The annual games industry gathering E3 is an experience unlike any other. Across two massive halls of the Los Angeles Convention Centre, there are nerdy-types everywhere, and booth babes everywhere-plus-two-yards. It's a fascinating mix of shoe-gazing awkwardness and plastic smiles, all bathed in lights and drowned in noise. But beyond the hype, it does give about 45,000 journalists and industry types the chance to experience the gaming world's next big things.
Here are TimeOut's picks for what those might be:
Lace up the gloves, and ring the bell. Here stands the Master Chief. After a five-year cryogenic nap, gaming's favourite super-soldier will awaken to take up arms against the remaining forces of a shattered Covenant and a new - but so very ancient - threat in 343 Industries' massive Halo 4.
At a VIP party in downtown LA, I settled in to play the Spartan Ops and War Games multiplayer modes.
Spartan Ops is an ambitious new approach to co-operative online multiplayer, in which 343i will release a new story each week for players to complete as missions. It is a clever way of going beyond the Master Chief's campaign and, in tandem with the traditional death matches of War Games, adds an exciting layer of context to online play.
The Halo 4 campaign will explore the relationship between the Master Chief and his AI partner, Cortana, as they prepare to face the Prometheans - an ancient race of Forerunner warriors whose fighting styles will add new challenges to traditional Halo gameplay.
Halo fans will be encouraged by how well this work-in-progress handles. The controls feel smoother and more intuitive than ever, and the weapon choices are bold and exciting. They also sound better - real, even - perhaps because of the work done by 343i's sound team in Tasmania.
On the floor at E3, a near life-size model of the UNSC Warthog greeted visitors to the large Halo 4 booth. If the queues were of any indication, the Master Chief can expect a huge "welcome back" when Halo 4 is released for Xbox 360 this November.
Standing across the ring, hopping from foot to foot and shadow boxing beneath the arena lights is Watch Dogs, a work of staggering originality by Ubisoft Montreal.
This data war adventure received a pile of E3 press awards and nominations, and the buzz surrounding it was such that Super Mario Bros creator Shigeru Miyamoto simply had to see it.
"We are a hyper-connected society," journalists were told during a private demonstration as dozens gathered beyond the closed door. "That is the reality we bring to Watch Dogs."
The game appears to play in an open-world, Grand Theft Auto kind of action/adventure style but goodness, is it smart. Set in a future version of Chicago, in a North America where the cities and infrastructure are run by central computing systems, you can hack those systems and use electricity grids, traffic controls, mobile and online communication networks, even people's bank accounts and personal information, to do what you need to do. When that isn't enough, you can wield a weapon with terrifying skill.
In a world where your privacy and your rights could be taken with a single button press, would you be horrified to know someone had that power? That's your character, free to roam across all the shades of grey, and impact upon lives with your decisions.
In the demo, the game's protagonist was shown using his smartphone to complete an assassination by disrupting local phone reception to gain access to an area undetected, tapping into a live call to learn about his target, and using traffic lights to ultimately trap him.
Some of those awards mentioned before were for the game's graphics, which were described as "next-gen" by observers. As it is, expect Watch Dogs to appear on current-gen platforms - Xbox 360, PS3, PC - next year.
THE LAST OF US
Naughty Dog, the team behind the successful Uncharted franchise, will be bringing this all-new adventure to PlayStation 3 in 2013. Set in the US, this post-apocalyptic survival game looks like Uncharted, and had tongues wagging because of its inventive - and brutal - close-quarter combat. The relationship between the lead characters, a rugged hero type and a brave young lady, is compelling.
Turn out the lights, Mario ain't home. Ubisoft led the way for Nintendo's forthcoming Wii U, and hands-on time with this first-person zombie freakout was a priority for many critics at E3. Making full use of the Wii U Game Pad, ZombiU puts you in the middle of a British zombie apocalypse - think Shaun of the Dead. The E3 demo had players using the new hardware to rifle through their inventories in real time, like you would sift through a backpack, as Her Majesty's undead staff came shuffling across the grounds of Buckingham Palace. A crossbow brought satisfactory results, but the cricket bat was a bloody delight.
BEYOND: TWO SOULS
From the makers of Heavy Rain comes this new PS3 title, which may give players a vision of life after death. Beyond will "star" a motion-captured and neatly rendered Ellen Page as Jodie Holmes, and let you follow 15 years of her life as her supernatural secret is revealed. Not much more was given away, but it appears it will straddle the line between film and game more comfortably than anything that has gone before.
TRANSFORMERS:FALL OF CYBERTRON
The past adventures of Optimus Prime and friends have been received with lukewarm reactions, with the best of them being considered "good, for a Transformers game". High Moon appear to have gone beyond that with Fall of Cybertron, the first Transformers game to introduce and maintain the awesome sense of scale a player should feel while controlling a giant robot. Perhaps it helps that Metroplex, a city-sized Transformer, makes an exhilarating series debut. Fall of Cybertron will hit the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC this August.
* Troy Rawhiti-Forbes travelled to the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles courtesy of Xbox.
- TimeOutBy Troy Rawhiti-Forbes @TroyRF Email Troy