Yes, I had the terrific fortune of being at E3 again last week, and once again, I had a great time. I’ve got all kinds of stories from my time in LA (and I found some good neighborhoods to consider for my move out there this Fall), but for this post, I’m pretty much just going to focus on games — I played quite a few, and lots of people have asked me for impressions. If you want to hear a good non-gaming story from me about my time in LA, listen in to the end of this podcast, in which I tell the ever more famous burrito story.

Basically, when you go to this thing (which, by the way, if you don’t already know, is one of the biggest conventions about videogames in the world), you work. You work a lot. In fact, you basically work and sleep, and there’s not really that much sleep to it. Half the time is spent running around trying to make meetings where people tell you stuff to write about, and the other half of the time is trying to squeeze out a few minutes to write about it. So despite what people may think, there’s not much time to actually play games. Still, no matter what you’re there for, you’re supposed to take at least a little time to try out some games that you’re interested in — it’s really the opportunity of a lifetime to try and get to play some of the best games over the next year, and so on Thursday, the last day of the show, I carved out an hour or so to try and get some real game playing done. What I did was just make a pie-in-the-sky list of all the game I’d heard about at the show that I wanted to play, and then I just ran around the floor focusing on these games. This is not a definitive list of games at the show, it’s just the games I really wanted to see. So below are all the games on the list, and my impressions of the ones I played. Some were not available on the show floor (not all of the games are open to just anyone, some of them you have to be special to get to see, and I, as you probably know, am not all that special), but most were, and surprisingly, I actually did complete most of my list.

Here we go:

Modern Warfare 2: Was playable at the show, but not on the floor, so I didn’t get to play it. Chris Grant, who runs Joystiq, did, and he told me it was great. Which isn’t too much of a surprise — most of the games that I didn’t get to play because they were behind closed doors were games I was planning to buy sight unseen anyway. This one included.

Rock Band: The Beatles: It’s Rock Band, with Beatles songs. So yes, it was awesome. The coolest new thing I saw was the fact that you can have more than one vocal going at the same time, enabling harmonies. Oh, and if you haven’t seen the cinematic yet, you should — it was made by the guys behind the Gorillaz. This was another game that I was planning to pick up anyway — I won’t buy another whole set, but any game by Harmonix has my money already. I lurve them.

Brutal Legend: It was tough to pick out a “Game of the Show,” but when most people asked me, I eventually gave it to this one. Tim Schafer is a brilliant man, and this game is not only a piece of art on its own, but it is a heartfelt ode to metal music. It is certainly a game in its own right — there are action moves, you can slash baddies with an axe and a guitar (so two axes, really), and the boss battle I played followed the time-tested mantra of if you can do one thing to hurt a boss, you should do it three times for good measure. But it’s also a movie that is Pixar-quality — the writing is brilliant, the animation is a pleasure (the facial expressions of Jack Black’s character and his female counterpart early in the game are brilliant), and the whole game just oozes with so much love and care both for its source material and its own gameplay that you can’t help but love it. I couldn’t stop smiling as I played the game — it does everything completely and totally right. I’m close to calling it game of the year, actually — it’s the kind of game where you play for five minutes and just know it’s a classic.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii: I went into this demo thinking that they’d made an actual New Super Mario Bros. for Wii, which I would love — the DS version is probably my favorite DS game of all time, and I love the idea of a Mario Brothers 2D on the Wii. But really, this game is all about co-op Mario — if you only played solo, the levels seem like they would feel empty and too simple to keep your attention. If you have four players handy all the time, this game is probably a blast. But I worry that at the end of the game, the challenge won’t be in the platformer gameplay, but in the act of keeping four people together. Going solo doesn’t seem nearly as fun.

Assassin’s Creed 2: Was not playable for me. Seems a little too early to judge this one, though at least one Joystiquer wanted to call it Game of the Show.

Batman: Arkham Asylum: This is the biggest shocker of the show for me — there, in my mind, has never been a really good Batman game, and I’m as big a Batman fan as they come. So I walked up to this thinking it would be crap. And instead, it impressed the heck out of me. They’ve got all of the Batman TAS voices, and the writers from that show, and in my mind again that’s the best representation of Batman I’ve ever seen. Plus, they actually got the feel of Batman exactly right — in most games, combat is all about if you can hit someone. But when you’re Batman (as you can see in this trailer), combat is more about enforcing what you want to happen. Do I want that guy knocked out? Yes? Then he’s knocked out. Do I want that guy standing or on the ground? On the ground? Done. The counters are so easy and so ingrained in the combat that you really do feel like the badass that Batman is. We’ll see how they handle that later in the game. But Batman went from a “no way” to a must buy for me, just based on the few minutes I played.

Bayonetta: Didn’t play it. It was on the floor, but there was a line, and it didn’t intrigue me enough to stay.

Bioshock 2: Not on the floor. I heard multiplayer was, but again, I’m buying this one anyway.

Crackdown 2: Not yet playable. Probably doesn’t actually exist yet — it was just announced.

Darksiders: This was another one that came out of nowhere. I hadn’t heard about it at all before the show, but THQ has been working on a God of War-esque beat ’em up with characters and art by Joe Madureira, and it charmed the heck out of me. The hacking and slashing is super easy, apparently there are lots of RPG elements and different dungeons to explore, there’s the God of War button pressing cutscenes that the kids love so much nowadays, and let me just tell you this: there’s a grab button in the game. I saw a police car that looked like scenery. I said, “what the heck,” walked over, and grabbed the police car. I then proceeded to beat the crap out of demons with it, with the doors and trunk and wheels flying everywhere. It was great. And I didn’t even dive into the RPG stuff — apparently there are quests, and you can level up and there are different weapons, and just wow. It seems really, really great.

Dissidia: It was on the floor, and I did want to play it… until I realized it was a PSP game. Pass.

Final Fantasy XIII: This one was playable behind closed doors, and I tried to wield my mojo on the girls guarding said doors, but then they told me that the game had already left the building — the folks demoing it for Square Enix had ditched the show early on Thursday. Oh well — I’ll buy it anyway.

God of War 3: Wanted to play it, but it’s for the PS3 (which I don’t own, and can’t bring myself to buy, given that I’ve already got three consoles), and the lines were really, really long. I watched it for a bit, and it sure did look like God of War. Not a bad thing, but it’s God of War.

Golden Sun DS: I was so excited to hear this was coming out — I liked the old games and would like a nice RPG to play on my DS. So I hunted it down on the game floor, and sure enough, there was one DS running it. The guy standing by it said “sure, it’s playable… kind of.” So I loaded it up, and it was playable, for about five seconds: right in the middle of the trailers, you could control a character running across a bridge. And then it went back to trailers for the rest of the demo. So yes, I played it… kind of.

Halo 3 ODST: It was on the floor, but there was a huge line, and I didn’t feel like enough of a jerk to try and skip it with my media badge. I’ll buy it anyway (wait, how much money do I have to spend on games this holiday, exactly?).

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2: This is my one big regret — I couldn’t find it on the floor, and I was out of time to play games and had to get back to writing about them. I’ll probably pick this one up, though, if I can convince some friends to play it with me. Deadpool for the win.

Ratchet and Clank Future: I loved this series on PS2, and fortunately, I didn’t see anything in the part I played that made me want to buy a PS3 just to play it. It seemed pretty much exactly the same as the old games. New graphics and new weapons, but nothing I had to play.

Star Wars: The Old Republic: I heard this was great, but it wasn’t playable on the floor, and I didn’t have time to go behind closed doors and see the demo. But I did watch the cinematic, over and over and over.

Super Mario Galaxy 2: Not playable. Can’t wait for this one.

Wet: I wasn’t exactly looking forward to this one, but I figured I should put a few games on the list that I didn’t care too much about in the hopes of finding a diamond in the rough. I didn’t find it here — while this is a fun action game with some really wacky film effects (as soon as you start jumping or sliding, you go into slow motion and can shoot at two targets at the same time, and I also got to see a “rage” mode that looked really artistically well done, as well as a jumping-between-cars action chase that was great), it’s only slightly above average. Better than Stranglehold, probably not good enough for me to get excited about, unless it’s cheap and I’m in the mood for Eliza Dushku voicing an assassin lady.

Uncharted 2: I didn’t really want to play this one, because I know that of all the games on the PS3, this one is the most likely to make me shell out for another console. Still, I wanted to give it a chance, so I tried some co-op. Fortunately, about two minutes into the demo, while I did really enjoy the gameplay, their demo systems shut down due to network issues. I walked away, still PS3-free. Whew. But yes, the trailer makes this look like too much fun. When I buy the PS4 and play all the backwards compatible games I missed, this will be first on the list.

Scribblenauts: This game just plain flabbergasted me. It’s just not possible. It’s a tiny little DS game (there were only two demo units on the whole floor, and they were hidden way back in Warner Brothers’ booth) with an amazing premise: you’re given simple real-world puzzles, and to complete them, the game will give you anything you type in. Anything. Anything. I’m pretty sure the way they made this game was to just sit down with a dictionary, pass out sections of it, and have people create objects for every word in there. It was unbelievable, and this little DS game, by the end of the show, was competing with all of the huge graphics-driven blockbusters for attention.

Marvel Vs. Capcom 3: I actually did pull the media badge out for this one (there was a line at the demo unit and I wanted to skip it by getting my own demo inside), but I shouldn’t have bothered. It’s MvC3, plays just the same as it always did. Totally worth a purchase on Xbox Live.

The Agency: I didn’t get to play this one, but I did charm the girls outside the SOE booth into letting me see a demo of it, and I liked it. I probably won’t buy it, but there are some good ideas for MMOs in there — you only have access to two abilities at a time, so gameplay is pretty simple, and emphasis is placed on teamwork instead: using your partner to distract or incapacitate a guard while you sneak in and do spy stuff. The art style is really cool, too — very 60s spy fiction. I don’t know how much of an audience it’ll have (it seemed too action for your usual MMO fans, but too MMO for action fans), but they’ve got a lot of good ideas going.

So. Worst game I saw was probably Vogster’s CrimeCraft, and I wrote about it here. Best games were Brutal Legend, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Darksiders, and Scribblenauts. The hottest booth babes award goes to Nyko (they had some pretty ladies in white dresses with wacky red wigs), the coolest booth goes to Harmonix (they recreated Abbey Road in what looked like to scale), the most charming demo people I met were from SOE at The Agency, and the smallest booth goes to the folks at Netdevil for their upcoming space shooter MMO Jumpgate Evolution — I felt so bad for them, I think Gamer Grub had a bigger booth than they did, and their game was great.

Best party I went to this year was at Titmouse Studios (they make Metalocalypse, and they’re working on a game about a zombie pirate, plus I know not one but two people who work there, and there was an open bar, and it’s where the aforementioned burrito story takes place). Best non-burrito food I ate in LA was from Orris — my old friend Valerie Fletcher and her fiance ate some Japanese/French tapas with me. Best hotel clerk was the guy at Ritz-Milner, who helped me get back one night to the Hyatt Regency, where we were all staying. Best celebrity sighting was Joystiq’s own Justin McElroy — I saw a few others, but I didn’t freak out as much as when I saw McElroy in person.

And best parking ticket I got was when I had to duck into a GNC near Pink’s Hot Dogs to get some quarters for the meter. But that’s a story for another time.

Posted on Tuesday, June 9th, 2009 at 12:54 am. Filed under general.
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