Game fans are waiting for the E3 Expo next week to get a glimpse of the biggest games coming out later this year and next year. E3 is the event where every game publisher brings their very best titles for the crowds to see, often for the first time.
There’s a lot of sci-fi games expected, lots of shooters, and a lot of well-known developers working on sequels of sequels. I hope we’ll see some surprises. This year, I’ll be one of the judges voting on the best of the show for the Game Critics Awards. I’m going to see more games than usual in this capacity, but I’ll be interviewing plenty of executives about the business of video games as well. And I’ll be covering the breaking news at the many press conferences, starting with Microsoft’s unveiling of Project Natal on the evening of June 13.
The following is a list of 20 of my picks for the most-anticipated games of the show. I would add Natal games to this list, if I knew what they were. Take the poll at the end to vote for your favorite.
The world is awaiting a step up in graphics technology. And graphics wizard John Carmack at id Software has created a brand new engine for this game, which is set in a futuristic wasteland similar to the world of the Road Warrior. In this post-Doomsday world, you race highly weaponized cars and then shoot a lot of mutants. This game has been under development for a long time and its publisher changed when Bethesda merged with id Software and bought out Electronic Arts. Fortunately for EA, it’s got a lot of other titles to look forward to. No telling when Rage is going to come out. Yes, we must be patient. It takes a long time to bring the world to a proper ending.
This game is the latest creation from a German company run by the brothers Yerli: Cevat, Avni and Faruk. They developed Far Cry back in 2004 and became known for their beautiful 3D graphics technology. With it, they could create a tropical island where you could see for miles, which was quite useful for sniping. It followed up in 2007 with Crysis, another title that forced a lot of gamers to buy new PCs. That game cemented the company’s reputation as a technology innovator that pushed the limits of what was possible with hardware. This new title, using the CryEngine 3, will be the company’s first multi-platform game. It will also be neck and neck with Rage in terms of pushing the visual quality bar higher. Crytek always pushes for what is possible. This game will also put a lot of emphasis on story, with a script penned by sci-fi writer Richard Morgan. In this game, you battle aliens in New York City.
Guerrilla Games took a long time to get Killzone 2 out. But they’re promising a faster turnaround on Killzone 3 and a major overhaul of the graphics and game play at the same time. You’ll be able to fly around with jet packs in levels that cover 10 times more territory than before. If they pull it off, this game will be another showcase of what the PlayStation 3 can do. As such, it’s a strategically important game for Sony as it tries to come up with a “Halo killer.” It’s being built by a team of 130 people, and so far the craftsmanship looks excellent.
With this title, Treyarch gets to prove that it can make a Call of Duty game every bit as good as its sister studio Infinity Ward. Treyarch has been in the shadow of the other developer, making World War II games as the market taste shifted toward modern combat. This game moves into the era of the Cold War and Vietnam. You play covert operatives going on secret missions. From what Treyarch has shown so far, the title will be action packed and it will always zero in on the tense moments leading up to inferno of combat.
Firaxis is reinventing this hit franchise for strategy fans. Civ IV was a great game, but the tweaks for this bird’s-eye-view strategy game are just awesome. You can now fight battles on both a tactical and strategic level. Hexagons replace squares, allowing for more natural terrain movement. And the leaders of rival countries are now animated in a more emotion-inducing way. It’s a perfect example of taking a classic game and improving it so that players will come back to it by the millions. Civilization V should really be what you find in the dictionary under the word “addictive.”
Halo has sold more than 34 million units and Bungie can be trusted to come up with another blockbuster game with its fourth and final installment in the Halo series. (Afterward, other developers will pick up the Halo universe games). I’m looking forward to hearing more about the single-player campaign and the story behind this prequel in the Halo series. With the cool new multiplayer combat, Bungie has already proven it can still please and surprise gamers.
This decade-old franchise should have been the winner, not Call of Duty. But Electronic Arts lost touch with the quality that made Medal of Honor: Allied Assault one of the best video games ever. Now the company has committed itself to reviving this franchise, taking advantage of the weakness created by the firing of Infinity Ward’s founders. EA is moving this franchise into the modern setting of Afghanistan in a direct challenge to the Modern Warfare version of Call of Duty. There’s a lot that could go wrong here, but also a lot that could go right. Getting it right means having a riveting and immersive single-player campaign as well as a multiplayer game that will keep gamers playing for months.
The human planet of Sera is fast becoming a wasteland and all that’s left to save it are the Gears, the Marine-like soldiers who make Arnold look like he didn’t exercise enough. Gears of War is all about close combat, hiding behind corners and firing as much as you can as fast as you can at any targets that are moving close enough to turn you into red meat. This game brought us innovations such as the chainsaw bayonet and taught us that it’s more fun to play a game if your side is not invulnerable and you have to hide as much as you shoot.
The rumor is that Nintendo will show up with a new control scheme for the Wii along with a brand new installment of the adventures of Link. It’s been a looooooong time since the last one showed up in 2006 with the launch of the Wii. That either means that the team took a long time off, made another game in the meantime, or just slogged through a lot of years just to get the next installment right. Nintendo hasn’t shown anything yet. And Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo’s master game designer, has only said that the company is going to make Zelda more accessible. The graphics of this game will be underwhelming. But I expect masterful storytelling and game play from this one.
10. Bulletstorm (developer: Epic Games/People Can Fly; publisher: Electronic Arts). PC, Xbox 360, PS 3. 2011. I got a package in the mail about this game. It was a bunch of ice-cooled hamburger. It drove home the point that this game is really a comedy. It makes a joke out of shredding your opponents into chunks of meat using your big giant machine guns, telekinesis, and gravity whips — all to the tunes of hard rock. You can earn more points in the game if you kill with style (Yes, the anti-violence crowd will have a field day with this one). In this game, you are on a hostile planet full of bad guys and man-eating plants. If you enjoy disgusting fun, this could be your game.
Here’s some other titles that I’m also expecting to get a lot of attention.
11. Epic Mickey (developer: Junction Point; publisher: Disney Interactive) Wii. fall 2010. Mickey Mouse has been reimagined by Warren Spector’s team as a mischievous and darker character that is reminiscent of Mickey’s early years. It’s a major effort to make an 80-year-old icon relevant to today’s gamers.
12. Star Wars: The Old Republic (developer: BioWare; publisher: Electronic Arts) PC. This massively multiplayer online game is one of the most expensive games being developed anywhere. Hopefully the deep stories and variety of this game galaxy will keep the Star Wars faithful busy, whenever it arrives.
13. Portal 2 (developer: Valve; publisher: TBA) PC. 2011. The original Portal could spin your head around, allowing you to shoot an opening, or portal, into a wall and come out upside down so that you could maneuver past an obstacle. I expect this one to be extremely creative.
14. Metal Gear Solid: Rising (publisher: Konami) PS 3, Xbox 360. This game features Raiden a character that co-starred in Metal Gears Solid 2. But so far very little has been said about this one.
15. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II (publisher: LucasArts). Oct. 26, 2010. You get to play Darth Vader’s fugitive apprentice StarKiller. The first game made expansive use of physics technology, allowing you to use The Force to toss around Imperial Stormtroopers as if they were rag dolls.
16. Mafia II (publisher: Take-Two Interactive) PS 3, Xbox 360, PC. August 24, 2010. There’s an endless opportunity to upgrade your career as a hardened criminal in this open world game. It’s got good graphics and exciting missions with lots of action.
17. Fable III (developer: Lionhead Studios; publisher: Microsoft) Xbox 360. Peter Molyneux promises more emotion-laden game play with the latest installment of this action role-playing game. Here you can find out what it’s like to claw your way up to being king, and then living with the choices that you make.
18. Gran Turismo 5 (developer:; publisher: Sony) PS 3. 2010. Racing games just don’t get more realistic than this. This game represents the state of the art for people who can’t get enough driving during the daytime.
19. The Last Guardian (developer: Team ICO; publisher: Sony) PS 3. This is the third game from a team that has made movie-like epic games. There isn’t much revealed about this title yet, but here’s hoping that it will be as good as predecessors Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.
20. Dead Space 2 (developer: EA Visceral Games; publisher: Electronic Arts) PS 3, Xbox 360, PC. 2011. EA created a compelling new franchise with the first installment of this deep space horror game with third-person shooting. You’ll be shooting to dismember the many disgusting monsters coming at you. This time, you get a nicer spacesuit and better weapons.