A friend of mine once gave me sage advice: Don’t be impressed by something unless you’re still thinking about it the next day. Though her words of wisdom were intended to prevent me from buying yet another pair of shoes I’d only wear once, I find that it’s great advice for videogames, too. In the midst of E3’s noise and glamor, even the most mundane game can seem extraordinary, but only a few still resonate after the halls have gone dark and the booths have shut down. Here are the games of E3 that I’m still thinking about, days later.

5. Alien vs. Predator: The original Alien vs. Predator was one of two reasons to own an Atari Jaguar (Tempest 2000 being the other). Allowing you to play as the Predator, Aliens, or Colonial Marines, the game succeeded not just at making each of the three groups feel genuine and distinct from each other, it also did a great job of creating a tense and frightening atmosphere. The next-gen version – also from original AvP developer Rebellion – brings that same sensibility to its upcoming game. If you’re an Alien or Predator fan, you’ll appreciate how the game honors the source material in both spirit and detail, but even if you couldn’t care less about either franchise, you’ll enjoy the variety and creativity of the combat. Jump through the trees as the Predator, cloaking yourself to sneak up on your enemy and tear his head from his body. Use your claws to slash or your teeth to shred as the Alien. Or just fall back on superior firepower as a Colonial Marine and shoot everything that doesn’t look like you.

Alien vs. Predator is due out for PC, 360, and PS3 next Spring.

4. Alan Wake: Author Alan Wake is in the middle of some seriously weird stuff. His wife is missing, strange shadow creatures are trying to kill him, and it all apparently has something to do with a manuscript that he doesn’t remember writing. Everything he – or someone – wrote is coming true, page by horrifying page. The dark force pursuing Alan can inhabit everything from humans to backhoes, but you must attack it with light before you fight it off. Your flashlight is actually more important to you than your gun; without a light source, your chances of survival drop drastically. It’s not a new approach – a virtually identical mechanic was used in Obscure, but I appreciate a game that emphasizes something other than ammo management and sharpshooting.

Alan Wake also seems to be adopting a TV-style approach to its storytelling. Each chapter begins with a “previously on” reminder of the story thus far, leading into a “tonight on” peek at upcoming events. The game’s mysterious events and Pacific Northwest setting evoke shows like Twin Peaks or Lost, so the recaps work to underline that atmosphere. They also help remind you what the hell’s going on, something I personally appreciate. There’s nothing more frustrating than putting a game aside for a few weeks, only to pick it up again and realize that you’ve no idea what’s going on.

Alan Wake will be out for the 360 in Spring 2010.


3. Afrika: When I first saw footage of the Japanese version of this photo safari game, I despaired that it would never find its way stateside. Fortunately, Natsume agreed with me that its incredible beauty and unique gameplay deserved a Western audience. Afrika is what you’d get if you crossed Endless Ocean with a copy of National Geographic: you’re on assignment in Africa to snap high-quality pictures of the wildlife in their native habitats. You might have to photograph a pride of lions, or catch a crocodile bringing down wildebeast at the watering hole. The creatures of Afrika look and behave just like the real thing; the developers worked closely with National Geographic to maintain accuracy. It really is amazing and delightful to watch. Several other journalists were watching the demo with me – all grown men, I might add – but they cooed when they saw lion cubs playing together and laughed when mama lion came to break up the party. Afrika isn’t a thrill-a-minute, high adrenaline title, but it’s unlike anything else you’ll play this year. Give it a try when it comes out in August.

Afrika will be available on the PS3.

2. The Saboteur: When is a WWII game not a WWII game? When instead of featuring a soldier or pilot, it stars a race car driver who’s sabotaging the Nazis out of revenge. You play as Sean Devlin, who finds himself stuck in Europe after traveling to Germany for a race. The Nazis kill someone he loves, and he vows to cause as much trouble for them as he can. The Saboteur is an open world sandbox game which has multiple missions available for you at any given time, like GTA, but has a visual style more like Sin City. The occupation of the Germans has sapped the French people’s will to fight; as Sean completes missions, he restores not just their inner fire, but also color to the world around him. Pandemic describes the game as being “historically inspired” as opposed to “historically accurate,” which allows them to take a bit of leeway to up the fun factor. Zeppelins were decommissioned during the war in real life, but you’ll find them in The Saboteur‘s skies, shooting at you with machine guns when they spot you. (Taking them out with a rocket launcher is glorious. The humanity, indeed.) The Saboteur doesn’t take itself entirely seriously – ditch Nazi pursuit by hiding out in a brothel – and Devlin has a Steve McQueen vibe that just oozes cool. It’s also pretty hard to beat 1940s Paris as a setting; the city has a life and character all its own.

The Saboteur will be out for 360, PS3, and PC…eventually. Could be winter, could be spring.

1. Heavy Rain: If you saw my hands-on preview, then you probably knew this upcoming game from Quantic Dream would be topping my list. When a game can combine a compelling story with ingenious new ways to incorporate choice into the gameplay, it deserves to be recognized for the accomplishment. There were two different scenarios available during the demo; I’ve heard that the one I didn’t play confused many people who tried it. I’m not sure if that means I just “got” Heavy Rain‘s particular shtick, or if I simply played through a more accessible level, but I saw enough to make me want to see more. The voice acting is the only weak point I saw in Heavy Rain – hopefully the developers will take advantage of its delayed release to polish that up.

Heavy Rain will be available for the PS3 in spring 2010.

Before We Go: You may be wondering why games like God of War 3, Mass Effect 2, and Uncharted 2 didn’t make my list. It’s not because they don’t look amazing – they’re all top-notch, for sure – but because I went in expecting them to live up to their predecessors, which they did. In other words, they didn’t surprise me, they just fulfilled my hopes. The games on my list were ones that blew me away despite my negative or complete lack of expectations. I recognize that it’s somewhat perverse to knock a sequel for being as awesome as you figured it would be, but it’s my list, and I make the rules.

You, being the savvy and oh-so-attractive gamers you are, undoubtedly have been following the news from E3 both here and on other sites. What were your favorites from the show?

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