The Electronic Entertainment Expo landed in Los Angeles last week with a thunder of hype. Upcoming games, such as "Fallout 4," "Uncharted 4: A Thief's End," "Halo 5: Guardians" and "Star Wars: Battlefront" tried to dazzle more than 50,000 members of the press and the industry -- as well as a few fans.
But now that the circus has left town, it's time to ask the most important question: What's worth playing?
"Adr1ft" (Three One Zero)
Release date: September
A few minutes with "Adr1ft" is a tense experience. Playing as an astronaut lost in space, her panicked breathing getting louder as oxygen became scarcer, "Adr1ft" is on one level a game about survival. On another, it's a game about how we all deal with disaster and learn from our mistakes.
"The narrative of 'Adr1ft' is about action, consequence and redemption," explains creator Adam Orth, adding that he treats "it like an office in space. It's not a save-the-world story. This is my life. I'm on a space station."
Set among the ruins of a destroyed space station. Players try to piece together what happened, learning what role the protoganist had in the accidental destruction. The goal is to stay alive, but also to uncover the mystery behind the astronaut's fallen peers and to preserve their valuables for loved ones back home. It looks like "2001," it's as gripping as "Gravity," and the game's story is deeply personal, touching on numerous, suffocating everyday dramas such as addiction, cancer and parenting (in space, no less). The game is coming to the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and home computers.
"Beyond Eyes" (Tiger & Squid)
Release date: Summer
In an early scene of "Beyond Eyes," a young girl, Rae, comes across a highway. She can't see it. Rae is blind.
We hear the madness of fast-moving cars, and wish we could tell Rae what lies before her. Rae, slightly bowed over, doesn't want to move forward. It's up to the player to find a way around. This is high drama in "Beyond Eyes," and though it's a puzzle based simply on crossing the street, the scene is gripping. Somewhere, out in this world that Rae can't see, is her missing cat. Finding the pet is paramount, but every noise -- and indeed, her every step -- is a potential obstacle.
"Beyond Eyes," coming soon to the Xbox One, resonates because it encourages the player to get inside the headspace of a Rae, and to prod her forward despite her uncertainty. "It's not meant to be a blind simulator," says creator Sherida Halatoe, and it shouldn't be seen that way. "Beyond Eyes" instead offers a new way to see the world, one where everything we hear isn't always what we believe.
"Disney Infinity 3.0" (Disney Interactive)
Release date: Late 2015
Yes, the third iteration of "Disney Infinity" adds "Star Wars" to the toys-to-life title, but it's the "Super Mario Bros."-style take on Pixar's "Inside Out" that may just give "Infinity" its most fully fleshed-out game to date. A sequel (of sorts) to the movie, in this adventure an adolescent Riley has just witnessed a scary movie and a nightmare has created all sorts of chaos inside her mind.
Play as all five emotions, if you've purchased all the accompanying toys. Battle veggies, survive dissolving dream clouds and look for core memories to keep Riley from losing her mind.
"The kind of adventures you create inside your mind when you're a kid tends to feel like an adventure game, with obstacles and quests and things to collect. It plays really well into the world of video games," says the film's co-director Ronnie Del Carmen. "Disney Infinity 3.0" will be released for all major video game platforms.
"King's Quest" (The Odd Gentleman/Activision)
Release date: July
The return of King Graham is long overdue. The star of "King's Quest," one of the giants of gaming in the mid-to-late '80s, has been missing in action since the late '90s. In his absence, games have gotten more violent, more action-focused and decidedly less humorous. "King's Quest," a multi-chapter reboot in development by L.A.'s the Odd Gentlemen, looks to be a welcome return to form. In a brief play session at E3, "King's Quest" was alternately amiable and goofy, the sort of bright hand-drawn fairy tale world one wants to get lost in.
With a nod to "The Princess Bride" – the game is told from the perspective of an elderly King Graham, who's regaling his granddaughter with stories he doesn't quite remember all the details for – "King's Quest" is a lighthearted game of exploration and puzzle solving. I failed during my time with the game to solve the main puzzle, but though I couldn't find a way across the river I was happy to just hunt for objects – why is a tool box in a tree? – and interact with the fantastical characters, such as the trickster-like jester fella Graham encountered on the road. Everywhere I turned and everything I tried to do, Graham had something to say about it. The result? A world that feels alive – and fun.
"We need to return to that whimsy that's kind of missing right now in the industry," said the Odd Gentlemen's Vice President Lindsey Rostal earlier this year. "Everything is serious. We're going to head down another path." "King's Quest" is coming to the PCs, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
"No Man's Sky" (Hello Games)
Release date: TBA
Sean Murray, the mastermind of "No Man's Sky," struggles a bit to describe the game. Pesky journalists want to know what it's about and what goals the players will have. Murray doesn't really have answers. He's not evading the question, so much as trying to indicate that the intergalactic worlds of "No Man's Sky" can be explored however the player wants -- patiently, aggressively, as a trader, as a raider, so be it.
In a demo of the first-person game, which is coming to the PlayStation 4, Murray goes from outer space to a reddish blocky planet to completely submerged in water. He could spend the afternoon looking for new sorts of fish, or he can explore the wildlife on the planet. In front of him walks a sort of maroon and spotted dinosaur-like critter. Murray shoots it, it cries, and suddenly he's a wanted man in the universe. Murray compared it to "Grand Theft Auto" -- if you kill things, you'll be hunted, although here by giant robots rather than the police.
But it's not a violent game. At least, it doesn't have to be. Murray says this as he blasts into space, debating whether to explore a bustling space station or go looking for another planet. "Sci-fi, the sci-fi that I'm into, is not really about cities and urban civilization. It's about this kind of wild frontier," says Murray.
"Star Wars: Battlefront" (DICE / Electronic Arts)
Release date: Nov. 17
I was playing a rebel soldier on the desert planet of Tatooine, a part of the planet not shown in the "Star Wars" films. She had just escaped Imperial forces, and Stormtroopers were on the hunt. One wave after another of Imperial fighters came my way. She blasted them off, turning on a shield now and again, and using a jet pack at another moment. In the distance was a downed ship. An Imperial Walker was heading toward me. My character didn't make it to the end of the mission, but she survived long enough that I felt I didn't have nearly enough time with "Battlefront," which is coming to the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.
When it comes to shooters, I generally avoid them, unless, of course, the story or the setting is compelling. "Star Wars: Battlefront" has to just not screw up the famed franchsie and it will be compelling. But playing in the "Star Wars" universe, though it gives the DICE team plenty of fixed rules, is no easy task. "It's very, very challenging," said Sigurlína Ingvarsdottir, a senior producer on the title.
"When you say 'Star Wars,' everyone knows what that is," she continued. "It's the Force. It's the blasters. It's the heroes. It's the rebels and the Stormtroopers. You paint such a big picture just by using that phrase. You're not going to go off on a tangent and invent lots of new characters or new things."
"Unravel" (Coldwood Interactive / Electronic Arts)
Release date: TBA
Yarny, the star of "Unravel," is adorable. A tiny, red creature made of yarn, Yarny is quite the expressive little critter. About the size of an index finger, Yarny will run, jump and string his way though a backyard and the neighborhood that surrounds it. A giant lemming -- at least, one giant to Yarny -- will make Yarny recoil. A car will make Yarny fearful. And using string to hope from tree branch to three branch can make Yarny fragile, as it exposes Yarny to the elements.
Inspired in part by Bjork's "Unravel," designer Martin Sahlin wants to create a platform game with feeling. Though much of the story remains a mystery thus far, as Yarny advances through the universe and solves little puzzles -- say pushing apples into a small garden pond to make it safe for traversal -- Yarny uncovers the memories of the elderly woman.
"It's kind of like a beautiful melancholy, I guess," Sahlin says of the game's tone. "That's kind of what we're going for, a beautiful melancholy with a slight sentimentality. We're trying to make it atmospheric. We want it to be nice, but not too sweet. We want to make something that feels friendly, that feels inviting, that feels magical and exciting, but without making it cute and bubbly.
"Volume" (Mike Bithell Gams)
Release date: Aug. 18
"Volume" is a stealth game, based largely on the main character not being seen by roaming guards with limited-view flashlights. Yet tonally, "Volume" is all mystery. Architecturally, the offices in the game look inspired by the innards of a computer, as hallways wrap around one another to create techno-hip levels. Everything is draped in neon twilight hues. Is this the future? A sci-fi alternate reality? Either way, it's inviting, as players direct a character around walls, over static-buzzing barriers and into closets, all in an effort to avoid detection through rather tricky maze-like puzzles.
There's an underlying story, too, as "Volume's" cyper-punk heart has a take-down-the-ruling-class mentality. It's a Robin Hood story, says Bithell.
"If a Robin Hood character existed today, what would they do? Would they be hiding in the woods with their buddies? Probably not. In our version of events he starts creating YouTube videos to show people how to rob the rich and starts the revolution that way."
Release date: TBA
Early in Funomena's "Wattam" there's an explosion, like a fireworks display. This explosion is caused by a tiny blocky character known as the mayor. The mayor can explode other characters, at least when they are holding hands. When an explosion happens, more characters are attracted to the fireworks and come to the adorable world of "Wattam."
"Wattam" is charmingly silly, a game designed to showcase the sheer joy of play and imagination. It's about exploration, but not worlds so much as characters. Go ahead, see what happens when you direct a hopping flower to a hunched-over pillow. Or maybe press a button while selecting the personified record player. Or bounce around with the smiling coffee cup, one of the few characters in "Wattam" without hands.
The in-development PlayStation 4 game, says creator Keita Takahashi, is about "how we get over differences." Hint: Hold more hands.
"What Remains of Edith Finch" (Giant Sparrow / Sony)
Release date: TBA
Pretty much everyone in "What Remains of Edith Finch" is dead. This is a game about how we perish — how we live our lives and approach our final moments. The game is a collection of short stories, all of them strangely morbid but all removed from reality. While devoted to the end of the days, these stories approach the unknown with wonder rather than tears.
In an early part of the game, for instance, players assume the role of Edith Finch, returning to a twisting, wondrous home to dig deep into her family's history. In moments, she's a little girl. Then she's a cat, and a second later an owl. By the time the short story reaches its conclusion, players will have morphed into a shark and then a monster. All of these creatures are extremely hungry, and all are born from a young child's imagination. Or are they? In "What Remains of Edith Finch," maybe the monster under the bed is a metaphor, or maybe there really is a monster under the bed.