E3 2011
The Escapist's Favorite Games of E3 2011

The Escapist Staff | 17 Jun 2011 23:00
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SSX

imageI wasn't really expecting to be blown away by anything at EA's E3 press conference. A mighty publisher EA may be, but the only new games it was likely to be showing would be sports or Sims titles that weren't quite high profile enough to earn a spot in the Microsoft press conference that had taken place earlier that morning. Then the snowy tip of a mountain appeared on the screen, vague beats in the background, and I gasped aloud as the realization hit me: A new SSX game was coming.

I'm a pretty story-centric person when it comes to gaming. I really get into character development and roleplaying, but few games inspire the sheer unbridled joy with which I attacked SSX Tricky and SSX 3. The soundtracks were amazing, the tricks defied the laws of physics, and mastering the mountains took a superhuman ability to twist your fingers around the controller. SSX was a happy obsession, and to this day, hearing anything off the soundtrack immediately evokes images of runs through the powder.

The franchise lost some of its sparkle after 3, but this SSX embraces the huge tricks and super speed that made those games so damn much fun, then adds one hell of a modern update: Using information from NASA satellites, the new game faithfully recreates every single mountain on Earth. Snowboarding down Mt. Fuji or Kilimanjaro at break-neck speed, flipping, jumping, and grabbing along the way? My girl Elise and I will be there.

Street Pass

Okay, so this wasn't a new game, but it was still a big part of the show for many folks. I picked up a 3DS at launch, but before E3, I hadn't had a lot of opportunities to experience this particular feature of the hardware. There's not a whole lot of Mii-sharing going on in my house (at least not until my cat gets his own 3DS), but I was excited to try it out at E3. "I'll probably get a few dozen Miis!" I thought. It was actually more like a few hundred.

I wasn't even out of Pennsylvania when I picked up my first few Street Passes at the Philadelphia airport, and it only got crazier from there. From the media room to the press conferences to the show floor, there was constantly a line of Miis at my gate. More than once, I heard someone behind me say, "I got Sarah! I got Sarah on my 3DS," which was both amusing and a little creepy. The included Street Pass games, Find Mii and Puzzle Swap, were great bite-sized activities when I was waiting in line or had a few spare minutes between appointments.

More than swapping Miis, Street Pass is something that brought gamers together, a conversation starting point, and an interesting way to make new friends. This was my third E3, and I've never seen the gamers in downtown LA bond over something the way they did over Street Pass. The convention may be over, but at least I still have a few hundred Miis of E3 attendees from around the world.

Tomb Raider

imageOne of the things I've always loved about the character of Lara Croft is that she embodies so many positive qualities. She's brave, curious, intelligent, athletic, daring, and confident. She's cool under pressure, and never shies away from a challenge. She is, in a word, perfect. And that's just the problem.

Spend enough time with perfection and you start getting a bit bored. As fun as it's been to hang out with Lara, she hasn't been able to surprise us for some time now. Her locations might change, she may learn a new trick or two, but at her core, she's still the bulletproof, implacable adventurer that we've known for years. No matter how many leopards, mercenaries, or ancient traps she encounters, we know she'll always pull through with little more than a scratch and a bon mot or two.

Which is why I'm so entranced by the 21-year-old Lara of the upcoming Tomb Raider. She's clever, of course, and inquisitive, but she's also scared out of her mind. You get the impression that before being shipwrecked, the most dangerous thing that ever happened to her was maybe a fender bender. She's ready to suck it up and do what she must to save her skin, but quietly hoping someone bigger and stronger will show up to save the day. I'm looking forward to spending more time with this younger, vulnerable, more human Lara.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

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More than any E3 before it, I felt a significant amount of franchise fatigue while exploring 2011's show floor. From Modern Warfare 3 to Assassin's Creed: Revelations, I kept looking at games with the same thought in mind: "Haven't I played this before?"

Perhaps I'm just hungry for more of Uncharted's mix of platforming and third-person shooting or maybe I'm anxious to go another adventure with Sully, but this thought never occurred while playing Naughty Dog's sequel to my favorite game of 2009.

Naughty Dog's reluctance to rest on its laurels factors into this feeling. The new campaign trailer shown during Sony's press conference presented us things Drake's never done before in places we've never visited. Rather than being bigger, louder and filled with more explosions, this sequel seems to focus on being smarter and more creative. My time with the game's mission-based co-op reaffirmed that the developer is pushing forward without cramming in unnecessary features that get in the way of the Uncharted experience.

The heavy recoil on guns, fluidity of movement and improved mission design ramp up the intensity of combat in Uncharted 3. It doesn't feel like a new franchise but it does feel like a new game: Something I can't say about many other sequels at E3 this year. Sandwich this between Naughty Dog's stellar production values, a wealth of unlockables and collectibles in multiplayer, and Uncharted might once again be the game I think of the most during award season.

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