Monday, July 14, 2008

E3 2008 Impressions: Microsoft

E3 at one time was the Superbowl of games, with stampedes of eager college students and press running in to soak in as many of the new holiday season titles that they could in a meager three or four days. Last year, they scaled down the size of E3 considerably inviting a fraction as many people and moving the date of the expo from May to July. Instead of cramming all the developers into a sweaty hanger, they instead opted for a hotel driven display where the press would have to get on a bus to go between different titles. This lead to a fairly disappointing expo with most of the games on display just being rehashed demos that most of the press members already played in some form at other public events. While there were some surprises like the announcement of the Balance Board accessory for the now unspeakably popular Wii Fit, most of the announcements just amounted to corporate gloating and confirmations of titles most people already new existed.

Fast forward to 2008, this year the scaled down E3 seemed to be taken a bit more seriously as a press outing. With announcements of Microsoft's Xbox 360 price drop and their Avatars leaking out through the internet and Nintendo's official confirmation of a new Animal Crossing game and a mysterious and ambitious Wii MotionPlus accessory this E3 is clearly a whole new animal than we've seen last year. The first conference up was Microsoft's, which I was checking up on the live-blogging and Twitter feeds at work every time I had one of those 30 second breaks waiting for computer related frustrations. As soon as I got home, I watched IGN's prerecorded coverage of the event and was both impressed and disappointed at what Microsoft had to offer.

The Good:

  • Fallout 3 looks really violent and really awesome. I haven't actually played any of the other titles in the Fallout series but I immediately appreciated its subtle 1950's bomb scare style humor and its use of nuclear zombies and severed limbs. While its a multiplatform release (with the exception of my poor neglected Wii), the Xbox 360 version looked pretty solid.
  • As a fanboy of both the American Elite Beat Agents and the Japanese Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! franchises, I was pleased to see iNiS was developing the karaoke title Lips. While on one hand it looked like a washed up version of Singstar, I'm pretty excited for what's to come with the motion sensitive microphone, even if its for some Guitar Hero-style titling gimmick. I'm a sucker for Karaoke, it was a blast at Pratt and its my favorite aspect of Rock Band by far.
  • Resident Evil 5 is shaping up to be the same kind of faux-zombie killing fun that I played to death on my Gamecube and Wii's Resident Evil 4.
  • Portal: Still Alive sounds really cool, I like the idea of it being a downloadable title from the start this time but I'm not too fond of that Xbox Live Arcade exclusivity. It was born to be a PC game.
  • I thought Gears of War was pretty rad from what little I played of it, Gears of War 2 looks just as fun.
  • The original Banjo-Kazooie is coming to Xbox Live Arcade, that's pretty sweet. Here's hoping for some graphical updates to it.
  • The Avatars while being a blatant rip-off of Nintendo's Miis, seem to be a lot more open to third party usage in titles. I've also been kind of a Mii addict so whatever this brings, it gives me a small reason to be excited.
  • The Netflix partnership for streaming movies to your Xbox 360 is a fantastic feature and a great kick in the face to Apple TV. Not digging the exclusivity though.
  • The Square-Enix announcements really came as no surprise to me but I'm pleased to know that the RPG-starved Xbox will at least be getting some non-KOTOR style RPGs. Final Fantasy XIII makes sense with the Unreal Engine being designed for cross-platform support, not too excited for The Last Remnant or Star Ocean though.

The Bad:

  • Microsoft seemed unsure of whether or not it wanted to appeal to the "hardcore" crowd (and by that I mean the immature teens and frat boys who play the Halo games) or the "casual" middle-aged Wii crowd. They opened with the "this conference may be tough to stomach" line with the "hyper violent" (and I put that in quotes for a reason) line-up for the rest of 2008 and 2009 but then they went on to introduce a new Wii Channel and Windows Media Center-esque GUI for the Xbox 360 and the introduction of Xbox Live Avatars which look like blander versions of Miis. Microsoft isn't fooling anyone with this.
  • I don't think anyone will use the Xbox Live Primetime service for longer than a week. The live-game show idea is novel but game shows are more of a passive experience brought together by the liveliness of the host and a few especially smart or dumb contestants, without there being a human presense it just seems kind of lame.
  • Resident Evil 5 looked a little "too" close to Resident Evil 4. While RE4 was one of the best games I've played of all last generation, its really disheartening to see the zombies animate in the same exact way to each play they were shot. While I'm sure they were technically superior to the three year old Gamecube game, the graphics weren't nearly as impressive to me. It wouldn't take much work to port this thing down to the Wii so why can't Capcom take a hint from the fantastic sales of the shovelware Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles and give us a real Resident Evil game?
  • I'm a bit disappointed to see Mega Man 9 is also coming out to the Playstation Network and Xbox Live Arcade, I saw the WiiWare release of it as a kind of love letter to Nintendo fanboys. I'll still buy it though.
  • Microsoft really shouldn't brag about sales of third party titles being stronger than that of the Wii and PS3 versions combined. Most of the ones they were touting were First Person Shooter titles where the Xbox 360 version is the one that the development team is primarily concerned with, of course the Wii version's going to sell poorly, 9 out of 10 times its a hashed together port of the perfunctory PS2 version.
  • NetFlix shouldn't be "exclusively" on the Xbox 360. With the popularity of services like Hulu and the not-so popularity of Joost we really just need to be able to access these from a television hooked up console to really escalate these services beyond the unwatchable realms of a PC-screen. Why not open it up for a PS3/PSP firmware update or a Wii channel? then everyone wins.
Most of Microsoft's big announcements have already been leaked out onto the internet weeks before they presented it. While their hardcore titles were every bit as awesome as I expected they really fell on their face with their new casual branding. I'd almost say it was a great press conference but I was mostly met with indifference on this one.
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