Games: E3 showcases promising titles for coming year
June 14, 2009
The Electronic Entertainment Expo has come and gone in a thumping, flashing blur.
Between June 1 and 4, game developers from around the world trotted out scores of titles for the 41,000 E3 attendees at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Picking the best of those games is a tough job. Developers polish a few action-packed levels that are guaranteed to wow the media and public. However, those previews don’t always match up well against the rest of the game at release time.
With that in mind, here’s an alphabetical list of the 20 games that should be worth watching in the next year or so. Of course, each looks good now, but tight budgets or tight deadlines could send any of them flying into the bargain bin.
• Alpha Protocol — As Mike Thorton, expect to double-cross and triple-cross quite a few contacts — and expect to face the consequences. This espionage role-playing game promises an exceptionally dynamic web of interactions. The graphics are OK, but the game play and story look like they’ll be great. Sega, due this fall.
• Army of Two: The 40th Day — Although critics were lukewarm to the original “Army of Two,” the co-op shooter remains among the top-selling games two years after its release. The sequel aims to make critics as well as fans happy by offering new moves, a morality system and a richer story, which is set in a war-torn Shanghai. Electronic Arts, due this winter.
• Assassin’s Creed II — This time around, the assassin is Ezio, who climbs, leaps and sails around the structures of Renaissance Italy. He’s armed with retractable blades up both of his sleeves, a wide selection of deadly new moves and some cool gadgets developed by his buddy Leonardo da Vinci. The settings are spectacular and the action is lively. Ubisoft, due this winter.
• Batman: Arkham Asylum — The Joker takes over Gotham City’s lockup for super villains and makes life very difficult for Batman. The visuals are suitably gloomy and the action is fast, fluid and brutal — though still within the bounds of a T rating. The game uses the same voice actors as the animated series — including Mark Hammel as the Joker. Warner Bros. and Eidos, due Aug. 25.
• Bioshock 2 — This sequel returns to the gloomy underwater city of Rapture 10 years after the original game. This time, gamers will play as a hulking Big Daddy who has regained his free will and quite a bit of agility as well. Along with the switch in perspective comes a new threat in the form of the power-hungry Big Sister. In addition to good graphics and an interesting story, the game will also offer a robust multiplayer option, which occurs in a sort of prequel set during the civil strife that sent Rapture into its downward spiral. 2K Games, due this fall.
• Borderlands — This post-apocalyptic role-playing game is set in a nasty place called Pandora. The characters and environments have a gritty graphic-novel feel. There are lots of missions, lots of loot and lots of opportunity for fun since up to four can play co-operatively. 2K Games, due in October.
• Brink – Set in a floating city gripped by civil war, “Brink” will give gamers the option of siding with security forces or the rebels. The game offers excellent graphics, including some very cool-looking character models. The action is fast-paced and very dynamic, with battlefield assignments changing along with the ebb and flow of combat. Bethesda Softworks, due spring 2010.
• The Conduit — A Secret Service agent must discover what a mysterious organization and aliens are up to in Washington, D.C. This has the potential to be the best shooter available on the Wii. The graphics are good and the action is fast and fun — and not at all gimmicky. Sega, due June 23.
• Dragon Age: Origins — BioWare is known for delivering great role-playing games, so the expectations for “Dragon Age” are sky-high. Gamers will play as a member of the Grey Wardens, a group charged with eliminating the threat posed by a corrupted dragon. The game is visually stunning, the combat is thrilling and the character interactions appear to be extensive and rewarding. Electronic Arts, due Oct. 20.
• Guitar Hero 5 — This year, music fans must choose among “GH5,” “DJ Hero” and “The Beatles Rock Band.” However, unless you’re a big fan of the Fab Four or enjoy making your own dance music, the only real choice is “GH5.” The game offers a list of 85 diverse tracks, almost twice as many songs as “The Beatles.” Another plus for “GH5” is the fact that you can play with any combination of instruments – four guitars, two drums, whatever you like. To counter that, “The Beatles” will allow up to three vocalists to perform at the same time. Since vocalist is the last spot filled in many “Rock Band” sessions, that’s unlikely to be seen as a huge benefit by most players. “DJ Hero” looks good, but seems likely to be a niche game. Activision, due this fall.
• Halo 3: ODST — Set three weeks before the events of “Halo 3,” this sci-fi shooter puts gamers in the power armor of an orbital drop shock trooper fighting a Covenant invasion of the Earth city New Mombasa. “Halo” fans will find the game play familiar, but developers and Bungee have added some new wrinkles. The overarching story is in the form of a mystery and much of it will unfold in flashbacks. Of course, those flashbacks will involve plenty of brutal Brutes and goofy Grunts. And, in addition to the popular multiplayer battles, gamers can expect to see a new mode in which up to four friends can see how long they can survive against waves of Covenant warriors. Microsoft, due this fall.
• Left 4 Dead 2 — The multi-player zombie-blasting extravaganza moves to New Orleans and looks bigger, meaner and more grotesque than ever. And with more kinds of zombies, you’ll get more kinds of weapons. You’ve got to love the line from the teaser: “And if we run out of bullets, [cue chainsaw] baby, they’re gonna wish we hadn’t.” Valve, due in November.
• Lost Planet 2 — The original sci-fi shooter set on a frozen planet was very fun and very popular. However, it generated two gripes: You had to spend a lot of time picking up glowing orbs or you’d freeze to death, and there was no co-op play. The sequel corrects both flaws and delivers bigger and better action. Capcom, release date uncertain.
• Mass Effect 2 — Commander Shepard isn’t dead. He’s back, and gathering an elite crew to take the fight to the invading aliens. A few tweaks to game play — and a lot more weapons — make the sci-fi role-playing game look even more engaging than the original. Electronic Arts, due early 2010.
• Modern Warfare 2 — The sequel to “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare” is virtually certain to be among the biggest sellers of the year when it takes the fight to Kazakhstan, Afghanistan and Rio de Janeiro. Infinity Ward’s “COD4” is still among the best shooters available. From demonstrations at E3, it looks like the graphics and actions have only gotten better. Activision, due Nov. 10.
• Need for Speed Shift — Racing fans who like raw horsepower and realism are going to love “Shift.” Developers have improved the physics and artificial intelligence. And, wow, those cars and courses look terrific. Electronic Arts, due Sept. 22.
• Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising — The U.S. Marine Corps goes toe-to-toe with China’s People’s Liberation Army over control of an oil-rich island. The game aims to portray authentic tactics, visuals and damage. The game looks very good at this point, but “authentic” combat games can also get bogged down in their realism and become tedious. Codemasters, due this fall.
• Red Steel 2 – Gamers will take the role of a pistol-packing, sword-wielding cowboy/samurai in an Old West/modern Japan-style city in the middle of a desert. It sounds weird, but it plays well thanks to the addition of the Wii Motion Plus, a new attachment to the Wii remote that delivers greater sensitivity. The sword battles are much more realistic than anything else available in video games. The graphics are very stylized, perfect for the unusual setting and characters. Ubisoft, due this winter.
• Star Wars: The Old Republic — Jedi, Sith, smugglers and bounty hunters will be struggling for control of the galaxy in this massive multiplayer online game set a few millennia before the events of the popular movies. It’s an epic tale filled with exciting characters. The graphics offer a “stylized realism” that’s very satisfying and the action, interactions and combat look top-notch. Lucas Arts, release date uncertain.
• Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Conviction — Sam Fisher bolts from the Third Echelon to search for the thugs who killed his daughter, which means his methods will be more assertive and brutal in this edition of “Splinter Cell.” Stealth, still a big part of the game, will be used to gain tactical advantage, not for the sake of secrecy. The environments are expansive and filled with interactive elements, giving gamers plenty of intriguing options for dispatching foes and accomplishing missions. Ubisoft, due this fall.