E3 2012 is in the books, and while we’ve already provided extensive coverage through news, previews, and interviews, it’s time to get down to it and name the best (and most disappointing, in some cases) of the show. Our PAX East 2012 coverage saw big winners in Assassins Creed 3, Borderlands 2, and Max Payne 3, but E3 is a whole different scene.
Check out our winners (and losers) of E3 2012, and let us know your picks for the best the show had to offer!
Best in Show: Borderlands 2
The game that took home our “Best of PAX East 2012″ awards for “Best Console Game” and “Longest Line” somehow improves upon its showing at PAX East 2012 to win “Best in Show” at E3 2012. The sequel to Gearbox’s imaginative first person shooter RPG not only brought bigger baddies and more powerful firearms, but a whole slew of classes, a revamped multiplayer system, and one of the coolest booth setups we’ve ever seen. Check out our hands-on preview of Borderlands 2, and get ready to head back to Pandora this September!
Best Console Game: Halo 4
The general consensus at VGW was that the staff wasn’t overly excited for 343 Industries’ first foray into the Halo universe without the original team at Bungie to supervise things, but our hands-on time changed all of that. We saw refreshing (and deadly) new enemies, a new set of weapons, and a video demo that hinted at some deep, emotional plotlines. Halo 4 also signals the return of everybody’s favorite Spartan, Master Chief, and will bring about quite possibly the biggest change in the series’ multiplayer since Xbox Live was introduced into the formula with Halo 2.
Best PC Game: Hawken
The first effort from Adhesive games may not be as gorgeous as Far Cry 3 on PC, but it’s a free to play Mech-based first person shooter with an intentionally dirty, dusty world. If those words aren’t enough to at least get you interested in Hawken, consider these observations: After 45 minutes of playing Hawken — even in its pre-Alpha state — we were borderline depressed to leave and journey to our next appointment. Hawken also scratches your MechAssault and Call of Duty itch at the same time, and has such a breadth of customization you’ll get happily lost in the pre-game menus. The environment and mechs themselves are kitbashing-inspired, and the actual gameplay is tight, exciting, and addictive. This doesn’t look or play like a free to play game, but it has the potential to suck in everyone from League of Legends buffs to MechWarrior fans to FPS players. Quite simply, it was the most fun we had with a game at E3. The open beta begins 12-12-12, so keep an eye out.
Best Handheld Game: Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation
The Assassin’s Creed name, plus introduction of a female assassin into the series, would likely be enough to sell copies of the concurrently releasing Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, but Ubisoft didn’t want to cheapen one of its most popular franchises with a cheap handheld spin-off. We were skeptical as we approached the demo Vita, but we came away with the feeling that Liberation could very well be the first game that is going to make people go out and buy a Vita. Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation is so much more than just a way for Ubisoft to make money on desperate Vita owners; it’s a potential system seller. Check out our full hands-on preview here.
Best Mobile Game: Project Dragon: The Roar from the Dungeon
As the title that looks to bring Diablo III-esque gameplay to your iPad, Project Dragon: The Road from the Dungeon has some lofty expectations, to say the least. The fully 3D MMORPG will allow for players to create and join guilds, engage in PvP action, loot everything in sight, and join a server with up to 5,000 people, all in the palm of your hand (granted your hand is holding an iPhone or iPad… an Android version isn’t coming quite yet). The ambitious title doesn’t have a release date yet, but when it does finally launch, it’s sure to shoot to the top of every core gamer’s iOS wishlist.
Best Indie Game: Sound Shapes
The gaming world is inundated with retro platformers and games with great soundtracks. What the world doesn’t have is a platformer in which you, the gamer, control the soundtrack through your movements. At least, not yet. Jonathan Mak (the developer behind Everyday Shooter), seeks to change this with the help of Shaw-Han Liem and a roundup of superstar indie developers from the likes of Pixeljam Games, Superbrothers, and others.
From what we saw at the show, the music, while partially provided by Deadmau5 and other popular electronic artists, is dynamically tied to levels in the game as well as objects within the level. This means the soundtrack will change depending on how you play. Also included is a robust level designer which will allow you to create your own sounds style, all while utilizing the Vita’s features in a seamless, amazingly customizable way. A unique concept, amazing music and sublime art, Sound Shapes is our indie pick of E3.
Best Playable Game: Dishonored
Bethesda’s most recent new IP showed a lot of promise in the videos and trailers we had seen up to this point, but our time playing the upcoming stealth-action game, Dishonored, made us realize just how great this title could turn out to be. The game introduces the element of choice much in the way that staff-favorite Deus Ex: Human Revolution did; do you approach a room guns firing, or do you try to make your way through an area stealthily picking off enemies one by one? While you won’t have the killer augmentations that you had access to in DXHR, you will be able to perform a whole set of crazy moves including AI character possession. Check out our full preview to learn more.
Best Video Demo: Watch Dogs
The game that caught everyone by surprise, Watch Dogs brought some much needed excitement to an E3 that saw most announcements leaking out prior to the press conferences. The title takes place in the not-too-distant future and features a skilled hacker playing the role of the antihero in this tech-based third person action title. The presentation and animations are so advanced that people actually assumed it was a next-gen title. While the high-quality footage shown off at E3 was most likely of the PC version, the animations will likely carry over into the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions when this game launches sometime in 2013.
Most Anticipated Sequel: Call of Duty: Black Ops 2
Let’s face it, we pretty much all have first-person shooter fatigue that is likely brought on by the onslaught of Call of Duty titles over the past several years. Luckily, the footage shown of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 not only showed extreme potential in improving upon the already-solid shooting mechanics, but it expanded upon that formula in the most innovative way in series history. The new “Overwatch” mode will allow players to assume a commanding role, rather than a soldier role, turning the popular shooter into a real-time strategy title at the press of a button. Combine that with the promise of bigger and better multiplayer, as well as the return of the popular Treyarch Zombie survival mode, and you have a game could possibly take the most popular gaming franchise today to the next level. Check out our full preview to learn more.
Most Anticipated New IP: Dishonored
Narrowly beating out titles like Watch Dogs and The Last of Us to win this category is the upcoming title from Bethesda. The blend of action and stealth that Dishonored brings to the table means tons of potential for the upcoming release. From the multitude of ways that each mission can be approached, to the different abilities that can be acquired by characters, Dishonored looks to bring the action that mainstream players crave, while maintaining that famous Bethesda depth that hardcore gamers adore.
Best Action Game: Dead Space 3
There’s no way around calling Dead Space 2 one of the best action games of 2011, so when Electronic Arts announced that Dead Space 3 would be introducing cooperative gameplay with a “drop-in” twist, fans of games like Gears of War and Army of Two could almost be heard drooling. The boss battles, which appear to be reactive based on the way the two players interact, set the stage for something that could prove to be very special for fans of third-person shooters. Check out our full preview and look for this game in February 2013.
Best Platforming Game: Sound Shapes
As mentioned above, Sound Shapes will offer a much needed unique approach to the platformer genre. The game’s dynamic use of music, coupled with smooth, innovative gameplay makes it a must have for Vita and PS3 owners. The graphics have a muted, retro feel that is sure to make Sound Shapes every bit an indie darling as Journey and Flower.
Best Puzzle Game: Quantum Conundrum
Our pick for “Best Puzzle Game” of PAX East 2012 maintains its title at E3 2012. Quantum Conundrum, the Square Enix-published brainchild of former Portal designer, Kim Swift, looks to have the same winning formula as Swift’s breakthrough project. With witty dialog, brilliant writing, and, of course, mind-bending puzzles, it’s easy to see why the community is excited about the upcoming puzzler. Check out our PAX East 2012 preview to learn more about the two-time winner of “Best Puzzle Game.”
Best RPG: Ni no Kuni
E3 2012 was definitely the “Year of the Shooter” but RPGs still had a strong presence, and we’d by lying if we didn’t admit to being enthralled by Ni no Kuni, the joint collaboration between Level 5 and animation vets Studio Ghibli. We first got a taste of the English version at Namco Bandai’s Global Gamer Day in Vegas, and the RPG was on hand again at E3, teasing us with its January 2013 release date. So why is it on this list? The animation is stunning, the soundtrack is stirring, and the story is endearing. Players guide Oliver through a parallel world as he learns magic strong enough to vanquish The White Witch and rescue his dead mother. It evokes the same kind of JRPG love we felt for titles like Lunar: Silver Star. Shockingly, the game sold poorly in Japan but it deserves a second chance when it hits North American shores next year.
Best Shooting Game: Borderlands 2
Surprise, surprise! Our “Best in Show” winner also wins for the best game in its genre as well. With stiff competition like Far Cry 3, Gears of War: Judgment, Halo 4, and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, the fact that Borderlands 2 won this category as well speaks volumes for how impressed we were by it. New bad guys, new weapons, new missions, and more all point to Borderlands 2 being an unmissable title for 2012.
Best Strategy Game: XCOM: Enemy Unknown
In 1994, Microprose released a strategy game called XCOM: UFO Defense which, like most games with Sid Meier attached, developed a loyal following and a place in gaming canon. While fan reaction was mixed on 2K Marin’s FPS re-imagining of the series, there is no question that the XCOM: Enemy Unknown will be the definitive reboot in the franchise. From our demo, the game features the classic, turn-based strategy the games were renowned for. Many of the classic villains will return, though much of the gameplay looks vastly improved upon. The game will not only release on PC, it will also release on PS3 and Xbox 360, making this one strategy classic you have no excuse to miss.
Best Digital Release: Sound Shapes
We’ve gushed about Sound Shapes throughout this article, so why does it win yet another award? Well, for a couple of reasons. Again, it’s impossible to understate what a unique, enjoyable concept the game is, on the whole. The game will release simultaneously on PS3 and Vita, and purchasing on one system will automatically get the game on the other system. If nothing else, the music alone will be worth the entry price of the game.
Best Press Conference: Ubisoft
Ubisoft brought the heavy hitters to this year’s E3. It’s simply amazing that the publisher could provide such a strong lineup of games at its own press conference, while providing prominently featured and highly anticipated titles at each of the big three press conferences. Ubisoft also brought with it the biggest surprise of E3 2012: the futuristic hack-based thriller, Watch Dogs. Perhaps the best part of the Ubisoft press conference was the fact that it flowed well and felt natural; a rare trait for press conferences at E3.
Best Booth Setup: 2K Games
Even though all eyes appear to be on Ubisoft if you browse our awards, 2K Games brought much more to the table than just our winner of “Best in Show,” Borderlands 2. Games like XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Spec Ops: The Line, and much more contributed to a bar and lounge setting that stuck with us through all of the other outrageously awesome booths we visited during E3 2012. Had BioShock Infinite been there, 2K Games may have given Ubisoft a run for its money.
Longest Line: Epic Mickey 2 – Oswald Ears
That’s right; the longest line at E3 2012 was not seen at Gears of War: Judgment, Halo 4, Borderlands 2, Assassin’s Creed III, Nintendo or The Last of Us. Instead, the line that stretched the longest was for Epic Mickey 2‘s swag: the customizable Oswald Ear hats. The hats, which are very similar to the Mickey Hats that can be purchased at Disney World and Disney Land, were the must-have items of E3 2012, and are now fetching some serious cash on sites like eBay. It’s unfortunate that a gaming convention’s longest line was for a piece of swag, but in the end, we’re sure the development team of Epic Mickey 2 sure didn’t mind the legions of E3 attendees acting as walking advertisements for much of the conference.
Publisher of the Show: Ubisoft
Assassin’s Creed III, Far Cry 3, ZombiU, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, Rayman Legends, Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth, Just Dance 4, Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2013, and Watch Dogs; the simple fact that all of these games are put out by the same publisher is impressive. Introduce the fact that this was just its lineup at one E3, and it’s actually quite staggering. In addition to some of the most impressive shooters, platformers, action, and fitness games at the show, Ubisoft also brought the most impressive title for the upcoming Wii U in ZombiU. Sure, 2K Games had Borderlands 2 and XCOM, Square Enix had Hitman and Tomb Raider, Microsoft had Halo 4 and Gears of War: Judgment, and EA had Dead Space 3 and SimCity, but none of these lineups can compare to the special showing by Ubisoft.
Biggest Surprise Announcement: Watch Dogs
As mentioned before, the overarching theme of E3 2012 seemed to be “ruined surprises.” From the leak of Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation just days prior to the start of E3 2012, to Dead Space 3 being the worst-kept secret of the show, the fact that Ubisoft could keep such an impressive demo under wraps until its big reveal at its press conference was almost unheard of. The near-future Chicago setting looked vibrant and unsettling, but the promise of the game made us impatient to get our hands on it. Unfortunately, it’s looking like we’ll be waiting a bit longer, as Watch Dogs looks to come out sometime in 2013.
Most Disappointing Showing: Nintendo
It was a rough year for Nintendo. Before its press conference, the Wii U’s innovative features were both emulated to an extent by Sony and Microsoft. Then, when the iconic gaming company finally did take the stage, hardware specs, internet capabilities, pricing details, and release date information was very hard to come by. Many people actually claimed that Nintendo’s press conference made them less excited for the upcoming Nintendo console. Combine that with the fact that the 3DS received very little attention outside of its separate online feed, and you have one messy and underwhelming showing by gaming’s biggest name.
Most Telling No-Show: The Last Guardian
At this point, we think it’s fair to start questioning the existence of Team Ico’s The Last Guardian. The title, which was originally shown off at E3 2009, has been pushed back year after year, and was most recently dated for sometime in 2012. With designer and director Fumito Ueda leaving Sony as a full-time employee, the status of The Last Guardian has been up in the air ever since. Ico’s cult-like following was dying for more information regarding the anticipated title, but as another E3 came and went with nary a passing mention, it’s unlikely that we’ll see The Last Guardian on store shelves anytime soon.
Editor’s Note: Jason Evangelho and Jen Bosier contributed to portions of this article.