(CNN) -- Apple's new iPad wasn't the only game in town this week.
More than 18,000 videogame makers gathered in San Francisco at the 26th annual Game Developers Convention (GDC 2012) to discuss the future of interactive entertainment. While there was plenty of talk about the explosion of casual and social games and how new smartphones and tablets are luring even more users into gaming, there were also plenty of brand new "AAA" games debuting at the Moscone Center and surrounding area hotels.
"What always amazes me at a show like GDC is the fact that there's always a smoke chasing vibe about what's hot and what's interesting this year," said Cliff Bleszinski, design director at Epic Games, which was showcasing its new Unreal Engine 4 technology at the show. "Over the last several years we've seen the rise of freemium gaming and social mobile, and it's something we're willing to experiment with when you look at games such as Infinity Blade on iOS. But I'm of the belief that we're here to remind people that AAA is here to stay and people will always want beautiful, $60-quality gaming experiences."
The following are five big games that stood out at GDC that are worth picking up when they arrive later this year on a console, PC or gaming device:
'Medal of Honor Warfighter'
Electronic Arts is leaving the intense combat of Afghanistan for the broader war on terrorism in this latest first-person shooter, which sends players to global hot spots like the Philippines and the Somali coast on missions to rescue hostages and battle pirates.
Executive producer Greg Goodrich said the new game, which ships October 23, features covert missions inspired by actual Tier 1 Operators and events ripped straight from news headlines. The game makers are working with former soldiers to ensure an authentic, yet intense, experience. In an attempt to expand the appeal of the franchise, the multi-player experience allows gamers to play take control of Special Forces from 12 countries, including Australian SASR, British SAS, German KSK and Polish GROM.
A brand new game publisher, Meteor Entertainment, showed off a very different free-to-play PC gaming experience with "Hawken." Set on a post-apocalyptic, human-colonized planet that has been industrialized to the point of collapse, players pilot giant robotic Mechs armed to the teeth. The fast-paced gameplay focuses on intense battle experiences in a futuristic world that has Asian influences, a la "Blade Runner." The development team utilized the free Unreal Development Kit to bring the first-person action to life and watched as a YouTube video created a bidding war that ultimately gave life to a new game company.
One of the key trends at GDC is the evolution of free-to-play games to more console-quality experiences. Hawken goes live December 12, 2012.
'LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes'
This is a very big year for DC Comics fans with "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Man of Steel" hitting theaters. The latest "LEGO Batman" game manages to celebrate both of these beloved super heroes in an incredibly detailed open world Gotham City. Due out this summer across all platforms, the new LEGO game introduces a wide cast of superheroes like Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, and super villains like Lex Luthor and The Joker. The ability to fly through the city as Superman or play with Batman and Robin's cool vehicles like the Batmobile and Batwing, should appeal to kids of all ages. There's a reason the first LEGO Batman sold over 11 million copies, and this sequel pushes the fun forward with some of the most amazing visuals yet seen in a LEGO game.
Full disclosure: This game is produced by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, which, like CNN, is owned by Time Warner.
"Grand Theft Auto V" isn't the only open-world crime story coming out this year. With "Sleeping Dogs," developer United Front Games introduces a virtual Hong Kong, complete with John Woo-style action. The game's storyline focuses on a gritty undercover tale that sends players into the underbelly of the triads as cop Wei Shen. With intuitive one-button action that allows players to pull off Hollywood-inspired maneuvers like jumping from a motorcycle onto the roof of a speeding car, this game offers intense action across multiple fronts. Gamers can drive vehicles, including speedboats, pick up an assortment of weapons -- or just use their fists to take down enemies.
Players will be able to explore all aspects of this city later this year.
'Assassin's Creed III'
After exploring history in the Middle Ages and the Italian Renaissance, Ubisoft is focusing on the American Revolution in its latest action-adventure game. This game puts players in control of Connor, a hero of Native-American and English heritage. Combat is carried by using knives, bows-and-arrows and a trusty tomahawk. Players interact with historical figures like George Washington, Ben Franklin and Charles Lee. They also experience 18th century events like the burning of New York and the Battle of Valley Forge. In addition to taking part in the Continental Army's battle against the British redcoats, gameplay includes more open frontier terrain. With more fluid and streamlined controls, American history has never been so much fun.