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Every E3 2021 show, reviewed

E3
(Image credit: E3)

Every year I review the big E3 (opens in new tab) conferences, which is a fun opportunity to pick out all the embarrassing moments, blunders, and mistakes. But this year's digital-only expo was disappointingly polished—a result of publishers being able to film their shows in advance in a controlled environment.

Honestly, I miss the cringe. That's a big part of the E3 experience for me—and this year's parade of pre-packaged streams was almost entirely devoid of it. But let's review the event anyway, because it's tradition. Well, except our own show (opens in new tab), because that would be weird.

Xbox and Bethesda Games Showcase 

(Image credit: bethesda)

Taking full advantage of Sony skipping E3, Microsoft basically killed it this year. We got first looks at the likes of Starfield (opens in new tab), Forza Horizon 5 (opens in new tab), Arkane's next game (opens in new tab), and The Outer Worlds 2 (opens in new tab)—all of which will be available on day one on Xbox Game Pass. We also got some new Halo (opens in new tab) stuff, a lovely Psychonauts 2 (opens in new tab) trailer, and STALKER 2 (opens in new tab). As far as aggressively coordinated marketing assaults by giant corporations go, this was a belter.

Gearbox E3 Showcase

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

In this stream we followed an excitable Randy Pitchford around the set of the Borderlands movie (opens in new tab), where he was denied a high five by Kevin Hart. Absolutely nothing of worth was revealed, but I guess Randy got to show us all he's on first name terms with some famous people. However, the worst crime here was the series of Homeworld 3 (opens in new tab) teasers that seemed to be leading up to something, then didn't. Honestly, a waste of time.

Summer Game Fest

(Image credit: FromSoftware)

I enjoyed this. It felt like classic E3. A host on stage, big reveals, shameless celebrity cameos, and even a few musical performances. All it was missing was the cringe. Kojima talked (mysteriously (opens in new tab), of course) about his next game, Japanese Breakfast (opens in new tab) was wonderful, Elden Ring was, well, Elden Ring (opens in new tab). It was just a good time. If I must sit through a feature length commercial (which is what E3 shows all are), I might as well be entertained.

Guerrilla Collective

(Image credit: Shedworks)

This indie showcase took place over two days and featured over 70 mostly new games. That's a huge number, and while I love what Guerrilla Collective does, some curation would have made it so much more enjoyable. There was a lot of great stuff here: Behind the Frame (opens in new tab), Grime (opens in new tab), Loot River (opens in new tab), Onsen Master (opens in new tab), and Sable (opens in new tab) all look great, to pick out just a random few. But the sheer volume of games on show meant they all started blurring into one.

Wholesome Direct

(Image credit: Whitethorn Digital, Gamious)

I love the idea of this celebration of cosy, charming games. Ooblets (opens in new tab), Lake (opens in new tab), Yokai Inn (opens in new tab), Letters: A Written Adventure (opens in new tab), Paralives (opens in new tab), and Soup Pot (opens in new tab) (to name just a few) all look fantastic. But like the Guerrilla Collective stream, the huge number of games shown was a bit overwhelming—and all the pastel-coloured cuteness started to blend into one big sickly sweet mush. I'm with Mollie (opens in new tab): I wish they'd shown fewer games for longer.

Ubisoft Forward

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Sadly, unremarkable. There was some DLC for Watch Dogs (opens in new tab) and Assassin's Creed (opens in new tab), a new season of For Honor (opens in new tab), an overlong Rainbow Six Extraction (opens in new tab) presentation, and a fleeting glimpse of Far Cry 6 (opens in new tab). The big reveal was Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora (opens in new tab), but it was impossible to get a sense of the game from the shiny trailer. Ubisoft usually delivers when it comes to conference cringe, but it didn't even have that going for it this year.

Koch Primetime

(Image credit: Mad Head Games)

This was hard work. A bunch of new games were announced under the publisher's Prime Matter banner, including Scars Above (opens in new tab), a Painkiller (opens in new tab) sequel, and a new Gungrave (opens in new tab). But the stream's uneven mix of short trailers and long, tedious Zoom interviews with developers in their bedrooms was absolutely gruelling. I don't want to be too harsh, because these are challenging times, but a bit of editing wouldn't have gone amiss here.

Square Enix Presents

(Image credit: Square Enix / Team Ninja)

The big reveal here was a Guardians of the Galaxy (opens in new tab) game by Eidos Montreal, which looks like a lot of fun. The rest of the show was pretty forgettable, but I gotta give a special shout out to Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin (opens in new tab). This new thing from Team Ninja is one of the least visually appealing games I've ever seen in my life, and the trailer was truly awful. Team Ninja makes great action games (opens in new tab), but man, this thing is hideous.

Capcom E3 Showcase

(Image credit: Capcom)

This wasn't really a proper E3 show: just a brief rundown of games we already knew existed, including RE:Verse (opens in new tab), that completely average looking Resident Evil multiplayer thing. There was also comically nothing teaser about Resident Evil Village DLC that is apparently in development (opens in new tab). As a detective game fan, I was pretty jazzed to see The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles (opens in new tab). I can't wait to play that. But in general, this was a bit of a washout.

In conclusion

So that was E3 2021. I don't know what the future of the show is going forward, but providing the pandemic is at least somewhat under control next year (or the year after), I'd love to see it return to the way it used to be. I miss the stage shows and the live audience reaction.

Not those annoying guys clearly planted by the publishers who go "Woooo!" at every reveal, but the genuine ripple of excitement that comes with a properly unexpected game reveal. But if the future of E3 is purely digital, I can't say I'm looking forward to the next one. Streams just aren't the same.

If it’s set in space, Andy will probably write about it. He loves sci-fi, adventure games, taking screenshots, Twin Peaks, weird sims, Alien: Isolation, and anything with a good story.