More than 300 game publishers showed off thousands of video games at the E3 trade show last week. I didn’t see them all, but I got a glimpse of most of the big games and the ones that generated a lot of buzz. Many of the games were frontrunners coming into the show and they made it onto my most-anticipated games list. But some games at E3 2010 were genuine surprises. Here’s my list of the best games at E3. And for fun, here’s the list from a year ago, when it was easy to see that Alan Wake and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves would be the big hits. I’ll be voting this week in the Game Critics Awards, and you can bet that a lot of these titles will be on that list.
I expected this game to be the best at E3 and it managed to hold off all challengers. At the core of this game is a new graphics technology known as Virtual Texturing. It comes from graphics wizard John Carmack at id and is part of id Tech 5, a new game engine that renders agamzing graphics. The game itself is set in a futuristic wasteland that blends influences from the Wild West and the Road Warrior. In this post-Doomsday world, you race highly weaponized cars and then shoot a lot of mutants. The game makers have created a combination of cool characters and enemies, realistic sci-fi environments, and cool game play advances such as a crossbow that shoots electric darts.
This game is one of the only titles I’ve looked at that looks good in stereoscopic 3D. 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. This game carries on that tradition with a dramatic new story as well. This time, aliens are attacking New York City and are causing virtual 9/11 building collapses. Your job is to don an armored suit that lets you run at superhuman speeds or slip into stealth mode. Against this backdrop is a dramatic story where you have to make tough choices, such as leaving survivors behind as you run for your life. The game also has solid first-person shooter game play to satisfy shooter fans.
Sony touted this title in 3D, but I think it looks just fine in 2D. The Helghast home planet is as creepy as ever, with both arctic and jungle action appearing in this game. 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. 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.
At E3, Treyarch showed off a new level where you can steal a Hind helicopter gunship and wreak havoc along a mountain river canyon with it. With this game, Treyarch will prove it can make a Call of Duty game every bit as good as its sister studio Infinity Ward. Gamers will get to play riveting scenes, like a crazy firefight in the midst of the burning city of Hue during the Vietnam War or hiding from Soviet troops as you infiltrate behind the Iron Curtain to take out a remote radar station. 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.
The strategy genre wasn’t very visible at E3 amid all of the combat games. But thank heaven that Firaxis is reinventing this hit franchise for strategy fans. I loved Civ IV, but the tweaks for this bird’s-eye-view strategy game are taking me back to the great strategy games of my childhood. With the redesign, now 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 is proof that it’s always possible to regenerate interest in a classic franchise.
This prequel takes us back to the days when the Covenant were first coming into contact with humanity and had just begun to “glass” planets, or turning them into melted sand and dirt. 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). In the single-player campaign, you have to help stave off the Covenant invasion both on the ground and in the all-new space combat as well. With the cool new multiplayer combat, Bungie has already proven it can still please and surprise gamers.
This submarine game was one of the surprise delights of the show. It is one of the upcoming games for the 3DS handheld with stereoscopic 3D viewing. As you stare at the 3.5-inch 3DS screen, you can see the depth in the imagery, seeing past your submarine into the underwater terrain. You have to use the speed of the sub and its ability to diver or surface to navigate the underwater terrain. At the same time, you have to rise to the surface on occasion to fire torpedoes at the walls that get in your way. You also have to mind your air and deal with underwater obstacles. Nintendo has been working on this game for almost six years. Nintendo showed off the title as “Submarine Demo” way back in 2004. It looks great in stereoscopic 3D, as if you were playing in an aquarium. But it’s only one of 70 titles that are coming for this game system.
8. LittleBigPlanet 2 (developer: Media Molecule; publisher: Sony) fall 2010 for PS 3.
The original LittleBigPlanet from 2008 let fans create their own characters and art work to be used in levels. Now Media Molecule is extending the user-generated content trend so that you can now create your own games within the larger game. Users can tap artificial intelligence, vehicles and graphical assets to make their own sophisticated mini games. This has been standard practice with a lot of shooting games on the PC. But the consoles have never been quite as friendly to users who wanted to hack their way to happiness. The developers have created their own game for this side-scrolling platform game, with more than 40 levels and six different themes. You can bounce around inside virtual pinball machines to score points and get to the next level. Everything about this game makes me think about how creative it allows gamers to be.
Nintendo has been working on this new installment of Zelda for a long time. It finally unveiled the game, showing off how the sword play works with the Wii MotionPlus control, which can capture the subtle twists of your wrist as you slice sideways or chop downward. While it didn’t work so well on stage because of wireless interference, the game worked properly when I tried it out behind closed doors. Besides swinging a sword, you can roll bombs, crack whips or shoot flying beetles. The only flaw I see so far is the inaccuracy of the controls when it comes to shooting arrows. That’s a fundamental flaw of the Wii itself, but hopefully Nintendo will be able to deal with it by the time this comes out.
10. Portal 2 (developer: Valve; publisher: TBA) PC, Xbox 360, PS 3. 2011. Valve has revived a beloved franchise that came out of the indie game movement. 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. Now the original antagonist, a computer artificial intelligence named GLaDOS, is back in this game, where the physics effects are going to be more interesting and the puzzles even more mind-bending. Valve’s Gabe Newell promises that this one will be twice as long as the previous game.
Here’s some other titles that I also liked at the show:
11. Gears of War 3 (developer: Epic Games; publisher: Microsoft) Xbox 360. April 2011. 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. Now you can shoot away at giant plant-like beasts who are trying to kill you with wild limbs; but you can fight in four-player cooperative mode.
12. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II (developer/publisher: LucasArts). Oct. 26, 2010. You get to play Darth Vader’s fugitive apprentice StarKiller, once again in this series that pre-dates the formation of the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars lore. 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. This game takes those effects to new heights.
13. Motorstorm Apocalypse (developer: Evolution Studios; publisher: Sony) PS 3. No date. In this Motorstorm, you race your car through a coastal city that is disintegrating in a natural disaster. There’s lots of debris that kicks up and gets in your way as you race to salvation. It actually looks good in stereoscopic 3D.
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. EA showed off cool multiplayer combat with up to 24 players per battle.
15. 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. The scene that EA showed in this game make you feel like you’re thrown from the frying pan into the fire, over and over again, as you have to strategically dismember monsters. You escape from one peril, only to face another loud and roaring monster.
16. Dance Central (developer: Harmonix; publisher: MTV) Xbox 360. Nov. 2010. Created by the developers of Rock Band, this game uses Microsoft’s Kinect motion-sensing system to great effect as it captures your dance moves. You are unemcumbered by by controllers as you try to match the moves of the dancers on screen.
17. Kinectimals (developer: Rare; publisher: Microsoft) Xbox 360. This title was perhaps the cutest of the show. Using Kinect, you can stand in front of your pet tiger and pet him with your hands. You can toss a ball, and, just as with Nintendogs, your pet may or may not decide to chase it. This titles blends motion control with artificial intelligence.
18. End of Nations (developer/publisher: Trion Worlds). PC. 2011. This is a real-time strategy game that takes place across an entire globe. You can build your army and move into any given region for a huge battle that involves dozens of players. To take out huge enemy bosses, you have to cooperate with other players, dropping coordinate air strikes and artillery barrages just before you mop up with ground forces.
19. 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.
20. 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. Spector hopes to produce the quality video game that Mickey fully deserves.
21. 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. The game play is choppy, but the galaxy is vast.
22. Metal Gear Solid: Rising (publisher: Konami) PS 3, Xbox 360. 2011. This game features Raiden a character that co-starred in Metal Gears Solid 2. On stage, Hideo Kojima talked about how you can use swords to slice your rivals in slow motion.
23. 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.
24. 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.
25. 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.