E3 2012: 5 Things We Loved

With day 2 of E3 out of the way, the big event is winding down and all of the big announcements and presentations are more or less behind us. And it was a pretty solid show, albeit one without any real surprises. With that in mind, let’s look back at some of the better things to come out of this year’s show (and later we’ll talk about a few that were maybe not so great).

Like I said at the top, there were no huge surprises: Nintendo brought the Wii U and talked a lot about the Wii U, Microsoft kept pushing set top functionality for the 360 and gave you a peek at Halo 4, while Sony got new console bundles and gave us a visceral glimpse of The Last of Us gameplay. Still, digging through that, there was plenty to get excited for going into the back half of the year and looking forward to 2013.

Here’s what we loved.

Nintendo came to show games (even if they’re incredibly awkward at it)

While Nintendo opened up their hour and a half (or so) press conference with a little bit of whimsy—courtesy of some playful Pikmin plaguing Miyamoto—the whole thing was a little stiff with the ultra-canned delivery of President Reggie Fils-Amis. God bless, him, the guy just doesn’t do patter.

Still, when you parse through all of the marketing speak and whatever Nintendo Land is (no really, what is it?), Nintendo’s was the most game-centric of the big 3 conferences. Reggie and Team N were there to pitch the Wii U as something beyond Wii 2.0, and while claims about how it’ll change gamers’ lives grate a bit, they did bring games and those games looked like things I would be very interested in playing. A new Paper Mario? I’m in. Another Luigi’s Mansion? Ditto. I’m sick to death of zombie games, but real-time inventory management in Zombi U seems worth at least exploring. Likewise, the new Pikmin looks adorable.

Climbing is the new shooting down gun sights

This is an incredibly stupid point and I’m connecting some potentially unconnected dots here, but bear with me:

From Lara Croft scaling downed planes to Connor climbing trees to the unnamed hero of Star Wars 1313 making his way back up that crashed ship, we’ll be doing a lot more climbing in third-person action games.

This in and of itself isn’t so grand, sea-change thing to get excited about, but it does point to a style of game that will get out of our nearly five year visit to the brown-town of modern-day shooters and the like which have obsessed publishers and devs. For whatever reason, the new crop of third-person action games (with climbing!) for whatever reason offer more lush environments to explore, nature and undergrowth and just a real varied exploitation of artist and level designers’ tool sets.

Also, there’s just something gripping about the more methodical third-person action on display in the likes of Assassin’s Creed III, Watch Dogs or The Last of Us, which emphasize exploration over running and gunning, rich worlds (we’re hoping) over head shots.

This is a very good thing.

I’m excited about all of those indie developed downloadable games for the PS3 and the Vita (that Sony didn’t talk about much)

Okay, I approached this a little snarkily, but behind it is genuine anticipation about he next wave of indie titles coming to PSN across its two platforms. Here’s the downloadable game breakdown over the current generation: the Wii has been where you go to get the finest in classic games, the 360 has been home to medium to big budget titles (often from the major publishers), the iPhone is where you go to spend a dollar or two when you’re bored, while the PS3 is where you go for the purely innovative, mind-blowing, thought-provoking content.

Flower, Journey, and Pixeljunk Monsters all made their home on the PS3 and each has brought both critical and sales success to Sony’s machine. The promises of hundreds of titles in the near and long term through PSN is very easy to get excited about (even if Sony wasn’t willing to name names).

Oh man, South Park!

Simply put, the most interesting looking game at this year’s E3 (with Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs a very close second), Obsidian’s mix of Paper Mario-style action along with the South Park brand in trailer form are enough to dispel previous attempts to get the series onto consoles.

From the looks of it, South Park: The Stick of Truth will take the last 15 years of South Park history and mash it into a violent, scatalogically-minded, colorful, ripped-right-from-the-show game that’s way outside of the usual licensed game hell we’re used to.

I would have loved to have put Watch Dogs in this slot, but as I worried yesterday, the demo on display during the Ubisoft conference just seemed so guided and boxed in, that it’s hard to get a sense of what the game will actually be like when you’re exploring, screwing up, and getting killed all on your own (you know, the best parts of games).

Also, could we get Matt and Trey to host the Microsoft even next year? They’d certainly be more fun.

Also: oh man, Halo 4, The Last of Us

One IP getting a reinvention with a new studio, one new IP from a studio that’s spent most of the current console generation wowing us with both tech and gameplay, Halo 4 from 343 Industries and The Last of Us from Naughty Dog were the two big games this week front in center at their respective publishers that are offering vastly different experiences for different types of gamers.

This November, you can look forward to 343 extending, expanding, and upending the Halo universe a bit with the return of the Master Chief and everything on display up to this point doesn’t simply look like the usual bigger and more but a rethinking of the stuff that you’ve loved over the last decade from the formerly Bungie-managed franchise. 343 Industries has some real surprises for you as the Master Chief embarks on another trilogy, facing enemies new and old at the far reaches of the universe.

Then there’s The Last of Us which is simply Uncharted after the apocalypse, and that should be more than enough to get you hyped about it. It’s not just that the Uncharted games were technically proficient: Naughty Dog was great at making you care about rakish rogue Nathan Drake as a much-abused action hero and here’s hoping they can do the same with Ellie and Joel in The Last of Us. Based on the brief gameplay trailer from Sony’s presentation, the characters will have a nice rapport going so you can get a sense for what they’re all about as characters as you try to keep them alive at the end of the world.

The greatest praise I could possibly give here, I suppose, is that I can’t wait to bash some marauder’s head in with Sony’s latest.

Related posts:

E3 2012: See “Star Wars 1313″ In Motion
E3 2012: Nintendo’s Presentation – It’s all About the Games

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