E3: 20 Best Reveals of All Time

E3 has always been about the surprises, but these are the reveals that truly stole the show.

E3
Photo: Microsoft

At the end of the day, E3 is all about the big reveals. Nobody really cares all that much about what DLC studios are releasing for their dwindling games as a service title or how big the after-party is going to be. These announcements come and go as fans wait for the big moments.

Everyone remembers an amazing surprise announcement, whether it be a brand new IP, a long-awaited sequel, or never-before-seen console. The history of E3 has been defined by these reveals, and they remain the reason so many people pay attention to the yearly event.

Here are some of the greatest E3 reveals of all-time:

Metroid Prime 4

20. Metroid Prime 4

While Nintendo’s recent Direct E3 presentations have featured quite a few surprises, few were as shocking as the Metroid Prime 4 reveal. Not only was the teaser not reserved for the end of the presentation (which typically contains the most surprising reveal of the year), but Metroid Prime 4 was rapidly reaching Half-Life 3 status in terms of likelihood. Now, we just have to hope that we actually get to play this game one day.

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Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

19. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is actually a truly great game that doesn’t get enough love, but even if it wasn’t, it would likely still be on this list. Why? Well, it’s because of the moment when game director Davide Soliani began crying after Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto mentioned him during his speech. Too often, the people who develop our favorite games — and how much they care about this industry and their work — go unrecognized. This was one of the rare moments when we got to see the beautiful human side of gaming.

PlayStation 4

18. The PlayStation 4

Following Microsoft’s disastrous reveal of the Xbox One, some worried that Sony would repeat its PlayStation 3 reveal blunders and that a lot of people would walk away from E3 2013 feeling pretty pessimistic about the future. Instead, Sony not only nailed its PS4 showcase but even took the time to mock Microsoft for some of its controversial Xbox One policies. It was a clean, effective, and wonderfully optimistic showing that arguably laid the foundation for the PS4’s success.

Keanu Reeves Cyberpunk 2077

17. Keanu Reeves in Cyberpunk 2077

We’ll be honest: we typically don’t care about celebrity E3 appearances. They’re often awkward, needless, and generally unimpressive. This moment stands as a notable exception to that rule. Not only was Keanu Reeves enjoying something of a popularity peak when it was revealed that he was in Cyberpunk 2077, but his genuine enthusiasm for the game and the incredible reaction of the crowd once he appeared may never be replicated. Even cynics had to smile at this one.

GTA 4

16. Grand Theft Auto 4 for Xbox 360

The “tattoo” moment pictured above was admittedly a bit awkward (and a repeat from the Halo 2 release date reveal), but you shouldn’t overlook the significance of this reveal. Not only was it one of the only times GTA has made an appearance on an E3 stage, but this was the moment that we realized the Xbox 360 vs. PlayStation 3 war was going to be a close one and that the era of notable third-party exclusives was drawing closer to an end.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

15. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

Good Star Wars games weren’t unheard of when Knights of the Old Republic was revealed at E3 2001, but the disappointment in the wake of The Phantom Menace certainly had fans on their guard. Yet, they dared to hope that BioWare would deliver something that could live up to the sweeping scope, awe-inspiring worldbuilding, and beautiful music featured in its incredible first look. Little did we know that BioWare was working on a game that many consider to be one of the greatest RPGs of all-time and one of the best Star Wars stories ever told.

Reggie Fils-Aime

14. Reggie Fils-Aimé

No, Reggie Fils-Aime isn’t a game (he is, in fact, a person), but that really shouldn’t stop him from appearing on a list of the best E3 reveals when his 2004 E3 debut was one of the defining moments in Nintendo’s history. At a time when Nintendo was at its lowest, Fils-Aime demanded the attention of the audience. He galvanized the Nintendo fanbase and kickstarted an era of brilliant Nintendo E3 presentations. 

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Not only did Fils-Aime reveal the Nintendo DS that year, but he also gave us the words that would define him for the rest of his time at the company: “My name is Reggie, I’m about kicking ass, I’m about taking names, and we’re about making games.”

Kick ass he did.

Resident Evil 7

13. Resident Evil 7

No one expected a new Resident Evil title to be revealed at E3 2016, let alone anything as game-changing as Resident Evil 7, a title that did away with many of the franchise’s traditional gameplay elements. The game’s brilliant E3 debut trailer was not only expertly shot but showcased the kind of intimate terror that harkened back to Resident Evil’s roots. Ultimately, the final product did deliver an experience we hadn’t seen from the series before.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake

12. Final Fantasy 7 Remake

Final Fantasy 7 Remake had become something of a joke by the time the game made its surprise debut at E3 2015. Few thought we’d ever actually get a remake of this beloved Final Fantasy game, much less see it on the PlayStation stage at E3. But when that trailer aired, it felt like we were receiving a broadcast from some alternate gaming timeline. It was a bit of fan service, but it was damn good fan service. 

Of course, Square Enix kept fans waiting for five years after that reveal, only releasing Final Fantasy 7 Remake in 2020. Fortunately, the game was worth the wait.

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Elder Scrolls 6

11. The Elder Scrolls 6

Much like the Final Fantasy 7 Remake trailer, The Elder Scrolls 6 was thought to be something of a lost cause. Maybe we’d get it one day, but few were ready to get their hopes up. Bethesda may eventually come to regret showcasing The Elder Scrolls 6 so far ahead of its actual release, but there’s no denying that the studio gave fans a truly special moment when it revealed the game at E3 2018. 

Doom 3

10. Doom 3

Technically, Doom 3 was revealed ahead of E3 2002, but the demo the Doom 3 team brought to that show was all anyone could talk about that year. Many couldn’t believe that gaming was capable of delivering such a stunning cinematic experience. The final product would turn out to be somewhat controversial, but this demo stands the test of time as a fantastic (and surprisingly honest) representation of an ambitious vision of gaming’s future.

Nintendo Wii

9. Nintendo Wii

Console reveals at E3 have been historically tricky. We all remember the disastrous PS3 reveal after all. However, Nintendo deserves quite a bit of credit for nailing the unveiling of the Nintendo Wii.

While the Wii was first referenced in 2004 and physically shown in 2005, we’re talking about the console’s proper reveal in 2006. Nintendo’s brilliant Wii showcase convinced everyone that motion controls were the future of gaming. They certainly felt like it after this presentation.

BioShock Infinite

8. BioShock Infinite

The original BioShock wowed audiences when it made its E3 2006 debut, but few games in the expo’s history have stolen the show quite like BioShock Infinite did at E3 2011. While Infinite was revealed in a limited capacity ahead of E3, the game’s 2011 demo and trailer were the first real looks most people got at one of the most anticipated games of its time. Infinite would eventually divide that adoring fanbase, but few games since Infinite have made E3 their own quite as this sequel did.

Call of Duty 4

7. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

WWII shooter fatigue had certainly set in by the time Call of Duty 4 made its debut at E3 2007, but few were prepared for the franchise to abandon its historic roots with such grace and spectacle. The first Modern Warfare trailer exhibited everything great about the Call of Duty games until that point but in a new era of warfare. Somehow, this game would turn out to be even more impressive than its debut suggested.

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Fallout 4

6. Fallout 4

Many people assumed that we’d eventually get a new Fallout game from Bethesda, but the silence that followed the release of Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas cast some doubt on when we would get it. Heading into E3 2016, it seemed like it would be business as usual for Bethesda.

Yet, the publisher shocked everyone by not only showcasing Fallout 4 that year but announcing that it would be out before the end of 2016. This reveal proved to even the most cynical E3 viewers that the show still had the ability to truly surprise.

Killzone 2

5. Killzone 2

Real or fake? While E3 trailers before Killzone 2’s 2005 debut had prompted that question, all anyone could seem to talk about after that year’s show was whether or not the stunningly beautiful Killzone 2 trailer could actually be real. It turns out that footage was mostly exaggerated, but Killzone 2 certainly remains one of the most memorable E3 reveals of all-time and something of an unfortunate trendsetter for visual wonders to come. 

Half-Life 2

4. Half-Life 2

We’d say you have to go back to 2003 to appreciate how revolutionary Half-Life 2’s demo was, but the truth is that this gameplay reveal exemplifies more creativity and cleverness than many modern previews. Half-Life 2’s physics-heavy demo inspired people to wonder if they really knew what modern gaming technology was capable of. The Half-Life 2 demo was loaded with “wow” moments that turned out to be just snapshots of the final product. Most importantly, nobody denied that the footage was real. 

Halo 2

3. Halo 2

The Halo 2 trailer was a lie. Bungie later admitted that the engine the trailer was running on was simply not possible on the Xbox. The studio also showcased a sequence that wasn’t actually in the final game and led players to believe the next Halo would spend a significant amount of time on Earth.

Honestly, though, it’s hard to look down on this demo all these years later, even after learning the truth. It was such a stunning and well-executed preview that excited the live crowd watching it like few games before or since could ever hope to.

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The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

2. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

It’s funny to look back at this reveal knowing what we know now. After all, our first look at what Twilight Princess would become wasn’t even referred to as Twilight Princess and only vaguely resembled the final game. It was also crafted largely in reaction to the negative reception that The Wind Waker’s cartoon-style received (that game is now considered to be one of the best Zelda games ever).

Yet, there’s a certain timelessness to this 2004 reveal that manages to excite to this day. Nintendo gave fans exactly what they wanted by showcasing a “mature” Zelda game and exceeded expectations by proving that the concept could look even better than anyone could have hoped for.

Metal Gear Solid 2

1. Metal Gear Solid 2

Video games have obviously always been a big part of E3, but prior to the year 2000, few individual games had really managed to become the undisputed star of the show. But in 2000, hundreds of attendees packed into the Konami booth just to watch a nearly 10-minute preview of Metal Gear Solid 2. Thousands more suffered through early internet download speeds to watch a low-res version of it at home.

Metal Gear Solid 2 really started the trend of studios competing to have their game become the most talked about at E3, and we’ve been the beneficiaries of that approach ever since.