The 10 biggest PC stories from E3 2009

The annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, known as E3, attracts tens of thousands of hardcore gamers and industry figures to Los Angeles each June.

It’s the biggest show of the year, where Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo deliver keynote presentations, and, even though it’s easy to get caught up in Project Natal and the PSP Go, plenty of exciting PC news has emerged from E3.

Here, we’ve sifted through the dodgy RTS titles and lazy console ports to pick out the most important PC gaming stories to emerge from the three-day conference, so take a look at our top stories and let us know what you think.

The Return of Monkey Island – it’s been off the radar since “Escape From...” was released at the turn of the Millennium, but Tales of Monkey Island has been announced as a five-part episodic release in a similar vein to the last couple of Sam & Max titles.

Original Monkey Island impresario Ron Gilbert was only involved in the initial conceptual stages, but the project is headed up by Dave Grossman, who helped write and program the first two titles, and several other key team members – including composer Michael Land – are working on the project. And, unlike several ‘release TBA’ games from the conference, the first episode is set to be released on 7 July.

Oh, and did we mention that The Secret of Monkey Island is also being re-released, with revamped graphics, re-recorded music and new voice-overs? Superb.

Crysis 2 announced – the original is still one of the most demanding titles that a PC can face, with the majority of machines in the PC Pro Labs unable to run the game on its highest settings.

Crysis 2 looks to be just as technically challenging. It's the first game to use the CryEngine 3, which Crytek has promised will work with both a broader range of PC hardware as well as PS3 and Xbox 360. As of yet, there’s no release date so, by the time it eventually emerges, the ATI 6000-series - or whatever the latest GPU is then - might be able to cope.

Mass Effect 2 – the first Mass Effect was a revelation: fantastic sci-fi storytelling mixed with action-packed combat and production levels that put plenty of movies to shame.

The sequel promises all this and more, with a world crammed with more detail and better graphics: Alan Shepard had 20 cover animations in the first game, we’re now assured he has around 200. Overkill? Perhaps. We’ll have to wait until spring 2010, though, for this hugely anticipated sequel.

Indie Innovation Indiecade is a roving organisation that celebrates independent development, and its booth at E3 is ‘the de facto lounge for indie developers’ according to Celia Pearce, Indiecade’s E3 Festival Chair. The last two years’ E3 finalists have included Braid, And Yet It Moves, Machinarium and Everyday Shooter, so there’s plenty for this year's contenders to live up to.

They might have a good chance of that, too: Blueberry Garden has already won an award at 2009’s Independent Games Festival and indie star And Yet It Moves is now being ported to the Nintendo Wii. The 2009 winners are announced in October, so keep an eye out.

Aliens vs Predator – the last PC AvP game was 2002's woeful Primal Hunt. Sega’s reboot of the franchise, though, has fans excited – not least because it’s being developed by Rebellion, the studio behind the classic 1999 release of the same name. Once again, spring 2010 is listed as the release date, so you’ve got some time to stock up on  fresh underwear before taking to those dark corridors once again.

Left 4 Dead 2 – making its unexpected debut at E3 was Left 4 Dead 2, the sequel to Valve’s tense, action-packed and zombie-fuelled shooter. Gabe Newell’s groundbreaking studio has promised more sophistication this time around, including AI that learns your strengths and weakness, alongside new classes and weapons.

However, keen players of the original have lambasted Valve for neglecting the original title in favour of its sequel, even calling for a boycott of the game. Nevertheless, it's looking superb - wade into the zombie apocalypse from 17 November.

Star Wars: The Old Republic – Star Wars games have a chequered history: for every TIE Fighter there’s a Rebel Assault 2. Luckily, The Old Republic is a sequel to the two Knights of the Old Republic titles, developed by Bioware (of Mass Effect, Neverwinter Knights and Baulders’ Gate fame) and taking place 3,700 years before the movies.

While previous games have been single player, this new title is an MMORPG, with your character siding with either the Galactic Republic or Sith Empire. So, just to recap, it’s an MMO set in the Star Wars universe and developed by masters of the RPG art. A World of Warcraft beater? It’s a big ask but, surely, no other franchise has as much potential as this. It’s just a shame that no firm release date has been confirmed.

Franchise Players – While plenty of original titles were announced at the expo, plenty of established franchises have seen new titles introduced, too. Just Cause 2 promises bigger guns, better bad guys and more action movie madness, and DIRT 2 will include a better world tour mode and new stadium events.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is the sequel to Call of Duty 4 and details are scarce at the moment: we know that at least some of the game is set in Russia, Afghanistan and Brazil. Two more highly-anticipated sequels, Supreme Commander 2 and the online-only Final Fantasy XIV, are both slated for release next year.

Brink Splash Damage began life as mod-makers in 2001, making highly-popular mods for Quake 3 and custom maps for LAN parties and TV shows. Its map-making prowess was recognised by id Software, who tasked it with creating successful multiplayer titles Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars.

Brink is Splash Damage’s first original IP and first title since partnering with Fallout 3 publisher Bethesda. Little is known about the new FPS, which has been described by Bethesda MD Sean Brennan as being a ‘killer app’, a ‘genre breaker’ and ‘along the same lines as Fallout 3’ for quality and scope. Potentially revolutionary.

Delay of OnLive in Europe OnLive made a huge, incredulous splash when its creators announced a system for streaming any game to a PC or Mac, no matter what its specification. In theory, it could mean Crysis on a nettop, and it's been backed by Warner Bros and other big games – Tom Clancy’s HAWX, Race Driver GRID and Crysis Warhead are already listed by OnLive's site.

However, for no news to emerge during E3 seems fishy – and has done little to dissipate the gaming community’s assumption that OnLive is far, far too good to be true. It'll debut in America before the end of the year but there's no European release data yet, so the days of upgrading graphics cards might not be quite so numbered after all.

So, those are our ten top stories to have emerged from three frantic days of launches, press conferences and schmoozing - but what do you think? Which games are you looking forward to and which do you reckon will crash and burn? Let us know your E3 thoughts in the comments below.

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