E3 2014 is over, and now it's time to reflect on the show's highlights. Jaz Rignall has attended every convention since 1995 – and even went to six CES shows before that – so you might think he's a little jaded. But that's not the case, and indeed he thinks this is one of the best shows in many years. Here are his top picks:
Best of Show
LittleBigPlanet 3 (Sumo Digital/Sony | PS4)
The fact that in almost 20 years, I don't think I've ever had as broad and difficult a choice for E3 Best of Show is pretty damn good news for gaming. This year's expo was packed with greatness. I don't think gaming has necessarily reached new heights per se; it's more that there's a plethora of extremely high caliber games. No matter what you're into, there's something to be really excited about.
If I'd got the chance to actually play The Division, it might well have been a best for me, but it's not playable so I can't nominate it. For the same reason, I can't nominate No Man's Sky, or Everybody's Gone to the Rapture. I haven't seen enough of DriveClub to nominate that either – brilliant though it looks.
So in the end, I'm simply judging by this one criterion: what did I enjoy playing the most? And that's LittleBigPlanet 3. Yoshi's Wooly World and Mario Maker are not far behind, but in the end, playing LBP 3 with three other players was fantastic fun. Within moments, we were laughing and smiling and pointing at the screen as we tried to figure out how to work together to solve its environmental puzzles. At a show packed full of intriguing games with gritty themes and tactical challenges, it reminded me that one of the most important and fundamental parts of gaming is simply having fun with friends – even ones you don't know. The incredible ease in which LBP3 facilitated that means it gets the nod from me as Best of Show, even though I have another ten games I think equally deserve the top slot.
Best New Idea
Tom Clancy's The Division Companion Player Tablet Option (Ubisoft | Multi)
We've seen companion player on tablet features slowly creeping into gaming over the last year, but so far they've seemed superfluous, contrived, and sometimes just plain annoying. But I was really excited to see how the concept is being used in The Division. As the main combatants tackle missions, a companion player can use a tablet to take control of a drone and fly above the battlefield, calling shots, marking and taking out targets, and buffing players. Essentially they play a support/command role for the rest of the team.
While this mode does look like it features rather simple functionality from the demo I've seen, it does represent a huge step in the right direction. It allows players who might not be necessarily interested in a certain type of game to join in and play from a completely different perspective. In this case, an FPS action game for one player is a strategic planning and support role for another. I absolutely love that idea – very MMO-like in that respect. It brings people of different gaming tastes and skills together and lets them play the same game differently. I'm hoping that what we're seeing is just the tip of the iceberg, and that this sort of thing will be a trend in gaming that'll continue to develop over the coming years. If it does, it could be an extremely exciting development for gaming.
Let's Hope it Plays Like it Looks
No Man's Sky (Hello Games/Sony | PS4)
I watched The No Man's Sky trailer unfold with increasing incredulity as the gameplay transitioned from a thriving ecosystem on terra firma into space, through a fleet of star ships and then back down to another planet over whose barren, rugged landscape the player flew.
No Man's Sky is all procedurally generated, and apparently offers a potentially infinite universe to explore. Not only that, the game is open-ended and sandbox in nature, and you can either be aggressor or protector to whatever species and things you encounter.
It's a fascinating and exciting concept that in a way reminds me of what Lucasfilm Games was doing in the mid-80's with projects like Rescue on Fractalus – something imaginative and broader in scope than the standard objective-focused gaming trope. In a way it almost looks too good to be true. I'm just hoping it isn't.
Why Did it Have to be 2015!?
Tom Clancy's The Division (Ubisoft | Multi)
It's not often I see a trailer where my jaw literally drops, but The Division's did that for me at E3. It's simultaneously spectacular and horrible. And it's so much my cup of tea. I love post-apocalyptic settings, but oftentimes we're fighting zombies, mutants, mutant-zombies or some other variant. To me, humans are often the most disturbing enemies, especially when everything feels so realistic, desperate, and convincing as it does in this game.
I watched about 15 minutes of live gameplay, and it has everything I want from a game. Involved and complex tactical assault missions, multiplayer team play, a really exciting companion support role, and it's set in an environment so meticulously and realistically concieved that it just blew me away.
If The Division does indeed deliver on its promise, it could well be my game of next year. Next year? Dammit.
The Game I Can't Wait to Drive
DriveClub (Sony | PS4)
I played plenty of driving games at E3 this year, and I'll be covering them all in an extended comparative feature next week. But in terms of what took the checkered flag at the show – that would be DriveClub. Its debut at last year's E3 was impressive, and its delay as a launch title was disappointing – but after playing it at this year's show, it looks like the wait will be worth it.
It retains the competitive element I lauded last year, but twelve months later feels slicker and more polished. Its handling is a little tighter too, and the game seems to flow a little more smoothly – though I can't quite put my finger on exactly why that is. Either way, it feels terrific, and if the finished product delivers on the promise of the tiny taste we had of it at E3, racing fans will have a new favorite on their hands.
Most Bonkers Game
Bayonetta 2 (Platinum Games/Nintendo | Wii U)
Restrained, finessed and genteel this game is not. It's a giant fist to the face, a high-heeled gun-boot to the nether regions, and a sonic boom to your ears. It's outlandish, outrageous and unapologetically over-the-top, and I love it.
The sheer imagination that's gone into Bayonetta 2 to make it the ludicrous spectacle that it is is deeply impressive, but the way Platinum Games have also managed to make it supremely playable and fun is pure genius. And the fact that you also get the original game as part of the package is also terrific. Wii U fans are really lucky to have this one as an exclusive.
Best Game I Saw Months Ago But Still Think It's Brilliant
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (Ubisoft | Multi)
In a way, I don't want to put this on my list, because I saw it almost four months ago and it doesn't quite feel like an E3 game. But I saw an early version, an updated version was on display at the show, and it's still looking ass-kickingly good.
I won't repeat what I already said in my preview, but will add that the game is developing nicely, and I saw no evidence that it's doing anything other than going in the right direction. The graphics continue to improve, the game's scope continues to expand, and my anticipation for playing the release version continues to grow. This is definitely one to watch.