We’ve had our fun, handing out irreverent awards with silly titles like Most Graphics and Artsiest-Fartsiest, but now it’s time for tradition. Time to be serious and actually pick – no jokes – our favorite game from E3 2011.
First, the nominees…
Batman: Arkham City
Arkham Asylum was our 2009 Game of the Year, so who’s surprised the sequel ended up here? We are, actually. The recent Catwoman trailer – full of cheesy cat puns, gratuitous ass shots and questionable protagonist switching – had us slightly worried about the franchise’s evolution.
Those fears were put immediately to rest as soon as we visited the Arkham City booth. Catwoman’s gameplay segments looked slick, stealthy and sexy. Penguin was confirmed as a major villain – a more vicious, frightening and realistic villain than you might expect from previous iterations. Most importantly, we finally got our hands on the game, and the bigger world plus beefier combat was just as amazing as we’d hoped. Oh yeah, and we ran into The Riddler, which was pretty neat. Preview
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
While our actual hands-on time with Uncharted 3 has been limited to a few hours of competitive multiplayer and a quick run through its impressive, story-driven co-op mode, we also got a pretty extensive look at its single-player campaign at E3. First came the cruise-ship gameplay footage during Sony’s press conference, and then, behind closed doors, Naughty Dog gave us a peek at an even-more-impressive dash through a mercenary-controlled airfield. Here, Nathan Drake shared a bittersweet moment with on-again/off-again partner/girlfriend Elena, was almost immediately surrounded by gun-toting enemies, and ran to catch a taxiing cargo plane before being caught, beaten and nearly thrown out into space while 30,000 feet above a desert.
Given how Uncharted 2 swept a lot of publications’ best-of awards in 2009 (and got a runner-up for Game of the Year in our own Platinum Chalices), saying we’re looking forward to this one is an understatement. Uncharted 3 is already poised to become one of the best, if not the best, game of 2011; the only question is how well it stacked up against the rest of E3. Preview
Mass Effect 3
Despite how high the bar is already set, we believe BioWare when they say that this is going to be the best game in the series. The events of the first two games have steadily escalated the Reaper threat, and now the stage is set to finally crescendo with an all-out space war in which every sentient species in the galaxy faces extinction. The stakes literally could not be higher, and everything we've seen indicates that Mass Effect 3 is striving to match the quality of its gameplay and story with the gravity of Shepard's situation.
Instead of fixing the RPG elements that were tedious in the first game (namely the inventory system), Mass Effect 2 streamlined everything, removing inventory, cutting weapon customization, and simplifying character customization. Now Mass Effect 3 is bringing those RPG features back and doing them right this time, with totally revamped weapon system, deeper skill trees and more varied combat. As confidently as we can predict about a game we haven't played yet, it's almost guaranteed that Mass Effect 3 is going to be a masterpiece – it's just a question of details. Preview
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Bethesda Softworks is responsible for producing some of the finest open-world role-playing games ever made, and if what we’ve seen so far is any indication, Skyrim looks ready to blow them all out of the water. It’s already looking bigger, prettier and more involving than Morrowind, Oblivion or even Fallout 3, and while it takes a simpler approach to character creation and leveling than its predecessors, it nonetheless promises a ridiculous amount of depth, featuring factions to ally with, villages with dynamic economies and no shortage of side-quests (many of which will be semi-randomly generated) to keep players distracted.
At the same time, Skyrim’s epic scope leaves us a little breathless. Not only is the landscape beautifully rendered and freely explorable, with the randomly appearing wildlife and monsters we’ve come to expect from the series, but the game’s central activity – bringing down massive, angry dragons and stealing their souls – promises to bring a feeling of conquering insurmountable odds to the table. Add around 120 story-driven dungeons and what’s sure to be an involving central storyline, and Skyrim is one game we really can’t wait to see more of. Preview
We thought we were prepared for BioShock Infinite. A couple GamesRadar editors saw the E3 demo weeks in advance and managed to convey the experience to the rest of us, though they struggled to find exactly the right awestruck words. We knew about the rollercoaster skyhook rides – how exhilaratingly fast and far the hero could travel in mere seconds. We knew about the crazily diverse combat – switching between pistols and rocket launchers and murders of crows in the midst of a single battle. We knew how terrifying the Songbird could be and how endearing Elizabeth would be. We even knew about the mind-blowing “tears” – windows into times and universes other than 1912 Columbia, some so strange that they include theater marquees for Revenge of the Jedi, a 1980s movie title that never actually existed.
We knew all that and we were still blown away by how smoothly and seamlessly these bizarre-sounding elements blended together. By the unexpected emotions we felt – inexplicable sympathy for the Songbird and fear of Elizabeth’s powers. By the pure scale and already polished beauty of the game world. Preview
At this point, our incoherent gushing has probably ruined the suspense, but yeah… BioShock: Infinite is hands-down our Best of Show at E3 2011.
And the winner is…
Last few paragraphs not enough to convince you? Watch our E3 2011 interview with BioShock creator Ken Levine – if he can pull together the heady subjects he discusses here as well as he implanted his ideas for Rapture in BioShock 1, this game has limitless potential.