The latest E3 has come to an end, leaving in its wake the human carnage of drunk games industry types... and a whole lot of opinions about video games. We played dozens of upcoming games this week, and today we'll talk about the best. First up, editor-in-chief Jeremy Parish's favorites of 2014.
Best of ShowAlien: Isolation (Creative Assembly/Sega | Multi)
I've already said quite a lot about this meaty survival horror game, but I feel like I've barely scratched the surface of what I love about it. Let me put it this way: I have zero interest in survival horror, and I'm a huge fan of Alien who has found every game ever based on the property to be deeply disappointing. And yet I love this game. Its respect for the source material is matched only by its respect for the player; Creative Assembly has no compunctions about creating a genuine challenge through consistent rules that lead to unpredictable scenarios, and the result is a tense, demanding, unforgiving journey through the best virtual interpretation of a film universe I've ever seen. It couldn't have happened to a better movie.
Best New IdeaNidhogg (Messhoff/Sony | PS4)
OK, technically Nidhogg isn't totally new, having launched a few months ago on Steam. But for me and many others, E3 offered our first glimpse into this deceptively intricate head-to-head combat title. Don't be fooled by the graphics, which look like they were ripped straight from the Mattel Intellivision; beneath that retro façade you'll find a truly extraordinary combat engine, setting two players against one another with nothing but fencing epées and brute nastiness. It's like a stabby version of tug-of-war, as each player tries to slip past their opponent and reach the far end of a fencing arena. Simple in concept (and appearance), but marvelously intricate in execution, Nidhogg is the most fun I've had with a fighting game in about 20 years.
Let's Hope it Plays Like it LooksRise of the Tomb Raider (Crystal Dynamics/Square Enix | Multi)
The trailer for Rise of the Tomb Raider definitely pegged the game as Tomb Raider — Lara Croft crying out in shock every time she nearly died horribly — but the tone really sold me on it. Crystal Dynamics used psychotherapy as a framing device for the trailer's shots of typical video game action, juxtaposing the violence of Lara sinking an arrow into the back of a man's head with a psychiatrist's words of support and compassion. The first Tomb Raider saw a young Lara thrust into her first kill-or-be-killed scenarios but never really followed up on the emotional trauma beyond her first initial shock. But here we have it. Assuming this isn't simply lip service — if the damage inflicted by manslaughter for survival's sake really does play a part in this adventure — it just might make Lara the first relatably human action hero ever.
Why Did it Have to be 2015!?The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo | Wii U)
At this point, there is nothing new or clever about an open-world game. You'd be hard-pressed to name an upcoming adventure or RPG that doesn't adopt the free-roaming format. And yet, I find myself absolutely giddy to play the next chapter in Nintendo's Legend of Zelda series, which takes the franchise into the "go anywhere" mindset that so rapidly is growing into a cliché. I suppose that's because the NES Zelda was the first game I ever played that offered me that sort of adventure freedom and exploration; it set a standard, but beginning with A Link to the Past the franchise began to take on a more constrained, design-oriented character. The series is returning to its roots on Wii U... and, in a sense, taking me back to mine as well. And apparently that gorgeous, impressionistic trailer was all rendered in-engine, not some kind of flim-flammery. Sign me up.
Yes, Fine, I'll Do the MultiplayerDestiny (Bungie/Activision | Multi)
I tend to shy away from multiplayer shooters, because "multiplayer" is almost always synonymous with "competitive" play. And I'm just not that competitive. With Destiny, however, Bungie has chosen to shy away from pure competition (though that exists, neatly quarantined in the PvP "Crucible" zone) in favor of cooperation, and I'm all in favor of that. It's fitting, I guess; my first experience with co-op shooting was with Bungie's own Marathon Infinity almost two decades ago. And when Halo 3: ODST integrated true cooperative design (rather than shoehorning it in as with Halo 3), I was over the moon. I don't care to gun down my friends, or strangers for that matter. But it's incredibly fun to work together to overcome a challenge... and that's the essence of Destiny's design. Yeah, you can also play solo. But why would you want to, when teamwork is this satisfying?
Best Thing That Wasn't Exactly a GameMario Maker (Nintendo | Wii U)
Well, you knew I was going to put this somewhere on my list after I gushed about it sight-unseen. Funny thing, though; I was in love with Mario Maker's concept as soon as I saw it, but my ardor cooled considerably once I played the demo, which was fun and interesting but terribly limited. But after speaking to producer Takashi Tezuka about his vague but ambitious plans for this spiritual successor to Mario Paint, I'm back to being stoked again. A simple but flexible level design tool, Mario Maker lets you create Super Mario Bros. levels. What makes it special is the loving attention to detail it possesses — it's full of goofy little extras that remind you this is a Nintendo product. And you can do all kinds of things that were impossible in the original Super Mario Bros. Want to put wings on a Piranha Plant, or create a pipe that spews Hammer Bros.? You totally can. If Tezuka and his team can nail the sharing features and the big-picture elements of Mario Marker, they'll have a world-beater with this one.
I Can't Believe I Loved ItRainbow Six: Siege (Ubisoft | Multi)
Military shooters. Player-versus-player combat. My god, I can't think of anything that interests me less, except maybe something to do with sports, or possibly bleeding ulcers. And yet... somehow, Ubisoft's latest Rainbow Six absolutely intrigues me. The premise places two teams of five head-to-head — five counter-terrorist delta force types, and five bad guys. Each match begins with the terrorists shoring up the walls and doors of a locale (the E3 demo was set in a suburban home) and digging in around a hostage. The good guys can use drones to scout before venturing into the fire zone in search of the hostage. If delta force can retrieve the hostage or take down the bad guys within the time limit, they win; otherwise, the terrorists take the game. That's the extent of it — and it's great. The asymmetric combat, emphasis on fortifications, and no-mercy combat (there are no respawns) look to make for a high-stakes team shooter. I can't wait to see more of it.