X03: The Show
I must confess to being something of a Microsoft press trip virgin having only previously read in awe of their past extravaganzas. Needless to say then I was more than a little excited at the chance for an all-expenses paid trip to Nice replete with lavish beach party-evening thing. Oh, and yes, it was very good indeed, though not - by the sound of things - up to the same world shatteringly huge standards set by previous Xbox conferences. But then, how were Redmond ever going to top the $350 million purchase of Rare? No. The theme for this year was more about consolidation and recapping - and it was a hugely enjoyable evening - but sadly it was one lacking in any major news and even the announcement of an Epic/Microsoft exclusivity deal did little to stir the masses too drunk to sit through an hour-and-a-quarter of marketing spiel without getting rather restless.
It's a good job then that there was plenty of free booze and food on hand to silence the critics - who at least expected some price cut news - but were instead treated to a rather enjoyable DJ set from one of the Massive Attack chaps. None of this however could quell the sense of disappointment from a crowd clearly expecting some big announcements to match the wondrous beach-front setting. Nevermind. Hopefully, we'll hear more on the Epic titles soon - and the plans for Xbox Live do sound promising.
Moving on from the evening's piss-up and onto the day's more sobering and hung-over conference and there were a few treats in store. Naturally, we weren't offered much in the way of 'news', but the range of titles available to play (or at least watch) in some form was impressive - and the ability to actually play a game without having to fight through a crowd of adolescent London kids made a pleasant change (this was not a Sony Experience). Of particular note was the excellent looking new racers coming next year from Microsoft Games studios, and I enjoyed getting my teeth into both Project Gotham 2 (graphically a small advance over the original but overtly much better designed in every way) and Rallisport Challenge 2 (what can I say - ace - graphically stunning and complimented by rock-solid gameplay).
In the Xbox 'Megacruiser' (a sort of big dark truck) I was pleased to stumble across Rare's Grabbed by the Ghoulies, which, apart from having the most comical game title ever (well, there was the odious 'Scarab' I suppose), is a fun, quirky and original title - which boasts a unique visual style and benefits from that unmistakable Rare touch of class. The control system is also rather good and my only disappointment was that I couldn't play more of it.
Technically-speaking, THQ's unveiling of Full Spectrum Warrior was more than a little impressive - boasting rich and dynamic environments that have a distinct sense of being 'alive', as well as boasting a bizarre system for switching between squad-mates which gives you a field of vision effect; heightening the realism. Sadly, I wasn't able to play the game so could only conjecture from afar whether any of this would play well. Memorable, nonetheless.