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E3 2009: Microsoft

by June 04, 2009
Yes, thats who you think it is

Yes, that's who you think it is

Microsoft started off their press conference with a bit of a whimper this year. Last year they had exclusive titles like Gears of War 2 to show off up front but this time they led off with Rock Band: The Beatles. Won't that be on every console? Why yes, yes it will but they'll have exclusive tracks. That you can buy. Excited yet? Also stressed was the downloadable track, All You Need is Love, the proceeds of which will go to support Doctors Without Borders. The most confusing part was when Ringo Star and Paul McCartney came out on stage and gave the game the underwhelming rating of "good." Honestly, they looked confused and more than a little off script. If I had to guess what was going on in their minds, I'd say it went something like, "Are you serious? There are this many gamers? Wow. OK, where's my check." Oh and Yoko was there too but I blocked that out. Look for RB:TB on September 9th.

They followed that up with a demo of Tony Hawk: Ride by Hawk himself. This is also not an exclusive game. He showed off the new skateboard peripheral that you stand on and can actually reach down to do grabs and such. A short video with a few professional skateboarders raving about the game followed. While looking a little awkward in the demo, I imagine that this peripheral will probably increase enjoyment of the game. It isn't so much that Rock Band and Guitar Hero are such great games technically; it is that the interface feels real. For those that always wanted to be able to skate and didn't want the YouTube videos of them busting their junk on a rail, this might be just the ticket.

A few other demos (non-exclusive again) were up next with Modern Warfare 2 (which looked pretty cool - out 11/10/09) and Final Fantasy XIII (which was one of the big announcements last year at E3 - out 2010). Finally they again underwhelmed us with a lineup of exclusive games which included the XBox Arcade title Shadow Complex. Reminiscent of Contra, the title looked interesting but not exactly the type of thing you'd expect to see fronting an event like E3. The game is still in development (there was a neat "standing on air" glitch at the end that led to the termination of the demo) but promises huge maps and lots of environment interactivity.

The big exclusive game announced Left 4 Dead 2. Left for Dead was an immediate hit when it was released and they aren't letting up. While in the first game you were limited to either shooting or punching, L4D2 will introduce handheld weapons like axes and the ever-popular (thanks to Evil Dead 2) chainsaw. Left 4 Dead 2 will be released November 17th (though I kind of wish they could speed that up in time for Halloween).

Once the press conference got rolling, there were a number of neat new exclusive titles including Crackdown 2, Forza 3 (Oct 09), Alan Wake, and Splinter Cell: Conviction. Alan Wake is a survival horror game where (apparently) light kills everything. Expect tons of puzzles. The demo I saw had quite a bit of gunplay though the story looked a bit linear (messages at the bottom told you what to do) and... well... strange. The plot revolves around the main character having written a story that is coming true and he's out looking for the pages. Memory loss? Man, hasn't that been done enough?

Splinter Cell: Conviction is the latest in the series and looks to have a number of innovations including planning moves out ahead of time by looking forward in time (it seemed). While feeling a bit cheap, it saves on all the dying you generally have to do in such games to learn the "tricks" of each encounter. In a game like Splinter Cell, you are generally outnumbered and while you can fight through some situations, you're usually better off using stealth and the environment.

One of the more interesting innovations of Splinter Cell is that the story is told "in game" rather than through cutscenes. While you are climbing a wall, for instance, a ghostly overlay will show something that happened in the past that explains the story. Overall, it looked like it worked though there were a couple of instances where I thought I'd be distracted (or confused) by it. Especially when you are trying to be stealthy and the cutscene starts. I could see myself starting to run/fire thinking I had been caught which, probably, would actually lead to me being caught.

What was not at all surprising but, to me, a little disappointing was all the new Halo announcements. Sure, there were only two but that was two more than I wanted. Halo 2 ODST is a first person shooter (just like the other games) with a story that takes place just before the start of Halo 3. This doesn't bode well for your character I'd think but whatever. They'll be including a couple of sound-suppressed weapons and a low light "visor" mode. In a nod to the greatness that is Horde Mode (Gears of War 2), they are including a cooperative game mode called "Firefight." The story follows a number of different characters that you will play with overlapping timelines. They promised a mystery which suggests more of a plot than, "shoot that" so perhaps the single player game will be worth it. Hopefully, they've tweaked the co-op campaign a bit as well. We'll know on September 22 when the game hits stores near you.

They segued directly into an announcement of Halo Reach due out Fall 2010. While details were sparse, those that buy ODST will get a invite to beta test it. The only rumors flying about this game is that it may be based on the book Halo: The Fall of Reach by Eric Nylun and that it could be a prequel to the entire Halo series.

There were a few announcements for XBox Live that should excite all the users. First, you'll be able to browse, add, and play movies from Netflix directly from your console rather than having to go online and add them to you queue (yeah!). They are adding Facebook and Twitter support (umm... yeah?), Last.fm support (OK), and SkyTV support (yeah if you are in the UK). The SkyTV support includes live broadcasts so that should really show off their server power when Manchester United goes up against the Duchess of York (or whoever they are) for the first time cause you KNOW they'll be much of a country trying it out. The big announcement here, however was "Instant On."

The video marketplace on XBox Live will be renamed Zune Marketplace and will allow you to watch movies and shows instantly instead of having to wait for you to download them. Also, they are now going to offer video is full 1080p and not just 720p or 1080i as they have in the past. They suggested that you'd be able to "Instant On" 1080p which, I have to say, I'll believe when I see.

Microsoft is increasing the usability of Live Party by offing a new cart racer game Joyride for free. Of course, there are a bunch of add-ons that you have to pay for but the game is free and you can play it with your friends. One of the nice things is that if you have a friend that has bought a track, you can race on it (with them) without having to buy it yourself. If you have a tight group of friends, this could cut down on costs. You'll also be able to share movies and TV shows that you've purchased - your friends just have to watch them with you.

They always close with a big announcement and this year they had two. First was that a Metal Gear Solid game is coming to the XBox 360. Metal Gear Solid: Rising is not an XBox exclusive but it does mark a milestone (much like the Final Fantasy announcement last year) in that it takes an exclusive away from their main rival - Sony. No real details of the game were announced including release date. We'll probably see more about this one at the next E3.

Lastly, the thing everyone was talking about was the new Wii killer called Project Natal (expect a new iName when actually released). This motion controller consists of a camera and a mic in a box that is placed near you display. Full body motion capture and voice recognition was demoed with the tech painting using just flailing arms and voice commands. While still a bit glitchy and laggy, the peripheral looked interesting even as a new interface. Facial recognition allowed users to log in to their account without having to give a command, physical and voice commands could be used to navigate the menu, and it was shown being used standing up and sitting down. While I'm not sure it'll get the penetration that the Wii did (in fact, I'm sure it won't), the fact that it is backwards compatible with all hardware means that it might end up being the perfect stocking stuffer (someday).


Compared to last years E3, this one was a bit of letdown for Microsoft. The Project Natal feels like a "mii too" peripheral though the fact that it isn't just limited to controlling games makes it very interesting. The facial recognition alone has got me intrigued. Personally, I'm a bit Haloed out so all that didn't exactly excite me nor did the linear story of Alan Wake. Splinter Cell looked interesting in a "water boarding is a good childrearing technique" sort of way (i.e. LOTS and LOTS of violence). When I find myself the most excited about upgrades (Netflix) and sequels of games that just came out (Left 4 Dead 2), I know that I'm just stretching. Well, at least they didn't bore us with a bunch of stats like they did last year.

About the author:
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As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

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