OCC E3 2012 AwardsClayMeow -
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Best Strategy Game
Winner: SimCity (PC)
Full disclosure: I don't play strategy games, so analyzing this category was very tough. (You'd be crazy to let me control hundreds of troops; I'd just go brute force with them)
My lack of experience aside, one strategy game that really caught my attention at this year's E3 was SimCity. Since I first laid my hands on gaming, Tycoon titles have always been one of my guilty pleasures. There remains something rewarding about starting with nothing, building gradually more complex roller coasters, aquariums, and shopping malls along the way (depending on the specific Tycoon game of course), and eventually ruling over my creation like Big Brother. No, it's not Starcraft or the next Battle for Middle Earth, but it's surely got my interest going. Using the new GlassBox Simulation engine, the city will look and feel more realistic than ever. Traffic jams will actually involve a congestion of cars on the street, the city will go pitch black at night if the electrical grid is down, and each Sim will have its own lifestyle routine in the city. New and probably most exciting for SimCity is the inclusion of online connectivity. The world is split into regions, each inhabited by groups of cities. What makes it special is that each of these user-controlled cities directly influence one another. If one is flooded with industrial buildings, the pollution may move to an adjacent one. Goods and even citizens can travel between cities, while material prices will depend on supply and demand in the region. What it all comes down to is something of a living, breathing world where the actions of one player may affect the outcome of several others. It's quite an exciting concept for a game in such a genre. Little is known about the rest of the gameplay at the moment, but I'm looking forward to finding out more in the coming months before its release in 2013.
Winner: XCOM: Enemy Unknown (PC, PS3, 360)
You would be hard pressed to find an older gamer who has anything bad to say about the classic X-COM series. Sure, there may be a game that wasn't that great, but overall the series is one of the most beloved of all time. XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a re-imagining/remake of X-COM: UFO Defense (UFO: Enemy Unknown) being handled by Firaxis, which makes the Civilization series, if you've ever heard of that. XCOM: Enemy Unknown is one of two XCOM games in development, but the other is an FPS and does not count in the strategy category. This new Enemy Unknown is a classic strategy game through and through, and even though it will release on the consoles as well as the PC, the console version will not be dumbed down. You are in command of XCOM, the most elite scientific and military force on Earth, and it is up to you and your team to repel the alien invasion. The battlefield is viewed from an isometric 3D perspective, the game's menu shows the XCOM headquarters (only one this time), and the global "Geoscape" view allows for strategic positioning of troops around the world. The battles are turn-based, but there are no grids to move on or specific firing angles to use. Your squad can have up to six members on a mission and are able to make use of cover, suppressing fire, stealth, and different abilities to win the fight. The enemy can also make use of these tactics, so you will have to be on your toes to make sure your troops do not die. Death is permanent in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, so plan your actions carefully! XCOM: Enemy Unknown comes out on October 9th this year, and I cannot wait to see Firaxis' take on the classic series.
Runner-Up: Company of Heroes 2 (PC)
I love the first Company of Heroes and its expansions, so I was delighted to hear a sequel is on track to release next year. Company of Heroes 2 focuses on the Eastern Front of World War Two and adds the Red Army as a playable faction at last. Players will get to experience the Nazi push into the USSR during Operation Barbarossa, the Red Army fighting them at every turn, and end up with the Battle of Berlin. The new Essence 3 engine is powering CoH2 and includes snow and "true sight," which means the player sees whatever the unit sees. The reason I have this game as a runner-up is because not much information has been released on it, but I eagerly look forward to more news.
Winner: Company of Heroes 2 (PC)
Company of Heroes is the highest rated strategy game of all-time. So one has to wonder why it took Relic so long to make a sequel. Maybe the studio was just waiting for technology to catch up with its ambition. Company of Heroes 2 will feature the USSR's Red Army as a new faction and uses the new Essence 3 engine to render realistic snow that has a very real impact on your troops' movements. Snow in Company of Heroes 2 isn't just a white ground texture – it has depth, will spread procedurally, and will compact when rolled over by tanks, though tanks can get bogged down if the snowdrifts are too high. Something as simple as snow adds a whole new level of strategy to the game. For example, infantry can use deep snowdrifts as cover for flanking maneuvers, but can move faster on thinner snow coverage. Company of Heroes was known for its cover system and the sequel takes that to the next level, introducing what's being referred to as "true sight". What this means is that the player can only see what the units see, flipping the RTS concept of fog of war on its head.
Runners-Up: SimCity (PC), Pikmin 3 (Wii U)
Some of you may be too young to have played SimCity 2000 or at least appreciate how great a game it was at the time. There have been several SimCity games since, but none have come close to capturing that magic. Maxis is rebooting the franchise with SimCity, due out next year. Aside from capturing that SimCity 2000 magic, what's really impressive about SimCity is the capabilities of its new game engine, GlassBox. Glassbox replaces those boring charts with a unique graphical interface, visually representing things such as resources, traffic, construction, etc. In addition, the multi-player aspect of trading resources and services with your friends sounds like a very interesting and unique addition to the simulation genre. Whereas SimCity attempts to simulate realism, Pikmin 3 is anything but. Arguably the most exciting Wii U exclusive, Pikmin 3 brings back the colorful, zany pikmin after a rather long hiatus, offering up a unique strategy experience not often found on a console. Pikmin 3 will offer single-player, multi-player, and a new Challenge mode.