By Jeremy Azevedo
|Sequels are easy to get excited about. A great sequel can be like having a second go at an ex-girlfriend… One that shows up on your doorstep one day, looking even better than the last time you saw her and performing roughly the same old tricks, but with a new spin that you never imagined possible. There’s something to be said for familiarity.|
But there’s also something to be said about trying new things. Dabbling in the strange, if you will. At this year’s E3, Many of us found ourselves doing exactly that (playing a ton of new IPs, not having one-night stands with booth babes… though not for lack of trying). Of the many new, non-sequel games that I played or witnessed in a demo at this year’s show, these 15 were my favorite (in no particular order):
Wet – Bethesda Softworks – Xbox 360, PS3
This may be one of the coolest, most stylish games I have ever seen. But then, I am a huge fan of grindhouse cinema, so I’m biased. Written by the head writer of the first season of 24 and modeled after vintage 70s action flicks, Wet looks and plays like a video game version of Kill Bill. I had the opportunity to play the game behind closed doors, and I can tell you with certainty that it plays as well as it looks. The demo I tried had me jumping, sliding, and running up walls in slow-motion, gunning down bad guys and cutting them down with my Hattori Hanzo like they were made of butter. In one stage, you literally run across the rooftops of cars in traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge, taking out armed assailants mid air. If this was any indication of what the final product will be, I can’t wait to see what else Bethsda has in store for us with Wet.
The Saboteur – EA - EA Games - Xbox 360, PS3
The Saboteur was, for my money, one of the most cleverly designed titles of the show. You play as a WWII saboteur for the resistance in Nazi occupied Paris, France. Using your remarkable climbing and/or driving skills, you infiltrate Nazi outposts and destroy them from within. This is where the game gets really interesting: In those areas in which the occupation has total control, the world appears mostly black and white. When liberated, the color returns along with the peoples will to fight. Because the entire world is rendered in real-time, you can see the dichotomy between the territories as clear as night and day. The game is looking great, and plays as well as it looks, offering you countless ways to achieve your objectives.
Brutal Legend – EA Games - Xbox 360, PS3
I’m sure you’re already familiar with Brutal Legend, but for those of you who are not, the takeaway is that it’s a game about heavy metal, starring Jack Black, and developed by gaming’s king of comedy, Tim Schaefer. When I say it’s about heavy metal, that’s sort of not entirely the truth. The best way to desribe it is that it’s more about 1980s heavy metal album art. Imagine playing a game that takes place inside the cover art of an Iron Maiden or Manowar album and you’re at least half way there. The gameplay is more varied than I expected, with melee combat, vehicles, rideable mounts, upgradeable abilities, Guitar-hero-esque mini games, open world gameplay, and big-name heavy metal cameos by the likes of Ozzy Osborne, Lita Ford and Rob Halford. If you like heavy metal even a little bit, or Tim Schaefer games in general, you cannot miss this game.
Darksiders – THQ - Xbox 360, PS3
Darksiders is an original IP by THQ that is shaping up to be one of the best action/adventure titles of the year. You play as War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. You’ve come to a largely demolished earth, pissed-off out of your mind, to find out how and why the end of days started without you. Since you’re a Horseman, of course there is combat on horseback, which is very cool. In addition, you’ll be fighting angels and devils on foot and in the sky, adding a great deal of variety to your quest. What I liked most about the game was how it was built in a modern setting, rather than just some generic fantasy world. It’s a great set-up for an epic game story, and the combat mechanics are in place to back it up.
Brink - Bethesda Softworks - Xbox 360, PS3, PC
If you thought 2K’s Borderlands was looking good, Brink is poised to take a similar concept one step further with the addition of Bethesda’s signature character customization and deep, story-based gameplay. At the heart of it, Brink is a squad-based FPS, but it differs from most other FPS titles in that it has no “rails”… meaning the gane is smart enough to understand where you want to go without making you stop at every object and/or barrier. Imagine Mirror’s Edge as a shooter with tactical squad combat and heavy, class-based RPG elements, throw in a dash of Kevin Costner’s “Waterworld”, and you’re somewhere in the ballpark.
Scribblenauts – WBIE – Nintendo DS
Scribblenauts was perhaps the second-most impressive thing at E3 after Project Natal, technologically speaking. Especially for a DS game. Basically what you do is solve puzzles by writing out words, that then become physical objects within the game. Got a cat stuck in a tree? Type “ladder”, climb up and get it. Or type “chainsaw” and chop the whole goddamn tree down. You can use a helicopter and fly up and nab it. Or put a dog in the tree to chase it out. You will be hard pressed to stump this game, which seems to have the ability to recognize nearly every noun in the dictionary. I saw it make space shuttles, moustaches, cardigan sweaters, dinosaurs, bulldozers, grappling hooks, anything that we could think of. As a game, Scribblenauts is awesome. Even if all you did was run around on the title screen typing words, it’d still be awesome. Scribblenauts basically redefines what is possible on handheld gaming machines like the DS.
Homefront – THQ - Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Like The Saboteur, Homefront takes place in occupied territory… The only difference is that the territory in question is American Soil, which, 20 years from now, apparently falls into the hands of our enemies. This was probably the best looking game of the entire show, with incredibly realistic and expressive graphics and physics. The sound was even noticeably good, with some really remarkable effects that stood out despite all of the noise on the show floor. You play as an American soldier/drifter fighting to take back your Homeland (hence the name) using an array of modern and futuristic (though believable) weaponry. One of the weapons that you use, “The Goliath”, is a remote controlled battle vehicle that you can order to target enemy jeeps and run over their troops. It had to have been the best weapon I’ve ever seen in a FPS game. Homeland looks less like a game and more like a big-budget Hollywood action flick, with all the dialogue happening in-game, flaming jeeps flying directly at you, and npcs running for cover everywhere you look.
Shadow Complex – Epic Games – XBLA
For years, many of us have been asking the same question: Why isn’t anyone making awesome 2-D games for consoles? Would it kill a developer to give us the modern update of Metroid or Castlevania that we all so clearly want? Epic Games apparently shares that sentiment, so that’s exactly what they did. Shadow Complex is a 2-D open-world exploration, Metroid-Vania game from the makers of Gears of War that promises old school thrills with new school design exclusively on XBLA. Beginning as a lowly hiker, you gradually acquire gear that allows you to access hundreds f secret pathways and passageways, in your quest to (also in traditional 2-D gaming fashion) save your girlfriend. Look for Shadow Complex to set a new bar for downloadable games this summer.
Dark Void – Capcom - Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Dark Void is a game that was looking great last year, and is looking even better now as the result of an extra year of development time. Like playing Gears of War or other cover-based shooters? Imagine doing that in true 3-D space. Because you are outfitted with a friggin’ jet-pack, you are no longer stuck on a horizontal plane. At any time, you can take the flight vertical, flying up into battleships from underneath like the goddamn Rockateer. As hard as it is to believe, because no one’s ever really made a game like this before, it controls great. One of the candidates for best new franchise to come out of Capcom in years.
Bayonetta – Sega - Xbox 360, PS3
To be honest, I like Devil May Cry but feel that it has a certain element of douchbaggery that is moderately repellent. Bayonetta takes everything that’s great about Devil May Cry and Viewtiful Joe, subtracts the douchebag main characters, adds palpable sex appeal and multiplies it by 1,000. The end result is Bayonetta. This was the fastest, wildest brawler of the entire show, hands-down. Stylish and flashy, it’s just as much fun to watch as it is to play. Well, almost. It also bears mention that the female protagonist of Bayonetta is remarkably sexy for a video game character. Expect to see Rule 34 (“If it exists, there is porn of it”) being applied liberally to this one, people. Just sayin’.
Muramasa: The Demon Blade – Ignition Entertainment – Wii
This is exactly the kind of game that more people should be making for the Wii. Why waste your time trying to make the graphics look like an Xbox 360 game, using only half the polygons, when you’re destined to fail? Why not use beautiful, hand-drawn 2-D art? That’s what Vanillaware have done, after cutting their teeth on the gorgeous Odin Sphere on the PS2. Muramasa plays kind of like Legend of Kage, with you playing as a ninja, bouncing from tree-limb to tree-limb, stopping occasionally to savagely tear apart a gaggle of enemy ninjas. Playing it feels like playing a really great arcade game, with responsive action and fast-pacing. With any luck, this will become the must-have game for the Wii this year.
Singularity – Activision - Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Singularity is an action shooter that gives you control over the powers of time. This isn’t the first time that time-mainipulation has been used in a game, but it’s the first time that it’s been used this effectively. Your character is able to affect the chornology of virtually any person, place or thing, reverting a toppled tower or bridge to it’s original state (or vice-versa), freezing an unexploded grenade in time, aging enemies forward until they become a pile of dust, or aging them backward until they become a tiny, squirming spermatozoa. The possibilities in combat and exploration are nearly endless. Not only that, but the story is great too. Singularity was easily one of the best titles at a booth that was already packed with great titles to begin with.
Dante’s Inferno - EA Games - Xbox 360, PS3, PSP
To be perfectly honest, Dante’s Inferno is shaping up as a nearly one-to-one God of War clone, from the setting to the chain weapon, to the magic system to the enemies to the ridable mounts. Granted, it takes place in the nine rings of Hell as detailed in Dante Alghieri’s “Inferno”. So of course it draws on a different set of mythology. But it still plays the same. And at the end of the day, there’s really nothing wrong with that.
Rogue Warrior – Bethesda Softworks - Xbox 360, PS3, PC
In a crowded FPS market, how do you stand out among all the rest? For Bethesda, the answer is to base your game on the novels of real-life special forces operative Richard “Dick” Marcinko, use his likeness in the game, and have Mickey Rourke do the voice-over work for it. Sounds unbelievable, but it’s true. The demo I saw was pretty early in development, but was looking pretty good nevertheless. I don’t think that there’s anyone more qualified to consult on a game like this than the original “Rogue Warrior” himself, so this might just be the one to watch out for.
Batman: Arkham Asylum – WBIE - Xbox 360, PS3, PC
I’ve really never been a huge Batman dork. I even though that The Dark Knight was about 45 minutes too long and kind of boring. But this game is so fun, it’s probably my pick for best of show. Everything works as promised. The combat is fast and fluid. Batman counters enemies with ease, just as the Real Batman would. You’ve got Bat-gadgets coming out of your ears, that you can use to take down foes in dozens of unique ways. Want to zip across the room on a grappling hook, hang a guy from the rafters. Throw a batarang at someone, drop down and throw someone over a ledge, choke another dude out, fly back up and cut the rope so that the first dude topples directly onto the last one? You can do that. Great controls, graphics, story, sound, voice acting, A.I. and level design abound. Awesome in every way.