Despite mobile, online and social games’ growing influence, blockbuster retail titles clearly dominated videogame tradeshow E3 2011, which drew 46,800 industry insiders seeking a glimpse at gaming’s future to the Los Angeles Convention Center this past week.
While quieter than past years, the event featured hundreds of new debuts spanning all genres from music (Just Dance 3) to first-person shooter (Halo 4), role-playing (Final Fantasy XIII-2) and action-adventure (Batman: Arkham City). Fans who attended were also treated to the debut of Nintendo’s new touchscreen controller-fueled Wii U system, Sony’s super-powered PlayStation Vita handheld and surprise cameos by Ice-T, T-Pain and Snoop Dogg.
Predictably, more sophisticated motion controlled games for PlayStation Move and Kinect (e.g. BioShock Infinite and Fable: The Journey, respectively) additionally enjoyed a strong presence, underscoring these accessories’ growing push towards core gaming experiences. New innovations courtesy of Kinect further include options to conduct in-game conversations just by speaking commands in games like Mass Effect 3, or search for software demos and online YouTube videos using your voice and Bing browsing capabilities.
A red-headed industry stepchild, 3D gaming also aims to enjoy a stronger push going forward, courtesy of set pieces such as Sony’s Resistance 3 and God of War: Origins. New Nintendo 3DS portable titles plan to keep the torch burning as well, including Super Mario 3D, Starfox and Luigi’s Mansion 2.
But behind darkened halls’ sea of shining video screens, rows of makeshift fortresses and bouncy castles, and teeming hordes of scantily-clad vixens, stormtroopers and suited professionals jockeying for attention, several titles stood out as obvious must-sees. Following are five of the most promising games coming out of the convention:
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360) – Like bestselling predecessor Oblivion, this epic fantasy adventure wows with its gorgeous and massively open-ended game world, letting you explore, tackle quests or interact with hundreds of lifelike characters at your leisure. While richly appointed landscapes and battles viewed through a sword- and spell-wielding hero’s eyes are natural draws, it’s options to steal dragons’ powers and unique experiences with every play that are likeliest to keep closet berserkers returning.
Uncharted 3 (PlayStation 3) – Acclaimed for its cinematic action and Hollywood styling, the latest in the popular action-adventure series sends globetrotting adventurer Nathan Drake wandering desert sands in search of lost city Irem of the Pillars. Like an interactive Indiana Jones film, it should impress with stars’ snappy dialogue and a bevy of tense gunfights and puzzle-solving scenarios, all set atop exotic and atmospheric environments.
Battlefield 3 (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360) – Piling on the pyrotechnics to near absurd levels, immense outdoor multiplayer firefights and environmental destruction on a grand scale, including options to bring buildings tumbling down, are hallmarks of this modern-day military shooter. Backed by a $100 million marketing campaign and planning to go head-to-head with trigger-mashing juggernaut Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 this holiday season, its enthralling on-foot and vehicle-based battles threaten to turn relationships and social lives into so much collateral damage.
BioShock Infinite (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360) – A critical darling, insiders adore this celebrated first-person shooter cum action role-playing series, whose dialogue, characterization, open-ended approach to scenarios and moody environs rank among the industry’s best. Its latest installment takes to the clouds, letting you hurl ice or fire at DNA-splicing nutcases alongside a time/space-bending female sidekick in a steampunk world of floating zeppelins and ziplines. Expect heart-stopping moments to come fast and furious, including shrieking plummets through the stratosphere.
Tomb Raider (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360) – Given the series’ storied highs, lows and “dohs”, Lara Croft’s latest action-adventure may seem like a left field pick. But viewing it, you’ll instantly be struck by the sudden sense of terror, immediacy and impact the title conveys, as it displays a younger, more vulnerable heroine who palpably oozes adrenaline. Larger characters and more up-close cinematography complemented by stunningly replicated smoke, flame and shadow effects also appear to evoke a greater sense of suspense. If the final game lives up to early trailers, it could prompt a surprise resurgence in the once-untouchable 35 million unit-selling franchise.