E3 2012 is in the books. It might not have had captivating press conferences, inoffensive marketing campaigns, nor the overall level of "holy shit" we generally like to have from these sorts of trade shows, but it did have games. Lots of them, in fact. Here are my favorite games that I saw at this year's E3.
I will make no bones about my excitement for Naughty Dog's The Last of Us. I am an unapologetic apocalypse junkie. Give me an end of the world scenario wherein humans are forced to scrape up some destitute excuse for an existence amid the most horrendous circumstances imaginable, and I'm a peculiarly happy man. These are stories that resonate with me for some reason. It's why I have so much fondness for zombie horror, post-nuclear war stories, or even the concept of Biblical end times. But for me, it's less about the threat/reasoning behind the destruction than the portrayal of life after the fact. There's certainly fun to be had smashing zombie skulls or tear-assing around in some Mad Max-looking apocalyptic dune buggy, but when you can bring me a story with characters I care about struggling against any threat in a world gone kaput, I'm generally interested.
This is what's so appealing to me about The Last of Us. Naughty Dog has chosen to hyperfocus its story on two characters: Joel, a grizzled old survivor of a calamitous infection that has all but wiped out the human population, and Ellie, a young girl born after the disaster into a world she's been forced to fend for herself in. Joel and Ellie are of no direct relation apparently, but Joel acts as her protector and guide as they attempt to make it from America's eastern seaboard to the west coast. What awaits them there? Naughty Dog wouldn't say. Much like Cormac McCarthy's The Road, the destination almost seems arbitrary, more a destination for the sake of a destination than a real hope for salvation. When the world has collapsed around you, what else is there to do but keep moving in the hopes of finding something better? Maybe there's more than just a glimmer of hope in their destination, but Naughty Dog didn't say.
While the demo shown at Sony's E3 press conference was certainly impressive, I was far more taken with the approach the developers showed behind closed doors. It was basically the same section of gameplay you saw at the conference, but the demonstrators showed a completely different methodology, wherein Joel and Ellie took a more stealthy, less pronounced approach to felling the vile scavengers that had been chasing them previously. Also, yes, those guys Joel kills are bad guys. The demo didn't really provide the context for that, but the developers said that you'll know this by the time you get to this sequence in the game.
The sheer variety of ways one can approach a segment of The Last of Us is what appeals to me. Because your methods of attack rely so heavily on the scarcity of resources at your disposal, you have to employ strategy and forethought before running into a combat situation. It's not so much about mindless killing as it is evasion and defense, with offense only coming into play when necessary. I love this approach, and I love what Naughty Dog has shown of this game thus far, both technologically and in gameplay. This is the game I am most looking forward to right now. I have no idea if it will make it out this year, but far as I'm concerned, Naughty Dog should take all the time they need. They're on a smart path, and would hate to see them compromise anything for the sake of a release date.
I made it abundantly clear (I hope) in my interview with SimCity's lead producer that I fell off the SimCity wagon years ago, not necessarily because the games had become somehow terrible, but rather that the level of complexity officially exceeded the kind of brain power I could dedicate to a city simulation. So by all accounts, looking at Maxis' forthcoming reboot/sequel in the series, I should have gone cross-eyed at the mere sight of the damn thing, especially given the sheer volume of stuff it's simulating under the hood.
And yet, watching the demo given at this year's E3, I didn't go cross-eyed. Hell, I wasn't even particularly confused by it. Maybe my brain finally caught up with the technology, or Maxis finally found a way to make all that city-building information translatable to my barely-functioning mind, but whatever it was, it worked. This game looks amazing.
It's not just the visual engine (which is, of course, stunning), but also the intelligent way that Maxis has integrated multiplayer into its gameplay. The idea of asynchronous multiplayer morphed into kind of a meaningless buzzword as the show wore on, but Maxis' concept was perhaps the best example I saw at the show of how it can be done well. The idea of you and however many friends being able to create your own individual cities and interact on a less-than-direct level is kind of genius. I love that you can choose to cooperate with your neighboring cities on collaborative projects, or even just troll them by refusing to curtail crime or pollution, which will then spill out into the region. I don't think you can unleash Godzillas at them, but you can't have everything you want, I guess.
It's been a long time since I got into a SimCity game, but I have no issue picturing myself dedicating many hours to my own virtual metropolis come early next year.
If you read my glowing reviews of the various versions of Rayman Origins, you already know why I'm excited about this. This is more of what I loved about Rayman Origins, except prettier, and with some actually interesting use of the Wii U's GamePad.
The early levels that Ubisoft showed at E3 offered a similar cooperative platforming experience to Origins, except now there is a fifth character you can control exclusively via the GamePad. This character moves around the TV screen with swipes of the touch screen. This player will remove obstacles, knock away enemies, and even participate in a rhythmic minigame section (which thankfully appears to replace the infuriating treasure chest chases of the last game.) The stuff I played definitely offered up a stiff challenge, but very much the fun kind, as opposed to the painfully frustrating kind. And those rhythm minigames are awesome.
Granted, I am not exactly chomping at the bit to get a Wii U based on the stuff I've seen thus far, but were one to fall into my possession, this is the first game I'd grab for it.
I debated whether I should even put this on my list, given that what LucasArts is showing of the game is so much more technology demo than actual playable game at this stage, but I can't pretend I wasn't extremely impressed with what I saw. Therefore, I think it has to be on this list.
Gameplay wise, Brad's description of Star Wars: Uncharted seems completely apt. It's a third-person action game with a lot of similar mechanics to Naughty Dog's vaunted series. However, the thing that of course sticks out about this demo is the visuals. This is, after all, practically assured to be a game aimed at the next generation of consoles. It'd have to be, because there's no way this thing would run on a current-gen machine.
Without getting too hyperbolic about it, I'll simply say that 1313 looks as incredible as you would want a first-generation title to look on your next console. The character detail alone says volumes about what can be done with increased power, and the smoothness of the action, even in its incredibly early state, made that feeling all the more emphatic. I want very much to be excited about the next volley of console hardware, and similarly, I'd really like to be able to enjoy Star Wars again. If this game allows me to do both, I'll be a very happy boy.
I'm not overly thrilled with some of the commentary coming out of the developers of this game recently, and I do find the sheer volume of terrible shit that happens to Lara in basically every demonstration of this game rather over-the-top. By the same token, the action itself looks very strong, and visually, it's captivating stuff. I want to see how Crystal Dynamics' ideas play out in the end before condemning or praising it, but it's definitely a game that's caught my attention.
The other Wii U highlight, which sadly I didn't get to play with much thoroughness. What I did play gave me enough to know that this is a Pikmin ass Pikmin game, and a seriously great-looking one at that. Seriously, Pikmin is the best.
Sadly, not shown on the floor and thus disqualified from being among by bests, but there's no doubt that this was the highlight (non-Halo 4) trailer of the Microsoft press conference. Those I've talked to who saw the game in action during an unannounced appearance at a late night Microsoft event gushed endlessly about its acuity to visual detail and sense of humor. Considering all the issues with THQ and Obsidian lately, I'm just thrilled this game even has a release date.
The other game of the show that seemed to grab everyone's attention out of nowhere. It looked amazing at the Ubisoft press conference, but I was never able to make it over to see the demo live and in-person. I'm putting myself in the "cautiously optimistic" zone for this one. It does look really impressive, and I love the concept, but until I see the context for how all this stuff works for myself, I don't want to get overly effusive in my excitement.