Wednesday, August 6, 2008

E3 2008: Game Critics Award Winners


E3 2008 has come and gone, and the overall sentiment throughout the video game community is a feeling of disappointment. Since changing from a large convention and media spectacle to a more intimate and industry-only affair last year, there have been accusations that E3 has lost its soul and excitement. Despite this, the final results are in for the winners of Best of E3 as decided by an independent group of journalists from 36 leading North American media outlets that cover the video game industry. Called the Game Critic Awards, they choose winners for The Best of E3 and Game of the Year. After being narrowed it down to a list of nominees in each category, I'm going to highlight the awards for the Best of Show, Best Original Game, Best Console Game, Best PC Game, and Best Handheld Game.

The Game Critics judges have representatives from each of these independent media outlets.


It's no wonder that Fallout 3 managed to snag not only Best of Show, but Best Role Playing Game as well. A post-apocalyptic action RPG, the series and its spin-offs have largely been known as a PC property. Originally developed by Interplay Entertainment, the next installment is being taken over by Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion developer, Bethesda Softworks. The Elder Scrolls series have heralded for their massive scope, size, and immersion, creating a fantasy action RPG with endless replayability. Bethesda are big fans of the Fallout franchise and are looking to stay very faithful while adding their own touches. One of the most interesting aspects of Fallout 3 is its deep story and universe. Taking place in a post-apocalyptic United States, the population lives in fallout shelters where growth, development, and living parameters are closely monitored and engineered for survival. As the main character ventures out into the upper wasteland in search of his father, various organizations and enemy factions will play a role in the bigger story and gameplay. Fallout 3 feels like an FPS but plays like a turn-based/real-time hybrid. Action points are utilized and players can target specific body parts. Add to that a robust skill system called "SPECIAL" and a karma system that affects the game's outcome based upon good or bad choices, and Fallout 3 is shaping up to be even better than Oblivion. The game will utilize its Mature rating to the fullest, showcasing the gore, carnage, and devastation in the nuclear wasteland. Scheduled to release this year for the PC, Xbox 360, and PS3, exclusive downloadable content will be released on both the PC and 360.

The Best Original Game category is one of the more important awards given at E3, as it shows off games that are trying to innovate and add new things to the gameplay experience. There was some pretty stiff competition, but first-person action-adventure game Mirror's Edge managed to pull ahead. Developed by Electronic Arts Digital Illusions CE (DICE), this new IP is much different from their FPS Battlefield franchise. What makes this game unique is not only the first-person perspective, but the amount of freedom and mobility available. Rather than traditional first-person controls, Mirror's Edge offers a wide range of actions and shows arms, legs, and torso in active movement or combat. Set amidst a conformist dystopia and totalitarian regime, the strict laws on communication has created a team of runners to relay messages while avoiding government interference. Main character Faith is one of these runners, as you see the game through her eyes as she interacts with the environment and goes through various obstacles in the city. Movement, momentum, and camera angles are closely tied to the character, with a focus on chaining moves together. "Runner Vision" aids in finding escape routes and alternate paths with "Reaction Time" a sort of slowed-down bullet time view that allows strategic planning without losing momentum. The lack of a HUD creates an even more immersive experience. Look for the game this November on the PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.

The category for Best PC Game seemed a little unfair, as many PC developers pulled out of E3 to avoid being overshadowed by their console brethren. But EA and Will Wright's Spore isn't new to E3, as it has been winning E3 awards since its debut in 2005. From the creator that brought the Sim games, Spore looks to bridge the gap between the casual and hardcore gamer in the self-proclaimed "massive single-player online game". Gameplay follows the evolution of a user-created species as it starts as a tiny organism all the way through civilization and space warfare. There are five phases in the game which Wright relates to a specific game type: cell (Pac-Man), creature (Diablo), tribal (Populous), civilization (SimCity), and space (Star Trek). After such a long wait, the creature creator has already been released in anticipation for its September 2008 release date on both Mac and PC. Handheld software has also been slowing down recently, with both the PSP and DS offering very limited selection in playable form. The PSP managed to pull out a win with its surprise announcement of Resistance: Retribution. While both Resistance 1 and 2 are both PS3 FPS games, Retribution is a third-person shooter that is looking to show off innovative controls that compensate for the lack of a second analog nub. An improved aiming and cover system will be implemented as well as a robust online system that features team deathmatch, capture the flag, and more. With new weapons and content not found in the console games, this may be the next must-have PSP title. While Resistance 2 is launching this year, Retribution won't release until Spring 2009.

LittleBigPlanet is a title that keeps on improving after each showing. Taking the crown of Best Console Game and Best Social/Casual/Puzzle Game, this PS3 exclusive title is being developed by Media Molecule. As the studio's first title, it's an impressive debut. First making its appearance at the Game Developer's Conference 2007, the game boasts its tagline, "Play. Create. Share." You create a personalized Sackboy or Sackgirl and traverse immense obstacle courses alone or with friends. The controls are very intuitive, utilizing the SIXAXIS motion sensing to move different parts of Sackboy and solve different puzzles and other goals. The Sackboys themselves are also very customizable, exuding tons of personality with a wide set of emotives at the user's disposal. There is a big focus on community and user-created content, as players can create their own stages and share them with others in a very robust stage creator. There is so much in the game and yet Media Molecule is still announcing innovative modes and features leading up to the public beta stage opening up in October 2008. While it sounds simple on paper, the charm and execution can be only explained by watching. This game definitely deserves to be watched.

E3 2008 didn't have that many surprises, but most everything shown was pretty solid. A lot of great games were looking even better, and this Holiday season looks to be packed with must-have titles. Most every company seemed to have something good to show off, while others had people scratching their heads. With a few game conventions still left to go this year, let's hope that it gets better than E3.




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2 comments:

Bobby,  August 7, 2008 at 1:42 PM  

Let me just say this:

I am a PC gamer at heart. I am a hardcore gamer, no doubt. Online games are my true calling. But... I could not be more excited about LittleBigPlanet. It is one of those games that everyone can enjoy--a casual title that the developers didn't skimp on just to make as much profit as possible in the ever-growing casual market. It's truly a polished game, with a solid concept, and unique gameplay.

I VERY sincerely hope LBP is an enormous success, if anything just to send a signal to game studios that you don't have to abandon your hardcore market just to cash in on a casual game. With enough thought and creativity, there truly is a middle ground that everyone can enjoy.

Redskyy August 7, 2008 at 5:38 PM  

I agree wholeheartedly. This is probably one of the best looking casual games since Karaoke Revolution and Guitar Hero made its debut to shake up the music/rhythm genre. You could point fingers at companies that are capitalizing on this growing market, but instead Media Molecule and Sony is showing that middle ground does exist.

Microsoft is making their own effort to capture the casual gamer and bridge them with their hardcore sector, but Sony has a lot of possibility with LBP and their upcoming online service, Home. If they can market and push them correctly, then the PS3 can gain some of the PS2's former glory.

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