The fires of E3 have turned to warm embers as the show continues to fade into memory, but now the legacy of the show begins. The winners and losers have been discussed, the new IPs have been analyzed, and gaming fans around the world can begin to dissect the news and decide what they want to follow.
With the lack of hardware debuts this E3, the focus turned to a closer look at the upcoming titles that had major support and the reach to expose those games to the masses. Halo 4 was everywhere with the blessing of Microsoft. Several new IPs were debuted under the Sony banner. Ubisoft was everywhere with Assassin’s Creed 3 and the new game Watch Dogs. There were a lot of major titles on display with big budgets and big potential that had a lot of eyes on them from the moment they were unveiled.
But with the spotlight firmly fixed on a number of high profile games, there were several titles that flew under the radar and yet still have the potential to be hits. Which brings us to this list of 10 games we think could be breakout sleeper hits from this year’s E3.
Longtime fans of gaming will likely be somewhat familiar with the name Ron Gilbert. He doesn’t quite have the same name recognition as Shigeru Miyamoto, Sid Meier, or David Jaffe perhaps, but his nearly three decades working in gaming have produced some of the most important and influential games in the medium’s history, including Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island to name a few.
Early next year Gilbert returns with The Cave, something of a passion project for him. The Cave will be available in Early 2013, and be published by Sega as a digitally distributed title, featuring single and co-op platforming play. No price has been given yet, but it will be reasonable and affordable.
The game features seven characters all searching for their heart’s desire in an ancient and sentient cave that acts as a narrator throughout the journey. The platforming elements will be finely tuned and familiar, but it will be the humor and commentary that will be the legacy of this game. Digital Distribution is a growing and powerful new medium, and The Cave may be among the best of this and next year’s batch.
Trion’s Defiance is easily one of the most intriguing titles that came out of E3, and the game itself is only part of it. There is also an original TV show debuting on SyFy Channel that will run in tandem and present a different side of the same story. The two will exist separately, but they will also have some crossover potential.
On the game side of things, Defiance will be a third-person MMO shooter set in the Bay Area following a failed alien invasion that left Earth a broken and radically different place from what it is now. In the game you will play as a hunter of an alien mineral that you and your fellow hunters team up to mine, all the while battling mutants and outlaws. The TV show will exist in the same world at the same time, but it will focus on events around St. Louis, and feature a character (played by Grant Bowler) that will have his own story arc as a lawman of a refuge camp.
The game will be a constantly evolving thing, updated and changed to keep up with the demands and requests of the community, which will in turn be influenced by the show. Characters from the show will occasionally appear in digital form in the game, and game clans—created by users—will be talked about in the show, as will major events. If the integration goes beyond just the minor mention here and there, and really becomes something that is influenced by an ongoing MMO, there could be a seriously motivated and involved fanbase born from it.
It might seem kind of odd to call a Hitman game a sleeper hit, especially after the whole “punching a nun” controversy a few weeks ago, but it may very well be a sleeper hit of the year. Especially given Square Enix’s other upcoming monster hit, Tomb Raider, which will likely receive most of the marketing push from the enclave.
The Hitman games have always had decent success (enough to support a franchise that spans a dozen years), but the series has remained relatively dormant since the 2006 offering, Hitman: Blood Money—not counting the movie that was met with mixed reactions.
During the years between iterations, there have been a lot of games that feature the stealth mechanic, and the assassin angle has been done. A lot. This game, however, has a lot going for it. The stealth mechanic is polished and the options are varied. This game specializes in one thing—killing targets—and it does it very, very well. It uses smart AI that will need to be fooled. If you kill a mark, you will need to hide their body. That may sound like a common thing these days, but there is more to it. You can cause explosions to hide the evidence, make kills look like accidents, or just go Rambo and see what happens. The time is right for this game, and with a bit of luck, this might be the biggest game in the franchise yet.
Papo & Yo
One of the most interesting and compelling games at this year’s E3 (and last year’s too) was Papo & Yo, a fantasy adventure game with a strange and original history that will certainly raise a few eyebrows. The story follows Quico and his best friend, Monster as they search for Quico’s sister. Monster is a giant beast that has an addictive and uncontrollable yearning for poisonous frogs. When he eats one he flies into a rage where no one, including Quico, is safe.
Papo & Yo is a thinly veiled metaphor for developer Vander Caballero’s childhood spent with his abusive, alcoholic father. It looks like a good game in its own right, but the deep emotions and story at work set this downloadable game apart from so many others that are on the market, and should stand out among the crowd.
The “games as art” debate will certainly have a new piece of ammo available for those siding with art. It has the potential to be a critical darling from the raw emotions poured into it alone. If the gameplay can match its aspirations, it may end up being a commercial hit as well.
Another Square Enix title with a lot of potential that may be overshadowed by Tomb Raider and even Hitman: Absolution makes this list. Sleeping Dogs also has the difficult task of fighting off the public perception that it is simply a Grand Theft Auto clone set in Hong Kong. And there is some truth to that (okay, there is a lot of truth to that), but calling it a GTA-clone is just as unfair as calling any of the thousands of FPS games out there Call of Duty-clones just because that’s the biggest game in that particular genre.
The game takes place in the Hong Kong underworld, a setting often explored in popular fiction (especially movies), but rarely seen in video games. The gameplay is a mix of open world missions and side-quests, and the combat is similar to the fighting in the Batman games, with counters being the key to victory and environmental objects frequently within distance to add the occasional stylish animation. Vehicle sections will play a big part, and mature fans of Hong Kong cinema should appreciate the sprawling plot, along with anyone that is looking to fill the gap left by Grand Theft Auto that Red Dead Redemption and many other open world games have filled over the years.
The colorful mix of action and story could be exactly what people have been waiting for. If the game can deliver on the quality side of things, there could be a massive hit in the making.
Designed for the Vita (but also available on the PlayStation 3), Sound Shapes is a game that features music as the foundation for the platforming. Actually, to call it a platformer undervalues the musical side of things. It makes more sense to call it a musical creation game that is presented as a platformer.
The Vita will use the touchscreen controls to full effect, and the licensed use of several musicians, including Deadmau5, should appeal to fans of music everywhere. But more than that, the game is original. There are always similarities that can be drawn to other titles, but for all intents and purposes, Sound Shapes is something totally unique.
It isn’t the type of game that will sell millions of copies, but it could quickly and easily develop a cult following. Those that do adopt it and begin to share their musical creations may be doing so for years to come.
South Park: The Stick of Truth
This may seem like an odd pick for a sleeper hit since the license is huge and the game has been getting some decent love from both publishers and the press. Trey Parker and Matt Stone even appeared on stage at the Microsoft press conference to tout the game. But still, South Park isn’t quite the massive hit it used to be, and an RPG based on an animated comedy isn’t really a natural fit for a mainstream gaming audience.
With Obsidian Entertainment, the makers of Fallout: New Vegas at the helm, plus the brain trust of Parker and Stone working behind the scenes to make this as authentic a South Park experience as possible, Stick of Truth could be a game that helps to once again redefine and reinvigorate the South Park series–just like the movie did back in 1999.
The game will obviously appeal to the fans of the series, but can it appeal to those that are only casual fans? Can it be a good RPG and not just a good South Park game? So far it looks like it has the chops, and if it can, it could be a big hit for Obsidian and the beleaguered THQ.
X-Com: Enemy Unknown
The real-time strategy game impressed us at E3, and it will likely impress fans when it is released on October 9 for PC, PS3, and Xbox 360. So far the game looks balanced and polished. The only real question is whether or not it can bridge the gap between RTS fans and everyone else.
RTS games aren’t traditionally mainstream-friendly, but the genre itself has a loyal and dedicated fanbase that supports the games they like with a zeal that keeps them popular for years. Using the name and setting of X-Com, gamers portraying a forlorn defense against a much more sophisticated and advanced enemy should garner attention and motivate RTS fans.
The game has been in development for four years now, and 2K Games along with developer Firaxis have sunk a lot of heart and soul into what they no doubt hope will be a StarCraft rival. If the RTS community accepts X-Com, it very well could be.
Tank! Tank! Tank!
Although this game was originally released in the arcade back in 2009, it is the Wii U version from Namco Bandai that piqued our attention and has the potential to be a breakout hit for the fledgling Wii U system.
The game just looks fun and seems to understand that the Wii U is not going to be a graphical powerhouse, but instead will be a fun system designed to appeal to fans that are looking for something new, rather than something that is simply powerful. That said, the game doesn’t really take advantage of the gamepad, instead it is a simply a fifth controller with its own screen, and the graphics aren’t that impressive. And yet, it is still fun in a wacky sort of way.
It is a party game that has you fighting monsters with tanks. There really isn’t much more that you need to know beyond that. It won’t push the Wii U’s hardware, nor will it radically alter the way you play games. But it is a fun title that will hopefully launch with the Wii U and give gamers a party game to get behind.
The Unfinished Swan
We’ve already talked a bit about Sony’s PSN exclusive, The Unfinished Swan, and nothing we saw changed our initial opinion that this game could be a sleeper hit for the PSN.
It is an original and bizarre game featuring an entirely undefined world that you create using a paintball-like gun that fills in the world around you with color. Along with the setting, you also fill in the original and unique story that you uncover through playing. After young Monroe’s mother dies, you are left with your choice of one of her many unfinished paintings. You choose the “Unfinished Swan,” which turns out to be a doorway to this incomplete realm.
The Unfinished Swan is new and fresh and uses mechanics that will be immediately familiar to anyone that plays games, especially first-person shooters. And yet despite that familiar mechanic, the game can still manage to surprise you. That alone may make it a hit.