A swarm of new games is coming, based on new revelations last week at the 2013 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). I didn’t see everything, but I saw as much as humanly possible. I’m excited by the innovation happening in games, and here are my favorite titles. This year’s batch include numerous brand-new intellectual properties. That’s no accident because many publishers wait until next-generation consoles arrive before they launch a new property. Many of them have been waiting for years for the launch of Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation 4.
It’s worth noting that this list has no Nintendo titles. While those games are fun, they aren’t always inspiring in the same way that brand-new IPs are.
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Platforms: Xbox One, 360, PC
Release date: 2014
The first game from Respawn [pictured above] is a really tightly directed multiplayer-only game where human infantry soldiers square off against mechs known as Titans. Respawn came about after Infinity Ward cofounders Jason West and Vince Zampella left Activision. Titanfall is a Microsoft exclusive, and it could very well win over some gamers to the Xbox One’s side in the console war. At the very least, it shows that Microsoft and EA haven’t forgotten about what gamers like: intense, fast-paced gameplay that rewards tactical thinking. We haven’t seen much of this game, but the graphics are beautiful. The gunplay is great. The Titans aren’t invincible, as they can taken down by well-aimed shoulder-launched rockets. And Titanfall has a lot of vertical fighting. I enjoyed running up walls and surprising enemies down below.
2. Battlefield 4
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Release date: Nov. 1
Development studio DICE has become a master not only of graphics with its Frostbite 3 engine — it has also improved its storytelling and cinematic gameplay, based on the trailers and gameplay we’ve seen to date. Add to that the chaos of 64-player multiplayer and the new “commander mode” and you have a continuously improving series. It looks like Battlefield will finally be able to take on Call of Duty in head-to-head competition. But we have a long way to go between now and the fall, and we’d like to see a lot more of both before we figure out who is going to be the king of first-person modern-combat shooters, which is one of the biggest video game markets of all.
3. Dying Light
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Release date: 2014
The zombie apocalypse may well have hit its peak in gaming, but there’s still room for a great zombie shooter. We were delighted to see Techland, the maker of Dead Island, add a few twists to the genre with its open-world game. The graphics look truly next-generation. You play a survivor trying to forage among hordes of zombies. By day, you can dominate the zombies, which are sluggish and slow. You can run around, parkour style, jumping off the heads of zombies and doing all sorts of acrobatics to escape the hordes. Yet you also have to try to compete with other humans for food. At night, you become the hunted. Faster zombies and other skillful hunters come out in the dark and give chase. You have a sonar device that shows you where the pursuer is, and you can look back to see if you’ve lost the hunter. Everything you do in the day time is aimed at getting ready for the night. It’s a scary title.
4. Murdered: Soul Suspect
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Airtight Games
Release date: 2014
Another brand-new intellectual property, this title is very creative. It mixes detective fiction with horror in an original way. You play detective Ronan O’Connor, a detective who has been murdered, and you have to figure out who killed you. The opening scene is riveting, and we quickly learn that being a ghost doesn’t mean you’re all powerful. You can walk through walls, but not if they have been blessed in a ritual. You can listen in on conversations and possess the bodies of living people, but you have to reconstruct a scene from multiple points of view before you can decipher what happened. You also can’t interact with the real world. As you figure out what happened, you run into other ghosts in a kind of limbo world. If you solve their mysteries, you can learn more about what led to your own death.
5. The Division
Developer: Ubisoft Massive
Platforms: PlayStation 4 and Xbox One
Release date: TBA
Ubisoft Massive has been working on this new Tom Clancy title for at least five years, and it looks great. The Division is based on a plausible near future where the U.S. is hit by an apocalyptic epidemic. Massive delved deep into Operation Dark Winter, a military exercise that the U.S. military conducted in 2001. It revealed the inadequacies of the nation’s defenses against a biological terrorist attack. It presumes that order will break down in a matter of days. To prepare for this event, the government has created an agency (based on a President George W. Bush’s executive order dubbed Directive 51) that has dispatched sleeper cells across the country to take up arms and restore order. The agents will battle gangs, looters, and anyone else who threatens the republic. Those agents will be operating on their own without much help from a weakened government, but they will have access to technology and weapons caches that could give them the edge in any kind of extended warfare. This is a huge bet on a new intellectual property, and it is the kind of thing that Ubisoft is specializing in these days. If the company keeps coming up with major surprises like this one, I wouldn’t be taken aback if it creates one of the largest empires in all of gaming.
6. Fantasia: Music Evolved
Developer: Harmonix Music Systems
Platforms: Xbox One and Xbox 360
Release date: 2014
Music games have to be reinvented every few years, or they go bust. Guitar Hero rose to a billion-dollar annual business and then fell apart. Harmonix and Ubisoft shifted the audience to dance games with the launch of motion-sensing systems like the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft’s Kinect for the Xbox 360. Now, with the new Kinect in the upcoming Xbox One’s, Harmonix is doing it again. It has created a motion-based game where you can create your own riffs on your favorite tunes while you watch some spectacular animations on the big screen. It’s based on Disney’s 75-year-old Fantasia film, which famously had Mickey Mouse as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice conducting an orchestra using the heavens as instruments. You play the new Sorcerer’s Apprentice and try to get high scores and highly original mixes at the same time. The goal, according to Harmonix cofounder Alex Rigopulos, is to do what Walt Disney envisioned for his original film: make it a platform that can be updated with new content on a regular basis.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PS 3, Xbox 360
Release date: 2014
Bungie gave up Halo so that it could find its Destiny. This sci-fi massively multiplayer online first-person shooter game puts players in charge of the defense of Earth’s last remaining city. Surrounded by aliens, the human Guardians have to venture out past the city walls and challenge the different alien races that are coming to plunder the world. Over time, Bungie will offer a narrated experience with lots of lore and back story. But in the meantime, this looks like a fun first-person shooter with great art. At E3, Bungie showed how players can join a “public space” and battle a big boss character (such as a spider tank) as part of a larger group. The graphics look beautiful, the weapons are plentiful, and the game offers a huge amount of player customization. At some point, we’d like to hear a lot more about what kind of story this MMO will have. The combat looks like it will be very high intensity, even when you’re fighting against nonplayer characters. We’d like to see a lot more about how this world operates on a grand scale. But it certainly looks worthy of all of the investment that the game studio has put into it.
8. Plants vs. Zombies 2: It’s about time
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: PopCap Games
Release date: July 18
PopCap took more than four years to come up with a sequel to its smash hit Plants vs. Zombies. That made everybody wonder why EA would pay $750 million for PopCap. But now it’s time to get your lawn ready for the attack of the cute zombies. This game has a silly story about time travel that allows the creators to create lawns and characters with themes from Ancient Egypt and elsewhere. The title was already addictive as a real-time tower defense game. But the gameplay has been improved with nice little touches. As the zombies try to eat your brainz, you can earn special rewards that take advantage of the touchscreen. You can earn a “power toss” that allows you to use your finger to “flick” a zombies of the screen. A “power zap” powerup will electrocute a zombie. And a “power pinch” lets you pinch the head off of a zombie. PvZ2 will have three worlds with 22 or so levels each, and you can fight against endless waves of zombies as well. Sure, it’s just a little mobile game on your iPad. But I bet you spend more hours with this title than a lot of other hardcore console games.
Developer: June Ikeda
Platforms: PlayStation 3
Release date: 2013
Our own Dan “Shoe” Hsu says that Rain could be the next Journey, the big Sony indie hit from last year that won a bunch of game of the year awards. I have to agree because this game is wildly imaginative. The idea of rain is always a good for setting mood in video games, creating a melancholy feeling as you play. In Rain, you play a little ghost-like boy who become visible in the night rain and invisible in the dry light. The boy’s white shimmering body disappears when he walks under a street lamp, but you can see his footprints. The developers use this basic mechanic to set up a story as the boy chases after a ghost-like girl. But ghost-like hounds chase you. They can see you in the rain, but they can’t see you in the light. I’ve played through a couple of levels. You can use the rain/light effect to get the hounds accomplish things for you. They’re not easy to figure out the puzzles, and the game is kind of scary. There’s a certain sadness that goes with the game and its pretty music.The ghost-like dogs chase you and tear you to pieces of they catch you. It’s a lot like Splinter Cell, but you don’t have any weapons or other gadgets to accomplish your stealth movements. One look at this game and you’ll know that you’re seeing something truly original.
10. Wolfenstein: The New Order
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Machine Games
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Release date: late 2013
If you ever felt the urge to play Quentin Tarantino’s film Inglourious Basterds as a video game, here’s your chance. This first-person shooter game, a new sequel in the series started by id Software in the 1990s, has some of the best gunplay and graphics I’ve seen. It is set in an alternate reality where the Nazis won World War II. For a Wolfenstein game, this one has a shot at having a decent story, too. It starts out with a Tarantino-like character, the evil Nazi commander Frau Engel, who is a fascinating madwoman. She’s like a female version of Nazi SS Colonel Hans Landa (played by Christoph Waltz) in Inglourious Basterds. B.J. Blazcowicz, a member of the resistance that is staging a counter-offensive against the Nazi regime, plays the tough guy who pounds the Nazis into submission. The environment is destructible and the array of weaponry is impressive. The only thing I worry about is that the build I played was exceedingly difficult. I expect Machine Games to adjust its difficulty settings. But look for this one to give you that adrenaline rush.
These following games would have earned some recognition too, but they appeared at last year’s E3, and I decided to focus on what was fresh. They include Watch Dogs, Company of Heroes 2, Total War: Rome II, and Beyond: Two Souls. They are all looking fantastic, but they had their turn for praise last year. Now it’s time for them to ship. Of course, one of the best games coming out this year is probably Grand Theft Auto V from Take-Two Interactive’s Rockstar Games. But those companies were no shows when it came to showing anything publicly.
I have to tip my hat to other games that I loved as well at E3. Those include Call of Duty: Ghosts, The Evil Within, and Killzone: Shadow Fall. But in the end, they didn’t quite make the top ten list. Over time, I think these titles could turn into some very fun experiences. But not based on what they showed at E3.