Midnight, Day 1

I am writing this report of Day 1 at exactly 12 midnight, exactly 15 hours after seeing the first exhibit on my E3 schedule. Why so late you may ask? It was because I attended my first ever Microsoft XBox party.

I will admit though it was a little below expectations. While getting out for a couple hours after the expo was a nice diversion, and it was a nice way for me to play the latest XBox titles without a massive crowd, the rest of the setting was very crammed, the music was extremely loud (I could hear it shaking the walls as I waited outside for my shuttle to pick me up), and the overall experience was disappointing. Nonetheless, it was nice to get out for a while and catch up with some of Microsoft’s higher ups (i.e. Ken Lobb, former Nintendo exec turned XBox, and former Next Gen reviewer Blake Fischer, one of the few rival reviewers that I actually get along with).

However, despite all the parties and overall craziness, what matters the most about E3 is of course not the excessive partying, wild drinking, and overly gratuitous, yet visually appealing, T & A; it is about the games, and from what I have seen so far, I have a lot to look forward to.

As I did last year, the first developer on my list was THQ, originally just to see the status of WWE Wrestlemania X8 (GameCube). From what I saw, it had a lot of potential, and will help release the anger I had over Smackdown 3 and WWF (not E) Raw. However, what really wowed me were the first images of Smackdown 4. The facial detail is now amazing, right down to the wrinkles on Hollywood Hogan’s face. I wasn’t able to see all the match types that will be available, but I do know that all the latest additions from the WWE, including WCW, ECW, and yes, nWo, will be included.

THQ didn’t have to just use WWE titles to appease me, not when Red Faction 2 was on display. As a fan of the original title (which admittedly was short when I played it), the improvements on the series are vast. There will be more Geo-Mod used, the enemy AI is improved (strafing and hiding behind walls were common), and the graphics engine is improved considerably. The control is even based more like Halo, and it would be interesting to see how the two titles would be compared.

The Unreal releases this year were key on my list as well, and from what I saw both Unreal Championship and Tournament 2003 look very promising. I could be wrong, but they seem like the same game. However if that is true, it is a darn good game to look at. I will definitely look more into it.

Sega was also on my list, if only to see if Shenmue 2 was still on the list of potential XBox titles, or if it would be scrapped. There was no sign of the game in action, but there were video clips of it. Not a good sign from those who took the Dreamcast version away from me. But I am elated to see two old classics return: Shinobi and Panzer Dragoon. I didn’t get hands-on with Shinobi, but I sure as hell did with Panzer, and it is the way I remember it on the Saturn, only looking much better.

Sega also dedicated a whole section to their sports lineup, and were using it to brag about their acquisition of ESPN (after they and Konami parted ways). I might be the only one who thinks this, but I’m not happy with the deal. I always HATED ESPN because of their biased broadcasting (remember how much I detest Bill Clement), and that will automatically turn me away from NHL 2K3, which unfortunately, looked very good at an early stage.

NCAA 2K3 looks improved as well, but from what I saw from EA Sports, their NCAA Football 2003 will be the one to get. There were a lot of rumors going around that EA would can the much loved Franchise mode. However as Lee Corso himself would say, "Not so fast, my friend." Not only is the Franchise mode returning, it is much better. Schedules can now be made so matchups against non-conference teams can be altered, and finally a Create A School option has been added as well. I will be finding out more tomorrow with my full meeting with EA, that’s for sure.

Lastly, Microsoft is definitely showing off a better display this year, as there are many titles from them that make me glad to own an XBox. Crimson Skies will be finally arriving to a console, and everything looks so much nicer on the XBox, while keeping the same simplistic flight controls that made the PC version a hit. Brute Force also has a lot of potential. It took me a while to figure out how to control my team, but once I got the hang of it, it really caught my attention.

Lastly, I saw not one, but two Tom Clancy titles that I will definitely look out for. Ghost Recon is looking good as well, considering I never played the PC version, but Splinter Cell might be the best title I have seen so far. Being able to play a single operative in the same vein as Solid Snake is just too hard to resist, and when you see how this game shows the true power of XBox, it makes me want it even more.

There is still plenty more I want to get in. I haven’t even touched the online titles, and I only saw a brief snippet of Nintendo’s display (their booth is always packed), but I will make sure to add them on my must see list.

Begun, this year’s E3 has.

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