicopter, and my partner’s character had to go down some stairs and reach me before I got swarmed with Swarm. We didn’t realize this at the time, but a Juvie is supposed to leap on top of my character and start pounding at me once my partner’s character got close enough to save me. After shooting it, there’s a small mini-cutscene where my character is helped up.

Unfortunately for us, the Juvie never showed, so my partner and I spent a good fifteen minutes wondering how he was supposed to help me up. He walked around my character (who lay on the ground chilling) pressing every button under the sun, hoping he could activate some kind of assist.

Another problem that plagued my playthrough were missing character models.

You guys know that fight with the Matriarch that happens in the ice level? For the intro, she’s just missing from the cutscene. And when the gameplay starts up, she can be found on the complete other side of the room.

We also had those moments where Kait or Del looked like they were holding their weapons, but their weapons were playing the invisibility game. Nothing screams polish like a missing weapon model, am I right?

Ugh, and don’t get me started on those wind storms.

Look, I liked the idea of making the game open-world-esque, but if you’re going to include skiff-traversable areas, could you not populate them with bullshit storms? I could hardly control the vehicle, the fake dust obscured my entire screen, and THE RANDOM LIGHTNING STRIKES KILLED ME MORE THAN THE SWARM!

Maybe I’m being salty, but I don’t think that skiff handled well. And it definitely didn’t handle well in the middle of a wind/lightning storm in zero-visibility conditions.

All of the gripes I have against the game, however, didn’t really spoil my enjoyment of it. Gears 5 luckily struck a fine balance for me, between laughably glitchy, truly engrossing, and damnably entertaining.

Though it’s kind of an unfortunate reality gamers have to put up with these days that big titles will inevitably release with more bugs than Million Ants.

I rate Gears 5 a fun-update-to=the-Gears-franchise-that-has-a-few-issues-but-when-it-succeeds-it-really-succeeds-and-no-one-can-deny-the-pleasure-of-Lancering-Swarm-in-the-face.

Playing Single-Player Campaigns with Another Person

I once wrote a post extolling the virtues of couch co-op games. In it, I made a big deal about being able to sit down with friends and play video games (and some other sob-story stuff). I still believe playing co-op games is one of the better parts of gaming.

But over the years, I’ve realized there is something I like more than good old-fashioned splitscreen fun.

There is seriously nothing better than playing a single-player campaign with a buddy.

Just hear me out.

Since a single-player experience is meant to be played by one person, a stronger emphasis on narrative is given to these campaigns. Player choice and immersion are focal points.

If you’ve never played one, imagine an interactive movie that could last you for days.

And sure, I’ve watched my fair share of movies alone, but I draw extra enjoyment from watching a movie with a friend and having the same or a different reaction. It’s one of the things I live for.

Looking back on my gaming experiences then, the ones I love the most are the ones where a friend and I went through the highs and lows of a single-player campaign together.

My friend Bubba is the number one person I do campaigns with. We have such good memories of playing video games together, even if one of us was mostly a passive observer during the whole thing.

We played Alien: Isolation, a survival horror game, all the way through by passing off the controller every ten minutes. That time limit wasn’t arbitrary. Ten minutes was about as long as we could stand the stress of having to creep around a space station with a Xenomorph stalking us. The game was so stressful, we practically threw the controller at the other person when our turn was up, even if a Xenomorph was charging us at the time.

We played Life Is Strange, an episodic, dialogue-driven adventure, together. At first, we laughed at the downright dumb that seemed to permeate character decisions and reactions. But after a while, we got sucked into the high school drama. We even have personal catchphrases we use that come from this game. We’re terrible trash people.

We played the latest Prey game together. We both really like sci-fi, so this survival adventure game on an abandoned space station infested with a new alien life form was perfect for us genre-wise. Plus, we both had different styles of playing, and they both worked. I was the sneaky sneakerton that would whack enemies from behind with a wrench or a silenced pistol shot, and Bubba was the all-sprint-all-the-time kind of player who favored the shotgun and psychic blasts.

I watched Bubba play through Celeste, an indie platformer that is all about fighting your way through your own insecurities while remaining true to yourself. I’m not terribly skilled at platforming, but Bubba was a mad genius. He died almost 1000 times (not joking), but he persevered all the way to the end.

Bubba watched me play Mass Effect: Andromeda, a sci-fi RPG, and laughed at me the entire time. He called me obsessed because I kept trying to spark relationships with any turian I could find. And we both laughed at the insane amount of glitches we ran into.

I don’t think I’m alone in the gaming community in liking the feel-good feeling of a single-player campaign experienced alongside a friend. (I mean, that’s probably why Let’s Plays exist in the first place. Let’s Players are like substitute friends who play games for you.)

There’s just something to be said for playing a game in a way that, perhaps, it wasn’t exactly meant to be played.

E3 Day Three: Birthday Bliss

I woke up especially early for the final day of E3.

I woke up every day of E3 pretty early, but the third day was the day I practically anticipated the alarm.

The last day of the expo worked differently than the ones that had gone before it. Previously, industry and media badge-holders got a few extra hours on the exhibit floors before the plebeian (I’m joking) gamer badge-holders were allowed in. On Thursday, industry, media, and gamer badge-holders could all enter at the same time.

That meant all bets were off when it came time to line up for those game demos.

So even though my burrow of blankets was begging to be stayed in, I got up at the ass-crack of dawn to be one of the first people in line.

You see, there was one thing I had yet to do at E3.

I had not played the Doom Eternal demo.

I know, I know. ‘Amanda, how could you go to E3 as a professed Doom lover and not bum-rush the Doom Eternal demo first thing?’

Cut me some slack. It was my first E3, and I was awed by all the games and forgot to pay attention to demo scheduling. I kind of wandered around and played the games that fell into my lap.

Anyways, the Doom Eternal demo was the one thing I wanted to do that day. If I got to play that demo, then I could leave the expo happy. It was my sole objective for Thursday. Anything else accomplished would be considered a bonus.

I arrived at the convention center at the perfect time. Only about twelve people were clustered around the entrance to the exhibit hall. However, it was almost as if my coming heralded the surge of gamer badge-holders. A wave of people, mostly men, shuffled into line behind and around me. In fact, the line became more of a circular mob instead of an actual straight line.

Now, I’m not normally a super chatty person, but there’s something comforting about being surrounded by people you know without a doubt have the same interests as you.

So I made friends with the men standing next to me, talking giddily about how much I wanted to play Doom Eternal (as clearly evidenced by my Doom Eternal shirt) and how much fun I had been having at E3 from the get-go. I even let drop the fact that it was my birthday and got a chorus of “Happy Birthdays!” from these complete strangers, which was freakin’ sweet.

Now the guys around me encompassed the entire spectrum of male gamers. There were skinny boys without an ounce of meat to their bodies, guys with glasses shoved up to the highest point on the bridge of their nose, heavy-set males with tangly beards, muscular dude-bros with tattoos etched across their arms. But we were all united in our love for games.

And our determination to race forward to our favorites.

One of the guys next to me, a guy in a tank top with tattoos on his arm, was also planning to rush toward Doom Eternal just like me. He and his much smaller friend were aching to play it as much as I was.

Side note: That’s a lie. NO ONE was aching to play Doom Eternal as much as I was!

I made a joke about how I would use his body as a ram and shield in my own push to get to the demo. And he was just totally chill about. “Yeah, man, go ahead. You do what you have to do.”

His smaller friend nodded and grinned. He said, “That’s what I’m planning to do.”

And when the exhibit floors were opened, that’s almost exactly what happened. The three of us formed a javelin that pierced through the crowds. The tank-top guy in front was the tip and the smaller guy and me were the shaft. (Please, no dirty jokes.)

Eventually, I broke formation because I was too much of a pussy to run. But the three of us made it to the Doom Eternal demo, and when I took a seat next to the guys who had run ahead of me, they let out a cheer and yelled, “Happy birthday!” again. I was tickle-pink with happiness. Even more so when the tattoo guy mentioned that if I had not gotten a spot to play the demo, he would have given his up to me because he knew how much I wanted to play.

I swear, beneath the layers of sweat, insecurity, arrogance, nerdiness, or awkwardness that gamers throw up around themselves, there are some truly kind people.

The Doom Eternal demo was everything I hoped it would be. Fast-paced, demon-slaying action that refused to let up. Even the quiet moments felt bad-ass. The changes to the control scheme have all been altered to make the gameplay even more rapid than it already was. I’m totes excited for it (please excuse the “totes”), and when it comes out in November, I’m going to be pumped as hell.

Side note: Get it? “Pumped as hell?” Doom? Hell?

Ken and German, who were running late, caught up with me after the demo. We added a newcomer to our group, named Vien. Vien had been one of the gamer badge-holders in line with me alongside tank-top guy and his friend. I invited him to hang out with us, and he agreed.

He took us to play Harvest Moon, which was a lot of fun. The farming techniques are as fake as ever, but they are doubly entertaining. Plus, for playing the demo, we got a sweet sheep keychain.

Vien and German then lined up to try out Catherine: Full Body. While they were in line for that, I went to the indie game section to play Hot Swap just one more time. I also got to play another intriguing indie game called Manifold Garden. It was a puzzle game designed to mess with your typical perspective in a video game. Walls and ceilings could become a floor at the press of a button.

After a mind-bending time with Manifold Garden, I returned to German and Vien at the Catherine line. (Ken had gone to see Elon Musk’s panel at the Novo.) I was able to stand behind them while they played and observed the insanity of Catherine: Full Body’s gameplay mechanics and level design. German was playing the demo on normal, and he could not complete it. (He’s a fantastic gamer; I’m not trying to bash on his skills.)

Vien did not join me, German, and Ken for lunch, opting to go stand in line for the Ghost Recon: Breakpoint demo. Ken, tired from days of walking around, decided to call it quits on the expo after we had food. We promised to stay in touch, and then German and I went back to the convention center without him.

We met up with Vien at the Ghost Recon section, where he was barely at the front of the line. I watched him play from behind as German went to try out Monster Hunter’s Iceborne expansion again. Afterwards, Vien told me he wasn’t a big fan of the demo, but he also explained that Ghost Recon’s type of strategy wasn’t his style.

The three of us called it quits after kerfuffling around some old arcade games. There was a section in the South Hall devoted to old games like Contra, the original Donkey Kong, and Centipede. We didn’t plan to end our time this way, but it was fitting that we finished E3, the temple of upcoming games, by playing some classics.

This day was honestly one of the happiest days of my life. I can’t remember feeling so content and excited before. I mean, I’m sure there might have been days like that when I was a kid, but those times are a thing of the past now. Exiting the convention center, I was feeling nothing but pure bliss.

Which is probably why it was so hilarious when, shortly after leaving the expo, I tripped while walking on the sidewalk and tore my pants, scraped my palm and my knee, and bruised my ego.

But you know what?

I felt so happy, not even that fall could bring me down (figuratively speaking since I did actually hit the ground).

I picked myself up with a grin, examined the new hole in my pants, and then walked on.

E3 Day Two: Networking on VR Dance Floors

My second day at E3 was far more mellow than my first day. First of all, I wasn’t as panicky as I was before. I was steeped in pleasant determination to experience all I could, and I had general expectations of what the expo could offer me.

My initial enthusiasm was still bolstering me (and powering me through hours of walking and standing).

Ken, German, and I met up once again to traverse the floors together as a three-man pack. We started our day by taking a look at Crystal Dynamics Marvel’s Avengers game. The line to check out the demo was inordinately long, and according to some fellow line-standers, it was because the system for getting people to see the demo was highly ineffective.

The demo itself was about thirty minutes long, and the turnover rate for attendees was minuscule.

I struck up a conversation with the people ahead of us. The main topic of discussion: how terrible the lines at E3 are now.

Side note: As a first-time E3 attendee, I couldn’t say much as to what the lines were like before.

We also talked about how media badge-holders are given more privileges than industry badge-holders. I felt like one blessed duckling.

The demo for Marvel’s Avengers was…interesting. It showcased fast-paced action, but the combat felt a tad uninspired, even with the different members of the Avengers at their disposal. Plus, set-pieces seemed more important than engaging gameplay.

Another disappointing factor was that the demo was played by a developer nearby instead of by the people attending it. Too many of the demos at E3 were like that. Instead of allowing attendees to play the game for themselves, attendees were seated in closed-off rooms to watch someone else play it or a prerecorded demo.

After the Marvel’s Avengers demo, my group and I toured the gaming chair area. We tried out $1300 chairs (complete with lumbar support). Those chairs felt heavenly, but I doubt I’d ever splurge and get one for myself. That would mortally wound my wallet. Plus, I have an incurable penchant for sitting on the floor.

Eventually, we ambled over to the Monster Hunter: World section, where they were giving attendees a chance to play the upcoming Iceborne expansion.

Side note: Now, see? That’s how you do a demo.

I have never played a Monster Hunter game, but thanks to knowledge from Ken and German, and a natural sense of caution born from dipping my toes into Dark Souls games, I was able to participate and contribute to a four-person hunt.

Ken did a wonderful job of keeping an eye out for our team, popping health boosters for us if he noticed any one of our health bars dipping into dangerous territory. German was perhaps the more experimentive of our group. He liked to grapple onto the beast’s face, play around with his weapons, and things like that. We also had a rando play with us in order to fill out our group.

It was an honest blast trekking through the snow and bringing down that Tigrex.

Side note: Whenever we got a tad bored with the exhibit floor, we would hop back to the Iceborne demo and play it again.

We later meandered over to this one demo section that looked deserted compared to other booths. THQ Nordic’s Wreckfest appeared to be the one game no one really wanted to play. So of course we all hopped on to play it because it was available.

Racing games have never been my jam. I don’t get into them the way I know some avid fans do. However, Wreckfest’s lawn mower battle mode was quite enjoyable. Driving around on my little green lawnmower (in first person) trying to demolish other lawnmowers was definitely entertaining.

Part of the reason Wreckfest was abandoned on the exhibit floor was because THQ Nordic had set up the demo for Destroy All Humans! right next door. Everyone wanted to check out that upcoming action game instead.

Which is exactly what Ken, German, and I ended up doing.

German played the demo, and Ken and I stood behind him. The game looks to be of the same nature as its predecessors, with an updated look and control scheme. Humor is clearly its forte.

Near THQ Nordic’s section, a small VR station was set up. Hardly anyone was there, which is a shame because this was the most calming experience you could hope for in the middle of a crowded expo. A woman had made a VR game that was comprised of nothing but writing messages with a controller for other people to find.

The atmosphere was delightfully ethereal, with purple trees and green rivers comprising the background. And there was something really satisfying about writing out short messages using your hand as if a spray can was in it.

The three of us spent some time in this VR world, and it was particularly hilarious when Ken nearly clocked the exhibitor in the head as he left an exuberant statement.

We paused for a lunch break right around this time. The food at the convention center was ridiculously expensive, so German found us this neat little taco shop that was hidden away by some construction. Those tacos were the best goddamn tacos I ever had.

Outside the restaurant, an ominous ice cream truck was blaring creepy ice-cream-truck music. The reason the truck was so scary was because it was painted entirely black. When we approached it, though, we realized the whole thing was a gimmick. The Mortal Kombat 11 people were giving out free ice cream to people. If you took an ice cream, they gave you a wristband. The wristband would allow you to skip the line for Mortal Kombat 11 within the exhibit hall.

This seemed like a pretty good deal, so Ken, German, and I took some ice cream and received our wristbands. Sure enough, when we were back in the convention center, we were able to play some Mortal Kombat 11 without waiting at all. I played as D’Vorah and lost horribly.

At this point, the day was drawing to a close, and we were all pooped. German got us into this one last event in the South Hall. This one VR booth had this strange, club setting, complete with scantily-clad girls dancing around it. It looked like they were pitching the idea of clubbing through VR.

I was skeptical of the whole thing because it looked like a blatant attempt to grab male gamers’ attention with gyrating ladies in skin-tight clothes. But since German got us the tickets for free, I went along with it.

It actually ended up being pretty nifty. They hooked us into a connected VR space. We could see each other in a virtual world while we were separated in the physical world. German and I could wave hello to each other virtually.

The movement in this dance floor setting was insanely intuitive too. You could move yourself with a toggle, which was a fairly slow way to do it, or you could teleport yourself by aiming your controller where you wanted to go and clicking.

When one of the dancing ladies came to take off the VR headset and halter, I seriously wished my time with the “game” could have lasted longer.

For the longest time, I’ve been one of those doubters of VR, but after spending some more time with it, I think I could get used to interacting with people on a virtual dance floor.

E3 Day One: Sore Legs and a Happy Heart

On the morning of June 11, I got dropped off in front of the LA Convention Center close to 7:30 a.m. The doors to the exhibit floor did not open until 11. I was insanely early.

I didn’t care.

Seriously, I was just thrilled to the core to be going to E3 2019 (Electronic Entertainment Expo). It was summer in the middle of downtown LA with cars exuding exhaust all around me, but I breathed that air like it was crisp, mountain air.

You guys, it felt like home.

I spent hours before the South and West Halls opened walking around the exterior of the Convention Center. I figured out the different points of entry that I, as a Media badge-holder, could gain access to. I also located exactly where the entrance to the Novo (a meeting room set apart from the Convention Center) was by the Microsoft Theater.

I have to admit, I was pretty nervous walking around by myself. I had no one to bounce ideas off of when it came to scheduling my day or contemplating if I was lost. But I figured I would make do, come what may.

Luckily, the E3 gods decided to have mercy on me.

Almost immediately after I returned to the entrance of the South Hall, ready to storm the exhibit floor, I met some fellows, and we formed a party right then and there. All three of us were loners, solo attendees of E3, and that fact bonded us. With an unspoken/spoken agreement, we decided to tour the halls together.

My E3 buddies were called Ken Mood and German Sanchez. Ken was an eager first-timer like me, with a penchant for livestreaming his experiences using his interesting new phone. German was a photographer, with a penchant for practical purchasing and an eye for great camera equipment.

After we officially grouped up, we did everything as a team.

Side note: So when I say “I,” there is a high probability that I mean “we.”

We attended two panels at the Novo, one for Gears 5 and the other for Doom Eternal.

The Gears panel was an absolute riot. The voice actors for JD, Marcus, Kait, and Del showed up, and they riffed off of each other for thirty minutes straight. Toward the end of the panel, it came time for questions from the audience. This one guy got the microphone and asked the stupidest question ever.

“What is Kait’s sexual preference?”

Seriously? Are you kidding me? What kind of question is that? None of the dude characters are getting that question.

Luckily, the indefatigable John DiMaggio (voice of Marcus Fenix) had the perfect response to this poorly phrased question. If you look for it, you can actually find a video of the moment. AND, if you look at the crowd, you can see me in the corner.

Side note: Danny, don’t you dare actually post the video here. I commented on it, and that’s enough.

The Doom Eternal panel was much more mellow and informative. I am legit excited for this game. I’m more thrilled than I can say that it’s coming out this year. I don’t have to wait for Doom-slaying.

I spent a lot of the first day, shamefully so, buying merch and swag for myself and my family. Mostly for myself, I’m sorry to say. I do want to state that I don’t normally spend a lot on useless things. But I got suckered in hardcore at E3. What am I supposed to do when a Doom Eternal pin is begging to be bought?! Or a Master Chief polo shirt is dying to be worn?!

German was a much more practical buyer. I think the only thing he bought was a Satisfye Nintendo Switch grip accessory. As a new owner of a Switch (THANKS BUBBA), I don’t have a full understanding of how it feels to hold the controls, but the Satisfye grips appear to make it a lot more comfortable. They attach to the Joy-Cons, making it easier for larger hands to hold the device.

Speaking of Nintendo, their section in the West Hall was packed. And when I say packed, I mean packed. Throngs of people crowded the brightly colored booths. That’s one thing that Nintendo definitely has in its favor. Whereas a company like Bethesda has these dark and gritty displays, Nintendo’s displays are naturally eye-catching, with unabashed reds and yellows.

The three of us tried getting in to check out Luigi’s Mansion 3, but the line was exorbitantly long. Not even my media badge could help us out.

We also stopped by the Microsoft Theater to check out the Xbox Experience. The ambiance of that place is intense. It’s a massive auditorium, with game consoles stuffed on the stage. The line to get onto there was pretty short, but none of the games were new. Unfortunately for me, Ori and the Will of the Wisps was not being demo-ed.

The cool thing about the Xbox area was honestly just the atmosphere. Green spotlights streaked the air with brightness, making the whole area seem like a promotion for the Xbox. Was it blatant marketing? Maybe. Was I okay with it? Heck yes.

By far, the best game I tried out that day was a game called Hot Swap. And the funny thing is, it was an indie game. But I’m telling you guys, it was so innovative and so engaging. I’m going to try and explain it to you as best I can.

It’s a cooperative game, requiring two players to play. On the screen is a basic image of a small ship with six cannons, three on each side, sailing the ocean. For controlling the ship, each player has a rectangular board in front of them. These rectangles each have square indentations where blocky input cubes can be placed. These input cubes have different configurations on the top.

For example, one cube has a typical steering wheel for an old-timey-y ship. Another has a button with a fire symbol on it. Yet another has a lever that moves back and forth.

These cubes can be moved around easily, placed on one player’s board in a second and then picked up and moved to the other player’s board in the next. And that’s the basics of the gameplay. These two players, swapping out the input cubes as needed, have to control a small ship, find treasure, and fire at enemy boats.

Hot Swap was remarkably engaging. I seriously did not want to stop playing. If I could, I would have stayed there for hours. If it ever releases to a wider audience, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It was so much fun, with such a simple premise.

The collaboration between the two players, or lack thereof, was hilarious. When I played with Ken and German (I got to play twice), we were shouting at each other, demanding that we pass over the Load the Cannon input cube, and then whining about who would have the Steering Wheel cube. At one point, German held on to the Fire the Cannon cube for far longer than necessary, and I’m pretty sure Ken forgot to use the Fire Suppression cube properly.

I closed the evening off with a visit to the Psychonauts 2 demo. It was a prerecorded demo of gameplay, but it was fun to watch. I was originally shown the first Psychonauts by my brother-in-law, Carlos. The sequel looks to uphold the same standards of humor, which I definitely appreciate. As a psychic secret agent, it’s par for the course for you to fight against an enemy’s mental “doubts” and “regrets.”

Of course, all this walking and standing around killed my leg and foot muscles. My shoulders were aching, too, from carrying around my purse with my notebooks and stuff.

But my sore legs could not take away from the happiness blooming in my heart.

God, that sounds corny.