E3 has become a concrete-colored shell bursting with flavor inside. In past years, the LA Convention Center would be draped in banners great and small, painted with vast murals to block off the much needed stairs for the hordes all seeking their badges. This year it was hard to tell there was anything going on at all, and certainly there were no towering booths occupying the two main halls with flashing lights and booth babes flashing their skin. The "show floor" this year felt like a "night club" your friends had set up in some community hall to raise money for their band. Sure, it was still loud and there was still a crowd to bitch over hogging the Rock Band 2 machine so they could play "Psycho Killer" eight billion times, but it wasn't quite the same.
The meat this year was in the meeting rooms, or rather pastries and lots of bottled water. Rarely in the years before did I have the chance to actually sit down with the developers and talk about their game, instead of a PR rep trying to shout above the roar of the show floor. Yet the former was at least 80% of my E3 '08 experience. It was fun to hear the sigh of relief in the developer of The Witcher to be talking with someone who had actually played his game, or the look of apprehension in the cheerful guy from GRIN when Chris suggested that after Rearmed they should remake Section Z. That's not to discount how great and helpful the PR people were this year, from Bethseda Softworks throwing a big bash one night and still pretending to respect us the morning after, to Capcom putting up with Chris's Street Fighter IV squatting, to any number of companies granting us appointments pretty much at the last minute. EA, once the evil empire of gaming, was not only generous with its time and facilities, but easily had the best press conference and the strongest stable of titles at the show.
Mirror's Edge, Dead Space, Spore, Mercenaries 2, and many others I'm forgetting. All were playable at the show and all were amazing. Most have been covered in previews, so I'll say Mercenaries 2 is not just a HD version of the original. There are more destruction options, more vehicles, more detailed environments, online co-op, and a lot more fun. The original was a bit barren when it came to the whole sandbox aspect, but that problem has been fixed and then some for the sequel. Then again, I love me some co-op games. Resident Evil 5 looked amazing, even if it controls almost entirely like Resident Evil 4. Fable 2 was a grand world full of quests, loot, and fun-times duo combat, both on and offline. Castle Crashers is a 2D wet dream, taking the best part of the coin-op beat-em-up games of old, particularly Capcom's D&D games, and giving it this quirky humor that's smile inducing. Back to the big C, there's Bionic Commando: Rearmed, which is so perfect it's going to blow your mind. If you're a fan of the NES game, get your tears of joy ready right now.
Though if I had to pick one game whose short session wasn't nearly enough, it would be Fallout 3. Twenty minutes played in a rush and I only barely got accustomed to the shooting, looting, and exploring it offered. At least there I expected to be amazed. The one game that took me by surprise was Lucasarts' Fracture. While not the most visually incredible or astoundingly innovative game at the show, it had a flow and intensity that went unmatched, leaving me running and gunning, raising and lowering the shimmering ground that was only brought to an end by the end of E3 itself.