Sunday, July 27, 2008

E3 08: Microsoft Press Conference

By Tyler Barber



Peace, freedom, and bacon and eggs: the opening line from Bethesda's new (and hilarious) Fallout 3 trailer cued the Pavlovian-salivation response that remained high (for the most part) throughout Microsoft's E3 press conference. Last year, in Santa Monica, Microsoft came on stage and reassured gamers that '07 was the year of Microsoft. They were hyping up surefire games like Call of Duty 4, Halo 3, and Mass Effect, but what we saw then were mostly trailers, not gameplay. So, to my surprise, Microsoft followed the excellent Fallout 3 demo with on-stage demonstrations of three more AAA games. Maybe you've heard of them: Resident Evil 5, Gears of War 2, and Fable 2? All of the games demoed great, and the hype was high for all.

After the heavy-hitters, they followed up with what was, for me, the most impressive line-up of games for E3: the Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) downloadable titles (yes, the Playstation Network games are in that category too -- more on them later). First, we saw Geometry Wars 2, which instantly reminded me how bad-ass Geometry Wars Evolved was. In GW2, you now have not only new single player modes, but also 16 mutliplayer modes with both inventive verses and co-operative play. Next we saw something no one anticipated, Glaga Legions, developed by the same Namco-Bandia team that created the excellent Pac-Man Championship Edition. The mid-conference low followed after that with two cock-teases: Portal Still Alive (extra downloadable stages sans GLaDOS) and a strange flash of a screen for the South Park XBLA game.

Where Microsoft did slip, and slip, and slip was in the already-leaked section of their conference. Leading up the event, a marketing firm, Intellisponse, had a flood of information pulled off their site which contained the images of the new Avatars, the karaoke game called Lips and references to the new 3D interface for the Xbox 360 Dashboard. While it wasn't the stuff core gamers salivate over, I couldn't help but wonder if this slew of new features beat Playstation 3's Home to the punch (which was practically absent at Sony's press event). What was exciting was the announcement of a Microsoft/Netflix partnership that allows Netflix and Xbox Live Gold subscribers to stream any movie from the Netflix database. You'll be able to watch these movies along with your friends (who also have the appropriate services) over Xbox Live with full voice-chat functionality. And before amping up again, they showed the audience more "casual" titles, which are a response to the success of the Nintendo Wii. We're in the Movies came off as sort of embarrassing, but later when I actually played it, turned out to be fun.

To wrap up the show, Square Enix took the stage to showcase three role-playing-games that they've been working on for the Xbox 360: The Last Remnant, Infinite Undiscovery and Star Ocean: The Last Hope. They all looked great, and just as Microsoft was ending the press conference, they pulled a Steve-Jobs-one-more-thing stunt: Final Fantasy XIII coming to the Xbox 360 in North America and Europe. No release date, or new footage, but enough to get everyone talking.

Of the big three, Microsoft's press conference came out ahead. Sure they had the luxury of going first, but neither Sony nor Nintendo showed as much gameplay, nor did they have the amount of surprises that Microsoft did. And yes, I am partial to the Xbox 360, so maybe that influenced my outlook, but I think anyone would have a hard time making a case for the other two as victors in the media blitz that is E3.

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