The 10 Best Videogames of E3 2012

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We covered E3 2012’s majorpressconferences and news announcements throughout last week, but haven’t talked much about specific games. I was on the floor all day Tuesday through Thursday, playing and watching demonstrations of dozens of upcoming videogames. It’s not really a secret that the press doesn’t actually get to play every game that’s shown at the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo. A lot of games are playable on the show floor or in invitation-only booths, but many games are exhibited as hands-off demonstrations, with the media forming impressions and jotting down notes as a member of the development team plays through a portion of the game. That makes a single conclusive ranking of the best games of any E3 a bit of a boondoggle. How can I accurately gauge a game I haven’t yet played a second of? And so, instead of writing up a single list of the best games I saw at last week’s E3, I’m splitting this up into two. The first page runs through the five best games I played at the convention. The second page lists the five most interesting games that weren’t playable at the show. (Yes, Assassins Creed III’s multiplayer was playable on the floor, but it’s the single-player that put it on this list.)

The Five Best Games I Played at E3 2012

5. Hokra
by Ramiro Corbetta (with music by Nathan Tompkins); platform to be determined

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Hokra, a minimalist sports game for four players, was included in the International Festival of Independent Games’ annual IndieCade Festival At E3 line-up. The unreleased Hokra stood out among a strong group of indie games due to its highly addictive and collaborative nature. It cuts through all the gloss and graphical gimcracks to strip competition down to its most basic elements. The goal: keep a tiny dot in one of your team’s goals until it fills up with blocks. To do that you’ll dart across the field, pumping the A button for speed, while trying to grab or steal the dot from the opposing team. The A button also passes to your partner or shoots the dot into the goal. Once the dot is there try to keep your rivals from stealing it for as long as possible. Hokra looks simple, but if you don’t communicate and play well with your partner you’re destined to lose. I played with strangers but after coming from behind to win a best two-out-of-three series my partner and I felt like the Stockton and Malone of Hokra.

4. Project P-100
by Platinum Games / Nintendo for the Wii U

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Project P-100 also showed off how the Wii U’s GamePad can interact with a game’s more traditional elements. You control a large mob of superheroes on the TV screen, fending off an alien invasion through regular attacks and special “unite” moves that combine all your tiny heroes into a giant fist or sword. You control their motions and attacks with the analogue sticks and face buttons on the GamePad, and draw specific symbols on the touchscreen to launch special attacks. You also draw on the screen to recruit new heroes, and even turn your attention entirely to the GamePad to run through certain special areas that completely disregard your TV. Project P-100 is largely a brawler, but there’s strategy involved in making sure you have enough heroes in your mob and knowing when to fire up certain special moves. Most promisingly, it’s from Platinum Games, the studio run by the creative minds behind such classics as Viewtiful Joe, Okami and God Hand. With a charming art style and GamePad integration that doesn’t feel like a gimmick, Project P-100 looks like a Wii U launch title that all demographics can enjoy.

3. Dishonored
by Arkane Studios / Bethesda Softworks for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC

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Dishonored surprised me. The graphically violent, steampunk-inspired first-person actioner combines two things the world doesn’t exactly need any more of: graphic violence and steampunk. And videogame violence rarely gets more graphic than when a pack of rats gnaws apart and skeletonizes a bad guy in Dishonored. When I actually got my hands on the game, though, I quickly forgot all my hang-ups. The playable demo tasked me with retrieving a high-value target from a highly fortified base without getting either of us killed. I tried multiple tactics, from frontal assaults to slipping in undetected via a water wheel. Some were more difficult than others, but all were valid ways to accomplish the mission. Dishonored also smoothly balances reflex-intensive swordplay, ranged weapons (including crossbows and pistols), and various magical abilities, including a very useful short-distance teleportation jump that will probably become the game’s most memorable ability. Between its multifaceted combat options and retro sci-fi setting, Dishonored will probably earn many Bioshock comparisons. I have no idea if the final game will deserve them, but the playable demo at E3 promises a difficult but engaging game that has some respect for its audience’s intelligence.

2. Rayman Legends
by Ubisoft for the Wii U

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Ubisoft’s adorable side-scrolling platformer for the Wii U has me more excited for Nintendo’s new console than any of Nintendo’s games. I played a bit of the two-player co-op mode, which sees one player control Rayman with a standard controller and another plays as the flying frog Murfy on the Wii U GamePad. The Rayman portions are similar to last year’s excellent Rayman Origins, with Rayman collecting Lums while running, jumping and punching his way through a world full of evil skeleton grannies. During one scene it essentially turned into a rhythm game, as I had to hit the jump and punch buttons in beat with a great original piece of music while Rayman blitzed forward through a fast-paced level. Halfway through I handed off to my partner and got to play as Murfy on the GamePad, using the touchscreen to stun enemies, interact with the environment to clear paths for Rayman, and help collect even more Lums. It reminded me of the weird second-player bits of the Super Mario Galaxy games, only with its own dedicated touchscreen that makes the co-op role deeper and more active. Like Origins, Rayman Legends is as fun as it is beautiful.

1. The Unfinished Swan
by Giant Sparrow for the PlayStation 3

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The Unfinished Swan takes minimalism to its natural conclusion, starting off with a perfectly white screen. It takes you a moment to realize that the game has begun and you can move around this apparently empty white space. With a snap of the trigger button you can shoot out balls of black paint that reveal the architecture of your surroundings. This downloadable puzzle platformer makes a striking first impression through its lack of a recognizable environment, but it doesn’t rely on this single gimmick. Later levels introduce new ways to interact with the stark environments, such as making vines grow over walls and form impromptu ladders by spraying them with water. With a storyline about creating art and an aesthetic that occasionally recalls both Shel Silverstein and Edward Gorey, The Unfinished Swan might seem too overt in its courting of the “art-game” cognoscenti. It’s still an instantly absorbing game, though, both a welcome alternative to the head-shot-happy shooters that predominate in the industry and also the only game I played at E3 that I immediately wished I could take home with me. I completely zoned out while playing Swan, forgetting the two designers and Sony PR rep standing around me and fixating exclusively on the game itself. That’s not easy to do at E3.

Honorable mentions: Pikmin 3 ; Quantum Conundrum; Rock Band Blitz; New Little King’s Story; Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD; Far Cry 3’s co-op multiplayer

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