The Crispy Awards: E3 2009 Edition
(Contributors: Scott Jones, Gus Mastrapa, Evan Narcisse, John Teti, William Abner, John Keefer, Ryan Kuo, Kyle Orland)
Mama always said, "It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game." But Mama drank a lot of chardonnay from a box. And she got all of her sayings from back issues of Reader's Digest. And, as any fool who made it past the fourth grade knows, all that really matters in a more global, existential sense is who wins.
Which brings us to the Crispy Awards: E3 2009 Edition. (In case you're curious, here are last year's awards.) The Game Trust saw about one bazillion games last week. Some of those games -- a full week later -- are still stuck in our craws. They haunt us, the way that Kathy Griffin haunts our televisions. (Exorcist doesn't work; we tried that.) Still, other games magically, mysteriously vaporized from our gray matter only seconds after the demos were over.
What is it about these games that stay with us?
Well, of course, they are the games that are worthy of the spotlight, a statue and a complimentary stay in a Catskills resort. They are the best and brightest games of E3. After a great deal of consideration, and far too many rounds of drawing Pac-Man shapes in the foamy tops of our pints, here are Crispy Gamer's E3 2009 Awards. (Psst! Hugh Jackman: That's your cue to perform your cloying, overwrought song/dance number.) Enjoy.
Best Xbox 360 Game: Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction
All the runners-up you see down below? We knew those games would be good. But if you told us before the show that the words "Splinter Cell" would be uttered by any member of the Game Trust? We would have had you committed to Arkham Asylum.
Best PlayStation 3 Game: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
It should have been Kratos' show. (We picture the old bald-headed bastard somewhere in a hotel room, pulling the wings off flies.) Instead, it's Nathan Drake's this-freaking-building-is-falling-down-around-meeeee demo that's indelibly etched into our admittedly soft brains. Can a "Kratos Meets Nathan" game be far behind? Stay tuned, true believers.
Best Nintendo Wii Game: The Conduit
New Super Mario Bros. Wii is a nice bit of fan service. And Red Steel 2 actually did not look completely awful. But The Conduit gets the nod, mostly because we're weary of hearing about it, and we'd like it to come out already. Ship it already, Sega, so we can get on with our damn lives.
Best PC Game: Mass Effect 2
BioWare: How you toy and tease! Is Commander Shepard dead? Alive? In a coma? BioWare games are the soap operas of the medium. And this, folks, is our "Who Shot J.R." moment. As Evan Narcisse says, Mass Effect 2 is "The Empire Strikes Back" crossed with "The Dirty Dozen." And yes, we're fully aware that the game will also ship for the 360. But to play it the way it's meant to be played, you need an old-fashioned mouse and keyboard, and the intimacy of a PC.
Best Nintendo DS Game: Scribblenauts
It's not easy stealing the show from a cel-shaded Link driving around a cute little train in all of his elfin glory. But that's exactly what the inventive, cerebral Scribblenauts did.
(Runner-up: The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks)
Best PSP Game: LittleBigPlanet
Media Molecule's nifty do-it-yourself side-scroller feels right at home on the PSP. In fact, if anything, the PSP feels -- at least symbolically -- like a more appropriate platform for a game that celebrates little creatures accomplishing big things.
Most Innovative Game: Heavy Rain
Love it or hate it, you have to give Quantic Dream credit for bucking the status quo and trying something a little different. Yes, the controls are f***ing obtuse. Yes, the Quick Time Events are annoyingly too quick. But in a medium where we are overwhelmed with tripe like the insipid, never-ending Dynasty Warriors series (which apparently reproduces faster than rabbits do), this is exactly the kind of risk-taking we'd like to see more of.
(Runners-up: Scribblenauts, Split/Second, Mod Nation Racers)
Most Improved Game: Dragon Age: Origins
Sure, this game has been in development since -- no joke -- 2004. And one of the star characters in the game is named Duncan. (Yes, Duncan.) And despite the inevitable we're-so-over-Tolkien-and-Orcs-and-all-the-other-B.S. backlash, the game is finally -- finally! -- starting to come together in impressive fashion.
Read on for Biggest Disappointments and Best Overall Game.
Biggest Disappointment: BioShock 2's multiplayer
Evan Narcisse says: "Here's a sequel to a game that's became a classic on the strength of its plot and characterization, two things that multiplayer play doesn't really need or value. Yes, there's a cute, wink-wink framing story about being a product tester for weapons manufacturing that strives to be tonally appropriate to BioShock's 'duck and cover' vibe. But, ultimately, multiplayer will be about people shooting other people, and the stuff I saw didn't seem to have much nuance. BioShock 2's multiplayer won't compete with Left 4 Dead 2 in terms of charm, and it won't beat Modern Warfare 2 in terms of sizzle."
Runners-up for Biggest Disappointment:
Scott Jones: Heavy Rain was a kick in the stomach for me. For a game that supposedly emphasizes character development and above-average writing, having a black character who runs a junkyard named "Mad Dog" seems terribly unfortunate. (Who wrote this thing? Alan Wake?) While it's true that I habitually fear what I don't understand, when the Heavy Rain build crashed during my demo, I was more than happy to move on with my day."
John Keefer: A disappointment for me was Dragon Age pandering sex first over what seems like pretty solid gameplay. When BioWare sells sex first, is something else wrong, or is it appealing to the lowest common denominator to appeal to the masses instead of RPG nerds?
William Abner: John, I wonder if that demo would have been different if it were meant solely for the press. In my showing, there were many cat-calls and "woo hoos!" when the sex stuff was being shown. It was a proud moment, to be sure. When asked if we should choose the good girl or bad girl, there was an enthusiastic shout-out. I am admittedly tired of the BioWare love-triangle formula, and if I hadn't been able to get a 30-minute hands-on demo, I would have left disappointed. But after playing it, I'm on board. (We did the bad girl.)
Since I don't want to piggyback on [Evan's] choice, I'll also throw out Dante's Inferno. If you already played God of War, there is no reason to play this. Dante's Inferno looked stunningly derivative. It was slick-looking, and Hell was beautiful, but the demo showed nothing that did not fall outside of the original GoW design. Zero. I doubt it will be a bad game -- but is having that really popular and hip Divine Comedy license enough?
John Teti: For my biggest disappointment, I'll go back to the Sony press conference. When Jack Tretton talked about a new Final Fantasy, I was intrigued. Ready in 2010, I was enraptured. And then there was a trailer -- my synapses were ablaze with anticipation. But then, uh-oh, this looked a lot like Final Fantasy XI. Finally, the other shoe dropped as the title card came up. "FINAL FANTASY XIV," it screamed. And in the tiniest font known to man, it whispered, "Online." Great, another MMO. Do not toy with me like that, Jack Tretton. I was also disappointed that the trailer did not show any tits.
Best Overall Game of E3: Star Wars: The Old Republic
BioWare is at the helm of this Star Wars-centric massively-multiplayer online game. Translation: There's a .000001-percent chance that this will suck as hard as Galaxies did. The cover-based, third-person-focused combat system, the voice-acted dialogue (a first for the genre) and that retina-searing CGI trailer that had journos panting like they'd just seen Cheryl Tiegs in a bikini, and we've got a three-pronged attack that no game on the show floor could possibly match. Couple The Old Republic with last year's flawed (but compelling) The Force Unleashed, and the Star Wars brand -- which previously seemed about as "cool" as your mom's Crocs -- is suddenly relevant again.
The Game Trust's personal best-of-E3 picks:
William Abner: The Beatles: Rock Band
I always struggle with E3 awards. So many games looked good, because they are designed to look good at E3. But when I ask myself, "Self, what game will you most likely play the most?" the answer is easily The Beatles: Rock Band. I was able to play the game for a solid 30 minutes, singing lead and playing bass on "Get Back," "I Feel Fine" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand." It was one of the most exhilarating game experiences I have ever had at E3 -- going back to the Atlanta days. It doesn't hurt that I am a true Beatlemaniac, so maybe there's some bias there. Still, goo-goo-ga-joob.
Kyle Orland: New Super Mario Bros. Wii
When I first saw this game announced and demoed at the Nintendo press conference, I was literally bouncing out of my seat with excitement. Part of this is my inner fanboy coming out for some more old-school, 2-D Mario, but I doubt I'd be as excited for another single-player New Super Mario Bros. The thought of playing through this with my wife (Mario games are some of the only ones she enjoys unreservedly) makes me grin involuntarily with giddy anticipation.
Scott Jones: Bayonetta
This game goes against basically everything I believe in as a game critic. It's morally and narratively bankrupt. It features a vapid, over-sexualized character. It values style 1,000-fold over substance. I had no idea what the hell was even happening during the demo. But this is exactly the sort of thing that's my critical Achilles' heel. Resistance is futile. We can't pick the people we fall in love with. And, as someone who has loved and lost many times, love never makes sense. Bayonetta: Let's make a baby together.
Evan Narcisse: Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction
By going back to the drawing board, Ubisoft seems to be totally reinventing Sam Fisher's world in terms of play style, motivation and narrative structure. They could've delivered a by-the-numbers sequel and likely garnered stellar sales, but it looks like they're pushing a major franchise out of its comfort zone. I give them props for that.
John Teti: Scribblenauts
The one "wow!" moment of the show for me was playing a demo of this straightforward but very clever DS game. The Warner rep didn't have to sell it at all. It mixes language, touch and classic platform physics in a fresh way.
Ryan Kuo: Left 4 Dead 2
Maybe it was my play experience -- sitting side-by-side with Gus, Russ and another writer through two co-op levels in "The Parish" -- but no other game at E3 gave me as much joy as Left 4 Dead 2 did in 20 minutes. It may resemble an expansion more than a full-fledged sequel, yet from a creative standpoint, the game reflects typical Valve wisdom. By adjusting such subtle but crucial qualities as light, geography and accent, they've deepened the meaning of both Left 4 Dead and gaming aesthetics. Can a high-profile sequel consist solely of careful, deliberate adjustments to the original work? All undead hands point to yes.