E3 2014 is over, leaving us with the promise that this whole "video games" thing might be around for a while-or at least until E3 2015. This year's show saw the big three console companies deliver plenty of convincing reasons to squeeze their new machines into your crowded entertainment center, and senior editor Bob Mackey tried his damnedest to find the best of the best.
Best of ShowMetal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (Kojima Productions/Konami | PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360)
Metal Gear Solid V haunted my dreams. Even though my time with the game was limited to an hour-long, hands off demo, Konami's presentation single-handedly rekindled my interest in a series that, based on recent events, went a bit off the rails. It may seem odd to give a game I didn't actually play the coveted "Best of Show" award, but The Phantom Pain mixes the best elements of Snake Eater and Peace Walker and applies them to the vastly improved stealth mechanics seen in the recent prologue, Ground Zeroes. Your Metal Gear tastes might not be as specific as mine, but Hideo Kojima's latest creation carries a sense of ambition that expensive, triple-A titles don't often seek out. Simply put, I'm glad he's still doing his thing.
Best New IdeaMario Maker (Nintendo | Wii U)
I've always adored the premise of the LittleBigPlanet series, and its distinct (and often excessive) sense of whimsy, but LBP's physics-based platforming always felt a little clunky. So when I heard some pre-E3 whisperings about something called "Mario Maker," I was intrigued-imagine, crafting levels built around the most familiar platforming mechanics known to mankind. A few days later, you could find me on the show floor creating a pyramid of hammer brothers held aloft by a row of winged goombas, with a green shell placed conveniently nearby to quickly end their reign of terror. At this point, Mario Maker doesn't feel like much more than a toy, but it has the potential to be something great-provided, of course, Nintendo encourages player creativity by adding features that facilitate sharing, commenting on, and voting for user creations.
Let's Hope it Plays Like it LooksBloodborne (From Software, SCE Japan Studio/Sony Computer Entertainment | PS4)
You wouldn't have to show me a single frame of Bloodborne to get me on board. A next-gen game brought to you by the director of Demon's and Dark Souls? Done. I'd even sink so low as to post SHUT_UP_AND_TAKE_MY_MONEY.jpg and immediately retire out of meme-shame. Based on some recent interviews, Bloodborne looks like it's shaping up to be a much darker game than the recent Dark Souls 2, making it more in line with Demon's Souls-the director even stated the game's tone would be similar to the ultra-creepy Tower of Latria from Demon's. Sign me up for a PS4 already.
Why Did it Have to be 2015!?Xenoblade Chronicles X (Monolith Soft/Nintendo | Wii U)
It's astounding that we almost never saw the first Xenoblade here in the states -- though it may be even more amazing that Monolith took the Xeno brand and redeemed it after a misguided PS2-era trilogy. No one else seems to be willing to develop an RPG for the Wii U, so it's entirely possible Chronicles X could be its only one-though this isn't going to be a Quest 64-style tragedy. The original Xenoblade felt like it was aching to be an HD game, so I'm genuinely excited to see Monolith soft give those sprawling worlds the Wii U treatment.
The Farming Sim Cold War AwardHarvest Moon 3D: The Lost Valley (Natsume | 3DS)
Stay with me, now: There are going to be two Harvest Moons this year, but one of them isn't called Harvest Moon-not in America, anyway. XSEED's Story of Seasons seems like a competent annual update to Yasuhiro Wada's unstoppable farming sim, but Harvest Moon 3D: The Lost Valley is a lot more ambitious, taking cues from Minecraft by letting players sculpt the world around them. The Lost Valley also eliminates a lot of pesky item management by emphasizing contextual actions instead of forcing you to switch to the appropriate tool. If you want to chop down a tree and have an axe in your inventory, you only need to approach that tree and hit a single button. This focus on game flow definitely makes for a much smoother experience, and one of the most modern-feeling Harvest Moon games in years.
Most Improved Monster HuntingFreedom Wars (SCE Japan Studio, Shift, Dimps/ SCE | Vita)
I had no idea what to expect from Freedom Wars-it was one of those "there's no line, so I guess I'll play this" experiences that sometimes end up surprising me at E3. I'm still on board for Monster Hunter 4U, of course, but Freedom Wars adds a new element of mobility that Capcom's series lacks. Characters in the game can use a grappling hook to zip around the environments, swing from the bodies of colossal beasts, or pull these giant creatures to the ground, where they're much easier to attack. Being a Vita title, it's probably not going to set the world on fire, but I'm just happy Sony is willing to localize Freedom Wars so close to its Japanese launch.
Best Revival of an Idea that Left Me Wanting MoreCaptain Toad: Treasure Tracker (Nintendo | Wii U)
Video games often forget that any piece of entertainment should leave you wanting more-and yet, I've finished so many games out of nothing more than a weary sense of obligation. That certainly wasn't the case with Super Mario 3D World, which served up just a handful of Captain Toad levels before its satisfying conclusion. I'm incredibly happy Nintendo brought back this idea and expanded upon it, because there's still so much they can do with the premise. Who knew, for instance, that the puzzle-platforming of Captain Toad could easily transition into a first-person rail shooter? I'm hoping for more surprises when the game launches later this year.
The "I Really, Really Should Have Played This" Honorary MentionEvolve (Turtle Rock Studios/2K Games | PC, PS4, Xbox One)
I'm not really a competitive guy-at least, in terms of gaming. Yet I played the phenomenal Left for Dead 2 for over 100 hours thanks to its brilliant emphasis on teamwork. Turtle Rock didn't work on that specific sequel of course, but they did create the foundation that made me revisit Left 4 Dead time and time again. I haven't found a competitive online game to play since I shelved L4D2 a few years ago, so I'm hoping Evolve fills that spot. Just be sure to take it easy on me if you see me online.