Another E3 has come and gone, this time with a much more concentrated dose of disillusionment from the mainstream gaming media. We’ll get to that. However, I disagree with those guys that we didn’t get any games. The great games were in attendance. The issue is that the number of new games was more of a small flood than the tsunami of new content we’ve grown accustomed to. Some good, some bad, a lot of indifference. Here’s what I got out of it.

Winners

The Last of Us

I may give Sony’s first party a lot of shit (the lineup for Playstation Battle Royale proves to me just how disengaged I am with most of what they pump out), but keeping Naughty Dog close to the vest has been a very, very smart move, and the footage we saw this show of the main character and his charge Jason Bourning their way through an abandoned building, with fights bordering on The Raid levels of brutality, was everything the hype from last year promised, while still managing to sneak in character and heart. The game’s truly shaping up to be the goods.

UbiSoft

If there’s any company that can walk away from E3 smelling like daisy-flavored double rainbows, it’s Ubi. Not only did they have great-looking new iterations of every single one of their major franchises to show off, but they also managed to one have the best games shown off for both the Vita (AC: Liberation) and the WiiU (ZombiU). Granted, there were slim pickins to be had on both those systems, but still. Aside from ZombiU being, well, more fucking zombies (though apparently, I’m the last person on the planet sick to hell of zombies right now), can anyone think of a negative thing to say about anything Ubi related this show? Answer: Nope.

Beyond: Two Souls

I love David Cage. Even at his most Molyneauxsian, the guy’s ambitions for this medium are lofty indeed, and Beyond looks like yet another step in a positive direction. If he managed to learn lessons from Heavy Rain‘s flaws (and already, I’m calling it a win that all the American characters sound American.), and the story lives up to the dramatic promise he laid out during Sony’s conference, this may be a classic in the making.

South Park: The Stick Of Truth

So, why did it take this long for someone to get a South Park game right? Related question: Why did it take this long for Matt and Trey–who are very obviously hardcore gamers themselves–to get down and dirty and make it themselves? Who knows, but fact is, the line between what’s cutscene and game in the footage so far is indistinguishable, which is what a game base don this series should’ve been from minute one.

Smartglass

There’s been a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth that MS focused more on the technology than the games this year. Would I love to see more games? Sure. Am I gonna gripe about being given even more shit my awesome game system can do? Never. And quite frankly, the Smartglass idea seems like a far more versatile version of what Nintendo seems to be aiming for. And think about this, kids: If someone decides to make a WiiU game that takes full advantage of that system, how hard is it going to be to port that to 360? It means more and more interesting ways to enjoy content. Hopefully, there’s developers figuring out ways to take full advantage of that thing. Hinthint: MAKE A GODDAMN KINECT/SMARTGLASS ENABLED FATAL FRAME.

Book of Spells

Also in the class of really cool ideas, if utilized properly. The Wonderbooks thing is on the weak side of the argument there, like the AR thing the 3DS does that nobody used past the day they took the system out of the box. What I do know is, if I was a 10 year old kid, and got my first Potter book, and I told them there’s a thing we can buy where the lady who wrote those books teaches you how to cast spells and show how they were created, I’d flip my shit. If they refine the tech a little better than what we saw on stage, this could be pretty special. Y’know. For kids.

Dishonored

I’m worried about this game. I’ve come to the conclusion over the last couple of years I just plain don’t like Bethesda’s school of game design at all. And yet, EVERYTHING else about this project is things that fill me with sci-fi glee. The new trailer and footage they showed off just make me all the more anxious to know whether they did these ideas justice or not.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2/Mirror of Fate

For a second there, it looked like Castlevania was getting into a rut, even with the still-fantastic 2D games on DS. Konami has apparently kept the train on the tracks, with two fantastic looking titles that follow Lords of Shadow‘s lead in two different, but fascinating ways. It’s such a weird feeling giving a shit about a Castlevania game’s story, but we’re building quite the compelling little rewrite of the Belmont mythos here.

Platinum Games

Platinum delivered the best looking Metal Gear game in nearly a decade, and so far, one of the best WiiU titles shown so far. I wish it wasn’t a Metal Gear game that caused the world to appreciate the geniuses over there, but I’m more than willing to shell the dollars on their “one for them” game if it means we get more of their particular awesome brand of “one for us”.

Lego City

Lego. GTA. WHO ARE YOU TO RESIST IT?

The Unfinished Swan

I mainly remembered this game as once upon a time being in serious danger of cancellation and was going to be one of those independent tragedies (Everyone, a moment of silence for Sadness on the Wii?), with the worst ironic name ever. Thankfully, the game is back and seemed pretty close to complete on the show floor. And it seems like the concept video from way back is indeed being realized as brilliantly as expected. They could name their price for this sucker, I’ll support ‘em.

Losers

Dead Space 3

I could chant my same mantra about Gears of War (which would be “Fuck that series”), or go into my continuing frustration with the Call of Duty series, or state my hesitance about Halo 4 (I loved Reach on fat kid/cake levels, but the gameplay demo for this did zero for me besides remind me how bad I miss Metroid Prime), but in terms of sheer disappointment, no single game this show broke my heart me as much as seeing my beloved Dead Space reduced to being Yet Another Cover Based Shooter on what might as well be Hoth. Dead Space‘s basic effectiveness is in being utterly alone, low on ammo, and just barely keeping a grasp on reality. The E3 demo had Isaac paired with a wise-cracking buddy, he has ammo to spare, and are facing off against giant Pottery Barn castaways. I am depressed.


Nintendo

Hey, Nintendo, remember the first 5 minutes of that presentation, with Shigeru Miyamoto on stage, being just happy, fun, throwing Pikmin as unsuspecting audience members? Remember when that was the high point of that hour and a half? Me too.

Here’s where you stand, Nintendo: In the anthropomorphic indie movie of the gaming industry, you are played by Lena Dunham, breaking up with occasionally douchebaggy, but generally big-hearted guys to go get a less-sophisticated relationship with older guys who eventually realize how juvenile she is and discard her. And now, she’s trying to get both back at once, and it’s sad and awkward and depressing and no one feels joy ever again, the end. You know what made your older systems awesome, Nintendo? You just made them. You didn’t try to innovate. You didn’t try to esoteric your audience to death. You just made what was fun. Get back to that, the audience will follow. TRUST.

The Kinect

It’s not necessarily that the Kinect had a BAD showing–Gore Verbinski’s weirdly awesome looking game working off it gives me hope–but for shit’s sake, two years in, we’ve GOT to find better uses for this than Minority Report menus, and Lando Calrissian shakin dat ass, and no, whatever the fuck they’re doing with Madden and FIFA doesn’t count. Microsoft is still getting their asses handed them by the modding community in terms of innovation, none of that does us, who support your console, any good. It’s aggravating.

Best Of ShowWatch Dogs

In a continuing theme of UbiSoft kicking ass this show, Watch Dogs came out of nowhere this year to triumph on several levels–as an original IP, one that seems to piggy back off the sum total of lessons learned from Assassin’s Creed, as a fantastic, cyberpunky paranoia tale, presented in a perfect, logically frightening teaser centered around a very real event, and being one of the games to truly show that the current gen still has PLENTY of graphical horsepower to offer, Agni’s Philosophy be damned.


Best Conference–Sony

All three conferences had their problems, primarily stemming from spending more time than anyone wanted on not-games. When Sony did show their games, however, they had gold. They started with Beyond, ended with The Last of Us, and in between was a bare minimum of embarassments. Very simply: bring the games, and the rest will follow.

Post-Mortem

E3 2012 is going to go down in history as the E3 where hardcore gamers saw a little too far behind the curtain and remembered that yes, they are still privy to watching a business unfold when the big show unfolds. What we all also need to know is this is never going to stop good games from being made. E3 is the Oscars, not Sundance. It’s the Grammys, not Lollapalooza. Just like those, the people who think that the biggest public face put on by E3 is everything the industry has to offer are the people who would never be won by the kinds of games people are hoping. What we see at E3 is what the industry hopes will make money. We are seeing potential blockbusters. And of these blockbusters, I saw problems, an element of stagnation, and yet UbiSoft and Sony are pouring their resources into making the big budget and ambitious fascinating all over again. The day when we can’t say that is the day that the industry is truly in trouble. Take heart in knowing that day will never fucking happen.