E3 2012 kicked off with a whole lotta press conferences showcasing a bunch of stuff that didn’t look so hot (look out for part two of this column for that) but also quite a few games that actually seemed really neat. The first part of this column is dedicated to those — the titles that looked like they might be worth keeping an eye on in the months to come.
The Last of Us
The Last of Us continues to look great. Its extremely impressive visuals and I Am Alive inspired hostage-taking and limited health/ammo supplies look to offer an experience that is more deliberate and thoughtful than Naughty Dog’s previous, more action oriented releases. I also like the decision to depict the full brutality of in-game violence, something that seems to underscore the fact that killing someone with your bare hands would be, really, actually quite an awful thing to have to do. The developer’s writers are among the industry’s best and I’m excited to see how they handle a post-apocalyptic scenario where combat has consequence and the protagonist is forced to struggle with difficult moral decisions in the face of his — and his companions — survival.
Seemingly the Wii U’s only original intellectual property, Ubisoft’s ZombiU has a horrible name and an interesting set of mechanics. Despite just how played out zombies are as videogame antagonists, ZombiU’s embrace of the roguelike convention of one death per character and the decision to remove checkpoints could prove to be a whole lot of fun. It also appears to be the only game to use Wii U’s control scheme in a properly integrated fashion from the title’s announced so far. Scanning for zombies with Aliens-style sonar, managing the inventory in real time, checking maps, hacking door locks and sniping enemies using the Wii U’s touch-screen controller actually looks really neat and I’m interested to see how it all comes together.
Far Cry 3
Ubisoft Montreal’s sequel to the ambitious, but problematic Far Cry 2 looks to build on the strengths of the first game’s unique gameplay while introducing compelling new elements. Delightfully bizarre hallucinations colour the narrative, wildlife interactions hold a lot of potential for emergent, open-world fun and a gorgeous-looking tropical island with lush visuals promises a varied environment. Four-player co-op and a two-player splitscreen mode only make it look more enticing.
Assassin’s Creed 3/Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation
When the developers at Ubisoft decided to move from the complex architecture of Renaissance-era Europe to the wilderness, forts and camps of New World America I was left wondering how the gameplay would translate. Luckily, the multi-platform Assassin’s Creed 3 and the Vita’s AC3: Liberation seem to use the natural landscape (tree branches and rock outcroppings) to good effect, allowing the series’ traditional mechanics to come together with new improvements like wildlife hunting, snow trudging and, most impressively, the addition of naval combat. An overhauled graphics engine that looks to offer much improved facial animation and a dynamic weather system (check out that sea battle trailer!) should also help to make the multi-platform version of AC3 look fantastic.
Watch Dogs, another fantastic looking game from Ubisoft Montreal, delivered the most refreshing unveil of the show. The title’s cyberpunk setting and stunning aesthetic (the fine details of which probably won’t be as impressive unless played on a high-end PC like the demo reportedly used) are blended with an intriguing but vague set of mechanics that look to channel the open-ended problem solving of Deus Ex and the focused scripting of an Assassin’s Creed. Hints of a larger multiplayer mechanic, seemingly integrated into the structure of the single-player itself, add even more promise to the game. Watch Dogs was a real breath of fresh air amidst the same-y sequels that populated most of the show’s software announcements.
Beyond: Two Souls
Quantic Dream’s follow up to Heavy Rain stars a young woman named Jodie Holmes (acted and motion-captured by Halifax’s own Ellen Page) in a brand new intellectual property that details several years of its protagonist’s life as some type of telekinetic/friend of a ghost hunted by the government. Incredibly detailed visuals (particularly the crazy facial animation), gameplay that looks to provide a bit more interactivity than past Quantic Dream titles and an in-game demo that showcased stronger direction make me hopeful.
Nintendo is, apparently, committed to revitalizing the 3DS after the handheld suffered from sluggish sales and a poor software line-up in its first year. A slew of third party games (Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate, Paper Mario: Sticker Star, etc.) should help to give current owners something worth being excited for. Whether or not these games will be any good is almost beside the point: simply showing that new games are coming is essential for the health of the portable.
I’ve been excited about Dishonored since reading the first details on it and the E3 gameplay demos have only helped to make it look even more appealing. Like Watch Dogs, Dishonored appears to channel some of the Deus Ex magic, letting players use a wide array of abilities to tackle the game’s objectives in a number of creative ways.
*** Reid McCarter is a writer, editor and musician living and working in Toronto. He has written for sites and magazines including Kill Screen, The Escapist and C&G Magazine. He founded, writes and edits the videogame blog digitallovechild.com and is Twitter-ready @reidmccarter.