Game Informer's Best Of E3 2011 Awards
Last week was a whirlwind for all of us here at Game Informer. Many anticipated games were in playable form, new hardware was announced, and we walked from appointment to appointment until our legs turned to jelly. After E3 came and went, it was time for us to decide on our picks for the best of the show. Read on to see who received our top honors at E3 2011.
What does it take for one game to stand out above all others in the chaos of E3? This year, it took great dialogue, high-flying aerial maneuvers, and a hulking mechanical beast named Songbird. BioShock Infinite soared above the competition on the show floor with its character development and combat. When combined with a handful of jaw-dropping story moments, it's easy to see why Irrational Games' latest project wins our unanimous vote for the best game of E3.
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Naughty Dog proved that it's still on the top of its game with two blockbuster demos at E3. At the Sony press conference, the developer showcased its impressive physics technology in a segment of the game where Drake struggles to work his way out of the flooding cargo hold of a capsizing freighter ship. Behind closed doors, we witnessed a completely different demo where Drake dodges gunfire on his way to a cargo plane, stows away, and eventually fights for his life at 30,000 feet as a monstrous man tries to chuck him out of the back of the plane. The cherry on top proved to be the multiplayer demo on the show floor that always had a line of gamers eager to get their hands on the November release.
Gears of War 3
With two and a half years of development under its belt, Gears 3 looks ready for prime time. Epic Games is branching out from its conservative narrative approach by placing gamers in the roles of Gears soldiers other than Marcus and Dom during the four-player co-op campaign, giving us a glimpse into the lives of the secondary characters. Campaign isn't the only mode that's beefing up, however, as Horde mode looks better than ever and Beast mode promises a brand-new experience.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Nintendo’s booth was dominated by Wii U and 3DS, but the Wii managed to have at least one strong showing thanks to The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. In a demo that featured a mounted bird race, a dungeon section, and a boss fight, we saw many clever and interesting uses of the MotionPlus tech. Featuring an art style that falls somewhere between Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword looked great and played even better. We were still collecting keys, solving puzzles, and fighting bosses, but the well-done motion controls made the experience feel fresher than any Zelda game in the last ten years.
BioShock Infinite is one of those games that, if it were exclusive, would be a deciding factor in a gamer's decision of which console to purchase. Fortunately, that's a choice you don't need to make; all of the cinematic spectacle and diverse gameplay options in BioShock Infinite can be yours as long as you have a PS3, Xbox 360, or PC.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss
Just as the God of War titles blew us away on the PSP by packing a console-level experience into a handheld package, Uncharted: Golden Abyss looks like it will successfully shrink down everything we love about Naughty Dog's franchise. If that core, solid Uncharted gameplay and over two hours of cinematic storytelling isn't enough to get you excited, Golden Abyss also provides a stellar showcase for the various bells and whistles of Sony's new Vita handheld. Whether you're swiping the touch screen to shimmy across a cliff or moving the handheld to aim with its gyroscope, SCE Bend has come up with plenty of non-traditional control methods that worked surprisingly well in our brief playtime. But most importantly, Golden Abyss also allows gamers to switch back to classic controls if they'd rather not mess around with touch and motion controls.
My enthusiasm for Tera's outstanding group-oriented action-packed combat had been tempered by a healthy skepticism about the developers' vague promises about a player-driven political system until this year's E3. A hands-on session with four other players against a high-level boss and details about the game's unusual politics – which sound like a clever balance between Eve Online's free-for-all galactic intrigue and a theme park ride MMO like World of Warcraft – have this at the top of my MMO list.
Batman: Arkham City
Our hands-on demo with Rocksteady’s upcoming sequel to Arkham Asylum proved to us that Batman’s latest adventure is coming along nicely. Now that the Caped Crusader is leaving behind Arkham Island for the Gotham slum-turned-unsupervised prison, Arkham City, his repertoire has expanded to make moving around quicker than ever before. We were impressed with the level of detail Arkham City boasts, in addition to its sense of scale (expect more vertical gameplay this time around), but the stealthy and sexy moves of Catwoman stole the show.
Some people would probably call BioShock Infinite a shooter. However, after seeing protagonist Booker DeWitt sail around on Columbia's skylines, blast enemies with telekinetic powers, and ask his ally Elizabeth to open tears in reality, this action-packed experience is clearly more than a typical collection of run-and-gun firefights. Ultimately, it doesn't matter how you classify BioShock Infinite, since that won't make the wait until the game's 2012 release any easier.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
There’s a reason that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is at the top of many a gamer's most wanted list. Bethesda’s demo for the anticipated RPG featured plenty to get excited about, including a Dragon Shout that created a thunderstorm which spanned as far as the eye could see, a revamped third-person mode (the game now looks playable from that perspective), and two dragon fights. Battles with the mystical flying beasts looked appropriately epic, and required a combination of melee and projectile weapons, magic spells, and Dragon Shouts. We can’t wait to sink another 100 hours into the The Elder Scrolls universe this November.
The first round of the fall face-off between Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 goes to the Swedes at DICE. Though the EA press conference single-player demo of a tank level started off slow, it picked up steam as battle opened up and gave us a glimpse of the best-in-class graphics and sense of scale that the Frostbite 2 engine can deliver. The best showing, however, was the behind-closed-doors multiplayer demo. This hands-on 32-player PC battle showcased an astounding level of fidelity for an online shooter, with more detailed destruction than we’ve ever seen in multiplayer before, natural looking soldier animations, and a smartly crafted Rush map with an intense bottleneck in the Parisian metro station.
Do you want an MMO that does what World of Warcraft does, only without the benefit of an effectively unlimited budget and six-plus years of refinement, or do you want to play a game that offers something new? Personally I'm going for the "something new" choice, since I can always re-up my WoW account. Tera's player-driven politics and action-oriented combat are different enough to make me take notice, especially given how good the game looks and how well it played at this year's E3.
Forza Motorsport 4
Forza 4 is attempting to expand sim-racing by not only offering the usual features like 80 manufacturers and new tracks, but by trying and offering some different aspects such as Kinect integration and Autovista mode. In this mode you can use Kinect to look and fiddle around with select cars in a showroom setting and get detailed information about them (including narration by Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson). Kinect also allows you to control your car’s camera simply by moving your head, and you can use it to control cars in Quick Play mode. Before you think, however, that the series has gotten away from the racing that made it famous in favor of Kinect, developer Turn 10 is bolstering the World Tour career mode with a new, more customizable structure (no calendar), and Car Club rivalries should also invigorate the community. Could this be just what the genre needs?
EA Sports gives the clipping animations that sap the realism out of sports games a red card with FIFA 12’s new player impact engine. Taking into account players’ size, speed, and strength, the new approach to tackling looks fantastic and results in a varied amount of collisions on the pitch. Add the new precision dribbling controls that give players control in tight spaces and a refined defensive approach that requires players to manually tackle the dribbler, and you have a more wide-open game that should result in more natural offensive flourishes. These advancements earned FIFA 12 our sports game of the show award, and it looks like this could be the best controlling EA Sports footie game yet.
During Ubisoft’s press conference, Rayman creator Michel Ancel gave the crowd a glimpse of the unique and gorgeous levels players will traverse this holiday in Rayman Origins. From an aesthetic standpoint, the UbiArt framework for hand drawn design made Rayman Origins one of the most attractive games at E3 this year. Simplistic and tight controls accessible to players of all skill levels, an entertaining multiplayer component, and a visual style unlike anything we’ve seen certainly makes Rayman Origins stand out from the pack as one of the most promising platforming titles due out this year.
PlayStation Vita boasts big franchises such as Uncharted and ModNation Racers, so it's easy for one impressive musical platformer to slip under the radar. The mastermind behind PSN classic Everyday Shooter Jonathan Mak is currently working on Sound Shapes, a unique title that seamlessly blends gameplay and audio as each enemy, obstacle, and collectible contributes to the game’s soundtrack. Players control a circular creature that can stick to walls and platforms to leverage mobility, and though the mechanics are simple, the game increases in challenge as more enemies are introduced. Most impressive is the easy-to-use level editor that will keep players platforming with user-generated content long after Sound Shape’s release.
Crusader Kings II
Take any lord in Europe, North Africa, or the Middle East and carve your own destiny in this historically accurate strategy/simulation. Paradox has been making super-hardcore strategy games for years, but Crusader Kings II has a chance to grow out of that tiny niche with a genuinely inviting interface and a level of polish that has so far eluded the company. The scope – Ireland to Arabia during the 11th through 15th centuries, with detailed modeling of everything in the known world from the king of Poland and his household down to individual fiefdoms and minor lords – is as impressive as ever, but Crusader Kings II looks significantly more playable for the average strategy gamer than any of its predecessors in the Hearts of Iron, Europa Universalis, and Victoria series.
Few downloadable titles are as colorful and creative as Super Giant Games’ Bastion. The upcoming action RPG boasts a unique spoken narrative that dynamically incorporates your actions into the storytelling, and the gorgeous visuals have all been hand-painted by Bastion’s art director, Jen Zee. Thanks to tight controls and fast-paced action, the game is a fun to play as it is to look at. Bastion is poised to be the breakthrough XBLA hit of this year’s Summer of Arcade.
Gears of War 3
While the campaign looks to deliver the spectacle we've come to expect from the series, the most exciting news that came out of Epic is an enhanced Horde mode that adds boss battles, a currency system, and an element of tower defense as you and a group of friends shoot through waves of Locust and Lament enemies. Players can build blockades, turrets, and even exchange currency in an effort to conquer the final wave. If you've already had your fill of Horde mode, the new Beast mode should mix things up by putting you in the shoes of the franchise's varied enemies.
Nintendo's new Wii U hardware has plenty of potential, but the most impressive new tech on display at this year's E3 was the PlayStation Vita. From the crisp graphical power shown in Uncharted: Golden Abyss to the PSN connectivity and level sharing possibilities of Sound Shapes, this well-rounded handheld has every feature request we could imagine. You can argue that game-centric handhelds are becoming less relevant in the era of the iPhone, but Sony is making a solid argument for its new system being worthwhile. With the competitive $250 price tag for the WiFi version of the Vita, Sony easily takes this category.