The 10 Best Games of E3 2014

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It’s a weird thing for a person who ostensibly writes about games to say, but for the first time in a while I find myself excited about games thanks to this year’s E3. Publishers and developers brought along a healthy sampling of their late 2014 and 2015 releases and the breadth of experiences they opted to show off have me feeling like we’re not simply going to be looking down gunsights for the next 12 months.

While not all of my favorites from the show were playable, here are the 10 that made the biggest impression.

10. Bayonetta 2
Platinum Games
Wii U

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It’s not as though Platinum Games had to reinvent the wheel with the Wii U-exclusive (oh yeah, you might want to pick up a Pro controller for this one), but the studio has upped the ante on the combat—and crazy—in their hair witch character action game. 2010’s Bayonetta was already a tightly constructed and polished successor to Devil May Cry, but with the addition of new weapons (the bow and arrow is a nice touch) and the enemy-smashing Ultra Climax attacks, the series appears to have taken a modest step forward, justifying the full sequel treatment.

9. Tales from the Borderlands
Telltale Games / Gearbox
PC, Mac, PS3, iOS, Xbox 360 

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Yup, that’s definitely a Telltale adventure game. While the studio wasn’t offering hands-on time with the Borderlands spinoff, they did show some of us press-types the first 30 minutes of the dual narrative story and yeah, it is what it is.

So why and how did it make this list? What I saw of Tales is funny—damned funny, for one thing. And while that’s something woefully missing from the gaming landscape, that’s still not really enough to justify Top 10 status. But paired with the dueling/contentious narrative between its two leads—mismatched Vault Hunters Rhys and Fiona—Telltale has a real opportunity to cover multiple corners of Gearbox’s expansive, comic universe. Also: there was a part where you got to command the targeting systems on a mech, so that’s new to the genre.

8. The Evil Within
Tango Gameworks
PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One

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The third-person horror genre is dead. The increasingly action-packed Resident Evil franchise killed it, salted the Earth, then unleashed RE6 to show us all the genre was not so much out of steam as out of ideas from the people known for making these kinds of games.

So it feels appropriate that the man behind the genre—Shinji Mikami—would find a way to resurrect it with the unapologetic throwback The Evil Within. Offering a bit of the swagger of his collaboration with Suda51, Shadows of the Damned, if it were set in Silent Hill, The Evil Within is wall-to-wall dread, punctuated by jump scares and the grotesque.

7. Far Cry 4
Ubisoft Montreal
PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One

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I promise this list won’t simply be “more of the same, but better,” but that was my impression with my brief hands-on with Ubisoft’s sequel to its open world shooter series. If they can find some interesting uses for the new grapple tool—and avoid inflicting another industry-worst story upon us—Far Cry 4 could be a real winner.

6. CounterSpy
Dynamighty
PS3, PS4, Vita

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It’s always wonderful to be surprised by something you didn’t expect (or even hear of prior to getting your hands on it). Dynamighty’s stylish, side-scrolling stealth game has personality for miles, switching between Mark of the Ninja-style sneaking to 2.5D shooting segments. And thanks to the art direction by Pixar vet Mark Holmes, it’s the second prettiest game I saw at the show.

5. Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime
Asteroid Base
PC, Mac, Xbox One 

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I think I need a little more space to talk about Asteroid Base’s—what do I call it? It’s not quite a shooter, and not quite an exploration game. Wonderfully different, the co-op Lovers puts you in the role of two cute little astronauts aboard a circular ship that must blast its way through waves of enemies while collecting power-ups and saving space rabbits.

I’m really only scratching the surface of the description, but I haven’t had this kind of thrill of playing locally with someone since Spelunky.

4. Sunset Overdrive
Insomniac Games
Xbox One 

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Forget the Jet Set Radio-style traversal—it’s really all about the guns with Insomniac’s colorful shooter. The Ratchet and Clank studio have built their latest on weird guns and weirder enemies set in an open world where you can bounce, jump, swing and shoot. And while zombie fatigue has more than set in, calcified and become a new type of fatigue entirely, the studio seems to have loaded Sunset City with enough humor and charm to keep me from forgetting that I’m blowing up more mindless monsters.

3. The Crew
Ubisoft
PS4, Xbox One 

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I think Ubisoft just secretly remade Cruis’N USA and I’m very, very okay with that. The open world racer allows you to participate in team and solo matches across the US of A, with the publisher promising that gamers can drive from coast to coast without loading times. Its arcade handling is a little loose and the visuals might not be giving either DriveClub or Forza a run for their money, but the feel of barreling down a dirt course with two other racers (we were set up in 3 v 3 teams for the demo), racing to destroy a rogue SUV, is the kind of car-based nuttiness I’ve been missing since Burnout Paradise.

2. Evolve
Turtle Rock Studios
Xbox One, PS4, PC

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This is so close to being number one. So close. Turtle Rock’s asymmetrical co-op shooter had an aisle-blocking line for the duration of E3 with everyone wanting a little monster hunting (or monster being) time. The classes are shaping up quite nicely in advance of the October release, and the developers have really tightened up the hunt/run/hunt rhythm on both sides. I’m still not convinced publisher 2K should be pushing this one so hard for the competitive space, but as a kind of Left 4 Dead-style co-op experience, I can imagine this one having plenty of longevity post-release.

1. No Man’s Sky
Hello Games
PC, PS4

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The game of the show is also its biggest mystery. Developer Hello Games is happy to tell you what you can do in No Man’s Sky, but not what you’re supposed to be doing. It’s got a little bit of planetary exploration, space combat, an open galaxy, procedurally-generated worlds, a seemingly endless array of flora and fauna, and it looks beautiful.

I just have no idea what the hell what the objective is. And that might be why No Man’s Sky is so exciting: it’s not constrained to a short and sweet description and it seems like Hello Games is leaving enough hooks in there for us to play it however we’d like. Baffling, beautiful, and fascinating, I can’t wait to find out more.

Charles Webb has been providing pop culture criticism and new coverage for sites like Comics Bulletin, MTV, Twitchfilm and Paste Magazine. A video game industry vet, he is a credited writer on multiple titles, most recently working at Microsoft Game Studios. Don’t look too much into it, but he is a carbon-based hu-man.

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