OCC E3 2013 AwardsClayMeow - July 2, 2013
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Winner: Destiny (PS3, PS4, 360, XBO)
I'm sure many of you were wondering where Destiny was, well, here it is. Bungie made a name for itself with the Halo series, but now it's branching out to something else. There are similarities, sure, but Destiny is an altogether different beast. It's an always-online first-person shooter, but not quite an MMO as it features a "shared-world" system where all the players don't interact with each other at once. Instead you only see your friends and anyone else you've been matched with through the game's matchmaking system. Destiny is described as alive, where in-game events can happen that Bungie didn't plan or even control, which lends itself to an incredibly dynamic gameplay experience.
In Destiny, mankind has explored the stars and even colonized new worlds. However, something went wrong, "the Collapse," which brought about the dissolution of the colonies and actually has mankind nearly extinct. The only known survivors are on Earth, which were saved by "the Traveler," the giant white sphere that's become the de facto symbol of the game. The Traveler appeared centuries earlier (Destiny is set 700 years in the future) and helped launch mankind's space colonization efforts. It now sits above the last remaining Earth city, and it's enabled the Guardians of the City (humanity's last defenders) to wield incredible powers.
However, all is not well in the universe, as Earth's former colonies are now inhabited by alien beings, who have set their sights on the last Earth City. You take on the role of a Guardian who has to do everything in their power to destroy the aliens and keep mankind around. The Guardians are composed of Humans, Awoken, and Exo, with the Awoken being similar to elves/vampires/angels, and Exos akin to the undead and even Halo's Master Chief. Players pick one of those races to play as, plus either the Hunter, Warlock, or Titan class. Hunters are reconnaissance units (think Han Solo or The Man With No Name), Warlocks are described as "space wizards" (think Jedi Knights), and finally the Titans are the heavy weapons and melee experts (Borderlands' Brick meets Master Chief). Each character can be customized by the player, so hopefully each one will be visually unique to set apart the different players.
There's still plenty more to learn about Destiny, but so far it sounds like Bungie has another winner on its hands.
Runner-Up: Knack (PS4)
Knack may not be as innovative as Destiny, but to me it fufills a special place in the pantheon of gaming. Like I said before, Knack is a game that's sure to appeal to everyone, and to me that's where its innovation comes into play. It's an ode to platformers of years past, but it looks to be presented in a way to bring in all kinds of players. Casual, hardcore, and everything in between should find something to love with Knack, and could be the perfect introductory point to the vast world of video games for someone who doesn't play anything more complex than Fruit Ninja. Knack looks like a Pixar movie in video game form, with cartoony visuals and a very endearing (so far) title character. It may not set the graphics bar to a new level, but it doesn't have to if it brings video gaming to a new audience.
Winner: Tearaway (Vita)
If you're a Vita owner, Tearaway should be atop your wishlist, if for no other reason than the fact that it's being developed by Media Molecule, the studio behind the LittleBigPlanet series. Tearaway is a 3D platforming adventure game that really takes advantage of the Vita's unique features. One thing that makes the game immediately stand out is its papercraft world. Media Molecule actually created a Paper Engine that allows them to form the world and characters realistically, including adding tears and wrinkles so it doesn't look flat. But the innovation doesn't end there, it's what Media Molecule does with it.
While you control the protagonist (Iota or Atoi, depending on whether you want a male or female, respectively) using the analog sticks like a typical platformer, you can interact with the world using the front touchscreen and rear touchpad. When using the rear touchpad, you actually "tear away" the paper environment, seeing fingers poking through the world. Tearaway literally wouldn't work on any other platform, as the Vita is the only device with a rear touchpad. It makes you truly like you're a part of Tearaway's world, and that's exactly the point – when Iota or Atoi look up at the sun, they actually see your face thanks to the Vita's frontcam. The protagonist actually recognizing the player is an interesting dynamic, almost like when an actor addresses an audience.
As with any console, it usually takes developers a little while before they master it. While other Vita games have utilized the rear touchpad in various ways, Tearaway is the first game truly designed with that in mind – it's a game that wouldn't be able to exist without it. I applaud Media Molecule for pushing the boundaries and hope it inspires other developers to think about Vita game development differently.
Runner-Up: The Bureau: XCOM Declassified (PC, PS3, 360)
At E3 2010, it was announced that a new XCOM was in development, but much to the chagrin of long-time fans, it would be a first-person shooter. After numerous delays and changes, now that game has returned with a new name and new look. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is a third-person, squad-based, tactical shooter that tells the origin story of how the clandestine XCOM organization was formed back in 1962. What's innovative about The Bureau is how it handles the tactical combat the previous franchise entries are known for. Developer 2K Marin is referring to it as real-time tactical combat. You control a squad leader named William Carter, while two other squadmates are autonomous, AI-controlled soldiers. They'll attack and seek cover to preserve their own survival, but it will be up to your tactics to create a cohesive and coordinated team.
At any time during combat, you can activate a tactical interface called "Battle Focus" that provides real-time command options – position squad mates, flank enemies, prioritize targets, and even unleash powers or abilities. During Battle Focus, you can also see target probabilities and line of sight – you're essentially observing the battlefield. What's unique and innovative about Battle Focus is that it's not actually pausing the game, but rather putting it into a super slo-mo – you CAN get killed during it if you're not careful. It's not quite like the pause-and-plan interface found in a game like Dragon Age: Origins, but allows a greater breadth and depth of commands than the simplistic real-time squad commands found in a game like Mass Effect.
The Bureau may not look like an XCOM game, but it certainly has the feel of one. That's quite an accomplishment in its own right. Aside from the focus on tactical gameplay, The Bureau even has permadeath for your squadmates (but if Carter dies, it's game over), and Carter and his recruits can gain ranks (level up) to earn points to spend on various Perks. For those gamers that aren't into turn-based strategy games, The Bureau is a perfect introduction to the XCOM universe. For those XCOM veterans, it's a great change of pace.