Sunday, June 04, 2006
The Mole: And the wiener is...
Most Likely to Succeed - Last week I shared the nominees for the Game Critics Best of E3 2006 Awards. Here are the winners with little tidbits of info from some of the judges.
Best of Show: Wii (Nintendo) - It's a good thing Nintendo got the name change of its next console out of the way before E3. With the shock of that announcement mostly over, the company proceeded to become the talk of the show (and possibly a fire hazard for the LA Convention Center) by inviting audiences to get their hands on an impressive lineup of fun and interesting software for the Wii...not to mention that wild controller. People practically stampeded to try it out--either that or they waited in line for hours. Yet most of them seemingly still came away more excited than ever by Nintendo's weird, inspired vision for how gaming could be different. Some important questions remain about how the Wii will finally turn out, but by giving E3 show-goers a taste of what playing games on the Wii will be like, Nintendo seemed to gather much more momentum for the system's launch later this year. So despite how many great-looking games were on display at this year's show, the Wii stood out as the single most exciting and remarkable new product at E3 2006.
- Greg Kasavin, Executive Editor, GameSpot
Best Original Game: Spore (Maxis/Electronic Arts for PC) - With Spore, storied game designer Will Wright is taking “god” games to the Nth power, creating an original game that we expect will devour many hours peeling back its many layers. Wright didn’t stop with his ingenious game parameters that let you nurture your characters from amoebas into interstellar explorers. He takes the game online in a stealth mode that uploads other players' creations so that we can explore the strange new worlds and new civilizations that they create – without the hassle of actually dealing with them. As the guys on the TV ads for Guinness beer say, “Brilliant!”
- Mike Snider, USA Today
Best Hardware/Peripheral: Wii (Nintendo) - Set aside your potty humor for a sec (Nintendo's Wii wins "Best Hardware"? Too easy...) — this console's legit! While its competitors are improving (bigger, better, prettier) on what's already out there, Nintendo is moving the game console experience in a different direction altogether. The Wii — with its funky motion-sensing and sound-emitting controller, always-online awareness, and retro-friendly virtual console — promises new, totally fresh gameplay experiences that will appeal to the young and old, hardcore and casual, and even the "cool kids" who won't mind looking like idiots while frantically waving a piece of plastic in the air. Can one machine really do and be all that? The three-hour lines to see Nintendo's Wii at E3 seem to indicate, "Hell yes."
-- Dan "Shoe" Hsu, Editor in Chief, Electronic Gaming Monthly
Best Console Game: Gears of War (Epic Games / Microsoft Games Studio for Xbox 360) - The hype machine's been in motion for a full year on this title, but it took an E3 hands-on multiplayer demo to prove that Gears of War packs as much substance as style. The demo had players take up arms as either the Coalition of Ordered Government (COG) forces or the nasty, subterranean race known as the Locusts. A few of the many features that set GOW ahead of the action pack include a context sensitive cover system for ducking and crouching with the tap of the A button, and an atmospheric, jittery 3rd person camera. In short, a great-looking, unique and fun as hell game sure to be blowing up the Live servers come Q4. Oh, and that chainsaw bayonet? A thing of beauty.
-- Alex Porter, Senior Editor/Producer, MTV Digital
Best PC Game: Spore (Maxis/Electronic Arts for PC) - When Spore won Best PC Game last year, it was at least partly a vote of faith. With not much gameplay to go on yet, the Game Critics judge were nevertheless blown away by Will Wright's audaciously ambitious game design, which finds you evolving from single-celled organism to interplanetary space traveler. At this year's E3, Spore was much more "real"-- and, guess what? It wins again. Once again, no PC game at the show came close to matching Spore's originality, scope, and breadth of design. As Will Wright personally demo'ed the game--creating a creature, spawning, forming a society, building a city, venturing into space and beyond--you could hear audible gasps from the packed theater, as it became more and more clear that what was once just a cool idea is fast becoming an even cooler reality. Spore was *the* event for PC gamers this E3, and thus an easy call for Best PC Game.
- Jeff Green, Editor in Chief, Computer Gaming World
Best Handheld Game: The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (Nintendo for Nintendo DS) - The Legend of Zelda franchise is pure gaming gold, and who better than Nintendo knows how to buff up its 24-carat richness. Anybody doubt that Phantom Hourglass would shine for DS? Amid stiff and deserving competition from Nintendo's own DS product line this game cast out all the proper hooks with a rich storyline, impressive cel-shaded graphics goodness, and innovative touchscreen gameplay to haul in E3 honors. Phantom Hourglass will pick up where the GameCube’s Wind Waker left off, and nothing could be finer for Zelda fans. Despite the obvious difference in processing power the graphics were spot on, but creative touchscreen action is what will make Phantom Hourglass shine. Frankly, as far as E3 demos went, this version even matched up well against Twilight Princess for the Wii.
-- Wes Nihei, Editor, GamePro
Best Action Game: Gears of War (Epic Games / Microsoft Games Studio for Xbox 360) - Who knows what it is about certain games. Is it how they look? Maybe. Is it how they play? That’s a lot of it. Is it the talent behind the project? Possibly. But there’s no doubt about it, some games just manage to magically capture the gamers’ imagination like no others. It’s what we like to call the “it” factor. Halo has “it.” Metal Gear Solid has “it,” and no one can deny Gears of War its rightful place as the “it” game of E3 2006. From the game’s mysterious dilapidated sci-fi aesthetic to its arrestingly intense spin on futuristic shooter gameplay, Gears gives us that twinge in our bellies – that twinge we got when we first stumbled on the Flood in Halo, discovered a secret cave in Zelda or carjacked our first sedan in Grand Theft Auto. It's a rare game that accomplishes this feat in such early form, and for this reason, Gears of War deserves every bit of the attention it's receiving.
-- Francesca Reyes, Editor in Chief, Official Xbox Magazine
Best Action/Adventure Game: Assassin's Creed (Ubisoft Montreal / UbiSoft for PlayStation 3) - Few games at this year’s E3 screamed “next generation” more than Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed. From the first glimpse of its big gorgeous graphics (the screen shots are true in-game, not “target”) through its Prince of Persia-meets-Thief gameplay, Assassin’s Creed provides an excellent taste of what the PS3 can and will deliver. Ubisoft’s A-team – the Montreal Studio – is creating Assassin’s Creed like the blockbuster it wants to be: an epic Crusades setting with a super-acrobatic hero in an intriguing storyline that has some surprising twists yet to be revealed. The character design, both main and NPC, is noteworthy. Ubi Montreal has always brought a deep sense of gravity to their main characters (when climbing, jumping and fighting, there’s a real-world “weight”) and our assassin is no different as he traverses buildings and leaps from rooftop to rooftop with believable effort. Ubi is upping the NPC role by making them reactive. When our hero runs through crowds, he has to do it quietly and carefully; too much bumping can upset the wrong people, people who’ll turn on him and slow him down – or worse.
- Tom Byron, Editor in Chief, Official PlayStation Magazine
Best Role Playing Game: Mass Effect (Bioware / Microsoft Games Studio for Xbox 360) - With no less than three previous titles winning this very category (Baldur's Gate in 1998, Neverwinter Nights in 2000-2002, and Jade Empire in 2004), veteran RPG developer BioWare is at it again in 2006. This year they wowed RPG fans at E3 with Mass Effect, the first in an already-announced trilogy of sci-fi RPGs. With a deep storyline, incredibly detailed environments, full character customization, and branching conversations that have a profound impact on gameplay, BioWare isn't straying too far from the formula that has made them RPG champions in the past. However, what they are doing differently is refining all of these elements to create what looks to be one of the most elegant and well-designed RPGs we've ever seen. BioWare is throwing a few new bits into the mix, such as real-time squad-based combat with a tinge of RTS styling as well as creating a world where realistic facial animations and eye movements are important gameplay elements, even if the alien denizens are all digital. Expect a return of the ethical choices that we saw in Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire as well, only this time it's not just on a personal level -- it extends to your squad mates, who may leave your party depending on where your morality meter swings. From what we saw at E3, Mass Effect promises to be more open-ended and in-depth than any BioWare RPG to date, and that's saying a lot.
-- Talmadge Blevins, Editorial Director, IGN.com
Best Racing Game: Excite Truck (Monster Games / Nintendo for Wii) - Nintendo and Monster Games have traded in dirt bikes for off-road trucks in their first arcade flavored racer for the Wii. As Nintendo strives to get everyone into playing their games, both the hardcore and casual gaming set can easily adapt to Excite Truck's control scheme. Subtracting the nunchuck, everything is easily controlled using the Wii remote's tilt functionality. While visually not the most stunning game speeding to Nintendo's new console, Excite Truck is all about addictive fast-paced racing, dynamically changing landscapes, turbo boosting, huge air, and colossal crashes - Yosemite Sam mud flaps not included.
-- Billy Berghammer, Managing Editor, Game Informer Online
Best Simulation Game: Spore (Maxis/Electronic Arts for PC) - It’s just not fair. The other nominees in this category didn’t stand a chance against the most ambitious sim ever conceived. We refer to some games as virtual worlds - Spore makes that term seem hopelessly inadequate. Will Wright and his team at Maxis are creating a virtual universe that’s absolutely staggering in its scope. This year we got to see it in a lot more detail, and we got a much better sense of how it, like the Sims and Sim City before it, employs simple rules and procedures and intuitive tools and interfaces to create an amazing diversity of emergent play experiences. Spore is shaping up to be a game that you could literally spend a whole lifetime exploring. Intelligent Design is a reality…at Maxis, anyway.
-- Chris Baker, Wired Magazine
Best Sports Game: Wii Sports (Nintendo for Wii) - If there was a game at E3 that truly demonstrated Nintendo's vision for its new console, it was Wii sports. Simply put, it's a new way to play sports at home – Wii Sports is quick to pick up, super intuitive, and can be enjoyed by anyone. Making use of the Wii remote (and only the Wii remote), Wii Sports encompasses three sports favorites – tennis, golf, and baseball – and for each, it's all about waving the remote to interact with the game. You actually swing the remote to hit a ball...What could be more natural? It's, like, actually playing sports but without the potential for [serious] bodily injury. Wii is really well suited for simple games, and at E3, this is where Wii was at its best.
- Sam Kennedy, Editor in Chief, 1UP.com
Best Fighting Game: Heavenly Sword (Ninja Theory / Sony for PlayStation 3) - I was so taken aback by Heavenly Sword that I declared this supercharged action-adventure-fighting game my best in show immediately following the demo. More than just a pretty face, Heavenly Sword features a rich storyline told via first rate voice talent, along with a mixture of intense, diverse combat and adventure. Beyond its amazingly detailed and animated leading lady -- whom at this moment I believe to be the ultimate female video game heroine ever created -- the choreography of the arena fighting battle on display at E3 was beyond anything I’ve ever seen. It's like God of War fused with Hong-Kong cinema. And the depth, lighting, and all around character model integrity sets a new standard for real-time visuals.
-- Dave Halverson, PLAY Magazine
Best Strategy Game: Supreme Commander (Gas Powered Games/THQ for PC) - Chris Taylor enjoys his role as the comedian of the game industry. But underneath that facade is a hardcore real-time strategy gamer. With Supreme Commander for THQ, Taylor's Gas Powered Games is out to show that the RTS genre still has much to offer gamers. The vision for Supreme Commander is to create a game that has the scale and scope for huge battles fought by vast armies with futuristic weaponry.
- Dean Takahashi, San Jose Mercury News
Best Puzzle/Trivia/Parlor Game: Guitar Hero 2 (Harmonix / Red Octane for PlayStation 2) - Six months before the Wii stunned E3 audiences, Guitar Hero proved a well-designed game with a custom controller working [bad pun alert] in concert could instrumentally change things for the better. And like a great rock show, casual observers and hardcore enthusiasts were left wanting more. The promise of 55 new songs for Guitar Hero 2, and new co-op modes featuring rhythm and bass guitar, all but guarantee more fan-trampling anticipation in our rush to get our hands on this sequel. The working multiplayer version of Van Halen's "You Really Got Me" on the show floor was, in retrospect, an early indicator for judges' votes in this category.
-- Tom Russo, Editorial Director, G4
Best Online Multiplayer: Enemy Territory: Quake Wars (Splash Damage/id/Activision for PC) -Initially released in 2003 as a free, standalone download, Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory was a highly compelling, top-tier multiplayer modification. Now, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars takes all the juicy bits from the first game – tight, objective-based maps, well-balanced classes, multi-mission campaigns, performance upgrades through experience – and adds the joys of vehicular combat, two distinct warring factions, Quake's futuristic setting, and the ability to drop assets directly onto the battlefield. And powered by an improved Quake IV engine, it's a phenomenal visual treat. Easy to jump into, but extremely deep, Quake Wars was a massive hit on the E3 show floor and promises to be just as successful when the war begins online later this year.
- Richard Greenhill, Editor in Chief, Yahoo! Videogames
Activision Wants You...Or Your Voice Anyway - Activision announced a new contest looking for voiceover talent to be used in their upcoming game, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance. Winners will get the opportunity to be the voice of Bruce Banner or Jean Grey. The two contest winners (one male, one female) will also each receive a grand prize that includes an Xbox 360, a copy of Marvel: Ultimate Alliance on the platform of their choice, a Stan Lee-signed Marvel: Ultimate Alliance poster and official Marvel: Ultimate Alliance playing cards. Ten runner-up contestants will be chosen for additional prizes, including their selection of any of the Activision titles launched in 2005. For more information, head to http://www.marvelultimatealliance.com/news.php?id=200&cat=all_news&page=1#headline. The audition period ends July 23.
Pretty as a Picture - A majornelson.com update stated that Xbox Live Vision Camera will be released September 19th in both North America and Europe. No price has been announced. The new device will allow users to video conference in such games, as well as send photo messages and take pictures to be used as their Gamer Tag picture. Now we're talking! I'm going to send so many obnoxious pictures to my brother, it'll shut his 360 down.