E3 is finally over for another year, and golly there were a lot of new games announced, weren't there? Having waded deep through the flood of streams from practically every publisher under the sun, we've emerged with our filleted highlights of the best games of E3 2021. With this year's show taking place soley online, we haven't played as many of these as we'd normally do during E3, but these are the games that excited us the most and whose trailers we've had on repeat ever since we clapped eyes on them.
Of course, if you've suddenly emerged from your lockdown hole and are wondering what all this E3 nonsense is about, why not catch up on all the big headlines by watching vid bud Colm's handy E3 2021 recap video above? Alternatively, you can also immerse yourself our big E3 round-up lists for a blow-by-blow breakdown of everything that got announced. After all, there were 75 new games at the Wholesome Direct alone, not to mention the hundreds of other accompanying indies unveiled by the Guerrilla Collective, Double Fine's Day Of The Devs, Devolver and the PC Gaming Show). We also had loads of big shiny blockbusters from Microsoft in their Xbox and Bethesda Games Showcase, as well as more triple-A polish from Ubisoft and Square Enix. Even Hideo Kojima-turned-Hidetaka Miyazaki superfan Geoff Keighley got in on the announcement action with his Summer Game Fest.
There's a lot to take in, but enough of all that recapping. Here are our best games of E3 2021, in no particular order.
Winner of the Best Inanimate Objects That Are Now Animate With Limbs And Dangly Bits Award
Ed: Did you see Geoff Keighley when he unveiled Elden Ring gameplay at the Summer Geoff Fest? I'd never seen him so animated before and it was quite frightening, actually. Like I imagine it will be when you roll into pots and vases expecting them to splinter in that oh-so-satisfying way, but then thumping into a solid vaseboy who'll twist your nuts with their big arms. I do look forward to capturing them, though, and using them as bargain-bucket Geodudes against towering bosses.
Winner of the Guy Fieri Memorial Prize For Unexpected Hype Award
Nate: Why am I excited for a game I know next to nothing about, based on a film I thought was really underwhelming, released 12 years ago? I mean, I’m not that excited by Avatar: Cat Lads After Dark, but I’m certainly keen to give it a play. I think I’m just easier to please with imaginary worlds in games than I am with imaginary worlds in films, and so while Pandora felt a little under-imagined for its budget on the big screen, it’s got the potential to be a good lol as the setting for a bit of open world icon-chasing. I can’t help it; I wish to ride the large-chinned pterodactyl.
Winner of the Loveliest, Moodiest Pixels Award
Katharine: In a showcase rammed with big, flashy blockbusters, it says a lot that it was Sad Cat Studio's debut 2.5D pixel platformer Replaced that really caught my attention. This was the big, genuine surprise for me this E3. I will no doubt play the heck out of all the other big games announced during Microsoft's Xbox and Bethesda Games showcase (if only because I've technically already bought them due to the sheer number of them coming day one to Game Pass), but it was Replaced that actually made me sit up and take notice. I just can't get over how stunning it looks, from the way it moves to the jaw-dropping lighting effects reflecting off the rain-washed streets. It is extremely my jam. Its premise of an AI stuffed unwillingly into a human body in a grim, post-apocalypse has me hooked, too, and I'm intrigued to see how it will tie in to your main other objective of uncovering the secrets of Phoenix City. It's not out until 2022, but consider me well and truly hyped.
Winner of the Successfully Made Me Side Against Vampires Award
Alice Bee: Arkane's new team co-op vampire-buster Redfall only has a cinematic trailer, and it isn't out until 2022. And yet I am more excited about this than anything in my entire life. At least for this week, anyway. I'm mostly a vampire defender, and I have the self-awareness to know that in a real life Redfall situation I'd end up as one of the cultists who support the vamps, acting as secondary baddies to watch out for in the game. But Redfall itself just makes its player characters look too damn cool. Throw together a techy paranormal investigator, a telekinetic witch, a magical loner sniper and a combat engineer with pet robots, give 'em a bunch of guns, and add some super-advanced vampires to shoot at? That's me sorted for every foreseeable weekend. Cheers.
Ollie: I’d just like to add that said techy paranormal investigator is a good 350% hotter than almost any other techy paranormal investigator I can recall. I could listen to him talk about dramatically elongated maxillary cuspids all day.
Winner of the Best-looking Car Game For People Who Don’t Care About Cars Award
Colm: Just tell me which button makes it go fast and award me with XP for driving through fences and murdering piñatas. Forza Horizon 4 was fantastic at constantly rewarding players for the smallest of things, making you feel like the greatest driver on the planet. I’m looking forward to being told I’m a good boy while doing doughnuts around a Mexican volcano this November.
Ed: I haven't played a car game in literally a decade or more, but Mexico looks like a stunner. I like that it's an honest depiction of the country too, and it'll have you motoring around volcanoes and jungles and seaside towns. Also, Forza Horizon games always have these banging drum and bass radio stations. I've listened to them on YouTube, but this might be the first time I actually hear them live while speeding around in a souped up Citroen Saxo.
Winner of the Most Likely To Make Me Pick Up A Real Life Camera And Make Me Think I Can Actually Do Photography (When I Actually Cannot) Award
Imogen: Toem is a delightful-looking adventure puzzler where you play as a photographer exploring the world and doing quests for its inhabitants (that revolve around taking nice pics). I'm partially drawn to it because of its lovely hand-drawn minimalistic style and quirky characters, but also it genuinely makes me want to get into photography again. Let me live in a world where I can offer a pretty photo of a tree to a bus driver as payment for my journey.
Winner of the Nosiest Neighbour Award
Alice0: The studio behind The Occupation return with a new investigation game, starring the very nosiest of characters: a retired copper who suspects his neighbours of something. A young girl’s missing, you see, and our man has a lot of time to sit staring out his window, keep track of everyone’s activities and secrets, and formulate theories. Having personally once suspected a neighbour was a murderer because we snuck into his shed and found a bloodstained freezer, then spending days noting his comings and goings and checking the newspaper for murder reports, I am well up for spying on virtuaneighbours - far less risk of being murdered myself, for one.
Winner of the "I Have The High Ground!" Award
Graham: Songs Of Conquest is a strategy-RPG in which your big and tall hero stomps about a world map to trigger hexy squad battles, and the resources you gain by fighting are fed into building your kingdom. It has pixel art lovely enough to give Replaced some competition, and its turn-based scraps look thoughtful and satisfying. Such as when you move an archer onto a taller hex so you can rain arrows down on the fantasy faction below.
Winner of the Flimsiest Trees Award
Ollie: Have you seen how flimsy the trees are in Tribes Of Midgard yet? It’s one of my favourite things. The character just chops once with an axe - and it’s not even a hefty swing, more a gentle tap - and the towering, age-old tree comes toppling over with a crash. Which is good, because while I do love chopping trees, it does take up rather too much of my time in most other survival games. Here, I’ll be able to busy myself with more important things, like protecting my burgeoning tribe from incursions by big craggly Giants.
Winner of the Best Apocalypse Pal Award
Katharine: Playdead's Inside is one of the best games I've played in the last five years, and Somerville, the next game from that studio's former co-founder, looks to be every bit as haunting and atmospheric. Technically, Somerville is the work of Jumpship, the studio Dino Patti went on to form after he left Playdead in 2016, but from the looks of things it would appear to share a lot the same DNA. You're still exploring chilling, 2.5D locations and fleeing from terrible, unseen threats, only instead of playing a small, frightened boy, you're now a man trying to reunite with his stranded family (and very good dog) during an alien apocalypse. Mostly, though, I want to see how Somerville ends, because we all know how Inside went down, and man alive, how do you top that?
Winner of the Most Likely To Make Me Ashamed Of My Desk Award
Alice Bee: This really lovely, yet minimal, puzzle game turned up at the Wholesome Direct this year and I was instantly in love. It just gives you a bunch of small domestic messes and asks you to clear them up. Put these coloured pencils back in order. Stack these bits of coloured note paper according to size. Arrange this small shelf of books by ascending height. There is also a cat, whose mischievous paw will sweep things into a mess again. I instantly smashed the Wishlist button, and I can't wait until October 21st, when it will be released. Everyone I have lived with will tell you that I do not display this inclination for tidiness and order in my own living space...
Winner of the CHAOS Award
Katharine: The reveal trailer for Square Enix and Team Ninja's new Final Fantasy spin-off was probably the most ridiculous thing I saw during the whole of E3 this year (CHAOS!), but goodness do I want to see more of it. I mean, how could you not when Tetsuya Nomura's initial elevator pitch for it was simply "the story of an angry man", according to this Square Enix dev interview. It's just too perfect.
Winner of the Best Extreme Sports Game That Hopefully Doesn’t Have A Talking Mountain In It Award
Colm: Steep was a fine idea, but it took itself way too seriously. Riders Republic looks like the fun cousin that doesn’t have a care in the world. It could turn out to be a little too fun if those panda-headed people pop up loads, but I’m holding out hope the mountain biking and snowboarding will cancel out any of that.
Winner of the Time Loop Award
Alice0: Typical: just as you close one time loop, along comes another. Probing the mysteries and secrets of the Outer Wilds was such a joy, not just solving a puzzle box but taking it apart to understand the movements from within. Surprising, delightful, often magical.
Hang on, what now? The Outer Worlds 2? Oh no. I’m stuck in that other loop.
Winner of Entirely Powered By My Nostalgia Award
Ed: I'm surprised by just how much I care about Halo Infinite. I think it's because I'm heavily invested in Call Of Duty: Warzone, and yet I'm desperate for something to take its throne. Story? I couldn't care less. Multiplayer? Gimme. It looks faithful to the old Halo games (3 and Reach were *chef kiss*), the graphics look crispy, and most importantly, it looks like chaotic sci-fi fun. My goal is to make the announcer say, "Kilimanjaro", but I'll settle for "Killtacular". How I've missed his edgy tone.
E3 2021 may be over but our memories live on - see everything on our E3 hub. Many more big game showcases and streams are still to come this summer, leading up to Gamescom, so see our summer games stream schedule to stay up to date.