E3 2008: Microsoft’s Press Conference – Jonathan’s Take
Microsoft kicked off E3 with a press conference not unlike a firecracker that has been dipped in water: it starts off exciting, but then the fuse runs out and all you get a a little “pop” if you’re lucky. Similarly, they brought out the big guns for an opener, leaving everything but the last few minutes pretty unsurprising. Read on for a play-by-play of Microsoft’s big E3 announcements.
The whole thing kicked off with a trailer for Fallout 3. It began in the form of a 1950′s-style ad for a Vault, which then zooms out to reveal a decimated suburb surrounding the television. From there, Todd Howard gave a live demo of the actual gameplay as your character leaves his home vault. Walking around the Wasteland, he showed off a number of weapons and characters you’ll encounter. Combat, as expected, works much like an FPS, though you’ll have the ability to pause the action and target specific body parts on enemies. All in all — and I say this with a massive amount of bias — it was one of the most impressive sights of the whole show.
Next up was Resident Evil 5 in the form of a live demo. The game seems to retain much of the same gameplay of RE4, but in an entirely new setting and with some new features. The story will involve Chris Redfield landing in Africa to investigate a possible bioterrorist attack. This being a Resident Evil title, the “bio” part of that involves people turning into face-eating monsters. The main new feature they showed off was an online co-op mode, which has a friend playing another agent, named “Sheva.” The demo showed Chris tossing Sheva over a gap between buildings, where she was ambushed by some villagers. From there, she opened fire on them, while Chris provided sniper support. The demo ended with the two encountering a chainsaw-weilding, bag-headed enemy: a revamped version of RE4′s apparently. Finally we were given the too-far-off-in-my-opinion release date of March 12, 2009.
Then Peter Molyneux took the stage to discuss Fable 2 with underwhelming results. He opened by stating flat out, “Fable 2 is finished,” before starting a new cinematic trailer. The video showed a a bird taking off from a tree and flying through the forest with some epic music playing. Then it poops on a kid. You are that kid; and yes, they basically introduced one of the biggest RPGs of the year with a poop joke. Apparently, that’s the opening to the game. But from there, he showed us a demo of the gameplay, which was also kind of underwhelming. Sure the fantasy world looks very polished and you get to have a wife, kids, and a house, but that was about all we saw. Yes, that’s all very cool, but when do I get to kill something? There was one impressive feature shown though with the online co-op mode. Throughout the game world, you’ll see some glowing purple orbs that represent your friends that are online. All you have to do is walk up to one, invite that person into your world, and they’re instantly transported there. It does certainly take away from some of the hassle associated with online co-op.
Topping off this “AAA title sundae” was of course Gears of War 2. They didn’t even need someone to introduce the trailer. The lights dimmed and they just started showing a cinematic with Fenix dragging an enemy through a battlefield and using him as a human shield, all while repeating the line “I have a rendezvous with death.” Very epic (no pun intended), and very cool. Then, naturally, Cliff Bleszinski took the stage to play through a demo of the game. Him and a partner played as Fenix and Dom, respectively, as they encounter a city that has been swallowed into the earth by the Locust. They encounter a few waves of Locust as they make their way around the former city, until a Brumak topples a building over while they’re in it. The demo ends by hinting at the ability to ride a Brumak yourself (Fenix states, “They can ride them, so can we.”). Finally, Bleszinski also announced a new co-op mode called “Horde” which will have you an five friends attempting to fight through waves of increasingly harder enemies. Also he finally revealed the release date: November 7, 2008. I really can’t wait.
And…that was it for the really exciting news for awhile. Don Mattrick, Senior VP for Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business, came on stage as “master of ceremonies” (he’d pretty much surrendered the stage to some developers up until then). Then he started to run through some statistics about how many 360s had been sold, how many people were on Xbox Live, etc. *snore*. Most of it could be summed up thusly: blah blah, we’re kicking the PS3′s ass, blah blah.
Things didn’t really pick up much until the new look for the Xbox 360 dashboard was revealed. An update coming this fall will apparently change your entire Xbox 360 menu to show some images in a 3D space. It’s hard to explain in text (just check out the picture), but it is a completely different look for the dash; which also raises the question: “What about all those people who bought themes and such for their system before?”). Along with that, the new Avatars for the 360 were revealed along with the news that they are being developed by Rare. They’re essentially Miis, but with more customization options. They’ll also come with a constantly expanding collection of accessories and styles that you can download. You’ll also be able to get together with some of your friends (via their Avatars) for a “Live Party,” where you can share content and chat. Most interesting about this though was that you’ll be able to participate in online game shows, such as “1 Vs. 100,” which will feature a live host and real prizes to be won. The whole thing really felt like Microsoft’s answer to Nintendo’s Miis and Sony’s Home.
Then there were a slew of more minor announcements that focused on Microsoft’s approach to family gaming. Some new games slated for XBLA: Geometry Wars 2, Galaga Legions, Portal: Still Alive (which was only revealed with a title card and a few words from GLADoS), and a mysterious Soth Park game. New trailers for Banjo Kazooie (pretty cool) and Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise (meh). As expected, it was announced that 360 owners with Netflix accounts will soon be able stream movies through their console (and, like Sony’s Home, you can bring in a few friends to a lobby to all watch the same movie). They topped off the “family” portion of the show with a presentation of “Scene It! Box Office Smash.” The game will support the new Avatars plus the Live Vision camera for a few mini-games. Some parts of the game will have you performing some strange actions (dancing, swatting virtual bugs, etc.) in front of the camera. Apparently, someone at Microsoft has never heard of the EyeToy from several years ago.
Penultimately, Microsoft moved into the “music” bit of the press conference. Shane Kim came out to discuss *sigh* more numbers, including how many millions of Rock Band/Guitar Hero tracks have been downloaded through Xbox Live over the PSN. He also revealed that Guitar Hero: World Tour will include 85 different tracks (no title yet though) and that an REM track pack will be available for download at launch. Then the long-expected karaoke game, Lips, was revealed. It pretty much looks exactly like what everyone thought it would: a direct rip off of SingStar. The main cool feature of the game is that you can import your own music collection to sing over. Unfortunately this is tied to the game’s least cool feature: you need a Zune to do so (congratulations to all six of you who bought one!). To demonstrate the game, recording artist “Duffy” performed her own song in the game. My only notes for this portion were “Patrick Duffy?” followed by “ears…bleeding…” I’m going to have nightmares thanks to that. They also took some time to discuss Rock Band 2, which will feature 82 tracks, Bob Dylan’s “Tangled in Blue,” and some exclusive AC/DC tracks.
The conference ended with Yoichi Wada, president of Square-Enix, taking the stage to discuss his company’s exciting new titles (i.e. a bunch of RPGs with effeminate young boys saving the world form a mysterious evil). He showed a trailer for Infinite Undiscovery along with a release date of September 2nd. He also announced Star Ocean: The Last Hope, but didn’t have anything to show about the game yet. Finally a very short and dull trailer for The Last Remnant was shown.
Just when the whole thing seemed over though, and Don Mattrick was making a closing statement, Yoichi Wada stepped back out to drop one bombshell on the audience. He debuted a new trailer that didn’t really show anything new, but did convey one powerful message: Final Fantasy XIII is coming out for the Xbox 360.
Check back later today for more announcements from Square-Enix and EA, and be sure to check out Shawn’s alternate take on the Microsoft conference.