We've decided to take a slightly different tack with our E3 awards this year. Rather than pick a single game of the show, or nominate games to other sub-categories based on genre or achievement in some specific area of technology or design, we've simply picked five games that particularly impressed us this week and presented them with our Editors' Choice Awards.
The criteria for the awards are simple: the games must have been present at E3 (or a related event such as EA Play) in the form of a demonstration of actual gameplay. Hands-on on the show floor or behind closed doors isn't required, but the game must have been seen running in some form, so pre-rendered trailers don't qualify, and footage that isn't representative of the general run of gameplay will be penalised. Beyond that, we're looking for a mix of originality, polish and showmanship - this is E3, after all - and a sense that, not to mince words, the game is a real prospect that will appear in a recognisable form in the not too distant future. We'll also try to choose a relatively broad selection of games to highlight, although this being E3 you can expect a bias towards major releases from big publishers, because that's what's there.
Our five picks are coming up, but first, a look back at this year's show:
2016 has not been a vintage year - although a comedown after the delicious, delirious nonsense of 2015, with its puppet Reggie and its all-you-can-eat buffet of fan-service vapourware, was probably inevitable, not to mention good for our collective health. As I wrote before the show, the real stories of the moment - three new consoles and a new business model for the industry - were relegated to mere subtext, although Microsoft went further than I expected in its tease for next year's Project Scorpio (and probably regretted it). Still, the overall party line was business as usual. And that business increasingly involves first revealing your games away from E3, so the show becomes a slightly tiring hype parade for known quantities.
Raw excitement was a little thin on the ground, then, although there was plenty of quality on display and a pleasing focus on games we'll actually get to play in the next 9 months or so. Of the vaguer prospects, we can forgive Hideo Kojima for his none-more-gnomic reveal for Death Stranding - the poor guy hasn't even picked a game engine yet, and the imagery was startlingly original - and give Arkane Austin a pass for Prey's CG trailer, but it was disappointing not to see something more substantial of Mass Effect: Andromeda at this late stage. We loved the exuberant conference reveal of Ubisoft Annecy's winter sports game Steep, but sadly the show floor demo bore little resemblance to it.
Other pleasures were much more concrete, though. We had a blast with Battlefield 1 and even rather liked the look of the Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare campaign - or was it Titanfall 2? We forget which. Forza Horizon 3 looked exactly the same as its two predecessors, which is to say: brilliant. Star Trek: Bridge Crew stood out from the VR hopefuls, while Watch Dogs 2 impressed with its commitment to improving on the first game without throwing the baby out with the bathwater (or scapegoating the original creative staff). Sony's line-up was very handsome but a little bit "any colour of post-apocalypse you like, as long as it's rust": given a choice between God of War, Days Gone and Horizon: Zero Dawn, we'd go for the latter. Because robot dinosaurs, obviously, but also because of a pleasantly fluid and freewheeling gameplay demo.
And without further ado, on to our five picks of the show.
The hullaballoo of E3 isn't the best place to demonstrate the contemplative, iterative joys of a sequel to the grand old man of strategy games; it says everything about the Civilization name, and also the hot streak currently being enjoyed by its developer Firaxis, that 2K could book two-hour appointments for it with confidence. This one is not chosen for its pizazz or for any startling breaks with tradition, but rather for the deep thought that's evident in its design.
Civ is a series where an apparently small change can have huge, rippling consequences. If the sixth game has a headline, it's the "unstacking of cities", whereby cities gradually sprawl over multiple tiles and districts, creating new webs of bonuses and new tactical considerations when it comes to sieges. The game is rife with this kind of thinking, and it's absolutely gorgeous too. Some much-needed brain food for E3 week, and a wonderful prospect for October this year. (OW)
Few developers have the ambition of Arkane, the team in Lyon headed up by Raphaël Colantonio and Looking Glass and Ion Storm alumni Harvey Smith. Few developers, it seems, have their talent, too: the brief look we got of Dishonored 2 during Bethesda's conference on Sunday night displayed a staggering vision delivered with overwhelming detail. That much is familiar from the 2012 original, and Dishonored 2 does the typical sequel thing of going bigger and better - but, in what now feels like typical Arkane style, it does so by building inwards.
There are two main characters now, with the original's Corvo Attano returning alongside the now playable Emily Kaldwin, and they have their own entirely distinct skill-sets, setting up what promises to be two distinct games. Even more impressive was an new power that opens up alternate timelines that can be explored and manipulated in order to have an impact on the present. Levels within levels and a near-infinite set of possibilities - it's hard to imagine there'll be any game as intricate released this year, nor one quite so imaginative. (MR)
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
It's perhaps ironic that we decided not to nominate a single game of the show this year, when it would have been an easier choice than usual. Despite a bungled livestream reveal and Nintendo's almost embarrassing focus on this one game in the absence of anything else to talk about, Breath of the Wild was easily the sensation of the E3 2016 show floor, with console-rivalling queues, and it dominated internet buzz too. That's the sheer nostalgic power of the Zelda name, making its first all-new appearance on a home console in five years.
But that's not the whole story. This was also a bold new direction for the series, which has gone full open-world and full RPG in ways that not only seemed to imitate, but actually to exceed in intricacy, the likes of Skyrim and The Witcher 3. Even PC Gamer weighed in to declare it the model of a systems-driven sandbox game - only delivered with the sturdy playfulness and density of design that we expect of Nintendo. In terms of generosity, openness and entertainment value, Breath of the Wild's demo wiped the show floor with all-comers; our own Tom Phillips played it four times without getting close to seeing all of it. Simply magical stuff. (OW)
Resident Evil 7
Capcom's flagship series has always been a master of reinvention - from campy horror to musclebound action, then on to the true dread of co-op shooter Raccoon City - yet this latest iteration feels like its most dramatic shift yet. It boasts a shift in perspective to weighty first-person, full VR support, and a move in tone towards the kind of undiluted horror that, despite the reputation of the earlier games, has never really existed in the series to date. This is a Resident Evil that's been hard-wired for straight-up chills.
Will it help restore some glory to the series after the uneven excesses of Resident Evil 6? The current sentiment has Resident Evil 7 sitting awkwardly between two camps - it's moved too far away from the originals for traditionalists, while those acquainted with the modern genre as typified by the likes of Outlast and Amnesia feel that perhaps Capcom hasn't gone far enough. (That's how our own Jeffrey felt when comparing this week's demo to Konami's P.T.) There are valid points on both sides, but regardless, it's a delight to see Capcom experiment again, to see Resident Evil go straight for scares, and for the fledgling VR market to get its first AAA contender. Whatever happens, the world of survival horror will have changed when Resident Evil 7 comes out early next year. (MR)
Sea of Thieves
It's a game of pirates, played with your friends. That should be all you ever need to know about Sea of Thieves, a high concept plucked straight from the playground and rendered in bold cartoon style. It's an absolute winner. At an E3 that still saw the big names fall back a little too easily on the same ideas, this was perhaps the most original game of the week. More importantly, it was just about the most fun you could have on the showfloor.
At the heart of this Xbox One and Windows 10 exclusive, there's something familiar - the sense of shared adventure that's vital to every good MMO, the co-operation that's at the heart of every good dungeon raid - but it's plundered the costume box, sporting a goofy peg-leg and a stuffed parrot on its shoulder. All hands on deck! Anchors aweigh! Hard astarboard! It's a fantasy that sounds all too easy to get lost in. For developer Rare, this must feel like a breath of fresh, salty air - and a welcome chance to remind the world why this UK studio is so beloved. (MR)
Written by Oli Welsh and Martin Robinson.