With the video game consoles somewhere in the middle of their theoretical five-year cycle (I did say theoretical), this year’s Electronics Entertainment Exposition showcased almost exactly what it should: loads of new software.
Yes, we watched Microsoft and Sony unveil their own wireless remotes, which will more than likely serve to extend the current generation consoles to well beyond their five or six-year paths. But given the fact that, with the exception of Nintendo, neither Sony nor Microsoft has made solid inroads into reaping the benefits of software sales match their expenditures on hardware, they are hell bent on issuing as much hardware-pushing games as possible.
Infinity Ward does not disappoint.
In selecting my top 10 games, I could have easily picked all Xbox 360 and PS3 games, for there are enough good sequels to make the grade. And I could have picked all shooters and action games. But there are some different games coming out that I was taken by, and I feel like taking chances, doing something even slightly new, is worth rewarding, which is why I picked the games I picked. All of the games I selected were playable, either by myself or someone else and are presented in descending order.
Heavy Rain doesn't always provide a happy ending.
10. Heavy Rain (System: PS3; Release Date: early 2010; Publisher: Sony; Developer: Quantic Dream): I watched a full 45-minute presentation of this game given by writer and director David Cage and saw characters Norman Jayden and Madison Page go through their scenarios. I was particularly taken when the chose the death path of Jayden; this choice gave the game some finality, some real repercussions, and it made the whole thing feel much different than any other game on the show floor. It’s great to see Sony supporting this kind of game, which is way off the narrow path of action games and shooters.
9. Brutal Legend (System: PS3, Xbox 360, PC; Release Date: October 2009; Publisher: EA; Developer: Double Fine): You know, every time I see this game it gets funnier and crazier. I don’t actually think the game play is all that modern or will be totally sophisticated-stunning in the technical way that, say, Modern Warfare will be. But the writing will be top notch, the scenarios will be ridiculously funny and outrageous, and the story will be better than entertaining. So for whatever reasons it might not match up technically, I am already willing to forgive it because I know it’s too fucking funny to not own.
8. Borderlands (System: PC, PS3, Xbox 360; Release Date: October 2009; Publisher: Take-Two; Developer: Gearbox): I had yet to see this game until my Thursday visit, and wow, I was surprised and excited. Not everyone in the demo was, but I have to say that it’s difficult to get excited about any game on the final day at 3 pm, one hour before the show shuts down. Still, the progression system looks awesome, the new graphical treatment is less realistic and “hardcore,” but it’s also more distinct. Also, this game is funny as shit: Animals are named “Bad-ass,” and dudes have their skull plates flying off and their brains bursting into the air. When enemies die, they yell out the most heinous and hilarious death screams. There is something weird, goofy, and irreverent about Borderlands that makes me lust for it.
DJ Hero: Activision's biggest gamble or biggest jackpot?
7. DJ Hero (System: PS3, Xbox 360; Release Date: September 2009; Publisher: Activision; Developer: Freestyle Games): I am still uncertain whether anybody will buy this thing. It could end up buried in the Western desert next to ET. But it could also succeed beyond everyone’s wild dreams. Truth is, DJ Hero is a wild card. No screenshots can make this game look any more appealing or exciting. For me, I had to watch someone play this, checking both the screen and his hands, to see just how it all came together. I walked out of the demo thinking yes, this might be complicated, but the hardware was so cool that I felt, not thought, “I must have DJ Hero.” I also love the fact that all of the mixes were made for the game, and that you can hook up a guitar and play along with scratching. Effing rad.
6. BioShock II (System: PC, PS3, Xbox 360; Release Date: November 2009; Publisher: Take-Two; Developer: 2K Marin): I kinda just picked this because I have faith that 2K Marin will take what was easily the most original, haunting, and brilliant new IP of 2007 and not screw it up. I’m not certain I want to be the prototype Big Daddy, but on the other hand I do want to fight the Big Sister mano-a-mano. I just hope they can create the nasty weirdness that permeated the original game. The demo looked rocking. It was pretty, full of wonderful watery images, you’ll have to defend the creepy Little Sisters; plus, the new mixture of attacks, like little tornadoes and fire blasts, looks great.
5. New Super Mario Bros. Wii (System: Wii; Release Date: Fall 2009; Publisher: Nintendo; Developer: Nintendo): Wow, I got my hands on this on Thursday and had a hard time putting the controller down. The addition of cooperative multiplayer is simultaneously both impressive and unimpressive. It’s not like anyone else has done this before–many, many developers have! But when Shigeru Miyamoto does something like add cooperative multiplayer functionality to a side-scrolling Mario game, he always executes it with such imagination and skill that it’s almost always brilliant. This game is just pure, unadulterated joy and it’s a must-have Wii title.
Cooperative multiplayer Mario is more fun than you can imagine.
4. Rock Band: The Beatles (System: PS3, Xbox 360, Wii; Release Date: September 9, 2009; Publisher: MTV Games; Developer: Harmonix): So I’ll admit this upfront: I am a Beatles fan and have been since I was six. I did a survey of about 10 people and most the result was split: Some people didn’t care (and they skewed a little younger and didn’t care about the Beatles much), while others loved this game (skewed a little older–30s, 40s, and liked the Beatles). Whether you’re a fan or not, these things seem to be self-evident: The Beatles are one of the most popular rock bands ever; their songs are copied, sung, and re-recorded for albums, commercials, and movies every year, and this game will sell tons of hardware because casual players will buy a system just to play Rock Band The Beatles. Only Rock Band Led Zeppelin or Rock Band Jimi Hendrix would get me as excited as this.
God of War III looks like it's in excellent hands.
3. God of War III (System: PS3; Release Date: March 2010; Publisher: Sony; Developer: Sony Santa Monica): As Jake Blues said in the Blues Brothers movie, “Holy shit!” If one game ever looked as good and played as good as its original, it’s God of War III. The demo shown at Sony’s booth was just plain awesome. The new ramming maneuver–grab an enemy and use him as a ram to mop up crowds of enemies– is incredibly fun to play, and as are the flaming arrows. Just like BioShock 2, my feeling about this game is more from the gut than from the brain. It’s like I just have to play it. There is very little thinking involved. And having seen the GDC and the E3 demo of Dante’s Inferno–which is good–and now having seen God of War III, at this point, there isn’t much comparison. God of War III is my pick.
Naughty Dog completely rewrote its graphics engine and the result is extraordinary.
2. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (System: PS3; Release Date: September; Publisher: Sony; Developer: Naughty Dog): Naughty Dog’s first Uncharted was not fully appreciated for its subtle strengths and hidden gifts. How many games these days throw characters that talk and act and remain ordinary into heroic situations? The story and dialogue in Drake’s Fortune was exquisite and subtle. And sure, the puzzles were kinda easy, but did you actually use the melee system? For an adventure game, it rocked. Actually against most action games, it rocked. Among Thieves switches out the cliff sides and switches in dilapidated buildings, crumbling villages, and gives you rooftops and helicopter chases that are just amazing to watch, not to mention play. That, and the addition of multiplayer should wake up a few million people and let them understand why they should own a PlayStation 3.
Modern Warfare 2 gets my vote for best game at E3 2009.
1. Modern Warfare 2 (System: PC, PS2, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii; Release Date: November 10, 2009; Publisher: Activision; Developer: Infinity Ward): I feel a little queasy picking a sequel and a first-person shooter published by the sequel machine, Activision, for my top game. And if Modern Warfare 2 wasn’t made by one of the best developers in the world, I would feel a little sad, a little pathetic inside. But I don’t. The quick demo I watched at the Microsoft conference was followed up by a bigger, more interesting one behind closed doors at Activision’s booth, and it’s pretty obvious that this game is going to slay everything that comes close to it this fall. For a game that started as a WWII first-person shooter, Infinity Ward has created what looks and feels like the modern world James Bond game — the one that EA never made. The one that most developers only wish they could make. From the brilliant snow drift that clouds the air to the more open-world design to the ice picks used to stop snowmobiling enemies to the brisk downhill snowmobile ride itself, Modern Warfare in just a 10-minute demo convinced me right quick that few other games were going to match it at the show. And when all was said and done, and the three days of demos were over, no other game did.
Top Five Honorable Mentions
How many words can you think of that start with A?
5. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (System: Wii; Release Date: fall 2009; Publisher: Konami; Developer: Climax Studios): Yes, the Silent Hill series is old, and when I saw this demoed at Konami’s Gamer Day in March, I was still unconvinced. At E3 I got to play it, and that changed everything. The smooth responsive controls, the instant reactions of the flashlight and gun, and the amazingly simple yet surprising real world puzzles energize this former limping series with new life. This is going to be an excellent holiday season to own a Wii.
4. Homefront (System: PC, PS3, Xbox 360; Release Date: 2010; Publisher: THQ; Developer: Kaos): On the second and third day of E3 2009 I must have seen one hundred billion action games and first-person shooters, which made it tough to remember one from another. But for all of the me-too stuff that THQ does, Homefront looked different. Based in a not to distant future and using the energy crisis to set its stage, players take on a ragtag resistance group of Americans fighting against an occupied USA. Taking notions from Frontlines: Fuel of War and building them into a bigger, badder first-person shooter, Kaos has made something very worth your while.
3. Scribblenauts (System: DS; Release Date: fall 2009; Publisher: Warner Bros. ; Developer: 5th Cell): Weird, surprising, and original, this should prove to be one of those breakthrough titles we’ll all look back on fondly and say, I remember when… The game’s hand-drawn graphics are basic but charming. The premise is simple, too. But it’s the massive database of recognizable words that is so cleverly incorporated into the gameplay that captures the imagination, something much needed in today’s rather familiar landscape of game concepts.
As you can see, Rocksteady Games has captured the essence of the characters in the Batman universe.
2. Batman Arkham Asylum (System: PS3, Xbox 360; Release Date: Summer 2009; Publisher: Eidos/Warner Bros.; Developer: Rocksteady Studios): Although I only played through the first 20 minutes of the game, what excited and please me most about this new Batman endeavor had everything to do with the way in which Rocksteady Games captured the essence of the Batman universe, from the character models to Arkham Asylum to the voice actors of Batman and the Joker themselves. This looked and felt like a Batman game; and there are very few Batman games one can say that about.
1. Shadow Complex (System: Xbox 360 DLC; Release Date: Summer 2009; Publisher: Microsoft; Developer: Chair Entertainment): This “little DLC game” is going to be the biggest and coolest new game on the system. It’s about five times as big as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and will weigh in at 500 MBs, a monstrous size for a DLC game. And the foam gun? Lovely, just lovely. The level of exploration, the amount of weapon acquisition, and the range of combat all come together beautifully in this game.