Just like last year Microsoft took to the E3 stage with all guns blazing without fear from Sony or Nintendo who preferred to wait for 24 hours and see just what Microsoft had been up to since the previous show. Whilst many details were leaked beforehand, Microsoft still had a few surprises up their sleeve and at the end of their conference seemed pretty pleased with themselves and confident that their rivals wouldn’t be able to match their announcements. Things started off a little shakily as the first four games to be revealed were non exclusive titles, surely if you want to impress the crowd you don’t show games which will appear on your rivals system and in the case of the PS3, look exactly the same.
Not only that but there was a rather embarrassing debacle when Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr arrived on stage with hardly anything to say about the upcoming Beatles Rock Band game aside from it having good graphics followed by plenty of brown nosing by the Microsoft rep. And what was the point in Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison flying all the way to LA just to wave at a hall full of sweaty video game journalists and not utter a word? The actual premiere trailer and live performance of The Beatles Rock Band looked rather good and it may very well be the first of the modern music games to tempt me into a purchase. Featuring realistic yet stylised graphics which are very reminiscent of The Beatles imagery from the 60’s really appealed to me. If you have ever watched the Yellow Submarine film you’ll know what to expect from the graphics. New information included that Xbox Live users will have access to an exclusive track (All you need is Love) on Xbox Live with proceeds going to charity. Even better than that was the news that all of the tracks have been remastered and that practically every album by The Beatles will be available as DLC after the launch. Oh and the whole album Abbey Road comes with the game.
Next up was Tony Hawk Ride where the skate master himself came up on stage to reveal the final design of the new skateboard peripheral which will come bundled with the game for around $100. After reading from an autocue for a while (something which Paul and Ringo should have done) he then presented a trailer starring himself and other skater friends enjoying the game and the new board. The dudes in the trailer were being paid so forgive me for being pessimistic about this one. After those two Microsoft decided to bring out one of the big guns and presented us with a very tasty looking trailer then live game footage of Modern Warfare 2 where the deserts and oil fields of Call of Duty 4 have been replaced by a very cold looking snowy landscape with plenty of excellent weather effects. The action was nonstop with gun fire and explosions everywhere, my favourite scene was very James Bond esque when the player shot an enemy soldier riding a Snowmobile then jumping straight on it and riding off. Don’t you wish Rare has incorporated that into a Bond game before they lost their edge? Regardless Modern Warfare 2 looks like a sure fire hit later this year and with Microsoft Xbox Live having two additional DLC map packs before the arrive on PS3 means another drubbing for the Cell Powered console this time out.
Last in this section was the first unveiling of Final Fantasy XIII running on Xbox 360 hardware, to be honest I didn’t notice a difference to last year’s trailer which was running on the PS3 so expect a near identical looking and feeling game on both systems, the only difference may come down to exclusive downloadable content which of course would be announced closer to the Spring 2010 release. Once again I’m not really a Final Fantasy guy and instead prefer Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda series so Final Fantasy isn’t on my wish list but I’m sure it’s on plenty of yours. Here is where Microsoft made their biggest mistake or even a deliberate lie, after announcing that the following ten or so games would be exclusive to Xbox 360 they went on to give us the world exclusive footage of Left 4 Dead 2 which is also coming out on PC which means it is in no way exclusive to the Xbox 360. Exclusive or not Left4Dead 2 looked stunning and has taken the series away from the dark and dingy feel of the original into a bright modern daytime setting. Instead of needing a torch to find your way around you’ll be using a whole host of new melee weapons (including Frying Pans, Axes and Chainsaws) in a bid to fend of bigger hordes of infected than ever before. With a new roster of four survivors this Latin American sequel to Left 4 Dead looks rather interesting and seeing that it comes with more levels, new special infected and other goodies made it the highlight of Microsoft’s event in my opinion. Other genuine exclusive titles in this segment included:
- Shadow Complex, an Xbox Marketplace title which is a side on 3D graphic shooter which looked to mix Metroid with Metal Gear Solid.
- Joy Ride, an avatar game with downloadable tracks and online Live multiplayer, think Mario Kart meets Wacky Races but starring your Avatars.
- Splinter Cell Conviction with an all new stealth style for Sam Fisher was shown next. This time it’s personal with Sam trying to find the killer of his daughter.
- Forza Motorsport 33 was the next reveal with a stunning albeit short trailer showing off the new graphics engine, they say it’s the best looking racer of all time but I’m sure Gran Turismo 5 may try and disagree if it ever comes out.
- Another big gun this time, Halo 3 ODST, a prequel to the original Halo 3 where you take control of a new series of troops (the ODST) who have new and interesting weapons and abilities, now you can find out what really did happen in the 3 weeks preceding the start of the Halo 3 storyline. This was a surprise showing from Bungie.
- Halo Reach is a brand new title in the series seemingly set solely in space, not really any other information except that a multiplayer beta will come free to those who purchase ODST.
- Alan Wake, a third person survivor horror game very reminiscent of Silent Hill was then shown. The very dark trailer showed the hero trying to find his friend in the forest grounds of a house whilst poltergeist style paranormal activity and crazed villagers tried to stop his progress.
Microsoft then slowed down the pace a little to give us brand new details about upcoming additions to the Xbox 360 dashboard including a Last.FM channel, Facebook photo integration and even a real-time interactive Twitter feed. These paled in significance slightly when news of an upgraded Video Marketplace (Zune) with no delay 1080p movie streaming and live TV content provided by Sky for UK audiences was announced. Another big gun took to the stage in the form of Hideo Kojima talking about a new Metal Gear Solid for Xbox 360; apart from a trailer not much was mentioned other than the suggestion that this game could possibly feature Raiden as the lead character instead of trusty spy guy Solid Snake. Could it be true? We’ll no doubt have to wait a bit longer to find out.
Finally came the first true showing of Microsoft’s venture into Motion sensing gaming. Microsoft and Sony originally dismissed motion as a new way to play but now seem to have taken note of the Wii’s success and the many billions of dollars in Nintendo’s basement have suddenly changed their minds because both did indeed show off their motion sensing devices this year. Instead of a controller, Microsoft’s Natal features multiple cameras with advanced visual recognition technology and custom processing hardware. The demo’s shown did prove that the system works and allowed you to interact with the game with your body alone in front of your TV, however some of the footage showing a family pretending to hold an invisible steering wheel looked rather ridiculous, at least Mario Kart Wii gave you something real to hold. I actually preferred the system’s use as a Minority Report style way to control your Xbox 360 dashboard rather than a gaming interface because I like something physical in my hand when it comes to gaming. Only the future will tell if Microsoft and third parties embrace this new technology and come up with real and fun games for us to play, however if Microsoft’s previous entry into Motion gaming and interactive play (You’re in the Movies) is anything to go by this could be a very expensive waste of time. Overall Microsoft had a very good show and a wide ranging selection of games which were mostly suited to the hardcore, Natal seems and interesting new entry into the casual market and could trouble the Nintendo Wii if real effort was put behind it. However Nintendo have Wii Motion Plus arriving over a year beforehand which promises 1 to 1 gaming in the mean time. With such a head start Microsoft could well be on the back foot when they eventually come to release Natal at the expected $100 price point.