Opinions differ, but for me the best PC game of E3 came down to Prey and F.E.A.R. Of course, there were a lot of other great shooters there - UT 2007, Call Of Duty 2 and Quake Wars to name but a few. But while other games might have looked better, boasted better credentials or pitched bigger battles, only two titles managed to create that special buzz that maybe we were seeing something new here, something different and exciting and with a lot more ideas than your average market-researched sequel.
With Prey it was the creative use of three-dimensional space that impressed. With F.E.A.R. it was the careful blend of tactical shooting and sphincter-tightening psychological horror, not to mention the sheer freakin' spectacle of the thing. For those who haven't played the demo yet (shame on you), this game throws out more debris, broken glass, smoke, sparks, flames, blood, guts and righteous hellfire than anything this side of Judgement Day. We're increasingly convinced that the slow-mo effect was put in just so you could moon around and admire it all.
To recap very quickly, the game puts you inside a high-tech, near-future government outfit called First Encounter Assault Recon, a covert strike team dedicated to combatting paranormal threats - a bit like Ghostbusters but with more death and dismemberment. Each member of the team has a special mental power - you're the new guy, and your power is to momentarily slow down time.
At the outset of the game an unidentified paramilitary group has taken over a high-tech aerospace complex and obliterated dozens of spec ops units sent to deal with them. On top of this there's a creepy little girl wandering around who appears to be able to kill people just by looking at them.
From our E3 hands-on we were able to fill in a few more details. The unidentified force is in fact a squad of top-secret military clones, led by an insane, psychically enhanced military officer by the name of Paxton Fettel. In the intro movie Fettel is seen kneeling in a prison cell, being visited by the creepy girl. Immediately afterwards, we cut to our clones, fully armed and armoured but in some kind of 'standby' state in a military warehouse. Suddenly, they jolt upright and snap into action, killing guards in a lightning attack.
Apparently, Fettel has managed to gain psychic control of the dormant clones, and on his command they take over the compound where he's imprisoned and liberate him. Soon after, Fettel pops up on a security feed, chowing down on the remains of one of the spec ops guys. Tasty.
That's your job then - eliminate crazed puppet master Paxton Fettle. What role the little girl plays we don't yet know. Is she controlling Fettle? Is she a mere phantasm, an extension of his insane psyche? Who knows.
What we do know is that the action is stunning. Not only are the pyrotechnics without compare, but the weapons are seriously meaty to boot. You've had a taste of them already in the multiplayer beta: the chunky SMG, the nailgun that pins enemies to walls, the plasma rifle that can fire through a whole phalanx of bad guys. In combination with flying scissor kicks and other melee moves, it's about the most kinetic and enjoyable first-person action there is.
It certainly gives Half-Life 2 a run for its money, and already has one or two advantages over that game. For a start there's the AI, which has to rank among the best we've ever seen. Enemies not only work in tactical squads and understand cover, but they pursue you like no other FPS foe. In one sequence I fired off a few rounds through a window, felling one of the enemies outside before backtracking to retrieve a better weapon. I assumed the rest of the baddies would wait dutifully outside for me to return, but not so. They actually opened the door (a miracle!) and hunted me down like a dog. They're also quite fond of crawling under obstacles, jumping over tables and flushing you out of corners with grenades.