Gamers Take Note: Best of the Best 2012
The best games of E3 2012
E3 2012 has come to a close (and been completely drowned out by the fervor of an Apple event), and now it’s time to take a look back at what this year’s show had to offer. There were a number of sequels announced for major franchises like Halo, God of War, and Splinter Cell, but today let’s talk about the things everyone seems to be talking about — the games that really stood out, did something unique, or caught everyone off guard.
Warning: Some trailers are not safe for work.
The Last of Us
Developer Naughty Dog showed extended gameplay of their post-apocalyptic The Last of Us during Sony’s keynote, and although the Uncharted pedigree is evident, the tone is shockingly different. Frustrated by trying to create sympathetic characters who also gun down other humans in level after level, Naughty Dog has created a desperate setting where violence is more contextually sound, and characters actually acknowledge it when it happens — the game’s AI companion, Ellie, is stunned when two enemies are hit by a molotov cocktail, and the final gunshot comes as a man begs for his life.
The added emotional weight makes The Last of Us feel particularly brutal, even among players who are entirely familiar with video game violence. I’m curious whether the final game will have non-violent options, like sneaking around other scavengers or showing mercy to a disarmed foe. Presented with the subject of violence in an impactful way, will players have the option to turn away from it?
Beyond: Two Souls
Quantic Dream made a big impression with Heavy Rain, their highly cinematic and emotionally gripping adventure title, and left gamers wondering what was next for the company’s brand of interactive storytelling. Beyond: Two Souls is a coming of age story about Jodie Holmes, played by actress Ellen Page, who is connected to a powerful, invisible spirit. Players will follow Jodie through 15 years of her life, at times taking control of the spirit to move objects around and possess enemies.
Quantic Dream’s David Cage promised that Beyond would include more action and more direct control over characters than its quick-time -event-laden predecessors, and if he can deliver on that while still telling an intriguing story it will be something special.
Nintendo had a lot to say about the merits of their Wii U controller and its integrated touchscreen, but the trailer for Ubisoft’s survival-horror FPS Zombie U was what really showed off the “second screen” potential. The game uses the smaller display for a wide variety of purposes, but perhaps the most intriguing one comes toward the end, when the player desperately types out PIN pad combinations on the controller itself. Using motion control to work machines made for some of the most immersive moments on the Wii (Metroid Prime 3 and Zach and Wiki are both good examples), so it’s good to see the Wii U following suit.
Ubisoft has also announced an interesting, if somewhat hardcore feature: when you die, that character becomes a zombie and you respawn as someone new — if you want your equipment back, you’ve got to hunt down your former self.
Star Wars 1313
It would be easy to write off Star Wars 1313 as merely Uncharted set in the Star Wars universe. But then again, another way to phrase that is: “IT’S UNCHARTED SET IN THE STAR WARS UNIVERSE!”
Also intriguing is that, unlike the vast majority of Star Wars games, 1313 doesn’t put players in the role of a Jedi, but instead casts them as a bounty hunter in the criminal underworld of Coruscant (At least, that’s what the developers are saying currently — chances that you’ll swing a lightsaber by the end are probably 50/50.) After so many Star Wars games over the years, it’s nice to see a fresh, more focused take on the universe.
The trailer for Ubisoft Montreal’s Watch Dogs is eye-catching on its visuals alone, its main character’s trench coat flapping realistically against an incredibly detailed Chicago backdrop. But it was the title’s hacking elements, where electronic systems and the “digital shadows” cast by individuals can be exploited to reach your goals, that made it one of the most talked about titles of E3.
In the trailer, Watch Dogs shines when it fully capitalizes on the hacker theme, but starts to feel like just another Grand Theft Auto clone when it falls back on old habits. If the developers can wring enough out of their intriguing setup, and keep it from devolving into something more routine, they might have something special on their hands.
How do you refresh a game as old as SimCity? Maxis has definitely given the visual style a fresh coat of paint, with detailed model-like buildings and curving roads. But the stand-out feature announced at E3 was a new take on multiplayer virtual mayoring.
When you create a new city, you’ll have the option to connect it to others, either by making it public or inviting friends. Connected cities are all part of the same region, and interact in a number of ways. Industrial-focused cities might help out the economy of those around it, for instance, but also cause pollution problems for other players. The various cities in a region can also work together to build large scale projects (an international airport, for instance) that benefit everyone.
The developers have also created a new tool to provide players with useful data about what’s going on. Clearly, Maxis has learned lessons from the multiplayer building in games like Minecraft, and it might be just the spark SimCity needs.
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