It began, as ever, with a leak. With just hours to go until Microsoft's absurdly lavish and conceptually loopy launch event for Project Natal, suddenly the name Kinect was out there, and images of a new, black Xbox 360 unit were proliferating across the net. So close and yet so far: these days, even on a sleepy LA Sunday, you just can't stop E3 jumping the starter's gun.
That might be why most publishers - with the noble exceptions of Nintendo and Ubisoft - didn't even try to surprise in a relatively light year for big news. Still, E3 2010 proved that you don't need surprises for sensation. Knowing 3DS existed hardly prepared us for its impact, while Microsoft unleashed a tsunami of bombastic hype for Kinect, and Activision controversially snubbed the show floor in favour of an unimaginably expensive PR stunt. Not that clever, but most certainly big - just like the E3 of old, then.
Below you'll find our picks of E3 2010. First, Game of the Show: our top 10 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. (Note that this disqualifies the likes of Metal Gear Solid: Rising and Kid Icarus: Uprising, which appeared in trailer form only.) 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. Seriously. Don't sue us.
Game of the Show: Child of Eden
The curtain-raiser at Ubisoft's press conference was, unquestionably, the moment of E3. Needing and receiving no introduction, Rez and Lumines creator Testuya Mizuguchi stood with his back to the Los Angeles Theatre and used Kinect to paint an entire wall with gorgeous high-tech psychedelia, conducting an euphoric crescendo of lush trance with his elegant gestures. "When you play this game, you will be as cool as me," was his wordless promise. It was hair-raising stuff.
It wasn't just that it was a welcome surprise and the unofficial return of a much-loved hardcore classic. It wasn't just that Q Entertainment had taken the hard edges and high pressure of Rez's abstract viral battles and transformed them into something more positive and even more uplifting, through a tonal shift into New Age daydream and the suggestive, cleansing sweeps of the gesture control.
It was, above all, the happy inclusiveness of Child of Eden that won our hearts. Here was a music game and shooter rolled into one. Here was a game willing to bend itself to either Microsoft or Sony's new motion controllers, or to a humble gamepad if that was your preference. Here was the only compelling gamers' game for Kinect at E3, but one whose instant appeal could spread just as far as Microsoft's blatant lunges for the casual market. With a wave of his hand, Mizuguchi made E3 whole again, and we were uplifted.
Honourable Mentions (in alphabetical order)
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood: In all honesty, we're in two minds about the single-player campaign of this spin-off (one has horses, Rome and whistling in it; the other, bad sex and turret sections). But the multiplayer is the real draw, showing signs of making things work in the online arena that have no business doing so - open worlds, platforming and stealth, to name three.
Crysis 2: Crytek's sequel emerged victorious from a fierce firefight with Rage, Black Ops and Homefront to win E3 2010's first-person shooter war of shock and awe. It might be in questionable taste, post-9/11, but the persuasive tactics and pulverising spectacle of this uber-shooter left us weak-kneed and powerless to resist.
Dance Central: Easily the best game at Microsoft's countless Kinect showcases, Dance Central is the perfect synthesis of controller, developer and genre. Just Dance got there first, but Harmonix just gets it, effortlessly shifting from rock posture to disco poise and nailing its moves first time. The best music game at E3 2010 - although we love Def Jam Rapstar, too.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution: Taking cyberpunk out of the trench-coated shadow of The Matrix is just one of the putative achievements of Eidos Montreal's baroque Blade Runner. Taking Deus Ex out of the shadow of Deus Ex could well be another. Best of all, though, is fulfilling videogames' potential - so rarely realised - to do intelligent, original sci-fi as well as any other medium.
Gears of War 3: Microsoft's traditional games offering is on autopilot while the software giant focuses on Kinect, but if that means titles of the stature of Halo: Reach and Fable III, we can hardly complain. It was Epic's no-brainer sequel that stood out at E3, though; the inventive new Beast multiplayer mode was the best hands-on fun we had all week, hands down.
Journey: E3 2010's best-kept secret was the new PSN game from Flower and fl0w creators thatgamecompany. Even Sony didn't seem to know where and when it was being demoed, but we tracked it down and were rewarded with a heart-stoppingly beautiful trek through a Saharan sandscape and mysterious allusions to online multiplayer. How something this pretty wasn't at Sony's conference - it doesn't even have a trailer yet - we just can't understand.
Kirby's Epic Yarn: Zelda: Skyward Sword's debut fell strangely flat - since when is the most interesting thing about a Zelda game its control scheme? - but our sense of anti-climax was soothed away by this delightful morsel. Nintendo's been pumping out its old staple - 2D platformers - with almost casual frequency and genius since Jungle Beat, and here comes another. Epic Yarn's conceptual inventiveness, two-player co-op and charming hand-stitched visuals unravelled us all over the show floor.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit: Last year, Criterion's Alex Ward tweeted that his studio was orchestrating a return to the spirit of the original 3DO Need for Speed. Turns out that was all we needed to know, really - although Hot Pursuit's cops-versus-racers multiplayer, and the strong influence of Burnout on its delicious arcade handling, were two welcome twists in the road. Have leather, will trade for hell.
Portal 2: Sony's one coup de grâce in a lacklustre showing was rolling out sometime detractor Gabe Newell to announce Portal 2 (and, interestingly, SteamWorks) for PS3. By Valve's standards it's just a laundry list of new toys and old jokes; by anyone else's, it's a list of ideas they'll never be clever enough to have, but will be lucky enough to enjoy.
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