Alright, it’s time for me to make up my mind. The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the big game trade show in Los Angeles, took place last week and I’ve got a good sense for the big games coming this year. I’ve thought about it and come up with my list of my favorite games from the show. I’ve also got a few observations about trends and some comments about some of the games that didn’t make the list.
I did see some repeats. Days Gone, God of War, Sea of Thieves, and The Amazing Spider-Man returned for a second year at E3. These games are looking more polished than they were a year ago (though I still haven’t gotten hands-on with God of War).
The games I liked shared a lot in common: strong stories, gameplay, characters, and fun.
“It’s that ephemeral sweet spot of character development, graphics, music, look and feel, and gameplay. You need all of it,” said Strauss Zelnick, chairman and CEO of Take-Two Interactive, the publisher of Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption, in an interview.
I’m sure I would have put The Last of Us Part II or Red Dead Redemption 2 on the list, but both games were no-shows. Ninja Theory’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice continues to intrigue me, but it wasn’t at the show either, as it is shipping soon on August 8. I would have been happy to see new Halo or Gears of War titles, but I didn’t really expect them.
I’ve put these games in order in terms of my favorites. I’m sure you’ll disagree, and I don’t mind, as this list of 12 games is as individual as I can make it. You can see how they matched up against my expectations before the show. Hope you look forward to playing them as much as I do.
Publisher: Electronic Arts
This was perhaps the easiest decision I had to make in recent years on the best game of the show. That’s because A Way Out is a unique two-player co-op title from a trusted developer, as Josef Fares and the Hazelight team made Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, which was one of my favorite games of 2013. It has an interesting story about two very different characters breaking out of prison together. The scenes shift into split screen during gameplay, when one character has a task of distracting a guard while the other has to steal something without being caught. Each character must perform a variety of tasks, but the players have to work together to make sure that they’re on the same page. In a gas station robbery scene, they have to decide which character — the brash one or the cautious one — should carry the single gun. Then one distracts a clerk, persuades a possible witness to leave, and disables a pay phone. The other goes up to the clerk, pulls out the gun, gets the safe open, and runs out with the money. The game seamless shifts between split-screen gameplay and single-screen cinematics. It is a good example of telling an interesting story about two characters with moment-to-moment decision making that can lead to good outcomes or a disaster. This was one of only two original games that EA showed, and it was by far the most interesting. Hilariously, Fares said, “If you don’t like it, you can break my legs.”
Timing: October 27 on PC and consoles
When we last left BJ Blazkowicz, he had just defeated the Nazis, who had previously been triumphant in this alternative history of World War II. It was 1961, after the Nazis had consolidated their control of the world. In Wolfenstein II, Blazkowicz is recovering from wounds he sustained after the end of the last game. And Frau Engel, the hated SS officer, is after him again, even as the Nazis expand their control of 1960s America. Blazkowicz has to immediately escape from a hospital. And while confined to a wheelchair, he has to shoot his way past dozens of Nazis. His big advantage is a series of electrical traps that, when turned on, turn the enemies into a pile of mush. The first-person shooter action of this game is superb, and the devilish creations of the Nazis will be hard to beat. The cinematic scenes with Frau Engel will make your skin crawl, as will the Nazification of American culture.
Developer: Sony Santa Monica
Timing: Early 2018 on PS4
This game is making it onto my list on the promise made by two trailers with beautiful graphics. This series made its name on its fast action gameplay, with Kratos swinging his double-chained blades. But the trailers that Sony has shown for the past two years inject an interesting father-son story into this new title. Kratos, the angry god of war, has left behind his old ways and moved to Norse lands to escape the cycle of bloodshed. He has a son, and the mother is no longer around. The boy is clearly not a god, and Kratos appears contemptuous of him. But he is trying to exercise patience and hold back his anger to train the boy. In the new trailer, the boy proves his worth in another way, by being able to communicate with the Norse beasts in their own language, while the Greek Kratos cannot. That changes the relationship of power between the boy and Kratos, and it makes for an amazing coming-of-age story. If Sony Santa Monica succeeds in weaving this tale into the traditional gameplay, it could hang on to its hardcore fans and attract a lot of new ones.
Timing: Early 2018
Sea of Thieves has been showing up at E3 a little too often, and we’d like to see it ship already. Microsoft gave us the launch window this time, and they showed off more game play at E3 2017. In Sea of Thieves, you roam the oceans and islands as a pirate, searching for loot. The attraction of this game is its cartoon-like humor, much of its supplied by your fellow co-op players. Four players are assigned to each ship and can communicate via voice chat. You have to each carry out assignments a crew members, from hoisting the sails to steering the ship. When you close with other pirate ships, you have to man the cannon. And you can also use the cannon to shoot yourself to the deck of the enemy ship, where you can swashbuckle with your enemies and steal loot. The ocean graphics look beautiful, and the dynamic weather can be dangerous.
Developer: Bend Studio
Timing: TBA on the PS4
Days Gone made its second appearance at E3 in an elevated role, based on the good reception for its demo last year of Deacon St. John, a bounty hunter in a post-apocalypse zombie world, trying to outrun a horde of “freakers,” or zombies. This year, the developers said they wanted to show the diversity of gameplay and why this is going to be a good zombie game among a horde of zombie games. The freakers are fast, and they’re not the only ones who are infected. In the new trailer, we saw that wolves could become infected, and, as a result, run so fast they could almost keep up with a speeding motorcycle. You also have to contend with an infected bear, which I would say is the equivalent of a huge boss. You also have human enemies to contend with, and you can use the freakers against them. Your goal is to survive any way you can in the beautiful woods of Oregon. Some critics are saying they don’t see anything different in this game. But I see good storytelling, interesting characters, outstanding graphics of the freaker horde, and solid open world gameplay.
Timing: October 27 on the Nintendo Switch
I’m sure you were wondering when I would get to this game, which had the lines running out the door at the Nintendo booth at E3. It is a Mario game, where you collect coins and bounce on top of the heads of bad guys and throw your hat to knock people out. But Nintendo takes so much care in crafting its gameplay that it makes you chuckle and then grit your teeth as you try to get past even the smallest of obstacles. In this game, you play Mario and get to possess other beings, like a T-Rex or a two-dimensional plane. This is not my kind of game in my adult life, but it takes me back to my childhood for sure. I can imagine many happy hours on the couch watching the kids play and laughing as they attempt to get through the obstacles. I am expecting it to be good and goofy fun.
Developer: Sledgehammer Games
Timing: November 3 on PC, PS4, and Xbox One
I’m a sucker for a Call of Duty game, and the timing is right for this one. After one too many sci-fi titles, Call of Duty is returning to the boots on the ground of soldiers in World War II. After nine years since the last title, WWII is fresh again, and it can be told in a way that respects the sacrifices that everyday people made during history’s greatest conflict. The graphics have advanced to the point where they can match the gravity of the subject matter. The developers can deliver the terrifying experience of being a vulnerable soldier on a vast battlefield. Sledgehammer Games has teed up a compelling single-player campaign, and the multiplayer has some fresh innovations like War Mode, where you drive toward a goal through several stages of a multiplayer battle.
Developer: Motive, Criterion, and DICE
Timing: November 17 on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One
I haven’t played Star Wars Battlefront in a while, but I fit right in when I played a couple of rounds of Star Wars Battlefront II at the EA Play event in Hollywood. The multiplayer was intuitive and accessible. I got a blaster in my hand as a battle droid, and I had to mow down some clone troopers. I managed to get two kills for every death, which was unusual for a shooter. Usually, I get killed twice as often as I get a kill. It’s not easy, but if you play it with a mind to outflanking the enemy, you can get a good result. And you can earn enough points in a single match to become a hero. In my case, I became the villain Darth Maul. It was great fun feeling the power of the Dark Side. The graphics look amazing in this game, whether you’re on the ground shooting a trooper or diving from the air in a starfighter.
This game was downright creepy, with its black and gray graphics that capture the eerie darkness and fog of the Louisiana bayou. It’s a co-op game where you team up with another hunter and try to track down a monster in the dark. You have to kill it and escape with the bounty through an exit. The problem is that four other teams of humans are trying to do the same thing, as well as a bunch of non-player creatures in the bog that are also trying to stop you. You can use flares or lanterns to light up the sky so that you can shoot the zombie creatures, but that paints a very big target on you for all of the other hunters to see. It is a high-risk, high-reward game where tension runs high and the hunter becomes the hunted.
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Timing: October 10 on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One
This game has a great hype machine behind it, and I’ve been impressed with every new revelation. And we just have to wonder whether it will deliver. For those of us who miss The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies, Warner Bros.’ games based on the J.R.R. Tolkien universe of Middle-earth are the next best thing. In fact, the story in this sequel to 2014’s Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor looks like it is written better than some of Tolkien’s stuff. Shadow of War takes place in the 60 years between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and it follows the story of Talion, a Ranger of Gondor, as he challenges the Dark Lord Sauron via a civil war among the orcs in Mordor. Based on the story trailer released, I believe Talion, played by Troy Baker, is going to have some very difficult choices choosing between loyalty to Gondor and his quest to unseat Sauron.
The Amazing Spider-Man
Developer: Insomniac Games
Timing: TBD on PS4
Sony closed its E3 event with an extended demo of this game, and it didn’t disappoint. Insomniac has re-created the city of New York for Spider-Man to roam about. The 3D world looks amazing, as does the fluid animation of Spider-Man as he swings from one building to another. While Spidey is cool to look at, he is also fun to control, or so it seemed in my hands-off demo. Spider-Man swings from one building to another as he chases bad guys on the run. If you hit a button at the right time, Spidey makes the perfect jump to take down the enemies. if you miss, you go down to the sidewalk and try again. Insomniac is still working on how to polish the seamless transition between cinematic scenes and Spider-Man’s gameplay sessions. Insomniac is creating new lore and content for the older Peter Parker, who is in his 20s in the game. I hope that Insomniac gets it right.
Developer: Ben Esposito
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Timing: PC and iOS in 2017
Donut County is pure gameplay joy. You move around a hole the size of a donut around, and it swallows things. Each time you swallow something, the hole gets bigger. Then you can swallow something bigger. When you’ve swallowed everything in one area, You can move on to the next area. It’s not very complicated, but I like how the gameplay reminded me of the wacky Katamari Damacy. I’m glad to be able to get this indie title on the list and to note that it is just as fun as the other big titles.
Here are my honorable mentions of the show. They include: The Evil Within 2, Destiny 2, Hidden Agenda, Gorogoa, Fortnite, State of Decay 2, Far Cry 5, Beyond Good & Evil 2, Skull & Bones, Last Day of June, Detroit: Become Human, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, Assassin’s Creed Origins, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, and Lone Echo.