E3 is an event filled with promises. Gamers congregate in Southern California every year to sit in awe of the new innovations companies show off. Even more sit at home and watch coverage of the event; hosts killing time with more not-our-hands-on looks at new and shiny games. At the end of the event, a select few game journalists from leading media outlets come together to vote for what they believe the best game of the show to be, by way of the Game Critics Awards.
The game they arrive upon is labeled Best in Show for the promises it gives, for the potential to change the video game landscape and give us a new experience. Lets take a look at the last decade of E3s best games and see how they fared at the end of the year, and if those promises were kept...
Best Console Game 2004: Halo 2
In 2004, the Best in Show award went to Sony's PSP, so we're going to have to resort to Best Console Game...
Halo 2 follows one of the greatest launch games in history, Halo: Combat Evolved. The shockwaves of Bungies landmark franchise are still felt today. Its no wonder, then, that the announcement of its sequel, simply titled Halo 2, would get gamers running around in circles. There was even a playable demo, and we found that nothing had changed too much: Master Chief still in all of his glory, mowing down Covenant troops with his assault rifle.
Later in the year Halo 2 was finally released, and the game proved true to the saying, If it aint broke, dont fix it. It immediately gained critical acclaim for keeping the same elements that made Combat Evolved the success it was. By effectively launching Xbox Live as an online gaming platform on top of a great campaign, it gained a Metacritic score of 96. That said, by the time the Game of the Year awards rolled around, Halo 2 was bypassed by most publications in favor of Half-Life 2, World of Warcraft, or Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Those are some tough comps.
Best in Show 2005: Spore
When Maxis unveiled its next new creation, Spore, the potential was enthralling: Give the gamer the opportunity to create a living being, starting at the cellular level, and build whole civilizations with those creatures. Knowing that the developers were also the group behind the success of The Sims--where the depth of customization was close to infinite--helped sell Spore to audiences and win the Best of E3 title.
When Spore was released in September of 2008, after years of delay, it was met with warm reviews, resulting in a Metacritic score of 84. Critics found that the game attempted to do much more than it actually was able to do. The first few phases of creation were described as too simple and as the game progressed, it restricted this infinitude of customization that was promised years earlier.
As for 2005, Capcom's Resident Evil 4 took the lion's share of the Game of the Year awards, and for good reason. The new sequel in the franchise was applauded for its new, third-person shooter gameplay and would create the foundation for the following Resident Evil games.
Best Console Game 2006: Gears of War
Best in Show for 2006 went to Nintendo's Wii, but... When Epic Games unveiled their new title, Gears of War, it immediately chiseled out its place at the E3 convention center. Its visual style was unlike anything else at the time: the dusty and metallic tone covering the landscape immediately caught everyones attention. We squirmed when Marcus Fenix cleaved an enemy in half with his assault rifle--and yes, that was a chainsaw attached to his gun.
Gaining a Metacritic score of 94, Gears of War won a few Game of the Year Awards later, though Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess walked away with many several more. What is important though is that Gears of War would become one of the largest franchises for the Xbox. The narrative would find its way into three more sequels, each one continuing the legacy that Gears of War brought audiences that summer in 2006.
Best in Show 2007: Rock Band
After the large success of Guitar Hero, Harmonix showed gamers their version of the pseudo-one-man rock band. Only in this instance, you had to bring your friends along. In 2007, Rock Band was shown to the world. We rolled our eyes when we saw the guitar, but then the drum set and microphone were displayed. And we lost our minds. Guitar Hero included multiplayer that just amounted to you and your friends fighting over who could play Free Bird better. Now you could all play together, in harmony.
Reviewers would later praise Rock Band for its aptness to turn get-togethers into parties. It didnt win Game of the Year though--that would go to Super Mario Galaxy, one of the best games that came out for the Wii (and to a lesser extent, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare). Yet Rock Band would go on to make several more sequels, adding more songs to play along with, before slowly grooving back into our closets. For a game that received a Metacritic review of 92, it did manage to ignite disputes between our friends because they dont have good taste in music. Really, they dont.
Best in Show 2008: Fallout 3
We couldnt forget the juxtaposition found in Bethesda's new game. Visually, Fallout 3 was destroyed and ugly, yet we found charm in its 1940s musical and graphic aesthetic. That counterbalance--between the beauty and the hopelessness of the post-apocalyptic world--blew us away in Fallout 3's first few trailers, and is ultimately what drew our attention at the show.
When it was released later that year, reviewers responded positively. Even with its technical flaws, which were mostly ironed out through patches eventually, Fallout 3 gained a Metacritic review of 93. It gave gamers everything it had promised, mainly the ability to explore for what seemed like forever. It utilized space in order to give a deeper story to its audience, and it worked.
Fallout 3 went on to secure a number of Game of the Year awards, though it certainly wasn't a unanimous decision. Other big winners for the year were Rockstar's much-awaited Grand Theft Auto 4, as well as Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots and Irrational Games' sleeper, BioShock.
Best in Show 2009: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Naughty Dogs sequel to 2007s Uncharted: Drakes Fortune was shown at E3 with much excitement. We watched Nathan Drake scramble for his life, not in the lush jungle but on the roof of a building in Nepal while being attacked by a helicopter, and we recalled what made us love the first one so much. The high production values were still there, only they were amped up to eleven. Like most successful sequels, it took the foundation of the first game and exploded that structure.
What Uncharted 2: Among Thieves promised, it definitely fulfilled. Reviewers gave it high praise for its use of its cinematic style. Where the first adventure created an action film experience, Among Thieves was a summer action movie blockbuster. It ended up winning Game of the Year by the vast majority of publications, becoming one of the most beloved franchises in the PlayStation 3's history.
Best Console Game 2010: Rage
Setting Nintendo's Best of Show-winning 3DS aside... In it's unfinished, benefit-of-the-doubt state, id's Rage was a masterpiece. It portrayed a post-apocalyptic world that was frightening in its desolation, yet it looked so damn good. The combination of gunplay and driving had everyone on edge, and Rage had the id name-brand glue that built a rock-solid foundation of promise.
Though it won multiple E3 awards, it unfortunately did not take home the Game of the Year award in December. That honor was shared fairly evenly between BioWare's Mass Effect 2 and Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption. Though what we saw at E3 was visually captivating--and the first person shooter aspect of Rage was great--its narrative was unable to breathe life into the world. Rages short campaign flawed the overall experience for reviewers, who eventually helped give the game its Metacritic score of 81.
Best of Show 2011: Bioshock Infinite
What can be said about Bioshock Infinite that hasn't been heard time and time again in these last couple of months? It fulfilled the potential we saw in the fifteen-minute gameplay demo that was displayed in 2011. It took years to get it ready, but we waited, and it paid off handsomely. It was beautiful, and the gameplay looked very similar, even better, than the other games in the franchise.
It is no wonder, then, that it swept the E3 awards, winning Best in Show, Best Original Game, Best PC Game, and Best Action/Adventure Game. Released in March of 2013, it received immediate critical acclaim, inspiring several critics to hail it as a perfect example of a work closer to a piece of art than a video game, obtaining a Metacritic score of 94. Of course it wasnt able to win 2011s Game of the Year because it was delayed for two years--that honor, by and large, went to Bethesda Softworks' outstanding Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, with a dash of Batman: Arkham City and Portal 2 for good measure.
Best of Show 2012: The Last of Us
With the success of the Uncharted franchise, Naughty Dog showed off a new game that goes in a more serious direction. A survivor horror style game, The Last of Us is violent, creepy, and above all, real. Gone are the flashy cutscenes and the witty main characters of Uncharted. In gameplay videos we see Joel, whom the player controls, choke someone to death and beat an enemys face in with the butt of his gun.
Unfortunately, The Last of Us isnt due for release until June 2013, and no clear winner emerged to claim the Game of the Year crown for 2012. Disparate favorites ranged from The Walking Dead (which secured GamesRadar's Game of the Year award), to Journey, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Dishonored, and Borderlands 2.
What'll win big in 2013?
So maybe not everything that wins E3s Best in Show is a keeper. Like any award, these should be taken with a grain of salt. But that shouldnt discourage our excitement every year, as creators and developers go up on stage to display their next creation. How about you? Did your Game of E3 end up being your personal Game of the Year? Let us know in the comments, and expect full coverage of this year's E3 from June 10-14!