It’s du jour to shit on this year’s E3 about how threadbare the upcoming AAA window will be, but the reality is that there’s actually quite a lot on offer. Evolve, Civilization: Beyond Earth, Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Far Cry 4, Project CARS, the Elite: Dangerous beta, World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor, Dreamfall Chapters: The Longest Journey, Starbound, Hotline Miami 2 - there’s actually quite a hell of a lot.
But what there isn’t in spades is a stack of AAA titles that gamers unreservedly want, games you would happily drop down the cash for without a second thought. If anything, this AAA window will be more about games proving their worth than anything else. Pundits are waiting to see if Ubisoft will revamp the formula with Assassin’s Creed: Unity and Far Cry 4. Dragon’s Age: Inquisition has a lot of ground to make up after the dire sequel. The phoning in of Call of Duty last year lost a lot of fans and Battlefield Hardline has been met with a collective “meh”.
None of that cynicism, however, has translated over to Civilization: Beyond Earth. For everything I said above, it doesn’t apply to the game Civilization fans have been waiting over a decade for – a sequel, if not directly, then in spirit, to the supremely excellent Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri.
Firaxis have already admitted that Beyond Earth won’t copy the philosophical quirks of SMAC, a great disappointment for yours truly but after XCOM: Enemy Unknown and the Brave New World expansion for Civ V, it would be remiss to not extend some leniency towards the studio.
After all, the revelation of The Web, a non-linear technology tree, and the interaction with the planet’s native lifeforms – a feature that was integral particularly in the early stages of SMAC games – is precisely the kind of changes you would want and expect. Firaxis are masters at honouring the gameplay of old while refreshing it for the modern age.
My only concern at this stage is that the new world feels a little too familiar to Earth. The almost Mars-like, pink-ish, poisonous looking surface of SMAC gave a definitive to Alpha Centuari. You felt you had colonised another world. In Beyond Earth, it feels like colonising a tropical island with some weird creatures, as if NASA, NATO, China, Japan and Russia independently decided to send a group of scientists to contest the Galápagos Islands. It’s not alien enough.
But even with that caveat, the greatest advantage for Beyond Earth is that, unlike much of the really juicy titles from E3, it’s coming out this year. And not in November or early December, but in a couple of months time. And unlike much of the current AAA crop, Beyond Earth is coming from a studio with a largely untarnished pedigree, despite that small sector of old school Civilization fans who have decried the development of the series as more akin to board games than the god games of yesteryear.
Beyond Earth will be good. Nobody disputes this. It will arrive on store shelves and digital markets soon, another undisputed fact. And from E3, a trade show responsible for some of the worst claims and excesses in the industry, you could ask nothing more.
All we have to do now is wait.