GameSpot's E3 2005 Editors' Choice Awards
Design by Collin Oguro
This year is very much a transition year for the video game industry, with all three major players on the console side revealing their next-generation hardware at or just before E3. So not only did we get our first glimpse at the future of video games, but also we got a look at what should be the last major games to be released on current-generation hardware. GameSpot covered the show with almost reckless abandon, penning more than 1200 stories, encoding more than 1000 movies, and posting more than 12,000 screenshots for more than 1100 different games! We also threw in 24 hours' worth of coverage direct from the show floor, bringing you candid booth tours, live game demonstrations, and live interviews with the industry's hottest developers. If you attempted to read all that content and watch all the movies back to back, it would literally take years.
So how does one parse all that E3 information down to what's important, in this, one of the most pivotal years in gaming history? That's what these E3 2005 Editors' Choice Awards are about. In this feature, the GameSpot staff brings its considerable amount of collective experience at covering E3 to bear, distilling all of our coverage down to its most important elements and showing you what the biggest names and events were at E3 2005.
About These Awards
Like a fashion show or a car show, E3 is very much about immediate impact. Companies tailor their demonstrations to quickly and forcefully get your attention. Considering the cacophony of noise in a convention center full of people, and music blasting at full volume, publishers pretty much have to structure their trailers and videos to be as flashy as possible. So what does this mean in the end? The games that present themselves well aren't necessarily the best games in the end. We must also remember that most games shown off at E3 are in very early stages of development. In a nutshell, a Best of Show award from GameSpot is no guarantee on the final quality of the game. That said, it's quite an accomplishment in itself to impress us in the midst of so many other games and distractions on the E3 show floor, and that's worth the recognition of an award.
For the sake of clarity, games that are eligible for GameSpot E3 2005 Editors' Choice Awards must be in some type of playable state. Developer-led demonstrations where we never touch the controls ourselves are still eligible. Any game can win an award as long as it is apparent to us that the project is being played in some kind of real-time state. Games that are present at the show only in the form of trailers or prerendered movies are not eligible. We also tend to favor original, never-before-seen games. While the long development cycles of today's gaming industry mean that many games are exhibited at E3 for two or even three years, it's only natural that we'd be more impressed by games that are completely new to us.
With all that out of the way, we've divided our E3 2005 Editors Choice Awards into four primary categories:
Special Achievement AwardsThis category is for recognizing games and trends that don't neatly fit into any genre categories. You'll also find our picks for the best videos, hardware highlights, and top news of the show in this category.
Genre AwardsThese awards recognize excellence within a particular genre. Note that some genres are inherently more competitive than others, and that we do not subdivide our genre awards among platforms. In recognition of GameSpot's platform agnostic stance, all games between platforms compete with one another for genre awards.
Platform AwardsWith the introduction of the Gizmondo and Xbox 360 platforms, we have more platform awards than ever before...11 in total. Note that we did not give awards for PlayStation 3 or Revolution games, as there weren't any available at the show in a playable state.
Game of the ShowThis category is self-explanatory. We give you our take on the game that impressed us the most at E3 2005, and we also recognize nine other worthy finalists.
Some of the most exciting and interesting aspects of E3 actually don't happen in the show floor. They come to us via the newswire in the form of press releases and announcements. With all three major players in the industry announcing their new consoles for the next generation, there certainly was a lot of news to report at this year's E3. The following is a selection of some of the biggest news from E3 2005, listed in chronological order.
Halo 3 parrying PlayStation 3 launch
Time quotes Bill Gates saying that Sony's next-gen console will "walk into" the Xbox 360 follow-up to the best-selling sci-fi shooter.
PlayStation 3 announced for 2006
Sony unveils its next-gen console in LA; Metal Gear Solid 4, Devil May Cry 4, Tekken 6, Gran Turismo 5, and Warhawk redux confirmed. First pictures and video inside.
Xbox 360 picks up Final Fantasy XI, will be backwards compatible
Square Enix, EA announce strong 360 support; more than 160 games in development, up to 40 available at launch; Microsoft says console will play "top-selling" Xbox games.
Dead Rising descending on Xbox 360
Onimusha creator Keiji Inafune cooking up a next-generation horror action game for Capcom.
Nintendo's Revolution is nigh
Nintendo's next-gen console is two to three times as powerful as the GameCube, backward compatible, and online; system confirmed for 2006, prices not; DS goes online and Game Boy Micro announced; next-gen Mario, Metroid, and Zelda confirmed.
Metal Gear Solid triple threat from Konami
New internal studio Kojima Productions making Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence, Metal Gear Acid 2, and Metal Gear Solid 4 for the PS3.
Spot On: PrE3 photo tour
With a herd of nerds beating down the LACC door, GameSpot quickly makes the rounds of gaming's biggest event.
Spot On: Pressed for conferences at E3
It was Sony vs. Microsoft vs. Nintendo in a three-way PR battle royale--with only one clear winner.
Ballmer bitten by Xbox bug
Microsoft CEO says the next generation belongs to the 360, pledges to turn fast break to launch into long-term win.
Q&A: SCEA's Jack Tretton; still in the catbird seat?
Sony exec punches a few holes in the launch logic of Microsoft; claims early lead holds little advantage.
Q&A: Epic Games' Mark Rein talks next-gen
With Unreal Engine 3 technology on board a slew of next-gen games, Epic VP Mark Rein tells us how the company keeps its balance in the midst of such a dramatic technology shift.
Analyst picks winners at E3
The Yankee Group's Mike Goodman talks candidly about what worked at E3 and what didn't.
E3 Rumor Control: Killzone 2 real-time renders and 360 retro-compatibility
This week: Final Fantasy XI will look the same in the HD era.
Spot On: Kentia Hall - the lower depths
Humble beginnings, old-school gaming, and a plethora of peripherals; in the three-ring circus that is E3, Kentia Hall has the carnies.
MIA @ E3 2005
Gran Turismo PSP, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Dirge of Cerberus, Final Fantasy XII, and Duke Nukem Forever miss crucial game event.
With Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo busy crafting new consoles and spouting big numbers and catchy phrases like "cyberworld" and "human reactor," the game developers on hand at E3 2005 were tasked with generating excitement for the games these new systems would be running. Since these titles are just as far from being finished as their new console homes, it was up to the quick editing, loud music, and CG sequences (be they prerendered or real time) of game trailers to capture the attention of the 70,000 people in attendance. That's not to say that all of the best trailers at E3 were for the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3...it's just that most of them were.
Killzone 2 (PS3)
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
One week later, the unveiling of the top trailer of E3 2005 is still one of the most talked-about events of the show. When Sony ran the two-minute trailer for Guerilla's Killzone 2 during its May 16 press conference, everybody was astonished at how great the game looked, especially after the lukewarm response Sony received to the original Killzone. Regardless of whether you subscribe to the conspiracy theory that the footage was prerendered, or you accept Sony's assurance that the movie was being rendered in real time by PlayStation 3 hardware, the fact remains that this trailer kicks major ass. From the frenetic landing sequence to people catching on fire to realistic explosion after realistic explosion, the trailer makes everybody who sees it want to play Killzone 2 and the PlayStation 3 right now.
Dead Rising (X360)
Beyond the major console announcements, E3 2005 may be remembered as the week of the zombie. Several zombie games were announced, but the trailer that sold the true panic created by hundreds of brain-hungry, shambling undead belongs to Capcom's Dead Rising.
Gears of War (X360)
The six-month wait for an Xbox 360 seemed to grow perceptibly longer after we saw this trailer for Epic's Gears of War. The amazing monsters from the Unreal 3 Engine demonstration have been brought to life, and now we want to shoot them.
Hitman: Blood Money (Xbox, PS2, PC)
The allure to Eidos' Hitman franchise radiates from the enigmatic assassin 47, and this trailer for Hitman: Blood Money combines raspy narration, epic choral music, and a sequence of 47 at his best to make a solid trailer.
Another impressive trailer from Sony's press conference was this mud and metal fest for Evolution Studios' MotorStorm. It takes a bunch of off-road vehicles, puts them in a high-speed race through dirt, and then everybody takes turns crashing. Works for us!
Need for Speed Most Wanted (X360)
Meanwhile, at the Microsoft press conference, the audience was treated to a souped-up BMW tearing through the streets in EA's Need for Speed Most Wanted. This trailer earns bonus points for seamlessly transitioning between CG sequences and gameplay footage.
Capcom's Okami proves to us all that you don't need next-generation hardware to create truly beautiful visuals. This lengthy trailer introduces the game's hero, story, and unique brushing gameplay mechanic, all inspired by traditional Japanese watercolor painting and calligraphy.
Quake 4 (PC)
The trailer for Quake 4 reveals many of the surprises Raven Software has in store for the popular shooter franchise. Your character undergoes a painful transformation while coldly describing his enemies beneath a montage of in-game action and twangy guitar.
Stranglehold (PS3, X360)
Ever seen John Woo's Hard Boiled? Wouldn't that movie make a sweet game? Well if Midway can deliver on the promise of this trailer for Stranglehold, Inspector Tequila will be at your control soon enough.
Trauma Center (DS)
E3 2005 featured a lot of great-looking games on hand for the Nintendo DS, but nothing could prepare us for this insane trailer for Trauma Center: Under the Knife. "Perform surgical miracles to make hope a reality!"
Best High-Definition Movies
With new consoles and their improved graphical prowess looming on the horizon, it seems that plunking down that serious coin for a high-definition television is becoming more and more of an inevitability. Such a major purchase is nothing that should be rushed, though. So while you wait for everybody else to drive up those supply-and-demand slopes, thus causing the market to drop and create cheaper TVs for us all, satisfy your desire for sharp-looking games with GameSpot's HD movies section, which includes the following top five HD movies from E3 2005. Remember, for the true HD experience, hit that download button!
Dead or Alive 4 (X360)
Developer: Team Ninja
The most impressive HD movie from E3 2005 is an exclusive offering from the good people at Tecmo and Team Ninja for their upcoming fighting game for the Xbox 360, Dead or Alive 4. The five minutes of widescreen beauty is so intense it comes with minimum system requirements! The majority of the trailer consists of characters new and familiar battering each other through various environments, ranging from an electrified wrestling arena to the neon streets of a pseudo-Las Vegas. Also included are several clips of cutscenes, hinting at the game's story sequences. Unfortunately we can't stream this video, but it all looks great, so click the link above and download it now!
Ghost Recon 3 (X360)
In this tense trailer for the Xbox 360 version of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon 3, a four-man team walks the streets of a hostile environment, exchanging fire with the enemy while coordinating an air strike, tangling with a tank, and generally looking badass.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (GC)
The winner of GameSpot's Best Trailer of E3 2004 returns with another impressive movie, this time in HD. Mysterious characters, dangerous enemies and a... OK, seriously dude, Link turns into a wolf, what more can you want?!?
Ninja Gaiden Black (Xbox)
As if the DOA 4 trailer wasn't enough, Tecmo and Team Ninja offered up another gorgeous HD movie, this time for Ninja Gaiden Black. Watch it, and then ask yourself: Is this really a current-generation Xbox game I'm looking at? (Yes, you are.)
Starcraft: Ghost (Xbox, PS2, GC)
This HD trailer for Blizzard's Starcraft: Ghost gets you excited to play the game, and it barely includes the titular character! Instead, the rough and ready marine infantry march toward a confrontation with the zerg. Wait, did we mention the fire bats?
Best GameSpot Live Interviews
People logging on to GameSpot during E3 2005 were treated to more than 24 hours of live coverage of the show, broadcast directly from GameSpot's booth. Hosts Lauren Gonzalez, Ryan Mac Donald, and Rich Gallup sat down with dozens of industry professionals every day, while man-in-the-field Homer Rabara brought you a candid look at the expansive show floor. All of these interviews, demonstrations, and booth tours are currently available for everybody to watch on GameSpot's E3 Live page, and here are the top five interviews you surely don't want to miss.
Eiji Aonuma with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
When choosing the top interview from our live coverage of E3 2005 we turned to the 15 minutes we had with one of the most anticipated games of the show, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Director Eiji Aonoma and localization producer Bill Trinen joined Ryan on stage for a run through of the two-level demo on hand at E3. Horseback riding was the focus of the demo, but it also included shepherding goats and full-speed combat. As the horn signaled the official end of the day, Eiji and Bill stayed to answer questions from our viewers and to offer up a fantastic pair of prizes. Two lucky viewers may have won autographed copies of a Nintendo DS card containing the E3 trailer of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, but everybody enjoyed the demonstration.
Marc Ecko with Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure
Amid the chaos of a power outage on the first day of the show, Ryan was joined onstage by clothing mogul and fledgling game designer Mark Ecko for a personal demonstration of his game Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure.
Drawing what was perhaps the largest crowd around the GameSpot Live stage was Nintendo's executive vice president of sales and marketing, Reggie Fils-Aime. For more than 15 minutes Reggie talked about the future of Nintendo, demonstrated the Game Boy Micro, and took questions from viewers both at home and in the audience.
Peter Molyneux with The Movies and Black & White 2
Lauren and Ryan were joined onstage by industry veteran Peter Molyneux on two separate occasions. On Wednesday Peter showed how to run your own film studio in The Movies, and on Friday he controlled a village from on high in Black & White 2.
Matt Webster with Burnout Revenge
Rich made sure he was onstage for an extended look at Burnout Revenge with the game's executive producer, Matt Webster. Nobody was disappointed by the more than 10 nonstop minutes of frantic driving, including the new traffic attack mode.
Release Date: 2006
Every year, right before E3, Sony has a press conference. And usually, this press conference starts out incredibly slowly, thudding along as business types get up in front of everyone and talk about lifetime-to-date sales of PlayStation 2s and other numbers that are only exciting to the cadre of khaki-clad analysts in attendance. This year, Sony threw all that stuff out the window. For once, a major press conference all but ignored the number-crunching, paper-pushing investor types and got right to the point, right away, by opening with news about the PlayStation 3 and spending almost the entire press conference focusing on the company's next game platform.
Of course, much of this centered on different kinds of numbers--tech specs that only rocket scientists and GameSpot's hardware guys could truly appreciate. Then came the tech demos, which looked pretty solid. Then the surprise-within-a-surprise landed when Sony decided to start showing games. Lots of games. Two full reels of games, first starting with a ton of friendly faces in the form of Gran Turismo, Tekken, Warhawk (!), Devil May Cry, Killzone, Fight Night, and more. Then, as if to say "oh, we've got the new stuff covered, too," a reel of new stuff, like MotorStorm, Killing Day, Eyedentify, and NioH was also shown. At some point, the game demos just started to become exhausting. With a good balance between hardware information and software to look forward to, Sony pretty much rewrote the book on how to put on a press conference, not to mention how to successfully keep a secret.
FinalistsFinal Fantasy XI coming to Xbox 360
Play every old Nintendo game on the Revolution
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 2005
Square Enix's E3 booth area is always brimming with activity, from the clustered crowds gazing raptly at the videos displayed across a huge theater screen, to the cushy lounge areas with the couches and multiple monitors, to the rows of eager fans lining up to play the games. Last year, one of those games was Final Fantasy XII, the latest in-development installment in the beloved Final Fantasy line, replete with a new real-time battle system and scenes from the world of Ivalice. Coming into E3 this year, we naturally assumed that the title would once again make an appearance on the show floor, rubbing elbows with games like Kingdom Hearts II and Dragon Quest VIII. That was until we went to Square Enix's pre-E3 press conference, where we were told that the Final Fantasy sequel would only be appearing in trailer form, and that its next playable showing wouldn't occur until an upcoming event in Japan at the end of July.
Considering the lavish Final Fantasy XII spread that was on offer last year, featuring multiple scenarios and areas to visit, as well as a number of story sequences, the news came as a great disappointment. What we saw of the game previously, with its action-oriented combat that was so unlike any other Final Fantasy game to date, had only piqued our desire to explore some of its intricacies. We wanted to meet more of the characters that populated Ivalice--learn their stories and of their plights--to gain more insight into the tale being woven through this beautiful new world. What we got, instead, was a new trailer featuring some story snippets and new scenes from the game--all computer generated. In-game footage was mysteriously absent.
Final Fantasy XII's missing presence was the one we felt most acutely at E3, leaving us only able to ponder about what we saw last year and what changes may have been made to the game over the past 12 months. We're definitely going to be interested in seeing what Square Enix has got up its sleeve in July, as it will hopefully assuage our thirst for information. Until then, we'll nurse our disappointment and watch that gorgeous new trailer a few more times.
FinalistsDragon Age (PC)
Fallout 3 (PC)
NBA Live 06 (Xbox, PS2, PC, GC)
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl (PC)
Publisher: EA Games
Release Date: 2007
We're glad we had a chance to get an early look at Spore at E3, because from what we've heard, it was nearly impossible to see the behind-closed-doors demo later on in the show. But we're not surprised. Spore is easily the most innovative game to grace this year's E3, thanks to its combination of an ambitious scope with more or less completely open-ended gameplay that revolves entirely around your choices.
A brief recap--you'll start a new game of Spore as a bacterium. A microscopic germ that has to fight to survive all the other microscopic germs that are gunning for you. But the object of the game is to survive and thrive--and if you can you'll be able to evolve your lowly amoeba into a customized critter swimming in the primordial soup, eating, swimming, and staying away from the bigger critters until you can again evolve into a land-dwelling creature (if you decide to walk on land) with a big brain. Once you've evolved your brain, you'll be able to make your critter the head of a tribe that can research how to build a city, how to build an army, and how to conquer the world. And even after the world is your oyster, your tribe of creatures will eventually research how to travel through space--and the space race will open up the entire galaxy, even an expanded universe, for you to communicate with, travel through, and even conquer.
And yet, the way you'll perform this insanely complex-sounding series of events will apparently be through highly simple, context-sensitive interfaces that you can use to customize just about every aspect of your in-game avatar, from germ to galactic conqueror. Even if you don't care to customize everything, the game will have a powerful engine under the hood that will procedurally determine everything for you. That's a fancy way of saying that any changes you make to your critters will be accounted for by the game and will actually show up in the game, without you having to do anything to add to it. Give your primitive tribe a rack of spears and they'll automatically perform a war dance, but they'll also become a more-warlike race overall. Create a race of super-intelligent dolphins and they'll build water-filled colonies on the moon.
If you missed our E3 coverage of the game, or haven't heard anything about it, you'll probably think the preceding paragraphs are all lies, or that the author is completely insane, or both. Yet what we saw at the show indicates to us that the literal universe of possibilities that Spore will offer actually seem plausible. Designer Will Wright himself demonstrated systems to show how creatures will evolve, be customized, mate, and change over time. While we may have seen hints of this type of gameplay in other previous games, including Wright's own The Sims and SimCity, no other game has attempted to take on this kind of ambitious scope, and no other game seemed to have any chance of actually succeeding as this one actually does. Spore is clearly the most innovative game of this year's E3--and we hope that the game can deliver on its groundbreaking potential.
FinalistsAge of Conan: Hyborian Adventures (PC)
Pursuit Force (PSP)
Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse (Xbox)
Release Date: Q3 2005
E3 2005 will go down in history as the year of the zombie; and it's about time. Finally, our underrepresented brothers and sisters from the undead set will have their unintelligible voices heard. The soulless rebels will raise their rotted fists in defiance of the still-breathing overlords that have kept them six feet under for too long, and say "Uunnnhhh!" (Which, loosely translated, means "Un-death to the living!")
OK, all kidding aside, E3 2005 featured an explosion of zombie-related fare, and to be perfectly honest, we're not really sure why. It's not like the whole zombies-in-video games thing is a new concept. Hell, how many Resident Evil games have there been up to this point? And still, we got a slew of new zombie games, including the George Romero project City of the Dead; Capcom's non-RE zombie game for the Xbox 360, Dead Rising; Majesco's handheld zombie caper, Infected; and a brief look at Sega's upcoming House of the Dead project for next-gen consoles. However, above all other games featuring reanimated corpses as a source of inspirado, one specific game set itself apart from the rest of the pack and had us screaming, "Viva la zombie revolucion!" That game is Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse.
As if the title weren't bizarre enough, Stubbs takes the usual perspective one would find in a zombie action game, and flips it on its head. You don't play as the usual fair-haired hero or heroine, doing whatever you can to stave off zombie attacks and infections. Nay, you take on the role of the zombie himself--in this case, Stubbs, a previously very dead individual who awakens when his resting place is paved over by a major metropolis. What's an angry corpse to do in such a situation? Why, wreak havoc on the masses by way of lots of brain eating, limb removal, and forcible zombification, of course!
You'll be able to do all of the above in Stubbs, zombifying helpless victims, plucking their brains from their skulls, and just generally bloodying up the whole joint. The basic game looks to be pretty simplistically designed, but the whole thing of playing as a zombie is just a total riot, and it helps that the game doesn't take itself particularly seriously. Though, again, with a name like Rebel Without a Pulse, that's hardly shocking.
Interestingly enough, Stubbs the Zombie is the first game from developer Wideload Games, the studio helmed by Bungie cofounder Alex Seropian, and the game itself is actually running on an updated version of the Halo engine. No doubt, Stubbs is a completely bizarre project, but in the wake of an E3 filled to the brim with zombie games, it definitely stood at least one severed head above the rest.
FinalistsGeorge Romero's City of the Dead (PS2, Xbox, PC)
Dead Rising (Xbox 360)
Sega's House of the Dead Next-Gen Demo (TBA)
The next-generation console announcements from Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo dominated the hardware news coming out of E3 2005, but none of the console manufacturers actually had complete systems ready for demonstration. This year we're highlighting, in alphabetical order, the most important technology present at E3 2005. This is the hardware you need to know about.
Epic Games' Mark Rein thinks the Ageia PhysX processor will help keep the PC within striking distance of the next-gen consoles. The increased processing power of the multicore next-gen console CPUs will allow developers to create games with more interactive environments, as well as realistic physics effects. While normal Intel Pentium 4 or Athlon 64 desktop processors can only handle a couple hundred physical objects, the dedicated physics chip can keep tens of thousands of rigid bodies onscreen without a problem. That's the kind of technology the PC will need to keep up with the PlayStation 3.
It's been quite a while since we've seen major innovation in sound technology. With more and more motherboards offering built-in surround- sound capabilities, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before people stopped buying add-in sound cards altogether. Creative's new X-Fi audio processor will give users plenty of reasons to buy sound cards again. The X-Fi chip can bring 16-bit sounds back up to 24-bit studio quality by filling in data lost during the compression process. The chip will also be able to simulate a surround-sound experience from a pair of basic headphones. It's truly amazing to hear stereo headphones that sound like 5.1 speakers, and we look forward to seeing a new Sound Blaster line of cards based on the X-Fi audio processor technology.
It's got interchangeable faceplates, a removable 20GB hard drive, wireless controllers that can turn the system on and off, a multicore PowerPC processor, a 48-pipeline ATI graphics chip with 10MB of eDRAM, and the best online service around. In addition to supporting the usual gamepad controller, you can also connect a video camera and microphone to the system for extra audiovisual interaction. All Xbox 360 games will support 720p HDTV, 5.1 surround sound, and the full 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio. Games will still play fine on a standard 4:3 TV with stereo sound, but it's nice knowing that the 360 will support the latest technology. Microsoft has also overhauled its Xbox Live service to increase personalization, improve community interaction, and offer microtransactions.
Microsoft disclosed most of the Xbox 360 information the week before E3, but managed to save some information for the show. The system will be backward compatible with almost all Xbox games. Microsoft originally stated that the 360 would be backward compatible with "top-selling Xbox games," but a company representative later clarified, "Our goal is to have every Xbox game work on Xbox 360." Microsoft also revealed that Square Enix has signed on as an Xbox 360 developer. The first Square Enix game will be an HD, Xbox Live-enabled version of Final Fantasy XI.
Nintendo's Reggie Fils-Aime showed off the new Game Boy Micro at Nintendo's E3 press conference. The new handheld system is a redesigned Game Boy Advance, shrunken down to be more attractive to "image-conscious" gamers. Measuring a mere 4x2x0.7 inches, the cell phone-sized device will be able to play all your standard Game Boy Advance games, but it won't be able to play older Game Boy or Game Boy Color games. Screen size has gone down from 2.9 inches to 2 inches, but the graphics will be sharper on the smaller display. The unit will also have interchangeable faceplates for extra customization.
At the Nintendo E3 press conference, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata gave us precious few details about Nintendo's next system, code-named Revolution. He reiterated that the final Revolution console will be about the size of three DVD cases stacked on top of each other, and that the system will be able to read DVDs as well as GameCube games. We did find out that the system will be two to three times more powerful as the GameCube, and that online will be a major component. Revolution owners will also be able to download games from Nintendo's entire game library, including all titles from the NES, SNES, N64, and up to the current GameCube system. Nintendo will also bring all of its most popular game franchises to the system, so expect Mario, Samus, and Link to take part in the Revolution.
It's surprising what a bathtub full of rubber ducks and a controversial game demo can do to turn the momentum in the next-gen console battle. Microsoft entered E3 riding high on its successful Xbox 360 announcement from the previous week, but Sony delivered a great comeback at its E3 press conference with the PlayStation 3's unveiling. The new console announcement included just the right mix of hardware-specification numbers and the all-important tech demos. The PS3 will feature the Cell processor, an Nvidia RSX graphics more powerful than two GeForce 6800 Ultras, and a new "PlayStation World" online network. Other features include wireless Bluetooth controllers, Blu-ray BD-ROM support, PSP Wi-Fi connectivity, and video output that can power up to two 1080p HDTV displays.
The PS3 tech demos included a next-gen rubber duck demo we first saw for the PS2, as well as numerous game demos like Epic's Unreal Tournament 2007 and a Final Fantasy VII Cloud sequence redone for the new hardware. The most talked about PS3 game demo had to be Killzone 2, which was so stunning that many were convinced that the movie was prerendered, CG animation. Even after a Sony representative reassured GameSpot that the movie was rendered in real time, many still weren't and aren't convinced.
Release Date: 2005
Although the list of finalists for this year's action adventure category is certainly a strong one, the decision to name The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess as the winner was a quick and painless one. The timed four-level demo of Twilight Princess at E3 boasted more varied and enjoyable gameplay than many action adventure games already in stores, let alone those present at E3. Plus, the line of show attendees waiting up to three hours to get their hands on it was difficult to ignore. The fact that Twilight Princess has the word "Zelda" in its title automatically ensures a high level of interest, of course, but there were plenty of games of good pedigree on the show floor, and only one of them was responsible for a West Hall stampede every morning.
The most impressive thing about the clearly lovingly crafted E3 demo of Twilight Princess, though, was simply that it was very difficult to find fault with, regardless of your stance on Nintendo's return to a more-traditional visual style for the series. Highlights of the demo included herding goats on horseback, cooperating with friendly monkeys to negotiate a jungle locale, jousting with a boar rider, and battling a huge plant boss with Link's new gale boomerang.
Like the majority of Nintendo games, Twilight Princess was incredibly easy to pick up and play, and it's hard to imagine anyone not having fun with it. At a show where guns and zombies were a common sight, the most enjoyable action adventuring to be found undoubtedly involved swords, spiders, killer plants, monkeys, and a boomerang.
FinalistsGunstar Super Heroes (GBA)
Shadow of the Colossus (PS2)
Starcraft: Ghost (Xbox)
Release Date: Q4 2005
The Nintendo DS had a very strong lineup at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, and one of its most distinctive games turned out to be our favorite adventure game of the show. We're talking about Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, a game that we can begin to describe by calling it a holy matrimony of Law & Order, Legally Blonde, and Dragon Ball Z.
In the game, you play as Phoenix Wright, a nervous defense attorney who just recently passed the bar. You'll help Wright legally battle his way through a series of increasingly complex cases by investigating the scenes of the crimes, cross-examining witness testimonies, presenting evidence to sway the judge and jury, and more. Despite the game's goofy anime look and often humorous dialogue, it broaches some pretty serious material in its cases, requiring you to make some careful leaps of logic as you try to keep your clients out of the slammer.
For a game that's got all kinds of sordid courtroom proceedings in it, Phoenix Wright is surprisingly funny. The E3 demo even ended with a laugh-out-loud cliff-hanger, teasing the retail version and suggesting that this game may well end up being greater than the sum of its parts. All the quirky charm on display in Phoenix Wright kept us talking about it all throughout the week of E3, even as dozens of other much more technically sophisticated games seemed to come and go.
Phoenix Wright is actually part of a long-running series of Japanese adventure games, but it's the first title in the series to make it onto the Nintendo DS and to get a release date on this side of the globe. We happily embraced the game's unique combination of disparate elements and its distinctive style, and we heartily encourage you to be on the lookout for it this fall.
FinalistsDreamfall: The Longest Journey (PC)
Echo: Secrets of the Lost Cavern (PC)
Trauma Center: Under the Knife (DS)
Developer: Electronic Arts
Release Date: 09/01/2005
At E3 2005, arcade racers ruled the roads. And when you think of arcade racers, one franchise above all others leaps immediately to mind: Burnout.
Burnout Revenge's E3 showing was a fine mixture of new and old, displaying practically all of the new features Criterion will be packing into this year's game, while still showing everyone that even though some things may be different, deep down this is still the Burnout we've all come to know and love over the years. You still drive very, very fast and wreck into cars very, very hard.
We also very much like the direction Criterion is going with the changes made to the Burnout formula in Revenge. For starters, the fact that you can use traffic as an advantage, rather than it just being a constant obstacle, is pretty awesome. Coming up full speed behind a family sedan and launching it forward into your opponent is just a very satisfying feeling. Also, the subtitle of Burnout Revenge isn't just a fancy name, as getting revenge on your opponent drivers is a big part of this game, and as such, you'll be able to throw down crashbreakers during any race in order to extract revenge on any nearby opponents. We like blowing things up. We like blowing up those who have wronged us even more. Oh, and by the way, revenge is a two-way street. The rivals you takedown will hold grudges against you and come after you with even more fervor, the more you make them crash.
All the modes Criterion showed at E3 looked great, from the normal races, to the new version of the crash mode, to the brand-new traffic attack mode. More amazing than just the breadth of content, however, was just how polished it all was. The portions of the game that Criterion had on display looked practically done, and while we know that isn't true, we probably could have just taken this demo with us and played it endlessly until the full retail game hit shelves. While we do have a few concerns here and there--such as how the traffic seemed to lack much in the way of weight, and how it was just a bit too easy to pull off crashbreakers and to extract instant revenge during a race (as opposed to actually having to build up to it)--we still had an absolute blast with Burnout Revenge at E3, and eagerly await our next chance to get our hands on it.
FinalistsFull Auto (Xbox 360)
Mario Kart DS (Nintendo DS)
Need for Speed Most Wanted (Xbox 360)
Pursuit Force (PSP)
Release Date: Q4 2005
Sadly, the once robust fighting genre had one of its most modest showings in years at this year's show. The best representatives were to be found on Sony's console and portable systems. Though the nominees were few in number, each game brought something notable to the table. Soul Calibur III, although a sequel, featured Namco's practically patented level of polish. Dragonball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi continued the faithful and fun direction of Dragon ball Z Budokai 3. Finally, The Con displayed an interesting new gameplay twist. But of these three, Namco's Soul Calibur III stands tallest.
While it would be easy to dismiss SCIII as yet another sequel, there's no denying Namco's craftsmanship when it comes to the 3D fighting genre, especially on the PlayStation 2. The game looks phenomenal on the now five-year-old system and improves on its predecessor with a higher level of character and background detail. One battle had the combatants duking it out on a moving raft while another framed the one-on-one combat against a massive collection of moving clockwork gears.
Besides its visual appeal, Soul Calibur III continues to refine its weapon-based combat system. Returning characters will be gaining some new moves in order to better contend with the newcomers to the fighting roster. Though the game appears to be serving up a modest evolution of its fighting system, it's hard to complain much, given how polished the fighting has been in the previous games.
Finally, the game will come bearing a bevy of modes that are in line with Namco's mighty "everything and the kitchen sink" approach. You'll find all the familiar arcade and versus modes that you'd expect from a fighter, as well as a revamped story mode. Namco is also throwing in some brand-new features, such as the ability to create your own custom fighter.
In a year when the 3D fighting genre didn't see much in the way of representation on the E3 show floor, it was good to see Namco serving up a rich brawler. In many ways, Soul Calibur III is a throwback to the many strong entries in the genre that we've seen in years past when fighters were some of the games to see when the show opened.
FinalistsDragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi (PS2)
The Con (PSP)
Release Date: Q2 2006
Games like EverQuest, EverQuest II, Dark Age of Camelot, and especially World of Warcraft have all carved out loyal audiences for themselves. So how can a new online game make a name for itself? Age of Conan's approach is apparently to go big on ambition by attempting to model a huge, highly detailed world based on author Robert E. Howard's classic fantasy hero--a huge world that will be single-player as well as multiplayer. That's right, in addition to being a massively multiplayer online game, it will also feature a sizable 20-hour single-player game that will get you started in the world. You'll actually advance your character from levels 1 through 20 with the single-player game, and if you're satisfied with it, you can call it quits (or restart the single-player game with a different character).
However, once you get to level 20, you'll just be hitting your character's stride, and you'll be able to venture into the massively multiplayer portion of the game. We had a chance to see how the world will look. For instance, towns will be highly detailed zones populated by characters with realistic behavior and their own personal agendas. Characters will actually walk up to you as you walk past and loudly try to foist their wares on you. Children at play will chase you through the streets until they grow bored and return to their games. And should you get bored in town, you'll be able to stop by the local tavern and do some brawling. (That's fighting without your armor, weapons, or battle skills and only using your fists and any bar stools or table legs you can find lying around.)
And once you leave the safe haven of your local town, you'll be able to participate in real-time, hack-and-slash combat that you'll enter manually with your mouse so you can swing your sword. Battles won't just be one-on-one against slightly larger-than-normal rats; they'll actually be skirmishes that can be fairly large to enormous. The game is planned to support huge sieges and huge field battles between mounted troops, like tribes of savages hanging from the tusks of wooly mammoths, as well as trained infantry soldiers marching in formation. Age of Conan's ambitious approach will hopefully result in gameplay that will have plenty to offer to fans of all kinds of role-playing games, online or otherwise.
FinalistsAuto Assault (PC)
Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach (PC)
The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar (PC)
Release Date: TBA
Retro is big these days. Television is full of shows celebrating the pop culture of decades past, and compilations of old games continue to do well. But there's always room for improvement on an old formula. As a result, it seems perfectly fitting that this year's best-showing platform game is a new game starring Mario and Luigi. The duo practically invented the 2D platformer, and Mario came back around to take the genre into the 3D world, too. But now they're heading back to 2D, but their 3D tricks are coming with them. And from the three-level demo Nintendo showed at E3, it already looks like a winner.
Yeah, that's right, New Super Mario Bros. looks like it's going to be a full-on, all-new 2D adventure starring Mario. You'll run into familiar enemies, like koopa troopas and Lakitu, and you'll drop down pipes and perform all of those same sorts of tasks that you'd expect from a Mario game.
But at the same time, Mario's more agile than he's been in previous 2D outings. You can do wall jumps, backflips, and even collect a new large mushroom that makes Mario grow to the full height of the screen, making him a nearly unstoppable destructive force. The polygonal graphics serve to deliver a fluid look to the animation that you might not expect from a 2D Mario game. There's bound to be more twists and turns to uncover, and after checking out three reasonably short stages, we're pretty much dying to see more.
Sonic Rush (DS)
Developer: Harmonix Music Systems
Release Date: Q4 2005
What started as a category saturated with random Tetris knockoffs has slowly but surely become saturated with bizarre rhythm games and titles that gleefully defy categorization. We're still excited by the criminally insane ideas behind Yoot Saito's Odama, but what we saw on the show floor was a buggy mess that obscured the game's full potential. It's all but certain that we'll adore We *Heart* Katamari when it hits the US later this year, but right now it also appears to need some work. Nintendogs suffered from the simple fact that we've already played a ton of the Japanese version, and SCEE's Buzz! rides heavily on novelty. But Guitar Hero was a game that had us excited even before we picked up the toy-sized guitar controller, and it left us wanting more after hearing the last licks of Boston's "More Than a Feeling."
Those already familiar with Konami's Guitar Freaks series, which has never made a proper appearance in the US, will be instantly familiar with how Guitar Hero works. For those who haven't had the joy of playing a video game that encourages Van Halen fantasies, well, we feel sorry for you. Guitar Hero is a close cousin to the omnipresent DDR-style dancing games, though instead of living out your dance floor fantasies, you get to pretend you're some kind of metal-shredding rock god--a guitar hero if you will. Stars in your eyes, all that.
Using a prototype of RedOctane's own guitar-shaped controller, we rocked out to Boston (yes, the Boston), ZZ Top, and Megadeth, and we left wishing there was more time to explore the other songs in the short demo that Harmonix--who previously worked on Frequency, its sequel Amplitude, and the highly successful Karaoke Revolution series--had put together. Despite being highly derivative of an aging arcade game, Guitar Hero managed to feel fresh and exciting, even in its early form. The game still has a long way to go, but if Harmonix and RedOctane can keep on rockin' as hard as they did for E3, you can expect some amp-exploding awesomeness.
FinalistsBuzz! The Music Quiz (PS2)
We Love Katamari (PS2)
Yoot Saito's Odama (GC)
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: 2005
One role-playing game stood head and shoulders above the rest at this year's E3. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion seems impressive for many reasons, not the least of which is that the game is apparently going to be out later this year, just in time for the launch of Microsoft's Xbox 360 console.
Of course, there's more to the game than just timing. Bethesda has apparently thrown out all its old technology to make way for a powerful new engine that, from what we've seen, can effortlessly render highly detailed indoor environments with multiple lighting sources and huge outdoor forests lined with real 3D trees (not the disappointing, flat trees rendered with a handful of polygons we've seen in so many other games). And the developer is attempting to make these gorgeous environments come to life with equally detailed characters that have their own motivations, needs, and schedules, which they'll act upon even if you're not around, and which you can use to your advantage if you are. The game will take a much more organic approach to interacting with other characters. For example, you'll be able to overhear conversations that can lead to full-on quests, and you might even end up fighting alongside them in battle.
You can also expect to see a much more visceral Elder Scrolls game thanks to a stepped-up physics system and faster, more-realistic combat (more realistic than Morrowind, anyway). The game's combat system will let you swing broadswords and warhammers in real time while defending against incoming attacks with your shield, or you can simply use a longbow and arrows while sneaking in the shadows to assassinate your enemies from afar. The physics system will also power an all-new series of deadly traps that will make the dungeons you explore seem much more alive, and much more dangerous.
Thanks to its combination of eye-catching graphics and physics, equally impressive artificial intelligence, and improved quest and combat systems, Oblivion stood out as the most impressive role-playing game at the show.
FinalistsAnimal Crossing DS (DS)
Hellgate: London (PC)
Kingdom Hearts II (PS2)
Titan Quest (PC)
Developer: Digital Illusions
Release Date: June 2005
We got the first inkling of just how utterly cool Battlefield 2 is last month when EA held a press event at its Redwood Shores campus to show off its E3 lineup. After sitting through demo after demo of various games with varying reactions, we got to see Battlefield 2 running in all its glory. It was so awesome that even console editors walked out of the demo muttering that they had to play the game.
The actual E3 demo of Battlefield 2 was even better, mainly because EA let the game speak for itself by letting us play it. Sure, there were some awesome shooters at the show (there always are), from the brilliant F.E.A.R., the cinematic Black, the innovative Prey, and the cutting-edge Unreal Tournament 2007. However, none of them showed the polish and the potential of Battlefield 2. Of course, EA had a huge advantage over everyone else, in that Battlefield 2 was nearly finished, while most of the other games at the show were still stuck in mid-development. But even if it weren't 99 percent complete, Battlefield 2 would remain the game to beat.
Simply put, Battlefield 2 looks fantastic, no matter what angle you look at it. As a shooter, it possesses a gorgeous graphics engine that's visually stunning. Imagine the richness of Half-Life 2, but then expand the gameplay world so that it can accommodate 64 players running, driving, and flying around in a variety of beautifully rendered military vehicles. As a multiplayer game, it has the perfect rock-paper-scissors formula that guarantees wild and unpredictable matches. Light vehicles trump infantry. Tanks trump the light vehicles. Gunships trump the tanks. Jets trump the gunships, and so on. And at the same time, Battlefield 2 will have built-in team tools, such as real-time voice chat and the commander screen, to allow you to coordinate and work with your teammates like never before.
But at the heart of Battlefield 2 is the fact that you create your own epic moments in the game. There is no story or plot in Battlefield 2, nor are there any politics. Battlefield 2 simply puts you in a gigantic virtual battle alongside other players. Moreover, this is a game of countless cinematic moments, like when you strafe an armored column while sitting in a helicopter gunship, or battle house-to-house in gritty urban warfare, or when you scream in low over a dynamic battlefield while strapped to an F-18. When you get down to it, no other shooter at E3 could match the combination of graphics, gameplay, and dynamism that is Battlefield 2.
Unreal Tournament 2007 (PC)
Developer: Next Level Games
Release Date: Q4 2005
The last six months have seen some pretty interesting changes in the world of sports gaming, with waves of consolidation and exclusive agreements that have seen EA wrap up exclusive NFL, NCAA, and Arena Football licenses; Take Two snap up a semi-exclusive MLB license; and numerous other publishers, such as Midway, scrambling to create their own, nonlicensed sports games. It's odd, then, that the sports games that most impressed GameSpot editors at this year's E3 were, in fact, mostly arcade-oriented sports games, such as the new Tony Hawk, Mario Baseball, and especially Super Mario Strikers.
Nintendo hasn't been shy about milking its Mario franchise over the years, and its iconic character has indeed appeared in dozens of games spanning numerous genres. But it's hard to fault the company for this, since, at least on the GameCube, most of the Mario titles have been of fairly high quality. Even though Super Mario Strikers, a Mario-themed take on the grand sport of soccer, is still a good six months away from release, the playable demo on the show floor at E3 seemed to indicate that Nintendo's going to deliver the goods yet again. The game appears exciting, fun, and easy to pick up and play, and it seems likely that this is going to be the next GameCube game to encourage you to find (or make) three friends to play with.
In typical Mario sports fashion, Super Mario Strikers sticks to the rules of soccer only so far as it doesn't impede the fun. The goal is still to run the ball down the field to your opponent's goal and attempt to knock it in. The player with the most goals in four minutes of play will wind up winning the round. Strikers starts to diverge from the rules, though, when it encourages you to vigorously attack opposing players, allowing you to charge into them and knock them down when they have the ball. Since there aren't any penalties, games often become a back-and-forth brawlfest, with the attacking team dekeing their opponents and attempting to pass more quickly than the defenders can attack. Playing against other human players will not be a quiet endeavor, judging from the E3 show floor. When you get tackled just before you let loose a super shot, you're going to be yelling!
Perhaps the best example of Super Mario Strikers' appeal lies in a simple anecdote. At 3:30 on Friday afternoon at E3, the "junk time" of the show when people are either already leaving or trying to get one last game in, the booth we headed for was, of course, Super Mario Strikers. We noticed a guy playing a game, so we walked up and asked to join him, and then started a two-player game. After a bit of seesawing and goal exchanging, we were heading down the field with 20 seconds left and a chance to win. Donkey Kong maneuvered into the corner of the field to avoid getting tackled, charged up a supershot, and slammed a fireball of a shot toward the goal…which bounced off a goalpost as time expired. We didn't even mind losing, though; the game was just too much fun to let losing impede the good times.
In short, although there were plenty of sports games debuted or shown at E3, the one we're most looking forward to is Super Mario Strikers. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more information on the title as it approaches its November release.
FinalistsBlitz: The League (PS2, Xbox)
Mario Baseball (GC)
Tony Hawk's American Wasteland (PS2, Xbox, GC, X360)
Virtua Tennis: World Tour (PSP)
Release Date: 2006
The strategy genre is always one of the most competitive in the gaming industry. The number of great strategy games vying for attention at this year's E3 certainly spoke volumes to that effect. So for the GameSpot editors to almost unequivocally nominate a World War II real-time strategy game as the most impressive strategy game shown at E3 certainly says a lot, particularly for a setting that's rapidly becoming trite.
So what's so special about Company of Heroes? The first thing that strikes us about the game is the extremely impressive artificial intelligence in its soldiers. One of the complaints that's often levied on RTS games is that they're babysitting simulators for units that know how to walk around and shoot, but don't do know how to do much else. In Company of Heroes, the soldiers will move and act much like you'd expect real soldiers to move. Command them to move up the street, and when they reach their destination, they'll intelligently find cover behind debris and behind corners. They'll peek around their cover to shoot, and hide back behind it when under fire. And they'll do all this autonomously, in a contextually intelligent manner. The average soldier in Company of Heroes will be modeled with hundreds of different animations, promising extremely lifelike motion.
The environments in Company of Heroes are also fully destructible, so you can blow up, or blow a hole in, any building on the map. Heavy artillery will also pockmark the landscape, creating craters in which your troops can find cover. Tanks can push barbed wire and other infantry obstacles out of the way, clearing the way for soldiers to move forward. What's amazing is that even if a building is partially destroyed, your troops will be able to garrison it and find intelligent cover inside the rubble, using it for shooting through a window or crouching behind one of the partially destroyed walls. Did a tank just get blown up in the street? The AI is smart enough so that your troops will use that burning chassis as cover while they cross the road. The combination of such adaptable AI and a destructible environment make for a battlefield that is truly ever changing and more alive than anything we've seen before in an RTS game.
Of course, Company of Heroes isn't slated for release until sometime next year, in 2006, so we're hoping that the final quality of the game reflects the quality of the demonstrations we saw at E3. If Relic does succeed in what it's trying to do with Company of Heroes, it might just be the game that jolts the RTS genre out of stagnation.
FinalistsCivilization IV (PC)
Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes (Xbox)
Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends (PC)
Release Date: Q4 2005
The onset of 3D graphics was once thought to signal the death of the 2D sprites that had been the foundation for games as we know it. Now, while the number of 2D games has certainly shrunk since the heyday of the 16-bit consoles, the death of 2D was most definitely exaggerated. The ensuing years have seen sprites find a home on current-gen consoles and, more significantly, on Nintendo's Game Boy Advance. This year found a typically solid offering that featured Namco's Sigma Star Saga and Rebelstar Tactical Command, as well as Nintendo's own DK King of Swing. But, as engaging as the aforementioned games were, they were all overshadowed by the reappearance of an old friend, Sega's Treasure-developed Gunstar Super Heroes, a sequel to the classic Genesis run-and-gun shooter.
The game features a polished, retro feel that combine's Treasure's penchant for challenging gameplay and displaying a processor-busting amount of sprites. The game made a fine showing in Sega's booth on the E3 show floor with a rocking dose of 2D mayhem that called to mind its classic 16-bit predecessor. However, whereas the original game featured the slowdown that was to be expected when Treasure pushed the Genesis' 16-bit processor to its limits, the Game Boy Advance ably handles the load and pumps out a fast, fun experience. Best of all, sharp-eyed players will notice more than a few homages to memorable games from Sega's past.
Though Gunstar Super Heroes' visuals are impressive, the gameplay is the highlight of the experience. The fast-paced shooter offers a variety of situations on land, in the air, or somewhere in between, for you to blast your way out of. Treasure's inclination for making nigh-overwhelming situations that require quick thinking and even quicker reflexes is ably displayed in Gunstar Super Heroes, and it's more than ample reason to make the game the best tile we saw on the Game Boy Advance at this year's show.
FinalistsDK King of Swing
Rebelstar Tactical Command
Sigma Star Saga
Release Date: 2005
Could it have been otherwise? The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is the Zelda game--perhaps the game, period--which diehard Nintendo fans have been waiting for ever since that first GameCube tech demo showed a highly detailed, grown-up Link squaring off against nefarious Ganon and his massive sword. Hey, we love The Wind Waker--we awarded it our 2003 Game of the Year award, after all. But despite the last Zelda's lovable aesthetic departure, something about Twilight Princess' design feels like a brilliant return to form for the series...one that we can't wait to explore in full.
Spending just a few seconds at the controls of Twilight Princess will tell you it's a Zelda game through and through. The mechanical vocabulary is so consistent with the brilliantly simple design of games like Ocarina of Time and The Wind Waker that you can instantly do everything you're used to doing. From targeting enemies and engaging in complex swordplay to hurling your trusty boomerang at a distant switch to allow you passage deeper into a dank dungeon, you'll know how to play Twilight Princess as soon as you pick up the controller.
Despite its fundamental similarity to past 3D Zeldas, it's already apparent that director Eiji Aonuma and his team are giving the new game its own identity. Link doesn't start this one as the would-be savior of Hyrule; in fact, he doesn't even live in Hyrule at the game's beginning. The bustling little hamlet of Toaru Village is among the liveliest we've seen in a Zelda game, with many of its citizens giving Link minor, optional tasks to complete before he's even set out on his proper adventure. From herding goats to rowing a canoe to instructing a trained hawk to do your bidding, it looks like even veteran Zelda players will have plenty to do here. And that's before you even get into the proper adventure, where you'll find equestrian combat waiting for you.
Let's not forget that whole werewolf thing, which is clearly the most significant new gameplay aspect of Twilight Princess. Link's lycanthropy was revealed in the game's new trailer at Nintendo's press conference, and while we know next to nothing about how it'll tie into the storyline and affect the flow of the game, it's obviously going to be important. Nintendo's going to keep its baby close to the vest, though, so we may well have to wait until release to find out exactly what's going on here.
The GameCube had a surprisingly strong lineup at E3, but none of the system's other games approach Twilight Princess' striking artistry and masterful design.
FinalistsFire Emblem: Path of Radiance
Super Mario Strikers
Yoot Saito's Odama
Developer: Gizmondo Studios
Publisher: Gizmondo Studios
Release Date: Q4 2005
Gizmondo established its presence at this year's E3 with a long list of games, a splashy booth, and playable versions of the system on the floor. With a North American release date for the handheld around the corner, it was important that the Gizmondo's game of the show showcase some of the platform-specific features that separate it from the pack of other handheld systems being released by undeniably more experienced game companies.
Colors not only offers solid action gameplay, but it also capitalizes on the Gizmondo's GPS system in what is a wildly interesting twist on traditional multiplayer. In it, you have the opportunity to bring the fantasy gang life of the single-player gameplay to your own city streets, without the messy complications of weapons, drug pushing, and actually having to kill people. Turf wars have never had so much at stake until now, as you actually compete for the rights to your own neighborhood, or any neighborhood that you bring your Gizmondo into.
The single-player campaign involves a fair amount of traditional run-and-gun third-person action gameplay. You control the life and whims of an inner-city thug trying to earn enough money, weapons, and allegiance to start your own gang. Through mission selection you can appease and irritate different people by changing the storyline and the availability of upcoming missions. There is a complex spray-painting element as well, with missions that involve tagging various objectives, such as spraying over a rival's own graffiti, because we all know that little else annoys a gangbanger more than seeing his artwork defaced.
The multiplayer gameplay is similar to the single-player mode. You'll still be involved in third-person action gameplay, with a heavy arsenal of weapons and a spray can with an attitude at your disposal. In the multiplayer, you bring the money you earn from single-player missions to purchase local neighborhoods (the game knows it to be local thanks to that GPS system) and line the streets with protective "homies."
This is cool enough on its own, but there's more. Instead of playing against faceless strangers or computer AI, you're playing against people that are in close proximity to you. You may not have anything in common except that you share the same 300-meter radius, but in Colors, that's enough. Maintaining control of your own neighborhood seems to bear the same importance as it does with real gangs, but fortunately in Colors you don't have to worry about the threat of death or jail. At least not until the sequel, anyway.
If the Gizmondo is going to make it in a market that is getting more crowded by the month, it is through the innovative gameplay of games like Colors. The mentality behind Colors is that if you're going to make another game like Grand Theft Auto, you'd better be able to set it apart from the many other games just like it. Colors establishes entirely new gameplay elements, making it not only an intriguing game on its own merits, but also quite possibly the game for which you should buy the Gizmondo.
Agaju: The Sacred Path
Hit and Myth
Developer: Bear Naked
Publisher: Pulse Interactive
Release Date: TBA 2005
Quake was the game that popularized Internet multiplayer in first-person shooters, and it's now a feature we could hardly live without. The game's 16-player fragfests forged numerous friendships and more than a few marriages. Also, a lot of killing got done--arguably the best part. When we think about mobile games, Quake is pretty much the furthest thing from our minds. After all, it's not a Texas Hold 'Em or minigolf game. We were therefore shocked and awed by the quality of Quake Mobile, which--save for the different input device--is identical to its PC predecessor, online play and all. There were a lot of excellent mobile games on display at this year's E3, including John Carmack's own Doom RPG, but it was Quake Mobile that stuck to our ribs like homecooked meatloaf.
Quake Mobile runs at a very stable 25 frames per second. This is much faster than most mobile titles, and an incredible accomplishment for a 3D-intensive game running at 640x480 pixels. From technical and gameplay standpoints, this is very much the game you know and love. While we can't reveal whether all the old weapons will be included, we'll say that you won't be disappointed.
Mods, or user-created game modifications, were another big factor in Quake's incredible popularity. Fortunately, on either of the two as-yet unannounced phones on which Quake Mobile will be embedded, you'll be able to use any and all mods written for the PC version. You can then take these mods online for 16-player confrontations over EVDO.
Quake Mobile's code was reviewed and approved by John Carmack himself, who was reportedly impressed with Bear Naked and Pulse Interactive's accomplishments. We're interested to see how the Quake franchise adapts to the mobile space. Quake...For Prizes? Quake Bowling? Mostly, we're eager to play the final version of this happily unmolested port.
Developer: Backbone Entertainment
Release Date: 8/16/2005
Every time we see Rifts: Promise of Power, the upcoming N-Gage RPG/turn-based strategy game set in Kevin Siembieda's dark future Earth, another piece of the puzzle falls into place. At this year's E3, enough of the jigsaw was assembled for us to make out the product's final contours, even if major areas of the whole remained occluded; we saw Rifts' major components, which we have reported on at length in the past, attached to one another for the first time. In short, we finally saw a game materialize out of the vapors that swirl around Nokia's N-Gage establishment--the same vapors that have too often formed a rumor-promulgating, release-date breaking miasma. We liked what we saw.
The most impressive aspect of Rifts: Promise of Power that was on display at E3 was its fidelity to the source material. Like many other tabletop RPG fans, Rifts enthusiasts are a gang of zealots; they wield their collection of books in one hand and a stinging pen in the other, with pouches of 20-sided die at their belts for good measure. In short, they're not going to be satisfied by anything less than a Herculean effort on the part of the developer to "get it right"; in fact, a use of the license that doesn't approach perfection could backfire horribly.
Well, it appears that Backbone Entertainment and Nokia made that effort, and that their game has arrived in a general radius of authenticity that will placate the experts. This was immediately clear from a quick look at our mage's spell list, which included every incantation we could remember from the game and several more that we couldn't. We were also struck by the many, many other accurate details that had been included in the game. One example stands out in particular: we had been told that the Glitter Boy wouldn't have his eardrum-shattering Boom Gun at an earlier preview, but he did in this version, and it even shattered opponents' eardrums (or hit them with a separate sonic attack, anyway). We assumed that the Boom Gun wouldn't have a special firing animation, either--so we were awfully surprised to see the weapon swing out over the shoulder, as the armor braced itself in a completely correct manner.
Oh, yes. Rifts: Promise of Power is going to be a lot of fun for complete Rifts noobs, too. If you enjoyed Final Fantasy Tactics Advance or the Fallout series, it might be worth looking into an N-Gage in the near future, because this game looks as though it will combine the tactical depth of the former with the atmosphere and exposition of the latter. Will it be the most visually advanced N-Gage game available when it comes out in August, or the most action-packed? No, but it'll certainly be one of the most compelling experiences on the platform--and one that'll be perfectly playable on the recently-announced array of N-Gage compatible phones that Nokia's preparing, too.
We can't wait for Nokia to get Rifts: Promise of Power to stores. After a year of steadily sliding attention levels, the N-Gage is in dire need of talking points--preferably, great games that you can't find anywhere else. By that criteria, Rifts is probably the best bet the system has.
Release Date: TBA
How about that Nintendo DS, huh? E3 2005 really served as a sort of coming-out party for Nintendo's double-decker handheld, and there were plenty of good-looking games on display. As a result, it was tough to narrow this category down to five games, let alone pick a winner. But choose we must, and after looking long and hard at everything that was shown, the 2D platformer, New Super Mario Bros., was definitely the DS game with the best showing. Why? Because the gameplay is already feeling really, really good.
The demo version shown at E3 contained three levels, and it gave us a pretty good idea about what to expect. The two screens come into play when you head underground. Entering a pipe sends the action to the lower screen, which is a cool idea that uses both screens without feeling forced. Similarly, the touch screen is used to store and unleash power-ups, and this works well, too. But, bottom line, the game gets the Mario gameplay down just right, adding a handful of interesting new mechanics into the mix without feeling like too much of a departure from a typical Mario game. In short, it plays like that long lost 2D Mario game that you've been waiting years and years to play. Later this year, we're guessing, you'll finally be able to play it.
FinalistsAnimal Crossing DS
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
Mario Kart DS
Release Date: 2006
No, the PC isn't dead, contrary to what the console naysayers were spouting at E3. Keep in mind that all those fabulous PS3 and Xbox 360 games will run on consoles that use what are essentially PC graphics chips, and we'll have faster and better ones by the time those consoles launch, if not sooner. And also keep in mind that even though E3 was a "console show" this year, the PC had some of the best games there. For example, Battlefield 2 and F.E.A.R. are the shooters to beat in that category; Microsoft showed off two gorgeous real-time strategy games in Age of Empires III and Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends; and Will Wright's mind-blowing Spore was the talk of E3.
But our PC game of the show has to go to the jaw-dropping Company of Heroes, a World War II real-time strategy game that will redefine the RTS genre. Company of Heroes has such a wealth of cool features going for it, including an amazing graphical engine that's tied into a full-tiered physics engine, which results in completely destructible environments for you to play with. See a German machine gun next in the window of a building? Toss in explosives and blow the entire thing to bits. And you can blow up things countless ways, as the placement and force of the explosion will affect its structural integrity. Next up is the smart behavior of your men. They won't just march in a straight line to where you send them. They'll adopt the appropriate posture, which means they'll march down a road, but if they come under fire they'll scatter and look for cover. Just like real people. Give them an order and they'll follow it, taking advantage of whatever cover is available to them. If a friendly tank busts through a barricade, they'll use the tank as cover. Or if an artillery burst leaves a crater, they'll jump in for added protection. You won't be commanding mindless automatons anymore.
In some ways, Company of Heroes comes off as the ultimate World War II real-time strategy game. Features that were only fantasy a couple of years ago, such as fully destructible environments and realistic physics, have been combined with an amazing graphics engine to create a startling experience that captures the sheer chaos and imagery of war. And despite the flood of World War II games in recent years, Company of Heroes looks like it could seriously shake up the genre.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: 2006
It's too bad EA and Criterion aren't ready to release the E3 video demonstration of Black to the general public. If they were, we wouldn't have to write about it. Instead of filling this space with words extolling the nonstop, volatile excitement of the hyperkinetic first-person shooter, we'd just let you watch the video. And as was our experience behind closed doors at EA's booth this year, it would be all you needed to see. Black's explosive, over-the-top shoot-outs sell themselves more readily than our ineffectual descriptions could ever do.
That Criterion has made only the barest effort to describe Black's storyline, which has you and some other good guys fighting international terrorists, is telling. Let's face it: You don't really need a reason to slam a clip home and lay waste to everything in sight, especially when doing so is as viscerally satisfying as it looks like it will be in this game. That's because Criterion claims the guns themselves are the stars of the show, having gone so far as to coin the phrase "gun porn" in reference to Black's shoot-first-ask-questions-never gameplay. In fact, studio kingpin Alex Ward mentioned prior to our demo that the team's goal was to re-create The Matrix's lobby scene in extended game form, a feat he claims no other developer has yet achieved.
Based on what we saw during the subsequent 10 minutes, Ward and crew are grinding admirably toward that goal. Just about everything in Black's environments breaks or blows up in violent, hyperrealistic fashion, creating an onscreen chorus of chaos far more intense than your average shooter. One of the most noticeable things about Black's firefights is that the air is full of more than just bullets--you're constantly maneuvering amid a sea of sparks, smoke, broken glass, and debris coming from every surface that takes a hit. Never mind the highly destructible environments, which had the player bringing down entire building floors and blowing out the whole glass front of an office building. Black isn't reinventing the first-person shooter--it's just taking the most essential elements of the genre and making them bigger, faster, and more intense than we've ever seen.
Black wasn't just a rolling demo at E3--a Criterion rep actually sat and played the game before our eyes. That presents only one question: Will the final game be as dynamic and exciting as this demo has led us to believe, or did the driver just happen to know all the twists and turns he had to take to keep things interesting? We can't wait to find out.
FinalistsKingdom Hearts II
SOCOM 3: U.S. Navy SEALs
Shadow of the Colossus
Developer: Bigbig Studios
Release Date: Q3 2005 (Europe)
Undoubtedly one of the most pleasant surprises at this year's E3, Pursuit Force is an innovative and action-packed driving game that pits you, a no-nonsense cop, against five gangs that have taken over the streets of a fictional North American state. The version of Pursuit Force we played at E3 was already looking very polished, and it didn't take us long to get excited about some of the new features that it showcased.
At first glance, Pursuit Force looks to be little more than an extremely well- presented driving game in which you get to shoot at bad guys. But, when you position your car close enough to another vehicle, an icon pops up on the screen that changes everything. The icon in question lets you know that it's safe for you to jump between the two vehicles, which is not only a really interesting gameplay mechanic, but it also makes for some spectacular visuals.
When you land on an enemy vehicle you won't have to concern yourself with driving for a while, but you will have to try to avoid the occupants' bullets as you do your best to overpower them and claim their car (and the weapons inside) for yourself. Pursuit Force's controls were easy to pick up, and the different Hollywood movie-style gameplay sequences that are a part of each of the game's 30 missions should ensure that things never get too repetitive.
If you're in any doubt about just how impressed we were with Pursuit Force, consider that among the games it was competing with at E3 was Burnout Legends--a high-speed racer that combines all of the best features from Criterion's first three Burnout games.
SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo
Virtua Tennis: World Tour
Release Date: Q3 2005
At E3 2005, Microsoft squarely focused on hyping up its next-generation console, so the current-gen Xbox we know and love wasn't exactly the star of the show. But with games like Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes coming out on the current-gen hardware, we have to wonder how next-gen titles are going to compete. Check your assumptions at the door, and ignore the fact that Microsoft hasn't been hyping this one up for whatever reason--we're telling you this game looks like it could end up being amazing, especially given what we've already played its predecessor and loved every minute of it. If you want intense action, deep and long-lasting gameplay, extensive Xbox Live support, fantastic visuals, and a rocking soundtrack all in one package, it's exactly what you should be looking forward to from Heroes.
The sequel to last year's action/real-time strategy hybrid Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders, Heroes looks like it will follow in the footsteps of its great predecessor, while also making a number of key improvements that will hopefully result in an even better game. Last year's Kingdom Under Fire flew under a lot of people's radars (at least on these shores--in its native Korea, the game outsold Halo 2), so consider Heroes your second chance to not miss out on something remarkable. The game is set in a fantasy world torn apart by war, and you'll get to control a variety of heroes and their unique armies as you watch the story unfold from their different perspectives. As in The Crusaders, Heroes will seamlessly blend real-time strategy and hack-and-slash action into a cohesive whole by letting you order your armies around the battlefield in real time, and then dive right into a skirmish whenever your forces cross swords with the enemies.
Heroes seeks to improve on The Crusaders by enhancing the action elements of the game, while also making the RTS elements easier to manage with a number of new command features. The battlefields themselves should be more sophisticated than before, creating more tactical nuance and memorable set pieces. Plus, the game will feature a completely overhauled Xbox Live mode, with support for up to six players at a time. With something like 30 to 50 hours of single-player gameplay leading up to that, we figure this will be one game that's got both quantity and quality in spades.
Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse
Developer: Pseudo Interactive
Release Date: Q4 2005
"It's basically Burnout with guns," is how we found ourselves describing Full Auto to those of us unfortunate enough to have not seen it with their own eyes. "So it's game of the show, right?" often came the response. We'd laugh that up--but we weren't kidding around. After all, when you take the gut-wrenchingly fast-paced racing-and-crashing action of a game like Burnout and combine it with lots and lots of shooting mayhem, you've got a winning formula as far as we're concerned. Full Auto is weighed down by none of the pretenses of a sweeping epic. But of all the Xbox 360 games we've seen so far, it's definitely the most fun to play and makes us that much more eager for the system's launch this fall.
Even though the current generation of consoles could probably accomplish a lot of what Full Auto is attempting to do, it just wouldn't be able to offer the same horsepower that the Xbox 360 so awesomely does. The game looks really slick, and it features these spectacularly explosive races where everything seems to be going up in smoke and flames all at once. Then, on top of that, you can even reverse time to avert disaster, kind of like in Blinx or Prince of Persia, but instead you're a car with guns. It's enough to make our heads spin.
As if it weren't enough that Full Auto was already looking really good at E3 2005, Sega went ahead and did what so few other publishers had the guts (or the code) to do, which was to put the game right there on the show floor for all to see, play, and consider. We eagerly did all that, and came away from Full Auto very much looking forward to it as something that could end up being one of the premier Xbox 360 launch titles. It's got all the makings of a fun-filled, visually stunning arcade racer that just about anyone could get behind.
FinalistsCondemned: Criminal Origins
Gears of War
Need for Speed Most Wanted
Perfect Dark Zero
Release Date: Q4 2005
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was an unmistakable object on the horizon going into this year's E3. Nintendo reps had pointed out of the ballpark earlier in the year when they stated that the game would be playable at this year's show. So, amid all the crazy speculation on what kind of presence the Xbox 360 or the elusive PS3 would have at the show, the knowledge that you would be able to play this new Zelda ensured that there was something to get excited about in the current-gen titles. Consequently, this also ended up being why Zelda is our game of the show. While the 360 games showcased an uneven combination of either gorgeous graphics and inconsistent frame rates or solid frame rates and underwhelming visuals, and the PlayStation 3 "games" weren't quite ready for a hands-on close up, Zelda ably stepped into the spotlight with polished visuals and gameplay. Whether it was mounted combat on horseback, or plying dungeons with the help of friendly monkeys, the E3 demo of Twilight Princess offered a great taste of what's to come.
Though some were blasé about the game, there's simply no denying the appeal of one of Nintendo's key franchises. The four-stage demo served as an excellent teaser for the epic quest that Twilight Princess is poised to offer. The new variations in the time-honored gameplay, coupled with the appearance of some familiar touches like the lantern and the boomerang, all hit the right notes with us, as well as with the folks who stood in line for hours for the chance to get their hands on the demo. And we won't even touch on the unbridled charisma of the monkeys you'll encounter in the game…
Twilight Princess' biggest draw, however, is arguably the game's visuals. Whereas The Wind Waker's cel-shaded visuals polarized players expecting an adventure along the same lines as the tech demo that showed Link and Ganon facing off, The Twilight Princess' graphics united just about every Zelda fan at the show. The mature visuals and darker tone of the adventure are a powerful combination that was displayed to good effect at the show. While Microsoft and Sony both juggled trying to showcase current- and next-gen content while at the same time trying to slag each other, Nintendo's booth was an oasis that focused on the company's greatest strength: gameplay. You'd be hard pressed to find a better example of that than Zelda.
FinalistsBattlefield 2 (PC)
Burnout Revenge (Xbox, PS2)
Company of Heroes (PC)
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (PC)
Pursuit Force (PSP)
Super Mario Brothers DS (DS)
Super Mario Strikers (GC)