A precise summary of all the good games on show at E3 would require far more space than the average person would have any interest in reading. The footage that trickles out of the LA mega-show represents a fraction of the exhibited products. Turning off of the beaten path will often lead to innovative ideas from ambitious studios that lack the money and clout to justify their own press conference, or snag a place in that of a different company.
Games like Bastion, a wonderful action-RPG that features a procedural voiceover that describes your actions, whether it's slaying a boss or randomly smashing every box in sight. Or Dead Island, which grabbed the industry’s attention a few months ago with an emotionally manipulative trailer that revealed nothing about the actual gameplay. For the record: the game looks nothing like the trailer, but it does look pretty damn good.
Then there are the also-rans: games made or supported by larger companies that will never quite be marquee names; games like Journey, which challenges virtually every assumption we have about online multiplayer gaming; or Overstrike, the new IP from novelty weapons-specialist Insomniac Games; or SSX, the long awaited new instalment in EA’s superb snowboarding franchise; or Rayman Origins, a game so delightful that it made Ubisoft’s largely dull press conference almost worth watching.
But the very best, worst and most surprising games of E3 are listed here, a miscellany of products that will delight and frustrate you over the year to come.
Other corners of the videogames press expressed some concern over the tone of the Tomb Raider demo. Evidently, Lara Croft’s cries of struggle and fear struck some as gratuitous, even vaguely misogynist. These sensitive souls need to lighten up, because the Tomb Raider I saw was atmospheric and visually splendid, reminiscent at times of both God Of War and Uncharted 2, with the least sexualised heroine in the series’ history. I have a few reservations, not least of which is the generous number of quick-time events, but I also have great confidence in Crystal Dynamics, whose Tomb Raider: Underworld deserved wider attention.
Irrational Games is taking on a lot of new challenges with Bioshock Infinite, chief among them the burden of following a game as highly regarded as its predecessor. The city of Columbia is brighter, more prosperous and open than Rapture, its single-track skylines allow a greater speed and freedom of movement. The protagonist, Booker DeWitt, is a defined character with a voice, his mysterious companion Elizabeth the most complicated non-player character Irrational has ever attempted. Oh, and she can rip holes in the fabric of time. Everything I know about Bioshock Infinite is legitimately exciting, and I get the feeling that there’s a lot more to come.
Batman: Arkham City
Rocksteady’s brilliant Arkham Asylum was so well constructed, so free of fat and spurious ideas, that I feared the jump to an open-world might undermine the whole experience. In the end it still might, but my experience with Arkham City was overwhelmingly positive. The world is five times bigger, but Rocksteady has clearly thought the connotations of that through very carefully, leaving us with all the benefits of sandbox environment and none of the problems. Expect the same splendid art direction and a menagerie of Batman’s most iconic villains.
Uncharted: Drake’s Deception
It says a lot about Naughty Dog’s audacious and brilliant Uncharted 2: Among Thieves that Sony’s demo of the third game did not exceed my expectations: Nathan Drake staggering around a vast boat being battered by the waves of a raging storm, the sea, the boat, and the objects on deck all moving independently of each other. Most people don’t stop to pull apart the ambience for flashes of technical brilliance; they get the show-stopping moment where the boat slowly tilts and capsizes, instead. Uncharted: Drake’s Deception is as beautiful and exciting as we all knew it would be.
Too Obvious: Bethesda jumped the gun and let the world know precisely how sensational The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim looks back in April. If it isn’t named game of the show I’ll be very surprised.
Make no mistake, Modern Warfare 3 is destined to win whatever tussle EA and Activision imagines will take place between the Call Of Duty and Battlefield franchises at the end of the year, but until EA’s press conference I assumed it wouldn’t deserve the victory. The languid pace of that visually arresting tank battle will no doubt play very nicely on a Sunday afternoon at home, but it looked a little too stately next to the high-concept bombast of the Modern Warfare 3 demo. I firmly believe that Battlefield 3 will be a superior and more rewarding game, but the demo EA showed, while quite incredibly detailed and realistic, gave the opposite impression.
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
Before I begin, it’s worth noting that Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood was in my top five games of last year. Cynics smelled a cash-in, and they were proved utterly wrong by the sheer variety and quality of the finished game. Unfortunately, Revelations may have pushed my goodwill just a little too far. I will still play it, I may even love it, but I think the world would rather wait two years before another slice of Assassin’s Creed, particularly if the protagonist will once again be Ezio Auditore de Firenze. There is a new city, more weapons, a crafting system for explosives, and a more meaningful narrative, but this time I really wonder whether that will be enough.
The Old Republic
One company that definitely didn’t win E3 is Bioware. I hold few studios in such high esteem, but the Mass Effect 3 demo struck a distinctly and uncharacteristically bum note, and the absence of a meaningful demo of The Old Republic may prove costly in the long-term. EA intends to release the MMO, by some distance the riskiest and most expensive game on its books, before next year’s E3, yet all the millions watching saw was another cinematic sequence. It was cool, it was Star Wars, but it wasn’t the actual game, and it was Bioware’s best chance to show the world exactly what their subscription will buy.
Mass Effect 3
Until the EA press conference, the eventual triumph of Mass Effect 3 seemed almost certain. By refining the template laid out by its predecessor, Mass Effect 2 got the game design to a place that most people would be happy to see repeated. A sequel only needed to deliver on the story and just tweak and re-balance elsewhere, but the E3 demo was a poor showcase for the series’ strengths. The fact that it culminated in a turret sequence was the unpleasant twist in the tale. But more than anything, I’m concerned that the conclusion of such an epic tale will shift the balance too far towards action. I’ll place my faith in Bioware.
Too Obvious: The Xbox 360 has been in rude health recently, but gamers have a right to feel short-changed by the Microsoft press conference. Halo 4 aside, there was little to get the adrenaline pumping.
Announced two years ago, CCP Games’ fascinating online shooter has been a point of interest to the games press for some time. The sheer sweep and scale of EVE Online makes it arguably the most interesting MMO in gaming, and Dust 514 is an ingenious extension of that universe. The player-generated battles that usually play out behind-the-scenes in EVE will now play out for real in first-person shooter matches – the results from one game will feed back into and help shape the future of the other. Brilliant, but it gets better: Dust 514 will also be free-to-play. Experiments like this are never bound for success, but as long as Sony does its part in communicating the EVE experience to its customers this could be an enormous success.
Need For Speed: The Run
Nothing is to everyone’s taste, but Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit seemed minutely constructed to be as thrilling as technically possible. Masterful work from Criterion and a real kick in the backside for the franchise, which is what makes Need For Speed: The Run so difficult to understand. The very concept of mixing arcade racing with free-running is suspect, but I was expecting Mirror’s Edge. What EA showed was a protracted quick-time sequence that offered apparently little player input, and I don’t relish the prospect of doing that to get to the next race.
Brothers In Arms: Furious Four
Like so many others, I began Borderlands unsure about whether it was my sort of game, and then, slowly and certainly, it reeled me in and stole my evenings away. It wasn’t perfect, but it was the best work Gearbox Software had ever done, and the impact of that success is all over Brothers In Arms: Furious Four. Gearbox is rebranding a series that had concepts like authenticity and respect in its very bones as a wacky riff on Inglorious Basterds. The game may well be good, but I’m not sure what high-jacking the IP will do for the studio’s reputation.
Ken Levine’s announcement that Bioshock Infinity will support Move was a real coup for Sony, but the major revelation followed immediately after. Apparently, Irrational Games had an unrealised idea lying around, and the PlayStation Vita is the perfect platform for the material. I question Ken’s enthusiasm for Move, but I can see why he finds the Vita hardware appealing: sophisticated technology, multiple inputs, brilliant screen, and a market that will be hungry for shorter, cheaper riffs on the triple-A console experience. If it’s anything like Minerva’s Den, it could be a system seller.
Too Obvious: Annoying children playing Disney is one thing, the clunky, stilted demo for Kinect Star Wars was quite another. It was the least appealing game shown in any of the press conferences, and by no small margin.