Microsoft came to the new re-invigorated E3 this year to drop some bombs. Sony’s PS3 looks to be catching up as far as exclusive games go for winter this year but Microsoft are already looking further than that to maintain or maybe increase their lead and try to catch Nintendo. Microsoft realise though that before they go off on a tangent to try and entice the casual gamers so enamoured by the Wii they’ve got to appease the hardcore gamers they’ve done such a good job of persuading to join them and this E3 they aren’t messing around.
The Beatles Rockband, Tony Hawks Ride and Modern Warfare 2 were the first games to be shown off. All three will also be released for the PS3 but Microsoft were at pains to try and explain why the 360 should be your console of choice for them. With Beatles Rock band Yoko Ono, Paul McCartney and Ringo Star were invited on stage and the song ‘All You Need Is Love’ was announced to be exclusive to 360. Tony Hawks and some of his skater friends demoed the skateboard peripheral in a video package for Tony Hawks Ride and the first in game forage was shown for Modern Warfare 2. Just to associate the sequel of the phenomenally successful Call of Duty 4 with 360 before the competition would have been enough but to twist your arm further the first two map packs for the game will be a timed exclusive for Microsoft’s console.
Arguably the biggest coupe for Microsoft last year was managing to steal console exclusivity away from Sony with the Final Fantasy series also appearing on the 360. This year Square Enix showed up with some never before seen playable footage of their game featuring a boss battle against a giant mech. It’s also the first time Odin has been seen, a creature you can summon to help you to deliver massive damage. Expect it spring 2010 in the US and god only knows when in Europe.
Exclusive content and associating multi-format games with their console is a battle Microsoft is already winning though which is why they didn’t seem to focus too much time on it. The next thing they wanted to do was push home the exclusive content they have coming and when Cliff Bleszinski from Epic took the stage hopes were raised for something special. What we actually got was an XBLA game called Shadow Complex. Reminiscent of a side scrolling Metal Gear Solid we’re promised a 10 hour game with lots of replay-ability and cool boss battles. Cool, maybe but not the world beater the calibre of Gears of War. At least you won’t have to wait long for it as it’s due ‘this summer’.
Another XBLA title called Joy Ride was shown. Basically a cartoon kart racing game with a focus on stunts the hook is your avatar is the driver and the game will be free for anyone with an XBL Gold membership to download. You’ll only need to pay money for extra cars and tracks but you’ll be able to share the latter with friends who haven’t bought the tracks.
The exclusives started to roll in thick and fast. Crackdown 2 was rumoured to be coming soon and a CGI trailer was shown. Left 4 Dead 2 was a bit of a surprise but offered more zombie violence in a bright sunlit location. Exclusive to PC and 360. Splinter Cell Conviction is an altogether different looking beast from it’s original design and can best be described as Sam Fisher gone rouge. A neat trick is that the story is all told in-game with logos, videos and images of other characters being projected into the environment. It looked much more focused on combat than stealth but Fisher hasn’t totally forgotten the shadows just using them to kill turning from the hunted into a Riddick styled hunter.
Hyperbole was turned up to 11 as Turn 10 took the stage to show off Forza Motorsport 3. Described by them as “The definitive racing game of this generation” with the best graphics, community functions and innovations; the game will apparently run at 60 FPS and allow you to connect, share and create, almost stealing Little Big Planet’s motto outright. Expect it around October and if it’s anything less than perfect expect Turn 10 Studios to get a kick in the teeth.
Up next was Halo 3 ODST. It’ll be played from the view of multiple troopers from the same squad but backwards and forwards in time much like a Quentin Tarantino film. Then as if to try and make up for last years no show Bungie revealed the existence of a top secret project called Halo: Reach which will be released sometime in 2010. In fact if you buy ODST you can join the beta for Reach.
Finally a little more light was lit on Alan Wake. The much delayed but eagerly awaited survival horror game was shown in playable form and started looking like a ‘Previously’ catch-up like you’d see in a TV show before flicking to ‘Today’ which let the playable Wake stumble around in the dark with a torch and a gun. A neat trick was Alan narrated the story in game as the action started to unfold. Light is your major weapon with nasties attacking in the dark.
Confident that this line-up would see them through Microsoft diverted quite a lot of time on showcasing other aspects of Xbox Live. Music is coming thanks to last.fm and fortunately for us Brits who’ve missed out on content in the past it’s going out globally. Netflix is going to get an upgrade but a similar service will appear in the UK thanks to Sky. Facebook and Twitter are also going to get an XBL makeover with support for Avatars and status updates saying what games you’re playing and when. Great news for all those people hooked on social networking. All of this will be coming in the fall.
Then, like a thief in the night and with a loud sound of exclamation Hideo Kojima appeared on stage from literally nowhere and delivered a bombshell comparable to Square’s bombshell last year. A new Metal Gear Solid game subtitled Rising is coming. For all you fans thinking ‘Finally, Solid Snake on 360 take a word of warning, Kojima never said anything about Solid Snake. Metal Gear Solid Rising has a new hero and his name is Raiden. Ninja Raiden though, not pussy Raiden from MGS2.
Ordinary press conferences would have ended there but Microsoft had one last thing to get off their chest and it was called ‘Natal’, at least that was its codename. Rumoured for an age this is the 360’s motion sensing device except, it’s not quite what you thought it was. Rather than a Wii-Mote copy Natal has more in common with the Playstation Eye apart from the fact this thing can see you, sense where you are in a room and hear your voice. In fact, that’s not even the start.
Microsoft asked if they could go “beyond the controller?”, “Make YOU the controller.” If this works it could revolutionize gaming. Natal can sense where you are in a 3D space and track your movement to a character in game, all in real time. Concept videos showed a girl playing a racing game with no controller, a boy playing a fighting game punching and kicking. Another demo showed an Avatar react in real time to someone moving however it was easily the least convincing demo of the lot with jerky and unnatural animation on the Avatar’s part. Finally we were promised Natal can recognise your face, even your voice and react accordingly. Log you into XBL for example on command or if it recognises you walk into a room.
Features like this could create something special in a full game and enter Peter Molyneux with an idea so genius it could be just the thing to change gaming forever. Peter had a video of a demo piece of software for Natal called Milo. Milo it turns out is a small boy who hangs out near a pond. The woman playing the game on the demo trailer spoke to Milo and he instantly recognised her voice and was following where she was stood with his eyes. Milo was able to pick up on the players mood from their voice, throw them in-game objects to wear like goggles and even receive things from outside the game, for example the drawing of a fish. The drawing was held to the camera for a second or two then Milo plucked it into the game world and had a look. The best way I can think to describe this is like Seaman but with an actual child who can almost interact with you.
Just when Nintendo though they had a monopoly on the market Microsoft has an idea so genius it could undo all of their hard work. If the technology behind Natal works as well as the demos suggest it could get people into games like nothing before.
Microsoft then is trying to work all the angles; keep core gamers interest and attract casual gamers with its ‘no controller’ controls. One thing’s for sure, Sony and Nintendo have a huge task ahead of them to top this.
Originally written by the author for TSSZ News.