GamesBeat

This year’s top surprises at E3

tomb raider lara croft

With the video game industry’s largest trade show over, it’s time to wrap up some of the highlights. We’ll start with the biggest surprises that VentureBeat’s Dean Takahashi and I saw at the Electronic Entertainment Expo.

Franchise reboots are as stylish as ever — Tomb Raider is the latest franchise to receive a fresh face, with a new take on the classic heroine — and it looks fantastic. The game puts players into the shoes of 21-year-old adventurer Lara Croft, who in her younger days was a lot more innocent and naive than the battle-hardened badass that gamers are accustomed to in the Tomb Raider series. It’s an attempt to humanize the character a little more and make her likable — much like the lovable rogue Nathan Drake in the Uncharted series, which feels very much inspired by the original Tomb Raider.

But Tomb Raider is not the only franchise to receive a second look. Square Enix also showed off Deus Ex: Human Revolution at E3 this year — though it doesn’t look anywhere near as impressive as Tomb Raider, which is also a Square Enix title. Still, it looks like a very solid game and should please fans of the original Deus Ex series, which was critically acclaimed and came out more than a decade ago.

There were a number of other franchise reboots, such as the Spyro series, that also look quite good. Even though game developers aren’t coming up with radically new franchises, it looks like they are working a lot of magic on existing concepts that should delight gamers of any type.

Kinect is expanding to hardcore gamers — I know when I’m playing a difficult video game I sometimes find myself shouting at the screen. It’s usually when one of my squad mates does something stupid, like running face-first into a hail of gunfire and taking a dirt nap shortly thereafter.Luckily, Microsoft is turning shouting into a useful feature with its Xbox 360 motion controller, the Kinect. That device features a microphone and some other features that will let gamers have additional controls in some of its newest hardcore titles.

The best example was when Microsoft demonstrated Mass Effect 3 on stage at its press conference last Monday. Instead of shouting at a teammate, like the psychic-like biotic Liara, for doing something stupid, I can tell her to quickly run behind cover while I continue laying the smack-down on an oncoming enemy that’s marching through my line of fire. It gives gamers a whole new way to interact with hardcore games like first-person shooters (FPS) that still rely on typical controllers. And it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the rest of the game.

Dust 514 might be the most innovative MMO of 2012 — One of the show’s hidden gems, Dust 514, was tucked away in the concourse center, an underground part of the trade show floor that didn’t feature all the extravagant sets and booth babes. But it was just as delightful, if not more so, because it was one of the newest ideas we’ve seen in gaming. It’s a FPS game that’s built into an existing massive online role-playing game universe that already sports 400,000 subscribers called EVE Online.

Dust 514 is much like other FPS games at first, dropping players into closed matches that consist of team-based matches with certain objectives like capturing a position or eliminating the opposing team. Each match that a Dust 514 player participates in is actually a contract created by an EVE Online player, a completely separate game that features tactical space combat and lots of player-driven politics. The squads on the planet’s surface can also fire artillery into space to damage ships in EVE Online, and ships in the EVE Online universe can initiate orbital strikes on the planet’s surface to help Dust 514 players.

They are two completely different games. EVE Online is geared towards hardcore MMO players and the average play session lasts around 3 hours. Dust 514 is a game for FPS gamers that only have 10 or 20 minutes to play. But they exist in the same universe and regularly interact with each other, creating an experience another MMO game has yet to match.

Sega finally built another fun Sonic game — It’s been a while since a decent Sonic game made it to store shelves. And none of the recent Sonic games have been able to match the same magic that was created in the original Sonic trilogy and Sonic & Knuckles, which featured fast-paced side-scrolling gameplay with a lot of creative levels and multiple pathways to the finish line. It looks like that will finally change with the release of Sonic Generations.

I got a chance to try out a demo of the game at E3 this year and it looks like the game will feature something for both fans of the original Sonic games and the over-the-shoulder style gameplay featured in Sonic Adventure. The levels are well-designed and there are enough breaks in the action for clever platforming that each mission feels like a blast to play. And better yet, the level design harks back to the old days of Sonic the Hedgehog, with multiple pathways to the finish line and secrets hidden throughout each level that give players an incentive to be both quick and clever.

The PlayStation Vita is actually pretty cheap — The PlayStation Vita, Sony’s next portable gaming console, will cost gamers $250 for a wi-fi enabled version and $300 for a 3G-enabled version that’s on AT&T’s wireless network. That’s a pretty slim price tag, considering the device is about as powerful as a PlayStation 3 and has a host of launch titles that should impress even the most cynical gamers who felt spurned when the PlayStation Portable was not able to compete with Nintendo’s DS handheld console.

The PlayStation Vita will have games like Uncharted and LittleBigPlanet, two games from critically-acclaimed franchises that haven’t come to handheld devices yet because the devices simply weren’t powerful enough. The games look just as good as their PlayStation 3 counterparts and feature some additional controls courtesy of the device’s design. The PlayStation Vita has a touchscreen, a motion sensor and a camera, and the back of the device also has a touch pad that players can use to interact with some games. For example, when playing LittleBigPlanet, players can touch the back of the device to push objects in the background into the foreground of the game.

Konami is working on another Contra title — Konami announced that it is working on another Contra title at its Pre-E3 show in San Francisco the week before the show began. The last major Contra game, a series that features fast-paced side-scrolling shooting, came out in 2007 with the launch of Contra 4 on the Nintendo DS. Since then, two downloadable games based on the series have come out, but there hasn’t been any indication of a new Contra title coming out any time soon.

The Contra series is significant because it was a landmark series for Nintendo that sold several thousand copies of the game and helped push the original Nintendo into popularity. It’s also the first game that featured the “Konami Code,” a continuing trope in pop culture that basically every gamer has memorized to this day.

Sports games actually work with motion controls — There are two ways to go about making a sports game with motion controllers. The first way is to try and emulate the sport using motion controls, like Microsoft has done with its Kinect motion controller — a device that lets gamers basically use their whole bodies to control a game. Microsoft showed off the next version of its Kinect Sports series, and I got a chance to play a few of the games. Like the original Kinect Sports, the games control pretty well and it’s a pretty fun experience, even if you feel a bit silly playing the games in front of other people.

Sony, however, is taking a different approach with NBA 2K12, the latest iteration of 2K Games’ basketball franchise. Players take control of a single player with the main controller and point the PlayStation Move, Sony’s version of a motion controller, at the screen to direct a cursor across the court. If players want to pass the ball, they point to the player they want to pass to and hit a button. If players want to go for a steal, they point at the person carrying the ball and press a button. The controls are surprisingly intuitive — enough so that NBA star Kobe Bryant was able to play the game and go toe-to-toe with the Miami Heat, this years’ runner up in the NBA Finals.

Brothers in Arms: Furious Four is the coolest World War 2 game this year — It seems like there’s a new FPS game based on World War 2 just about every year, and this year was no exception. Except this time, Gearbox studios — the team behind Brothers in Arms: Furious Four — decided to take a few creative liberties with the story of World War 2, much like Quentin Tarantino did last year with the critically acclaimed film Inglorious Bastards.

Brothers in Arms: Furious Four puts players in control of a member of the Furious Four, a rag-tag team of misfits that are on a mission to kill Adolf Hitler and end World War 2. The art style is a lot like Team Fortress 2 in that it consists of very bright colors and vivid environments, along with a bunch of comic weapons and elements. For example, one character in Furious Four can throw down a bear trap that has a grenade attached to it and mows down Nazis with a minigun. The game supports four-person co-operative play.

Be sure to check out VentureBeat for a full wrap up of the show and some of the crazier things we saw last week.

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