E3 09: GamesRadar's E3 2009 awards

E3 2009 was a monster. A huge, massive, face-eating beerdemon that erased the agonizing memory of 2008’s meager, emaciated E3 from our minds with a flood of great-looking games, earth-shattering announcements, and a few quizzical oddities we never want to speak of again. After this, we mean, because some things are so good, bad, or just bewildering that you just have to tell people about them.

Okay, we loved us some Uncharted two years ago. The action-adventure of Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider mixed with gunplay out of Gears of War, not to mention the good-humored levity brought upon by pretty good writing. Great game. But holy hell, the gameplay demo for Uncharted 2, which opened the Sony presser, kicked us in the balls with a heaping dose of awesome. A quick recap:

Footage started with series hero Nathan Drake atop a bombed-out posh poolside rooftop. Soon, he’s scaling the roof wall, ascending higher while we take in a vast cityscape enclosed by a gorgeous mountain range. Right away we know Uncharted 2 is huge and it’s beautiful. He and his female cohort slide down a rope to an adjacent crumbling building and start shimming and…WHAT THE HELL IS THAT? AN APACHE HELICOPTER?

Drake dodges bullets from a gunship, vaults across breaking platforms, leaps 20 feet to another building, shoots some bad guys (while still dodging heli bullets), narrowly misses an explosion that takes out an entire section of the wall, takes cover behind tables, kills more bad guys and rides the literally-falling-apart skyscraper down and leaps through the windows of an adjacent building that’s still standing. In game, real-time. He gets up, dusts himself off, and mentions, “Hahaha. We were… we were almost in that!” as casually as a guy who just took a side street to avoid a traffic jam. End of demo. Excellent.

The accompanying video released proved to be one of the best things to come out of the entirety of E3 2009. Developer Naughty Dog and Sony stepped up their game and have a quality product on their hands. We just weren’t really expecting such a big improvement.

Don’t get us wrong, we are totally psyched for Modern Warfare 2. The nut-crushing, face-meltingly awesome demo seamlessly showcased so many different types of gameplay it made our heads spin. But did we really expect anything less from Infinity Ward? It’s not like we thought we’d walk in there and have them go, “OK, you look with one stick and move with the other, get it?” These guys are pros at the top of their game, and it shows. World at War was a nice diversion, but this is the game we’ve been waiting for, snowmobiles, ice hooks and all.

Incidentally, Modern Warfare 2 also gets our award for Best In-game Wind. Seriously, it chilled us to the bone just watching the main character’s sleeves ripple in the wintery superbreeze.

Called “The worst-kept secret of E3” by Jack Tretton, president and CEO of Sony’s US division, the PSP Go was a surprise to absolutely nobody who’d been following the game industry for the past year. Rumors of the device leaked out months before its big reveal at Sony’s E3 press conference, and were then confirmed when Sony’s downloadable videomag Qore scooped the press conference a few days early, revealing and profiling the Go before its big “debut.” And after all of that, it turns out the Go is kind of a letdown.

Don’t get us wrong: it’s an impressive piece of hardware. But it was already an impressive piece of hardware four years ago, when it was just called the PSP. Aside from the obvious change to a sleeker, more compact form factor, the Go adds 16 GB of onboard memory and subtracts the UMD drive. This isn’t an entirely unwelcome decision as long as there’s a GOOD way for us to play our existing games on it – but we’ll remain skeptical of that until Sony gives us more details.

PSP Go also totally fails to address the biggest irritation of anyone who’s ever tried to play 3D games on the system: the lack of a second analog stick. And before you trot out that “Sony didn’t want to split the market” excuse, let us point out that someone already invented the ability to have multiple control schemes in games. To summarize, Sony had a real opportunity to reinvent the wheel and add all kinds of cool functionality, but instead decided to create a smaller, slightly crippled version of the same technology and charge $80 more for it. Apple and Nintendo might have been doing that for years, but we were really hoping for something better.

PlayStation biggie Jack Tretton also proudly announced, in front a packed crowd and thousands watching online, that a heretofore unrevealed Final Fantasy was coming to PS3 in 2010. No way, we thought. Then he said it was Final Fantasy XIV. Impossible, the audience murmered. Then Tretton said it would be exclusive to PS3, and everyone assumed he must be joking, as there’s simply no way in hell FFXIV is this far along when XIII isn’t even out yet.

Then he cued a dramatic, dizzying trailer showcasing a fully realized Final Fantasy XIV and everyone loses control of every orifice on their body. Could it be? Such a massive coup is still possible today? Then, as the logo finally appears and the crowd’s fever explodes into a fanboy pandemic, one single word fades into the screen, much, much smaller than the other words in the title, and sucks all the life out of the party – “Online.”

Yep, it’s another MMO. Which means if you don’t fancy MMOs (particularly Final Fantasy XI), it’ll be at least another five years before you see or hear anything about FFXV. Great. Just effing great.

Bayonetta’s hacky-slashy-shooty-crazy action looked strikingly like what we’d already seen in Devil May Cry 4, but what keeps Bayonetta from just being Dante with a nicer ass are the moments when she goes from merely “over the top” to “balls-out ridiculous” (or maybe it’s “tits-and-ass-out ridiculous”).

She can walk on walls and ceilings like they’re floors. She has a triple-jump assisted by butterfly wings and can wield huge weapons dropped by huger enemies. And when those huge enemies are on the verge of death, her black catsuit - which is actually made of her magically prehensile hair - dissolves, revealing a gold unitard as her absurdly long locks twist into a volcano, which then forms a dragon head that chomps your enemy to death in a button-mashy quicktime sequence. The fact that the game is fun to play is irrelevant – it’s all about seeing what her bizarre hairstyle will eat next.