Microsoft E3 2009 Conference Round-up

Microsoft’s conference was first out of the gates, and here’s what went down:

Beatles: Rock Band was the first port of call for Microsoft, with Harmonix playing along to a few popular tunes.  The first DLC, “All you need is love” will be exclusive to Xbox 360.  Right.  Beatle-ladies took to the stage, Ono and Mrs Harrison were joined by Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.  Lots of Americans clapped.

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Tony Hawk: Yeah, he was there.  He talked about his new plastic skateboard.

Modern Warfare 2: 10 minutes of the dullest bits of FPS ever seen, followed by a bit of blasting and some snowmobile chasing.  The Aliens-style motion sensor on the gun was cool, though.  Still looks incredibly scripted though.  Xbox owners will get first access to the first two map packs.

Final Fantasy XIII: Kitase and Toriyama showed off FFXIII running on 360 hardware.  Sony fanboys wept. Game looks astonishing, and the new monsters and the summon created for the demo were lovely.  Game will launch in Spring 2010, presumably in Japan, mind.

Epic: CliffyB (is that still his name?) and Donald “where’s my mic?” Mustard showed off an Unreal Engine 3 powered XBLA title: Shadow Complex.  It’s a side-on blaster with some nice environments and nice weapons.  An easy sell for the Xbox crowd, seemingly, do want.  Out in Summer.

Joy Ride: an Avatar based community racing title – free to download and free to play, but microtransactions abound.  People clapped, but they won’t buy it.  Arrives in Winter on XBLA.

Crackdown 2: pre-rendered trailer.  Meh.

Left 4 Dead 2: again, just a trailer, but this time with chainsaws.  Arrives November.

Splinter Cell: Conviction: another trailer.  Thankfully the developers arrived to play through the E3 demo.  Game actually looks pretty good, wildly brutal, but it was hard to see how much they were actually ‘playing’ it.  The ability to pre-set ‘marks’ is cool, and the way the game overlays missions objectives is nice.  A great exclusive.

Forza 3: Yeah, so unless Sony shown GT5,  Microsoft wins that one.  Forza 2 was great, and the third game looks even better, with a good in-car view and some nice damage.  Again, no-one was really playing it, but their claims of Forza 3 being the biggest racing game (50 manufacturers, 400 cars) might well be true.  Lots of new community features too, and lots of emphasis on the tuning and wicked livery editor was well placed. The high-def video editor was the icing on the cake.  Out October.

Halo 3 ODST: The drop landing was very Killzone 2, seems ODST is set before Halo 3.  Looked fine, some nice flashback structure so the game is more of a mystery than previous straight-up shooters.  Might be a lack of connection if you’re constantly changing, and doesn’t really feel like Halo, but we’ll see.  The crowd response was muted, to say the least.

Halo Reach: Bungie’s ‘secret’ game, out next year.  Complete prequel to the Halo story, with a beta of Reach packed in with ODST.  Nice.

Alan Wake: Lots of in-game footage shown, probably the 360’s biggest exclusive so far, due for Spring 2010.  Remedy have worked wonders with the 360’s hardware: the animation was sublime and the game looks really spooky: Silent Hill with slow-mo as you play the story through the pages of Alan’s book.

Last.fm: A cool collaboration between Xbox Live and the free social streaming network, giving Xbox owners access to millions of tracks at no additional charge.  Gold members only, mind.  Netflix is also getting an update too, and the mention of Sky TV for UK and Ireland is a really welcome partnership.  The video library is getting updated to 1080p, with instant TV show streaming and they’re upping the number of countries supported from 8 to 18.  Smashing.

Facebook: Finally, Xbox gets online, so to speak, with this NXE-based social networking tool.  Still built around the slightly clunky NXE interface, with integration between Facebook and Xbox Live friends with full screen photo browsing.  Not sure why you’d do this when you could do it on your PC or phone I’m not sure, but it’s a cool exclusive.

Twitter: Yeah, this was better.  The interface was better, looks more iPhone-esque but it’s still a dedicated screen rather than pop-ups appearing in-game or on the NXE.  Both services are due on Xbox Live this Autumn.

Metal Gear Solid: Heh. Kojima appeared on screen with trademark “!” sound.  The Metal Gear franchise will appear on Xbox 360, starting with Metal Gear Solid Rising.  It won’t be Solid Snake, mind – the cloud has finally moved: looks like Raiden to us, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on how you feel about the poor guy.  He didn’t say it was 360 exclusive, and it’s certainly not MGS4, so we’ll wait and see what Sony say tomorrow.

Project Natal: Technically brilliant but really won’t sit with the current hardcore Xbox fanbase. Let’s hope they’re not using too many resources on this, and whilst the scanning of the skateboard was a neat touch, we can’t imagine Tony Hawk will be happy Xbox owners don’t need his stupid plastic controller anymore, good job it’s not exclusive, eh?  The crowd whooped at the motion control camera and some of the tech demos were interesting, but we’re not sure about the whole thing yet.  Even Steven Spielberg and ol’ Pete didn’t really know what to say.

Milo: The Project Natal demo Lionhead were working on.  It’s hard to say how much of the demo was dynamic and how much was scripted, but this could well be the future of gaming if it’s done properly.  The interaction was astonishing, and will be shown behind closed doors to a select few, so we’ll hopefully hear more later this week.  One is true: the Wii is now dead in the water.

And that’s it.  If it wasn’t for the Kojima experience and Natal (and Mattrick’s donkey like clapping) the whole thing would have been slightly underwhelming.  Solid enough, and Natal could be great, but overall the conference wasn’t really full of the kind of surprises we were expecting.  Sony, all eyes on you.

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