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The best, the worst, and the rest of E3 2016

The best, the worst, and the rest of E3 2016

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The weeklong sensory overload / carnival of wonders lovingly known as E3 is over, even if we're all still hearing that slight thump-thump-thump of an overpowered booth subwoofer. So while we all pack up and fly off to our calmer and quieter homes, it's time to reflect on the dozens of game demos we've played, as well as the oddities and eccentricities we experienced while covering a large expo dedicated to gaming. Trust us, we've seen some things — and now we'll be offering those things some arbitrary superlative awards:

Chillest sitch: Steep. After slogging through E3’s usual spate of hack-and-slash and shoot-em-up games, it was a relief to enter a world where the only person you can injure is yourself. Ubisoft’s upcoming Steep puts you on top of a mountain and lets you whizz down it three ways: skiing, snowboarding, and in a glorious wingsuit. The last of these is easily the most thrilling — just step off the ridge and hurtle through the atmosphere, navigating through trees and rock formations with ease. There are challenges to play if you like, but you can also just soar with the eagles. Inside the maelstrom of E3, there was no better place to relax. — Casey Newton

Most casually horrifying game mechanic: Batman: Arkham VR. The Arkham series is notorious for insisting that human bodies can survive ludicrous amounts of violence, something I’ve gently mocked many times over the years. It turns out the alternative is much, much worse. Batman: Arkham VR, one of the new games Sony was showing off for its PlayStation VR platform, requires you to solve the murder of a very close friend by watching their violent death over and over in slow motion, rewinding and fast-forwarding until you can identify the precise and horrific injuries that your Bat-scanner deems worthy of cataloging. The worst part is that I didn’t even realize how messed up this was until later, because it was so hard to get the controls working at all. — Adi Robertson

Raddest interpretive dance simulator: The Climb. Most motion control games are at least comprehensible from the outside, even if you don’t know exactly what someone is picking up or shooting or tossing around. But let’s take a look at this:


This is a video derived from me swinging around a canyon in an Oculus Touch version of Crytek’s The Climb. It’s maybe the single most fun thing to do with Touch controllers right now, and it has somehow managed to invent a completely new way to look ridiculous in virtual reality. And like a good night on the dance floor, it even manages to make your arms sore the next day. — Adi Robertson

Best reminder that you are terrible at sports: The Unspoken. Plus: motion controllers have saved me from the terrible embarrassment of being less than stellar at aiming with a console gamepad. Minus: they’ve reminded me that I was never all that great at aiming with my bare hands, either. The Unspoken is an Oculus Rift dueling game demo in which two Chicago-based wizards (you and your opponent) pelt each other with flaming projectiles, magical paper airplanes, and glowing murder birds while teleporting around a junkyard. It’s a great idea with a lot of strategic potential — you’ll have different wizard classes to choose from and different ways to use the environment to your advantage. But before I get to any of that, I really need to up my fireball game. — Adi Robertson

Bitterest potential disappointment: We Happy Few. Every so often, there’s a game that you know just looks way, way too good to be true. We Happy Few is this year’s version: a first-person indie game set in a Prisoner-esque alternate 1960s full of murderously cheerful, mask-wearing characters who live in a drug-induced state of perpetual happiness — until your protagonist stops taking his (or her) meds and discovers the horrifying truth. It’s got shades of BioShock and Fallout, but it comes at the retro-futuristic source material with its own distinct aesthetic. I have to keep reminding myself that it may well end up as a generic shooter or a buggy perpetual beta, because I’m not sure I could handle having my heart broken otherwise. — Adi Robertson

Best System Shock 2: Prey and Tacoma (tie). System Shock 2 is the best game that you’ve probably played without realizing it — its DNA is in so many projects that it’s no surprise we got two worthy new installations this year. Tacoma, from Gone Home studio Fullbright, draws on the game’s eerie ghost sequences to let players reconstruct the last days of an abandoned space station, using a complex augmented reality interface inspired partly by the non-traditional stage production Sleep No More. Prey, named after but basically unrelated to the 2006 game of the same name, draws on the idea that you’re in space, you have superpowers, and you’re probably going to have to fight a whole lot of monsters. — Adi Robertson

Pro tip: skip to the eight-minute mark for Aquaman thrusting.

Best thrusting: Aquaman, Injustice 2. Warrior twink Arthur Curry has removed his shirt for this superhero fighting sequel from the makers of Mortal Kombat X, and his thrusting is some of the most suggestive fighting you’ll see. Massive trident in hand, Aquaman easily poked his way to victory in the matches we played, dispatching heroes and villains with ease. He can also summon a giant pulsing tentacle from the ground to ensnare his opponents, bringing Injustice a welcome infusion of hentai. In a game full of your standard kicks and punches, it’s refreshing to meet a fighter whose offense is a series of fetishes. — Casey Newton

Best descent: Batman: Arkham VR. Batman’s crimescene investigation may be horrifying in VR (see above), but getting there is a lot of fun. Arkham VR begins in stately Wayne Manor with you, as Bruce Wayne, standing at the piano. After Alfred hands you a key, you insert it into the piano and turn the key. As soon as you do, the floor beneath opens up to reveal an elevator, taking you down hundreds of feet into the Batcave. Even with the slightly muddy PSVR display, the view is glorious: thundering waterfalls, glistening rock formations, and dozens of bats. If VR gameplay is still a work in progress, its ability to make you feel completely transported is unrivaled. For a good minute I really was plunging down into the Batcave, and I didn’t want to be anywhere else. — Casey Newton

Best recasting: Watch Dogs 2. The original Watch Dogs drew criticism for many reasons, but painfully generic protagonist Aiden Pearce was a big one. A "grey hat hacker" who inadvertently gets his niece killed, his quest for revenge leaves dozens of people dead — a completely disproportionate response for someone who styles himself a hero. It’s refreshing, then, that the forthcoming Watch Dogs 2 has jettisoned him. His replacement is Marcus Holloway, a hacker from Oakland. Holloway is black, and was framed for a crime he didn’t commit. It’s a much more novel frame for a game, and after a short demo we’re looking forward to playing more of his story. — Casey Newton

Most frustrated dad: Kratos, God of War. In a banner E3 for games about dads, God of War’s Kratos was the dad-liest. His bushy beard was suitably fatherly but it was his exasperated sighs — deployed as his son failed to track a deer, almost got himself killed by a troll, and shot his dad with an arrow — that really stood Kratos apart from the competition. I get it, though: Kratos has muscles the size of bowling balls and the reflexes of a coked-up gazelle, so it must be super frustrating for him to suddenly be saddled with a small and incapable child. He’s not angry, kid, he’s just disappointed. — Rich McCormick

Best invulnerable dog: Civilization VI. Killing humans in video games is apparently fine, but Civilization developer Firaxis draws the line at dogs. Civilization VI’s scout unit roams the map with a canine companion, a floppy-eared cutie that keeps him company as he uncovers natural wonders and makes first contact with new cultures. The scout is vital to Civ VI players, but he’s expendable, dying a brutal death when ambushed by barbarians. The doggy, on the other hand, is impervious to harm, simply wandering away whenever his master gets a spear to the gut — presumably to live a new life at a farm upstate. — Rich McCormick

Strongest smell of weed: EA. Los Angeles seems to exist under a general marijuana haze, but it became particularly obvious when Snoop Dogg made his appearance at EA’s pre-E3 event, the air conditioning units recycling a weed stench so strong the people standing in line could probably have got a second-hand high. — Rich McCormick

Most awkward celebrity ragequit: Jamie Foxx, Battlefield 1. Jamie Foxx might be a multi-talented actor, musician, and writer, but he’s not a very good sniper. Foxx was ushered onto the show floor to play Battlefield 1 after EA’s E3 press conference, but even with his entourage egging him on, Foxx couldn’t wrap his mind around both moving and shooting in EA’s World War I shooter. After missing an enemy target for the last time, Foxx removed his headphones and stalked out, ragequitting Battlefield 1 months before the game’s even out. — Rich McCormick

Best overuse of branding: PlayStation. Sony really loves its PlayStation wordmark, its PlayStation "PS" logo, and its special PlayStation font. Sony loves them so much that everything in its booth and press conference had to be labeled with at least one, if not multiple, PlayStation-specific branding marks, including bottled water, artisanal donuts, and wet wipes for PlayStation VR headsets. It’s not that anyone believes Sony would sell those things — although branded wet wipes for PlayStation VR would make a lot of sense — but it is a clear sign that Sony takes a special sort of pride in its little big gaming division. — Ross Miller

E3 2016 stock
Ross Miller

Best carnival booth: Nintendo. As my father taught me: the quality of a carnival ride correlates with the length of its line. No E3 queue surpassed the The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. With a wait that peaked at four hours, hundreds Triforce-adorned fans stood patiently as their inner hypejuice heated from a simmer to a boil. Once inside the giant Nintendo-branded box, guests were awarded with a gargantuan recreation of Zelda’s world, stuffed with gaming stations, a lifesize Link statue, and a gaggle of roaming publicists. Before E3’s final day, attendees, hoping to dodge the line altogether, arrived early at the show floor entrance. At 10AM, as the doors gave way to the human surge, the Los Angeles Convention Center briefly resembled the alleys of Pamplona. Fortunately for guests, nobody was trampled. Fortunately readers, our beloved sister-site Polygon caught it all on tape. — Chris Plante

Best use of grappling hook: Titanfall 2. Asking someone their favorite E3 grappling hook is like asking someone their favorite flavor of ice cream: chocolate. Yes, yes, yes, the best ice cream is chocolate. And the best grappling hook award belongs to Titanfall 2. The gadget seems to fix one of my biggest gripes with the original game: a skill gap between those who have the skill to run on walls and those who don’t. Also, the Titanfall 2 grappling hook is like totally just super cool. Did you see that soldier grappling hook another soldier, and then kick it into oblivion. Yes, a lot of other games featured grappling hooks — Call of Duty, ReCore, LEGO Worlds, Arkham VR, For Honor, maybe Spider-Man, yeah, sure Spider-Man counts — but Titfanfall 2 has the best grappling hook. And the best flavor of ice cream is chocolate. Glad that’s settled. — Chris Plante

Microsoft's Xbox event at E3