E3 is
made for lists. This year is more difficult because there was less on display,
leading me to feel like I’ve already shouted out the highlights in the three
and a half days of coverage that went before this.

But with
a few days to think (and having compiled my own ballot to the ESA for Best Of
voting) I think I’ve got enough to say and recap about the games I really liked
to warrant this best-of.

And in
case you missed it, here are links to the previous E3 2007 coverage:

Day Zero
(Microsoft Press Conference)
| Day One |

Day Two | Day Three

And now,

BEST OF E3 2007

 1. Rock Band (GAME OF SHOW)

Publisher: EA
Developer: Harmonix
Platform(s): Xbox360; PS3; Wii (??)

Guitar Hero has its share of detractors, and
while I respect the opinion, I find rejection of the game is often reactionary
and poorly reasoned. ‘You’re not really playing guitar. Why not actually play
music? The game isn’t like performing,’ etc. When the gripes come from people
who help make games like Madden and Tiger Woods million sellers, I’ve got to
draw the line. Or, come release time, it’s possible that Rock Band will do it for me.

It’s not
that Rock Band defines a new genre,
but by tapping into something that’s so familiar to all of us, it does hold the
potential to shift how groups of people interact with a game, and with each
other in the context of the game. I’ve played more multiplayer games than I can
remember, and in the past few years more and more have been cooperative. And
nothing, even the tight squad communication of a seasoned Counter-Strike group, gives the same feeling.

Rock Band might also push forward the
‘everyone is a gamer’ stance that Nintendo holds so dear. The Wii has made
gaming approachable largely by removing typical barriers to entry: hardware and
difficulty. Rock Band, meanwhile,
heads in the opposite direction and goes for broke. More hardware, and, if you
want it, much higher difficulty. And yet the simple pleasure of playing and
succeeding — as I pointed out in a review of Guitar Hero it’s you that improves, not your onscreen avatar —
could prove to be more than powerful enough to bulldoze any barrier to entry.

think I’m unaware that the previous two paragraphs are based, to a certain
extent, upon the presumption that all audiences will react equally to the rock
music recreated in the game. Obviously, they won’t. But I think you’d have to
broaden your demographic out pretty far to define a group of people for whom at
least a few songs won’t have appeal, especially when taken in the context of
group participation.

gamers will find other titles to love this year and next, but I promise you
that, unless the price tag is absurdly prohibitive (possible), there won’t be
another game given as much press and lasting attention by audiences, whether
they consider themselves gamers or not.

 2. Mass Effect

Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: BioWare
Platform(s): Xbox360

If Rock Band has the potential to redefine
how a group of people approaches and relates to a game, Mass Effect should do the same on an individual basis. I have yet
to see anyone who isn’t wowed by the game’s structural underpinnings, and by
the characters that are so evident in every clip. Masochistic indulgence aside
I have little use for the role playing game as it currently exists, but Mass Effect might be something else
altogether — the interactive novel or movie that so many companies flogged at
the dawn of the CD-ROM era. Difference is, BIoWare seems to have actually made
one the right way.

 3. Fallout 3

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Platform(s): PC; Xbox360; PS3

OK, time
to come back down from the hyperbolic clouds and just talk about some cool
games. Fallout 3 demos as a beautiful
piece of game design. The world seems so thorough as to be nearly seamless, and
Bethesda is evidently working to minimize most of the things we all didn’t like
about Oblivion. (Scaling difficulty,
occasional aimlessness, level grinding, too static NPCs.) The story is more
compelling, as well, to me anyway. I never found Oblivion‘s tale to be as fun as wandering could be, and that
definitely contributed to that aimless sensation. With those factors and the
very promising mix of real time and stop motion combat, this has a fair shot at
grabbing Game of the Year honors in 2008.

 4. Super Mario Galaxy

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Platform(s): Wii

grabbing GoY for ’08 won’t be as easy as it sounds with stuff like Galaxy kicking around. I played a lot
more of Galaxy than the short demo
from last year and found a title that so far seems more wondrous and magnetic
than any Mario game before it. Super
Mario 64
was a technical revelation at the time, but the tech and story
didn’t always complement one another. That’s a disconnect that Galaxy seeks to address. We still don’t
know the whole story, but the action of flying from one small planet to another
and wrestling gravity along with classic enemies is a more thrilling use of the
Wii’s control scheme and visual tech than the simple platforming of SM64 was. And yeah, I said ‘visual
tech’. Say what you will about the Wii’s graphics muscle, Galaxy looks wonderful.

 5. Halo 3

Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Bungie
Platform(s): Xbox360

I may not
like Halo, but I’m not entirely
stupid. A game list in 2007 without Halo
is unconscionable. It’s going to be huge, but more important, some of the
features I’ve seen so far might actually get me to enjoy playing it. The more
open and interesting level design could just pull me in, if the silly dialogue
I saw in the single player demo doesn’t repulse me utterly. My general
disinterest in the online game is more due to the barren cultural wasteland of
Xbox Live than the game mechanics, which are inarguably refined like the black
blood of old dinosaurs. Every time Halo
gets a new release I sign on hoping to be convinced, and this year will be no

 6. Universe At War

Publisher: Sega
Developer: Petroglyph
Platform(s): PC; Xbox360

is a game genre that continually fascinates me, but only rarely lives up to implied
promises. Civilization and Company of Heroes are standout examples,
but perhaps more than any other game type the RTS landscape is littered with
Xerox games that ride convention and hold back progress. I don’t know yet if Universe will truly push things forward,
but it has such a well designed core of playable races that thinking forward
might not be as important as finally exploring current design parameters to
their fullest. This is the RTS that appears able to make the hardcore gameplay
as addicting as the slightly more approachable systems of Civilization.

 7. Call of Duty 4

Publisher: Activision
Developer: Infinity Ward
Platform(s): PC; Xbox360; PS3

other confirmation of the death of the WWII shooter do you need when the
genre’s signature series takes a step into the future? This is Infinity Ward’s
chance to prove that their series is as forward thinking as we’ve grown
accustomed to believing. The inclusion here indicates that it might very well
be, even with that rather lackluster level shown in detail during the Microsoft
press conference. Infinity Ward has proven that they can replicate the
Hollywood tentpole experience. Now if they can do so with more player freedom
and involvement, the series will have re-justified itself.

 8. Condemned 2: Bloodshot

Publisher: Sega
Developer: Monolith
Platform(s): Xbox360; PS3

original was the one true highlight of the 360 launch lineup, and I’m impressed
by the steps Monolith and Sega have taken to extend the atmosphere and
discomfort of the first chapter while at the same time deepening interactivity
both in combat and investigative scenarios. It’s really the latter that hooks
me, as the storytelling of the first Condemned
has flaws and has spawned more able followers. What I’ve seen of Bloodshot so far implies that players
could very definitely not get every investigative detail right the first time,
and that narrative paths could be altered as a result. This year we’re seeing
more significantly advanced narratives in action games, and Bloodshot could be the game that finally
brings that David Fincher vibe to consoles.

 9. Civilization Revolution

Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Firaxis
Platform(s): Xbox360;
Wii; DS

You tell
me I can play several full games of Civ a
week without having to act like a junkie recluse with an HDMI IV strapped to my
arm? Thank fuck. Civ III and IV are the games I’ve installed and then
had to remove multiple times, because I get that jones and then realize that
for two weeks I’ve done nothing but poke sticks at Persians while trying to win
the bloody space race. So the same gameplay, reconfigured for consoles and
streamlined for run times you could fit a Michael Bay movie in is just about
exactly the thing I need. And on a handheld? I’m going to spend more time in
the bathroom than Louis C.K. when his wife leaves the house.

 10. The PlayStation Network

Publisher: Sony
Developer: Various
Platform: PS3

because their interface isn’t as slick as Microsoft’s doesn’t mean that Sony
has less going on with their private network. While indie games were largely
MIA at the show this year, thanks to the ESA’s emphasis on big publishers and
the holiday seasons, a few former indies surfaced on the PSN. They both lent
cred to Sony as a publisher that isn’t above the little game and interest to a
platform that desperately needs it. Games like EchoChrome and Everyday
probably aren’t going to be the shot in Sony’s arm that Geometry Wars was for Microsoft, but if
Phil Harrison’s claims pan out true, in the net year the PSN will house many
formerly indie games, giving them far more exposure than would previously have
been the case.

Appendix: The Sure Thing


At this
point I think I scarcely need to mention how good BioShock is. If you don’t understand why the game is so anticipated
(and why it’s topping a lot of Best Of E3 2007 lists) then you’ve probably been
absent from the gaming scene for at least 18 months. Already a shoo-in as one
of the best games of the year, I merely feel like my measly ten ‘best of’ votes
can be used to highlight a few games that aren’t as universally adored already.

Appendix: The Unknown Quantity

Assassin’s Creed

How I
wish I could say that I was sold once again on UbiSoft’s not-medieval game. The
terrible press conference demo was followed by a private session that implied
the game’s problems might not be so great after all. But there’s still a
massive question mark hovering over Assassin’s
, and I’m not convinced that the final product will be anything more
than a free-running shell game.

Appendix: The Mysteries

And then
there are the games that should be talked about, but we know so little that
they have to remain big blips on the radar for now. I’m talking about Resident Evil 5, InFamous, Metal Gear Solid 4,
and so forth. I’m willing to put love behind a title based on only a thorough
demo (Fallout 3) but these guys need
to show more before they’ll really make the radar.

So what
was missing from this year’s show?

1. Surprises

E3 has
always been home to new announcements, but precious few took place this year to
get the blogs fired up. The look of Resident
Evil 5
was a shock, if the game’s existence wasn’t, but beyond that and
smaller news like NCSoft’s vague deal with Sony, there was very little to get
excited about that we weren’t already excited about. Yeah, I know that BioShock is amazing, but it’s going to
be amazing in my 360 drive in a month. I didn’t even look at it this year,
since I was busy looking for the BioShock
of 2008. It was almost nowhere to be found.

In the
long run I think it’s better for the industry to have interesting new titles
debuted at intervals rather than all in a lump sum. What’s the chance that the
release schedule will be similarly expanded, though? Close to zero, especially
given the heavier emphasis on the holiday season in 2007, as underscored by the
very concept of this new E3.

2. Reliable Data

Croal at Newsweek has rightly lobbied for Microsoft to release failure rates
for the 360. Not that we have any reason to expect the company to comply, but
as gaming moves into a space that is simultaneously more technically complex
and more mainstream (with rising costs accompanying both factors) consumers
need to feel that their hardware is going to last. Then again, since the
PlayStation 2 and Xbox launches (didn’t Nintendo have a console in that
timeframe, too?) consumer tech has become more disposable than ever. If we as
consumers suffer the failure rates of $300 iPods and cameras, why should
Microsoft disclose their data? Would it really change the business after the
initial headlines slid down the page?

3. 2008

See item
number one on this list; with so few companies dipping into their development
schedules beyond holiday 2007, there’s a whole new year of gaming product just
waiting to be unveiled at events in the fall. It’s refreshing to see the
industry confident enough to drive sales based on games that actually exist,
rather than games that will soon exist. But still, we’d all like more
tantalizing titles to carry us over that January/February hump.

4. Games For Windows

back in January, the Serengetti-sized Microsoft booth featured considerable
floor space devoted to Games For Windows, with loads of playable demos. At E3,
however, the GFW presence was noticeably diffused. While most of the same
games, like Crysis and Conan, were on hand, they were spread
among their respective publishers and the GFW brand was barely represented. And
while I’ve admitted to skipping my GFW appointment, an associate who did attend
reported that reps were not able to answer questions about what the brand is
doing to unify PC gaming or offer an initiative to familiarize consumers with
the non-console experience. Every time PC gaming receives a stay of execution,
the next big gaming event implies that the industry barely cares about it after
all. Curious. And Direct X 10 couldn’t even be bothered to ride a tumbleweed
through the Barker Hangar.

5. Afrika

No, I
don’t really care that much about the game itself. Use this to stand in for any
previously high-profile announcement that was MIA. Final Fantasy XIII, if that’s your bag. Afrika, Sony’s ‘what the hell is it?’ title that debuted at E3 last
year and was trailered again at the Tokyo Game Show made no appearance at all.
With Nintendo’s games for everyone stance to counter and lots of bad press to
overcome, we had to wonder what happened to this seemingly broad, appealing
title. That said, I’m just as happy that EA chose not to showcase Spore again. They need to give that
sucker time to incubate.