Face it: not every game that looks like a blockbuster at E3 turns out to be one. But do you really want to wait until freaking November to see which games are worth your money and fandom and which are going to make you and your console a laughing stock?
Of course you don’t. So we’re here to give you our 100% accurate, absolute final judgment, based upon at least ten whopping minutes of hands-on playtime with each title, as to what your most anticipated games will score when they finally come out months and months from now. *
Alpha Protocol - Xbox 360, PS3, PC
It’s tough to bet against a game that combines the open-ended character evolution of the best role-playing games with the guns of a Tom Clancy thriller and the sex drive of a James Bond flick – so we won’t. Alpha Protocol is an espionage-focused spy ‘em-up that plays however you want it to play, with your character able to focus upon stealth and martial arts, blazing guns and booming grenades, gadgetry and hacking, or various bits of everything. And whatever configuration you choose, you’re still able to do two things: Solve any international crisis like only a one-man army can, and make the sweet, sexy loving with pretty much any woman in the game. Its only apparent weaknesses are average looks and a fairly typical art style that will pale next to more exotic fare like Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 2
BioShock 2 – Xbox 360, PS3, PC
The only gamers who weren’t ecstatic that a sequel to BioShock was coming were those who loved the first one so much that they felt a sequel would tarnish the original’s legacy. But they’re going to play this anyhow because they simply won’t be able to resist. The setting, a gloriously decaying, 1940s-era underwater city named Rapture, is still captivating. And the ability to mix and match your plasmids (magic powers, basically) to craft things like flaming tornados is just about the coolest thing ever. Some will roar that the story is broken and that they don’t like playing as a slow-moving brute – and they’ll have a good point – but “not as good as the near-perfect original” can still be very, very good. And there’s multiplayer this time.
Bayonetta – 360, PS3, PC
Halfway through our hands-on time with Bayonetta, the titular main character’s skin-tight black costume blew off. Actually, it didn’t exactly blow off – the costume is made of her own hair, and she decided that at that specific moment, her hair would be more useful if it took the form of a giant dog and gnawed a boss enemy we’d been fighting into two pieces – one for each of her exposed butt cheeks, perhaps?
That, in a nutshell, explains what sets Bayonetta apart. It’s manic, sexy, and totally over-the-top insane. Apparently, there was nobody on the development team whose job it was to say “actually, that’s a little too crazy.” Bayonetta herself is an acrobatic babe with designer eyeglasses and four guns – one in each hand, and one on each foot. It’s gorgeous to watch, the enemy designs are otherworldly, the battles are complete chaos, and you keep going because you literally can’t imagine what’s going to happen next – one level we played was leaping from one floating rock to another while a boss so big it had cannons for fingers grabbed the rocks and unloaded point blank. This is more than just another hack and slasher.
With its earnest desire to simultaneously spoof and worship every Heavy Metal stereotype, Brutal Legend could well be the funniest movie you’ll see this year – except it’s actually a game. There’s some meat here too. It starts with simple hack and slash action – you carve enemies up close with a battle axe and electrocute or burn them from afar by playing killer guitar – but evolves into a medium-scale real-time strategy game. You fly above the battlefield, giving commands to squads of ballista-toting metal chicks, headbangers, and even a chopper-riding Lemmy from Motorhead on your quest to overthrow an oppressive emperor. It’s hilarious, its graphical look is simple but fun, and it’s just so damn charismatic you can’t help headbanging. The only thing keeping it from 10-dom is the fact that both the hacking and the strategizing could be a little more fleshed out.
Dark Void – 360, PS3, PC
Take The Rocketeer, set it in space and throw in a ton of aliens, and you’d have Dark Void… kind of. This one feels a bit uneven at the moment – when we’re on the ground, darting from one cover point to the next and blasting away at ugly aliens, it plays well. And the way the gameplay switches directions is wild. For example, at one point we were moving vertically up a cylindrical shaft that had a bunch of revolving platforms in it, almost like horizontal fan blades. We could grab onto the underside of each “blade,” basically hanging upside-down from it and shooting upward, then flipping ourselves onto its topside and then zip-shooting ourselves to the underside of the blade above it. The flying sections are rougher; the jetpack is tough to control. But this is obviously still being worked on – if the jetpack can go from frustrating to exhilarating before it ships, this may be one of the few scores we get wrong.
Dead Space: Extraction – Wii
Last year’s Dead Space was surprisingly, almost shockingly good thanks to top-notch visuals, a chilling atmosphere that made you truly scared to round each corner, and a seriously kick-ass arsenal of weapons. When we found out the next game would be an on-rails shooter for Wii, our hearts sank. How can an on-rails shooter be scary? Luckily, someone on the development team apparently knows the answer to that question. Extraction not only looks damn good for a Wii game (but NOT as good as a PS3 or 360 game, no matter what hype you’ve heard), but its pacing is a true triumph. Of course there are moments of absolute pants-wetting, no-blinking if you want to live chaos, but there are also a ton of quiet moments and cut scenes that just pile on the tension. It actually works. If only it was longer and had more replay value.
Check back tomorrow for more of our quasi-informed, yet clearly iron-clad early reviews of this year's most eagerly anticipated games.
*By the way, we’re obviously kidding about this being our final judgment, but when we did this last year, 19 of the 22 scores we awarded were within one point of the final Metacritic average. Ignore us at your wallet’s own risk.
Jun 2, 2009