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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 »