The big video games of the E3 Media and Business Summit have been blasted across magazine covers and websites for the past few months, but the show still offers a large selection of lesser-known games that are worth a look—even if they lack the marketing muscle of the blockbusters. The following list contains solid sleepers, some of which have received positive buzz and press coverage, but none of which made Dean Takahashi’s “most anticipated” games of E3 list.
TT Games reached its pinnacle with LucasArts’ LEGO Star Wars II a few years back, or so we thought. After playing its new LEGO Batman game, all the minor complaints about the recent LEGO Indiana Jones game were forgotten. With a huge cast of superheroes and villains, this dark-but-still-cute game isn’t just for kids. It’s the Batman game that fans have always waited for. LEGO Batman is a deep experience with 18 hero levels and 18 villain levels. As Batman and Robin, the cooperative (two players working together) objective is to stop a jewel heist. As Catwoman and one of her cohorts, the goal is to steal those diamonds. There are also free-roaming vehicles like the Batmobile to mix up the action.
A lot of focus has been placed on Ensemble Studio’s Halo Wars to introduce the real-time strategy (RTS) genre to gamers, but what’s easier than barking commands to your troops with your voice? EndWar has the polish of a game that’s been given time to be perfected. I was shown this title exclusively behind-closed-doors last year in Santa Monica and it’s come a long way. From early on the voice commands actually worked. The entire game can be played without a controller. And that’s not just a gimmick, it actually works as a fun gaming experience. Once word-of-mouth on this one spreads, a whole new audience will be introduced to the RTS, where players move simultaneoulsly.
While both Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero World Tour are guaranteed fall blockbusters, I think there are plenty of homes that might not have the money to invest in all of those peripherals (costing anywhere from $99 to $169). Disney’s Ultimate Band allows four players to simulate the experience of playing the drums or guitar without needing special controllers. The licensed pop songs should appeal to tweens and Disney’s made sure the E10+ game is family friendly. It’s also a game that encourages kids to get off the couch and get into the music.
In space, no one can hear you scream. That’s the tag line from the original Alien, and although Sega and Gearbox Software are working on Aliens: Colonial Marines, I can’t help but think about that original horror film when playing Dead Space. There’s something especially scary about being alone in space on a giant ship filled with aliens. It’s a premise that even Hollywood doesn’t attempt very often, and rarely gets right. I think EA had me at “strategic dismemberment,” but the gameplay is inventive, especially when traversing those zero gravity rooms. And the assortment of creatures that populate the ship’s dark hallways are more than formidable.
Speaking of horror, Left4Dead takes thrills to the other side of the genre — the big Hollywood summer popcorn movie. With four-player co-op, this game’s pace is frenetic and fun. The fact that playing together impacts the game’s world and the story dynamically is great, not that you’ll have much time to notice that. There’s so much thrown at players that living another minute is about all they’ll have time to concentrate on. With its blend of excellent visuals and addictive multiplayer gaming, Left4Dead should follow in the footsteps of last year’s The Orange Box.
With Sierra’s Prototype now “on hold,” Sucker Punch will offer gamers the chance to become a superhero or a villain. Morality will play a role in this graphic novel-inspired epic, which is a far cry from the developer’s Sly Fox family fare. The central character, Cole, is trapped within a quarantined Empire City, which seems to have more problems than Gotham City on a bad day. Cole’s superpowers will manifest as the story progresses, and based on the choices he makes on his quest, he will become famous or infamous. What Sucker Punch showed of this 2009 was impressive, including one of many supervillains that populate the world.
Gearbox Software knows a thing or two about guns. And Borderlands serves up more weapons than even Scarface could handle. Through its proprietary technology, Gearbox offers gamers over 500,000 guns to choose from. Each weapon comes with special features, like acid or electricity, to finish off enemies with some pizzazz. Aside from the guns, this open world Pandora (the planet’s name) offers four-player cooperative gameplay and expansive environments to explore. It’s exactly the type of playground gamers should flock to for long hours of entertainment.
Having proven themselves with the Battlefield franchise, a team at EA-owned DICE has set out to do something no developer has done before. Mirror’s Edge is a first-person action game that revolves around running, jumping and climbing – not gunplay. It’s like the opposite of EA’s old Black game. Sure, there are guns in Mirror’s Edge, but the entire game can be played without ever picking one up. Players control Faith through rooftops and under ground to deliver messages in a future world controlled by a police force. It’s looks and plays unlike any other game I’ve seen.
Ed Fries, former head of Microsoft Game Studios, is back in gaming and his team is working on a game that offers some pretty cool new gameplay options. Fans of Crimson Skies will find plenty of in-air action in Dark Void, but it revolves around a jet-pack. The action takes place in an alternate universe, where a ordinary cargo pilot is thrust into an interplanetary war. One of the things that stood out in this game – aside from the in-air cover system – is the ability for Will to fly to a saucer, avoid its turret, and then open the capsule to expose the alien. While the ship’s zooming through the air, Will fights the alien, throws him off, and then jumps into the cockpit to use this new weapon. If Airtight can deliver this type of control and innovation throughout the experience, I’m in.
Sony has released some innovative game on its PlayStation Network, including PixelJunk Monsters, but Fat Princess literally takes the cake. It’s a cute and cuddly-looking game (think Animal Crossing) that turns into a bloodbath. Multiplayer gameplay allows teams of eight to 32 adorable characters to do for Nintendo-style characters what “South Park” has done for rudimentary animation. The demo inside Sony’s Gamers’ Lounge featured a twist on the Capture the Flag mode. The game starts with each side’s princess in the enemy base. To win, the enemy must carry the princess out and back to their base. As much fun as it is to slice through the other team with swords and fire flaming arrows at them, it’s often a better strategy to feed the enemy princess cakes and treats so she’s too heavy to carry back to safety. This game’s as fresh as it is bloody. And it’s amazingly addictive fun.