E3 is doing fine on "E"s without my help, but I am going to throw one more at it anyway: Expectation. The entire show revolves around expectations, from what people thought they were going to see, to what they were sure was going to be fantastic or miserable, to what they just knew they were going to fall in love with before even stepping onto the show floor. And while there's no avoiding walking through the doors without any of these thoughts jumping around your brain, the show itself does a grand job of chucking most of what you'd come expecting right out the window. That being said, there were more than a few games that surprised me, either with an impressive quality, or a distinctive lack thereof. What follows is my top five best of show.
5. End of Nations: I knew almost nothing about End of Nations going in, but still managed to drop pretty seamlessly into one of the RTS MMO's quick, large-scale team battles. At some point in the last few years, many RTS games have required players to actually train (not just play) in order to obtain a skill level others would even consider "decent." EoN didn't feel that way to me. Almost everything about the game seemed a much cleaner version of what Red Alert and StarCraft junkies are used to-resource management, build orders, and base development-making for a streamlined experience that serves as a great balance to those other classics. What you get in the end is one of those sought-after "easy to learn, hard to master" games that only need as much of your time as you're willing to give. And the best part? It's free to play.
End of Nations is set to arrive for PC sometime in 2012.
4. The Last of Us: Naughty Dog's first post-Drake venture, The Last of Us, certainly seems to be living up to its hype ... at least so far. To be fair, this game may not belong on my list as my only real experience with it came from the showing at Sony's press conference, but I would be lying if I said that it wasn't top of my mind for most of the show (and a bit since then). The Last of Us's intriguing use of negative space in both sound and environment made it akin to some of cinema's greatest thrillers, pairing just the right amount of downtime with just the right amount of visceral action to keep you engaged. Yes, Protagonist Joel looks a bit like Nathan Drake in an apocalypse costume, but the inventory, combat, and Ellie mechanics on display were enough to show that The Last of Us will stand alone from the Uncharted series and, at the very least, earn the right to be judged on its own merits.
The Last of Us is due out for PlayStation 3 sometime in 2013.
3. The Unfinished Swan: I was fairly hesitant about The Unfinished Swan before actually sitting down to play it. Neat effect? Sure. But is the idea of haplessly winging globs of black paint at a blank white world enough to support a full game? Fortunately, after spending some time actually playing Swan instead of just watching the videos, I've found myself able to answer with a resounding "yes." The Unfinished Swan is a passion project, and it shows. With innovative ideas, and a charming, yet unobtrusive story, this weird little game should be top of the list for anyone who likes exploring new ways to interact with the gaming medium.
Also, there are statues of bacon.
The Unfinished Swan is a 2012 PSN exclusive.
2. Dishonored: It's easy to feel leery of a game whose sole claim to interest is a flashy cinematic trailer. After all, if the gameplay is so great, why are you hiding it behind pre-rendered animations? Still, while steam punk murder-fest Dishonored's initial outing may have been more movie than game, my hands-on experience proved that there is some extremely solid gameplay to back up the eye candy. Everything about playing this game was fun ... in a bloody sort of way. You play as someone who's, essentially, a magical killer on a quest for revenge, with everything from crossbows to rat summoning spells at your disposal. I found myself teleporting across ledges, dual-wielding interesting weapons, and subduing noisy maids within minutes of hopping into Dishonored's unique assassin's playground. With a great mix of stealth, action, and platforming, it will be extremely interesting to see how the full package comes together at release.
Dishonored comes to PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 on October 9th.
1. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch: It's been awhile since I've been able to slink into a JRPG (and longer since I have actually finished one), but something tells me that unless its E3 showing was one of the most astoundingly deceptive previews in gaming history, Ni no Kuni may just be the next to steal tens of hours of my (occasionally) precious time. There's just something special about the real animation providing the foundation of its style; Studio Ghibli's masterful work syncs perfectly with the game's otherworldly land designed to be explored, and serves as the perfect glue to stitch it all together. The actual combat/gameplay was fun, too, but the aesthetic and narrative package is Ni no Kuni's real selling point.
Ni no Kuni arrives for PS3 on January 22nd, 2013.
The Wii U's controllers: Ever since Nintendo announced the Wii U, I've been somewhat concerned about its giant tablet controller. No, not that it will somehow "ruin gaming like the Wii remote did", or that "it's nothing more than a plastic iPad rip-off"; I just wanted to know how that mammoth thing was actually going to feel in my hands. Well, I'm pleased to say that it's much more comfortable than it looks. It's never going to feel the same as a GameCube or Xbox 360 controller, but for what it is, I couldn't have been happier. The other controllers (which no one seems to be talking much about) really stepped it up as well.
Assassin's Creed III: I played the first AC when it first came out back in 2007, and then about half of the second one before moving on to some other series of the day. In retrospect, I'm not sure why exactly I stopped when I did, but somehow, any excitement I'd ever felt for the series seems to have run dry. I didn't get to play Assassin's Creed III in Los Angeles, but the newly unveiled boat combat, and some of the gameplay scenes I got to check out actually changed my opinion of the series. I can't say that I'm crossing days off my calendar, but Ubisoft somehow did enough with this latest installment to change my mindset on the IP.