June 4 marks the start of E3 2012, the biggest video game convention in the world. Last month, I took you through my predictions for what we will see from Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo. While the so-called "Big 3" are sure to have lots of new software and news, this month I'm focusing on the six must-watch games from third-party developers like EA, Ubisoft, and Activision.
None of these games are exclusive to a specific platform - like Halo 4 or Last of Us - but each is bound to turn some heads at E3. Expect some other surprise games at the show as well, and some notable omissions - like BioShock Infinite, last year's Best of Show which is skipping E3 2012.
I'll be the first to admit that last year's Assassin's Creed Revelations, didn't really deliver in my book. This year, however, it's an entirely new story - literally. Set in Colonial America, Assassin's Creed III features a new hero, Connor Kenway, a half-Mohawk protagonist whose village is ransacked by American revolutionaries. With gameplay in Boston and New York (including action in the snow), Ubisoft is promising the most ambitious Assassin's yet, including encounters with legendary historical figures like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.
And, while Ubisoft isn't discussing the modern-day Desmond sequences yet, I expect you'll see some interesting twists there as well. Expect the multiple E3 demos for Assassin's Creed III to get the crowd even more hyped for this new time period. The game comes out in late October.
Assassin's Creed III has a new setting: Colonial America.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 turns the clock forward to future warfare.
Over the past few years, the Call of Duty franchise has continued to post record sales every year, but the core game design hasn't changed much. This year, Treyarch is pushing to innovate with Black Ops 2 where others have duplicated. For starters, the game is partially set in the near future, 2025, and that twist unlocks new technologies and weapons such as advanced drones in cities like Los Angeles. In addition, Treyarch is promising a campaign with a branching storyline and strategic missions called "Strike Force" levels, which players can win or lose and which, in turn, impact the story. While the base Call of Duty game engine is starting to look a little dated, you have to give the team at Treyarch credit for pushing the limits of storytelling and gameplay with this new title, which is due in November for every platform out there.
First shown off last year during the Xbox 360 keynote, Tomb Raider is back for an all-new adventure from Crystal Dynamics, coming out in early 2013. Let's be honest: The past few Tomb Raider games haven't been very good, but Crystal Dynamics has spent years rebuilding its studio to create an Uncharted-quality game with epic action and a gritty feel. What separates this Tomb Raider game from others is that it's an origin story. Here, Lara Croft is just 21 years old and washed ashore off the coast of Japan after a shipwreck. She has to learn how to survive before she can become the legendary action hero we know from the movie and the other games. Expect the new demo of Tomb Raider to turn a lot of heads at E3 this year and to build on the momentum from last year's debut.
Last year, EA made waves in the modern-day military shooter genre with Battlefield 3 and its Frostbyte 2 technology. This year, there's no new Battlefield (besides some DLC), so instead, EA is focusing on its other military shooter franchise - Medal of Honor. Battlefield 3 had a great multiplayer experience but the single player campaign was quite disappointing; so, the goal with MOH: Warfighter is to deliver great content for the campaign and multiplayer, all powered by Frostbyte 2. The story, written by two ex-military Tier-1 operators, is not just set in the Middle East. You'll fight terrorists in Somalia and the Philippines, and the multiplayer mode will feature playable operatives from ten different countries including Canada, the UK, and even the Kommando Spezialkrafte from Germany. While Warfighter has an uphill battle against Call of Duty this year, the gritty, realistic feel of the game will be a nice contrast to Black Ops 2's over-the-top, time-twisting story.
Are you ready for a first-person, Neo-Victorian steampunk stealth game to invade E3? Developed by Arkane and published by Bethesda, Dishonored is a twisted new stealth-action game that is poised to get a lot of attention at E3. This highly-original world puts you in control of a bodyguard named Corvo, who is framed for an assassination and must seek revenge. Similar to BioShock, the game is filled with magical powers and abilities. There's swordplay but also the ability to freeze time, possess any living creature (including rats), and teleport. In a sea of sameness at E3, Dishonored looks new and innovative - especially if you like stealth games like Thief. This is not a high-action explosion-fest, but rather a more calculated and strategic form of first-person combat.
Recently I attended the Penny Arcade Expo East in Boston, and no game had more buzz there than Borderlands 2 from Gearbox. Set for release this fall, this so-called "role-playing shooter" expands on the first game's addictive blend of first-person action and deeper role-playing elements. In many ways, it is addictive as Diablo is on the PC, just played from the first-person perspective. There will be four-player co-op, vehicles, and, of course, the ability to customize your weapons and loadouts with an insane amount of detail. There will be four playable classes, including the assassin Zer0, who will be a big focus of the E3 demo. The cel-shaded world of Pandora returns again, and based on early demos, fans will get exactly what they want in Borderlands 2: more looting, more action, and more co-op fun with friends online.