The ESA switched the format of E3 yet again this year, moving E3 2008 back to the Los Angeles Convention Center but keeping it an intimate, invitation-only affair. Ironically, much like the fanfare and crowd were smaller than in years past, so too was the lineup of drop-dead-incredible games. From the show’s general lack of surprises to its inexplicably small handful of must-have games, E3 2008 packed a remarkably meager punch. With Comic-Con going down last week in San Diego and the Leipzig Games Convention coming up in just over a month, E3 2008 also seemed to have lost the attention of many publishers and media.
That doesn’t mean we didn’t find enough good stuff to present our “Best of E3” awards this year.
Although the pickings were slim, the best games truly rose head and shoulders above the rest. In fact, of the five E3 Expos DailyGame has attended, never have we had such a tight race for “Best of Show.” With that in mind, you’ll notice that our Best of E3 Awards include pros and cons for each game to give you our at-a-glance reasoning for each award.
We’ve avoided granular categories like “best sports game,” “best rhythm game” and “best cooking sim,” and instead focused on the categories that really matter: the platforms you own. Awards lose their meaning when virtually every game gets one due to category breakdowns, and we want our Best of E3 2008 Awards to mean something. With that in mind, we’ll use the weeks ahead to write in-depth previews for each of the games below, as well as the dozens of others we played at the show. For the time being, rest assured that we’ve thought long and hard about these Best of E3 awards and are excited about the games on this list. And now, the envelope please…
Best of Show: Fallout 3 (played on Xbox 360. Also PS3, PC)
Going into E3, this was one of our most anticipated games of 2008. Leaving E3, it’s now at the top of the list. Fallout 3 is in the very capable hands of Bethesda Softworks, the team behind The Elder Scrolls series, and the ways the developers have evolved the Oblivion engine and mechanics are nothing short of spectacular. From the gorgeous environments and countless side missions to the deep character customization, Fallout 3 looks to build on everything you loved about Oblivion and take the experience to the next sci-fi level. The game also introduces a tactical turn-based VATS combat system that lets players target specific areas on a foe’s body and watch the action play out cinematically. According to Bethesda, this is the preferred tactic, although shooter-friendly run-and-gun gameplay is also possible. Will this gameplay diversity vault Fallout 3 to kajillion-seller status? Who cares. When the game’s shaping up to be this fantastic, experiencing it for yourself is really all you should care about.
- No other game combines this level of RPG depth with an engine this refined or gameplay this diverse
- The attention to immersive environmental detail that gamers loved about BioShock is cranked to 11
- 30 minutes is far too short a time to truly grasp a game this deep, even if it did whet our appetites in a big way
- Will the game rely too heavily on turn-based targeting, or can Bethesda balance the more action-oriented “run and gun” gameplay to make that option more feasible?
Runner Up: Killzone 2 (PlayStation 3)
- It brings depth to the FPS genre that only RPGs tend to have
- The clan and community options make Halo 3’s look puny
- The first Killzone had nagging issues we never anticipated; can Guerilla deliver more than a good demo?
- With the intense attention paid to multiplayer, will the campaign be overlooked? For the sake of offline and story junkies, we hope not
Best PlayStation 3 Game: Killzone 2
Sony had arguably the best game lineup at E3, but of all its entrants, Killzone 2 provided the most compelling mix of gameplay, graphics and gratuitous multiplayer options. Call of Duty 4 may be the current standard bearer for first-person shooters, but Killzone 2 is set to blow away your expectations and set a new bar for excellence. Graphically, Killzone 2 had no equal at E3, even as its intense gunfights unfolded before our eyes and as Helghast provided suppressing fire so their AI counterparts could flank us intelligently. In a sense, everything COD4 did right in 2007, Killzone 2 is prepared to do even better in 2009 — and yes, that includes multiplayer. Killzone 2 will support 32-player squad-based games in which players can truly create a custom-class character and upgrade their abilities via a deep badge system. Guerilla Games got a lot of flak for its pre-rendered target video several years back, but judging from our extensive hands-on time, Guerilla’s going to have the last laugh.
- It looks absolutely incredible and plays just as smoothly
- The depth being injected into the multiplayer segment could very well make people forget about Rainbow Six Vegas 2 or COD4
- Guerilla had some missteps with the original game; can they recover from that initial outing?
- The game runs the risk of feeling like a sci-fi COD4 in terms of scripted events and battle chatter. Hmmm, is that really a bad thing?
Runner Up: The Agency
- The costume-based classes let you change characters on the fly, reminiscent of the excellent Team Fortress 2
- It’s almost like an MMO superhero game, but it lets you create your own experiences rather than be tied to existing lore
- We’ve already played Team Fortress 2, albeit not on an MMO scale. Will this remain fun and fresh?
- Can the developers come up with enough mission variety to keep the game interesting on a long-term MMO scale?
Runner Up: Resistance 2
- Eight-player online co-op that’s different from the single-player campaign? Plus 60-player competitive play? Dude….
- It’s the first third-gen PS3 game set to release, and Insomniac always seems to deliver the goods.
- We know it was just one level, but the campaign’s heavy scripting got old after two play-throughs
- Killzone 2 actually looked farther along in development, and it comes out in early 2009. Can Insomniac polish this one in time?
Best Xbox 360 Game: Fallout 3
Oblivion may be our current favorite game of all time, but Fallout 3 is well-equipped to take over that title. It’s amazing that one studio can deliver a game this deep and with gameplay this unique in such a short period of time, but we’re learning not to doubt Bethesda’s RPG prowess. It remains to be seen whether franchise stalwarts will take issue with some of Bethesda’s decisions, but what we played at E3 has us ready for more time in a post-apocalyptic world. In the digital sense only, of course.
- For all intents and purposes, it’s a sci-fi version of Oblivion, with +2 Awesomeness
- There’s absolutely no shortage of depth or immersion
- Will it feel too much like Oblivion, or really embrace the sci-fi Fallout lore?
- The 100+ hours could be offputting for anyone with families, friends, jobs, the need for sleep, etc.
Runner Up: Gears of War 2
- It’s a shinier version of the already-good Gears 1
- Epic promises a more compelling story, which the franchise desperately needs
- It really is just a shinier version of Gears 1
- With only the multiplayer portion shown at E3, we hope Epic’s not hiding a half-assed narrative
Runner Up: Red Faction: Guerilla
- The level of destruction opens the gameplay in ways Battlefield: Bad Company can’t even approach
- Mass destruction of this scale in every multiplayer mode? Sign us up!
- We only saw one level, and although it’s wide open, can the diversity hold through the entire game?
- Will the physics and calculations be prioritized too much over what could potentially be a good story/campaign?
Best Wii Game: deBlob
Of all the categories, this was by far the most difficult to judge, considering the dearth of good games for the world’s best-selling console. Fortunately, THQ is on track with deBlob to re-create the same sense of the quirky fun we all enjoyed with the first Katamari Damacy. Wandering around levels absorbing color with an amoeba-like character and painting the world with said color is not only instructional for kids, but surprisingly addictive for older gamers. The Wii is all about good, simple fun, and that’s precisely what deBlob delivers.
- Simple is as simple does, and jumping around the world doesn’t get any simpler — or more compelling in later levels
- Bright, colorful and intuitive are the name of the game with the Wii, and that’s exactly what deBlob provides
- Some of the platforming and jumping elements can be hard to control with the Wii Remote. Here’s hoping THQ can work out the responsiveness kinks
- The game ramps up in difficulty to a point that may alienate some of the younger gamers it’s designed for
Runner Up: Animal Crossing: City Folk
- It’s easier than ever to invite friends to your town and to visit theirs
- The WiiSpeak microphone will add a whole new level of interaction for series fans
- Other than the online functionality and WiiSpeak, not much has really changed
- WiiSpeak is novel, but will picking up every sound in the TV room actually be a good thing?
Runner Up: Wario Land Shake It!
- It’s nice to see a true return to classic 2D side-scrolling action
- The level of polish, even at this early state, indicates that Nintendo’s giving this arguably minor game its full attention
- Needing to backtrack to the beginning of each level before moving on to the next one could get old
- Tilting the controller to determine thrown items’ trajectory needs to be precise to be enjoyable, and the current build wasn’t
Best Arcade/PSN/WiiWare Game: Fat Princess (PSN)
The premise of this game sounds simple enough: it’s capture the flag, but the “flag” is a princess, and your best defense is feeding your princess so she gets so fat that she can’t be removed from your base. Silly concept? Maybe. Primed to be addictive? You bet. Everyone loves a good CTF game, and this game’s quirky spin on the CTF model is just enough to make that multiplayer mode interesting again. The fact that its unique approach comes in a PSN game is mildly surprising, but that’s appropriate for a game that should surprise plenty of PS3 owners when it’s available via the PlayStation Store later this year.
- You make a princess fat. Comedy ensues. Done
- The concept alone injects much-needed life into the CTF model
- Will games devolve into simple turtling matches of “get her to the buffet, NOW”?
- PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Aristocrats) could file a lawsuit and hold up the game indefinitely
Runner Up: 1 vs. 100 (Xbox Live Arcade)
- Anyone who’s ever wanted to be on a TV game show (ahem, most of us) will clamor for this unique experience
- The interactive nature of the game, if it gets a critical mass, could make Xbox Live Primetime a can’t-miss destination
- Microsoft can be overly ambitious with Xbox Live (e.g. the first Xbox). Can the company actually deliver on the promise here?
- This game will rely on a critical mass of players. Will those players be too busy playing Gears of War 2 to help this game really take off?
Runner Up: Ragdoll Kung Fu (PlayStation Network)
- Watching cartoony characters flip around a level via Havok-like physics while chasing raw fish is absolutely hilarious
- The frantic pace of the game is perfectly suited for bite-sized gameplay sessions
- Dropping those raw fish can be less than accurate, making it hard to actually score
- Some people just aren’t going to “get” that the objective is to score, not push one another around the Kung Fu Chaos-like levels
With those big awards out of the way, we’d like to present some special awards for features, companies or accomplishments that were truly the “best of E3” in their class, even if their accomplishments were a bit unorthodox.
Best Arsenal: Borderlands (Xbox 360, PS3 and PC)
2K Games gave us our first taste of this four-player co-op shooter, and although its gameplay looks fun enough, the real selling point is that the game’s dungeons, treasure chests and fallen enemies can dynamically generate/drop more than 500,000 different guns. Borderlands uses a system that randomly pieces together hundreds of elements from dozens of sci-fi manufacturers, so there’s no telling what crazy gun you’ll find next. Half a million guns? That’s just insane.
Best Use of Real-World Data: NBA Live 09 (Xbox 360, PS3)
Electronic Arts’ integration of real-world (and nearly real-time) data about NBA players’ and teams’ tendencies is exactly what sports-sim fans have been demanding. Although the depth, scouting and planning options that “Dynamic DNA” will enable may be intimidating for less-hardcore gamers, the fact that EA can incorporate the data at all is nothing short of astounding.
Best Competitor Bi**h Slap: Microsoft Announcing Final Fantasy XIII will Launch on Xbox 360
Remember our comment that the E3 was uneventful? This announcement was the sole exception. In the grand tradition of “payback’s a bitch,” Microsoft gave Sony a taste of its own medicine in announcing that Final Fantasy XIII will ship day and date on Xbox 360 and PS3. Sony “stole” Square Enix’s series from Nintendo, so Sony technically had this one coming. Sure, Microsoft didn’t steal FFXIII outright, but getting the game on Xbox 360 at all was the coup of the show.
Best “OMG, It’s Actually Fun!” Moment: The Force Unleashed (Xbox 360 and PS3)
With all due respect to LucasArts, we were skeptical that this Star Wars-based game was actually going to be good. Internally developed Star Wars games have historically been less than hot, but The Force Unleashed is actually a treat to play. Not only does the advanced AI lead to some hilarious unscripted moments (Stormtroopers holding hands and dry humping), but what we could surmise of the plot seems to be quite worthy of the game’s induction into official Star Wars canon. In short, this is the Star Wars game you’ve been looking for.
And with that, we conclude our Best of E3 2008 Awards. Congratulations to all our winners, and a special thanks to each of them for helping make E3 2008 memorable during a year when all signs pointed to the extracurricular activities being more fun than the show itself.
— Jonas Allen