Even if we're crawling to the end of a console generation, this year's E3 games convention still had plenty of promising new games. With one day of the show still to go we can't claim to have seen everything, but here's our pick of favourites from the Los Angeles convention floor.
Sony came to E3 fighting with a killer one-two combo of original IPs, with Naughty Dog's The Last of Us ending its press conference in style. It's another cinematic action-adventure with similarities to Uncharted, but with a very different approach and a shockingly discordant tone. The Last of Us is a brutal game of post-apocalyptic survival, which sees a veteran survivor and his teenage girl companion battling through overgrown cities, mutants and bands of thugs. There's Naughty Dog's usual exploration and puzzle solving, but combat is tense, visceral and incredibly violent. Ammunition is in short supply, and sometimes enemies need to be dispatched with whatever means comes easily to hand. Even after behind closed doors sessions, much remains unknown about the game, but The Last of Us stands out from the crowd of action games like a bruised and battered, blood-soaked thumb.
The second blow of Sony's combo, Beyond is the latest from Heavy Rain creator David Cage, starring a motion-captured Ellen Page in a fifteen year long saga of psychic turmoil. Despite a stunning press conference trailer, little is known about the storyline or gameplay, but early reports suggest a development of Heavy Rain's interactive drama with an added supernatural twist, and an invisible entity that might be responsible for some of the explosive chaos and destruction witnessed in the material we've seen. Where the game looks set to break new ground is in its performances, which go beyond even what we saw in Heavy Rain to capture the slightest nuance and expression. Watching the trailer close-up on an HD screen in Sony's conference suite, it shows the gap between game and cinema closing even tighter.
If Sony's E3 showing focussed on new IP, then Microsoft's was all about redefining old ones. As the first Halo to be developed outside Bungie, Halo 4 has a lot riding on its shoulders, but with many Halo veterans on the team, 343 Industries seems equipped to deliver a game that will delight all Halo fans. Having tried the multiplayer we can state that it's a return to classic Halo but with all the mod-cons online warriors now expect, and the new Spartan Ops co-op missions, to be released in weekly episodes, look great. However, the real test will be the single-player campaign, and with a new setting, new weapons and a new adversary - the mysterious Prometheans - Halo 4 looks set to recapture that experience of exploration and discovery that made the original Halo so fantastic.
While you couldn't see any next-gen hardware at E3 2012, you could certainly see some next-gen software - it just happened to be running on PC. Frankly, there aren't enough superlatives to describe how amazing Crysis 3 looks. It's jungle vegetation looks lusher and more natural than ever; the water effects and physics simulations more detailed; its explosion and particle effects even more ridiculously over the top. Forget photo-realistic, Crysis 3 looks hyper-real. Meanwhile, the move from the fairly limited environments of Crysis 2 back towards more open environments inside a futuristic 'Liberty Dome' gives us hope that Crysis 3 will regain the sandbox values that made us fall in love with the original. New, highly customisable bow and arrow weaponry certainly points towards impressive depths. Just one question remains: how will all this goodness ever fit onto a current generation console without killing the frame rate? We don't know, but Crytek remains bullish that it will.
The game that made last year's European Gamescom conference is back as one of the games of E3. Having had some hands-on time we can say that Dishonored looks to live up to expectations: a fantastic stealth/action/adventure game with a toolbox bursting with supernatural powers and vicious weaponry, and a superb sandbox environment that combines steampunk influences with styles borrowed from 17th Century and Victorian London. Imagine a cross between Thief: Deadly Shadows, Deus Ex, Bioshock and Half Life 2, where you're free to experiment with a range of approaches, and where a Chaos system tracks your bloody handiwork and makes the environment and local populace react accordingly. If you love the games mentioned, then Dishonored is a likely candidate for your game of the year.
With two great titles tussling to be the best racer at E3, we can't decide which we want most. Having revitalised Need for Speed with 2010's Hot Pursuit, Criterion Games is now applying its vision to a reimagining of 2005's Most Wanted, with free-roaming racing over open and urban landscapes, the next generation of the autolog system, so that you're always competing with your friends, and a hilarious multiplayer mode that sees players racing to events and then competing in high-speed races and madcap challenges. Forza Horizons takes Forza out onto the open road, with a fictional music and racing festival curated by Rob Da Bank, but the same kind of realistic handling and simulation that we've come to expect from Forza. Both games look great, but which will we like best? There's only one way to find out... FIGHT!!!
Crystal Dynamics' gutsy reboot of the Lara Croft legend sees a younger heroine trapped on a remote Pacific Island, fighting not just to be reunited with her friends and family, but for the very hope of survival. In her way? Lack of food, harsh weather, hungry beasts and inhospitable terrain, but also the creepiest locals since Deliverance, with hints of cult sacrifice and cannibalism. This is a darker and more gritty take on Tomb Raider, with more violence, shocks and scares than ever before, but also a potentially brilliant thriller, with all the clambering and puzzle-solving of the classic series, but more tension, freedom and suspense. Having played second fiddle to Nathan Drake for this console generation, is the new Tomb Raider the one to put Lara back on top?
Despite close competition from those lovable Pikmin, there's no question of what is the standout launch title on Wii U. A successor to New Super Mario Bros on the Wii and the 3DS, New Super Mario Bros U is another classic 2D platformer, dragging the series into sparking high-definition, and with a two-to-five player co-op mode that sees one player using the new Wii U Pad to put extra platforms in the air for their allies to land on. In practice it's brilliant fun, and while the basic gameplay doesn't deviate much from the established Mario playbook, there are still signs of Nintendo's endless invention when it comes to creatures, contraptions and new platforming mechanics. It's arguably the game that will sell Wii U.
Watch Dogs will go down as the game that stole the show. Unknown before E3, this all-new IP is an open-world action game, set in a modern day Chicago and focussing on high-tech espionage, spectacular firefights and dramatic escapes - a kind of Deus Ex meets Assassin's Creed meets GTA. The game didn't just get attention for its impressive gameplay, but for its incredible visuals, which have had many of us wondering whether it's running on next-generation hardware, or at least a PC approximation. Ubisoft is saying nothing, though the game is scheduled to appear on Xbox 360 and PS3. While Assassin's Creed 3 is Ubisoft's biggest game at the show, we have Watch Dogs down as the one to, erm, watch.
Continuing the canine theme, Square Enix's Sleeping Dogs is another surprise E3 hit. Originally developed under the auspices of Activision as True Crime: Hong Kong, the game was unceremoniously cancelled as execs felt it wasn't up to snuff. Luckily Square-Enix saw more potential and gave the team more time and cash to do things right. The result is an exciting Hong Kong crime movie spin on GTA, combining hard-hitting close combat, free-running acrobatics and John Woo gunplay in a richly detailed virtual city. After hands-on and hands-off demos we have some minor concerns about controls and camera, but the game looks magnificent and plays up to all your Hong Kong action fantasies. If Sleeping Dogs has the depth and the variety to match, this could go down as the hit game that Activision let slip away.