E3: The Games That Stood Above the Pack

Switch Super Smash Bros Ultimate - Game- H 2018
Courtesy of Nintendo
It's time to take a deep dive into the properties that made the biggest splashes, including 'Anthem,' 'Smash Bros.' and 'Spider-Man.'

The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) 2018 has drawn to a close, with more than 69,000 attendees getting a first look at some of the most anticipated titles in gaming from 85 companies and more than 200 exhibitors. 

Among the sprawl of fans, booths, cos players and life-size statues of Mega Man, were Heat Vision's Patrick Shanley and Pete Keeley, visiting displays, interviewing developers and, of course, playing lots and lots of unreleased video games.

Now that the curtain has closed and ice packs have been applied to sore feet, we take a look back at the best of this year's E3 crop and what fans should be most excited for when these titles finally hit store shelves.

Patrick Shanley: OK, Pete, that was something. I personally played over 30 games this year, a major increase from last year. Everything from bizarre indie VR titles like VR Screensaver, where you "float" through 1990s screensavers, to major AAA games like Black Ops 4, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Sony's Spider-Man. It's impossible for me to name a favorite, and often comparing games so different as these is akin to comparing apples to cactus, but I have to say that Spider-Man was the demo I enjoyed my time with the most. I didn't want to stop swinging through New York City and I couldn't believe how good the fighting mechanics were.

Pete Keeley: I'll pick a favorite: Concrete Genie. On one hand, I get why Sony did not include this in their pre-con press conference — it was announced last October, so no news there, and it's not a sequel or a really a known commodity in any way. And the only other game from developer PixelOpus, Entwined, didn't move any needles when it was released in 2014. On the other hand, well, the game is absolutely spectacular. I would just encourage people to watch the below trailer and trust me when I say that as good as it looks, the looks weren't why I wound up glued to the demo for almost an hour, making me very late for an appointment. So while I may not fault Sony for leaving it out of its media preview, I will count it a grievous error for them to have given it zero presence in their massive section of the West Hall. They had tons of Destiny 2: Forsaken and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 kiosks, essentially just doubling up Activision's booth. Was Concrete Genie even on the floor? You and I both played it in the PR lounge — we both found it by chance! — and all the other media I've talked to have been as enchanted as me. Had Sony made a big push on the show floor for this game it would have dominated E3. This I believe.  

Shanley: I think the consensus among a lot of people was that Xbox won the showcase showdown before the convention, but once the floor actually opened up, I barely heard the words "Microsoft" or "Xbox" at all, as they weren't really showing many exclusive titles. Meanwhile, Nintendo continued to have a major presence, just like last year with Super Mario Odyssey, as Smash Bros. was perhaps the talk of the convention — at least with the general public. Industry folks were going nuts over CD Projekt Red's Cyperpunk 2077, which I was lucky enough to get in for a showcase of, but unluckily wasn't allowed to play (no one was, by the way). The game looks incredible and the open-world map was staggering in size and beauty. The gameplay that I watched really blew me, and the freezing-cold confines of our little screening room, away. 

Keeley: Yeah, I don't know what happened with the A/C. Tuesday I was fine. Thursday I was trying to get free T-shirts for the layers. Anyhow, I didn't see Cyberpunk, didn't get to demo Spider-Man, but I did get to see another media preview finale: EA's Anthem. Let me get this out of the way: best-looking game I've ever seen. Let me also get this out of the way: Playing it is insanely, criminally fun. By the time I got in to play it Thursday at 4:30, the door to the demo was already plastered with best-in-show badges. When this game drops next February it is going to be a massive hit. Sorry to rub it in. (Full disclosure: Pat got a stomach bug and had to leave early, so I used his appointment.) 

Shanley: As far as the booths go, nothing beats Capcom. They had a literal haunted house and you could pose as Mega Man and ride Rush. Game over. You can't top that.

Keeley: Agree. No free T-shirts, though.

Shanley: I got a free T-shirt. ...

Keeley: Oh, I see how it is, Capcom. OK. Also, I gotta talk PlayStation VR just a bit. I played four different games at E3, all of which were great and which could not have been more different. I especially enjoyed Astro Bot: Rescue Mission, which is an endlessly entertaining and innovative platformer. I've now played 10 to 15 games on the system, and I love it. And you can now get it for under $200. I have to think it's going to break through eventually.

Shanley: I'll also give a shoutout to Justin Roiland's Trover Saves the Universe, which made me laugh so hard I actually apologized to the other people around me. The game is a weird mix of platforming, discovery and very bizarre humor, and the demo featured a joke about puzzle minigames that still makes me laugh just thinking about it.

Keeley: Yes! Oh, one more: Creed: Rise to Glory. Boxing seems like the most natural application of VR ever, and this game looks and feels great. Like I feel like if you get really good at it, you might actually be good at real boxing? Some school bullies could be in for a shock next year. And compliments also on the best swag on the floor: giant inflatable boxing gloves that my daughter and I have already had a blast with.

Shanley: The convention was open to the public for the second year. As the days wore on, and more hours were open to fans, I consistently became more claustrophobic and spent less time on the floor and more time in the meeting rooms on the upper floors of the Convention Center. That said, it is really fun to see the con through the eyes of the true fans (you know, people who paid to be there and aren't jaded journos constantly searching for free coffee and Wi-Fi).

Keeley: Here's what I don't get, though. Why did so many people pay $250 for a gamer pass and then choose to stand in line for hours to play Smash or one of the other Nintendo titles they were probably just going to buy in a few months anyhow? It's partly the ESA's fault, but that's a whole 'nother article. My main takeaway was this: Whether your pass says industry, exhibitor, media or gamer, just play as many games as you possibly can. So many of my favorites I found because I decided to just take the open chair. To wrap up, my favorites: Concrete Genie, Anthem, Mega Man 11, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Astro Bot, VR in general. You?

Shanley: Definitely agree on Concrete Genie, what a charming game. Spider-Man is my No. 1 that I played; Cyberpunk 2077 has me the most hyped. Smash was great, Overcooked 2 was the most outright fun I had, mostly because of the group I played it with, and Resident Evil 2 scared the crap out of me in the best way possible. I thoroughly enjoyed this year's convention, even if Square once again put a knife in my heart by not announcing anything about the Final Fantasy VII remake. Sigh ...

Keeley: Mine, too. I would have been fine with just a taste. A … Nibelheim, if you will. I'll show myself out.

June 15, 6:00 p.m. A previous version of this story identified the game VR Screensaver as "Floatland." Float Land is the name of the developer.