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E3 – Day One: Microsoft

Posted by g3tech on July 11, 2007

Boasting strong showings for Halo 3, Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty 4 and Resident Evil 5, tonight’s Microsoft press conference in Santa Monica demonstrated a solid Xbox 360 line-up for the rest of the year, but failed to deliver the shocking hardware or software unveilings that often characterize E3 briefings.

Host and Microsoft VP Peter Moore began the evening’s presentation by promising that every game shown that night would be releasing before the end of the year, and proceeded to show the eager crowd exactly what we can expect to be playing before 2008 rolls around.

Confirming that Mass Effect will ship this November, Moore opened with a trailer showing gameplay footage from this eagerly anticipated Bioware-developed action RPG. Thanks to its history with the Knights of the Old Republic series, Bioware’s console RPG credentials are second to none, and the new trailer certainly put smiles on plenty of faces.

Moore followed the Mass Effect trailer with a run-down of the games we can expect on Xbox Live Arcade over the next few months. Most of the titles he announced were already expected, but there was one surprise: the original Sonic and Golden Axe games went up on Xbox Live Marketplace tonight and are already available for download. More sure-fire hits will follow over the months to come, with classic Hudson multiplayer action game Bomberman and old-school Bungie FPS Marathon (which shares roots with Halo) chief among them.

No doubt eyeing the smash success Nintendo has had playing to a casual crowd unfamiliar with videogame conventions, Microsoft’s Jeff Bell – in one of the evening’s only truly unexpected announcements – unveiled a new Xbox Live version of the successful “Scene It” board game. Scene It games, if you’re not familiar with the series, are trivia games with accompanying DVDs – and the Xbox 360 version will ship with four friendly-looking controllers bearing big red buttons and little else, all for the regular price of a 360 game.

On the PC front, a decent portion of the evening was given over to discussing the future of Microsoft’s Games for Windows initiative. Surprising no-one, Gears of War is coming to the PC this year, complete with content that looks suspiciously like it’s made up of all the stuff Epic wanted to ship in the original 360 version but couldn’t. Lead designer Cliff Bleszinsky demonstrated one of the new fights, against the colossus-like “Brumak” creature that made a brief appearance in the 360 game. Viva Pinata, Rare’s half-gardening, half-management game, is also on its way to PC.

Call of Duty 4 also made its debut at the press conference, and impressed many attendees with its graphical realism and sense of atmosphere. Project Gotham Racing 4 was also confirmed as releasing this year, and was demoed live on the amphitheater’s vast screen: it’ll feature bikes as well as cars, for the first time in the series’ history.

Assassin’s Creed also raised plenty of eyebrows, although the rough edges in the demo made some wonder quite how close it is to being ready, especially given its fast-approaching November release date. Producer Jade Raymond took us through a complete encounter in the ancient city of Jerusalem, beginning with a dramatic leap from the rooftops into a haycart in a crowded square (“Luckily, no-one saw that,” she quipped) and ending with an equally dramatic chase sequence across rooftops and through the game’s bustling streets.

Despite Moore’s earlier promise, one game on show tonight won’t be coming out this year. Resident Evil 5, demonstrated in the form of a brief trailer that’ll no doubt be available here very shortly, appears to take place in Africa and has a feel that recalls Black Hawk Down, continuing Resident Evil 4’s departure from the series’ established zombie norm. It was hard to glean much in the way of gameplay details from the few minutes of footage that were on display, but we liked what we saw.

And the two big rumors that accompanied the run-up to the conference? The score is, one wrong, one mostly wrong. No mention of the widely anticipated price cut was made, and there was absolutely no indication that Microsoft’s even considering it. The “grey” console some sharp-eyed fans spotted in a Microsoft-issued photo of a rehearsal session turned out to be nothing more than a dark green Halo 3-themed, HDMI-equipped 360 special edition launching this year with a range of matching accessories. Olive drab is not a sexy color for a console. Or anything else, for that matter.

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Still, on balance tonight proved a solid showing for Microsoft, if rather short on surprises or big announcements for some tastes. Tomorrow holds the Nintendo and Sony press events, so check back soon for all the latest details.

Posted in Assassin's Creed, Call of Duty 4, Computers, E3, Games, Gaming, Gears of War, Mass Effect, Microsoft, PC, Project Gotham Racing 4, Resident Evil 5, Technology, Viva Pinata | Leave a Comment »

Games coming (or came out) out this summer

Posted by g3tech on July 9, 2007

Pokemon Battle Revolution (Wii) – June 25 – What can anyone say, it’s more Pokemon! (Pokemen, Pokepeople?) Whatever you want to call it, expect it to deliver tons of trainable creatures, not to mention cross-functionality with Pokemon Pearl and Diamond. Battle Revolution is also the first online multiplayer game enabled for the Wii, so you can finally display your Pokeprowess to players all over the globe.

Guitar Hero Encore (PS2) – July 17 – Summer is the perfect time for a makeover, so frost those tips, squeeze into skintight leather, and bring headbanging back into style with the latest entry in the acclaimed Guitar Hero franchise. A 30-song set list covers a wide assortment of 80s jams, from the obvious (Flock of Seagulls’ “I Ran (So Far Away)”), to the obnoxious (Poison’s “Nothin’ But A Good Time”), to the obscure (Eddie Money’s “Shakin'”). Whether you’re a scrappy punk, a New Wave artiste, or a Sunset Strip glam rocker, you’re bound to hit the right notes.

NCAA Football ’08 (PS3, Xbox 360, PS2, Xbox) – July 17 – Fans of college football might disagree with the archaic science behind the BCS rankings, quibble about conference strength, and argue over the best tasting Lite beer (Coors, clearly), but they can all agree on one thing —NCAA Football is THE gridiron game for them, bar none. Never content to keep the updates meager, the ’08 edition introduces a wealth of new plays, a reworked Campus Legend mode, and the ability to boost your team’s motivation by taking control of big plays. Best of all is an innovative real-time weather system piped in courtesy of the Weather Channel. Forecast calls for chance of awesome.

Mario Strikers: Charged (Wii) – July 30 – Okay, so it’s not Super Mario Galaxy, but at least it’s not another collection of mini-games, and that makes this sequel to the Gamecube game Super Mario Strikers an easy choice for fans of the fat mascot. Uncluttered by strict rules and overzealous refs, the game keeps its eye on the ball with a roaring pace and intuitive controls. Waggle the Wiimote to shake defenders, or take on the world with ranked and unranked online play. The Italian national team might be plagued with scandals, but Mario and the usual suspects offer good, clean summertime fun. Capisce?

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars (PC) – August 1 – The bad news: Unlike the original Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, this follow-up is not available as a free download. The good news: Everything else. We’ve had our eye on Enemy Territory for a long time, but it looks like we’ll finally get our quivering hands on it this August. Set in the Quake universe, the game pits humans against the alien Stroggs in team-based multiplayer matches. With five distinct classes per side, the strategy well runs deep: construct giant weapons, gather recon, commandeer vehicles, or just blow stuff up. A new user-friendly objective system helps newbies find their footing, while the smooth, adaptable engine lets you focus on the combat instead of the system requirements. For hardcore fraggers, the near-future is bright.

Stranglehold (PC, PS3, Xbox 360) – August 6 – Based on director John Woo’s cult action film Hard Boiled, Stranglehold puts you in the scuffed loafers of Chow-Yun Fat’s flawed detective. Then, it makes you angry, gives you lots of guns and sets you loose in fully-destructible next-gen environments. The result? Riveting action gameplay. Case-sensitive controls let you flip around like a ballet dancer, pulling off classic moves like sliding down a banister while unloading a few rounds from your dual pistols, shattering glass, chipping wood, and hopefully making the bad guys lie down for a while. Sweet.

Madden ’08 (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, PSP, DS, PS2, Xbox, GC) – August 14 – After two relatively disappointing next-gen outings, things haven’t been entirely rosy for the pigskin juggernaut. But if the blazing framerate and cool new animations of Madden 08 are any indication, we’ll chalk that up to first-half jitters. One-handed catches, mid-air collisions, gang tackling, 24 special player abilities, and an updated Hit Stick help distance Madden 08 from its competition (namely, last year’s game). Vets will be thrilled at the long-awaited returns of Owner mode, fantasy drafting and customizable rosters. Opponents of the Tennessee Titans will also revel as they watch cover boy Vince Young succumb to the Madden Curse by twisting something important, but not before helping this year’s game go long. Touchdown, of course.

Lair (PS3) – August 14 – What’s this? An exclusive PS3 game? With dragons? Indeed, PS3 owners starving for software will find a reason to live again when Lair hits this summer. Two opposing factions vie for control of a dying planet, relying on fearsome dragons to wage war over land, sea and air. That’s seamless, by the way — you can fly around, swoop down to feast on some bad guys, hop off the dragon to get some exercise, and take off again without catching the slightest whiff of a loading screen. With gorgeous visuals, unique SIXAXIS control and a bevy of combat scenarios, Lair could be the spark that sets the PS3 fan base on fire.

Brain Age 2: More Training In Minutes A Day (DS) – August 20 – Q: What’s dumber than a bag of hammers? Answer: You! Unless, that is, you spent minutes a day getting schooled by the original Brain Age (and with over 8 million copies sold worldwide, you probably did.) But since you also stopped playing that months ago, your perky, youthful gray matter has likely reverted back to being mushy and stupid. Thanks to improved handwriting and voice recognition as well as a bunch of new games, Brain Age 2 will get those neurons back on track. You’d have to be an idiot to pass it up.

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (Wii) – August 20 – Despite the Wii’s overwhelming success, many fans claim that Nintendo has neglected its hardcore following by focusing too much on family-friendly, casual fare, failing to do justice to the company’s beloved mascot roster. After spending the spring season reviewing 20 mini-game compilations, we wouldn’t argue with those fans either. So to call Metroid Prime 3 an anticipated Wii game is to blurt out an embarrassing understatement: This is THE Wii game of the season, if not the entire year. In addition to the interesting new control scheme, fans will delight in rediscovering the stackable beam system made popular in the old 2D Metroid games. With a batch of new visors and a heap of new abilities, Wii owners looking for their next purchase should stop, drop, and roll like a morph ball to their local retailer the moment Corruption hits shelves.

BioShock (PC, Xbox 360) – August 21 – One way to beat the summer heat is by diving into the cold, icy waters of this spiritual successor to cult PC hit System Shock 2. Set in Rapture, a mysterious city lost beneath miles of ocean, BioShock‘s bold Art Deco style and macabre atmosphere only scratch its horrific surface. A customizable ability system lets you solve puzzles and defeat enemies in a multitude of ways, allowing you to simultaneously wield weapons like Rambo and hack security like Neo. And you’ll need that kind of power when dealing with the creepy denizens of Rapture. Think you’ve seen it all? Then you haven’t witnessed the gruesome sight of a genetically modified child nibbling away at a corpse under the ever-watchful eye of the lumbering Big Daddy, a mute giant wearing a rusty old diving suit. If that doesn’t make you wet your pants, maybe the omnipresent threat of being crushed by a billion pounds of water will.

Medal of Honor: Airborne (PC, Xbox 360) – August 27 – Yep, but we swear this time it will be different. Forget forging down narrow streets as you crawl from one bombed-out locale to the next — Medal of Honor: Airborne reworks the formula from the ground up by letting you parachute down to any location on the map. That means a totally open-ended approach to each of the game’s enormous levels. Drop into a safe spot behind friendly lines, or be sneaky and land on the roof of an enemy bunker. Either way, you’ll relish the newfound freedom of fighting those pesky Nazis at your own pace.

Tiger Woods ’08 (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, PSP, DS, PS2, Xbox) – August 28 – Summer weather and golf go together like peanuts and M&Ms, but let’s face it — those green fees are pricey. For a fraction of that cost you can shoot nigh infinite rounds with the latest Tiger Woods game. In addition to the typical upgrades like new players and courses, Tiger Woods 08 introduces GamerNet, a broadband network that opens the door to player-driven content. Any shot you hit in the single-player game can be uploaded as a challenge for others to download. You can even tweak success criteria, much like calling a shot in a game of H-O-R-S-E: Hit the tree, bounce off the cart path, over the sand trap and on to the green… and into your game library.

Stuntman: Ignition (PS3, Xbox 360, PS2) – August 28 – You have to hand it to the minds behind Stuntman. While the rest of the industry is constantly worried about sending the wrong message to concerned watchdog groups, here’s a game that lets you plow into incoming traffic, barge across intersections, sideswipe innocent cars and smash government property simply to earn a perfectly legal living. It won’t be easy, though. The last Stuntman game was ruthlessly difficult, and unless those time constraints have been relaxed a lot, this one could prove to be similarly stressful.

Blue Dragon (Xbox 360) – August 28 – Developed by an All-Star team of Japanese designers that includes legendary Final Fantasy mastermind Hironobu Sakaguchi, Blue Dragon is a shoo-in for 360 owners yearning for a spiky-haired savior. The hook here is found in the gigantic shadow creatures over which you have total power, leading to plenty of meat-and-potatoes turn-based combat in a massive fantasy world. And by massive, we mean it spans a whopping three DVDs. It’s also currently the best-selling 360 game in Japan, and those folks know their role-playing games. Soon, so will you.

Posted in Computers, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, Games, Gaming, Guitar Hero, Mario Strikers: Charged, Microsoft, NCAA Football ‘08, Nintendo, PC, Pokemon Battle Revolution, Sony, Technology, Xbox | Leave a Comment »