The 10 Best Videogames We Played at E3 2015

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E3’s most visible artifacts might be the house-sized ads spread throughout the Los Angeles Convention Center, but we don’t gravitate there every June to admire the salesmanship. We go to E3 to see what videogames will be coming out over the next year and a half or so, and perhaps get to play some. Our games editor Garrett Martin and contributor Jon Irwin were both at E3 for Paste last week, and here are their ten favorite games they played at the trade show, listed in alphabetical order.

Milk Bag Games
Playstation 4, PC, Mac

In a show saturated with expansive realms and go-anywhere freedom, this tight, taut high-score racing game held me in its thrall more than any. Owen Goss, one half of Milk Bag with Matt Rix, told me they took inspiration from Uniracers and Tony Hawk but also Ikaruga—the resultant hybrid is a fast and vibrant skill-based challenge that wrecks apathy and rewards perfection. I finally locked in and started landing tricks without exploding into the electro-magnetic rail. When I took the headphones off there was a small crowd behind me, cheering.—Jon Irwin

KO-OP Mode
Playstation 4 

Gnog is as much of a toy as a game, a collection of interactive three-dimensional puzzles that look a bit like Uglydolls. The game doesn’t offer much in the way of guidance, letting you poke around its various doodads until a musical cue or visual clue points you in the right direction. It feels like a less obtuse Hohokum, a divisive game that our critic didn’t enjoy but that was one of my favorites of 2014. Gnog is playful in a way that few videogames are, not just encouraging experimentation but demanding it.—Garrett Martin

In Tune
Tweed Couch Games

The only game I played where applying a choke-hold to the developer was a sanctioned part of the experience. Using two PlayStation Move controllers, two players cycle through a sequence of gestures suggested by the monitor, each showing two mannequins touching each other in various poses. Once both partners agree, you hold the pose, making sure to press each others’ skin (custom software and wiring detects the pressure) and the Move glow-bulbs slowly turn the same color. In Tune is about consent, awkwardness and honesty; it also shows how different and complicated, in a human sense, games could be in if allowed to strike any note other than those most often played.—JI

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst
EA Digital Illusions CE
Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC

The fear with this reboot was that it would jettison what made the original Mirror’s Edge so unique. Don’t worry, though—Catalyst doesn’t turn the first-person runner into a shooting gallery. The 13 or so minutes I played at E3 showed a new structure that resembles an open world game, with various mission types playable at specific points throughout a slice of a city that had the same clinical, futuristic look of the original. The speed trial felt exactly like an extension of the game we know and love, as I had to sprint across rooftops, vaulting over and sliding under obstacles in hopes of setting the best time. Combat was sequestered to a combat trial, where a similar jaunt was complicated by hardline goons in riot gear. Instead of the sometimes stilted hand-to-hand of the original, though, these bad guys felt more like another kind of obstacle to bounce off of—tapping a button at the right moment would lay them low, and avoiding them altogether was both easy and perhaps optimal. Catalyst maintains the momentum of the underrated original and seems to be restructuring it in a way that lets players choose how best to enjoy the game.—GM

Honor Code

This underwater survival game has been around for awhile. It started as a student project at French videogame academy ENJMIN and was shown at Game Connection Europe in 2014. But playing while wrapped in the latest version of the Oculus Rift, Narcosis goes from late-night terror tease to a real-deal oxygen-sucker. I’m no VR pundit, nor do I fully believe in the medium as a commercially-viable platform for games, but I do know I held my breath as I swum through darkened tunnels as debris brushed past my airtight mask.—JI

Night in the Woods
Infinite Fall
Playstation 4, PC, Mac, Linux

Even though they’re all animals, Night in the Woods features very human and believable characters. Here’s a cartoon-cute game full of adorable animals that deals modestly and quietly in such serious issues as mental illness, depression, the stagnancy of the middle and lower classes, and the slow death of small town America. It’s also genuinely funny. The tiny portion of Night in the Woods that I played at E3 hinted at a game that successfully traverses a spectrum of tones and emotions, which might be pretty normal for most media but remains elusive for videogames.—GM

Super Mario Maker
Wii U

Just because an idea is obvious doesn’t mean it’s not a good one. “Make your own Mario levels” is the perfect box tagline: simple and explanatory. Where it turns revelatory is when the making of these levels becomes the game itself: instead of just touching and placing icons and tiles, you hold a Koopa down and shake it until the shell turns red with anger; now it’s a different enemy. Almost every piece of the puzzle is alive and interactive. That you can finally play the stage is frosting. Bonus points for the ludicrous use of Amiibo, Nintendo’s NFC figurines. Pixelated 8-bit Wii Fit Trainer lives.—JI

Playstation 4, PC

Designers Brian Gibson and Marc Flury call Thumper a “rhythm violence game,” which means the best possible description of the game has been written well before any critic will actually get to review it. The two former Harmonix employees know the rhythm game well, and Thumper looks like any number of recent entries in the genre, with bright neon visuals and a small shuttle hurtling along a railway as icons come flying down from above. Yes, you have to hit a button when your craft flies over those prompts. Instead of just tapping at the right moment, Thumper will have you playing a form of Morse code, alternating between holding a button down and jabbing it quickly. The joystick gets pulled into the action when you have to turn sharply. What makes Thumper stand out the most though is its music. Instead of the dance music you most often hear in games that look like this, Thumper’s soundtrack is a tense, paranoid sheet of noise broken up by the percussive sound of your button presses. It’s unusual for a game, but makes sense given Gibson’s background in the seminal noise rock band Lightning Bolt. The result is a rhythm game that feels not just violent but claustrophobic, like you’re banging against a locked door every time you hit that button.—GM

The Tomorrow Children
Playstation 4 

Here is an open-world game that toys with what it means to be open and free. You scamper across a grey, stylized abstraction of a town; everything beyond a pre-set perimeter is hazy miasma. You’re stuck here. There is work to be done. There are rules to follow. Step into a line and your feet are locked in place; moving the joystick only leans your torso left or right. Once at the front of the line you can buy something nice (a domicile, perhaps!) but first you need to perform a sliding-block puzzle. Fail and the contraption blows up in smoke. Hard to tell if this satiric take on propaganda and menial labor will be fun, but there was no better example of form-as-function on the show floor.—JI

Coldwood Interactive
Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC

Like Little Big Planet and Yoshi’s Woolly World, Unravel looks like it’s made of yarn. Or at least its hero, Yarny, does. Yarny exists in a photorealistic environment based on the backyard of the game’s Swedish developers—a fantastical creature in a setting that looks like the world just outside your window. Yarny can use its own body like a grappling hook or trampoline, rolling off inches of yarn to climb or bounce over various obstacles. It plays fairly traditionally, as you walk from left to right and try to solve basic puzzles that complicate your stroll, but the beautiful visuals and touching story give it a poignancy that’s still uncommon in videogames.—GM

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