E3 2016 has been a blast. We've laughed, we've cried, we've scratched our heads at naked Norman Reedus. But now the dust is settling on another massive gaming brawl, it's time to hand out some awards. These virtual gongs are for the best, worst, funniest, and most absurd things that happened at E3 this year. We've already chosen a bunch of games we love, and handed out ribbons on the show floor, so these awards mostly celebrate the event itself. Click through to see who has won what, and brace yourself for mild humour and some light showers of opinion.
Game of the Show (Winner) - The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
"Our mission in developing this new Zelda game for Wii U is quite plainly to rethink the conventions of Zelda," said Eiji Aonuma, Zelda series director and Breath of the Wild producer, back in 2013. That was just two months after the Wii U's disastrous launch and a year after the release of the divisive Skyward Sword. No one had a single reason to believe he was serious. When the game was later shown in brief trailers and snippets over the past three and a half years, it still just looked like a Zelda game. Beautiful, no doubt, but of a piece with every game Aonuma's team has produced since Ocarina of Time. Against all odds, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild proved itself an impressive and titillating break from series mores.
In just 40 playable minutes, Breath of the Wild felt mysterious, dangerous, and yes, wild. Wii U and Nintendo NX's Hyrule is the opposite of Skyward Sword's: sprawling, seamless, and accommodating of whatever you want to do. Want to wander around messing up Bokoblin barbecues? Do it. Want to chop down trees until you've made an impromptu bridge over a freezing river? Have at it. And if you want to find out what made Hyrule a barren natural landscape full of ruins and hungry animals, the story is yours to unfold rather than a leash dragging you through the game's sights and sounds. Virtual Reality, high end PlayStation 4 games, the potential of Xbox Scorpio; these glimpses of the future tantalized us at E3 but nothing made us want to explore that future like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Game of the Show (Runner-up) - Titanfall 2
On the surface, Titanfall 2 just feels like more Titanfall - which would have been fine, because Titanfall is a frenetic, mech-filled thrill ride. But Titanfall 2 is making enough tweaks to its combat to give you even more options in how you zip around the battlefield like a bat out of hell with a jetpack strapped to it. The grappling hook feels great, and you can use it on pretty much anything, whether you need to shoot up the side of a tall building, or you need to latch onto an escaping Titan. The mechs themselves feel even more fleshed out and unique than ever before, with each mech decked to the nines with flamethrowers or giant lasers depending on which model you grab. Along with the recently announced single-player mode and PS4 support, Titanfall 2 is shaping up to be everything we wanted the first game to be, and so much more.
Biggest surprise of the show - God of War
We had an inkling that God of War was going Norse. That was good. Of all of the mythologies, North is best. It's the weirdest, and darkest, and most dramatic and doom-laded. Norse is cool. What we weren't expecting was a total Ragnarok of the series' previous identity to go along with the change of universe. God of War typifies modern Sony at its most brave, creative and decisive. 'Screw what the series was, and burn down what people know it as', the new game rightly says of a franchise whose design was, until this week, steadfastly rooted in 2005. 'What should it be now?' And what it should be is what it is. A sumptuously-realised, genuinely affecting - though still hard-hitting - action game with a newfound sense of intimacy running through it, apparent in everything from camera angles, to the tone of the violence, to the omnipresent, relationship-driven narrative fuelling every moment of the demo.
The 'My, how you've changed'-est game of the show - Resident Evil 7
Last time we saw Resident Evil, it was a bloated, posturing, overly glossy cheese dream of a cartoon about zombies. The video game version of Michael Bay smashing his GI Joes into his Real Ghostbusters toys while getting steadily champagne-drunk on an endless, round-the-world flight. Now though, we have a rotten farmhouse, some stinking detritus, a weighty, unequipped, 'normal person' protagonist, only a modicum of combat, some murderous rednecks and minimalist ghosts, and no zombies whatsoever. And it's all in first person. We also have a game that feels brave, exciting, and potentially terrifying, and so, despite the changes, more in line with the original spirit of Resident Evil than the series has actually been in years.
Best indie game of E3 - Absolver
One of the great things about the indie scene is how wild and unique the games can be. For example, I don't know about you, but I haven't seen too many martial arts RPGs on the block lately. Especially not ones with the depth, variety, art direction, and intrigue of Absolver. While it has some familiar tropes that echo FromSoftware's Dark Souls series, it ultimately feels like its own beast - a brilliant blend of mysticism, hand-to-hand combat, and RPG progression systems. It has surface levels of familiarity, but feels unlike anything you've ever played, as you simultaneously balance your stamina, flow, stances, and customizable combos. Indie games can somethings hang their hat upon having a single hook; Absolver feels like a total package of fresh, new goodness.
Runner-up - Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
If Absolver is the new indie hotness, then Bloodstained is refinement defined. Koji Igarashi, the guy responsible for Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, is giving fans what they want by basically making another one of those, but with enough modern touches to make it feel fresh and exciting. Even at this incredibly early stage, the combat is taut and deliberate; the music and graphics equally reminiscent of the PlayStation era and only capable on state-of-the-art hardware; and that feeling of wandering through interesting environments looking for secrets is enhanced by a few new tricks up its sleeve. It's been eight years since Igarashi made a proper 'Igavania' game like his PS1 and GBA classics, but playing Bloodstained, it's like he never left.
Most smartly-stupid award - South Park: The Fractured But Whole
A fart so powerful, potent, and vile that it actually alters the time continuum to give you and your allies a tactical advantage. Such an ability could only exist in a South Park game, and if you couldn't tell from the title, The Fractured But Whole promises just as much crass humor and profane ridiculousness as The Stick of Truth. But behind all the crude, superhero-themed hilarity, Fractured's made some ingenious upgrades to the straightforward RPG combat of Stick that should make the core gameplay much more engaging this time around. Instead of rudimentary turn-based action, Fractured makes use of space by adding tile-based movement to each encounter, turning each fight into a tactical affair where you need to consider positioning, line of sight, and rearrangeable turn orders. That's pretty damn smart for a series that revels in acting dumb.
Runner-up - John Carmack riding a VR Minecart during the Microsoft Press Conference
Because there can be few more potent mixtures of intellect and gleeful, strident idiocy than a man with the infinite wizard brain of John Carmack giddily boasting about riding a minecart to his subterranean mad scientist's lair - like he hasn't got one of those in real-life. The smarter you are, the less you feel the need to act it.
Press conference highlight - Aisha Tyler interviewing Geordi La Forge
Nerdery squared, basically. Also one of the most genuine moments in the whole, week-long celebration of large companies trying to sell you things. Aisha was losing her shit, because she's hanging out with Geordi La Forge and they're talking about a Star Trek virtual reality game. LeVar was being super-chill, because LeVar is super-chill, but also somewhat losing his own shit because Star Trek in VR and he got to play it with Seven of Nine and Judge Dredd. And Star Trek: Bridge Crew looks legitimately brilliant. A fantastically conceived, completely unexpected slice of that's-so-good-an-idea-why-hadn't-it-already-been-done wish fulfilment, and one of the few, large-scale, bona fide games seen in E3 2016's not insignificant VR selection. It's the kind of game that just needs to be promoted with real excitement, and that's exactly what happened.
Image credit: Entertainment Software Association
Press conference low-point - The Assassin's Creed movie guy who leeched the life out of the Ubisoft conference
Look, we get that it's a Ubisoft conference. And we get that by now, mentioning Assassin's Creed is probably more of an automated motor response than a conscious decision. Latent muscle memory, learned over nearly a decade of yearly reveals and demos. Ubi probably has to put more effort into not bringing it up than it does arranging a choreographed, 20-minute stage demo. But guys, really, remember why there is no new AC this year. The world was saturated with it, and the series was tired. We're not going to forget it any time soon. Not with the movie coming out. The whole point is that it needs a break. So please don't use that movie to flatline your show's adrenaline chart with a dry, entirely thrill-free spiel about stuff anyone invested has seen a bunch of already. By now, people are either going to see it or they're not. Using the film (and the AC franchise in general) to comatose an otherwise exciting conference is not going to bring anyone back round.
Fiercest beard of the show - Kratos (God of War)
Oh yeah, Kratos is back. But this time the god of war is facing one of his most difficult challenges yet: fatherhood. It seems that after he caved-in his own father's face, he went off to live a life of relative peace and grow out his dad beard. But while some lesser men have their beards for extra warmth or a mislead sense of fashion, we're pretty sure Kratos did it to better convey his message of "don't mess with me or I'll rip your head off with my bare hands." We didn't think Kratos could look more intimidating than his white skin, red tattoo look, but when you slap a full beard on his face and hand him an axe, he's the fiercest half-naked lumberjack from hades you've ever seen.
Runner-up - Jason VandenBerghe (For Honor)
Ubisoft's Jason VandenBerghe doesn't just have a beard. He is a beard. The living embodiment of masculine facial hair, strident, proud, brusque, and somewhat unkempt in a dramatically picturesque way. He is Viking. He is Warrior. He overlord. He is mage. The lack of CG augmentation is the only thing holding him back in this category.
The best game with the worst stage presentation - Sea of Thieves
It's pretty much impossible to accurately simulate the inherent fun of multiplayer gameplay when you only have a few precious minutes on the E3 stage. Still yet, companies constantly try to condense that sense of camaraderie and connection via one of two options: forcing people to play co-op live, which is a nerve-wracking thing to watch, or injecting gameplay footage with an unnecessary amount of the fakest-sounding banter and grossly over-enthused reactions. Microsoft used both tactics during its E3 2016 conference, but the latter is what tarnished the Sea of Thieves trailer. The game itself is great, full of pirate adventures with a crew of other players - but all we wanted during the press conference presentation was for those folks to put a cork in it. Because really - who says "Om nom nom nom" while raising the anchor? Who does that?!
Most promising VR project (not game) of the show - Batman: Arkham VR
Now I get why Bruce Wayne puts up with those long graveyard shifts: Being the Batman feels incredible. Batman: Arkham VR isn't like the other games in the traditional sense - you won't be flipping over enemies in free-flowing first-person combat - but you'll get to solve a murder mystery using a handful of Batman's iconic gadgets. After a lengthy sequence which allows you to put on each component of Batman's armor in brilliantly immersive fashion, you're whisked away to investigate a dark alley for clues, scrubbing through video footage of an expertly choreographed fight which ebbs and flows around where you're standing. Imagine the best of Arkham's investigation sequences, only you actually get to act like goddamn Batman. Many of us got a chance to play Batman VR at E3, and we all walked away with our mouths hanging open in amazement. It's that good.
Runner-up - Star Trek: Bridge Crew
Being able to be part of the crew on a Federation starship is what sci-fi nerds the world over have dreamed of, and Ubisoft is finally giving them that chance in VR. Star Trek: Bridge Crew looks like the co-op VR version of FTL, which is incredibly promising - the only drawback being the need for four Oculus Rift headsets if you want the full experience.
The best 'Call of Duty in disguise' game - Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
CoD is the most constant constant of E3 press conferences. It's always at one of the big platform-holders' shows. It always gets a big, bombastic demo. It always plays out the same way. Quiet bit, quiet bit, whispering, slow, methodical task (maybe sneaking or climbing), then a few small skirmishes and HOLY SHIT THE ALARMS HAVE GONE OFF RUN! It's the most predictable, thrill-free spectacle. BUt this year, we could say with certainty that we even were watching a Call of Duty demo until the end. A got a Mass Effect-style walk and chat on the bridge of a big sci-fi spaceship. We got a Battlestar Galactica-style ship launch. WE got 3D, Bionic Commando in space, grappling hook action. WE got an assault on an enemy space frigate, and gunplay far more open and airy than the series' trademark spurtof relentless warmen ever usually allows. But it was Call of Duty, apparently. That was exciting. Call of Duty, but exciting.
Hottest meme of E3 - The Xbox 'Hank Scorpio' Project
Hot, dank, viral - these are all adjectives that could refer to a meme just as well as a sewer. In any case, Microsoft's codename for the next iteration of the Xbox platform, Project Scorpio, instantly brings to mind Hank Scorpio, the eccentric evil genius from episode 155 of The Simpsons, "You Only Move Twice". We half-expected the Globex Corporation boss and Bond villain parody to burst out on stage with a flamethrower to close out the press conference.
Runner-up - The Ubisoft giraffe
This majestic creature has the courage to do what we all wish we could: passionately dance on stage in a ridiculous animal costume to promote the new Just Dance sequel. May the memory of its graceful movements and boundless bravery stay with you always.
Coolest booth of E3 - Zelda's grassy indoor plains
If there's a case for why Nintendo's partnership with Universal Studios to produce theme park rides is a good idea, it's this year's E3 booth. When you first walk in, you're greeted by a faux Zelda shrine, symbols and torches decked along it in equal measure.The screen in front shows off some gameplay footage, but then it turns into a virtual stone door, which then lifts up - along with the screen - to let you step inside to the main booth. It's in here where the craziness of E3 is turned into a peaceful expanse, with the sounds of insects and the scent of grass (yes, really), being piped in to really sell it. Full-sized mokoblins hang out near a gigantic piece of meat roasting on a spit, a life-like Link does battle with a giant octopus - there's so much craft and attention to detail in here that the actual game itself almost takes a backseat to the splendor of this booth.
Runner-up - Mafia 3's entire frickin' street
New Orleans is a place like none other, taking the best bits of voodoo, heat, France, and jazz and stewing it to a swampy gumbo that is a unique piece of the American south. 2k brought that steamy city to E3, serving up a seedy street so authentic you could practically hear the mosquitos. There was live jazz, there were clubs that beckoned with neon signs and questionable intent, and there was that feeling of irresistible menace that only Mafia in Nawlins could have. There was even a New Orleans style funeral for good measure, fronted by the Traditional New Orleans Jazz Band. The only thing it was missing was gin fizzes and alligators.
Image credit: Entertainment Software Association
The 'packed light' award - Nintendo
In the grand scheme of things, it's staggering just how lean Nintendo's showing was at E3. The actual booth was a sight to behold (see: Coolest booth award), but it only housed a single, albeit amazing game (see: Game of the Show award). There were pockets of Nintendo platform support hiding here and there on the show floor - a Monster Hunter Generations here, a River City: Tokyo Rumble there, and the Pokemon Sun and Moon gameplay showcased during the Nintendo Treehouse stream. But if we weren't blinded by the dazzling light of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nintendo's E3 2016 would've been quite the sparse showing indeed.