You had to dig deeper for gems at E3 2012. I avoided many of the biggest names (read: Assassin’s Creed III) that I absolutely knew I’d be playing later this year--why spend my time playing stuff I’d made my mind up on?--and instead spent my show time seeking out games I wasn't sure about, hadn't seen much of, or just found genuinely curious.
It didn't always work out.
I've also limited today's list to games I actually played, and excluded any developer-driven, eyes-only demos. Believe me, I found The Last of Us and Watch Dogs just as impressive as everybody else, but there was plenty more at E3.
This means the five games mentioned below are not necessarily five great games; in one case, it’s quite the opposite, at least based on the E3 demo (things can change). Rather, I decided to highlight five games that left a lasting impression, games that I felt compelled to talk to my friends and colleagues about after the show.
I flip-flop between Deus Ex and Mega Man 2 as my favorite game of all time. Deus Ex represents a breakthrough in AI systems and player agency, with Mega Man 2 epitomizing the best of precise, skilled play defined by a strict set of rules. Dishonored’s development staff includes some key Deus Ex veterans, including Harvey Smith (and guys like designer Ricardo Bare, interviewed above), and looks to be a game intent on progressing the values from Deus Ex a few steps further. Besides giving players more varied options to disrupt the world around them (i.e. possession) Dishonored solves some of the most annoying problems often present in systems-driven games by sporting usable, enjoyable combat, and skills to neatly avoid crappy first-person platforming (here, it's blink, basically a nearby warp power). It’ll be interesting to see how this compares to Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but I’m not about to complain about two developers tackling the way forward from Warren Spector’s classic. I spent nearly 30 minutes with Dishonored's E3 demo, beat the mission completely different ways two times, and had barely scratched the surface.
Having just wrapped up Hitman: Blood Money (my first Hitman game, too), I was super interested in Hitman: Absolution. Since I brought up Blood Money on the podcast, users have contacted me about IO Interactive’s approach to the latest sequel, accusing the studio of catering to a demographic that never cared about Hitman games in the first place. If the video from the Chinatown level didn’t convince you, have no fear: it plays like a Hitman game. Questions still remain, of course. How big are the environments? Chinatown seemed a bit small, but that could have easily been a slice of something much bigger. In servicing a wider demographic, can the areas still have the same dynamics present in a stage like Suburbs? We’ll know this year, but based on my brief time playing Absolution and talking with the developers, it appears we’re getting a beautiful, evolved version of the Hitman series. Hell yeah.
This is me playing Snapshot at E3: O_O. The reason why: I played this game years ago! Snapshot was part of the Independent Games Festival in 2009, then disappeared and went dormant. It’s returned in 2012 as a game for PlayStation 3 and Vita, and it’s still be coming to PC, too. I mention that because it seems Snapshot will work best with a mouse. Snapshot, at first, certainly looks like your standard indie platformer with a robot, but the hook lies in your ability to photograph the environment and keep items in memory. Dump those photos somewhere else in the environment, and you gain access to that item. In the simplest example, you photograph a box and place that box elsewhere to climb up. Moving the “camera” around was troublesome and inaccurate with Vita’s analog stick (hence the mouse request), but could be solved with touch controls (which weren’t present) or Move support. Both of those are meant to be in the finished game, so I’m optimistic the controls will soon match the game’s clever premise.
It’s possible Dust 514 won’t be a good shooter. Here’s the thing: I don’t even care. All Dust 514 has to be is a window, a more reasonable way to interact with the world of EVE Online without butting heads with the game’s tragically huge learning curve. I didn’t play Dust 514 enough to make any determinations about it as a shooter, but the developers sold me on the game as a way to become a small part of the world of EVE Online. There's a multi-year plan, much of which is only sketched out and will be determined based on what players demand. It sounds insane. What if you, as a marine, could load into the ships of regular EVE Online players, and head into interstellar battle? It won’t be there day-one, but if CCP has proved anything, it’s 100% committed to its players.
You won’t find me singing the praises of Lost Planet or its sequel. The original was acceptably fun and goofy as an early Xbox 360 release, and most people didn't care since it was so pretty. The sequel was riddled with problems, seemingly the product of Monster Hunter’s explosive success. Lost Planet 3 was handed to Spark Unlimited, the developer otherwise “known” for Turning Point: Fall of Liberty and Legendary, neither of which are good shooters but both have interesting premises. Lost Planet 3, based on the 20 minute demo at E3, continues that tradition. Spark Unlimited has successfully been able to realize the world of Lost Planet as something pretty believable, and developed a main character you can root for--a lonely miner thousands of miles from his family. Video messages from his wife and kid pipe into your lumbering mech, grounding Lost Planet 3 in a way the other games never tried. The illusion breaks when shooting begins, but I’m crossing my fingers Spark really runs with its interesting narrative.