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Best in Show: Five games from E3

By CNN's Ravi Hiranand
In "Spore," players assist the development of a single-cell organism.
Video Games

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- The Electronics Entertainment Expo, or E3, in Los Angeles is a gamer's dream.

Every May 70,000 game junkies cram the halls to catch a glimpse of the latest on offer -- everything from the latest in Nintendo's venerable "Zelda" series to Sony's PlayStation 3 and a flood of online games from South Korea.

CNN sorted through the 5,000 games on display to pick out the highlights from this year's show.

'24: THE GAME'

Publisher: Sony
System: PlayStation 2

Developed by Sony's Cambridge, U.K. studios, "24: The Game" surprised many by capturing the essence of the hit TV series in game form. Gamers control Jack Bauer (a digitally reproduced Kiefer Sutherland) in an all-new plot penned by the show's writers that slots in between seasons two and three of the series. With 24 hours of game-time to play with, the developers didn't disappoint with content; there's a wide variety of characters to control and scenarios range from straight-up action to driving and even a clever interrogation minigame. Control is a worry and 24's emphasis on simultaneous split-screen action puts a strain on the aging PlayStation 2, but there's more than enough time for Sony to polish 24 before it launches in August.


Publisher: Electronic Arts
System: PlayStation 2/Xbox

"Real men pull the trigger," says Criterion's Alex Ward, as he sprays gunfire over a war-torn city that is the setting for his latest title, "Black." And if "Black" is only about pulling the trigger, he's already on a winner. Every shot fired has an impact that no game in the crowded shooter market has ever displayed before: The screen shakes, speakers scream, and plaster and debris fly off any wall unfortunate enough to take the brunt of an attack. While this is meant to be a game about covert "black ops" military squads, the emphasis is firmly on action rather than stealth or strategy. Squadmates move independently without the need to issue orders and the use of heavy weaponry is always encouraged. "We wanted to capture the visceral feel of a Hollywood firefight," adds Ward. "Black" is still very early -- with a planned release in February 2006 -- but many expect the developer behind the "Burnout" series to score a hit with this shooter.


Publisher: Nintendo
System: GameCube

Gamers waited in lines for up to three hours just to play a fifteen minute demo of the latest in the "Zelda" series, and few came away disappointed. After experimenting with cartoon-style graphics with the first GameCube Zelda title, "Wind Waker," Nintendo bowed to the will of fans and reverted to the more realistic style seen in prior entry "Ocarina of Time." "Twilight Princess" borrows from that N64 classic in more than just looks; among the demo areas familiar to fans were a horseback battle and a shadowy Forest Temple to explore. Nintendo also took the wraps off one of the game's biggest secrets: Hero Link is now a werewolf, able to take on a beastly form to battle some enemies and solve puzzles. They're keeping mum on the rest of "Twilight Princess's" surprises for now; all will be revealed once it goes on sale this holiday season.


Publisher: Capcom
System: PlayStation 2

Arguably the most visually striking game at the show, the unique graphical style of "Okami" is no gimmick. The entire game is rendered with Japanese style watercolor brush art, reflecting both the game's basis in Japanese folklore and core gameplay. It tells the story of Ameratsu, the sun god, reincarnated in wolf form. A powerful demon has turned the world into a barren wasteland, and Ameratsu has to bring life and color into the world by painting with a mystical brush -- one that can mend broken bridges and cut massive boulders, with more uses still hidden for players to discover. It adds an extra element to what it already a competent adventure game, but may prove a hard sell to gamers with such unusual visuals and obscure painting-based puzzles. "Okami" is due out in 2006.


Publisher: Electronic Arts
System: PC

"Spore" is a game of such ambition and scope that it could either easily succeed beyond anyone's wildest dreams or drown amidst the hype. As befits a game from Will Wright, the man behind "SimCity" and "The Sims," "Spore" is a "God" game, but it fulfils that tag better than anything before it. It starts at the molecular level, where players control an amoeba in the primordial ooze in a minigame Wright likens to "Pac-Man." While everyone starts with the same little amoeba, as it grows players have the freedom to customize their spore in any way they wish. The game then switches tracks and jumps you forward to your little molecule all grown up as a real creature, where you finalize its form. Wright says he's aiming for a game where "little boys can make monsters and little girls can make cute things". The game skips again to controlling a tribe of your creatures, growing your village and determining their civilization's development. Then it jumps to a city level, where you build their technology and infrastructure but also look to conquer the entire planet through force or diplomacy. Then space travel is invented, and the game changes again to allow you to terraform and colonize other planets in your solar system. And then it changes again, scaling up to cover a whole galaxy, where the player can do anything: Sweep across the galaxy in terror or return to the ooze on a new planet to start again. In a game that offers virtually unlimited customization, arguably the cleverest feature is how your galaxy will be populated: By other players. Wright plans to set up a central server that will store unique creatures created by players and automatically send them out to live somewhere in another player's galaxy. There is enough in "Spore" to fill three or four games, so it remains to be seen whether it ends up being Wright's crowning achievement or whether it suffers the trap of a lot of genre-busting games: Jack of all trades and master of none. Gamers will find out in late 2006.

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