Under The Radar: 10 Sleeper Games From E3

by Matt Helgeson on Jun 12, 2012 at 01:38 PM

E3 is all about hype – the newest consoles, the biggest games. While gamers anticipate the event as another chance to get a look at some of the games they’ve been anticipating for years, it’s easy for worthy titles to get lost in the jungle of press conference and oversized booths.

The following games might not have the biggest marketing budgets or buzz, but they are well worth your attention. In fact, many of them are promising enough to potentially best some of the industry’s big franchises in terms of quality. If nothing else, they prove that – despite what some might say – creative game design was not missing from E3.

Papo & Yo
Developer: Minority
Publisher: Sony
System: PlayStation 3

This PlayStation Network exclusive is more than just a promising new downloadable game. On the surface, it appears to be an action/puzzle game with a novel setting and characters. Players are cast as Quico, a young boy who must work with the giant creature Monster to solve a multitude of physical puzzles set in a city environment. The catch is that, on occasion, Monster eats a poisonous frog and becomes an unruly danger to himself and others, increasing the challenge for the beleaguered Quico.

While Quico and Monster’s tenuous relationship makes for interesting gameplay dynamics, it’s a more personal matter to the game’s lead producer Vander Caballero. In fact, Quico and Monster represent Caballero’s own troubled relationship with his alcoholic father growing up. As a result, Papo & Yo because an intensely personal, dreamlike parable about growing up in difficult circumstances. We’re rooting for this one; the game industry could use more games that have a message beyond “shoot the enemy.” For more check out our previous coverage of the game, and its trailer.

If I learned anything from my 30-minute demo of the game, it's that Papo & Yo is far from the same old game experience players are accustomed to.” – Jeff Marchiafava

Metro: Last Light
Developer: 4A Games
Publisher: THQ
Systems: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC

The sequel to one of 2010’s cult hits, Metro: Last Light continues the saga begun in Metro: 2033. Developer 4A Games isn’t necessarily concerned with fundamentally changing the design of the modern shooter, but it is using standard FPS mechanics to tell a harrowing, horror-filled tale that felt refreshing in an E3 awash in seemingly identical military blockbusters. In many ways, it’s survival horror shooter.

Players take the role of Metro 2033 protagonist Artyom in post-apocalyptic Russia. This time, it appears you’ll be spending more of your time above ground – a contrast from the largely subterranean first game. Based on what we saw of the game at E3, Metro: Last Light retains the grim shock of the first game, assaulting the player with gruesome demons and frantic, ultra-violent combat. As part of a small band of human survivors, Artyom is hardly the all-powerful super-soldier we’re used to playing in most FPS games. In a ruined city, surrounded by demons, he’ll be content to make it through the long Russian night. For more, check out our E3 impressions.

With Metro: Last Light’s genuinely creepy atmosphere, 4A Games may succeed in their attempt to make a different kind of shooter.” – Dan Ryckert

Retro City Rampage
Developer: VBlank Entertainment
Systems: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, PC

A downloadable game that originally started as homebrew developer Brian Provinciano’s attempt to remake Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto III on the NES, Retro City Rampage has grown into an amazingly large tribute to the 8-bit era of gaming. The game has been in development for a few years, which shows in both its polish and level of detail.

While the game is mostly played from the top-down perspective – think Smash TV meets GTA – Vblank Entertainment has added side-scrolling stages as well as tributes to old-school classics like Super Mario Bros, Commando, and The Legend of Zelda. It’s impressive how much game there is here: Vblank says there are over 50 story missions and 30 challenge levels.

Retro City Rampage is also notable for its excellent chiptune score, which perfectly evokes the mood and feeling of an 8-bit game, while bringing a greater degree of musical complexity. This game charmed the pants off everyone that saw it at E3. Watch this trailer to see why.

Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Systems: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC

While this game already graced the cover of Game Informer (check out our Dishonored hub page for more), it didn’t seem to garner much attention at E3. That's odd, because the game was on display in both trailer and playable form, and looked great. Arkane Studios hopes that Dishonored can deliver a truly open-ended take on the stealth/action genre, and based on Adam Biessener’s hands-on impressions from the show, it's well on its way to accomplishing that goal.

Giving the player open sandbox environments and a toolbox of tactics, weapons, and abilities, Dishonored claims to have nearly endless solutions to each deadly mission in the game. In Adam’s hands-on demo, he could infiltrate a mansion using such divergent means as crashing through the front door, riding a waterfall into the sewer below, or sneaking across rooftops to enter from the fourth story. Compared to the fairly limited and superficial “choices” available to the player in most games (take route A or route B to the next cutscene), Dishonored is trying something truly ambitious. Let’s hope Arkane can pull it off.

Developer: Adhesive Games
Publisher: Meteor Entertainment
System: PC

Of all the games at the show, one of the biggest grassroots buzzes surrounded Adhesive Game’s Hawken. This free-to-play online multiplayer title has been steadily gaining interest since PAX, and at the show it seemed to be one of the under-the-radar titles that people were raving about.

The concept is simple: Hawken is a multiplayer, first-person, mech shooter. However, Adhesive went away from the lumbering mechs of the Mechwarrior series in favor of insanely fast-paced, vertical gameplay that you might associate more with a series like Unreal. While it’s not reinventing the wheel, it’s staggering to see the high production values and polished gameplay that have been created by a nine-person team. It’s a game you need to play to really appreciate, so sign up for the beta on the game’s official site and watch the trailer below.

Persona 4 Arena
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Atlus
Systems: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

A 2D fighting game based on a beloved cult Japanese RPG series might not be a formula designed to knock Call of Duty off of the top of the sales charts, but publisher Atlus knows quality games and its audience well. Persona 4 Arena is developed by Arc System Works, known in fighting circles for its work on the Guilty Gears and BlazBlue series. This experience shows in the gorgeous sprite animations – it’s one of the most stunning traditional 2D fighting games you’ll ever see.

Though the controls scheme is simple enough for novices, experienced players will be pleased at how deep the combat – which centers around summoning your character’s Persona for assist attacks – is when you dig in. For an in-depth look at the game’s combat, check out this video.

“One of the best 2D fighters I’ve seen in years.” – Jason Oestreicher

XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Systems: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC

Yet another Game Informer cover game that didn’t necessarily get the love from the press and public that it deserved at E3. The long-lost strategy series XCOM is coming back, and it’s in the capable hands of Civilization developer Firaxis, which alone should be cause for optimism. At its best, the game appears to combine the depth of traditional, menu-based strategy with the controller-friendly, fast-paced feel of a console action game.

As Adam Biessener writes about in his E3 hands-on of the game, you’re able to easily and quickly issue commands to your squad with a console gamepad – something you’ll need to be able to do due to the game’s destructible terrain and canny enemies. There’s also another level of the larger conflict that takes place at the XCOM HQ or “ant farm,” where you must devote resources to research, engineering, powering up your troops, and matters of international intrigue and diplomacy.

Can XCOM please both its core fans and a new, console-oriented audience? We’ll have to wait to see. In the meantime, read Adam’s extended impressions and peep the game’s impressive E3 trailer.

In a lot of ways, playing XCOM doesn’t feel like the slow menu-driven navigation that we commonly associate with strategy games.” – Adam Biessener

The Cave
Developer: Double Fine
Publisher: Sega
Systems: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC

Double Fine’s Ron Gilbert is acknowledged as one of the masters of the adventure game genre due to his work on classics like Maniac Mansion and the Monkey Island series. After his recent success with DeathSpank, Gilbert has reunited with his colleague Tim Schafer to bring gamers The Cave, which stood out as one of the most unique and humorous games on display at E3.

The Cave is set in a mysterious cave (obviously) that’s being explored by seven characters (ranging from a monk to a knight) who are all looking for something important to them. From this roster, you’ll select three characters to go on an adventure together, each using his or her unique abilities to help solve puzzles in the 2D, side-scrolling environments. While it definitely has an adventure game flavor, it’s important to note that you have direct control over your characters in The Cave. In a nod to the old-school classic The Lost Vikings, you’ll have to shuffle between your characters in order to progress through the game – something you can also do in the game’s online multiplayer. GI’s Tim Turi saw a demonstration of the game at E3, and couldn’t get enough.

The Cave looks like a fantastic treat for adventure fans wanting more control over the onscreen riddles.” – Tim Turi

Developer: Nielo
Publisher: Xseed
Systems: PlayStation Vita

Best described as a cross between Pikmin and Patapon, the Vita-exclusive Orgarhythm comes from the imagination of Takahashi Hirai, who’s worked on games like Space Channel 5 and Rez. So, a quirky Japanese rhythm game is not exactly outside of his area of expertise.

Orgarhythm takes the basic concept of Patapon (hitting buttons along to the rhythm of the music to execute attacks on the battlefield) and greatly increases the depth and complexity. However, there are four classes of characters (archer, soldiers, and two other unannounced types) who you select from a menu (all of which must be done in rhythm) then direct them to attack by drawing lines on the battlefield with the Vita’s touchscreen. It’s definitely a game worth keeping an eye out for.

“If you took Pikmin, crossed it with Patapon, and added a lot more dancing, you might end up somewhere near Orgarhythm.” – Kyle Hilliard

Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit
Developer: Arkedo Studio
Publisher: Sega
System: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC

According to studio head Camille Guermonprez, this slick-looking Metroid-style exploration/action game was the product of Arkedo Studio’s frustration with making an unnamed work-for-hire game for another company. They promised each other that, after the project was done, they would follow their hearts and make the crazy game of their dreams. Inspired by Metroid and Castlevania, as well as Ubisoft’s recent masterpiece Rayman Origins, Arkedo has created Hell Yeah!, a gonzo 2D game that features all the action exploration you’d expect from the genre – plus a little more violence than is usual.

Sega has picked up the rights to the project (which will be a downloadable title for XBLA, PSN, and PC later in 2012), and we can’t wait to get our hands on it. Check out this video for some great footage of the game, plus more quotes from the eccentric Guermonprez.