Game Critics Awards

2009 Winners

The winners for the Game Critics Awards: Best of E3 2009 are as follows.

For a list of facts including a breakdown of wins by publisher and platform, see fast facts.

Best of Show
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
(Naughty Dog/Sony Computer Entertainment America for PlayStation 3)
Wow. Just…wow. We've become jaded about gorgeous graphics, but the demo of Uncharted 2 at the Sony press conference still managed to amaze. When Nathan Drake clambered up the side of a building and gazed out at an amazing vista that seemed to stretch off into infinity, a roomful of geeks gasped, then whooped with delight. A closer inspection of the game revealed minute details and subtle tricks with depth of field and lighting that you barely register on a conscious level, but which serve to make the moment-to-moment experience that much more vivid. The incredible visuals on display in Uncharted 2 almost overshadow the game’s tight controls, intricate environments, witty dialogue and interesting characters. (Oh, and can’t forget about the surprisingly strong multiplayer.) The genre trappings may be a familiar mix of Lara Croft and Indiana Jones, but Naughty Dog have found a million little ways to make it all feel fresh. For instance, the game takes one of the most tedious and hackneyed clichés in gaming——the ‘escort mission’ that requires you to get a defenseless ally from Point A to Point B——and turns it into something tense, thrilling, and emotionally charged. We can’t wait to play more.  

- Chris Baker, WIRED Magazine 

Best Original Game
(5TH Cell/Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment for Nintendo DS)
It's not every day that one of the biggest, most talked about games of E3 is for a handheld, but 5th Cell's Scribblenauts turned out to be it. Despite having the outward appearance of your typical puzzle-platformer, Scribblenauts is actually innovation in a box. Arming players with tens of thousands of different words that can be typed in at any time, the game allows the player to solve challenges in hundreds of original ways. Need to kill a horde of zombies? Type in the word shotgun, bat, plunger, machinegun, or any number of other items and it will appear in game -- ready for you to use just the way you intended. The best part of Scribblenauts, though, is that it’s interesting, amazing and original, and also a heck of a lot of fun. 

- Jeremy Dunham, 

Best Console Game
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Naughty Dog/Sony Computer Entertainment America for PlayStation 3)
With so much competition, in so many genres, on all the leading platforms, for a sequel to stand out as the head of its class would take something special. Uncharted 2 was unequivocally that special something. It would also take more than bolting on a multiplayer component—a feature that already has beta testers buzzing—to earn standout status. Uncharted 2 showcased the entire package. From the impact of the first scene—that glorious vista—to the death-defying acrobatics and action, the game hinted at stratospheric production values, outperforming even the phenomenal standard set by the original game. It’s impressive already that the multiplayer—particularly the co-operative mode—provided so much fun to eager testers on the show floor, and we’re sure this brief insight only hinted at some of the engaging, no doubt memorable situations planned for the full release. That complete package, blessed with a visual impact so spectacular as to elicit gasps of awe from the assembled media crowd, elevated Uncharted 2: Among Thieves as the standout console game of E3.

- Rob Smith, PlayStation: The Official Magazine 

Best PC Game

Star Wars: The Old Republic
(BioWare Austin/LucasArts)
If you could imagine a mash-up of Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, and World of Warcraft, you might have a decent picture of Star Wars: The Old Republic. It mixes BioWare’s trademark story and dialogue sequences with massively multiplayer gameplay, all set within the Star Wars universe. Taking places approximately three hundred years after the events of KOTOR (and 3,500 years before the rise of Darth Vadar), you choose between a Jedi, Sith, or several other Star Wars roles and make choices that determine whether you follow the light or dark side of the force.  

While it’s difficult to get a complete sense of how great a game of this size and scope is at an event like E3, what we did see and play left us thoroughly impressed. The story system looks to be improved over Mass Effect’s and the action seems more intense than your typical MMO. Add in all of the Star Wars elements and you’ve got a really exciting game on the horizon. In fact, it’s looking to be pretty much what everyone wished Star Wars Galaxies would be – the ultimate Star Wars RPG. 

- Sam Kennedy, 

Best Handheld Game
(5TH Cell/Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment for Nintendo DS)
Scribblenauts offered one of E3's genuine surprises at this year's show. The original handheld title from developer 5th Cell puts a new spin on puzzle games by letting you use your imagination to solve puzzles. While the claim that players can "write anything" that will then appear within the game sounds like one of those pie-in-the-sky ideas that's simply too good to be true, Scribblenauts worked. Whether it meant creating a pair of working night vision goggles, a rocket launcher, a black hole, a griffin, a manticore or even God, the game served up everything we threw at it and wound up being a blast to play. In a year that saw some incredibly strong titles on handheld systems, Scribblenauts' whimsical and inventive gameplay placed it firmly ahead of its competition.  

- Ricardo Torres, GameSpot 

Best Hardware/Peripheral
"Project Natal"
(Microsoft for Xbox 360)
It works! As a technology concept, "Project Natal" is a huge success. At E3, there wasn't any sexy camera peripheral, slick marketing campaign, or catchy brand (Natal's a codename); instead, there was a clunky prototype camera running alongside a laptop, powering the Natal experience. Microsoft wants us to know this is an early look.  
Step in front of the camera and – that's it? – you're scanned. That laptop screen now shows a wireframe of your body with 48 unique joints. Move your arm to move your arm. Walk forward to walk forward. Unencumbered by a controller (camera notwithstanding!) Microsoft provided an impressive breadth of demos for Natal, from active (the functional, albeit homely, Ricochet) to traditional (last year's Burnout Paradise) to avant-garde (Molyneux's Milo and Kate). It may be too early for names and release dates but it wasn't too early to convince us of one thing: Natal works.
- Chris Grant, Joystiq 

Best Action Game
Modern Warfare 2
(Infinity Ward/Activision for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC)
Infinity Ward has a goal of creating blockbuster video games that stand up to the best summer action movies. From what we have seen of Modern Warfare 2, the team is ready to take its place with the Michael Bays and Ridley Scotts. The developers have only offered a glimpse at the game's breadth, but that still has revealed an array of spine-tingling action elements: airborne combat, exploding fireballs, earthen strongholds and underwater assaults. A new Special Operations co-operative play mode looks to be frenetic, but still behind the veil is the much-anticipated multiplayer mode. This year, the blockbusters truly are not confined to summer. 

- Mike Snider, USA Today 

Best Action/Adventure Game
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Naughty Dog/Sony Computer Entertainment America for PlayStation 3)
Naughty Dog has had a long history of pushing the envelope, from Crash Bandicoot on PlayStation One to Jak & Dexter on PlayStation 2, but none of its previous products has been as ambitious as Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Nathan Drake’s return has everything. With love interests and a lost treasure anchoring the story, plus co-op, multiplayer, and a thrill-ride single-player supporting the gameplay, this PlayStation 3 tour-de-force has all the thrills to match any Hollywood adventure movie with all the non-stop action gamers crave.
- Andy McNamara, Game Informer 

Best Role Playing Game
Mass Effect 2
(BioWare/Electronic Arts for Xbox 360, PC)
As gamers and critics, we get awfully carried away with crazy technobabble like "traversal mechanics" and "specular highlighting," when they're really just flashy ingredients in the giant recipe of gaming. After all, we don't play games to fall in love with a physics engine. (Well, okay, maybe some of us do.) We didn't sacrifice hours of our lives back in the day because some RPG had Mode 7 texture mapping (though we might've fancied ourselves smart enough to throw the term around for nerd cred). 
No, we play games because we love the escape. We want to get lost in something big -- something that doesn't involve a time clock and a punch card. And the minute we see Mass Effect's Commander Shepard violently sucked through a giant rip in the Normandy's hull into the deadly silence of deep space, we’re ready to believe. We want to take that rollercoaster ride through BioWare's choice-filled, cinematic, alien-stuffed wonderland. We want to shake our fists angrily at our TVs after paying for the decisions we made in the first game. We want to chase down those Reapers and give them hell. We want to give a shit about our character, again. We want Mass Effect 2. 

- Francesca Reyes, Official Xbox Magazine 

Best Racing Game
(Black Rock/Disney Interactive Studios for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC)
Split/Second is a racer that stands out from a strong and broad selection of racing games this year for bringing something that has been absent from the genre, the element of surprise. By shifting focus from the behavior of cars on the course to the instability of the course itself Split/Second returns to the gleeful subversion of form introduced in the original Mario Kart and upends player expectations with its unique approach to strategy. Not satisfied with simply presenting players with the ability to mutate the racing course, Split/Second forces considerations of timing and the long-term impact of one’s destruction, all the while demanding that successful driving not take a back seat to the pyrotechnics. An ambitious conflation of racing games, Split/Second is a fresh and welcome title. 

- Adam Sessler, G4TV 

Best Sports Game
Fight Night Round 4
(EA Canada/EA Sports for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
Three years after its last bout, the Fight Night franchises returns with legends of the ring like Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson. Why did this boxing simulation rise to the top of the Best Sports category? By not annualizing the franchise, EA Sports has given the developers the time they need to deliver a knockout sequel. There’s a fluid 60 frames per second fighting engine, not to mention much improved physics, better inside fighting, and a much-needed legacy career mode. Far too often sports sequels are predictable and evolutionary, but Fight Night Round 4 delivers a fresh, high-impact boxing experience that shows off the technical power of today’s consoles. 

- Geoff Keighley, Spike TV 

Best Fighting Game
Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars
(Eighting/Capcom for Nintendo Wii)
Capcom could have slapped the 23 diverse characters in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All Stars into its already-solid template created for Marvel vs Capcom, thrown it on Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network, and called it a night. Odds are, we'd probably still be giving it this award. When it comes to creating games, however, Capcom knows that to win the fight, you have to constantly change styles. Tatsunoko vs. Capcom is the perfect reflection of that strategy, as the game includes a control scheme that differs from most Capcom fighters, with a very broad pastiche of characters to choose from (mixing famous and overlooked Capcom stars with Tatsunoko's legendary anime icons). The game's ultimate destination is also a change from the status quo, as it's Wii-exclusive. Between the already-released Street Fighter IV and this game, Capcom's got quite the combo for 2009. 

- Dave Rudden, GamePro 

Best Strategy Game
Supreme Commander 2
(Gas Powered Games/Square-Enix for Xbox 360, PC)
While other RTS games have been boiling down the strategic experience and have tried to focus on the action of specific units fighting on more confined battlefields, Supreme Commander 2 returns Gas Powered Games to their unit-overload roots. This is a company that has built a reputation for over-delivering on their strategy games and, under the stewardship of Chris Taylor, won numerous accolades along the way, (including a 2006 Best of E3 award from us for the original Supreme Commander). In the stunning sequel, hundreds of intricately detailed 3D models, based on all manner of robotic bug and lizard will converge on targets and swarm your screen. The true physics, sharp fidelity and fully positional cameras--including SupCom’s patented full zoom out--creates a hypnotic effect that is equal parts overwhelming and empowering. You are the general in this future war of incredible/impossible tech and you can see the whole damn beautiful spectacle with one tiny spin of your mouse wheel. Brilliant.
- Victor Lucas, The Electric Playground 

Best Social/Casual/Puzzle
DJ Hero
(Freestyle/Red Octane/Activision for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii)
More than just "Guitar Hero with a turntable," Activision's newest music/rhythm offering is a promising way to reinvent the crowded genre by challenging players to mash-up two (often very different) tracks together into one mix; master directional scratching, cross-fading and other DJ techniques; and lets others join the party with optional guitar peripheral and mic support. (Suffice it to say, the Activision booth was pumping behind closed doors at E3). With an extraordinary (and extraordinarily eclectic) track list out of the box -- Nirvana's "All Apologies" vs. Rick James' "Give It to Me Baby," for instance -- not to mention club-worthy DLC content planned to follow the launch, house parties will never be the same. 

- Marc Saltzman, Gannett News Service 

Best Online Multiplayer
Left 4 Dead 2
(Valve/EAP for Xbox 360, PC)
For their upcoming sequel to one of 2008's most popular multiplayer games, the folks at Valve decided to throw a dash of Cajun seasoning on the proceedings in setting Left 4 Dead 2 in the Deep South. From the bayous to the Big Easy, you'll need to deal with a zombie menace that features some new enemies and utilizes a more robust AI Director than the first game. Thankfully, you'll have some new melee weapons at your disposal, as Left 4 Dead 2 will feature a chainsaw, a baseball bat, and... a cast-iron skillet? Oh, and for those fans that griped about it being too early for a sequel, we can only say one thing: just wait until you play it! 

- Will Tuttle, GameSpy