As promised, I’ve followed up on my most anticipated games of E3 with an actual list of the top ten games of the show. I spent four days checking out games and interviewing executives at the Los Angeles media and game business summit. Clearly, I didn’t see everything. I didn’t even get to some of the games on the previous list. These games reflect my own tastes. I didn’t hold myself to any rules, like limiting the list to games that are coming out this year or ones that were actually playable. It’s just a list of what I can’t wait to play myself.
Gears of War 2 (Xbox 360) Microsoft/Epic Games, Nov. 2008. If video games got Oscars, this one would win for best art direction. While the first game was dark and gloomy in its depiction of a world of destroyed beauty, this sequel has brilliant colors and sharper lines. The original Gears title sold 4.7 million units worldwide, even though I thought it had a steep learning curve. But the more I played it, the more fun it was. Flamethrowers, big bosses, and swarms of enemies make this one more exciting and challenging. There is nothing as visceral as using a chainsaw bayonet to slice your enemy in half. And of all of the games that I played or viewed at E3, I stuck with this one the longest.
Wii Music (Nintendo Wii) Nintendo, fall 2008. Shigeru Miyamoto sure took his time with this game, which he first showed off to an audience in 2006. I was able to sit down with this game, which allows you hold the Wii controller and its companion Nunchuk to play the “air guitar.” I strummed a violin by going through the motions. I pounded on steel drums. This game has almost no learning curve, making it accessible to young kids and adults who have no rhythm and no idea how to play an instrument. In that way, it could promote freestyle play and be far more appealing for younger gamers than either the “Rock Band” or “Guitar Hero” series of music games.
Left 4 Dead (PC, Xbox 360) Electronic Arts/Valve, November, 2008. This game is set in a world where a pandemic turns everyone into a zombie. As a survivor, you are trapped in a city and must escape with a group of survivors. I played just a single round of co-op online play of this game with three other players. It was awesome. You have to work closely with the other players to take out the zombies. If you don’t synchronize your efforts, you’re bound to run out of ammo at the same time. The zombies are fast and so you can’t all pump lead into the same lead attacker or you’ll fall victim to the next ones. It makes for frenetic game play and a lot of repeatable fun as you await “Resident Evil 5,” the big Capcom zombie-killing game which was postponed until the spring of 2009.
Spore (PC, Mac), Electronic Arts/Maxis, Sept. 7, 2008. I got to look at this one up close for a few minutes and liked what I saw. It’s certainly fun to fashion your own single-cell animal or a big creature or a galaxy-faring race. But the game play is also entertaining. You can explore a planet and find that it is populated by creatures chosen randomly from the player-created Sporepedia. Then your species has to meet and skewer the other one in combat, or make allies of them. There is still a lot of this game that I haven’t seen yet. But so far, so good. Will Wright may have another “The Sims” on his hands. That series has sold more than 100 million units.
Resistance 2 (PS 3) Sony/Insomniac Games, holiday 2008. Sony was smart to give this game a lot of air time at its E3 press conference. This sequel takes what was good about the first hit game of the PlayStation 3 and ratchets up the scale. The size of the boss reminded me of “Shadow of the Colossus.” The destruction of the U.S. landscape was downright scary. As I watched, I was reminded of the fun of changing through a bunch of weapons to find the right one to take out your friendly neighborhood aliens. Multiplayer will have 60 players online in the same match.
LittleBigPlanet (PS 3) Sony/Media Molecule, Oct. 2008. Whoever thought about showing Sony’s PowerPoint-like slides on the landscape of this customizable game was brilliant. It has simple game play, where you use your rag-doll characters to solve simple problems like getting one to jump onto a plank so that another could somersault over an obstacle. I love the look of the graphics and the ability to insert just about anything into the game. I’d still like to see more of the puzzles in this game. But it’s got that Nintendo-like cuteness.
Fallout 3 (PC, Xbox 360, PS 3) Bethesda Softworks, Oct. 2008. This game set in the devastation of a nuked U.S. has an important reminder for gamers: you can always find humor in any tough situation. Even a radioactive one. The game is an action role-playing game that takes place after a nuclear war in the year 2077. There are amusing 1950s-style commercials for bomb shelters and hauntingly innocent music that remind me off the conflation of cheerful music and nightmare graphics in BioShock. A cool thing: You can freeze the action, target your enemies, and watch the action unfold in slow motion.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (PS 3, Xbox 360, Wii, PS 2, PSP, DS), LucasArts, Sept. 16, 2008. This game has a lot going for it. It has a great story that explains how the Rebellion got started, after the end of Episode III and before the beginning of Episode IV. But you can play the key character, Darth Vader’s apprentice, as either a villain or move down the road of redemption. On top of that, the game has amazing graphics and physics that allow you to use the “The Force” in the way George Lucas envisioned it. You can pick up a Stormtrooper and toss it like a rag doll, knocking down other soldiers like bowling pins.
Dead Space (Xbox 360, PS 3) Electronic Arts, fall 2008. The more I see this unofficial knock-off of the film “Alien,” the more impressed I am and the more original it seems in its own right. As John Gaudiosi noted, the fun of this game is that you can pause the action and engage in “strategic dismemberment,” or shoot out the right organ in the monster that’s attacking you. The pace is slower than a “Doom 3” style action horror game. That’s because the game is supposed to scare you as much as it entertains. And the weapons aren’t just sitting around for you to collect. You have to improvise with mining tools.
Massive Action Game, or MAG, (PS 3) Sony/Zipper Interactive, no date (not this year). If Sony can pull this one off, it will change online multiplayer shooters. This game will definitely light up the forums because the trailer for it reminds me of the controversial “Killzone 2” demo from a few years ago, which looked spectacular but was a cinematic. It wasn’t actual game play. Sony may be playing the same game with this demo, which was a cinematic that looked spectacular in its depiction of modern combat. But the thing I can’t get over is that Sony intends this online game to have as many as 256 players in a single match, with eight-soldier squads. That’s more than a free-for-all. That’s a gigantic battle with the potential for chaos or the next level up in organized multiplayer online combat.
Other games worth noting:
Borderlands (PS 3, Xbox 360, PC) Take-Two Interactive/Gearbox, fall 2008. This is a great team-oriented shooter game where you can hijack a rival’s vehicle and shoot umpteen-million kinds of guns on a planet full of monsters known as Pandora.
Wii Sports Resort (Wii) Nintendo, 2009. This game uses the Wii MotionPlus accessory for the Wii controller. It works very accurately. I could easily throw a frisbee or gun the throttle on a jet ski. I could also slice a pencil at an angle with a samurai sword. Why couldn’t the original Wii controller be so accurate?
Tomb Raider Underworld (Wii, PS 2, PS 3, Xbox 360, PC, DS) Eidos/Crystal Dynamics, holiday 2008. The latest in the Lara Croft series takes you under the ocean. I saw a demo of this one and it has beautiful underwater graphics and some wonderfully difficult puzzles.
Call of Duty: World at War (PC, Xbox 360, PS 3, Wii) Activision/Treyarch, fall 2008. The same engine as Call of Duty 4, but back in World War II in places such as the Pacific theater. That means jungle warfare and flamethrowers. It’s going to be intense when the Japanese soldiers launch their suicide attacks.
Mirror’s Edge (Xbox 360, PS 3) Electronic Arts, fall 2008. You play a courier in the future when all electronic communications are monitored and people have to resort to hand-to-hand message delivery. This courier has to desperately evade police and run off the sides of buildings — without Spider-Man’s special powers. But EA didn’t show off much of the action.
Ultimate Band (Wii, DS) Disney Interactive Sutdios/Fall Line Studio, fall 2008. Disney made a smart move, jumping on the Rock Band/Guitar Hero trend. But it is shooting for the crowd that doesn’t want to pay extra for expensive guitar or drum peripherals.