Assassins, Ghosts & Black Ops: Top 10 Games E3 2010

From Digital Trends comes their prediction of the very best games of E3 2010:

This is a painful article to write. With each new keystroke, another game jumps back to mind and makes its case to be among the ten measly games featured on our best of list. In all honesty, this could be a top 20 best games of E3, and it would still be hard to exclude some of the titles that debuted.

Below are what we considered to be the best games of E3. We chose the games based on a highly scientific method of selection that involved intense formulas and equations coupled with a super computer running various scenarios that – OK, OK, these are the ones that made us drool like fan boys. The list is extremely subjective, and likely to illicit strong reactions both for and against.

We chose to follow Michael Scott’s KISS method: “keep it simple stupid.” The games we chose were the ones that we talked about the most afterwards, and the ones that made the biggest impression. You might also notice that there are no DS games, PSP games, and we did not list the handheld ports of games. There are a ton of games coming out for the handhelds that look great, but few can really capture the jaw dropping beauty of some of the games listed below. Again, just keeping it simple. As soon as a new demo, or a flashier trailer comes, this list would likely change, but for now, here is our choice for the best games of E3.

1. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (PC, PS3, Xbox 360 – Nov 16, 2010)

The sequel to Assassins Creed II - one of the best games of 2009 – looks awesome, but it raises questions. With such a short turn around, was there enough time to really give the game the full treatment that it deserved? Is this just Assassin’s Creed 2.5? What we saw looks great and although the changes might be minor in terms of gameplay and graphics, the tweaks added an unbelievable level of depth to the game. But that’s not the only reason the game is on the list.

Brotherhood’s multiplayer mode is wildly original, and pushes the concept of what a multiplayer experience could be. For so many years, the multiplayer aspect of games was somewhat limited to first-person shooters and MMOs, and those games focused more on making the games technically solid than on re-inventing the wheel, so to speak. The Brotherhood multiplayer demo we played was cool, and it might get old after awhile – but it was new and fresh, and with luck it will begin a trend for developers to rally to. Instead of just the typical deathmatch, you become an assassin- and a target. It is kind of cool to walk through a crowded marketplace and pull off a slick assassination that makes you feel like Billy Badass. You can finally take your revenge on the pre-teen punk that was talking trash like it was his job, when you sneak up behind him and shank him, 1500s Italian Renaissance prison-style, yo. Check out our multiplayer hands-on review for more details. With the tech we have now, a solid multiplayer experience is relatively easy to pull off. Now we just need some new content to play online, and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood offers just that.

2. Call of Duty: Black Ops (PC, PS3, Wii, Xbox 360 – Nov 9, 2010)

There is a chance that you may have heard about this game. Both developer Treyarch and publisher Activision have a lot riding on this entry in the CoD franchise, in terms of reputation. From what we’ve seen of Black Ops, Treyarch has risen to the challenge. It is hard to really get a gauge on this game – so much of its reception will rest with the multiplayer – but what we saw was enough to make us want to grab the controller out of the Treyarch reps hands and go to town on some freedom-hatin’ commies, or whoever.

The graphics look amazing, and the game seems to have a cinematic look that was lacking in Treyarch’s COD: World at War, but was a huge feature of Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare. But will the players accept a Call of Duty game following the drama that went down between Activision and Infinity Ward?! Of course they will. At least as long as stuff blows up real pretty. Being able to shoot Commies with exploding-tipped crossbow bolts helps too.

3. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (PS3, Xbox 360 – Fall 2010)

When we originally began the nigh-impossible task of naming only five “best-of-E3” titles, Lords of Shadow was only slated for an honorable mention. That wasn’t because of the game itself, but rather the demo that Konami showed off. In the demo, you are in a tiny corner of a dark village, and then you are on a forest path. Granted, it is a super pretty forest path, but it wasn’t exactly breathtaking. The focus was on the gameplay and fighting mechanics which were extremely fun, but left us feeling like we played a more clinical demo than an impressive one. That might sound harsher than intended – the game is very fun – but with so many strong entries at E3, something had to give.

So why did Castlevania: Lords of Shadow make it back into the list? Because it has potential. Despite an underwhelming booth from Konami, despite their total lack of the “wow factor,” despite some big upcoming Konami titles like a new Metal Gear that will be on the Xbox (that would have easily made the list but there just wasn’t enough to see of it), and despite Konami’s seemingly apathetic attitude at E3, Castlevania still attracted a ton of attention. A ton. There were lines to play the demo, and even with the heavily censored levels, people were still talking about it. We want a good Castlevania game! We need a good Castlevania game! And with luck we will have one this fall.

4. Driver: San Francisco (PC, PS3, Xbox 360 – Fall 2010)

This game looks awesome, but more than that, it fills a niche. The vast majority of upcoming games seemed to be first-person shooters and third-person shooters. Of course, there were a ton of other genres present, but the FPS and third-person games seemed to dominate E3. One of those exceptions was Driver: San Francisco, the successor of the meh-tacular Driver franchise. You remember, the series that played like Midnight Club, then tried to be Grand Theft Auto. Oh, you don’t remember? Right.

Gran Turismo 5 might have the graphics and the racing physics to appeal to the hardcore gearhead gamers, but you know what to expect with it. Driver did something that was noteworthy: It surprised us. The game is just fun. The arcade style driving mechanics are not for the fan of the racing simulators, but they are easy to pick up and make it a blast to rip into oncoming traffic at speeds that would scare Mario Andretti. Plus, the multiplayer had a few fresh and unique ways to play online that could help break the online mold. Whether or not it all comes together is still a question mark, but this game has us rooting for it.

5. Fallout: New Vegas (PC, PS3, Xbox 360 – Oct 19, 2010)

The installment in the Fallout franchise probably won’t win over anyone that didn’t like Fallout 3, but to those that did like the predecessor, this game is a must. While it might have been tempting for developer Obsidian to make some huge changes to put their own stamp on it, they did the best thing possible by keeping the things that worked.

There are plenty of changes in this game, including new and deeper conversation modes, better companion mechanics, and changes to the character upgrades, but nothing that fans of the series will have any problems with, or feel uncomfortable learning. If you are a fan of Fallout, you were probably excited by this game long before E3, but after playing a demo of it, we are happy to report that your excitement is totally justified. Be prepared to sink a lot of hours into this game when it arrives in October.

6. Ghost Recon: Future Soldier (PC, PS3, Wii, Xbox 360 – Q1 2011)

Even before we reached E3, there was a certain buzz about this game. Kind of surprising since the Ghost Recon series had a following, but it isn’t anywhere near the numbers that the likes of Call of Duty or Halo generate. Splinter Cell is the current headliner franchise for Tom Clancy, and Rainbow Six is the “sexier” shooter of the two, so we were interested in Ghost Recon, but no more than for most games. Then we saw the game in action. Is “badassitude” a word?

This game might divide some people. Black Ops will dominate the attention of military shooter fans this year, Halo will crank up the hype as September nears, but after that, the first quarter of next year belongs to this game. Stunning graphics, solid team-based gameplay, and a familiar military setting with just enough future tech to make it feel fresh and original. You can even go all Predator on people and hunt your enemies like they are future governors! Sadly, no skull trophies are available (although the game is still being worked on…). The rest of the year’s first-person shooters look great, so this game might get buried for awhile, but when the Halo craze has slowed, and when Black Ops has sold a ba-jillion copies, this game will be there waiting for you with open arms. Be ready to embrace it.

7.  GoldenEye 007 (Wii – Nov 2, 2010)

Nostalgia is a great sales motivator, and few first-person shooters can generate as much nostalgia as GoldenEye does. How much trash was talked when the original was released on the Nintendo 64? How many friendships were pushed to the brink because of that damned golden gun? How many people still tell fantastic tales about their GoldenEye prowess that end with them announcing that they were the best player ever to play in the history of the universe? As time passes, their skills continue to grow with each retelling, to the point of legend. In some cases, GoldenEye revisionist skills have gotten so out of control that some players apparently didn’t even need a controller to win, the game just knew what the player wanted to do and did it.

This game will sell a lot of copies, and it might even help move a few more Wiis. The developer Eurocom is taking a “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach to the rebooted GoldenEye, and rather than reinventing the game, Eurocom is taking what was there before and building off of it. Many of the old guns will return with a new look and maybe an updated name, but the game should feel familiar. Even the Klobb, arguably the worst gun to ever make it into a FPS, returns as the Skorpion. The campaign should be fun, but who cares? We all know that this game will live and die on the multiplayer, and especially on the split screen versus mode. Almost every FPS out there has online multiplayer, but GoldenEye was all about the party style play with your friends within range of your evil eye after they totally cheated! Of all the systems out, the Wii is the best suited to bring the game back on a single console with multiple players. If any system can recreate the fun of a four-player battle between people sitting within punching and trash talking distance of each other, it is the Wii.

8. Halo: Reach (Xbox 360 – Sept 14, 2010)

You know that this game had to make the list. Fear of the Halo fanboy made it a contender if nothing else, but it wasn’t going be in the top 10- at least not before E3. The multiplayer beta was nothing special (search your feelings, Halo fan, you know it to be true), but it is Halo – one of the best franchises of all time – so we were interested. Then we saw the campaign trailer. It looks awesome. There are still some questions to be answered, like how long will the campaign take to beat, but so far so good. Halo 3’s campaign almost seemed like an afterthought. It took five to six hours to beat (less on additional play throughs), and most of the levels were fairly bland, which was surprising because the original Halo and Halo 2 both had fantastic campaigns. The ODST campaign was meh, but as with Halo 3, people justified it by saying that the multiplayer made up for it. Maybe so, but this is a trend that needs to stop! If developers are just going to focus on multiplayer, fine. Swell. Don’t bother with the campaign, increase the multiplayer, and drop $15 off the price! Hey, where’d this soapbox come from? Anyway…

The trailer for the campaign looked great. It was polished and seemed to have some cool looking moments that we want to play. The multiplayer will be fine either way, and fans will likely flock to it, but if Bungie can balance out the campaign and make it appealing for the casual fan, then this game could be the 360 Halo that we have been waiting for. We’ll have to wait until September to know for sure, but color us cautiously optimistic.

9. Rage (PC, PS3, Xbox 360 – 2011)

When id Software, the baby-daddy of the first-person shooter genre, announces that it is releasing a intellectual property (IP), it is ok to get excited. When id reveals that the game will use its brand new engine – the id Tech 5 – if you pee your pants a little, that’s cool. When you hear that Bethesda has signed on to publish the game, go change your underwear. Or, you know, just be excited.

What we saw of the game looked good. Very good. The levels demoed were fairly bland – just a desert setting, a post-apocalyptic town, and a sewer system, and still, what we saw was impressive enough to make us take notice. Add in Rage’s pedigree, and be excited. What more do you need to know? Id literally created the genre and have continued to be the go-to group for creating FPS engines. And now they have a brand new one that no one has seen before. If id were a rock band, the stage would be covered in panties right now.

10. Zelda: The Skyward Sword (Wii – 2011)

In some ways, it was hard to include this title on the list, simply because it is one more in a long series of Zelda games, and there are other games from E3 that impressed us and surprised us. But Skyward Sword won us over. Rather than just building another Zelda game, Nintendo made some significant changes in the gameplay. The controls are especially cool thanks to the Wii Motion Plus. Enemies will shield themselves, forcing you to swing your sword in a way that will hit an unguarded section of them, and new attacks like a shield bash are now possible. It might sound like a minor change, but it is a very cool one that could be the new standard for Wii.

Another reason that this game is on the list is that many of the other games on this list do feature Wii ports, but most of them are severely nerfed down. So much so that developers have teams that are working on Wii-specific versions, which typically involves removing content and reworking graphics. The Wii is a good machine, but it cannot do what the others can, and in many instances it shouldn’t even try. If you want to play Call of Duty: Black Ops, playing it on the Wii would be missing the point the developers were trying to make with their awesome graphics. Games like Zelda that are made for the Wii utilize the hardware to its fullest, and let the Wii do what it does best.

Honorable Mention (The Please-Don’t-Hurt-Us List)

These games narrowly missed our best of list, but definitely deserve some recognition. At this point, it is like judging supermodels: They all look great, so you have to focus on the flaws to pick the best, but you probably wouldn’t kick any of them out of bed. Metaphorically speaking, of course. Every one of the games below almost made it up top, but one little thing or another bumped them down. We will happily eat our words when we get the chance to really play the games.

Brink

An interesting game published by Bethesda that looks great, but its release date was just pushed back from September to sometime in 2011. That could be a bad sign, or it could be the extra development time that will make the game a classic.

Dead Space 2

The first game was a masterpiece of sci-fi horror in terms of setting and atmosphere. It also had a gameplay style that amounted to fetch-and-carry missions that had you backtracking through levels, which could be frustrating to say the least. Hopefully the sequel can further build on the setting and improve some of the missions.

Fable 3

A huge and beautiful world allows you to be king and make decisions that will affect the entire world. Choosing to be good or evil is just the beginning. Fans of the Fable franchise and western RPG can rejoice, everyone else will be hard to convince.

Gears of War 3

This game isn’t due until April 5, 2011, so it did not make the primary list because there are other games that will be in our hands sooner. And for a gamer, sooner is always better. What we have seen does look pretty damn cool.

Homefront

A great setting can always generate hype, but some raw and unpolished graphics raised a few questions. Plus reports of major problems with developer Kaos Studios makes this a “wait and see” game.

Medal of Honor

This realistic shooter set in modern-day Afghanistan looks awesome in terms of graphics, gameplay, and overall style, but it will have to really do something special to differentiate itself from the dozens of other games that look just like it. It will have the chance on October 12.

Mortal Kombat

A much needed reboot of the franchise brings the fighting classic back to its roots. If you like fighters, you will probably enjoy MK. If you don’t, there is nothing to win you over. Unless you just have a thing for ripping out spleens and stuff. And if so, please seek help.

Red Faction: Armageddon

This game almost made the list solely because of a weapon called the magnet gun. The ability to repair sections was also intriguing, but previous entries in the series were average enough to make us wait.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II

The first one had a fantastic story, looked great, and had an epic, cinematic scope. Unfortunately it was glitchy, short, and had numerous problems. The second game seems to have a fantastic story, looks great, and appears to have an epic, cinematic scope…

Vanquish

This game is being developed by Japanese studio, Platinum Games, for a western audience. Unfortunately, it feels like a Japanese take on a western game. That will appeal to some, while alienating others.

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