The Big Three: Grades At E3

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Ok we all know that E3 is this week, and once again GiN didn't send a team out there. We've been away from the show for two years now, since the big meltdown. But while we are still waiting to see how this year's show turns out (which hopefully will be better than the failed experiments of the past two years,) I was able to get a first hand account of the three main press conferences.

I have to admit that I am surprised that G4 didn't mess them up like they have before. I still will never forgive them for cutting off the Microsoft press conference at E3 2007 right at the start of the Halo 3 trailer, and yes, that includes them jumping back in from commercial near the end of the Mass Effect demo. But thankfully despite a few glitches and some annoying banner ads, they actually had the guts to keep the press conferences on without interruption.

Thus I was able to get all the data I needed to write my personal report card of how the Big 3 pleaded their cases and what I found interesting — and what put me to sleep. Keep in mind these are only covering the Big 3 (Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo) so I don't want to hear any fanboys (or resident trolls, and you know who you are) crying "why didn't you review EA or Ubisoft?" So without any delay, let's go over each of the press conferences in order of when they took place.

MICROSOFT (Monday, 1:25 pm EDT)

Microsoft started their presentation like they did at E3 2007, with a demo of the latest Rock Band title. This time, it centered around The Beatles, and featured a guest appearance by surviving members Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. I have to admit it seemed like they didn't know what they were getting into because Paul stumbled around unaware of his surroundings and Ringo only mentioned how he liked the graphics. It was a little awkward, but cool at the same time.

Thankfully John Schappert mentioned that we would not be seeing any charts and graphs, or any of the typical NPD mess, but rather world premieres of new games, starting with Tony Hawk Ride. Tony himself comes out to show off the new Ride controller which looks promising.
But it wasn't anything compared to the first hands on gameplay of Modern Warfare 2, and in typical Infinity Ward fashion, they exceeded all expectations, culminating with an impressive snowmobile shootout that leaves me wanting more.

Next we come to Final Fantasy XIII gameplay footage, and considering my dislike of the series, it looked like more of the same. I'll pass.

Epic comes out next, and for a change, they are working on their first ever XBLA title, Shadow Complex, an interesting cross between Contra and Metroid/Castlevania. Since it is due this summer, I will definitely be getting it.
Another XBLA title coming out is an avatar based racer called Joyride from new second party developer BigPark. Looks nice, and as a free download I'm sure I'll get it but we'll see how much it interests me as it nears release.

Trailers follow, starting with Crackdown 2 (yes!) Left 4 Dead 2 (zzzzzz,) and a new trailer for Splinter Cell: Conviction. Turns out it's not just a trailer, as we also get first hand footage of the game in action. Gone is the emo bearded Sam Fisher and in his place is the same old figure we know. I even thought I heard Michael Ironside doing the voice again, even though I heard he wasn't doing it again. The game has definitely improved on previous versions, and we'll see if the Fall 2009 release date is final.

Next Turn 10 Studios comes out, and as it is no surprise, they announced Forza Motorsport 3. However, director Dan Greenawalt centers his demo more on the ability to customize cars and editing/uploading of high definition video. Would have loved to see more of the game myself.

Right afterwards was one of the moments I have waited for…Joe Staten of Bungie comes out…with gameplay of Halo 3: ODST! We start the demo from a jump pod that goes out of control and then to a flashback of another ODST setting detonation charges in New Mombassa. But that is apparently not the only game Bungie is working on. A teaser video is shown…HALO REACH! Even better we read that it's "Falls 2010." Finally we get to witness the Fall of Reach in action!

It just gets better from there. Sam Lake from Remedy comes out and finally after so many years we see live gameplay of Alan Wake. It starts off slow at first, but I loved how it seemed to be episodic, beginning with "Previously On" footage and then the actual game beginning with "Tonight on Alan Wake." The whole game is narrated like it is actually a novel. Amazing pyrotechnics and flare effects dominate the demo, and Lake at the end mentioned that Alan Wake "will see the light of day" this Spring. We'll see, as it's been long enough. (Then again look at how long Max Payne took to get out.)

Schappert takes a break from the new games to talk about new features to Netflix, including simultaneous viewing without a PC, the addition of Last.fm, Instant On 1080p downloadable videos, and IPTV capabilities in the UK courtesy of Sky UK. I'm guessing all of this is going to take place during the Fall Update.

But it seems that's not all the NXE will be getting. Star of The Guild, Felicia Day, comes out and introduces NXE affiliation with both Facebook and Twitter. Keep this up, and I might have to get rid of my Linux laptop and my Mac Mini and use my 360 for all my social networking.

Ok, back to the games. Don Mattrick takes the stage and asks what franchise every 360 owner has asked for, and is surprised by a familiar person and sound effect…HIDEO FREAKING KOJIMA!!!!!!! In what I think is the first time he ever made an announcement in English, "It's great to be finally standing here on the Xbox 360 stage. I'm bringing the Metal Gear Solid franchise to Xbox 360." When Mattrick mentions about Solid Snake coming to the 360, Kojima states "I didn't mention anything about Solid Snake." Cut to video….METAL GEAR SOLID RISING! RAIDEN IS BACK! And not just Raiden, we're talking about 2008 Badass of the Year MGS4 Ninja Exoskeleton Raiden! Mattrick now confirms the 360 platform is complete. I couldn't agree more.

But if you think we've seen it all, far from it. When asked about the possibility of a motion controller, we get more than we expected. Enter Project Natal, a camera/motion sensor/facial and voice recognition interface making your body the controller. At first I thought "this is their own version of EyeToy," but when Creative Director Kudo Tsunoda walked in front of Natal and it recognized him by face, I was interested, and after seeing some of the demos I was hooked. I almost missed what I eventually considered one of the biggest burns I ever heard. "This isn't the kind of game where you end up on the sofa using some kind of preset waggle commands." OUCH! That took balls.

But nothing entranced me during this demo more than what Peter Molyneux from Lionhead demonstrated. His project, known simply as "Milo" featured a woman talking to a digitally rendered boy and actually interacting with him, even going as far as using her hands to touch a virtual pool (which ripples as if she's actually touching it) and actually giving Milo a drawing she made via the Natal camera. It is so creepy, yet so entrancing, that I have to get my hands on this!

Microsoft may have had some slow moments. I wish they shown more of Forza 3, and I could care less about Sky IPTV (since it's not coming here) or the integration with Last.fm, but as for everything else, all I can say to Microsoft is, damn. Just damn! (I want Natal now!)

Overall grade for Microsoft: A-

NINTENDO (Tuesday, 12:03am EDT)

"Everyone's Game" seems to be Nintendo's mantra this year, but how will they appease the hardcore Nintendo fans they shafted last year? They start off with a bang, introducing New Super Mario Bros. Wii with 4 player simultaneous play. Talk about going for the jugular right away. But then, after Cammie Dunaway refers to Wii Fit as a "gaming platform," we go to an announcement for Wii Fit Plus which features six new strength and yoga activities, the ability to playlist your exercises and fifteen new balance games, and even a new platform jumper that allows you to "finally see what it is like to be in Mario's shoes." Wii Fit Plus will be out in the Fall of 09 both as a standalone and bundle with the Wii Balance Board. Now let's see how long it will be before these will be in stock. It better not be like last year!

Reggie comes out and from the way he looks, even he isn't able to find a copy of Wii Fit, and much to our surprise (sarcasm,) he goes right into discussing the Wii Motion Plus add on. It is eventually demonstrated in some new activities for Wii Sports Resort, including Kayaking and Archery. He takes part in a demo of the 3 point shootout alongside Treehouse member Bill Trennon and I find the shooting controls are fairly accurate. After the contest, Reggie reiterates that Resort will be released on July 26th.

But the Motion Plus discussion continues, as we find out that Red Steel 2 from Ubisoft will REQUIRE the accessory to play it.

Trailer for Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles comes next…yippee, but it leads to the RPG section. We are introduced to Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story for the DS that actually takes place inside the big Koopa's body. Very strange. And then of course, the surprise announcement of Golden Sun DS out in 2010 catches many by surprise.

Cammie comes back to show off more DS titles. First is Women's Murder Club: Games of Passion, based on James Patterson's novels. Not my type but the sandbox shooter Cop: The Recruit looks more interesting. But of course they ruin it by showing off more tweener titles such as Style Savvy.

The pitch moves towards the DSi, with more NPD numbers (yawn,)then apps such as Flipnotes Studio (formerly Moving Memo) and Mario Vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again which will be available via DSi-ware only release this Monday. Warioware DIY is also coming out and for the first time, players can actually create their own microgames. Pretty cool, but still won't warrant me buying at DSi.

Satoru Iwata comes out, but this is where the conference slows to a crawl. After a long droll discussion, he introduces a new peripheral, the Vitality Sensor which detects your pulse. Wow, this sounds like something I want right now! (Sarcasm)

Thank goodness afterwards we get to the good stuff. We are treated to a second Mario announcement: SUPER MARIO GALAXY 2! And this time, Yoshi is back! Of course there is no release date listed but I want this game now.

Reggie then reiterates about getting quality third party titles and mentions the upcoming releases of The Conduit, Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles, and Dead Space Extinction. But in the end he asks if an even edgier game come out? And even more, who would develop it?

Team Ninja?

Just their name caught my interest (even without Itagaki,) but for them to work on METROID: OTHER M? Is this even possible? Could this be the game to finally convince me to repurchse a Wii? Heck yeah!

The last two announcements truly saved the press conference as it was really getting dull. Talk about a hell of a turnaround!

Overall grade for Nintendo: B

SONY (Tuesday, 2:13 pm EDT)

There is no doubt that Sony has an uphill battle. Jack "Where's my $1,200" Tretton comes out with claims they won't be beaten by anyone, even with press leaks. Of course he starts with the typical NPD speech about 30% of retail sales over all three platforms, even PS2. And he says 364 games will come across all the platforms this year and how 2009 will be our best year ever (didn't he say this last year too?)

Uncharted 2 is demoed first, and looks quite impressive, featuring a shootout with a helicopter in a collapsed building.

We then see MAG, the 256 person shooter that was announced last year. The game has a long way to go because it suffers from a poor frame rate and tons of glitches. I even saw what appeared to be a solder flashing in and out of view in the sky.

Kaz Hirai comes out and of course I'm ready for him to make a comment that will rival the $599 US Dollars from 2006. He asks how we can make the PSP better, and in doing so, he introduces what he calls the "worst kept secret," The PSP Go. Claiming it will not replace the PSP-3000, the new model will not include a UMD drive (thereby killing off backward compatibility,) a new slide form factor, 16 GB built in memory, Bluetooth and an M2 Memory Stick Micro slot (which doesn't make sense considering even their own cell phone division Sony Ericson ditched M2 in favor of MicroSD.) The PSP Go would also offer downloads straight from the PSN Store, and will be released on October 1st for $249 in North America, 249 Euros in Europe, and 26,800 Y in Japan.

To remedy the poor music support on the PSP, Sony then announced the Media Go Music Manager, as well as SenseMe which will analyze your own music collection.

In addition, because of the PSP Go, all upcoming PSP games will be available by digital download. Still with only 16 GB of memory on the Go, it will be a pain to have to uninstall and reinstall on a regular basis.

Polyphony Digital's Kazunouri Yamauchi comes out and announces the long delayed Gran Turismo for PSP which will run at 60 FPS, and feature 800 cars, 35 tracks and over 70 track variations. It will also include car sharing and downloads from the PSN store as well as ad hoc racing. Why is it after all these years they can't include infrastructure mode? Sounds lazy to me.

Kojima comes out again and introduces Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker for the PSP and Go. It will be the first true sequel to an MGS title (taking place after MGS3) and will chronicle Big Boss and his formation of Outer Heaven. It is being called the "Missing Link" of the MGS saga and will come out the same date as the PSP Go launch, October 1st.

Jack Tretton comes back out and shows off more PSP titles to come out, including LittleBigPlanet, and Resident Evil Portable.

Talk about PlayStation Home takes place next, and mentions it only being on the PS3. Didn't think anyone still used Home.

The focus then shifts back to the PlayStation 3, and presents a new Rockstar based exclusive, Agent, centering on the shadowy world of espionage. No game footage of course.
However we do see footage of Assassin's Creed II and the new setting of Renaissance Venice looks quite promising. Desmond's new ancestor, Ezio, while looking similar to Altair, learned some new moves, with the help of new ally Leonardo Da Vinci. Inventions such as his Flying Machine will be in Ezio's hands and now we can see that he can also swim, which Altair couldn't do.

Next it's back to everyone's favorite RPG (but not mine at all,) Final Fantasy XIII, but unlike Microsoft's gameplay footage, we just see a trailer with the CG FMV overkill we are used to. But Square Enix has another FF title coming out, Final Fantasy XIV listed as a PS3 console exclusive, but also go figure, it's yet another MMO! Both will be showing in 2010.

The next 10 minutes we are shown a demonstration of a brand new motion based controller prototype coming out for the PS3, but it is so slow and tedious that I failed to keep my attention.

Play.Create.Share, the motto for LittleBigPlanet, will get its second title, a racer called Mod Nation Racers. It failed to capture my interest but I know some who would love the creativity of the racers and tracks.

The show is starting to really slow down, but then they show a trailer that would appease many Ico and Shadow of the Colossus fans: the third title in the series, The Last Guardian. Again it seemed a bit too slow for my taste but the cat/dragon beast the video centers on is animated beautifully and highly detailed.

Jack Tretton returns, and introduces a trailer for Gran Turismo 5, another title that is long in coming, and has a lot to make up for after the boredom that was Prologue. At first it looks like the typical GT forumula, except for one thing that shocked me…a NASCAR license??? I never even knew that EA lost their exclusive rights to NASCAR and this might convince me to get the game. After all, the EA NASCAR titles were falling from grace and it's time for a change. Considering the sim qualities of GT, I'll be looking forward to seeing how this turns out.

But of course it had to end with what everyone wanted to see…God of War III. At first I was disappointed with the way the game ran. Only running 30 FPS was a bad sign, and I didn't favor how the game paused after every hit that Kratos did, a la Street Fighter IV. But of course it was always the QTE battles that God of War is known for and they looked impressive, one of a centaur and the other of a chimera (who actually gets his horn ripped off and then jammed into his own brain.) But as usual when it's time for Kratos to go one on one against a magma based Titan, the demo is cut off, with an announcement of a March 2010 release.

The show ends there, and in my opinion, I was pretty disappointed with the result. We did NOT get any word about a price cut on the PS3, the PSP Go costs too much at launch and compared to the Project Natal demonstration, the Sony motion controller was pretty dull. Sure there were some surprises (NASCAR in GT5 and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker for PSP) but nowhere near the level of the other two.

Overall grade for Sony: C

As of this writing, E3 is still going on, and I will be looking at the other companies and their releases. I will also hope that the following year that I will be making my long awaited return to the LA show floor for E3 2010, but we'll have to see how that turns out.

Currently Playing: Red Faction Guerrilla (360,) X-Men Origins: Wolverine (360)

Waiting for: Project Natal (360,) Metroid: Other M (Wii,) Metal Gear Solid Rising (360)

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