You know E3 is right around the corner when the Big Three come together to unveil some of their biggest announcements at their annual pre-E3 press conferences. The first of the three was Microsoft and in case you missed the event I’ve watched it all the way through, fifteen times (Ok, not really), scouring over every detail big and small, to make sure I could convey to you, dear reader, every tidbit of information gleaned from the conference.
Obviously Microsoft’s focus this year was going to be on showcasing the Xbox 360’s newest limb-flailing tech, the newly dubbed Kinect (previously Natal). It seems soon after we’ve all gotten used to Natal as a name we’ve been thrown something else that, for some of us, might take some time to warm up to. After the jump you’ll find Kinect’s launch date, info on its launch titles, details on upcoming Xbox 360 titles (Metal Gear Solid: Rising has watermelons!), and the long expected slimmed down 360 hardware. The conference started backstage with some interviews and trailers/gameplay videos from games like Alan Wake, where we were introduced to the upcoming free DLC entitled ‘The Signal’, which looks equal parts strange and intriguing. It’s free so it’s hard to complain. Then we witnessed trailers for Homefront and Hunted: The Demon’s Forge, fulfilling my action craving for a short while, that is, until they got to Call of Duty: Black Ops.
I’ve been growing tired of the increasingly overwrought modern day shooter genre (Modern Warfare, Battlefield Bad Company, Medal of Honor, etc.) but Black Ops has me more than a little excited. We were gifted with insane helicopter fights, snowy landscapes, and underground tunnel missions. It looks great and with World at War developer Treyarch has more than proven themselves to be capable of creating amazing titles in the same league as Modern Warfare developer Infinity Ward. The Call of Duty section of the conference was ended with the announcement of a deal between Activision and Microsoft that will put the next three years worth of Call of Duty DLC on the Xbox 360 before the other consoles. That’s when millions of PS3 fans began to weep.
The next game to be shown was the hotly anticipated Metal Gear Solid: Rising, which was introduced by legendary designer, Hideo Kojima. I was expecting an awesome, frenetic trailer to get my blood pumping in excitement over the game, but I was not expecting gameplay. We were able to see the game’s protagonist, Raiden, slicing and dicing his way through soldiers, cars, buildings, and watermelons. Yes, not even the mightiest fruit can stand in his way. This game looks truly amazing, but what did you expect from a game that’s being supervised by Kojima?
Next up was Epic Games Design Director Cliff Blizenski, who teamed up with three others to show off the game we all knew would show its bloody face at the event, Gears of War 3. It’s much of what we expect; bloody chainsaw duels, gorgeous environments, polished action, and more than a couple surprises thrown into the mix to keep you on the edge of your seat. The first shocker was when we saw a Locust rip the arm off a dead soldier and beat him with it. Dear Epic, this better make it to the final game. Then we saw some effortless gun-swapping, the ability to sprint to your enemy and impale them with your weapon, and a Lambert Bersker. As if the original Berserker wasn’t shit-your-pants scary enough, they’ve gone and made him even more of a badass as well as the ability to leap medium sized fences in a single bound. Cliff ended the demonstration with a tease of the game’s new online mode called Beast, which as of now, is enshrouded in mystery.
What game could possibly follow up Gears of War 3? Fable 3, naturally. Unfortunately, all we were given was a trailer that failed to peak my interest or show anything new. Strange for Peter Molyneux, who tends to overpromise his titles, especially the Fable series. Still though, the game looks great and all developer Lionhead has to do is build on what the second did so well and they’ll have another great success on their hands.
Another title we all knew we’d see was Bungie’s final foray into the halo universe with Halo: Reach. They dazzled us with gorgeous cinematics, expansive battliefields, exciting new weapons, and a much stronger feeling that you’re actually in the middle of a massive war. I was out of town during the Reach beta so I wasn’t able to experience the satisfaction one gets when they walk up behind an unsuspecting enemy and perform an execution, but they look fun. Oh, and the demo ended with you controlling a spaceship as you fight Covenant ships. Yeah, that’s pretty kickass.
Other than a mysterious trailer for a Crytek title called Codename Kingdoms, that’s it for the big games, so now, let’s jump into the second half of the presentation filled with hardware announcements and the Kinect launch lineup.
Honestly, I’m not a big sports fan so the announcement of ESPN coming to Xbox Live wasn’t very interesting to me, but since I know there are plenty of you sports lovers out there I’ll cover it. In its first year we’ll get 3500 shows and live broadcasts, many in HD, and for Gold subscribers the service will be completely free. Surprisingly, there was no announcement of Hulu coming to the 360, and that makes me sad.
Kinect used to be Natal so try and get used to me referring to it as Kinect. Kinect, Kinect, Kinect. Ready? Good. So Kinect will launch on November 4th, alongside 15 titles that all use the tech in (mostly) exciting new ways, and in case you were wondering, it’s compatible with every Xbox 360 out there, regardless of when you bought yours. And while the price hasn’t been confirmed, as the above picture (from GameStop’s website) says, it looks like it’ll be $149.99. A little pricey, so you should keep reading to see if this is worth the price.
The first Kinect game they showed was Kinectimals and apparently the title is perfect for little girls who like to violate small animals. What I found disturbing, besides the violation of innocent virtual creatures, was that the game teaches our impressionable youth that it’s ok to pet a fucking tiger. Fact check: these things are only cute for so long before they get to the age when they decide they think you would make a tasty meal.
Kinect Sports is essentially a better looking, infinitely more draining Wii Sports, and dare I say it has better games. There’s Javelin Throwing, so you can perfect your skill of throwing sharp objects long distances, Soccer, so you can accidentally kick your small unsuspecting pet into the television, and Hurdle Jumping, so out of shape gamers like me can have a heart attack in the comfort of our homes. There’s also Bowling, Long Jumping, Boxing, Ping Pong, and Volleyball, all much less dangerous than the previous three.
They also showed Kinect Joyride, which is a simplified racing title featuring your avatar behind the wheel. Oh, and apparently sticking your ass far out into the air initiates the boost.
Next up was Kinect Adventures; one of the more original titles on the platform. In it you have to make your way through various obstacle courses and whitewater rafting trips that test your reflexes and teamwork in embarrassing ways. This will be the game I use to embarrass my friends and family who aren’t big gamers, and since the game takes random pictures of you in awkward poses, your embarrassment will be immortalized forever. Or at least until my 360 red rings forcing me to fling my console across the room so I can get that sexy new Xbox. Oops, we’re not at that point in he presentation yet.
Bringing the fitness craze to the Kinect is Ubisoft’s Your Shape: Fitness Evolved, which sounds remarkably like Halo meets Wii Fit. Alas, there is no alien warfare here, instead we have professionally designed workouts and Yoga sections, which are guaranteed to cool you down in between beating the crap out of virtual Rubik’s Cubes and performing the only exercise technique that sounds as painful as it does naughty, the Squat Punch.
The last launch title demonstrated at the presentation was something called Dance Central. I was lying to you earlier when I said Kinect Adventure was the game I would use to embarrass my friends because this might be better. It has good music and can be dumbed down so the clumsier amongst us can keep up, but other than its very interesting co-op, it didn’t really wow me.
Or maybe it did and I just forgot because of the announcement that followed the game’s unveiling: the sleeker, sexier, slimmed down Xbox 360. This piece of beauty will have a polished black case like the original PS3, a 250 GB Hard Drive, built-in Wi-Fi, and is, obviously, Kinect friendly. It will retail for $299, pretty much pushing out the other 360 models, and will be available later this week. Yes, I said later this week.
That’s it for the Microsoft Pre-E3 Press Conference; stay tuned for our coverage of Sony and Nintendo’s conference recaps!