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Halo vs Uncharted: who will win E3 2014?

What will be E3 2014's game of the show? We take a look at the heavyweights headed to downtown L.A. and place some informed bets.

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E3 2014 is already shaping up to be massive, with a huge line up of anticipated titles and unannounced games on the schedule for each of the four big media briefings. It's a key show for Sony and Microsoft as they need to build on the early momentum of the new consoles, but both EA and Ubisoft have massive games in the wings, and even outliers like Namco Bandai and Square Enix, which rarely make much of a showing on their tod, have a chance to score big at the platform holder briefings.

After a couple of stalemate years, Sony surprised us in 2013 by picking up Microsoft's dropped ball and running with it, but this year things are far more interesting. The PS4 has a nice lead on its rival, even in its traditional home territory of North America, and both companies will be pushing to close or widen that gap with a strong show. Ubisoft and EA have made huge investments in next-gen, though, so they'll definitely be bringing their A-game, too.

Who will win this confrontation? Let's take a look at our champions.

First party properties - Halo 5: Guardians versus Uncharted PS4 and God of War PS4

When you ask the question "who's going to win E3?" the easy answer is "Microsoft", long the local favourite - especially on years when it has a Halo title on hand.

This year, though, things are a bit chancy. The instant hype generated by a Halo game is diminished a little by a slightly softer reception for Halo 4 than anticipated, with 343 Industries' takeover not going down as well or as smoothly as Microsoft had hoped. Halo 5: Guardians is, moreover, a prequel, and apparently stars a new character - both risky moves. This may well be the shake-up the franchise needs to ensure its longevity, but that doesn't mean it's going to please core fans.

That said, Halo, like Call of Duty, is a franchise with massive mainstream appeal, and those less-invested gamers aren't necessarily as bogged down by canon as we obsessives are. The hat-backwards, popped-collar crowd will roar their approval when that iconic helmet makes an appearance - regardless of who's wearing it.

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Meanwhile, in the Sony camp, we have the brand that elevated the PS3 from a difficult, slightly lower-par console to a machine that was worth developers' investment. The first Uncharted was a revelation as to what the PS3 could do, and ended the series of shitty ports we'd received as developers struggled to work with the unfriendly architecture before decent middleware tools made an appearance. Both successive sequels raised the bar, so when Uncharted hits the PS4, it's got huge expectations riding on it.

Unfortunately, while Sony fans do love Uncharted, Nathan Drake just doesn't have the same recognition as Master Chief. Third-person adventure doesn't have the same pull as first-person shooter. Charming, lightly-handled drama doesn't have the same audience as silly sci-fi treated like deeply meaningful narrative.

If Microsoft and Sony go head-to-head with their confirmed major first-party properties, it's unfortunately going to be a one-sided fight: the hype-o-meter indicates Halo will wipe the floor with its nearest rival. However, we're almost certain God of War PS4 is coming too. And that changes things considerably. Two massive fan-favourite properties in one show? That's solid gold, son.

Verdict: If Halo was facing off against just one Sony showing, it wouldn't have a problem. Against two, though, things get chancy - unless Microsoft already has something to show for Gears of War, it's probably going to go down to a TKO. A one-two combo like God of War and Uncharted will take a chunk out of even Halo's manly jaw.

Next: the big traditional shooters go head to head - and it's not as cut-and-dried as you might expect.

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Shooters: Round One - Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare versus Battlefield: Hardline

A few months ago this fight card would have looked quite different. EA didn't have a shooter lined up, and Call of Duty is, after all, Call of Duty - the juggernaut of annual releases, rivalled only by Grand Theft Auto in terms of single-release sales figures.

Now, though? Things get interesting. It's tempting to say Call of Duty will steamroll the competition, of course, but the change of developer gives us pause. Sledgehammer is a good, solid developer but this is the first time its ever handled a Call of Duty game on its own, and the franchise has shown some slight signs of fatigue. Will Sledgehammer's debut be enough to brighten things up again? Or is Advanced Warfare just too much like all that's come before? Will Activision give it enough autonomy to break new ground? Will Sledgehammer even know what to do with that freedom? Or will we end up with an over-produced mess?

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Advanced Warfare, then, only has the Call of Duty brand as a guaranteed positive, and that's slim picking. Luckily, its opponent is even more lightweight. Battlefield: Hardline follows hot on the heels of Battlefield 4 - maybe a little too closely, as BF4 still isn't in as healthy a state as many fans would like, and that's an unfortunate legacy to be burdened with.

The change of setting, from military to police, is chancy, too. There's lots of interest in cobs and robbers, but how do you make a cops and robbers game that doesn't devolve into farce?

Visceral is an off choice, too. It's a big team, with a lot of veteran talent, but it's been heavily focused on third-person horror the last few years, and Dead Space's increasingly shootery feel doesn't mean the crew are ready to handle a big first-person shooter.

Verdict: It could go either way, but Call of Duty is likely to edge out on the strength of its mainstream appeal, even if it has nothing else under its belt.

Next: Driving around in circles has never been so exciting.

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Racers - DriveClub versus The Crew versus Criterion's new game

Now, here's an interesting set of rivals. The Crew was announced at the same time as The Division, but it hasn't attracted the same level of interest as the tactical shooter MMO has. That may change this show, if E3 gives it a lot of time in the spotlight.

Meanwhile, Driveclub's in a bad position. It's been so delayed, and so exposed, that people seem sick of hearing about it - hearing a lot, and seeing nothing. Projects that are repeatedly pushed back acquire a bad reputation, and Sony's really going to have its work cut out for it to make this one stand up to racing rivals.

Sony's experience with racers likely gives it the edge it needs to take down Ubisoft's champion, but both of them pale in comparison to the hulking contender that just appeared in the wings - Criterion's new game.

We don't know what this is, but we know what it isn't. It isn't the non-racing game co-founder Alex Ward left Criterion to make. It isn't a Need for Speed game.

Is it Burnout? We can't say it's Burnout. It's probably Burnout. Even if it's not Burnout, there's an extremely high chance it's "a new racing game from the creators of Burnout" which, well.

Verdict: Expect EA to lap Sony and Ubisoft and leave them eating its dust.

Next: Did you think we had run out of shooters?

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Shooters: Round Two - Far Cry 4 versus Star Wars: Battlefront

The shooter war doesn't end when the mainstream-friendly, cinematic military stylings have finished their scuffle. Ubisoft and EA both have first-person contenders on the cards, and while they're very different games, that is likely to work to their advantage in keeping them out of the familiar Call-of-duty-versus-Battlefield dust up.

Far Cry 4 has popped up very suddenly, with a short PR cycle ahead of release later this year. Rapid marketing turnaround is becoming more and more common, but it wasn't that long ago that Far Cry 3 was still a thing, and so this one's come as something of a surprise. Then again, given Far Cry 3's huge success, it's no surprise Ubisoft wants another one out the door, and it's certainly not an inconceivably short turnaround.

Is it going to be Far Cry 3 with snowier graphics and some slight improvements to the gameplay loop? Yes, it almost certainly is. Is that a thing people want? Yes, it is. Assuming Ubisoft brings a trailer as bombastic as Far Cry 3's point-of-view sex scene, this one will blow the roof off.

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It won't have long to settle though, because Star Wars: Battlefront will take it right back off again. This is one of the best-loved Star Wars gaming properties of all time, and there's a lot riding on it. EA has to justify Disney's faith in it, and handing the keys to the castle to DICE is a solid decision. Yes, Battlefield 4 launched as a mess, but it's still a pretty terrific game (and getting better all the time), and the studio is easily big enough to absorb this second project. Look, if you had to put any developer in the world in charge of a multiplayer shooter, without the Call of Duty brand attached to it, who would you choose? (Yes, yes, alright, but imagine Valve said no, because it would.)

Star Wars is big business. Battlefront is big business. DICE is big business. We can hear the cheers already.

Verdict: double TKO, both champions secure a belt.

Next: Some incredible RPGs are headed to the show this year.

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RPGs: Lords of the Fallen versus Final Fantasy 15 versus Project Beast

Another particularly interesting face-off, especially as one of the really strong contenders is still shrouded in mystery. Lords of the Fallen is the dark horse here - producer Tomasz Gop has done a lot of talking about it, but as yet we've not actually seen it walk the walk to any extent. It seems to have a lot of really interesting ideas, and is inspired both by Gop's past project, The Witcher, and by games like Dark Souls. RPG fans are always talking about taking the best bits from their favourite games and making the ultimate RPG, and that seems to be what Gop's doing. Could be a masterpiece, or it could be Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning all over again - plenty of sound, not enough fury.

Facing off against this unknown quantity we have Final Fantasy 15. At this point, if the erstwhile Final Fantasy Versus 13 isn't a return to form for the franchise then Square Enix will probably put the core series on hold for several years. The publisher is attempting to pivot away from big, hubris-charged projects to more open, rapid development, but this one's been in the works for years and hasn't benefited from that attitude change.

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That said, there's evidence it's been rebooted at least once, and Tetsuya Nomura seems to have some genuinely interesting ideas about evolving RPGs while drawing on that dark, partly sci-fi aesthetic that made Final Fantasy 7 so memorable. We have high hopes that it'll meet expectations in its showing, and let's face it - Final Fantasy still has more pull than a fireman with a Lamborghini filled with kittens.

The battle is not yet won, however: with a heavy, deliberate step, From Software stalks towards us out of the shadows ringside. Between the flashing lights we catch only the vaguest suggestion of its face - a PS4 exclusive? A successor to Demon's Souls? The first true next-gen game from a developer that has gone from a marginal player to one of the most influential and important studios in Japan? We don't know. And yet - we feel its opponents tremble.

Verdict: The audience is so invigorated by the sparring that it bursts into the ring and swamps the competitors mid-match, tearing them apart with bare hands and teeth in a Bacchanalian frenzy of lust and acquisitiveness. The judges try to add up points scored so far but are also carried away by the rising red mist of excitement.

Regardless of which company or game wins E3 2014, it's pretty obvious by now who the victor will be: gamers. This is one of the juciest line-ups we've ever seen. What are you placing your money on?

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