Our favourite games of E3 2021

Cor!

A funny old E3 this year, for sure. But there were still plenty of great games to get all excited about.

Here are some of our personal favourites. And apologies for anything really obvious we've left out.

Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp, Switch

Every year we hope for a new Advance Wars, and every year we are disappointed. Except for this year, sort of, as it's announced that the Switch is getting a revamped version of the first two games' campaigns. Advance Wars 1 and 2 are classics of tactical playfulness, a tanky take on Chess filled with great characters and lovely little details. The new 3D art style is a little odd, but if it's another chance to mess around with the Pipe-runner, we'll take it. Now the wait is on for a new Codename: STEAM. Come on.

Age of Empires 4, PC

A lot of excitement around E3 time is just an excitement that something in particular exists. In this case, I am very excited that AOE4 exists. The RTS has been neither fully alive nor fully dead - undead - for such a while now, and Relic got such stick for Dawn of War 3. Relic is still a class act with some wonderful RTS pedigree. I'm just glad that team's working on it. I'm glad it looks like Age of Empires, at the expense of it possibly looking prettier. I'm glad it's set across medieval times, as opposed to a very narrow slice of North American history. I'm glad it seems to be so decidedly global. And I'm especially glad it has nice little ships for me to talk to in that special, nasal Alan Partridge voice I reserve for my most treasured historical toys. Back of the net.

Battlefield 2042, Playstation, Xbox, PC

That trailer was silly, wasn't it? Tanks falling out of the sky, players carrying C4 on quad bikes driving off skyscrapers into helicopters and being blown up by friends. A lift joke! This is Battlefield, actually: the game is a comedy wrapped in serious military fatigues. It's a silly game about doing silly things - the flamethrower person standing on a galloping horse; the guy who jumped out of a fighter jet to shoot another pilot and climb back in again - and the magic of Battlefield 2042 so far is that it seems to get it. It looks absolutely bananas. Can't wait.

Death's Door, Xbox and PC

Death's Door is, of course, the game in which a crow beats up a house. The latest game from the makers of Titan Souls looks absolutely stellar - a darkly comedic adventure with snappy combat and the team's trademark devastating bosses. The shift to 3D graphics looks effortless and the world of the game promises intrigue and wit. Best of all, it's out on July 20th.

Death Trash, Switch, Playstation, Xbox, PC

There are a few of these games loitering in the shadows right now: dark, moody, evocative pixel art. A bit of magical realism maybe, or a spot of dark fantasy, or a dabbling with the macabre. Anyway, Death Trash looks like one of the very best, and I've had my eye on it for what seems like an age. Suddenly it's real and has a release date (5th August this year), and it looks cracking, all deep colour and ugly guts. A highlight of the PC Gaming Show.

Diablo 2: Resurrected, PlayStation, Xbox, PC, Switch

I love trailers that have the exasperated energy of someone yelling "Fine! Have it your way! You asked for it!" This is Diablo 2: Resurrected, which is a remake of "the dark one" after everyone complained Diablo 3 wasn't emo enough. Well, this looks grim. A big, bad, grizzly, gristly, nasty old blighter of a game. It looks like a very old game with a very new level of detail. It looks incredible. It sounds incredible! Ugh!

Elden Ring, Playstation, Xbox, PC

Hidetaka Miyazaki and GRRM! The DNA of the Souls games and the Thrones books! All of this converges in Elden Ring, a Soulsy adventure in which you can now jump and knock about on a horse. The E3 trailer promised a game as bloody and intricate as any before it, but also with a new sense of scale. A vast land is divided up into territories ruled by demi-gods, and there's an emphasis on freedom of approach. Elden Ring looks wonderful.

FAR: Changing Tides, PC

This feels like a bit of a risk. FAR: Lone Sails is one of those rare games that feels completely self-contained, a sonorous, surprisingly playful adventure in which a tiny hero coaxes a massive piece of machinery across a ruined landscape. Changing Tides trades the landship of the first game for an actual boat, and promises more of the same mournful dereliction. It looks gorgeous, but can the team pull off a similar trick twice? Is it possible to learn too much about this mysterious world with its endless whispering secrets? I have faith, I think.

Forza Horizon 5, Xbox and PC

Not since the early PlayStation days of Gran Turismo and Wipeout has a racing game been able to lay a legitimate claim to stealing the entire show, yet here we are. How can this be? Boring answer, but sheer consistency: Forza Horizon has been the most reliably high-quality game series of any kind over the last decade. With Horizon 4, the series took a step up, not necessarily in quality but in stickiness and broad appeal. Its transition into a constantly updated live service was deftly handled and, through Game Pass, it reached millions players who may never have considered that racing games could be so welcoming and joyful. Horizon 5 is positioned to build on all that - and Playground Games has been such a trustworthy custodian that you don't even need to watch the E3 trailer and demo, with their display of spectacular Mexican landscapes and easygoing social gameplay, to know that the studio is going to smash it. Again. Forza Horizon 5 is just a guaranteed good time.

Halo Infinite, Xbox and PC

Halo Infinite is still a wonderfully thrilling idea - an open-world take on the big space donut in which you can fishtail around in a warthog and climb that mountain in the distance and all the rest of that jazz. This year, it feels like Microsoft realised that there was no easy way to show the single-player campaign at an E3 press event, so we got a cinematic - fine - and a wonderful taste of multiplayer. Halo multiplayer, launching day one! It feels a bit like Infinite might be rekindling the glory of Halo 3. And that's quite a prospect.

The sequel to Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Switch

2022 isn't too far away is it? That's not too long to wait. At the moment, everything about the new Zelda feels a bit vague anyway. No title, no firm release date, just another beautiful trailer suggesting that one of this generation's classic games is getting a sequel with a wonderfully weird, glitchy vibe. Castles in the air, monsters rising out of the ground, Link tumbling through the skies and slipping through rock. And is that a bionic arm? Time will tell!

Loot River, Xbox, PC

"Diablo meets Tetris", that's a new one. The premise here is you're a little dude in a dungeon who can move the environment - slightly tetromino-like blocks of floating land - around to help you get by. A bit silly? Yes. Also actually very clever? Maybe! It looks great, with some wonderfully-lit pixel art, a nice little RPG system and water that looks like a sloshy outer space. Yum.

Metroid Dread, Switch

After an age spent as an internet rumour, Metroid Dread is finally here, Mercury Steam delivering a side-scrolling Metroid with chunky 3D art and a genuinely weird robot enemy who seems to stalk you around levels. This seems like a classical take on the Metroid formula, and the fact that it's out this year makes it even more exciting.

Microsoft Flight Simulator, Xbox

Is it cheating to pick a game that's running on my desktop right this very second? When it's Microsoft Flight Simulator I think that's just fine, as the arrival on console later this summer promises to be quite the event, and a fascinating recontextualising of one of the most astonishing video game achievements in recent years. There's something tantalising about kicking back on the sofa and going about seeing the world in all its glory, and a chance to fall in love with Asobo's creation all over again.

Phantom Abyss, PC

This is the game of my dreams, really - a first-person Spelunk-'em-up in which you explore procedurally scrambled tombs filled with treasures and deadly traps. The big gimmick is that it's asynchronous multiplayer, so you're surrounded by the ghosts of other players, and when someone finally completes the tomb they seal it forever. But the thing I like the most, I think, is the terrifying guardian who starts to follow you when you get too close. That and no-fuss whip-use which promises to mangle the line between running and flying. This hits early access on June 22nd and it looks stellar.

Planet of Lana, Xbox and PC

A "hand-painted adventure" and an "off-Earth odyssey", Planet of Lana stood out for its beauty and poise. Wind ruffles the trees and a huge moon dominates the sky. Critters gad about and a child stares at the horizon as dozens of spaceships rush down from the heavens. Expect platforming and much communing with wildlife as a beautiful world deals with invasion. Also, expect lots of riffs of spiders, both mechanical and distinctly non-mechanical, so this may not be a game for everyone.

Redfall, Xbox and PC

The annoying thing about vampires is that they will turn up in Massachusetts and block out the sun. At least this means you can get together with your pals and go shooting undead horrors. Redfall's CGI trailer may not have had any room for actual gameplay, but the idea of an open-world multiplayer FPS from Arkane is such a sweet one, we're willing to go along with it. Redfall launches in 2022 and looks funny and stylish and very Arkane.

Riders Republic, Playstation, Xbox, Stadia, PC

This is perhaps the Ubisoftest game of all time - what if we took a bunch of America's National Parks and stuck them together? The thing is, that's a brilliant idea, particularly when you string a bunch of deeply unlikely extreme sports through them and reward you for literally everything you get up to. So much depends upon the handling as you switch between BMXs, snowboards, and assorted rocketry, but this promises to be like the best parts of someone's holiday snaps with none of the crap bits where they get locked out of their Motel 6.

Rocksmith+, TBC, mobile, PC

Yeah OK, you can learn guitar on your own, from free tabs and YouTube tutorials and just taking the time to figure it out - but you haven't, have you, and that's the point. As one of those people with more unplayed guitars than I'd care to admit this looks like a perfect upgrade to the original Rocksmith, which was a lovely idea that only really sort-of worked. The big one is the seamlessness of playing it on your phone, or whatever screen's nearby and connected to the internet. Plus the inclusion of tab view, so you can learn to play guitar how actual guitarists do in the real world, and what seems to be a lot more music, too. It does sound like it might be a subscription though, so there's the caveat we've been waiting for. Fingers crossed it's monetised fairly, as this could be a real boon. It's just "coming soon" for now, with exact platforms outside of "consoles, mobile and PC" to be confirmed.

Shredders, Xbox

I hope videogames never fully fall out of love with extreme sports. Shredders is a snowboarding game that looks like the spiritual successor to Amped 3: massive environments, glorious crunchy snow, and what looks like a nice sense of weight to the animation. And a sense of humour! I am up for this.

Stalker 2: Heart of Chernobyl, Xbox and PC

A new Stalker game! I think there's been a lingering worry, with Stalker 2, that it'd turn out to be vaporware - or at least just not turn out very well. The series has an appropriately cursed history, with its developer, Ukrainian studio GSC Game World, disbanding entirely at one point and then re-forming with a different team, and the original Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl developers going on to found 4A and make the Metro series, all while the Stalker name struggled. Anyway, Stalker 2 actually looks... amazing? The highlight of course being the use of rusty little bolts, lobbed at patches of wobbly air, to test for safety (or lack thereof). Straight out of Roadside Picnic, that. We might be in for a treat here.

Starfield, Xbox and PC

Han Solo simulator? Indiana Jones in space? Starfield is Bethesda bringing its Elder Scrolls and Fallout skills into the cosmos, and that's a good enough pitch for now. The short trailer was loaded with rusty rabbit-holes for fans to enthuse about, and the logo has some intriguing kerning. Starfield will be massive, and knowing Bethesda, it will probably be literally massive as well.

Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania, Switch

For years now, after each slightly flat Super Monkey Ball revival, we've been asking the same thing - why not just re-release the original two, those sacred texts which every subsequent game has strived to go back to? Well, some 20 years on from the original we finally get what we wanted - in a way - with what amounts to a remaster of Super Monkey Ball Deluxe, the 2005 entry that bundled up the first two games. The new artwork might take a bit of getting used to, and is it really Monkey Ball if you're not playing with the GameCube's octopad - but still, here's finally a chance to play Monkey Target proper on the go.

Trek to Yomi, Playstation, Xbox, PC

Buried amongst the inane ramblings of the Devolver Digital showcase you might have spotted Trek to Yomi, a side-scrolling black-and-white samurai adventure that's all crackling film grain and stoic duty. The swordfighting animations look wonderful, the characters having an almost puppet-like poise. Imagine a micro Ghost of Tsushima with the style to match the self-seriousness. If looks could kill! It's coming to next-gen and PC in 2022.

Unpacking, PC

Excuse the pun, but there's a lot to unpack in this delightfully calm looking puzzler - it's a window into different eras as you tidy away rooms plucked from other lives, infused with the satisfaction of a kind of storing things neatly and underpinned by that vast melancholy that comes when you move house and reduce your life into a pile of boxes. This has been doing the rounds at shows for a while, and it's a thrill to see we'll finally get to play it later this year.

Venba, PC

This is what games are for - a narrative cooking adventure about an Indian mum who moves to Canada with her family in the 1980s. Filled with great recipes and lovely art, this promises to be a uniquely generous and transporting affair. Just look at it! Cannot wait.

WarioWare: Get It Together, Switch

This is a bit of an odd one - a new WarioWare, which is always a treat, but one in which the WarioWare characters get involved inside the micro-games themselves. So here's Wario squeezing toothpaste, and here's 9Volt using a yo-yo to turn the blades of a windmill. Each character will have its own ability, and the whole thing seems designed around the two-player mode, which blends competition and cooperation.

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