It was a vintage year. The videogame industry shrugged off recession and put two years of directionless caution behind it last week, staging a confident showcase in Los Angeles that showed the rest of the entertainment world who was boss without overdoing the tacky excess. A ton of news (some of which hadn't even leaked), a little controversy, a lot of showmanship, some scarily futuristic new technology - and, best of all, plenty of first looks at exciting games that are actually coming out in the next six months.
Below you'll find our picks of E3 2009. First, Game of the Show: our top ten with an overall winner, not segregated by genre or platform. To be eligible, games had to be present at E3 in the form of actual working code, whether it was playable on the show floor or a live demo behind closed doors. Game of the Show is a measure of quality, of course, but it's about raw excitement too, so you'll find more recently announced games than known quantities in the shortlist.
There are four more major categories. Best Technology is open to both software and hardware, and intended to be a showcase of the most exciting prospects for the future. Best Publisher could be a platform holder or a third-party - whoever brought the broadest, strongest and most innovative line-up to LA. Best Game Announcement highlights the headlines that hit the hardest, and the games we can't wait to find out more about. And because E3 is all about the media, Best Video showcases the official movie releases - whether CGI trailers or in-game footage - that really got our bits streaming.
Finally, you'll find a few more categories as a footnote, just for fun. Best trade show of recent years? Without a doubt.
Game of the Show
There were far prettier and more ambitious games at E3 2009 than New Super Mario Bros Wii; there were bigger surprises, more hotly-anticipated sequels and more attention-grabbing showboats. But Nintendo's multiplayer reworking of the game that created an industry rocked our show for three important reasons.
First, it came out of nowhere, fully-fledged and playable by everybody in a huge ten-level demo on the show floor. While its rivals spun hard, Nintendo quietly put its money where its mouth was, letting the mobs descend on an apparently feature-complete and totally robust game and have their way with it. Only Forza Motorsport 3 could match those guts, and even its showing was slender by comparison.
Second, it was simply the most fun we had playing games all week. New Super Mario Bros Wii had us giggling with glee as soon as the show opened: perfect multiplayer dynamics that blend co-op and competition, seated in a platform-game template that hasn't been bettered in 20 years. Bliss.
And finally, if there was a bum note at E3 2009, it was the yawning divide in most publisher's line-ups between "casual" and "core" "products", the sense that videogaming is being torn in two. That's a divide Nintendo helped to create - but New Super Mario Bros Wii can heal it. Classic and modern, simple and social, nostalgic and friendly, this really is "everyone's game". It takes us back to a time when demographics meant nothing, and all of this was just fields of fun. It's uplifting.
DJ Hero: Music games are stagnating almost as fast as they grew, and even a lavish tribute to the best band ever isn't going to stop that. But DJ Hero just might. Just as turntablists reinvented our relationship with pop in the hip-hop and dance revolutions of the eighties and nineties, DJ Hero changes the music game: more creative freedom, more input from the artists, closer to the real thing.
Forza Motorsport 3: We knew it was coming, but Forza 3 is still a pretty sizeable rabbit for Microsoft to pull out of its hat, and it's out as soon as October. A full-service racing experience for the man who has everything (except Gran Turismo 5, still), it's also one of the best prospects for community gaming on a console.
God of War III: The PS2's swansong is the last major series to arrive on this generation too, and it met fever-pitch expectations with a spectacularly confident playable demo that caused the longest queues on the show floor. Not subtle, but Sony doesn't need subtlety to sell PS3s. It needs Kratos.
Left 4 Dead 2: One of the more controversial games of the show, and not because it's set in a disaster-struck New Orleans. Should Valve have released this as an expansion pack to avoid splitting its audience? Maybe, but that doesn't dim the immediate appeal of another huge slice of the definitive co-op shooter.
Modern Warfare 2: It must suck to be a shooter developer that's not Infinity Ward. This year's biggest sequel even humbled a new Halo, and Epic's Mark Rein could only call it "insanely good". Raw shock and awe at an incredible-looking 60fps, and the definition of a developer hot streak. It will sell by the megaton.
ModNation Racers: Ugly duckling of the show was this unheralded create-your-own karting game from Sony; here's hoping it will grow into a beautiful, user-generated swan. It might lack charm, but gets plenty of points for realising what LittleBigPlanet did wrong, not just copying what it did right.
Splinter Cell: Conviction: Ubisoft's revamped spy thriller out-guns Bourne and New Bond in the seedy brutality stakes - what is it about violence in toilets? - as well as employing some stunning, daring cinematic presentation. But it's the apparent ease, flexibility and empowerment of the infiltration that really impressed. Stealth can be fun!
Star Wars: The Old Republic: Everyone saw, and cheered, the lavish new cinematic. Not everyone saw the behind-closed doors demonstration of the MMO running on live servers and looking astonishingly slick and dynamic, with fast-paced action-RPG combat packed with wish-fulfilment possibilities.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves: You can't argue with an honest-to-goodness gasp from a press-conference audience. When that's not generated by a new announcement or CGI trailer, but by a game running live, you really can't argue with it. One mountain vista was enough to wow E3 and make Uncharted 2 look like the next step for action games.
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