We saw well over a hundred games at this year’s E3. We even wrote about some of them. It’s easy to get beguiled by the spectacle of it all, so we wanted to take a look back at the games and moments that meant the most to us at the show. We asked each of the six people who covered the show for us to describe the three or four things that most impressed them at the show. And while no one is surprised that we were impressed with the likes to BioShock, Batman or Skyrim, there are also some lesser known games on the list.
So what were your favorite games from the show? What impressed or surprised you the most? Let us know in the comments.
I was on my way out of Capcom’s E3 booth when I noticed Susan Arendt playing a game that blew my mind. It was an action/adventure game that looked like what might happen if Kratos (God of War), Wander (Shadow of the Colossus) and Yoda (Soul Calibur IV) got together and tried LSD, then made an entertaining and innovative video game and called it Asura’s Wrath.
The scene I witnessed pitted Asura, a demi-god in human form stripped of his powers and angry about it, against a foe of varying sizes. It’s a mythological setting, with lots of dirt and hand-made structures. Old, you know. Your enemy starts chucking missiles the size of go-carts at you, which you catch bare handed and toss back. He gets bigger, so you sprout four extra arms. Why not? Then, you’re buried under rubble while this giant god pummels you with fists that are three times the size of your body. You pummel back until most of your arms break off. Your last punch sends the enemy flying and leaves you sprawled above ground next to your own detached arm. Then a spaceship arrives because, again…why not? So, then, this super god who just happens to be larger than the galaxy wants to squish you. So he tries, with his index finger.
In our industry we are the masters of suspended belief. Plumbers rescue princesses from toads wielding bubbles, bears play banjos and carry birds around in their backpacks, and little princes roll sticky beach balls around the earth ’til they get big enough to replace planets. Asura’s Wrath asked me to give myself over to the impossibilities within it and rewarded me with an unbelievably good time.
Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Asylum got so many things right. Not only did it strike exactly the right tone for the Dark Knight detective, even going so far as to get Kevin Conroy and Mark Hammill to reprise their character-defining roles from Batman: The Animated Series, but it also got the gameplay right. This was one of the few superhero games that really made you feel like a superhero and not some generic videogame character. From the fighting to the sneaking, from the gadgets to the sleuthing, this was the best videogame version of Batman we’d ever seen.
Thankfully, all of that is back in place for the sequel, Batman: Arkham City. Now Batman has the entire city of Gotham to explore as he tracks down the escaped inmates of Arkham Asylum. I was very impressed with the new gliding and grappling mechanic, as it gives the player a chance to really get around the city in some interesting ways. And whether you’re standing on top of a beautiful skyscraper or down in a grimy alley, the sense of scale and detail is powerful.
And far from being a rehash of the original roster, we’ll be mixing it up with new notables like Penguin and Catwoman. Better still, you actually get to play as Catwoman, which makes the whole experience that much more exciting for a fan like me.
Now, just give me the Batmobile and fix detective vision and we’ll be straight.
Sure, I like to complain about sequels and the saturation of shooters in the market, and then, BAM! Along comes a shooter sequel that just captivates me. I’ve been a big fan of Battlefield since 1942 (and for a little extra cred, even played Codename Eagle), so I’m always up to try a new version. In this case, EA let us try out a new map in Battlefield 3.
We’d seen the wide open battles in the desert in the trailer, which, let’s face it, looked like actual footage from the war, but this hands-on level was set in the Paris streets and even took players down into the cramped confines of the metro system. The level, which plays out in a succession of objectives, has players battling through beautiful city parks, watching as fighter jets demolish buildings around them, and storming through the cramped and dim subway tunnels. There’s just so much to enjoy here, and it all just feels right. The weapons and characters are solid and convincing, and the environments are just gorgeous.
The mechanics have been improved too. The medic class has been merged with the assault class, which makes sense. Now the poor guys dying on the front line don’t have to wait for help to come up from the rear. They can save themselves. The support class also works much better now thanks to the real suppression system, which not only hampers an enemy’s aim, but also nets you much needed points in multiplayer. It’s a good game made even better.
I have a strong emotional connection to BioShock that far exceeds the game’s actual quality. It’s really just a solid shooter that has some exceptional writing and a great location, but it holds a nearly sacred place in my gaming experiences. Its sequel wasn’t a bad game, but it failed to recapture the awe with which I first encountered Rapture, and I expected Flyoshock – sorry, BioShock Infinite – to be much the same. Whee, we’re in the air now, yippee, tell me again why I should care? Because this isn’t just Big Daddies with wings, this is the spirit of BioShock reborn in the sky. This is acknowledgement that you can’t step into the same river twice, so we’re ditching the water entire.
Infinite embodies the feeling of BioShock, but adds enough of its own personality to avoid feeling like the weak tracks from Andrew Ryan’s Greatest Hits. The shift to a voiced protagonist, as well as whatever the hell is going on with Elizabeth’s ability to manipulate the fabric of time and space, blends with the combat mechanics to create something familiar, but new enough to keep you wondering what will happen next.
And then there’s Songbird.
Songbird, the giant mechanical jailor who’s kept Elizabeth prisoner for the past 15 years, is absolutely terrifying. His shriek makes me cringe. I dread seeing his eyes change to red. When Elizabeth cowers behind a table to avoid his gaze as he looks through a window, I cower right along with her. By the end of BioShock, I felt like a gunslinging, plasmid-flinging god on earth, but Songbird makes me feel vulnerable and afraid all over again. Fantastic.
When Atlus USA first announced that Catherine would be getting a North American release after launching in Japan earlier this year, I was excited. Sure, I had absolutely no idea what the gameplay was like, but it looked sexy and was developed by the same team that handled the brilliant Persona 4, so my Atlus fangirlism quickly took over.
After seeing Catherine in action at E3, I finally have a solid idea of what the game will actually play like, so I’m even more convinced that it will be right up my alley. I’m not going to lie: this is not a game for everyone. Some gamers will ignore it, some will hate that it doesn’t have the RPG gameplay of the Persona series, and some will just be utterly confused by what appears to be a cheating-on-your-girlfriend simulator. However, I love puzzle games and story-driven games, and Catherine seems to be the perfect mix of both.
With the majority of gameplay consisting of puzzles that force the main character, Vincent, to rearrange blocks with ever-increasing hazards into a stairway to safety, I do have some worries about whether or not that mechanic will remain interesting enough to support the entire game. That said, even in the chaos of E3, where it’s easy to forget where you are, what time zone you’re in, or even your own name, I was still thinking about Catherine long after I saw it. It didn’t get lost among the dozens of other games I experienced in Los Angeles last week; it stayed with me after I left the show floor, and I hope that the full game will be equally memorable.
I knew I’d be buying Dark Souls within minutes of playing it. It has controls that are about the same as spiritual prequel Demon’s Souls, but it looks much better and is apparently incredibly harder. My character spawned wearing tattered clothing, wielding an axe and shield. After awakening in some sort of castle at a campfire, I took the path to the left. A dragon was ahead. I advanced on it and was incinerated by the massive creature’s fire breath. I awakened at the campfire again and tried the path that led forward. A skeleton popped out of a hidden tunnel and whacked me in the skull. After taking him and a twin out, just ahead on the path was an armored warthog. It quickly rammed me to my next death. On successive tries, the warthog seemed invulnerable to all my attacks, and was so fast I could hardly get my bearings to form a strategy. But I still wanted more.
Why is it a good thing that Dark Souls might be even harder than Demon’s Souls? It’s all about the campfires. Players will spawn at these checkpoints instead of going back to the beginning of the level after a death. This means that the game can throw tougher challenges at you because you can respawn closer to the area where the challenge occurs. The difficulty in Demon’s Souls led to a great feeling of victory once each section was overcome, and Dark Souls looks to multiply both the difficulty and feeling of victory by 10 times, but not unfairly so. In addition, it has a new world and dark storyline, and I can’t wait for what will hopefully be more memorable voice acting as heard in Demon’s Souls (“You have a heart of gold.”). Bring on more warthog!
I’m not sure how many hours I’ve sunk into playing Oblivion, but it’s somewhere in the high 300s. The lore of Cyrodiil, the opportunities for role playing, the architecture of the different cities – all of it resonates with me in deep and satisfying ways. All I needed Skyrim to be was more of the same, which it is, but with some welcome improvements thrown in. Some of the changes are big, like the overhauled inventory system or the brand new graphics engine, but even some of the small changes have me itching to get my hands on a controller. The camera won’t automatically zoom in, instead leaving a polite distance between you and the person you’re talking to. To read a book, you’ll actually…pick up a book and turn its pages. Simple, yet immersive.
I’ve never been able to choose between being a fighter and being a magic user, though. Hurling fireballs and summoning skeletons is simply too much fun to give up spellcasting in exchange for being better with a sword – but getting all stabbity with a Golden Saint is far too satisfying to give up for better magic. I could do both in Oblivion, but switching between the two could be awkward, especially when I was backtracking in a futile attempt to flee a particularly ornery troll. Now I can have a spell in one hand and a sword in the other, ready to heal myself or fling some fire as I hack and slash my way through the countryside.
I need to clear about 300 hours out of my November calendar.
I’m not sure why Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning isn’t getting more attention. It’s God of War mixed with Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and World of Warcraft. The graphics are bright, colorful and gorgeous. The action-based combat system is deep and varied but won’t rely on button mashing. There’s a wealth of typical RPG skills like pickpocketing, stealth, blacksmithing, and alchemy. The loot system resembles that of Diablo, meaning there will be tons of items to pick up. The class system is somewhat revolutionary, allowing players to unlock classes depending on whatever skills they choose as they play, rather than requiring a choice at the very beginning. Exploration is a focus, with players that wander off the beaten path likely to find secrets such as a hidden group of fishmen worshipping a giant snake monster, whom they can fight in a unique WoW raid-style battle for special loot. It’s got the financial backing of hardcore RPG fan Curt Schilling, and is being developed with the help of artist and animator Todd MacFarlane, Oblivion designer Ken Rolston, and author R.A. Salvatore. So pay attention, all right?
Reckoning looked better than ever at E3. The hands-off demo showed more of the little details like how pickpocketing might land you in jail if you’re caught. The Destiny class system looks like it has dozens of unique types to unlock based on the player’s choices. Crafting looks as deep as you’d see in any MMO. 38 Studios boasts that it’ll have hundreds of hours of gameplay, and often says that there’s no RPG out there like Reckoning right now. I’m inclined to believe it. If combat lives up to the promises and isn’t too button-mashey, Reckoning could be one of the best RPGs of all time. Or at least a really, really good one.
My feelings on Konami at this year’s E3 are mixed. Part of me is angry at the Japanese developer for hiding the single Leedmees station between NeverDead and the new Glee karaoke game, but then I feel I should be grateful that Konami made this strange, addicting “full-body puzzle game” at all.
Like the best motion control games, Leedmees revolves around a concept that is immediately understood when seen in person. You use your body to move your on-screen avatar’s body, in an effort to guide lemmings that mindlessly walk forward until they hit a wall. They spawn in a blue portal, and you have to get them to the red portal, overcoming obstacles in-between the two. Embarrassing antics ensue.
Leedmees wouldn’t work if it weren’t for its one-to-one movement between the player and avatar. Half of the fun comes from trying out new things, as you figure out a puzzle, collect bonus stars or race for a better completion time. You quickly discover the advantage in squatting, bending your arms and flicking your wrist to propel the lemmings into the air.
With only 50 single-player and 12 multiplayer stages, Leedmees isn’t a substantial offering , but that’s probably why it’s being offered on the cheap as a Xbox Live Arcade title. However, I’d willingly pay full price for this unexpected, puzzle game. I may even do the unthinkable and purchase a Kinect for it. I know that sounds like complete hyperbole but no other playable game at E3 made me smile like Leadmees.
I’m not gonna lie, Zelda holds a special place in my heart, and as such I was crazy excited to get my hands on Skyward Sword at E3 this year. I’m going to date myself and tell you that I was seven years old when the original Legend of Zelda was released in the United States and found its way into my Nintendo Entertainment System. Suffice it to say, I was instantly hooked.
I’ve heard the complaint that every Zelda since Ocarina of Time has just been a rehash of that original Nintendo 64 title. I beg to differ. From the three day cycle and character transformation in Majora’s Mask to the twilit realm and motion control scheme of Twilight Princess, new mechanics, alternate Hyrules and varied means of exploration have kept this franchise fresh for me for 24 years. From the taste I was given at E3, it looks like Skyward Sword is set to keep up the trend.
Stylized at a happy medium between the artsy colorful world of Wind Waker and the earthy realism of Twilight Princess, its aesthetics are new and vibrant. The added precision of Motion Plus enables Link to strike his opponents in tandem with your gestures, and aim his ranged weapons with accuracy. These mechanics were organic, immersive and new. The familiarity of the temple setting was offset by the introduction of bird racing, and the brief snippets of story were compelling, but purposefully vague. When my time was up, I felt seven years old again and ready to start this new adventure.
Did I seriously just name Luigi’s Mansion 2 as one of my favorite games at E3 amongst other titles like Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Battlefield 3, and BioShock Infinite? Yes. Yes I did.
Before E3, I jokingly said to a colleague that it’d be great if Nintendo announced a sequel to Luigi’s Mansion. I must have had a psychic dream. I don’t care what anyone thinks, Luigi’s Mansion was one of the most clever, fun, and creative titles to hit the GameCube. It starred Luigi as a vacuum-toting ghost hunter trying to rescue Mario from a haunted mansion. In the mansion, he’d suck up pieces of the environment to reveal treasure like gold bars and dollar bills in addition to ghosts. Luigi’s greed is not satisfied by coins alone.
It was a great use of the second string Mario bro, and Nintendo has made the game even better for its 3DS sequel. The environments are more detailed, meaning there’s more treasure to uncover in silly, fun ways, like vacuuming a wind chime or box of tissues filled with money. Rather than being eternally attached to Mario, Luigi has taken on ghost hunting as a side-job in the sequel while his bro is presumably off smooching Peach. There are going to be multiple mansions this time, likely with multiple themes. Luigi’s mansion 2 is the same light-hearted type of adventure as the original, but bigger and better in just about every way. We don’t really see games with weird concepts like Luigi’s Mansion coming from major publishers much anymore, so it’s nice to see Nintendo revisiting the idea. The only sad part is that Luigi probably won’t be timidly crying out: “Maaaario??”
BioWare is calling Mass Effect 3 the best game in the trilogy, and so far I’m sold. Fans called Mass Effect too RPG-ey, and Mass Effect 2 too action-ey, but Mass Effect 3‘s E3 demo gave it the potential to be just right.
The RPG elements in Mass Effect 2 have been expanded upon, taking some inspiration from Mass Effect with additions like equippable gun mods, but without the awful sorting troubles of the original game or the constrained ability to only switch them out in specific areas from Mass Effect 2. In addition, upgrading abilities and biotic powers is now done through multiple branches within each skill, allowing for more customization. We won’t just be pumping points into linear skill trees anymore.
At the same time, Mass Effect 3 is bringing over the visceral feel of combat from Mass Effect 2, and adding to it. Shepard’s new Omni Knife isn’t something to be trifled with, nor are his new hand grenades. Maybe it was the sound system or giant screen, but I felt every bullet from Shepard’s rifle as he tore through Cerberus soldiers at E3. Did I mention you also try to take out a Reaper all by yourself with a mobile gun turret?
Combine this expanded character customization and combat with Mass Effect‘s story elements, which it always got right, and you might have the perfect combination for a sci-fi action-RPG. It’s looking like the rest of Mass Effect 3 will even make me put up with having to scan planets for elements again (if it’s brought back).
This may not be as hardcore as some of the other choices. I mean, let’s face it: this is a kid’s game. But there’s something about Once Upon a Monster that I just couldn’t get enough of. Perhaps it was that, amid all the shooters and action games, here was one title that was getting lots of mainstream attention for going against the general trend. And while Once Upon a Monster is probably more visible because it’s standing on the shoulders of the Sesame Street brand and Tim Schafer’s studio, the underlying content and message are what resonated with me.
Here’s a game that uses monsters to humanize the medium far more than facial motion capture or binary moral decisions ever have. Sure, as gameplay hooks, tolerance and understanding might not be as obviously attractive as rocket launchers or race cars, but the positive message behind this game has stuck with me ever since my hands on demo.
It’s a game that uses the term “play” in a sense that’s largely missing from the mainstream market right now, which too often turns its nose up at such obvious attempts to embrace the childhood origins of our entire medium. It won’t win over the hardcore crowd, but as a game that bridges the gap between kids and adults, it definitely got my attention.
The original Rayman is one of my favorite PS1 games, and in an era as jam-packed with hits, that’s saying a lot. It may have looked like just another platformer with an odd, cartoonish hero to some gamers, but I loved the clever and varied level design, the humor, earning new abilities, and pretty much all of the sights and sounds. Rayman was also extremely challenging; even playing it now as an adult, it’s easy to get stuck.
For years, while I watched the limbless Rayman toil away in minigame land with those insane Rabbids, I lamented the lack of a new Rayman platformer, something like the first game. As you can imagine, when Rayman Origins was announced at Ubisoft’s E3 2010 press conference, I pretty much lost my mind. With co-op play and a new art style, though, I worried that it just wouldn’t feel like Rayman . Guess what? It totally does.
From the two levels of Origins I played at E3, it seems like the developers at Ubisoft Montpellier have taken some of the best elements from the early Rayman platformers, added drop-in drop-out multiplayer similar to that of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and created a wonderful new gameplay experience that’s pretty much exactly what I wanted: fun, challenging, interesting, and nice to look at. I’m definitely excited for this full retail release later in the year.
Here’s something else you can know about me: I am a horror genre fanatic. I am on a constant and mostly fruitless crusade to be frightened by media. I read the books, I watch the films and I play the games. This is why I used to be a huge fan of the Resident Evil series. It gave me the heebie-jeebies. With the genre moving steadily toward hard emphasis on gore, it has become rare for me to have that feeling. Disgusted, yes. Scared, not so much. When I search my brain for real moments of fear there are a few good memories from early Resident Evils, most notably my first run-in with the Licker in Resident Evil 2, but none from 4, 5 or either Chronicles title. I played them and liked them, but they didn’t keep me from sleeping like a baby.
Playing Resident Evil Revelations on the 3DS made me uncomfortable, tense and jumpy. Keep in mind that I played this on a handheld system on the floor of the brightest, loudest, shiniest conference in the United States, which should have made it impossible to get to me, but it did. Heebie-jeebies. I was searching frantically for bullets in a small, dimly lit room when a creature slithered out from under a counter and I think I actually jumped off the ground. In public. It made my whole day.
Revelations delivered the elusive fear and pressing claustrophobia that I haven’t felt since Code Veronica, with a control system that blew those early games out of the water. I can’t think of a single thing wrong with that.
After standing in line for The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword for 15 minutes, I couldn’t hold back the urge any longer: I had to check out the new Rhythm Heaven game. Link can wait until winter. Not only did I have no regrets about my decision, I think it might be one of the best calls I made at E3 this year.
For those unfamiliar with Rhythm Heaven , it’s WarioWare‘s charming, rhythm-based cousin that has been exclusively on handhelds until this third entry. The upgrade to 480p has been treated with care; this isn’t some half-assed port. The game’s quirky, lo-fi aesthetic remains intact but is now complimented with a rich color palette and detailed cartoon visuals. Thankfully, the team didn’t impose motion controls into the games. Like the original, the music-based mini-games entirely revolve around pressing the A and B buttons in time to the beat. As the stages get more and more intense, paying attention the audio-visual cues becomes essential. However, the game often distorts your view – forcing you to depend entirely on your sense of rhythm.
The demo only had three playable stages, one of which was a recreation of the samurai-slicing-ghosts stage of the GBA original, but it gave me a strong impression this isn’t going to be a disappointment for series and rhythm-game fans. The hectic mini-games gave me the right mix of euphoria and stress, while the catchy music got stuck in my head for the rest of the day. Despite being a brief demo, it was worth waiting in (the wrong) line to play it.
With all the chaos and spectacle of E3, it’s an impressive accomplishment just to show up on time to your appointments, particularly so as the day wears on. So when I say I was early to Rocksmith, that means something. The game had been high on my list ever since hearing about it earlier this year, but E3 was my first chance to get my hands on it. I walked up to the tour bus a full hour before the show even opened, hoping to get a jump on the line. Instead I got an hour-long hands-on session.
As a guitar player, I’ve had to endure a strange mix of enthusiasm and disappointment over the rise of the guitar game genre. Yes, I played most of the Guitar Hero games and still rock out in Rock Band. I even played Power Gig, for heaven’s sake. But none of those games, even with the Squier guitar and Rock Band 3‘s Pro Mode, ever felt like the real deal. Rocksmith does.
Since the game tracks sounds instead of buttons and uses a real guitar instead of a plastic controller, you play the game by playing the guitar, not the other way around. When you’re asked to play an A chord, you can play it in the open position or anywhere it fits on the neck. When you’re asked to play a Bb, you can play it on the sixth fret of your E string, or play the A on the fifth fret and bend it up a half step.
I’m getting this game. If you’re tired of red button-green button guitar gameplay, you should too.
I prefer Saint’s Row 2 over GTAIV. I know, I know. I’m a terrible person. After a strong showing at E3 this year, I feel I may no longer be alone in praising the series’ unabashed bad-taste and zaniness.
Saint’s Row 3 is a game where you can drive a “Catmobile,” run over pedestrians and fire them at skyscrapers with the vehicle’s “man-cannon.” This should tell you everything you need to know about the game. It’s as if developer Volition had wild night of partying and wrote down every dumb idea any employee pitched in a drunken stupor. The game looks polished enough to lead me to assume Volition did all the programming sober.
The thing I loved about Saints Row 2 was that it melded all its ridiculous features and game mechanics around the missions, unlike the GTA series. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall Niko Bellic riding a golf cart through a mall while slicing security guards with a samurai sword. The Third continues this design decision while raising the production values and scale of the missions. The bank-heist-gone-wrong mission shown at E3 featured surprisingly good acting, funny dialog and an intense battle full of memorable moments, such as when the player defended a helicopter while stationed on the vault it was carrying.
You know what’s cooler than a Rockstar narrative about an immigrant getting revenge in Liberty City? Bunny-hopping and body slamming random homeless citizens, and then firing a rocket at them that shoots up vertically and rains down a hundred heat-seeking missiles. Like I said, I’m a terrible person but Volition makes it too much fun!
I 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.
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.
One 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.
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.
Make no mistake about it: Uncharted: Golden Abyss is the full Uncharted experience on a handheld. Until you see the game running on the PS Vita in person, you can’t get a true idea of how good it looks. At the same time, it plays just as well as if you had a Dual Shock in your hand, but with bonus Vita control features that, despite roars of complaints, are actually useful. I’m a huge fan of Uncharted and handheld gaming, so Golden Abyss on the Vita is like a dream come true.
Golden Abyss still features Nathan Drake solving ancient mysteries while climbing, jumping, rolling around, and engaging in witty banter with the same voice acting, animation, and cutscenes we’re used to. The environments might not hit the peak of the PS3’s capability, but they still look amazing, in part thanks to the Vita’s gorgeous screen. Frankly, I don’t understand why people are getting upset over Golden Abyss‘ new touchscreen controls, because they’re both optional and helpful. It was remarkably intuitive to drag my finger up the screen to make Drake climb up on a ledge. How many times have you pressed the wrong button, only to make Drake fall to his death? It also felt great to drag a path along ledges so that Drake would climb them in order to reach a new vantage point. I see no difference between tapping a button to perform these actions and tapping a screen. You’ll use some of the touchscreen/gyroscope controls in Golden Abyss, and like them. I’d bet on it. You just won’t use all of them.
It says something about the PS Vita that Golden Abyss is a launch (or close to launch) title. I can’t imagine what we’re going to see on the system down the line if this is one of its first games. Even in an early state, Golden Abyss is an impressive game on an impressive new handheld, and bodes well for the future of the Vita.
I wasn’t present at Space World 2000, when Nintendo used a battle between Link and Ganondorf as a tech demo to show off the power of the Gamecube. From what I hear, people wept. Wind Waker may not have raised such cries of disappointed rage had they not shown that footage. Over a decade later, history may be repeating itself.
The tech demo representing the HD capabilities of Nintendo’s latest console was the basic Link design from Twilight Princess, but it was crisp, “realistic”, magnificent. The cloth of Link’s signature tunic conformed and flowed in perfect accord with his movements. The Master Sword reflected its environments clearly as Link prepared to defend himself against the returning Gohma, his elfin face set in lines of fierce determination. The Wii U HD demo that Nintendo made utterly clear was not an actual game, was a taste of what we’ve been asking for since Space World. It was Zelda; in cutting-edge, current generation specs, and I want it for my birthday.
Do not get me wrong, Wind Waker is one of my favorite Zelda titles. I loved its quirky and elegantly simple art style. I still giggle when I think of little Link’s 80’s bangs waving in the wind. I thought that Twilight Princess did an incredible job with Hyrule, considering they were working with a graphics chip and processor just above par with previous generation consoles. I would not, however, complain about the realization of the dream most Zelda fans have been harboring since that fateful tech demo eleven years ago.
While sitting in my seat at the Nokia Theater in downtown Los Angeles, waiting for Nintendo’s press conference to begin, I wondered how they’d start it off. Would it go slowly, with some dull sales statistics or Reggie patting himself on the back? Was the new console going to be the first thing shown, or the 3DS? When would Miyamoto and Iwata take the stage? The actual opening minutes of the press briefing far exceeded my expectations, making this not just one of my favorite moments of E3 2011, but of any E3 I’ve been to.
I didn’t even notice the orchestra until it started playing, but once I heard those familiar notes to The Legend of Zelda‘s theme song, I was completely enthralled. Hearing a live orchestra play a medley of tunes from the Zelda games, while watching a montage of the series onscreen, gave me a feeling of sheer joy that I don’t often experience in this cynical industry. It sounds cliché, but I really did feel like a kid again, and Nintendo effortlessly recaptured those memories of being young and holding an NES controller in my hand, being completely captivated by The Legend of Zelda.
Since the Nintendo press conference took place on the first day the E3 show floor opened, this set the tone for the rest of the day, and in my opinion, made this the winning press conference of the big three this year, at least in terms of entertainment and nostalgia.