Viewing E3 from afar is a much saner activity and these days it's easier to do than ever. Sites like e3feed.com do a great job of acting as aggregates of E3 information from across the web and gaming news blogs like Joystiq and Kotaku are jam-packed with info on everything their teams see. As a gamer and game designer I can't get enough E3 news. This is the week when many of the biggest announcements that will direct the path of the industry over the next year are made and it's also when all types of titles due to launch within the next 12-18 months are unveiled or on display.
We seem to go through cycles in the game development biz. First there's the console cycle where every 5-6 years a new batch of home gaming systems are released. The beginning of a console cycle is always a little shaky, but by the end people are pulling out all the stops. We happen to be coming to the end of a console cycle right now. Another cycle is a bit more discreet and it's tough to put a finger on it. Still, it seems to me at least that every other year is a great year for games, with tons of amazing titles on display. Last year was decent, this year seems to be one of the great years.
At this point in the week most of what is newsworthy has already been posted as the big developer press conferences have come and gone and the floor is now where the action is. Usually you'll hear about a few lesser publicized games in the last couple days, but these days the majority is unleashed right up front. With nearly 20 titles on my watch list from E3 this year, I figured it was as good a time as any to start talking about what I've been following. We start with the relaunch of a classic PC franchise:
Tomb Raider (video link)
Truth be told, I was never a fan of this series back when it was a "thing" in the late 90's. For me the controls were always awkward and the save system infuriating. Luckily this genre has come a long way, with perhaps the most perfect expression being the Uncharted series of games by Naughty Dog. Watching footage of this new Tomb Raider, it's impossible not to see the Uncharted influence. The nice thing is that from what I've seen so far, it seems like they've done a good job with it. While I hope there's a little more exploration in this game than is usually on offer in the Uncharted series, I think I'll be happy with whatever I get from this title.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist (video link)
Not even a full week before E3 I had remarked to someone in my office that maybe one of our co-workers who was leaving for a job with Ubisoft, was going to work on an unannounced Splinter Cell game. It turns out that our co-worker will not be working on this game, but Ubisoft did indeed have a Sam Fischer in it's hat. The original Splinter Cell was one of the game I spent a bit of time with at the E3 I attended 10 years ago and it was the first game I bought for my original XBox. I sort of lost track of the Splinter Cell series after the 3rd game however, which incidentally also seemed to be the point where they started messing with the action/espionage formula. Even with that in mind, it's nice to see the franchise return and even though there's no stealth in the portion of the game that they've been showing off, I'm interested nonetheless.
Sim City (video link)
What can I say? I'm a Sim City fan way back to the Super Nintendo port from the mid 90's. I've played every version since then and even though not a ton changes, I still get drawn into crafting a bustling virtual metropolis. Since Sim City 4 several years back there have been a few attempts by other developers (and even Maxis itself with Sim City: Societies) to innovate in the city building genre. Perhaps the closest to Sim City itself is Cities XL, a series that while lacking in some of Sim City's nuance and polish, pushes boundaries and adds features that the genre was sorely lacking. I was happy to see in the footage shown of this new Sim City that many of these features appear to be incorporated. Even more enticing is the online option where you can connect to and bargain with your friends cities. A really good city sim has been a long time coming and the game that started it all looks to raise the bar again here. I know I'll be spending some long nights pleasing my virtual citizens and crafting a sim utopia.
Dead Space 3 (video link)
I was a big fan of the original Dead Space. Not only was it artistically interesting, it utilized an interesting new IP, and polished its survival horror game play to a brilliant shine. Dead Space 2 (which I finally finished just recently) was also an amazing experience. While it featured a bit more action in the mix, it was still survival horror and made me jump more than a few times. Having seen what's on offer in this latest installment, it's not difficult to assume that they're adding even more action elements and while it may be true, I'm not willing to jump to that conclusion just yet. A lot of what they've shown off is co-op and a lot of what they've shown off is shooting. I know from experience that horror is a tough sell not just on the E3 floor, but on video in general. It's tough to make a sizzle video of anything horror related and seeing as how they obviously want to feature the new co-op feature, I'm not surprised there's a lot of action. Even if there is more action in the mix and the horror is tamed, I'm still going to dig this title. There's more to this series than getting scared and I enjoy those other elements just as much.
Dishonored (video link)
Just hook this game straight to my veins. With its mix of stealth and action and its unique steampunk setting this game is basically the ideological successor to the venerable Thief series of games. In fact, I'm pretty sure the guys in charge of Dishonored would agree with that given that Harvey Smith actually worked on the last Thief game when he was with Warren Specter at Ion Storm. Dishonored goes a step and a half beyond Thief however with a much more stylized world and a much more open game play feel. Unlike Thief's Garret, the protagonist of Dishonored has access to an assortment of supernatural abilities, allowing him to teleport, possess living creatures, see through walls, and more. This is the first time we've seen any Dishonored game play at work and it fully lives up to the expectations set by their CGI teasers last year. As far as new IP's go, this is one I'm looking forward to in a big way.
Next: Ubisoft reads my mind with Watch Dogs, there's a 3rd person Star Wars game that doesn't look like it will disappoint (re: Force Unleashed), and we find the best looking boat-level naval simulation I've ever seen in the least expected place.