PC Gamer's Best of E3 2013
Once you got past the spectacle of Microsoft and Sony competing for the honor of delivering the console that promised to annoy gamers the least, it was impossible not to see a fantastic year ahead for PC gamers. Across every genre and from the biggest studios to the greenest fledgling indies we found something on the show floor (an overwhelming arena of animatronic monsters, light shows, and pounding wubwub) to arouse PC gamers of every stripe. So that wasn’t the problem. The tough part was winnowing down the list of nominees for our Best in Show accolades.
Of course, the games we saw and played at E3 were works in progress at varying stages of development. Some we’ll be playing in full this summer, while others may not arrive until after next year’s E3—and a whole lot can change in that amount of time. So keep in mind that these awards are based on our first-hand impressions of and experiences with the demos rather than a psychic prognostication of the final goods.
That said, it was an excruciating task to choose a single winner out of so much fine loot but hey, that’s life. Check out our gallery of this year’s Best in Show, and find out what pushed these games ahead of all the hundreds of others scrambling for the attention of PC gamers this year.
Best FPS — Titanfall
Logan: We have lots of shooters. We’ve got no shortage of mechs. But we don’t have anything yet like Titanfall, the spry and raucous multiplayer first-person shooter that Respawn’s been working on in secret for three years now. The key to its unique gameplay is the fast swapping between two modes of play: one as a ground soldier in a special suit that allows you to vault up the sides of buildings and ledges with double- and triple-jumps, run along walls, and dash toward objectives with jet-pack parkour. The other is as an unusually limber mech that can autonomously defend you as you take a swan dive of the roof of a three-story building, pluck you out of the air and tuck you into the cockpit, where you’re in control and stomping on your opponents in seconds. It requires thinking and strategizing at two different scales, and Respawn already seems to have achieved a refined balance between agile groundwork and the mighty but easily targeted mechs. And oh yes there’s that part about stomping on your enemies.
Evan: If you Titanfall open with a knife, organs from Call of Duty, Tribes, and Hawken would fall out. I’m so damn happy to see a multi-platform, huge-budget shooter be unafraid of being acrobatic.
Best RPG — Dark Souls II
Cory: Namco Bandai had its upcoming open world punish-fest hidden away in the upper level meeting rooms, but it was worth seeking out. The demo featured four playable classes, including the dual-wielding swordsman I played, and dropped me in the middle of a pitch black cavern filled with undead warriors whose attack patterns were completely different. After dying three times in ten minutes, I finally found the demo’s boss: The Mirror Knight, who summoned additional enemies from his giant mirrored shield. That’s not the kind of jolly cooperation I was hoping for.
There are still so many questions about what will be different (no info on covenants, few details on new spells or classes), but more important is what’s the same: Dark Souls 2 will be just as punishing as its predecessor. March 2014 can’t come soon enough.
Best Strategy Game - Total War: Rome II
Cory: Strategy titles were under-represented at this year’s E3, but that just made Rome II look better. Creative Assembly has taken everything learned from recent Total War titles and applied them to the Roman Empire.
For starters, players will have flexible victory conditions, including economic and cultural goals, that provide new options when a simple military victory moves out of reach. Each faction will have different political factors in campaign mode as well. Rome, for example, will have three families looking to exert influence, as well as the senate with its own agenda. Using members of these parties in your battles will add further power not just to the unit, but to the political party as well. Players can balance this political capital between the different families or choose to favor their own.
Add in new improvements to the battle system, with larger armies and defensible deployables that can slow attacking armies down, and you have a sequel that should make every budding Caesar very happy.
Best Action Game — The Evil Within
Evan: Big-budget horror is an exotic enough thing these days to make The Evil Within noteworthy, but don’t forget that the last horror game made by the man behind it—Shinji Mikami—was Resident Evil 4, the closest thing to a perfect horror-action experience ever created, in my book. With Mikami now separated from Capcom and from the minor burden of working within the trappings of Resident Evil, what was so pleasantly surprising about Bethesda’s demo of The Evil Within by how elegantly the spirit of Resident Evil 4 is being integrated into a new context, but one that’s seemingly slightly less about racking up a body count.
Like RE4, I loved the initial guessing game that takes place when you encounter a new enemy—How the hell do I kill or evade this demonic shambler, or chainsaw butcher? What’s their movement speed? How durable are they? Will shooting them in the head actually kill them? From the outset I had the sense that Mikami wants to test the limits of how vulnerable he can make the player feel in a game where you’re still carrying a gun. It’s relentlessly unsettling—the gory art direction and the brutal seriousness of each encounter didn’t feel offset either by absurdity, empowering weapons, or QTEs. No hyperbole: we expect The Evil Within to be the new standard for action-horror.
Biggest Surprise — Star Wars: Battlefront
Evan: After all the leaked footage and information about Free Radical’s cancelled work on a new Battlefront over the past year-plus, it was a legitimate relief to know EA hadn’t shelved this sequel. Our hope is that DICE won’t simply wrap Stormtrooper skins around Battlefield 4’s classes and combat style, but embrace the unique mechanics that arise from Star Wars’ wars. We’d love to see stuff like massive, boardable AT-ATs with modeled 3D interiors, for instance.
Tyler: Finally, I’ll get to play with more beam weapons—it’s all bullets this, bullets that, but I love lasers, and if it takes the Star Wars license to get more, I’m okay with that. We should also note that DICE dropped Mirror’s Edge 2 on us as well—less of a surprise given the rumors and teases, but it’s going to be a big few years for Digital Illusions.
Biggest Disappointment — The Division wasn’t announced for PC
Evan: Excruciatingly scripted-to-appear-unscripted as it was, Ubisoft’s in-game demo resonated enough with us that we’re frowny that The Division hasn’t yet been officially confirmed for PC, though Massive “isn’t ruling out” other platforms. Mechanically The Division strikes us as a mixture of the third-person, gadget- and futuristic-UI-driven shooters that Ubisoft is so fond of—Splinter Cell, Ghost Recon, and Rainbow Six—but mixed in with what seems like low-level survival gameplay and emergent world-wandering in a New York that’s been gutted by a pandemic. Like last year’s Watch Dogs demo, it remains to be seen what the scope and scale of the open world elements are, but consider us curious as hell. And disappointed.
And man, what was up with the unrealistically polite group of co-op actor-players that Ubisoft had teaming up? It made me depressed...I don’t think I’ve played a shooter with anyone that nice.
Tyler: That perfectly manicured team of super friends was pretty hilarious, but as target footage for the experience, it’s madly exciting. It looks like it snags some of that DayZ magic—surviving with friends in an open world which mixes PvP and PvE—but drops the realism in favor of near-future tech and bullet-sponge bodies, and sets it in all of New York City. Yeah, I’d like to see that work.
I have a feeling that the console noise is just obscuring our lovely little platform for the time being, and we’ll see an announcement in 2014. I hope.
Game of E3 2013 — EVR
Tyler: CCP’s multiplayer spaceship dogfighting game isn’t especially notable for its mechanics. Lasers fire forward, and missiles lock on. Don’t fly into asteroids. But it was the best thing at Fanfest and the most exciting demonstration at E3.
One minute in, I’m no longer aware of the box strapped to my head—I’ve stopped seeing the pixels in the low-res Oculus Rift dev kit. I arc my head back to spot an opponent zipping toward me on my Z-axis and wrench my ship laterally to avoid his lasers while still tracking him with my eyes. BEEEEEE goes the lock-on noise, and I twist my head again to watch the swarm of missiles, the explosion, the small victory of a fighter pilot sitting in the cockpit of a spaceship.
It might be mundane in another game—explosions are cheap—but when you’re there in the cockpit, even just looking around the docking bay before takeoff is exciting. The Oculus Rift needs higher-res displays before launching, but even at this stage, it and a simple dogfighting game can turn grown men and women into breathless, slackjawed children in one five minute demo.
Logan: The next generation of gaming hardware was indeed present at E3 this year, but it wasn’t a console manufacturer that delivered it. Instead, it was Oculus VR, which not only brought a high-definition version of it’s Oculus Rift HMD (head-mounted display) to the show, but also sent me trotting over to the CCP booth to check out EVR. Seriously, I could have played this five minute demo on a loop for six hours. In fact, after just a couple minutes I was so dazzled watching the stars streak behind me over the canopy of my fighter that I turned to look back ahead of me just in time to catch a flash of grey before I slammed into a carrier. (At least it didn’t hurt.)
Even with this relatively low-resolution hardware (the demo used the first version of the Oculus Rift made available to developers), the game made a staggering impression on me that’s become more vivid—not less—since I first tried it as I imagine all the possibilities, all the first experiments and games, coming to PC gamers in the very near future.