If you’ve been saving up your pennies for the next big video game console, you’ve pretty much got one choice, the new Wii U from Nintendo. That’s the big takeaway from this year’s E3 video game trade show, where tens of thousands of game industry types gathered to show off their latest virtual wares.
No new Xbox or PlayStation was announced, even though the current versions are more than six years old, leaving Nintendo’s tablet-driven Wii U (check out our hands-on coverage here) as the only new kid on the block. Instead, the focus was on games, and even though there was not a singular blockbuster everyone could agree on, we still saw a lot of new games that are worth keeping an eye on. Here are our highlights and lowlights:
Beyond: Two Souls
Dan: Almost single-handedly making the argument for cinematic games, French game designer David Cage is responsible for cult favorites such as Heavy Rain. This new game feels like a David Lynch action movie, with big-deal actress Ellen Page as a spooky girl with supernatural powers and existential angst. Like Heavy Rain, this talky, moody game isn’t going to be for everyone, but I’ve got high hopes it’ll push the envelope just a bit more.
The Last of Us
Dan: At first glance, this looks a lot like the light-hearted action game Uncharted. Same studio, similar-looking scruffy protagonist. Then, his traveling companion, a teenage girl, starts stabbing people in the face, and things take a real ugly turn. It’s post-plague America, and our two heroes have to fight their way through the ruins — think of it as Michael Bay’s The Road. ZombiU
Libe: Most games for Nintendo systems fall into what we’d call the “family friendly” category. This blood-filled zombie game for the Wii U is an exception, and might be the single goriest game at E3 — and one of the more cliche-ridden. Like any other zombie plot ever, survive a zombie outbreak by foraging for supplies and hunting the undead. The one innovation: if you die, you start over at the beginning as a different survivor and will run into your fallen former self as a shambling meatsack.
Libe: The real surprise hit of E3. I heard people calling it shockingly original and a “next-generation” type of game. It’s mostly just Grand Theft Auto with high-tech hackers instead of track-jacket wearing gangsters, but it still looks like a very clever re-imagining of this tired genre. Jacking into people’s cell phones to eavesdrop on them, or overriding traffic lights to cause a pileup is a welcome change from just shooting everybody in the room.
Dan: Listen, I like Halo as much as the next guy, but the last few games in the series have suffered for the lack of original main character, the anonymous Master Chief. The green-armored military man is finally back, which is cool, but this really does look like every other Halo game. I’m sure there are some minor gameplay differences, but at this point, it’s really just a cash-in. I’ll still probably play it, but I won’t like myself in the morning.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2
Dan: Is there such a thing as a review-proof game? The next annual Call of Duty installment will earn more than just about any big Hollywood movie this side of The Avengers, no matter how closely it resembles the last half-decade of nearly identical games. It’s the perfect fast food formula — familiar and comforting, but never too surprising.
Libe: There’s not a lot of buzz about this game yet, but keep an eye out for it — it may end up being the sleeper hit of the year. As a retro-futuristic assassin using a mix of supernatural and technological tools to take out your targets, it reminds me of classic sneak ‘n’ slay games, such as Thief or Hitman, but with a sci-fi vibe. Powers like teleportation, possession, and calling forth a plague of rats mean there will be a ton of different ways — ultra-violent or not — to play.
Assassin’s Creed III
Dan: One of the most unexpected sights at E3 2012 was people losing their damn minds over this game. Moving from medieval Italy to the American Revolutionary War may be just the thing this series needs, it was starting to get a little old (don’t let the “III” fool you, this is actually the fifth Assassin’s Creed game), and the unexpected addition of naval battles was a big hit with the crowds. One complaint — the 18th century colonial Americans in the game all speak with modern American accents (as opposed to the British forces they’re fighting). Trust me, everyone had an English accent back in 1776.