A lot of people were grumbling about E3 this year. Too many shooters. Too much emphasis on death. I’m not sure those people attended the same event I did. There were plenty of ways to get your gun on, to be sure, and the Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 trailer’s ability to halt huge numbers of people mid-stride probably qualifies it as some kind of riot control, but there was more on the floor than just 31 flavors of bang bang. In that spirit, I present to you my five favorite games of E3 that didn’t have guns.
My self-imposed rule of keeping this list gun-free means I can’t tell you about Tomb Raider or The Last of Us or the game that literally made me jump up and down and clap my hands with unbridled glee – Dishonored. (Holy flaming cow, I am giddy about that game.) As much as I regret the chance to gush about those titles, I’m happy to showcase games that require more than just a trigger finger.
5. Tokyo Jungle: I ended up seeing this game completely by accident after I wandered into the Sony Europe room by mistake, but what a great mistake that turned out to be. Recently announced to be coming to the West, Tokyo Jungle takes place after humankind has left the picture and the animals are left to fend for themselves. Your goal is simple: Survive for as many years as you can, foraging for sustenance and extending your family tree. Roaming the deserted streets of Tokyo as a starving Pomeranian is an absurd, yet oddly addictive experience even before you factor in the strategic elements of wooing the mate most likely to give you numerous hardy offspring. Striking a balance between expanding your territory and not starting fights you can’t finish is tougher than it might seem, and makes for some surprisingly tense encounters. I never thought I’d consider hiding from a beagle to make for thrilling gameplay, but that’s the beauty of Tokyo Jungle. There really is nothing quite like it.
Tokyo Jungle is currently out in Japan for the PS3, but there is no word when the game will be released in North America or Europe.
4. Quantum Conundrum: Full confession time: I wasn’t really all that interested in Quantum Conundrum before playing it at this year’s show. It looked like a well-constructed, visually pleasing puzzle game, to be sure, but it also just looked to be a little too much like Portal, designer Kim Swift‘s other visually pleasing puzzle game. Nothing against Portal, or anything, but I’d already played Portal 2 and was more than done with that kind of put-this-cube-on-that-switch kind of activity. And Quantum Conundrum still is very, very Portal, but its elegant simplicity is undeniably fun, and its cartoony aesthetic won me over almost instantly. Playing around with different dimensions – like heavy, fluffy, and slow motion – gave me a glimpse how the puzzles could build on each other, layering simple concepts into a clever whole that teased my brain in delicious ways. Plus, using an overstuffed couch to stop a laser amused me. It’s the little things.
Quantum Conundrum is due out this summer for the PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, and PC.
3. The Cave: There was lots to like about this brightly colored 2d puzzler from Ron Gilbert – not the least of which was Gilbert’s trademark sense of humor, which was present throughout the demo. The cave in question can talk, describes itself as “sultry”, and gives you what you need most, whether that’s something ethereal like enlightenment or something solid like a sword. Taking a trio of adventurers into the cave, you’ll solve classic item-based puzzles but without the fussy item management that tended to bog down classic point-and-click adventures. Yes, I know it’s part of the design, but trying to solve an overly obtuse puzzle by using a pocketful of junk one item at a time loses its charm after the first umpteen years. The Cave looks like it will take many of the best aspects of that classic style and give them a modern tune-up. Besides, where else will you get the chance to play as a barefoot hillbilly, a monk, a time traveler, and a set of twins with glowing eyes?
The Cave is expected to arrive sometime in early 2013 for the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.
2. Beyond: Two Souls: I enjoyed Heavy Rain a great deal, but every time the unique controls or engrossing story pulled me in, the awkward animation and voice acting shoved me back out again. Sporting a brand new engine and an entirely American voice cast, Beyond has fixed those two major gripes, though once developer Quantic Dream seems intent on giving us a tortured protagonist. Jodie is on the run, possibly crazy, definitely in touch with some kind of ghost, and just wants to be left alone. Her relationship with her spiritual companion, Aidan, is intriguing, as is the chance to see how that relationship changes over 15 years of Jodie’s life. I’m not entirely sold on the ability to control Aidan directly, as interacting with a non-corporeal entity with limited ability to interact with the real world doesn’t seem quite as immersive as controlling Jodie herself, but my hope is that the line between Jodie and Aidan becomes as blurry to me as it does to Jodie herself. Quantic Dream’s high-minded concepts get more refined and enjoyable with each new game they create, and I’m eager to see how Beyond takes the gameplay I already enjoy and improves upon it.
Beyond: Two Souls will be out for the PlayStation 3 in early 2013.
1. The Unfinished Swan: One of the things that keeps me playing games is the joy of discovery. I knew next to nothing about The Unfinished Swan before playing it, and every moment I spent in that stark world made me want to spend even more time there, exploring the deserted city built by a selfish king. Part of the game’s challenge is figuring out what you’re meant to do; in the first level, you can’t even see where you’re going, nevermind having any clue what to do when you get there. In so many games, even when the scenery is new the rules are the same – you’ve been there before, if not in fact then at least in spirit. Playing The Unfinished Swan is slightly uncomfortable because everything is unfamiliar – this land, your task, all of it – and that lack of familiarity makes every new discovery, no matter how small, a revelation.
The Unfinished Swan will be available for the PS3 sometime this year.