|After digging ourselves out from under the digital press kits and betas, here are
what we think will the top dozen games of 2000. But first, a few caveats: we chose
not to include any of the games that we chose as best
of show for last year--that means that some excellent games--like Shogun, Diablo II,
Deus Ex, Giants, and Oni-- will not be listed below. And we also decided not to include a
few most excellent games that will be released in the very near future--including Sierra's
Ground Control and Activisions' Vampire: The Masquerade and Dark Reign 2.
B-17 Flying Fortress --There weren't a lot of hardcore flight sims at E3 this year. With the exception of B-17 and Microsoft's newest Combat Flight Simulator (which looks great and covers WWII in the Pacific), it could be a long dry year for simmers. But B-17 blew us away; not only does it have great graphics, but it's an ambitious and serious sim. The game is so deep that you'll be able to realistically play any of the ten crew positions on the B-17, and evey switch between positions--so if you choose to be a bombadier, you'll have to learn to use the Norden bomb sight. But the game is also very scaleable--if you don't want to worry about piloting the beast, you can just shoot .50 caliber rounds at Me-109s all day. And if you get tired of bombing the Reich and flying in formation, B-17 also allows you to pilot Allied escorts and Axis interceptors. Here's hoping that Hasbro manages to make B-17 the combination of fun, realism, and looks that we thought Gunship! would be.
& WhiteFrom the legendary game designer Peter Molyneaux comes a unique
RPG that offers two contrasting gaming experiences; black (evil) or white (good). Set in the magical world of Eden, players take the
role of a deity possessing the ultimate power: divine Intervention. Players progress through the game with four simple
and powerful toolsbrain, magic, moral stance, and creature. The primary tool is the mystical creature;
whether it grows into an evil colossus or a gentle giant is determined by the
playeras are the powerful spells used to battle opposing deities in pursuit of
become the worlds supreme god. The
world of Black & White is filled with challenges that are broken into tests and quests
that each player must deal with: do you heal the sick villager or assist the thief? Eventually players will encounter other tribes and
gods seeking control over Eden--a control that can only be gained through a combination of
increased worshippers, forged alliances and epic battles.
Ship date for Black & White is Winter 2000.
Empire Earth--Ever wish you could play a game that combined the excitement and looks of an RTS game like Age of Empires with the depth and grand scale of a turn-based game like Civ II? Well, so did Rick Goodman, the lead designer of the original Age of Empires. But instead of just moaning about it, like we all do, he actually came up with a game that hopes to bridge those genres. Empire Earth allows you to guide a civilization from the moment it comes out of the trees to the age of nanotechnology. No more of this punk "just the middle ages" stuff--Empire Earth covers 500,000 years of human history. Of course, that's quite an epic undertaking, so if you just want a quick game, you can choose to limit your contest to one of the 12 different epochs. One of the things we were most impressed by was the ability to customize your civilizations. Empire Earth employs an enormous tech tree and "civilization points" that you can spend on many different attributes, so your civilization will be different each time you play the game. And though the gameplay we saw emphasized combat, Goodman assures us that civilizations will be able to win through diplomancy and trade as well as by military domination. This one could be a ways off, but it just might be the game that finally adds strategic depth to RTS.
NFL 2001The Madden franchise is back with a vengeance this year with an
all-new interface and true-to-life player models. For
the first time ever, Electronic Arts Madden NFL 2001 incorporates coaches into the
game with the exclusive NFL Coaches Club license. This allows coaches to be seen on
the sidelines and results in different strategies for each team. As for the players, player-specific details are
accurate right down to wristbands, facemasks, turf tape and elbow pads and match the
equipment in real NFL games. More
importantly, The weight and height of each player is now factored into collisions and pass
routes. This have an effect on everything from tackles to blown assignments; a small
DB will have a tough time knocking down a large fullback and a linebacker will find it
difficult to cover a fast receiver. And look
to play an entire season on-line with rankings and stats of other Madden players in EA
sponsored tournaments. Anticipated release
Madden NFL 2001 is Fall 2000.
Max PayneFrom developer Remedy comes a story-driven third-person action game with film noir themes that follows a lone man's gritty descent to the violent night of New York City. The story goes something like this: Max Payne was an ordinary cop until his family was brutally murdered by the New York Mafia. Going undercover as a DEA agent, Max was getting close to the source of a new deadly drug, Valkyr, when his superior officer (and best friend) was brutally slain. The blame was pinned on Max who now has to fight the mafia and avoid his finger-pointing former comrades. Max Payne sports a custom-designed engine capable of pumping out dynamic radiosity lighting, particle systems, and realistic character movement. This means that all characters are lit dynamically by local light sources, which gives an eerie sense of realism as their animation punctuates superb motion capture. Damage is modeled much as in Soldier of Fortune, and wounds to some locations (like your head) will do much more harm than wounds to others (like Shawn's head). Look for gameplay to echo a combination of John Woo and the Wachowski brotherslots of flash Hong Kong moves and slo-mo. Remedy has also decided to display no less than 80 comic-style story panels to eliminate the boredom of level loading. Distributed by Gathering of Developers, this long-awaited game will be released When Its Done.
Mechwarrior 4--Around here, we like to call this "Mechwarror for Al." At one of our first network parties several years ago, we played some multiplayer Mechwarrior 2. Al had no inkling of what the Battletech universe was, let alone any notion of how to navigate MW2's byzantine interface. But he thought driving giant robots around would be cool, so he jumped into a game. And got his butt kicked. Ever since then, he's refused to play any of the Mechwarrior games because "they're too much like taking a typing test." Frankly, he was right, and Microsoft hopes to make the Mechwarrior franchise much more approachable by simplifying the game's interface. Mechwarrior will now be less of struggle with your mech and more of a struggle against other mechs. To that end, Microsoft has chose to emphasize the tactical aspects of the game--you'll get to choose not only your weapons loadout, but what mechs and pilots you employ and where you set up. There will be 21 mechs in the game, including 7 never seen before. The designers were especially proud of the 30-mission dynamic campaign--which features young mechwarriors hunting down the man that shot their pa, more or less. But best of all, the game's graphics are just amazing--along with Neverwinter Nights, this might have been the best-looking game we saw at E3. It should be out before Christmas, and we can't wait.
Neverwinter NightsFrom the good folks that brought us Baldurs Gate comes a very promising venture based on third edition D&D rules, Neverwinter Nights. Due to ship in 2001 by Interplay, it will utilize the new BioWare Aurora 3D engine and let me tell ya folks, its one of the prettiest games weve ever seen. With a 3D rotational camera and real-time lighting that produces authentic material reflections, this work-in-progress was absolutely visually stunning. Not only does it look remarkably detailed, Neverwinter Nights will ship with an Editor Tool Set that allows players to create their own game worlds. Players will assume the role of a Dungeon Master and craft castles, place monsters, build landscapes and hide treasures with a few simple mouse clicks. Able to host their own adventuresonline, the DM will also be able to assume the role of various NPCs that influence and alter the course of other players experiences. It looks like the folks at Black Isle Studios, Bioware, and TSR/Wizards of the Coast have a big winner with Neverwinter Nights.
Return to Wolfenstein--My brother still insists that Wolfenstein 3D is id Software's best game. Of course that's just crazy, but I gotta admit that it had some of id's best villains--Nazis. Boy, I hate those guys. With Return to Wolfenstein, Activision and id let you take the role of B.B. Blazkowicz, an allied agent who must undermine an evil Nazi plot to create an army of undead mutant super-soldiers. I'm sold right now. I mean, what could possibly be better than a game featuring undead mutant Nazi super-soldiers? Well, how about one that uses the Quake III engine, looks amazing, and features a dynamic plot? There was a real dearth of single-player shooters this year at E3. Maybe it's due to parental backlash, maybe it's due to the shift to online play, maybe it's due to the poor sales of the lackluster single-player FPS's released this year. But Return to Wolfenstein could turn all that around. Try to imagine Where Eagles Dare meets Night of the Living Dead. Then try to imagine how big this game is going to be.
Rune--I spent a year during graduate school learning Old Norse. I was the only person in the class, and my professor's daughter had died the year before. Twice a week I went to his dark office and translated Viking sagas while he chain smoked and listened aswale in bitterness and grief. It was one of the best classes I ever took. I've always wondered why there aren't more Viking games. They show up from time to time in other games (Age of Kings) and you could argue that almost every barbarian in every RPG is modeled upon them, but I haven't seen a Viking game since The Lost Vikings, which was not about Vikings at all. So welcome Rune, godgames' and Epic Game's 3rd person action adventure game that has you taking the role of Ragnar, who must avenge his father and prove his worth as he journeys through the world of Viking myth and lore. Rune will focus on melee combat, and most of the weapons are suitably massive. Since the game uses an enhanced Unreal engine, it looks fantastic, too. Throw in a deep multiplayer game, and this one looks like a winner.
Interplay title that incorporates a 3D world and fascinating multiplayer online potential,
Sacrifice combines RTS, Action, and RPG elements in an remarkable, large-scale
environment. Developed by Shiny
Entertainment, Sacrifice looks to present an entirely new gaming experience by placing the
player in the role of a powerful wizard attempting to appease one of five gods. Players roam huge landscapes, cast powerful
spells, and summon up to 55 unique monstrous creatures as they battle to gather
opponents souls and sacrifice them at their altar.
Sacrifice also includes an easy-to-use level editor that will produce completely
customized and unique battles in both single and multiplayer games. Look for Sacrifice to hit the shelves in Winter
Tribes 2Building on the success
of Starsiege Tribes, Tribes 2 places you in breathtaking new worlds where teamwork is the
ultimate key to survival. Join an existing
Tribe, start one of your own, or enlist in a new race in Tribes 2: the BioDerm Horde. Developer Dynamix is intent on pushing Team-Based
Action to the limit by not only including new vehicles, weapons, and massive maps but also
by introducing a new Tribes 2 client that includes the ability to establish websites and
e-mail specific to each tribe. This
community-building feature allows teams to scout opponents as well as communicate via
voice chat, e-mail, and web browsing. A
completely new graphics engine adds visual depth in a no boundary environment
and includes an elegantly simple point-and-click terrain editor that allows on-the-fly
construction of sophisticated maps. Tribes 2
also features a single player component that allows new players the chance to learn and
offers veteran players authentic multiplayer action in an off-line arena. Distributed by Sierra, Tribes 2 should land in
stores in Q3 2000.
Warcraft III--Spare me the griping about Blizzard's abandonment of the rotating camera and 3D terrain (BTW, one of the designers at E3 told us that it might show up somewhere in the game)--this is a Blizzard game, baby, and Blizzard has always been about gameplay over graphics. That's the focus in Warcraft III, which does Starcraft two better by including five races--Humans, Orcs, Undead, Demons, and a mystery race. The emphasis is on combat with a heavy dash of roleplaying here, and resource management will be downplayed. And even though the 3D terrain is gone, the new isometric maps look great , and the enviroments will be very interactive, with wandering monsters and possible allies adding an element of chance to the game. Heroes will play a huge role in your armies, which will only have about 20-30 units in them. Blizzard claims it wants you to focus on tactics and to care about your units--no more cold-hearted suicidal rushes in this game, even for Orcs. It all sounds good to us, but of course Blizzard won't tell us when to expect release. Not before next E3, we'll wager.