I Can’t Believe It’s Not E3! The Best Moments From June 2022 Hype Season

As an event trading on often delirious hype, the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo has always been intimately familiar with the importance of expectation. So when, in February of 2022, the event’s governing body the ESA announced that E3 would not be taking place this year – not even in its pretty successful restricted 2021 format – the expectations of an entire industry were reset. Reset, perhaps for some, to the sprawling hodgepodge of digital showcases from 2020 that spanned multiple months, each stream slapped with a cheap sticker denoting either Geoff Keighley’s “Summer Game Fest”, “IGN’s Summer of Gaming”, or both. That year felt like a few enterprising marketing teams trying to make the most of an awful situation; on the other side of E3’s brief return, however, the atmosphere felt more calculated.

Trying to lasso together all the videogame announcement vehicles of various shapes and sizes that we’ve just seen rolling through gaming social media spaces these past two-and-a-bit weeks may seem unwieldy, but when compared to 2020, those stickers seem far more premium and better-aligned. Keighley and co. were clearly much more ready to step up in 2022. Though not all the traditional pillars were present this year, a proper “replacement” for E3 – should it officially go the way of the Dreamcast – at last looks not only possible but likely.

Was this 2022 edition of the all-too-short announcement season a success? That probably comes down to the comparisons you choose to make, but I for one had a grand old time. These are my ten favourite moments/trends from “Keigh3” 2022.

A Tone-Setting REveal

The lack of ESA oversight in 2022 meant videogame publishers didn’t have any particularly pressing reason to show up with the goods in June, and quite a few of the big guns took that as an invitation to walk right on by. Though it was a bit of a downer to see the absence of dedicated Nintendo or (arguably more shockingly) Ubisoft showcases within the traditional E3 period, Playstation pulled an ambush on regular E3 watchers by unleashing easily their best-ever State of Play program right at the beginning of June. And it began with a context-free release date, bringing exactly the right kind of what-is-going-on energy for which modern Capcom is so renowned. Then a Spanish guitar riff, a giant “R” in a very familiar font, and then bam- right into a confirmation of the long-rumoured, gorgeous-looking Resident Evil 4 remake.

To be clear, since leaving E3 behind years ago Sony has divided its hype-building trailer montages into an almost-annual “Playstation Showcase” (usually around September), where they tend to put their biggest announcements, and then lower-key, often third-party/single-title-focused “State of Play” shows scattered throughout the year. When one such show was slated for this June, it came with a disclaimer that this would be yet another third-party-dominated affair. But there are few bigger third parties to being along than Capcom, and so that RE4 trailer was more than just a look at a game I am beyond excited to play; it lifted the hype bar and set the tone for what an E3-free June could hold in store. The colourful re-reveal of Street Fighter 6 minutes later only backed that up (and there was plenty more in that show to get excited about).

The Darktide Turns

Geoff’s headlining two-hour showpiece event, which confusingly shared the same name as the wider festivities around it, may have been perhaps overly long and a little redundant in places, but still showed marked pacing improvements over previous Keighley shows. It did this mainly by cutting down on cringey “gamer-targeted” ads, without completely removing the live awkwardness we don’t get anywhere else anymore (shoutout to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s call-in). But you arguably want a bit of that mixed in for the spice.

The show also unquestionably brought some big moments, including the debut of beautifully unbroken gameplay footage from ex-Dead Space developer’s spiritual successor The Callisto Protocol – not to mention the same achievement for the new Call of Duty, and Keighley’s biggest on-stage Playstation conversation partner ever in the form of a seething Neil Druckmann – the latter fresh off a crushing last-minute leak of The Last of Us Part I. Guile’s fresh new SF6 look also debuted during the show, as did a surprising announcement that the prolific Bloober Team is deep into work on UE5 horror sequel/remake Layers of Fears. The show also debuted the single best trailer released all month: the gloriously tonque-in-cheek Dead Island 2 riff that announced Goat Simulator 3 (And no, there was no 2).

But my personal highlight was easily the gameplay-rich trailer for imminent co-op extravaganza Warhammer 40K: Darktide. Fresh off a great time playing Back 4 Blood with mates last year, I am more ready than ever for something like this, and every part of it is looking fantastic:

Sumptuous Sorta-Shadows

OK I kinda lied just then, because my two actual favourite bits of the Summer Game Fest show were the release date announcements for two of my most anticipated games of the year: Neon White and TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge. As luck would have it, both release on the 17th of June in Australia – that’s today, if you’re reading this the day it’s published – and the latter is even on Xbox Game Pass from day one. These weren’t quite “Out Now” release dates, but they’re absolutely the next best thing, and in a month rather light on shadow drops I’m going to (enthusiastically) count them both.

As additional showcases continued to go live over the ensuing days more shadow drops did eventuate; they came mostly in the form of demos or significant game updates, but that’s arguably even better than a full title if the name of the game is hype. Demos for Anger Foot and Metal Hellsinger have already gained some serious online traction among twitch-shooter audiences, Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak can now boast the first demo for a game expansion that I can remember, and the Saints Row reboot enacted the genius idea to release its character creator two months early via its Boss Factory demo. Horizon: Forbidden West’s major patch added eyebrow-raising gameplay and technical improvements, Microsoft Flight Simulator received a lovingly-rendered incarnation of the Halo series’ Pelican, and three modern Resident Evil titles received current-gen console upgrades that also brought ray tracing support to PC (I’ve been trying the feature out on Resident Evil 2 and just quietly, that game is still incredible).

Then there’s Steam Next Fest, a cool concept that’s already seen dozens of PC game demos released from the Summer Game Fest physical show floor, various indie presentations and beyond. So get amongst that on Steam right now if you fancy.

Oh, and this one really is a stretch, but I’m also going to count the years-late debut of the Xbox Design Lab controller creator in Australia, which dropped conspicuously just days before the Xbox showcase. I have wasted so much time in that thing already.

The Breakout Indie

The increasingly great thing about this time of year is how many different kinds of games are shown off to cater for different tastes, but among the many, many reaction videos I watched this year there was only one trailer that got a pop every single time. The Plucky Squire, courtesy of ex-Game Freak Pokemon designer James Turner (who also directed HarmoKnight, one of my favourite 3DS games) and Aussie lad Jonathan Biddle, debuted right in the middle of the Devolver Digital showcase with one of the shortest new trailers all month. But it sure does use every second to the fullest, showcasing some truly off-the-wall ideas with a beautiful sense of escalation. I cannot wait to get my hands on this one:

The Best Devolver Show Ever?

But that wasn’t the only highlight of Devolver’s show this year. The crown jewel in a horde of wonderfully cosy indie-focused presentations returning from last year, Devolver didn’t just rapid-fire a ton of manic jokes and sight gags that mostly got me (I want to play Tom Clancy’s Animal Crossing), but they cast Suda51 as an AI in a giant practical mech, and that is indeed as wondrous as it sounds.

But just as importantly, the five trailers scattered throughout the show were all winners. Fabulously paced and each packing a near-perfect soundtrack, The Plucky Squire was joined by Cult of the Lamb, Anger Foot, Card Shark (which released the week before the show and is a ton of fun so far) and Skate Story – that last one might actually set a new standard for picking fitting licensed music to match visuals. If you have a spare 25 minutes I highly recommend watching the whole show on YouTube.

Twelve: Xbox’s Magic Number

For all the strides Xbox has made under Phil Spencer in recent years to repair the damage done a decade ago under comparatively clueless management, it’s probably fair to say the pandemic did not arrive at a great time for the Xbox Game Studios suite. While the ever-compelling value proposition of Game Pass on Xbox and PC has carved out a cosy niche for the green team over the last few years, the triple-A ambition behind what modern Xbox wants to be – namely a match for Playstation in terms of head-turning exclusives – has undoubtedly cost them mindshare in the here and now.

Expensive, challenging development in the age of transition to Unreal Engine 5 has meant most of Microsoft’s biggest-name exclusive announcements of the last few years – see Fable, Hellblade II, Perfect Dark, The Outer Worlds 2, Avowed, Contraband, Indiana Jones, Everwild, State of Decay 3, not to mention the inevitable sixth mainline Gears game – are still virtually without actual gameplay footage to show for the struggles of all the behind-the-scenes effort. When Bethesda’s two major 2022 bangers Redfall and Starfield were announced as a package delay into 2023 just a month before the Xbox showcase, the near future suddenly looked very barren indeed. Xbox’s not-E3 show, confidently announced way before any other June event was even dated, needed to do something to stem the inevitable tide of subscription cancellations; despite how much I adored Xbox’s 2021 event, I for one was dreading the prospect of more logo-only announcements in an attempt to scrape clout from the mere idea of a vague, far-off promise.

Enter Sarah Bond, right after the opening double-whammy of Redfall‘s debut gameplay footage and the first Hollow Knight: Silksong trailer in literal years. The words that came out of her mouth were probably my favourite of the whole Summer Game Fest period: “For the first time ever, our entire show is focused on games you can play in the next twelve months.” In one fell swoop, Xbox cast aside all my biggest fears of a wispy, theoretical-only showcase while simultaneously setting themselves the daunting challenge of filling a 90-minute slot with exclusively near-future titles. It was a stunning Nintendo Direct-esque move, but even Directs don’t usually have the audacity to set such specific timeline expectations after a show has already started. As a longtime fan of novel videogame presentation structures, I was immediately enthralled.

With the brief exception of Pete Hines’ oddly-scripted appearance (and a super-cheeky appearance by Hideo Kojima that deliberately didn’t even name his new game to circumvent the show’s mission statement), what followed was a relentless assault of back-to-back-to-back games, and not one trailer failed to show actual gameplay. Almost every game shown was announced for Game Pass too (and a few of the remainders will be free-to-play anyway). Though the bigger-name titles understandably got the most screen time – a developer-heavy look at Diablo IV, the stupidly gorgeous current-gen debut of Forza Motorsport, Todd Howard’s classically hyperbole-rich narration over Starfield gameplay – my personal favourite moments came from the unexpected.

What’s that? A candy-coloured mech-suit farming game that looks like Titanfall had a baby with Viva Pinata? Yep, I’ll take one Lightyear Frontier please. A batshit Justin Roiland FPS that doesn’t need VR? Sign me up for High on Life. That absolutely gnarly-looking H.R. Giger nightmare Scorn is now releasing the same month? Sure, let’s go. A brand-new Obsidian RPG with a 2D medieval cartoon art style? I’ll be there for Pentiment. I will also absolutely take all of The Last Case of Benedict Fox, thank you very much. Wait, you’re telling me if I go back to League of Legends or Valorant early next year as a Game Pass subscriber, the entire roster will just be unlocked? Well I probably won’t, but that sure is a flex-and-a-half of an announcement.

Given the tile arrangement within the left half of the impressive breakdown graphic at the finale of the showcase – which looks to follow release date order – it’s also more than a little interesting to see 2021 E3 highlight Somerville (absent from this year’s showcase) hovering around that implied August-September window alongside the (still officially un-dated) A Plague Tale: Requiem and former Steam sensation Valheim – which we later learned will be an Xbox console exclusive at launch. I’m sure a couple of these games will still get delayed, and by virtue of its near-sighted focus the show was naturally lacking in pure headline-grabbers compared to recent years, but I couldn’t have imagined a better way for Microsoft to make the most of the situation in which its major developers have found themselves; in any case it’s safe to say my Xbox schedule is absolutely set for the rest of the year and beyond.

Persona 3 Lives!!

I don’t have much to say here; this megaton announcement during the Xbox showcase just needs its own subheading. It is the end of an era. Japan’s strangest, longest-standing third-party exclusivity agreement is finally over: mainline Persona games will finally set sail on non-Playstation consoles. That new journey starts with an Xbox Series-optimised version of Persona 5 Royal this October, but what excites me the most is the first official release of Persona 3 in any of its forms for 13 years. In the first half of 2023, Persona 3 Portable will hit PC and consoles (yes, PS4 and PS5 included), and maybe I will finally be able to finish what I started on PSP over a decade ago. Only the potential announcement of a Nintendo Switch port will stop me diving back into Tartarus daily on the train via Game Pass cloud streaming. And I cannot wait.

A Mysterious Frontier

If there was one game that managed to stay near the top of the news from the start of June right until the end of the traditional E3 window, it was the perplexing Sonic Frontiers. An accidentally poetic encapsulation of everything that makes modern Sonic development so tragically compelling, Frontiers showed off its first-ever gameplay reveal with a quick standalone trailer before even the State of Play had appeared, then popped up again days later with an even quicker tease at the end of SEGA’s Sonic Central stream – which was setting up an IGN First hands-on preview. Then shots from the Keighley-hosted, in-person event started to leak out, before finally all the influencer NDAs expired and the impression write-ups/videos were unleashed on the internet.

To say that impressions are mixed on this game at the time of writing would be putting things mildly; nay, it would be underselling the delectable tapestry of opinion out there for all to snack on. The IGN First impressions seemed to be describing a game the first trailer didn’t even show, debate is rife on the design philosophy behind putting traditional speed-assisting 3D Sonic elements in a truly open world, and there are still more NDAs in effect about additional parts of the game. The ongoing mystery around such a potentially massive title that could just as easily be a trainwreck as a triumphant landmark moment for Sonic Team brings to mind nostalgic feelings for the E3s of the late 2000s, which were dominated by smokescreens and second-hand info. I can tell you, I am transfixed. I need more of this weirdly-promising game.

Capcom Learns… Slowly

I have spoken to multiple friends this week, both before and after Capcom’s standalone 2022 showcase, about how low the bar was for the Japanese publishing giant to improve on its utterly pointless E3 2021 event. I am not exaggerating when I say that not one of them even remembered there being a Capcom 2021 show and, well, I rest my case.

Unlike last year, the 2022 edition actually announced some new game content of actual consequence, and while it still has a long way to go to catch up to the theatrics of some other publishers (Announcing an announcement containing a potential announcement? Spruiking a beta without a date? Taking three times as many words as necessary to say anything of note?), I can’t lie – it warms my heart to see Capcom’s development heads so earnestly trying to improve their presentation game.

I’m unsure if I’ll be making the trek back to Monster Hunter Rise for its incredibly meaty Sunbreak expansion, but the game’s showing left no doubt that Capcom is pulling out all the stops to widen the gates to series newcomers. Mech-vs-dinosaur action game Exoprimal is looking like an upmarket version of Earth Defense Force in all the cheesiest and best ways, and I can feel myself gradually getting pulled in. But the best thing Capcom did this June was show a tiny bit of RE-flavoured restraint: despite loaning significant announcements to Sony and Keighley, they kept the long-awaited announcement of Resident Evil Village’s DLC story for their own show. And my oh my, Shadow of Rose sure looks fantastic. The confident re-alignment of modern Resident Evil back towards a third-person direction is a welcome surprise, complete with a totally unnecessary revamp of the base game with that more action-focused camera angle. Let’s hope Capcom’s upward trajectory continues.

A Final Word on Final Fantasy

I haven’t forgotten the bombastic closer to that Playstation State of Play at the start of the month; on the contrary, I’ve been replaying that flashy Final Fantasy XVI trailer in my head for weeks. Introduced with heart, awash with narrative possibilities and scored with operatic grandeur, the fresh focus on titanic summon battles looks to bring a Game of Thrones-meets-Power Rangers energy to one of gaming’s oldest franchises – and that’s a sentence I thought I’d never write. Not even that controversial super-bright health bar UI can dampen my excitement for this potential PS5 show-stopper; but then again I am the guy who thinks FF XIII has one of the best battle systems ever produced, so shiny user interfaces were never going to be a problem for me. The confirmation of Devil May Cry expertise in the battle director’s chair is the cherry on top of a sundae that looks more luxurious the more we see of it.

But that wasn’t the only Final Fantasy morsel we got…

Right as I was finishing off this post (and while Capcom was busy announcing Dragon’s Dogma 2), Square Enix’s dedicated FFVII 25th Anniversary stream showed off a full remake of PSP classic Crisis Core (man, it really has been a good week for the PSP), dropped FFVII Remake Intergrade on Steam, and at long last showed off a tease – and title – for the sequel to my 2020 game of the year. Final Fantasy VII Rebirth will (apparently) release at the end of 2023 as a PS5 exclusive, and short of an actual Nintendo Direct showing up in its traditional slot, I cannot think of a higher note for this 2022 E3 replacement thing to end on.

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