Pressing the issues
Every year, the E3 press conferences serve as the bombastic kickoff to a festival of big-budget games and indie innovators. This is where all the megaton reveals and announcements will happen; where developers, CEOs, and celebrities alike will take the stage and delight the audience with snappy or slightly awkward banter. And E3 2015 had more press conferences than usual, with a few newcomers joining the fray. But like gladiatorial combat, the real question on people's minds is: who won?
Every press conference had something great to offer, but some simply had more greatness than others. We've gone ahead and ranked all the press conferences, minus the PC Gaming Show (GR+ is owned by the same parent company, so we'd be contractually obligated to give them first prize). So, which press conference stood triumphant during E3 2015? In our minds, the ordering goes something like this...
7. Square Enix
The Square Enix press conference had the air of a Japanese investor meeting, which isn't necessarily good or bad. Everyone on stage was polite and calm, moving from one game demo to the next with minimal fanfare - a stark contrast to the whiz-bang theatrics of most other press conferences. There were a few gaffes, like a translator who seemed to be asleep at the wheel and an enthusiastic Kingdom Hearts fan who realized too late that he was cheering for the wrong trailer. But man, Square Enix has it where it counts: the games.
Any mention of the Final Fantasy 7 remake gets our hearts aflutter, the teacup attack in Kingdom Hearts 3 is a winner, and the tweaks to Hitman's assassination sandbox are definitely intriguing. Plus, the cult classic Nier is actually getting a sequel, something we never would've expected in a million years. And we'll never, ever forget the surreal weirdness of a presenter with a skull mask on, and absolutely no one in the room acknowledging it.
Electronic Arts has a heavy burden: the need to show off a slew of sports games to an audience that, let's face it, is largely apathetic about Madden, FIFA, et al. Not only that: everybody watching had their hearts set on some in-game Star Wars Battlefront footage, and EA knew it. That made it all the more difficult to sit through Pele's absent-minded musings about 'the beautiful game', or a Minions mobile spin-off.
Of course, none of those somewhat dull moments seemed to matter after the glory of the Battlefront footage. Watching soldiers shoot their way through the trenches of Hoth looked incredible, and the shifting perspectives gave a great view into vehicle handling as well. And that ending where Luke and Vader clash... we got chills. Besides getting to see our nerdy lightsaber duel fantasies realized, Unravel looks adorable, Mirror's Edge: Catalyst seems like it'll have glorious amounts of freedom, and Mass Effect: Andromeda showed just enough to get us interested.
Read our E3 2015 EA press conference recap
We get the sense that E3 is becoming more and more irrelevant to Nintendo, and you can tell by the fact that its biggest surprises - the unexpected arrival of the unreleased NES EarthBound and Ryu's appearance in Super Smash Bros. - were announced on the Sunday before the big Nintendo Direct. Thanks to Nintendo's unique videos, they can announce whatever they want, when they want, and they don't have to be tied to E3 to do it.
That's not to say there weren't things to get excited about during the Tuesday Direct. We saw the first footage of Star Fox Zero, the reveal of a Paper Mario/Mario & Luigi RPG mash-up, and a new multiplayer Zelda game on 3DS, and all of that looks great. There are even going to be Skylanders figurines for Donkey Kong and Bowser that will act as amiibo when you twist the base - a pretty big surprise, especially coming from a company as protective of its characters as Nintendo. Long-awaited titles like Xenoblade Chronicles X and the fantastic-looking Super Mario Maker finally got release dates, too. Nintendo's actual E3 conference may have been a bit lacking, but when you combine it, along with Sunday's announcements and the World Championship, Nintendo's E3 wasn't too shabby. Plus, it had Nintendo Muppets. And that's pretty great.
Ubisoft didn't pin all its hype to one or two games - it spread the love across a diverse collection, which is great. By now, we know to brace for a few awkward moments when Just Dance hits the stage (this time with some off-key singing courtesy of Jason Derulo, aka Blueshirt McSingguy, aka Mikey '2Tyte' Jeanz), and some stilted recreations of actual conversations during multiplayer sessions. But any Derulo downers were offset by Aisha Tyler's charm, and Ubisoft had something for everyone with its game showcase.
Two surprise announcements stood out in particular: Ghost Recon Wildlands, a drug-busting take on the tactical shooter, and For Honor, a PvP battle between history's deadliest warriors. The tense multiplayer of Rainbow Six Siege and The Division had us enraptured (even with all the scripted teamchat), with Trackmania, Trials Fusion: Awesome Levels Max, and South Park: Fractured But Whole rounding out the strong showing. We could've done with some more Evie and/or gameplay for Assassin's Creed Syndicate, of course.
Kinect was a no-show, there was no mention of apps, and there was nary an Usher in sight - Microsoft in 2015 is leaner, meaner, and all about games. There were the expected heavy hitters, of course, and Halo 5 and Gears 4 certainly didn't disappoint, but it was all of the little surprises that added up for Microsoft in a big way.
Backwards compatibility was Microsoft's bombshell announcement of the show. It doesn't seem like much, but when it feels like everyone's essentially written off the concept with this generation and doubled down on re-releases, seeing a big publisher find a way to get older games to work on its current hardware is a pretty fantastic move, and it'll be a great way to get more people to leave their 360s behind. Speaking of re-releases, Rare Replay shows the right way to go about it, packing in 30 classic and contemporary Rare games in one package for $30. Rare's even making a brand new game, and it's all about pirates! Microsoft also unveiled a unique spin on early access, letting potential buyers actually try a demo before they spend money on an unfinished game (what a concept!). And last but surprisingly not least, Microsoft HoloLens made an impressive showing with Minecraft (of all games). A solid show from Microsoft.
This E3 marked the first time Bethesda has ever hosted a press conference, but you wouldn't be able to tell by watching it, as the publisher took the stage with a confidence and presence like they'd been doing this for years. Bethesda's conference boasted no frills, no nonsense, and no gimmicks - just a solid 90-minute block of fantastic-looking games.
Doom is shaping up to be a wonderful blend of old-school and modern game design, with fast-paced, fluid gunplay, ridiculous hellbeasts, and the newly-announced Snapmap allows for players to make and share their own levels and games. Dishonored 2 is coming next year, and bringing along a surprising new protagonist with Emily Kaldwin. But the big surprise here came from Fallout 4 and its November 10, 2015 release date. Bethesda kicked off E3 in spectacular fashion.
Sony doesn't have a huge first-party lineup slated for 2015, instead relying on Batman, Destiny, and a slew of indie games to satiate PlayStation Nations hunger for games. And no, Sony didn't do much to tell us differently at its E3 conference. What it did do, however, is announce the arrival of three particular games - games that have long stoked the dreams of many a PlayStation fan.
Sony opened its show with The Last Guardian, reintroducing Team Ico's lost game to the masses, and revealed a 2016 release date to go along with it. Fans have also been clamoring for a Final Fantasy 7 remake, and have repeatedly been told no - until Sony unveiled a trailer confirming its existence. Then they gave the stage to Yu Suzuki, creator of the cult-favorite Shenmue series, and announced a plan to crowd-fund the closure that fans have been craving for years. Oh yeah, Sony's also the new home for Call of Duty, yoinking it away from Microsoft in dramatic fashion. An impressive gameplay demo for Uncharted 4 closed one of Sony's best conferences in years - even if it did lean a bit heavily on nostalgia, this is one for the history books.
Read our E3 2015 Sony conference recap