August 9, 2022

Critic’s Notebook: At Video Game Convention, a Crowded Field of Winners

Still, it is physically impossible for one person to see or play even a quarter of the coming games on offer. So all week everyone talks to one another, even direct competitors, about what they’ve seen and how they’ve felt about it. Usually a consensus emerges about the standout game or two.

Not this year. While there was buzz surrounding one hardware announcement, Nintendo’s new Wii U console, expected next year, no single game came out of nowhere to become the talk of the show.

But don’t interpret that as a sign of creative stagnation. Quite the opposite. Instead, the overall level of quality among the top publishers was so consistently high that a few games stood out because they were subpar rather than because they looked great.

We’ll spare those the harsh glare of ridicule until they’re released. Instead, here we’ll follow the games that most impressed in a crowded field. (Two caveats. First, three truly elite developers — Blizzard, Rockstar and Valve — didn’t show their coming titles at E3 at all. Second, the sheer size of the show prevented me from spending quality time with several publishers, among them Atari, Capcom, Konami, Namco Bandai, Sega and THQ.)

Now on to the good stuff.

BATTLEFIELD 3 This is the first military combat game in a long time that will give Activision’s juggernaut Call of Duty franchise a run for its money. Based on initial impressions, Battlefield 3 may be the most realistic-looking shooter yet. It is being developed by DICE of Sweden, a studio with an excellent track record, and is set amid a conflict between Russia and the West in the near future. (To be published by Electronic Arts on Oct. 25 for Windows, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.)

BATMAN: ARKHAM CITY This is the sequel to the best comic-book game yet, 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum. Developed by Rocksteady Studios, Arkham City is meant to outdo its predecessor in every way. Rather than a single island, the Dark Knight will have an entire precinct of Gotham City to explore and defend. Mark Hamill is back as the voice of the Joker, and Catwoman will be the playable character for about 10 percent of the game. (Warner Brothers; Oct. 18; Windows, 360 and PS3.)

BIOSHOCK INFINITE In narrative depth and intellectual ambition, Infinite appeared to be the top of the class at E3. Developed by Irrational Games, it appears to take place in the same fictional universe as the acclaimed BioShock (though that has not been confirmed). Instead of a city under the Atlantic, the milieu is now a floating metropolis called Columbia, set about a century ago. Infinite looks to mix blood-pumping action with a deeply philosophical story line about community and the role of the individual. (2K Games; 2012; Windows, 360 and PS3.)

CALL OF DUTY: MODERN WARFARE 3 Mixing military realism and over-the-top set-piece fabulism, Call of Duty has become one of the most lucrative and culturally important game franchises. In the first scene shown at E3, you are an American commando infiltrating and destroying a Russian submarine during a naval battle in New York Harbor. If that sounds wild, consider that the next scene was an explosion-riddled shootout amid hurtling subways in the London Underground. (Activision; Nov. 8; Windows, 360 and PS3.)

DEFIANCE The demonstration of this near-future shooter was most notable for what will not make it into the final product. In the presentation one developer on an Xbox 360 was actually playing online with another developer on a PlayStation 3. Microsoft and Sony are the Hatfields and McCoys of the game world, so this was stunning. The point the producers were trying to make, successfully, was that this is technologically possible. Unfortunately, neither Sony nor Microsoft will allow anyone to ship a cross-console game at retail. More’s the pity. (Trion Worlds; Windows, 360 and PS3; no announced release date.)

FINAL FANTASY XIII-2 Don’t ask why the sequel to Final Fantasy XIII isn’t called Final Fantasy XIV. O.K., fine: in its infinite wisdom, Square Enix had already used the XIV moniker for a separate game. The point is that XIII-2 seems poised to correct the design flaws that made XIII so frustrating. Most important, this game will actually let the player make some choices about where to go and what to do. (Square Enix; early 2012; 360 and PS3.)

FRUIT NINJA KINECT I ran into this game by accident, and it provided the most fun I had in three minutes all week. The only downloadable game on this list, Fruit Ninja will already be familiar to the more than 25 million people who have played it on mobile phones and tablets. On Kinect, instead of tracing your finger across a screen to slash open the flying produce section, you can use your whole arm. Haiiii-ya! (Halfbrick Studios; this summer; Xbox Live.)

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