E3 Awards Announced

E3 Awards Announced

The winners of the E3 show have finally been announced and there are no prizes for guessing which game won the coveted Best of Show award. The winners cover all formats with the PC getting 9 wins, Xbox scoring 7, PS2 6, GameCube 3 and GameBoy a single win. As far as publishers are concerned, Vivendi-Universal Games got 4 wins, Sony Computer Entertainment were a close second with 3, Activision, Microsoft and THQ got 2 and Namco, NCSoft and UbiSoft got just 1 each.

The full awards are as follows:

Best of Show
Half-Life 2 (Valve LLC/Vivendi Universal Games for PC)

When the doors to E3 are flung open, what do you want to see first? The E3 show is about celebrating the next big thing in the interactive entertainment industry; it's about being okay waiting in line to get a glimpse of a hot property. If ever a game lived up to that billing, it was Valve's Half-Life 2. As the sequel to one of the most lauded products in PC gaming history, expectations were through the roof. The demonstration didn't disappoint.

Between the demo shown in a darkened theater, and the fully playable code witnessed by the Game Critics Awards judges and others, Half-Life 2 stood out as a marvel-in-the-making. The blend of incredibly realistic new technology and interactivity in the game world blows away the high bar set by the original game. Between the interaction with NPCs, vehicle driving, object manipulation and stunning cinematic action sequences, this was the product that appeared to encapsulate every detail of next-generation game design in one package. It's the game that gets gamers excited about their hobby, and as such is a hugely deserving recipient of the Game of Show award.

Best Original Game
Full Spectrum Warrior
(Pandemic Studios/THQ for Xbox/PC)

Full Spectrum Warrior's could be called many things: A dark horse, a sleeper hit, a hidden gem. But we will settle for saying that this military simulation game was the best original title at E3. Watching the demo, you felt like a reporter embedded with a US Army division as it maneuvered through a fictional Middle Eastern location. That level of realism isn't surprising, given that the game was conceived as a training simulator for the US Army. (The troops get to start playing this July). Besides its stunning realism -- just watch the tree branches sway as your chopper lands -- Full Spectrum Warrior stands out because of its rich squad-based gameplay. Players control a light infantry squad of nine and guide troops through threatening city streets using an intuitive point-and-click interface. Ultimately, even though E3 was filled with sequels and licensed games, Full Spectrum Warrior proves that a well-executed original game can break through the clutter. Somewhere, an independent game developer is cheering.

Best PC Game
Half-Life 2
(Valve LLC/Vivendi Universal Games for PC)

If proof were needed that the PC's power is what leading game developers want to harness for their most cutting edge games, then Half-Life 2 was it. Just ask those people in line to see the demo -- some of them waited four hours to see what all the fuss was about. The wait was justified with a demonstration of breathtaking graphics and stunning audio effects. Packaged with AI routines that bring enemies to life, the experience promises to be all the more immersive as you sit a few scant inches from your PC monitor. With the inimitably intuitive control of the mouse and keyboard, we all expect Half-Life 2 to deliver a definitive PC gaming experience.

Best Console Game
Halo 2
(Bungie Studios/Microsoft for Xbox)

The sequel to everyone's favorite Xbox game emerges at last and proves to live up to every hope fans had for it. Journalists were seen with their mouths open, agog at the gorgeous visuals and consequently apoplectic in their praise as they felt the need to communicate how incredible it looked to anyone that would listen.

The gritty, war-torn urban environment of Mombasa further provides the sensation of being right in the middle of a war, and has more than ably replaced the idyllic vistas of the first game. Warthogs scoot around city streets, and Covenant ships pull up in front of you before diving between tall buildings. Marines shout commands and hurl grenades before firefights erupt and the Master Chief finds himself amid a huge encounter. To say that the release date can't come soon enough is something of an understatement.

Best Peripheral/Hardware
(Sony Computer Entertainment for PlayStation 2)

Watching someone play EyeToy is almost as much fun as playing the game itself. What could be funnier than watching friends and family members on TV as they spastically flail away at what appears to be a swarm of invisible mosquitoes? But get in front of the camera and start defending yourself from hordes of tiny ninjas and, well, look who's laughing now. Not that you'll even notice -- as with all great technology, EyeToy's motion tracking capability is as invisible as magic, and the play is as elementary as third grade recess. While the tasks are mundane -- washing windows or keeping a ball airborne -- anything more complex might detract from the unadulterated joy of breaking down the unseen barrier that once separated you from the game itself. Whether the EyeToy's interactivity is more than sheer novelty will be the true test of the device. But as novelties go this one is a hands -- and arms -- down winner.

Best Action Game
Half-Life 2
(Valve LLC/Vivendi Universal Games for PC)

Half-Life 2 certainly made the biggest buzz at E3 2003. You couldn't go anywhere in the LA Convention Center without overhearing somebody talking about the sequel to one of the best first-person shooters ever, and with good reason -- Half-Life 2 was simply amazing. With its incredible AI, realistic physics system, action-packed gameplay and impressive graphics, Half-Life 2 was the clear choice for Best Action Game of E3 2003 across all platforms. And the great thing is, with a promised September 2003 release date, none of us have to wait long to play it for ourselves. Has Valve been busy for the past four years? Yes, and it shows.

Best Action/Adventure Game
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
(Ubi Soft Montreal/UbiSoft for All Game Systems)

In 1964, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said of pornography, I know it when I see it. The same can be said of a great game -- especially a game as unheralded as Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time that comes out of nowhere at E3 and gets everyone talking. Rather than slavishly translate the original into 3D, Ubi Soft's Montreal Studio has so successfully reinvented it for the current crop of consoles that we'd still be talking about this game even if it weren't based on an acclaimed classic. The animation -- so often the bane of today's games -- is spot on, pulling you deeper into the world as the Prince pulls off move after move with the grace and flair of a young Fred Astaire. The camera -- another sticking point in modern gaming -- captures the action as effortlessly as it does Prince of Persia's beautiful environments. This is the game that Enter the Matrix and Blinx the Timesweeper should have been. A bold statement, to be sure. Let's hope Ubi Soft Montreal lives up to it.

Best Fighting Game
Soul Calibur 2
(Namco for All Console Systems)

The original Soul Calibur caused a shift in the fighting genre because it so wonderfully captured the essence of weapons-based combat. Many fighting game fans, after having fully appreciated the Dreamcast version, returned to the world of traditional martial arts fighting games feeling, well, empty-handed. Namco's ability to give players a sense of the weight of the weapons, coupled with the additional strategy and variety they brought to the genre, made for an unparalleled experience. That was of course, until Soul Calibur II. While the finished versions are already available in Japan for Xbox, GameCube, and PS2, the E3 versions were many US gamers' first taste of the sequel, including several new characters (along with a unique character for each version), and an improved adventure mode enabling players to purchase new weapons. This award humbly reflects the team at Namco's persistence and dedication to advance and perfect this style of game.

Best Role Playing Game
(Big Blue Box/Microsoft for Xbox)

Entering a game world where your look, your attitude, your reputation, and your treatment of those around you intimately influences your progress, relationships, and opportunities is the stuff of RPG legend. Developer Big Blue Box is heading that direction with its massively ambitious RPG where what you wear can be as important as the weapon you wield.

With hidden stats recording your every action each encounter can play out in a unique way depending on your play style. It's in this open-endedness that Fable is blazing a trail for the Xbox. Watching your character age, hearing and seeing NPCs react to your actions, and feeling responsible for your moral choices of good and bad fill this epic adventure with a compelling hook rarely witnessed in the genre. And that's not to mention the amazing graphical achievement and vast breadth of opportunities around every corner. It's a model for RPG design that will serve as the blueprint for the next generation titles in this hugely important genre.

Best Racing Game
Gran Turismo 4
(Polyphony Digital/Sony Computer Entertainment for PlayStation 2)

Many racing games still aspire to be like Gran Turismo 3, but most choose to drive around that formidable obstacle and seek their own roads to success. With Gran Turismo 4, Polyphony Digital only further raises the bar with its first refinement of the Gran Turismo engine for the PlayStation 2. Certainly Gran Turismo fans should plan to experience breathtaking scenery as they cruise circuits that cover the United States, Japan, and Europe. There are even gorgeous recreations of 500 licensed vehicles, including convertibles and street racing modifications. All this is a means to the end of creating the ultimate driving simulator.

At E3, Polyphony president Kazunori Yamauchi touted the fact that GT4 racers produced lap-times of famous circuits like Laguna Seca that differed by mere hundredths of a second from time trials with real cars like the Mazda RX-8 at the same track. That's some simulation! Additionally, GT4 promises to enable auto enthusiasts the opportunity to drive famous cars from automotive history. Gran Turismo 4 takes its driving and its drivers seriously.

Best Simulation Game
Full Spectrum Warrior
(Pandemic Studios/THQ for Xbox/PC)

When a game publisher throws an exclusive rooftop party at E3 for just one game, you can expect something extraordinary. This was exactly the case at E3 2003, where THQ debuted Pandemic's Full Spectrum Warrior. Lucky attendees were introduced to a game initially created for US Army training purposes, which was subsequently acquired for commercial release by THQ. Gamers use real-life Army tactics and play the part of a squad leader in command of two urban combat fire teams. Instead of a first person, Rainbow Six-style perspective on the action, FSW utilizes an incredibly detailed third-person viewpoint to tell its story. Apart from Full Spectrum Warrior's amazing visual and aural presentation, the two standout elements in the game are its context sensitive AI (which in this case could stand for "Actually Intelligent") and its revolutionary user interface. Full Spectrum Warrior came into 2003 silently. It won't leave that way.

Best Sports Game
Tony Hawk's Underground
(Neversoft/Activision for All Console Platforms)

Acclaimed developer Neversoft is making a leap of faith in Tony Hawk Underground, the new installment of its Tony Hawk skateboarding games. This time the focus moves from legend Tony Hawk to gamers themselves. The game plays out like a story: as an unknown skateboarder you're out looking for respect. You go on various missions to move through the skating ranks, stealing cars and winning local tournaments. On the PS2, Neversoft plans to let you add a digital photo of your face to make your character as real as possible. Beyond that, virtual skaters will be able to create their own tricks, their own skateboards, and even their own levels that can be traded online. It all adds up to an intriguing fresh direction for a tried and true franchise, and one that could set a new standard for console sports games.

Best Strategy Game
Rome: Total War
(Creative Assembly/Activision for PC)

Despite all of the relentless propaganda, it is wonderful to know that there are some genres that videogame consoles just can't handle. For proof of this axiom, look no further than Rome: Total War. Managing hundreds of units with any strategic panache is near impossible on a console, and managing them well isn't easy for many PC developers to deliver. That Creative Assembly has managed to get its wargaming system so right from the start in Shogun and Medieval is high praise. That these folks have completely accentuated the experience with Rome is astounding. Their new game engine quite beautifully smoothes out every unit up close without losing the emphasis on huge numbers of units. And while the turn-based gameplay hasn't been jettisoned, it has been made a more fluid experience. The Roman legions were the pinnacle of the art of war in the ancient world, and this strategy game may be the best ever at capturing what it is was like for Rome and her client states to command on those battlefields.

Best Puzzle/Trivia/Parlor Game
The EyeToy Games
(Sony Computer Entertainment Europe for PlayStation 2)

Sony's push into mainstream audiences is about to get some help from a little gadget called the EyeToy. Scheduled to hit store shelves this holiday season at under $40, Sony's EyeToy is essentially a USB camera that maps the player's physical movements into games. Because the games Sony developed to go with the device only require intuitive body movements, not complicated button combos, the EyeToy should be fairly accessible to non-gamers. Sony Computer Entertainment of America's chief Kazuo Hirai drew laughs from the normally jaded E3 press by flailing his arms in front of the EyeToy in a demonstration of a window washing game. Sony said it will bundle 12 mini-games with the EyeToy, but executives hope that developers will integrate the device into future games.

Best Online Multiplayer
City of Heroes
(Cryptic Studios/NCSoft for PC)

With dozens of online multiplayer games shown at E3, it can be difficult to choose just one extraordinary title. Actually, no it isn't. Anyone who had the chance to play around with City of Heroes, an upcoming massively-multiplayer superhero-based role-playing game developed by San Jose-based Cryptic Studios (to be published by NCSoft), will agree the game serves as a breath of fresh air compared to the rest of the MMORPG flock. In the game, players can create and fully customize a superhero from scratch and set out in the metropolis of Paragon City to do just about anything. Crawling with heroes and villains (each one sporting unique powers and costumes), players can explore or fight solo or with a group (Justice League of America, eat your heart out!) and interact with NPCs such as reporters, cops and other "contacts" who may or may not ask for your help. Our collective Spidey sense is tingling about this one.

Special Commendation for Graphics
Half-Life 2
(Valve LLC/Vivendi Universal Games for PC)

We expected to see cutting-edge graphics at E3, but there was simply no way to prepare for Half-Life 2's stunning visual assault. Running on Valve's new Source engine, this graphical tour de force awed show goers with eerily realistic character models, flawless water and lighting effects, fully interactive environments and perhaps the most impressive physics system to date, leading to a myriad of innovative gameplay concepts. Garnering countless oohs and ahs from critics and general attendees alike, Gordon Freeman's next nightmare might very well set a new standard in technological excellence. If looks could kill, we'd all be dead.