Business as usual for Microsoft
The gaming sector now dominates the entertainment industry; Microsoft reminded us once again at E3 2008. Movies, games, and online communities are colliding and the battle is now not just about who's got the fancy controllers and best games. Its about who's got the whole package - who offers the best downloadable content, who caters for 60 year-olds and 5 year-olds alike, and who can best bring their online community together in gaming, movie watching, socialising and, of course, who has the best funky avatars.
A whole host of new Live features were announced by Microsoft including the ability to share and watch movies with your online friends, online game shows such as "1 vs. 100" which allows one gamer to take on 100, gamer avatars - which look more than a little like Miis, and a completely new interface designed to better integrate the online community. MS even had the gall to hint that they expect people to be hopping on to Live to see "what's on" - like flicking on the TV. Subscribers have now passed the 12 million mark, according to Microsoft, with a new member joining every five seconds.
Rumours of a motion sensor controller making its way to the 360 remained unconfirmed as Microsoft chose not to even hint at such a thing. Instead, for the 360, E3 was pretty much business as usual with a huge list of tasty games on the horizon, many of which aren't exclusives, being showcased on the big stage.
A real victory for Microsoft came with the announcement from Square-Enix that the 13th instalment in the once Sony exclusive franchise, Final Fantasy, would be making an appearance on the 360. It's certain that there are many FF addicts out there who would have purchased a PS3 purely on the basis of this title; now they have other options. Square-Enix also chose to confirm briefly that Infinite Undiscovery, Star Ocean - The Last Hope and The Last Remnant will all be hitting the 360.
The shear mention of Fallout 3, by now, should be enough to cause a shudder of excitement under the skin of any 360 owner. Ticklish 50s styled post-apocalyptic humour remains an undercurrent of everything shown in the game. Of course, Microsoft blabbed on about how much great DLC will be available in the 360 and PC versions, but we all know this - as with many of the hits coming to 360 over the next year - is a multi-platform title.
Fable 2, which was announced as finished and ready to hit shelves in October, and Gears of War 2 are, however, exclusive to the 360 of course. The former offers a friendly RPG experience with "...an incredible AI agent!" One man and his dog, going through a colourful world, chatting people up, getting married, having kids, and ... questing of course. The main story is apparently only 13 hours long, which gives an indication of the huge range of non-story specific activities available in Fable 2. Purple orbs hover ominously throughout the world, representing your friends playing their own single player game, and you can invite them straight to yours without the fuss of menus, lobbies and whatnot.
GoW2 will be a massive console seller, Microsoft predicted in their briefing. The game is now penned in for release on the 7th of November. Gameplay footage shows epic environments, massive enemies, a phenomenal game engine, massive production values, great voice acting, and so on. The ability to employ human (and alien?) shields seemed to be a focal point at the E3 showing of the game.
Microsoft also had the pleasure of hosting the unveiling of the world's first public Resi 5 playable demo. The game, a first for the series, features an online co-op mode. Players will require aid from each other to navigate obstacles and navigate the hostile world of the title. The game actually looks much like Resi 4 with a splash more polish; the multiplatform release date is the 13th of March 09.
A couple of game-footage videos of Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts and Viva Pinata 2 - which is gorgeous by the way, almost entrancing - revealed nothing new but highlighted just how great all these games look. Rare also announced that the original Banjo-Kazooie from the N64 will be heading to Xbox Live Arcade. Other announced games for XBL Arcade include Geometry Wars 2, Galaga Legions, and Portal: Still Alive - not a full blown sequel but something which will provide a little bit of extra play, and it's exclusive to Live.
Guitar Hero World Tour and Rock Band 2 had almost simultaneous billing, split up only by a SingStaresque title called Lips. Are Microsoft trying to encourage inter-title competition? GHWT will have a massive 85 master-track songs, we were told, the most they're had yet. RB2 followed that up by announcing they would have 84, but with 20 tracks available as DLC for free, the game set to be a 360 exclusive.
Also paraded, rather embarrassingly, was You're in the Movies. This game makes use of the 360 Vision camera and bears a striking similarity to the EyeToy franchise. Gameplay involves hopping, dodging, and basically jumping around like a fool in-front of your mates while the onscreen version of you manoeuvres their way through various mini-games. There's no doubt that the Vision camera is picking up movements more accurately than the Eye, but the question is whether this genre really has any life left in it.
The Microsoft experience at E3 2008 was largely unsurprising, but was still inspiring and interesting. Microsoft clearly didn't have any aces hidden up their sleeve which they were ready to reveal to the world, but at least everything we already knew about looks good; while the platform holder remains supremely confident.