And the winner is... Beneath the gaudy press conferences, huge announcements, terrible food and embarrassing costumes lies the beating heart of the annual E3 trade expo: new video games. And make no mistake - with over 200 exhibitors showing off thousands of titles, there was a LOT to see at E3 2011.
But which truly stood out from the pack? Funny you should ask. Presented regardless of platform or genre, here are the twelve winners of Yahoo! Games' Best of E3 2011 Awards.
Infinite (2K Games)
Having blown us away with the riveting undersea city of Rapture in 2008's startling smash BioShock, design auteur Ken Levine and his team at Irrational Games are shooting for the skies in BioShock Infinite. Set amidst a flying metropolis in a fictitious 1912, the game explores classic BioShock themes of dystopian society while completely reinventing its gameplay. Impressive magical abilities, airborne feats of derring-do, giant mechanical monsters, multiple solutions to problems - it's BioShock at its best, and we can't wait to see more.
Arkham City (Warner Bros. Interactive)
The sequel to what many consider the best superhero game of all time in Batman: Arkham Asylum goes bigger, broader, and a whole lot battier. Blending open-world gameplay with the up-close-and-personal combat that made the first game such a blast, Arkham City ups the ante everywhere - including its stars, as a playable Catwoman was announced at E3. Icing on the Bat-cake.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesda
Is bigger actually better? Ask anyone who saw the riveting demo of Skyrim and they'll nod emphatically, provided they've managed to shut their jaws first. But this truly massive RPG isn't just about scale. It's also about one of the most detailed, living game worlds we've ever seen, coupled with a slick interface that turns the typically off-putting business of managing inventories and sorting out skills into something your mother could handle. If she digs dragons, that is.
Tomb Raider (Square-Enix)
We'll admit it -- our desire to play Tomb Raider games has flagged over the last few years (though the recent Xbox Live Lara Croft game was a stunner.) The good news about this reboot? It's exactly
what the series needs. Tomb Raider once again stars Lara, but this time she's hardly the dual-pistol wielding acrobat of games past. This is Lara at her most vulnerable, a scared girl shipwrecked on a scary island with only her survival instincts -- and whatever makeshift weapons she happens across -- to rely on. It's still a puzzle-solving, action platformer, but the dark, gritty tone has our interest piqued.
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (Sony)
We knew going into E3 2011 that Uncharted 3 was going to be a big deal, but when you see it running in person, you gain a new level of appreciation for the work developer Naughty Dog has put into this sequel. Seamlessly blending cinematics and playable sequences, it pushes the franchise's heart-pounding pace even faster. In fifteen minutes, we escaped from a sinking cruise ship, leapt from a jeep to the landing gear of a cargo plane, and
brawled with a baddie while dangling from a net at 15,000 feet. Imagine what the other 15-20 hours will be like.
Battlefield 3 (EA)
It takes some serious guts to take on a franchise as deeply embedded in the public consciousness (and bank accounts) as
Call of Duty, but that's exactly what EA plans to do with Battlefield 3. So far, they're delivering. Powered by an incredible new graphics engine, it's a shooter tour-de-force, coupling a hi-fidelity look with countless smart tweaks to the first-person formula. Expect fireworks when it squares off with Modern Warfare 3 this fall.
While Sony focused most of its Playstation Vita attention on Uncharted: Golden Abyss, the real killer app might be this innovative music game. Created by indie darling Jonathan Mak (Everyday Shooter), it turns your tunes into platform levels, then lets you interact with the music as you bounce around collecting stuff. It's simple, intuitive, and perfectly tailored for a portable device.
Gears of War 3 (Microsoft)
The final game in the Gears trilogy isn't taking it easy with minor updates and more enemies. Fans will get massive boss battles and loads of new features, including the showstopping new Horde 2.0 multiplayer mode, which marries the game's class-leading, cover-based gameplay with a new tower defense-style strategy system. Tactical, explosive, robust - this is shaping up to be Gears of War's version of the kitchen sink, and we simply cannot wait.
Loud, angry shooters might have ruled E3, but one of our favorite experiences couldn't be any more different. Created by the minds behind interpretive downloadable games like fl0w and Flower comes, well, another interpretive downloadable game. Explore a vast desert as you head towards a beacon of light sitting atop a faraway mountain, interacting with other players but without the benefit of any voice or text-based communication system. Artsy? You bet, but it's also one of the most innovative games we saw at E3. That counts for a lot these days.
Mass Effect 3 (EA)
The end of Commander Shepard's fight to save humanity is coming, and we're anxiously waiting. Not only will it
let you carry over the same character you used in both 2007's original Mass Effect and its sequel, but it will remember all the decisions you made along the way. Even cooler, Kinect owners will be able to command their squad by barking out voice commands.
(Warner Bros. Interactive)
You want a sleeper hit? You'll get it later this year with Bastion, an Xbox 360 downloadable action-RPG that's as much about its unique design as it is hacking and slashing. Hand-painted
visuals lend it a sense of whimsy, but the real star is the fantastic
narration, which changes on the fly based on your actions.
Mario Kart 3DS (Nintendo)
The Wii U left us a bit confused, but Nintendo more than made up for it by showing off a ton of cool 3DS games at the show. The best? In our book, it's Mario Kart. Though it's not coming out until the end of the year, the game is already incredibly smooth and polished, touting new features like the ability to sprout glider wings and sail through the air during giant jumps. If the
multiplayer is half as good as we expect it to be, it's a holiday shoo-in for 3DS owners.
mentions: Prey 2 (Bethesda Softworks), Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
3 (Activision), Far Cry 3 (Ubisoft), Rayman: Origins (Ubisoft), The Legend of
Zelda: Skyward Sword (Nintendo)