After years of waiting for the next-generation consoles to take center stage, the 2013 edition of E3 finally brought the sense of innovation and newness in games we expect to ride shotgun with such a sea change. Blockbuster games are leveraging the hardware in powerful new ways, indie games have found a nicer seat at the table, and even the handhelds had a banner year with several Vita and 3DS titles turning heads. Here are our 2013 E3 Best in Show Awards:
BEST ACTION GAME: BATMAN: ARKHAM ORIGINS
With Batman: Arkham Asylum, relatively unknown developer Rocksteady kicked off the best comic-based game series of the modern generation. For the third entry, the highly successful studio has handed development duties over to Warner Bros. Games Montreal, and the franchise doesn't look to be skipping a beat. Batman: Arkham Origins is a prequel title that follows Batman in his rough and tumble years, pitting him against a younger Joker and other villains like Deathstroke and Black Mask. The visceral, responsive combat still serves as the heart of the experience, along with new detective gameplay that lets Batman rewind crime scenes to aid investigation. Arkham Origins feels great and promises to maintain the Caped Crusader's good reputation.
BEST ADVENTURE GAME: THE WALKING DEAD: 400 DAYS
Telltale's The Walking Dead: 400 Days bridges the gap between seasons one and two, and it looks to keep everything we love about The Walking Dead. Tense decisions, difficult choices, and plenty of jaw-dropping moments all return in a new scenario that follows five different character stories and takes you from day one of the zombie apocalypse all the way to day 400. That means different scenarios will reflect the time in the world. In one story, a diner can look untouched, but later have boarded-up windows, acting as a safe haven. Telltale showed off newcomer Vince's story at E3, and the the dialogue was spot-on, balancing humor and moral dilemmas. By the end of the tale, one thing was clear: Telltale still knows how to shock. Not only did an alliance have to be forged, but plenty of blood was shed to get there. That's some impressive emotional torture for only one portion of this adventure.
BEST MMO GAME: THE ELDER SCROLLS ONLINE
After almost two decades of single-player adventures, players finally got the chance at this year's E3 to explore the world of Tamriel with other players at their side. Elder Scrolls Online draws from many of the successful mechanics seen in recent MMOs, boasting extensive voice acting, an action-oriented combat system, and story-based questing that moves past the standard grind. While the true breadth of any MMO is hard to gauge in a short hands-on session, Zenimax Online went a long way towards proving to show goers that its new MMO has the chops to carry the legendary moniker. Moreover, the announcement that Elder Scrolls Online is coming to both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in addition to the previously announced PC version assures that the same mass audience who enjoyed Oblivion and Skyrim on consoles can give this new experiment a shot.
BEST MULTIPLAYER GAME: TITANFALL
Battlefield 4's multiplayer would have stolen the show during any other E3, but this year a titan fell to Earth. Half of Respawn's development team is made up of former Infinity Ward members, so you know Titanfall is poised to deliver in terms of gameplay and customization. The team is so confident in its competitive experience that there is no true single-player campaign. Instead, Titanfall merges the blockbuster campaign feel into multiplayer, with dramatic epilogue and prologue missions, along with NPC fodder to bring war zones to life. The cat and mouse gameplay between the mechanical Titans and their lithe pilots captured the imagination of E3 showgoers, and it was easily the most talked about multiplayer game at the show.
BEST MUSIC/RHYTHM GAME: FANTASIA: MUSIC EVOLVED
Harmonix has a legacy of creating great music games, from Guitar Hero and Rock Band to one of the most successful games on Kinect: Dance Central. The studio is leveraging its expertise with a new partnership with Disney, and early impressions are overwhelmingly positive. The exploratory sequences through underwater shoals and magical newspaper factories echo the artistic flair of the original Disney films, but the magic of the performance mode steals the show. Whether you think of your movements as dancing, conducting, or sorcery, there's something exciting about crafting your own version of a familiar song, and listening as your movements translate to sound.
BEST PLATFORMER: SUPER MARIO 3D WORLD
Other platformers like Rayman Legends and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze got E3 attendees talking, but the old plumber once again proved he still has a lot to give. With Super Mario 3D World, Nintendo marries the four-player action of the company's recent platforming adventures with a 3D world. Even better, the four playable characters have their classic Mario 2-era characteristics, including Luigi's amped-up height and Peach's levitation. The results are chaotic, classic Mario.
BEST RACING GAME: NEED FOR SPEED: RIVALS
The single-player demos for Gran Turismo 6, Forza 5, and Driveclub were left in the dust by Need for Speed Rivals' team-oriented multiplayer demo. The cops-versus-racers formula provides an addictive mix of racing and vehicular combat in a gorgeous open-world setting that Criterion fans will feel right at home in. The new All Drive feature promises to blend single- and multiplayer racing into one cohesive experience, allowing Rivals to race away with our Best Racing Game award with ease.
BEST ROLE-PLAYING GAME: THE WITCHER 3: WILD HUNT
The Witcher's branching narratives and multidimensional characters have enthralled RPG gamers. Wild Hunt maintains the series' high standard for storytelling while presenting players with a massive, open world to explore. CD Projekt Red's demo took Geralt through a multistage sequence featuring a murder investigation, a battle against a giant forest monster, and several difficult player decisions that drastically affect the optional side quest's outcome. CD Projekt Red says the game features 100 hours of gameplay, giving players plenty to experience in their first next-gen RPG.
BEST SHOOTER: TITANFALL
Since the former Call of Duty developers at Respawn lost all their tech during the messy divorce with Activision, the team had to start from scratch by heavily modifying Valve's Source engine and jumping from a modern military setting to science fiction. That makes Titanfall's debut at E3 all the more impressive. With no previous tech base to pull from and facing stiff competition from heavily iterated franchises like Battlefield 4, Killzone: Shadow Fall, and Call of Duty, Respawn still took away top honors thanks to Titanfall's fluid aiming and mobility and inventive approach to blending single- and multiplayer.
BEST SPORTS GAME: FIFA 14
The beautiful game lives up to its name on next-generation consoles. Playable behind closed doors despite being several months away from release on two brand-new consoles, FIFA 14 was the darling of the sports games at E3. Crowds feel more alive than any other sports sim to date, and thanks to many tweaks under the hood, the fidelity of control has been improved in relation to passing, shooting, heading, and defending. If FIFA 14 is any indication, EA Sports is poised to erase its tarnished reputation when it comes to transitioning to new consoles.
BEST STRATEGY GAME: TOTAL WAR: ROME II
Creative Assembly is taking a two-pronged approach to improving its already stellar Total War series. To better assist players in managing their sprawling empires, Rome II streamlines troop recruitment, city-state management, diplomacy, and trade without sacrificing the depth for which the series is known. To improve the cinematic feel of the large-scale real-time strategy battles, the developer allows you to zoom the camera right into the fray to make you feel like you are standing shoulder to shoulder with your infantry as they violently clash with the enemy. Judging from our time with the game at E3, these tactics are working in tandem to make Rome II the must-play strategy game of 2013.
BEST TECH: OCULUS RIFT HD
The eyes of the gaming world were focused squarely on new consoles this year, but those that donned the Oculus Rift HD headset had another impressive piece of hardware to rave about. The amazing 1080p prototype unit showcased Unreal Engine 4, but even the standard-def Eve dogfighting demo wowed those that played it. We wouldn't be surprised to see many VR skeptics become believers when Oculus VR eventually releases a consumer version of the hardware.
BEST DOWNLOADABLE GAME: TRANSISTOR
Supergiant Games' last effort, Bastion, is one of the best downloadable games of recent years. Our time with Transistor on PlayStation 4 indicates we can expect more of that same high bar of quality. Mixing turn-based play with action-oriented combat, Transistor feels like a wholly original gameplay loop. Equally important, Transistor's fascinating fiction has us intrigued, offering a rich urban cityscape of sci-fi towers, mysterious allies, and deadly robotic enemies. With next-gen visuals fueling the whole affair, Transistor is an easy game to highlight in the next generation of indies.
BEST MOBILE GAME: PLANTS VS. ZOMBIES 2
PopCap's original Plants vs. Zombies was so addictive that we're still logging in from time to time to shoot peas at the undead. The sequel ramps up the action with hordes of new zombies, lawn obstacles that require you to change your strategy, and a Super Mario Bros. 3 style map that lets you pick which missions you want to play next. The new Bloomerang plant attacks multiple enemies at once, but the boxing Bonk Choy steals the show.
BEST MULTIPLATFORM GAME: TITANFALL
Microsoft has exclusive console dibs on Titanfall, but its also heading to PCs, so gamers with powerful rigs won't have to let Microsoft's console deal affect their choice between the PS4 and Xbox One if they want to play. The impressive build Respawn showed off at E3 was running on the Xbox One, but the developer says a 360 version is being created by a handpicked studio that has yet to be named. Respawn is using the Xbox One's cloud technology for AI and physics systems, so we already know the 360 version may have to make some concessions, but nevertheless this was the most impressive multiplatform game we saw on the showfloor.
BEST 3DS EXCLUSIVE: THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: A LINK BETWEEN WORLDS
Nintendo is no stranger to revisiting classic franchises and formulas, and its taking yet another look at one of gaming's greatest titles with The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. Set in the same universe (and featuring the same general overworld layout) as 1992's A Link to The Past, this 3DS title impresses with its 3D touch-ups of the classic 16-bit sprites. While the overworld may look familiar, Nintendo promises brand-new dungeons that should please old and new fans alike.
BEST VITA EXCLUSIVE: TEARAWAY
Media Molecule is known for bringing a creative flair to the action/platform genre, and its new Vita title Tearaway follows in the charming footsteps of the LittleBigPlanet series. Tearaway transports players into a world made entirely of paper, with storybook levels that fold and unfold to reveal hidden areas and secrets. The game also breaks the fourth wall by allowing the player to manipulate the world with the Vita's back touchpad and touchscreen controls. You can rip through the player game world with your finger on the back touchpad, sending enemies flying, or use it to bounce drums that help protagonist Iota reach higher platforms. You can also unroll bridges or peel away barriers with the front touchscreen. All in all, it's another inventive and infectious title from Media Molecule.
BEST PC EXCLUSIVE: TOTAL WAR: ROME II
At the crossroads of historical accuracy and real-time strategy sits the Total War series. Each time it tackles or revisits a new historical setting, Creative Assembly does its due diligence to make sure the game plays within the confines of the time period. However, that doesn't stop them from pushing the boundaries of the genre. The short hands-on demo of The Battle of the Nile between Egyptian and Roman forces demonstrated the impressive marriage of scale and attention to detail found in Rome II's battles. Pulling out to a bird's eye view gave us a quick way to issue several troop orders, but zooming in on the clashes gave the battles a sense of drama these massive encounters deserve.
BEST WII U EXCLUSIVE: SUPER MARIO 3D WORLD
Nintendo has rounded up Super Mario Bros. 2's cast – complete with their unique abilities – and taken them out in an all-new 3D adventure. Peach, Mario, Luigi, and Toad navigate tricky new worlds and challenges while gaining new abilities. The cat transformation stole the show at E3, turning each of the heroes into a feline facsimile of their ordinary selves, allowing players to bound up walls and even shimmy up the traditional end-of-level flagpole. That's not cheating, is it?
BEST PLAYSTATION EXCLUSIVE: INFAMOUS: SECOND SON
Antihero Delsin Rowe comes off as an arrogant jerk in the Second Son demo, but is it any wonder? He's living in an oppressive future, where having superpowers is punishable by law. Seattle becomes his playground as he fights the power using a mixture of his fire- and smoke-based abilities. The E3 demo showed off the PS4's impressive power with particle effects and some of the best smoke clouds we've seen. We can't wait to tear into the game – and the city.
BEST XBOX EXCLUSIVE: DEAD RISING 3
At its press conference Microsoft announced that the newest installment of the Dead Rising series is an Xbox One exclusive, and it's clear Capcom is putting the power of the next-gen system to good use. Capcom Vancouver is crafting an open-world city that's larger than the land mass of the first two Dead Rising games combined, and is adding more weapons, crafting combinations, vehicles, and on-screen enemies to boot. Don't let the more mature tone fool you; there will still be plenty of goofy costumes to let you play the fool in the zombie apocalypse.
BEST IN SHOW: TITANFALL
Leave it up to Respawn Entertainment, a studio half comprised of former Infinity Ward developers, to get gamers excited for a new IP that merges the crowded shooter and mech genres. After a messy break up with Activision, Respawn comes out of the gate swinging with a next-gen Xbox One and PC title that blurs the line between single- and multiplayer. Towering mech suits called Titans rocket onto the battlefield via orbital drops, letting players transition from fluid on-foot gunplay to intense mech battles. Factor in the ex-Infinity Ward crew's knack for deep progression and pitch-perfect shooting, and you have the poster child for next-gen gaming.