E3 is almost over, and after running back and forth across the L.A. Convention Center for two days we've stumbled across a few games that don't get the attention they deserve. These hidden gems are great games that we weren't expecting to see at E3 2012, and now that we've seen them in action it's hard to get excited about the next Call of Duty knockoff or God of War slaughterfest.
Also, anyone who says PC gaming is dead should take a look at this list; with the exception of Sound Shapes, each of these games is slated to release on PC in the near future.
I stopped at a Sound Shapes kiosk in the E3 concourse between meetings yesterday, intending to play for just a few moments before dashing to my next appointment. I finally put the PS3 controller down twenty minutes later, confident I had found one of the great hidden gems of E3 2012.
I was also unforgivably late to my meeting, but playing through the fantastic Sound Shapes soundtrack kept me copacetic under stress. I say you play through a soundtrack because every level in the 2D platformer Sound Shapes is simultaneously a musical track and a series of simple puzzles that require you to interact with objects and characters in a specific order to advance. Think of it as a very simplistic 2D version of Portal, except that every time you hit a switch, open a forcefield, or bop a scientist on the head a brilliant bit of sound plays that matches perfectly with the slowly-growing soundtrack.
To fill out the soundtrack of each level you'll have to collect a number of shiny tokens that are scattered throughout the level, and each one you pick up adds a little more to the level's musical score. That means every level starts with a simple bass line or other minimalistic accompanient and slowly grows as you progress to become a complex and (usually) beautiful song. With musical contributions by the likes of Jim Guthrie and Deadmau5, Sound Shapes is shaping up (har) to be a surprisingly great find for Playstation 3 and Playstation Vita owners when the game hits PSN this August.
The Walking Dead Episode Two: Starving For Help
Telltale Games is releasing five episodes of The Walking Dead game (based on Robert Kirkman's popular The Walking Dead graphic novels) and we were really surprised to see the second episode being played here at E3 2012. The game looks great, and it offers something wonderful that most E3 games gloss over: consequences.
The second episode of The Walking Dead game changes dramatically depending on what choices you made in the inaugural episode. Assuming you successfully guided protagonist Lee Everett through Georgia's fictional zombie outbreak, Starving For Help opens with Lee slowly starving to death in a makeshift motel fortress with a ragged band of supporting characters that changes based on who you protected in the first episode.
We don't want to spoil anything about the plot of Episode Two, so I'll just tell you that this gritty adventure game is chock full of terrifying violence, gore and surprisingly mature relationships. It really does justice to the bleak, complicated stories that play out in Kirkman's comic books, and that's a surprising relief after the bombastic exceptionalism of the E3 2012 press conferences. The Walking Dead fans will be asked to make some surprisingly painful decisions when Episode Two of the Walking Dead comes out on PC and home consoles later this month.
Watch Dogs was the talk of E3 after Ubisoft surprised everyone with a trailer for the game during their press conference. If you somehow missed it, know that Watch Dogs is an open-world game for PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 that challenges players to manipulate cell phones, security cameras, and traffic lights in order to bring down the ruling elite. You play Aiden Pearce, a disgruntled hacker who has managed to gain access to the fictional (we hope) Central Operating System that controls Chicago's digital infrastructure.
Watch Dogs is a real surprise because nobody saw it coming, and nobody expected Ubisoft to be making a game that taps into contemporary culture to foster a terrifyingly believable virtual world. I sat in on a private Watch Dogs demo and was surprised to see that nothing about the game seems unbelievable or unreal; the protagonist Pearce is a smart-mouthed, aggressive geek who uses his command of contemporary technology to hack public databases, infiltrate restricted areas, and solve problems.
During the demo we watched Pearce listen in on nearby cellphone conversations for intel, search for enemies by snooping through public security cameras, and hack traffic lights to cause traffic jams and escape pursuit. Lots of games try to reflect contemporary culture and the news of the week (see also: every modern military shooter in a desert) in order to seem more realistic, but Watch Dogs is the only game at E3 that seems to let players solve problems and feel like a champion without requiring them to shoot their way through waves of virtual villains.
World of Warplanes
Surprisingly, this game is actually pretty good. Even more surprisingly, it's a fast-paced free-to-play dogfighting game at a time when the only airplane games available on PC are hardcore flight simulators. World of Warplanes is a hidden gem of E3 2012 that replicates what it feels like to watch a nail-biting aerial duel without requiring players to invest in an expensive flight stick and rudder accessory (though you could if you wanted to), and I think fans of classic arcade dogfighting games like Crimson Skies will be pleasantly surprised when (fingers crossed) it enters open beta on PC later this year.
So how does it play? My fellow editor (and E3 wingman) Loyd Case wrote a pretty engaging story about what it's like to get your hands on World of Warplanes that you really ought to read. If you've ever played World of Tanks, I bet you'll feel right at home hopping into a virtual P-51 Mustang and taking to the skies to battle other players in massive 15-on-15 dogfights. Matches begin and end in the air, there are no respawns and most games are over in about 15 minutes. Playing games will earn you credits that you can use to unlock new paint schemes and abilities for your World of Warplanes account; if World of Tanks is any indicator, you will probably also be able to pay real money for currency you can use in World of Warplanes. Players will be able to choose from different warplanes (real and prototyped) designed by the U.S., Russia and Germany in the time between the first World War and the Korean War. World of Warplanes looks gorgeous running on a high-powered PC, and I can't wait to take it for a spin later this year.
One of the best surprises of E3 2012 is that mech games are poised to make a big comeback next year. We were already looking forward to playing beta versions of Mechwarrior Online and Mechwarrior Tactics later this year, but newcomer Hawkenv made a surprise debut at E3 during an old-school PC gaming LAN party. After spending a surprisingly pleasant few hours blasting fellow journalists in this free-to-play indie mech combat game, I want to make sure you keep Hawken on your radar as a game to watch out for when it enters open beta this December.
Fans of classic mech combat games are going to feel right at home stomping around Hawken's post-apocalyptic battlefields in lumbering mechs that look like jumbled piles of heavy machinery held together by duct tape. Hawken mechs feel like a compromise between the walking tanks of Mechwarrior and the lithe mecha of Virtual On; the Hawken mechs are slow and ponderous, but you have access to limited use of jump jets to hover and dash forward or laterally around corners to get the drop on enemy pilots. It's a fantastic game that's free to play and yet nobody is talking about Hawken at E3 2012, so PC gamers should keep an eye out for this hidden gem of a game.