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Best of E3 2004

This feature highlights our top picks from E3 2004. What was the best trailer? The best GameCube game? The best shooter? The best game of the show? It's all in here, complete with video and screenshots.


Executive editor Greg Kasavin introduces GameSpot's Best of E3 2004 feature.

By The GameSpot Staff
Design by Collin Oguro

One of the most remarkable things about the Electronic Entertainment Expo is that as quickly as the spectacle arrives, it goes even faster. GameSpot's coverage of E3 2004 included about 1000 previews, 12,000 screenshots, and more than 1,300 movies of more than 600 games, posted during the space of just a few short days. E3's audiovisual blitz was enough to make the hardiest soul's eyes and ears practically bleed from sensory overload. That's where this feature comes in. For those who don't have the time or inclination to wade through that massive amount of information, we've hand-selected the best aspects of E3 and distilled it all down in GameSpot's Best of E3 2004 feature, which celebrates the absolute best of the best at the show, according to our team of editors.

About These Awards

Just as we did with our Best and Worst of 2003 feature, we've taken a platform-agnostic view of the industry in our Best of E3 2004 feature. We know that most GameSpot users have access to more than one of the major gaming platforms on the market. Thus, the platform a game appears on is not as important as the quality of the game itself. For our Special Achievement, Genre, and Game of the Show awards, we compared games from all platforms directly to one another in our effort to identify the best of the best.

The GameSpot booth on the E3 show floor.
The GameSpot booth on the E3 show floor.

Additionally, it's important to note that the nature of the show also affects how these games are judged. Our decisions here are quite frankly based on the first impressions we received at E3. E3 is the gaming industry's ultimate dog and pony show. Every exhibitor at the event is concerned about putting the best possible face on its products. Some games we actually got to play. Some others we were only allowed to observe as a developer walked us through a carefully contrived demonstration. Other games were merely announced, with maybe just a couple of screenshots or a brief movie to give us a glimpse. We did not consider games in this latter category in these awards, but instead have focused exclusively on games that were playable at the show. As well, since we admit that E3 is about appearances, games that were shown at E3 last year were--by and large--less impressive to us the second time around, unless of course they've made significant strides since then. That is to say, at E3, we naturally favor never-before-seen games.

With all that out of the way, we've divided our Best of E3 2004 awards into four primary categories:

Special Achievement Awards

The GameSpot-themed car housed several consoles used for contest giveaways at the show.
The GameSpot-themed car housed several consoles used for contest giveaways at the show.

This category allows us to recognize hardware products and games that deserve recognition but that couldn't be considered for a specific genre award.

Genre Awards

Here we recognize games for excellence within their particular genre, including action adventure, sports, role-playing, and more. As in any year, certain genres were more competitive than others, but in every case, the games we've listed as winners and finalists represent the absolute best games of the show within their category.

Platform Awards

While our genre awards pit games from all different platforms against one another, we recognize that people want to know about the best games on the horizon for their specific hardware. Our Platform Awards recognize the crème de la crème for the PC, Xbox, GameCube, PlayStation 2, Game Boy Advance, and, for the first time on GameSpot, the N-Gage and mobile platforms. We consciously omitted the Sony PSP and Nintendo DS for this category. There were no playable games on the Sony handheld, while our playtime was too limited on the few available DS games for us to make definitive choices on a winner for either platform.

Game of the Show

This category is self-explanatory. We give you our take on the single best game at E3 2004, and we cite four other great finalists.

Biggest Surprise

The Legend of Zelda (GC)

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Read our take from E3 2004 >>

The first trailer for the new Zelda game.

Every year, E3 holds a number of pleasant surprises. Last year, the industry was rocked with the announcement that Sony would enter the portable gaming space with its own handheld. This year, the surprises came largely on the software side. We were delighted to stumble across unexpected gems like Yoot Saito's Odama on the GameCube and Payback on the Game Boy Advance. We were also pretty surprised that Ubisoft was so far along in developing Splinter Cell 3 and that Namco announced that it would be localizing its fun and quirky junk collection game for American audiences. But in the end, all of that paled in comparison to the shock we received when Nintendo sprung the new Legend of Zelda trailer on us at the tail end of its press conference.

The surprise of course, wasn't that Nintendo was making another Zelda game for the GameCube. It was believed for a long time that a sequel to the cel-shaded Wind Waker was in the works, presumably starring a cute, adolescent Link as the hero. The surprise was that this new Zelda game didn't share the hypersaturated look of The Wind Waker and that Link was no longer a little boy. It didn't take long into the trailer for everyone to realize that, as Shigeru Miyamoto said himself, "Link has grown up."

In spite of his wardrobe, Link gives a menacing look.
In spite of his wardrobe, Link gives a menacing look.

And grown up he has. The one-minute trailer showed Link gallantly galloping into battle on horseback and knocking other mounted enemies off their steeds with sweeping slashes of his sword. A number of environments were highlighted in the trailer as well, such as a moonlit castle, dynamically lit dungeons, a forest filled with an eerie mist, and a dusty plain with a red-tinged dusk sky overhead. The trailer ended with Link brandishing his sword with a flourish, then sheathing it with characteristic panache while striking a hard pose--at least, as hard of a pose as a man with a green do-rag could possibly strike. Those who bemoaned the cartoonish look of The Wind Waker and its fairy tale-like feel appear to have gotten their wish for a Zelda game with a noticeably grittier look and feel.

The other Biggest Surprise finalists:

Yoot Saito's Odama (GC)
Splinter Cell 3 (PC)
Katamari Damacy (PS2)
Payback (GBA)

Most Disappointing Absence

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2)

Publisher: Rockstar
Developer: Rockstar North
Read our first look from E3 2004 >>

A 6-4 Impala and a Mac-10--what else do you need?
A 6-4 Impala and a Mac-10--what else do you need?

We probably shouldn't have expected anything different. As much as we all would have loved to get some hands-on time with Rockstar's upcoming addition to its Grand Theft Auto franchise, we knew we wouldn't. 2001 was the last time a new Grand Theft Auto title was playable on the show floor. Since then, Rockstar has pushed its presence further and further off the beaten E3 path, showing less and less of their premiere products to the general masses of the show, and this year not showing a single product to the public in any form. We shouldn't have gone in with even a ray of hope for San Andreas showing up on the show floor, but really, we couldn't help ourselves.

We, like everyone else, are intensely curious about this upcoming installment. Our curiosity was piqued even higher when Rockstar released some select plot details and screenshots via the San Andreas Web site just before the show opened. The early 1990s setting, the South Central Los Angeles-themed environments, the promise of drive-bys and bike riding (and perhaps stealing)--all of it began to boil our collective anticipation for the game. And then: nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. No playable demo, no trailers, not a single peep during the show.

We've gotten used to Rockstar's less-than-obvious presence at E3, and we have no doubt that despite this lack of showcasing we'll still get to see San Andreas soon enough. However, the fact that what could be the biggest game of the year wasn't playable at the biggest annual game industry convention couldn't help but leave us feeling a little deflated. Again, we weren't surprised by its absence, but to say we weren't disappointed would be a flat-out lie.

The other Most Disappointing Absence finalists:

Doom 3 (PC)
Fire Emblem (GC)
Kingdom Hearts II (PS2)
True Fantasy Live Online (Xbox)

Best New Technology

Sony PSP

Developer: Sony
Read our take from E3 2004 >>

Get an up-close look at the PSP.

E3 is a popular time for companies to show off new game-related technology. Epic Games showed off the latest Unreal graphics engine, offering per-pixel lighting and other features. We were also wowed by the tech demonstration for Criterion's Black, as well as Alienware's "luxury" ALX line of computers, featuring dual CPUs and dual video cards that work in conjunction to render a single game. But clearly, the highlight of E3 2004 from a technology standpoint was the introduction of two new handheld systems: the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP. Arguably the two are difficult to compare, since one is strictly a gaming system, while the other offers a more broad-based multimedia experience. It was a difficult choice, but we came away a little bit more impressed with Sony's new handheld.

While Sony certainly isn't the first to offer a multifunction gaming device (see Nokia's N-Gage and Tapwave's Zodiac), the PSP promises to be a device that will deliver on all aspects with no compromises. On the gaming side, the unit offers a digital pad, four face buttons, two shoulder buttons, and even a small analog disc to offer a choice of options for developers and players in character movement. The backlit 4.3-inch screen is bright, is high resolution for its size, and is in 16:9 format, so movies played on the unit will appear in the same aspect ratio as they do in the theater. The 16:9 format will factor into games as well, giving players the ability to see more of the court or field and allowing for more panoramic views in other games.

The PSP can handle different types of media.
The PSP can handle different types of media.

Aside from playing games and movies, the PSP will also offer the ability to play music, probably via the unit's memory stick slot and/or its optical disc drive, which can read Sony's proprietary 1.8GB UMD discs. With Sony itself owning a huge array of music and film properties, and with many developers pledged to support the product, content does not appear to be an issue. The primary concerns surrounding the PSP have to do with battery life; it's still not clear how long the PSP will last under standard gaming conditions. In spite of that uncertainty, it's difficult to not be impressed with the potential of the PSP, and we're eager to see how the unit will perform once it's released later this year in Japan and in early 2005 in North America.

The other Best New Technology finalists:

Alienware's ALX line of PCs
Black (PS2)
Nintendo DS
Unreal Engine 3.0 (PC)

Best Trailers of E3 2004

The Legend of Zelda (working title) Trailer 1 (GC)

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo

Riding his way to the top of the charts, here's Link.

Ah, the trailers of E3. By last count, the madmen of GameSpot Live are about to hit 1,300 movies published for this year's show. How can they possibly narrow such a huge list down to a top 10? Criteria included (but weren't limited to) visuals, music, editing/pacing, and the all-important surprise factor. A lot of movies on this list were for games we hadn't seen (or in some cases heard of) yet, and a good trailer will leave you counting down the days until its featured game hits the shelves. While we aren't camping outside of stores for these 10 games yet, let's just say the lawn chairs and sleeping bags are in the car.

The top trailer from E3 2004 was for Nintendo's new Legend of Zelda game for the GameCube. The trailer begins by taking you from tranquil landscapes to a looming army. An unknown hero rides from his castle to face the oncoming menace, until a third of the way through the trailer a quick zoom reveals it's Link on horseback. Just as that startling fact settles in, the trailer cuts to various shots of Link in action interspersed with lines like "Blades will bleed" and "Will the hero rise again?" We hope so, as the excitement generated by this trailer easily places it above all others and puts The Legend of Zelda (working title) on our tracked-games list.

Rounding out the Top 10 Trailers of E3 2004:

Destroy All Humans! Official Trailer 1 (Xbox, PS2)
The first 40 seconds of this trailer lead you to believe that Destroy All Humans! is yet another game based on the eradication of aliens. Twenty seconds later, you're making an old man's head explode.

Devil May Cry 3 Official Trailer 1 (PS2)
This trailer flawlessly employs the classic "start off with slow motion and choral music, then cut to driving action with crazy video filters and rocking music" technique.

Halo 2 E3 2004 Demonstration (Xbox)
So it's not actually a trailer, but this amazing multiplayer demonstration for Halo 2 could be renamed "Max's Many Deaths." Act now and receive commentary like "Take it!" "Bring it you alien bastard," and "Anti-sonofabitch stick." Poor Max.

Nintendo DS Demonstration (DS)
Speaking of not actually being a trailer, Nintendo gave GameSpot a private demo of its new handheld, the Nintendo DS. As if that weren't cool enough, they showed us how they made WarioWare, Inc. even crazier.

Resident Evil 4 Trailer (GC)
Another trailer from Nintendo's press conference, this one is a nice blend of building guitar rock, gunplay, and some sort of zombie cave troll thing.

Rome: Total War Official Trailer 4 (PC)
This trailer feels like a peek at the next epic summer blockbuster, but with less Brad Pitt and more elephants mauling people.

Tekken 5 E3 2004 Trailer (PS2, ARC)
Wait, Heihachi is dead? Don't be fooled by this trailer, which appears to end about a minute in. After the game's title screen, you get a solid two and a half minutes of sweet, sweet gameplay.

Tony Hawk's Underground 2 E3 2004 Trailer (PC, Xbox, PS2, GC)
How can you top last year's trailer for Tony Hawk's Underground? Trade in Jurassic 5 for Bam Margera, Ben Franklin with a kite, and the man in black, Johnny Cash.

Unreal Engine 3.0 Demonstration (PC)
It wouldn't be E3 without a highly anticipated movie shot off of a screen, and this year is no exception with this demonstration of the Unreal Engine 3.0 as seen on display at Nvidia's booth.

Best Action Adventure Game

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell 3 (PC)

Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Read our preview from E3 2004 >>

It's no understatement to say that this is one of the most contested categories of the show. After all, there are dozens and dozens of games on all the platforms in consideration. But as much as we liked God of War, Metal Gear Solid 3, and Resident Evil 4, the game that we kept coming back to was Splinter Cell 3 for the PC.

Sam Fisher's got a knife, and he knows how to use it.

Splinter Cell 3 has everything going for it. First off, it's visually stunning; there's a state-of-the-art graphics engine that supports the latest PC graphics hardware. In one scene, we watched as secret government assassin Sam Fisher infiltrated a Japanese house with rice-paper-thin walls; the silhouettes of the guards inside projected onto the walls in an amazing display of technical and artistic prowess.

Secondly, the impressive gameplay found in the first two Splinter Cell games looks downright tame compared to Splinter Cell 3. When Sam Fisher shoots out a light, nearby guards will now ignite road flares and investigate, making your job even harder, and the tension level and atmosphere are also superb. But, most importantly, Sam Fisher is a man on fire in this game; he displays a ruthlessness and viciousness we've never seen before. Forget about knocking people out; Sam Fisher has a knife in this game, and he knows how to use it.

Sam Fisher returns with a nastier disposition.
Sam Fisher returns with a nastier disposition.

And finally, Splinter Cell 3 introduces an unprecedented level of cooperative gameplay that left us amazed. In other games, cooperative multiplay usually means having two players shooting at the enemy. But in Splinter Cell 3, co-op is not just about combat. Ubisoft demonstrated the audacious things that two commandos are capable of, such as using each other as human ladders and working in tandem to slip past guards and security cameras.

Simply put, Splinter Cell 3 was the most cinematic and impressive action adventure game at the show. Our only concern at this point is that we hope the placeholder voice for Sam Fisher was just that and that Ubisoft will get the incomparable Michael Ironside back on board. Otherwise, we simply can't wait to play it.

The other Best Action Adventure finalists:

God of War (PS2)
The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (GBA)
Metal Gear Solid 3 (PS2)
Resident Evil 4 (GC)

Best Shooter

MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf (Xbox)

Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Day 1 Studios
Read our preview from E3 2004 >>

The first MechAssault stood out as being one of the original Xbox Live games back when the online service first launched. It also stood out as being a fantastic game. The sequel, due out in January, appears to be on the same track as its predecessor, thanks to some handy new enhancements.

Check out some heavy-hitting mech combat in this clip.

The first and most obvious boost is graphical. Explosions might have looked strong before, but this time they look downright devastating. Shock waves, fiery blasts, blowing out all the glass in an office building--all these things look fantastic. The game also has a much improved sense of scale, so the mechs look as big and menacing as they're supposed to.

VTOL transports play a role in MechAssault 2.
VTOL transports play a role in MechAssault 2.

That sense of scale comes from the game's great new gameplay twist. Rather than have you just pick a mech before a fight starts and send it into battle over and over again, MechAssault 2 spawns you as a tiny, easily squished pilot. You'll have to run for a mech and hop in to get moving, or you can take smaller battle armor suits, which lack the firepower of a mech but make up for it with a handy claw that can be used to cling to walls, hold onto VTOL jets for transport, or even steal enemy mechs via an exciting new "mech jack" procedure.

On top of all that, the game will sport a lengthy single-player campaign, but it's the variety of the multiplayer on display and the stunning graphical enhancements that make MechAssault 2 an easy pick for the shooter of the show.

The other Best Shooter finalists:

Battlefield 2 (PC)
Brothers in Arms (PC)
F.E.A.R. (PC)
Halo 2 (Xbox)

Best Fighting Game

Mortal Kombat: Deception (Xbox, PS2)

Publisher: Midway
Developer: Midway
Read our preview from E3 2004 >>

The classic Mortal Kombat series of fighting games was languishing for a while until Midway pulled off 2002's Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, the fifth game in the series and the best MK installment in years. As great as that game was, though, the forthcoming Mortal Kombat: Deception is looking substantially better. If Midway plays its cards right, this game should fulfill a lot of Deadly Alliance's untapped potential and just might emerge as one of the best new fighting games in years.

Ed Boon speaks at length about all the new features found in Mortal Kombat: Deception.

Look at the facts. Deception is based on the tried-and-true gameplay of Deadly Alliance, though in some ways it's moving even closer to classic MK-style gameplay, with lots of pop-up moves, midair juggle combos, and fun stuff like that. Deception is also bringing back many favorite characters from the series' bygone days. Best of all, though, Deception will be featuring online play on both the Xbox and PlayStation 2, which should all but assure fighting game fans of having good competition ready and waiting at all hours.

Deception promises to be as bloody as any Mortal Kombat game.
Deception promises to be as bloody as any Mortal Kombat game.

What's more, Deception will feature a number of peripheral modes of play that should widely broaden the game's appeal. From a Tetris-style puzzle game to a chess-style strategy game in which the pieces must duke it out, Mortal Kombat: Deception's alternate gameplay types are certainly surprising, and they also seem very entertaining. These will be playable online, too. And on top of all that, the game promises tons of unlockable extras, such as hidden characters, outfits, and more.

Fighting games are experiencing what might be considered a renaissance these days, with the advent of online play. Many of us at GameSpot were hardcore into the genre at one time, but as the nation's arcades dwindled, competition became harder to come by, and our interest naturally dwindled. But this looks like the perfect opportunity to dive right back in, and we absolutely can't wait. There were other promising fighting games at E3, but Mortal Kombat: Deception had us most excited.

The other Best Fighting Game finalists:

Def Jam: Fight for NY (Xbox, PS2, GC)
Guilty Gear Isuka (PS2)
King of Fighters: Maximum Impact (PS2)
Street Fighter Anniversary Collection (Xbox, PS2)

Best Platformer

Donkey Kong Jungle Beat (GC)

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Read our preview from E3 2004 >>

The platformer genre is currently shooting off into a lot of different directions. Games like Ratchet & Clank are expanding online, and they're practically turning into third-person shooters in the process. But there was still a great deal of platforming action to be found on the show floor. The one that caught our eye the most was Nintendo's utterly insane Donkey Kong Jungle Beat.

There's more drumming in store for Donkey Kong.

What makes Jungle Beat stand out? You control it with the same bongo drum controller that will power the rhythm game Donkey Konga. You slap one drum to run one way, slap the other to head back, hit both drums to jump, and clap your hands to make Donkey Kong clap. It's a simple control scheme that would be very easy to write off as a dumb gimmick, but the game works surprisingly well.

Controlling your character via bongo drums sounds off the wall, but it works.
Controlling your character via bongo drums sounds off the wall, but it works.

The game's simple yet fun control and the variety of things to do in the three-area demo shown at E3 made it stand out from the crowd. Not only do you have your basic side-scrolling 2D platform action, but the game also pulls out of that perspective to do things like let you get into fistfights with other monkeys.

There are a bunch of games with platformer roots coming out in 2004, but Donkey Kong Jungle Beat stood out because of its originality. It has the potential to be extremely exciting when it's released next year.

The other Best Platformer finalists:

Jak 3 (PS2)
Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal (PS2)
Sly 2: Band of Thieves (PS2)
Super Mario 64x4 (DS)

Best Adventure Game

Dreamfall (PC)

Publisher: Funcom
Developer: Funcom
Read our preview from E3 2004 >>

Graphical adventure games as we once knew them are scarcer than ever these days. Even the winner of this award, Dreamfall, will have numerous action elements that will attempt to buck the trends of classic adventure games--rather than hunting for keys, you'll be able to smash doors down; and rather than having to sneak around a monster, you'll be able to fight it. Still, Funcom's Dreamfall will also clearly have all the trappings of a classic adventure game, including a deep and involving story, like its predecessor, the award-winning adventure game The Longest Journey.

Dreamfall will offer beautiful environments to explore.
Dreamfall will offer beautiful environments to explore.

It would have been easy, and obvious, to simply cite Dreamfall's impressive graphics engine, which, as we saw at E3, is capable of rendering large and highly detailed environments with realistic bump-mapped textures and dynamic lighting. However, Funcom really seems to be making use of the technology to create the colorful, scenic vistas that the world of The Longest Journey is known for. In addition, it's clear that the developers aren't content to simply add better graphics to the sequel--the new game will have both action elements and an all-new interface option called the "focus field," which might just bridge the gap between a traditional PC keyboard-and-mouse setup and a traditional console control-pad setup.

And as you might expect, Dreamfall will also have a comprehensive story that involves travel to strange and colorful new worlds. There will even be appearances by returning characters from the previous game, like the previous savior of the universe, April Ryan, as well as appearances by all-new characters, like the enigmatic soldier of fortune Kiam. It's Dreamfall's impressive combination of exceptionally good graphics, an intriguing story, and all-new gameplay mechanics that stood out from the other adventure games at E3.

The other Best Adventure Game finalists:

Fahrenheit (PC/PS2)
Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude (PC/PS2/Xbox)
Missing (PC)
Silent Hill 4: The Room (PS2)

Best Driving Game

Burnout 3 (PS2, Xbox)

Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Criterion Games
Read our preview from E3 2004 >>

Having been fed only the most basic details on the game prior to the show, we came into E3 2004 having never seen Burnout 3 in motion. We came in expecting a better version of the same vandalistic racing action that the Burnout name has become known for, and we got that, but we also got a whole lot more.

In Burnout 3, wrecking is as satisfying as racing.

The Burnout games have always been about controlled chaos--creating the sensation that you're moving so fast that you're barely in control, living on borrowed time. The very first thing we noticed when we saw Burnout 3 in action was just how fast it seemed. The demo's rock-solid 60fps certainly made it look smooth, but it also used a cadre of slick visual effects to enhance the sensation of speed--there's a nice blurring effect around the border of the screen, augmenting that high-speed tunnel vision, and there's some color bleed off the edges of your car at especially high speeds. We'd be hard pressed to find any racing game that could match Burnout 3's velocity, which is a big part of why we took such a shine to the demo.

It's all about the spectacular wrecks.
It's all about the spectacular wrecks.

The folly of most racing games is that they try to ignore the fact that wrecks happen. Burnout 3, however, has a serious fetish for car crashes. The most satisfying moments in the Burnout 3 demo were when we just couldn't hang on any longer and ended up running into a wall or oncoming traffic. As we watched our car crumple up into a twisted wreck in slo-mo, we would try to nudge our car toward any nearby traffic, hoping to involve as many other cars in our mayhem as possible.

We've admittedly been looking forward to Burnout 3 since it was first announced earlier this year, but now that we've seen it in action, our enthusiasm is completely justified. The whole package--the graphics, the gameplay, even what little of the sound we were able to pick up--seems to be coming together, and what we saw of the game impressed us more than any other racing game on the show floor.

The other Best Driving Game finalists:

ATV Offroad Fury 3 (PS2)
Crash 'N' Burn (Xbox, PS2)
Forza Motorsport (Xbox)
Gran Turismo 4 (PS2)

Best Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game

EverQuest II

Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Developer: Sony Online Entertainment
Read our preview from E3 2004 >>

While we had previously seen several impressive new features unveiled for EverQuest II, such as its powerful graphics engine and its full audio speech, at E3 2004 we saw EverQuest II really start coming together as a playable game with a great range of content. Yes, it will be like other massively multiplayer online games in that you'll create a single character, then go off to hunt monsters and solve quests with thousands of other players in search of fame and fortune. But it will also take place in huge and varied environments full of details, large and small, that will make EverQuest II seem less like a game and more like a living, breathing world, if what we saw at E3 is any indication.

Designer Chris Cao explains what's new in EverQuest II at E3 2004.

For instance, one area we visited was a simple town square, where computer-controlled characters wandered about (based on time of day and other conditions), striking up random conversations with other characters. This may seem like a trivial detail, but if this feature works as planned, it will make even the peaceful towns of EverQuest II seem like parts of an actual world where characters go about their daily lives. The same can be said of EverQuest II's other impressive environments, which are not only being built with the same attention to detail, but are also being populated by geographically specific monsters and creatures that are appropriate to that area.

Burning skeletons are just one of the spectacular monsters you'll fight in EverQuest II.
Burning skeletons are just one of the spectacular monsters you'll fight in EverQuest II.

While it was pretty much standard in previous online RPGs to see a prerendered moon surrounded by prerendered clouds crawling across a skybox, you can expect to look up in the sky in EverQuest II to see a small winged figure turning and wheeling about, gradually growing larger until it appears before you as a huge and angry dragon that will land right in front of you and challenge you to a fight. It does remain to be seen whether the rest of the game can be as consistently exciting and detailed as these examples, but there's no denying that EverQuest II made an impressive showing at this year's E3.

The other Best Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game finalists:

Auto Assault (PC)
Star Wars Galaxies: Jump to Lightspeed (PC)
The Matrix Online (PC)
Tabula Rasa (PC)

Best Puzzle/Rhythm Game

Yoot Saito's Odama (GC)

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Vivarium
Read our preview from E3 2004 >>

Yoot Saito's Odama (not to be confused with all those other Odamas out there) was one of the big surprises at E3, though the game itself is about as unassuming as they come. Nestled off in the corner of Nintendo's monstrous floor space was this unusual game about thousands of samurai warriors, two flippers, and one gigantic pinball--the odama. Essentially, this is a real-time strategy game played with the mechanics of a pinball table. And the concept is just as intriguing and unusual as it sounds.

For some reason, Yoot Saito's Odama isn't due out until next year, but the E3 demo we played already gave a clear sense of the sort of tension-filled gameplay that this game will offer. Basically you're trying to help your samurai army defeat the opponent, and the only weapon you've got is a huge pinball that can bulldoze friend and foe alike and destroy enemy structures. You need to accurately aim at the opposing side's structures to create openings and opportunities for your forces while trying to minimize friendly casualties. It's a bizarre concept, but it works, and it's already fun. Most interesting, perhaps, is that Yoot Saito's Odama is a completely straight-faced game. You'd expect something like this to be rife with tongue-in-cheek humor, but it isn't.

You may know Yoot Saito's name from his earlier works like SimTower (also known as Yoot's Tower) and Seaman. Certainly this is an eccentric game designer, but judging by this next game of his, he's not one to forgo quality gameplay in favor of pure abstraction. The demo of the game we played at E3 left a lasting impression on us as one of the most genuinely unique and most challenging games of the show. As such, we can't wait to see more.

The other Best Puzzle/Rhythm Game finalists:

Dance Dance Revolution Extreme (PS2)
Karaoke Revolution Volume 2 (PS2)
Pac Pix (DS)
WarioWare, Inc. DS (DS)

Best Role-Playing Game

Paper Mario 2 (GC)

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Read our preview from E3 2004 >>

Hot on the heels of last year's rousing GBA success Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga comes Nintendo and Intelligent Systems with even more role-playing Mario madness. The original Paper Mario was one of the best--and most overlooked--games on the Nintendo 64, but hopefully this new sequel will bring the series the attention and respect it deserves. Honestly, how can you argue with a game that lets you turn Mario into a paper airplane so he can glide over long distances? But that's just the start of the imaginative and endearing gameplay we saw in the E3 demo of the game.

Mario folding into an airplane? It must be Paper Mario 2!

The combat in Paper Mario 2 is one of the game's most inventive components. You'll fight out each battle on an actual stage, and the size and reactions of your audience will help you gauge how well you're doing. Audience participation is even a big part of the battle, as you'll be pelted by various objects (and take real damage) if you screw up. Conversely, you can appeal to the audience and use their adoration to build up a meter that will let you perform special attacks. This weird sort of metamechanic is exactly what a Mario game like this needs to stay fresh.

Paper Mario 2 will require you to play to the crowd.
Paper Mario 2 will require you to play to the crowd.

Paper Mario 2 has some serious chops in the character department, too--Mario will be accompanied by an assortment of zany sidekicks throughout the game. Check out Goombella, the blonde goomba valley girl who inexplicably wears a miner's helmet, or Koops, the spineless koopa troopa who's searching for his long-lost father. This was a strong year for RPGs at E3, and Paper Mario 2 rose above the rest with its crazy, endearing art style and truly interesting play mechanics.

The other Best Role-Playing Game finalists:

Dungeon Lords (PC)
Final Fantasy XII (PS2)
Jade Empire (Xbox)
Tales of Symphonia (GC)

Best Simulation

Silent Hunter III (PC)

Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft
Read our preview from E3 2004

The decline of the simulation genre was hard not to notice at E3; only a handful of simulations were at the show. But the few simulations that were there all looked impressive. Ace Combat 5 for the PlayStation 2 is a lightweight, action-oriented sim with gorgeous graphics. And on the other side of the spectrum is Pacific Fighters, the next big realistic PC combat flight simulation from famed designer Oleg Maddox. But the simulation that impressed us the most didn't involve flying at all. Instead, the action in Silent Hunter III takes place under the sea.

Watch the official trailer of this exciting submarine sim.

The third game in this submarine series is visually amazing. In Silent Hunter III, you'll command a series of German U-boats from 1939 to 1945, and the designers have re-created the interiors--and the crews--of various U-boats in stunning 3D. You can stand on the bridge and interact with your crew, or you can climb up to the tower and look out over the beautifully rendered 3D ocean. They've even captured the view out of the periscope perfectly; waves wash over the periscope and temporarily blur the scene.

Fortunately, Ubisoft is making Silent Hunter III as accessible as it is beautiful. The game will feature an action-heavy mode that will allow newcomers to simply lock onto enemy ships and launch torpedoes at them without having to fuss with all the details. Meanwhile, hardcore submarine fans will be able to ramp up the realism settings and enjoy a complex and rewarding simulation. The game has a very easy-to-use user interface that allows you to do everything from dispatching damage control teams to certain sections of the sub to calling up ship recognition photos to identify what you're looking at through the scope.

Hedgehog attacks are deadly against submarines.
Hedgehog attacks are deadly against submarines.

Yet at the heart of Silent Hunter III is the thin line between the hunter and the hunted that existed during World War II's naval engagements. During our demonstration, we watched as the U-boat engaged the mighty Royal Navy battleship King George V at close range. The U-boat managed to land torpedoes in the battleship's engine section, and secondary explosions tore through the other half of the battleship. But before the U-boat could celebrate, a British destroyer rapidly closed the distance, firing its canon and nearly ramming the U-boat before dropping depth charges into the ocean. It was a scene that mixed exhilaration with nail-biting tension, and that is why Silent Hunter III is the best simulation of the show.

The other Best Simulation Game finalists:

Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War (PS2)
Heroes of the Pacific (PC, Xbox, PS2)
Pacific Fighters (PC)
PT Boats: Knights of the Sea (PC)

Best Sports Game

ESPN NFL 2005 (Xbox, PS2)

Publisher: Sega
Developer: Visual Concepts
Read our preview from E3 2004 >>

With Microsoft, Sony, and Midway ducking out of the football game this year, it's basically down to just EA and Sega when it comes to NFL titles. Both companies had extremely impressive showings at E3 2004 with Madden NFL 2005 and ESPN NFL 2005 respectively, but obviously, we couldn't pick both to be our top sports game of the show. Both games had new gameplay features--such as Madden's hit stick and ESPN's total control tackling--both featured improvements to their respective franchise modes, and both featured upgrades to their online functionality. However, when it comes right down to it, ESPN NFL's upgrades to these features, as well as its several other, additional features, made it the clear winner.

Don't be afraid of CG Chris Berman; he won't hurt you.

From a gameplay perspective, our time spent playing ESPN NFL 2005 at E3 gave us the impression that aside from the new tackling abilities, there wasn't much more going on than some incremental upgrades. What really impressed us though were the sheer number of new features in the game. The coolest of these new features was the new VIP profile system. Once you create a profile in ESPN NFL 2005, the game will begin tracking everything about how you play, from how often you run versus how often you pass, to little details like how often you call defensive audibles. While this is merely a neat idea if it were simply tied down to your console, in actuality, you'll have the ability to transfer your profile to your friends' consoles or upload it online, letting other people view your statistical data. Not only that, but if your friends decide they want to learn how to play better against you, they can load up a one-player match against the computer and have the computer use your profile, which will in turn have the CPU play exactly like you. Spooky, but very cool.

You can just about see the strain in Carson Palmer's face.
You can just about see the strain in Carson Palmer's face.

There are plenty of other awesome things we saw in ESPN NFL 2005 that we could rave about, such as the new online league system, franchise upgrades, new crib unlockables, and added ESPN personalities. However, the point is not to simply regurgitate what we've already written about the game, but to tell you why this was the best sports game we saw at the show. Frankly, ESPN NFL 2005 showed us the most in terms of depth and presentation, and it proved to be just as fun as its most recent predecessors, if not more so. If that's not enough reason to call it the clear-cut winner, then nothing is.

The other Best Sports Game finalists:

Madden NFL 2005 (PS2, Xbox, GC, PC)
Mario Golf (GBA)
NCAA Football 2005 (PS2, Xbox, GC)
WWE Day of Reckoning (GC)

Best Strategy Game

The Sims 2

Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Maxis
Read our preview from E3 2004 >>

Picking a best strategy game at the show was an extremely tough process this year because of how competitive the category was. We had the impressive, epic battles of Rome, the colorful world of Middle-earth, the gritty and violent world of Warhammer 40,000, and the distinctive look and feel of a Hollywood movie set to choose from. But when all was said and done, we felt that The Sims 2 was the strategy game of the show.

Watch everyone's favorite little computer people make mischief in this E3 2004 trailer.

We've heard a great deal about The Sims 2: It will be the sequel to what is reportedly the most successful computer game of all time. It will have all kinds of intriguing features that include culturing a family of "sims"--the game's mischievous and mostly autonomous virtual people--to grow up, get married, have kids, grow old, and eventually pass away. At this year's E3, we were finally able to see some of these features in action, and we came away with the distinct impression that they (and plenty of other cool stuff) will all be in the game and will likely be as addictive as ever for Sims fans.

You think they might be gold diggers?
You think they might be gold diggers?

The Sims 2 will feature both enhanced artificial intelligence for sims (who not only will get hungry and sleepy, but will also have memories that will shape their lives) and an all-new "aspiration" system. Aspirations will help give players much more direction, if they want it--by fulfilling your sims' aspirations, you'll make them happier, and they'll live longer. This and other features should solve the common criticism cited by detractors of the first game--many found it to be so open-ended that there sometimes seemed to be nothing of any particular consequence to do. Of course, aspirations, enhanced house decorations, having families, and passing on DNA will all be in The Sims 2, but you won't be required to deal with them, so in essence, it seems like the sequel will offer both more variety and more focus--and in a real game, not just in promises made in interviews (or designer diaries). E3 showed us that The Sims 2 has tremendous potential and that the sequel might just make good on its many lofty promises.

The other Best Strategy Game finalists:

The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-earth (PC)
The Movies (PC/Xbox/PS2/GC)
Rome: Total War (PC)
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War (PC)

Best PC Game

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell 3

Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Read our preview from E3 2004 >>

There were a slew of great PC games at E3, including F.E.A.R., Rome: Total War, and The Sims 2, to name but a few. But our consensus pick for the best PC game of the show came as an easy decision. Splinter Cell 3 is the PC game that blew all of us away, and we freely admit that it came as a total surprise. After all, Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow was released less than two months ago, so how could Ubisoft reload so quickly?

Sam Fisher does not knock gently on doors.

It turns out that Splinter Cell 3 is being designed at Ubisoft's Montreal studio, by the same team responsible for the first game. While Ubisoft's Shanghai studio handled the development duties on Pandora Tomorrow, the folks at Montreal went back to the drawing board with a vengeance, and Splinter Cell 3 is the game that they've been secretly working on for two years.

The game has been announced only for the PC so far, and that's probably because of the new cutting-edge graphics engine. It looks amazing--from the gorgeous lighting and shadowing effects to the way Sam Fisher's state-of-the-art bodysuit practically glistens in the rain. Meanwhile, the environments are beautiful, such as the Chinese compound and the lighthouse by the sea that we were shown.

Pssst! I'm down here!
Pssst! I'm down here!

Eye candy aside, what mesmerized us about Splinter Cell 3 is the game's new attitude. In previous games, Sam Fisher was the nice sort of government assassin; he rarely killed unless it was necessary, and most of the time he just knocked people unconscious. But in Splinter Cell 3, the knives come out, literally. The designers have given Fisher a knife and a viciousness not seen before. He can snap necks, slit throats, throw people off cliffs, and more in his quest to secure the safety of the United States. Frankly, we can't wait to play him.

But just when we thought it couldn't get any better, Ubisoft demonstrated the game's cooperative multiplayer mode, which floored us. We watched as two Splinter Cell commandos worked in tandem to infiltrate a building in an audacious bit of teamwork that had to be seen to be believed. Without resorting to violence, the two players were able to climb to the top of the office tower and hack into a computer in a scene reminiscent of Tom Cruise's hanging-by-a-wire act in Mission: Impossible. And the sheer fact that Ubisoft demonstrated all of this to us live impressed us, because the game is playable and it's for real. It's also the best PC game of the show.

The other Best PC Game finalists:

The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-earth
Rome: Total War
The Sims 2

Best Xbox Game

MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf

Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Day 1 Studios
Read our preview from E3 2004 >>

There were certainly some impressive-looking Xbox games shown at E3 this year. There was even the Xbox's version of an 800-pound gorilla in the form of Halo 2. But while a lot of games showed a whole lot of promise, one game already looked like it was delivering on its promise. That game is Microsoft's new sequel, MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf.

Check out this MechAssault 2 trailer from Microsoft's E3 2004 press conference.

The first game was fantastic, and the sequel builds off of the original in ways you wouldn't expect. Starting out each spawn as just a lowly pilot and having to run to various vehicles has the potential to give the game a class-based feel. Want to provide support? Airlift power-ups to your teammates with the VTOL. Looking for stealth? The tank can turn invisible. Looking to deliver a powerful punch? The mechs are what you want. And for the deviant in all of us, there's the battle armor, which lets you really mess up a foe's day by stealing his mech and killing him in the process. The game even lets out a satisfying "mech jaaaaack" announcement whenever you steal someone's stuff.

Giant robot dueling--what more do you need?
Giant robot dueling--what more do you need?

The game also makes significant graphical improvements over the original. The early version at E3 already had some stellar explosion effects, from the shock waves that ripple out from a mech explosion to the way a building crumbles just right.

It's original from top to bottom and takes the original game's online concepts in several exciting new directions. It's for these reasons that MechAssault 2 is a very easy choice for the best Xbox game at the show.

The other Best Xbox Game finalists:

Burnout 3
Halo 2
Jade Empire
Mortal Kombat: Deception

Best GameCube Game

Resident Evil 4

Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Read our preview from E3 2004 >>

Rarely when developers claim to be overhauling an established franchise do we believe their filthy lies; the "overhaul" often amounts to a few superficial aesthetic changes or some irrelevant peripheral gameplay mechanic. But Capcom sure did make good on its promise to reimagine the Resident Evil series with the fourth, GameCube-exclusive installment. Resident Evil 4 is absolutely not your daddy's Resident Evil, but from what we saw and played of the game at E3, it is going to be one hell of a creepy and entertaining action adventure game.

Are they human?

We'd like to emphasize the "action" part of that sentence, because the biggest and best change in Resident Evil 4 is in fact its shooting-focused gameplay, facilitated by RE4's new camera and controls. The Resident Evil series has gotten a bad reputation over the years for its clunky, archaic control scheme and sometimes-difficult aiming mechanics, but RE4 throws that stuff right out the window. You'll spend the entire game looking over the shoulder of former rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy, switching to a precision aiming mode (complete with laser sight) when it's time to start shooting. The action we played was fast and furious, and it was also easy to get a handle on. Thankfully, you won't be driving Leon around like a tank the way you did in previous games.

Resident Evil 4 will combine faster action with the same stellar graphics that typify the series.
Resident Evil 4 will combine faster action with the same stellar graphics that typify the series.

RE4's over-the-shoulder perspective lets Capcom's artists and level designers give the game a uniquely creepy, cinematic flair that past games in the series haven't been able to match. It doesn't hurt that the graphics we've seen so far are simply some of the best yet on the GameCube. But beyond any apparent technical prowess, there's a real sense of artistry in the quietly sinister woods we crept through in the playable demo. Past Resident Evil games have reeked of B-movie schlock horror, but RE4's much subtler scares make us really curious to find out what creator Shinji Mikami and company have in store for us later this year.

The other Best GameCube Game finalists:

Donkey Kong Jungle Beat
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes
Paper Mario 2
Yoot Saito's Odama

Best PlayStation 2 Game

God of War

Publisher: SCEA
Developer: SCEA
Read our preview from E3 2004 >>

David Jaffe's twisted sense of humor has translated into some pretty great games. Just look at his work on the Twisted Metal series if you need a reference point. His upcoming action adventure game, God of War, looks as though it not only will feature his signature style of humor, but could prove to be one of the best, if not the best, PS2 games of the coming year--at least, if our time playing it at E3 is any indication.

Because who doesn't love horrible stabbings?

Expect plenty of acrobatic combat in God of War.
Expect plenty of acrobatic combat in God of War.

God of War places you in the role of a disgruntled Spartan warrior, who has been ordered by the gods to go out and slay the god of war himself, Ares. The game's action feels like a mixture of the stylish, fluid action of the original Devil May Cry and the kind of puzzle-solving found in a game like ICO or Prince of Persia. The action is brutal, but with an almost frightfully beautiful fluidity to it. Spectacular animation and highly polished graphics really accentuate the many decapitations and otherwise inhumane things you can do to enemies in the game and really make for an almost disturbingly enjoyable experience. The game's puzzle-solving also looks to feature the same kind of morbid hilarity, such as one puzzle where we had to drag a caged prisoner to his fiery doom in order to unlock a door, as the prisoner screamed and shouted, begging for his life.

God of War is still a way off from release, but the demo we played at E3 2004 didn't feel much like a prerelease build. The level of polish displayed was superb, and the gameplay was just a whole lot of fun to experience. The upcoming lineup for the PlayStation 2 is definitely a strong one, but no other game on Sony's roster struck us quite the way God of War did, which is why it certainly deserves to be called the best PS2 game of E3 2004.

The other Best PlayStation 2 Game finalists:

Burnout 3
Final Fantasy XII
Gran Turismo 4
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

Best Game Boy Advance Game

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap

Publisher: Publisher
Developer: Flagship
Read our preview from E3 2004 >>

We all knew an original Zelda game would eventually show up on the Game Boy Advance, but that didn't diminish (sorry) our excitement at the arrival of The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap. This new game is being crafted by the very capable hands of Flagship, the internal Capcom development team who brought us the Game Boy Color Zelda games Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages. Though we didn't get to see a whole lot of the game at E3, what we did see is looking mighty fine.

Get a first look at the latest Zelda adventure for the Game Boy Advance.

At its heart, The Minish Cap is the same 2D, overhead-perspective Zelda you grew up with, but as always, this new iteration of the classic adventure will introduce some neat new mechanics to keep things interesting. Link's eponymous cap is actually sentient and will squawk at you from time to time as you progress through the game. More importantly, the minish cap will let you shrink down to pint size, which will let you access tiny dungeons and some otherwise off-limits areas. The shift between regular and small sizes will create all sorts of new puzzle opportunities for the game's designers. In the short demo dungeon we played, there were even giant mushrooms that we could use to launch ourselves across gaps.

Link's cap has a mind of its own.
Link's cap has a mind of its own.

One of our favorite things about The Minish Cap is that, unlike for the Oracle games (which simply reused graphics from the previous GBC Zelda, Link's Awakening), Flagship is crafting entirely new sprites and tilesets to bring the game's world to life. In fact, the version of Link on display here is stylistically identical to the childish one we saw in The Wind Waker last year, and the few environments we saw have a similarly vibrant, cartoonlike style. Even if it's not being developed by Nintendo, The Minish Cap looks to be Zelda done right, and it ought to be exactly what GBA-owning fans of the series have been waiting for.

The other Best Game Boy Advance Game finalists:

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories
Mario Golf: Advance Tour
Mario Pinball

Best N-Gage Game

Pathway to Glory

Publisher: Nokia
Developer: Nokia
Read our preview from E3 2004 >>

Pathway, Pathway, Pathway. If you ask Nokia reps which N-Gage game they're most excited about, the answer will be the same almost every time. The Finnish mobile giant is betting the reindeer farm on its in-house WWII-themed strategy game, hoping that it will pack enough addictive gameplay to help boost the N-Gage out of the doldrums and into sales contention with other consoles. Although we took a very abridged sneak peek at a pre-alpha build of Pathway in early April, Nokia kept a very tight lid on a playable version, polishing it up for by-appointment-only battles at E3.

When we finally got a crack at a playable Pathway, we were amazed at one feature in particular--the extent to which the live product verified Nokia's hype. Pathway's color palette is as dark and forbidding as the Big One itself, lending an aura of endless attrition to the multiplayer map we sampled. Our squad of soldiers was animated to an incredible degree, demonstrating the extensive motion-capture work put into the game. The in-engine animations and effects were also phenomenally realistic. Buildings didn't just explode when their damage capacity was overwhelmed; they actually appeared to crumble into debris, complete with clouds of mortar dust and a groaning, crashing sound effect. Between the many graphical details and a pounding soundtrack overlaid by old-school news broadcasts and the screams of the dying, Pathway appeared to use the N-Gage's audiovisual abilities to an as-yet-unmatched degree to capture the feel of warfare.

Pathway to Glory might just be the game to change the perception about the N-Gage.
Pathway to Glory might just be the game to change the perception about the N-Gage.

Pathway's multiplayer gameplay and control schema amounted to an additional coup. The development team had obviously taken great pains to ensure that the turn-based multiplayer was as seamless as possible, and it showed. The experience was so immersive that we didn't mind waiting for our Allied opponents to finish their turn. We simply spent the time examining their continuously updated maneuvers in map mode and planning counterattacks. The game's interface also delivered on Nokia's promises to a great extent. Although many of the complex commands (such as switching weapons) were disabled for the purposes of the demo, we could see that the contextual cursor system satisfied many of the core gameplay's needs. For instance, the cursor changed to indicate whether a vehicle was in usable condition, and the color-coded range finding system was a great help in quickly identifying a soldier's feasible moves and available shots.

Pathway to Glory is our N-Gage Best of E3 pick because it offers a cohesive, refined, and original take on the strategy genre. The fact that Nokia appears to be pulling it off on a developing, port-laden platform makes the achievement all the more impressive.

The other Best N-Gage Game finalists:

Operation Shadow
Pocket Kingdom
Spider-Man 2
Worms World Party

Best Mobile Game

Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six 3

Publisher: Gameloft
Developer: Gameloft
Read our preview from E3 2004 >>

Why does yet another Gameloft Tom Clancy title deserve the Big Enchilada from E3? They've done the premise to death--clandestine superoperatives protecting our way of life from a wide assortment of malevolent ideologues, over and over again. And yet, no matter how many times the French developer alerts us to a new geopolitical hot zone that needs infiltrating, we come back salivating, our phones at the ready.

In this case, Gameloft has applied a different spin to its usual stealth-game formula by including team mechanics--you can pick and choose anywhere from one to four soldiers to man your terrorist-wrecking crew. More importantly, you can rely on the solid character AI to get the job done on both sides of the ski mask. Your team members will react adroitly to combat situations based on the orders you give them, and the bad guys have grown quite a bit smarter than they were in their last clandestine bit of skulduggery. Guards from many similar games seem to possess the perceptive and analytical faculties of the Keystone Kops, but not these guys; they'll respond to errant gunshots like wildfire, and if you get too tricky they'll use radio communication to call for backup or instruct their fellows to kill hostages and detonate bombs. These changes are striking because they make RS3 look and feel like it is populated by actual characters, rather than the one-dimensional sprites that grace most mobile titles.

The attribute that pushes RS3 over the top, however, is its innovative cursor-based interface. If you click on any object, a slick circular menu pops up offering you a range of contextual choices, some of which combine frequently used actions. For instance, you can open a door and chuck one of several different types of grenades using one command. Furthermore, the cursor itself will change depending on the situation: If you have an opportunity to stab an unsuspecting guard, for instance, the cursor will change to a little knife icon when it's maneuvered over the victim. It's possible to play this relatively complex title with one hand, which is an impressive feat of design all by itself.

All told, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six 3 gets our nod for Mobile's Best of E3 because its under-the-hood improvements and novel gameplay tweaks convincingly make an old premise new again. We are looking forward to this game in the next few months, and you should be too.

The other Best Mobile Game finalists:

Pac Puzzle
Super Real Tennis

Sam Fisher moves through the shadows in this clip.

Game of the Show

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell 3 (PC)

Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Read our preview from E3 2004 >>

Many E3 showgoers this year agreed on several factors at this year's show: one, that the overall level of quality of the gaming experiences on display seemed to be quite high; two, that the majority of the games at E3 2004 were sequels or were otherwise based on existing properties; three, that many of this year's hottest E3 games were, in fact, last year's hottest E3 games; and four, that as a result of one, two, and three, very few games managed to truly stand out. But we could think of one very noteworthy exception: Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell 3, the recipient of GameSpot's 2004 Electronic Entertainment Expo Game of the Show Award.

Sam likes to drop in unexpectedly on friends.
Sam likes to drop in unexpectedly on friends.

We should note that one of the main reasons we were so impressed with Splinter Cell 3 is that, in addition to all of the remarkable technology and innovative gameplay we were treated to during Ubisoft's lengthy behind-closed-doors demonstration of the game (much of which you can see in the gameplay movies we've posted), the game is supposedly shipping this year, at least for the PC. And our award is predicated on the belief that this isn't too good to be true. Ubisoft, a publicly held and highly competitive publisher, cannot afford to make significant mistakes about projected release dates and has also demonstrated a good track record of hitting its dates over the past couple of years. And as we watch and rewatch the video of the game in action, we just have to keep reminding ourselves of all that. It's amazing to think that we'll be playing this game relatively soon.

Yes, Splinter Cell 3 is a sequel, but Ubisoft isn't using that as license to just rehash the previous, award-winning stealth action games in the series. The game will feature a ton of new moves and abilities for its memorable main character, Sam Fisher. And it'll take on a much more brutal tone than previous Splinter Cell games; let's just say Fisher won't be afraid to get his hands dirty this time around. Additionally, the game will feature what looks like a tremendously entertaining cooperative play mode, which will allow pairs of agents to help each other through some extremely dangerous areas. Rather than just shoot at the same targets, agents will be able to collaborate in never-before-seen ways, such as by using one another as human ladders to scale obstacles they could never circumvent alone.

Splinter Cell 3's visuals are also looking absolutely incredible--much better than those of the previous games in the series, which, given the level of quality of the series' presentation, is saying a whole lot. At any rate, Splinter Cell 3 just blew us away when we saw it at E3. We can only hope the game will live up to such an extraordinarily good first impression.

The other Game of the Show finalists:

Burnout 3 (Xbox, PS2)
God of War (PS2)
MechAssault 2 (Xbox)
Resident Evil 4 (GC)

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