Before I kick this list off, a couple of qualifications. First, this is in alphabetical order. Second, I’m talking about the best original games, not necessarily the most original. Third, I’m only counting games I either played myself or sat down and watched someone else play – if there was only a trailer shown, it doesn’t count.
Finally, I love original games. As someone who has been a gamer for close to 30 years now, I love seeing new games that offer new experiences and new worlds to explore. So, essentially, these ten games really are my picks as the best of the show. These are the ten games I came away from E3 most looking forward to playing.
(Well, except for Mass Effect 2.)
Alan Wake (360)
Remedy lifted its media black-out on Alan Wake in style at Microsoft’s press conference. We knew going in that it was a psychological thriller starring a horror author whose novel is coming to life before his very eyes. What we didn’t know was just how much Alan Wake is shaping up to be the next-gen Resident Evil game we all wanted RE5 to be. The lighting not only looked fantastic, but forms a vital gameplay mechanic: enemies need to be coaxed out of darkness in order for Alan to damage them. And yes, you can use your torch and handgun at the same time.
Bayonetta (360, PS3)
Is Bayonetta original? Sure, it might be from the same team responsible for Devil May Cry, but Dante was never attacked by a giant dragon crashing its head through the wall of a castle then taking to the sky with the throne room still attached around its neck. And Dante never defeated a boss by dislodging the dragon’s head then grabbing the throne room and spinning it round thousands of feet up in the air before hurling it at the dragon for a knockout blow.
Bayonetta also has twin revolvers in her heels. And had easily the best costume at the show.
Borderlands (360, PS3, PC)
I saw this at last year’s E3 and thought, “Hmm, looks interesting.” This year, I don’t know whether it was the drastic change in art direction or simply the contagious enthusiasm of Gearbox’s Randy Pitchford, but I walked out of my demo thinking, “Wow, I cannot wait to play this game!”
Borderlands is Diablo played as a first-person shooter. Sure, the same thing was said about Hellgate: London, but this both holds far more promise and has none of the nonsensical subscription model that plagued Hellgate’s release. You and up to three friends are dumped in an open world that’s part Mad Max and part Azeroth. There are quests galore, character classes, skill trees, hundreds of thousands of weapon customisation options, and plenty of driving and shooting in between. Your character is persistent online and offline and co-op is totally drop-in/drop-out.
And yes, everything you’ve heard about the new art style is true. Borderlands doesn’t just sound like a good game, it looks like one too.
Brink (360, PS3, PC)
UK studio Splash Damage is evolving the class-based multiplayer FPS beyond its own Enemy Territory series. Brink throws you into 8-on-8 battles where you’re constantly choosing from a range of individual objectives that support your team’s greater overall objective. It’s a system that seeks to give purpose to and reward every action you take during a mission. Parallel campaigns can be played solo or co-operatively with up to eight players. And I haven’t even mentioned the cool Mirror’s Edge style movement that sees you climbing, leaping and navigating obstacles with ease, even in the midst of a chaotic firefight.
Bethesda’s publishing arm may have underwhelmed with WET and Rogue Warrior elsewhere on its booth, but they seem to have backed a winner with Brink.
Brutal Legend (360, PS3, PC)
Tim Schafer is in possession of a rare talent among game designers. He knows how to make you smile. Full Throttle, Grim Fandango and Psychonauts testify to his ability to keep you smiling through witty dialogue, wicked puns and a cavalcade of irresistible nonsense. That sometimes his games are a bit clumsy and rough around the edges doesn’t seem to matter. That you’d be aware of how another game did these core mechanics better if only you’d stop to think about it… that also doesn’t seem to matter. Brutal Legend takes the kitchen sink approach of Psychonauts, in which all kinds of action game tropes are hurled into the mix, some executed more proficiently than others. But it’s the effortless charm of its characters and the world they inhabit that really draws you in. This should be the most FUN game of the year.
Darksiders (360, PS3)
Remember how Nintendo teased us years ago with footage of a “grown up” Link before they backtracked and gave us (the quite wonderful) Wind Waker instead? Since then, and even after the disappointing Twilight Princess, Nintendo fans have been crying out for a more mature Zelda game. Darksiders could be that game. It could also be that Legacy of Kain follow-up you’ve been waiting for. Or, if you give it just a glance, it could be a serious rival to God of War.
What I like most about Darksiders is how deceptive it is. It starts like a hack-and-slash brawler with hero War taking giant sword to demon innards like he’s been taught by Kratos himself. A couple of hours later, however, and War is bursting his brain attempting to solve complex environmental puzzles throughout the massive levels spoking off the freely explorable hub world. It may look like God of War, but it plays like a Metroid game. Cold is the man who doesn’t find that exciting.
Homefront (360, PS3, PC)
I’ve already put THQ and Kaos Studio’s shooter Homefront forward for the best demo of E3. The pacing of the hands-off presentation (we watched the developer play through a small area) was pitch perfect, opening in a rural town where the resistance force is holed up before being assaulted and almost overrun by the North Korean enemy. Key to turning the tide in this encounter was the arrival of the Goliath, a massive remote-controlled armoured vehicle which you direct around the battlefield.
Seriously, who doesn’t want to fight alongside an RC car with a built-in rocket launcher?
Muramasa: The Demon Blade (Wii)
As you’d expect – nay, demand – from the makers of Odin Sphere, Muramasa is a stunning looking game. Vanillaware’s trademark 2D sprites bring the Japanese legends of its setting to life in incredibly lush, vivid detail. A brawler at heart, the game’s combat revolves around precise timing of its two-button moves. Add some RPG progression and the result is a title that matches immediacy with the potential for considerable depth. There’s nothing hugely innovative happening here, but few side-scrolling adventures have ever looked so visually appealing.
Pixeljunk Shooter (PS3)
I’ve not been a huge fan of Q’s Pixeljunk series to date. But Shooter – despite its terribly generic and somewhat misleading name – looks like being the one to convert me. Harkening back to those 2D Amiga classics such as Oids and even Exile (and if you remember Exile, applause to you!), Shooter mixes exploration of a large multi-directional scrolling environment with cunning chemistry physics based puzzles and a healthy dose of, well… shooting.
You’re on a rescue mission in a mining complex struck by natural disaster. Trapped miners need to be helped to safety as you pilot a small ship through the caverns, blasting rocks to clear passages or release lava and water. It’s the interaction of the latter elements that forms the crux of the puzzles. And it all looks as gorgeous as you’d expect from Pixeljunk. Still don’t understand why it isn’t called Pixeljunk Elements though…
And here we are. Although criminally ignored by the official Game Critics of E3 Awards, Scribblenauts did manage to scoop several “best of show” gongs from major outlets. And deservedly so, the wit and imagination on display here – and elicited from the player – puts your blockbuster bald space marine shooters and Tomb Raider clones to shame.
For the uninitiated: it’s a puzzle game where you decide the solution. Your objective is to collect a star at the top of a tall tree. You could type “axe”, equip it and then chop the tree down. You could type “lumberjack” and get him to do it for you. You could type “beaver”. You could, as I did, type “wings”, attach them to myself and fly to the top of the tree. You could attach the wings to your lumberjack too. Or the beaver.
Although just one simple, early example of a puzzle, you can already see the potential for sheer silliness. The joy of Scribblenauts is directly proportional to how much fun you want to have with it, the boldness of your ideas and the rampant lunacy you’re willing to muster on-screen. Whether it’s GTA III or Far Cry 2, I love games where I get to improvise my own solutions; Scribblenauts is taking that idea to the next level.
This was the most original – and yes – BEST game on show at E3 this year.