Tuesday, 15 June 2010

E3 2010: Microsoft Keynote impressions. Part 1: Everything that isn't Kinect!

For the sake of length this article has been broken into two parts, everything dealing with Kinect will be posted separately.

Due to circumstances beyond our control at Just Stuff & Nonsense we weren't at the theatre live for the Microsoft Keynote speech, and boy is that something we'll be living to regret (more on why later), but both Drew and myself were watching it live online, and now that the dust has settled it's time to run through and over analyse everything that we experienced.

First up was Call Of Duty: Black Ops, and a scene in some dark and muddy tunnels lit only by the players flashlight, the now standard scripted moments that we have come to expect from the franchise were used to good effect with enemies appearing out of the darkness, however what was less standard was how the entire segment felt more akin to a horror game than the usual bravado you'd expect from the series. Once the action had moved outside into a bright lush jungle things started to settle into the usual COD formula with lots of explosions and bullets flying everywhere. The greenery of the jungle was particularly impressive and the game looked a lot more colourful and vibrant than any of the previous titles in the series, it does look like Treyarch are trying to make this product their own, while still sticking to what fans have come to expect from the (admittedly superior) Infinity Ward developed titles. The action then moved into a helicopter section that was particularly impressive with all the rocket trails and explosions erupting around the player, it appears as if this section was fully under the control of the demonstrator, but it could have been on-rails, only time will tell as far as that is concerned.
Don Mattrick then took to the stage and announced that Microsoft has signed an exclusive three year deal that means starting on November 9th when Black Ops releases any DLC, such as map packs for any Call Of Duty game, it will come to the 360 first.

After a bit of talk about the official name of Project Natal now being Kinect, Microsoft brings out their next guest; Hideo Kojima. Based on the dialogue leading to his introduction it did seem a little like he would be announcing some kind of Kinect enabled 360 exclusive, while it did turn out that this wasn't the case his reason for being there was just as exciting... the first game play footage of Metal Gear Solid: Rising. The honour of the actual introduction of the footage fell to Shigenobu Matsuyama one of the producers on MGS:R, briefly he explained that the game is based around a word they created for it, 'Zan-Datsu' which translates as Cut and Take, but you knew that already didn't you?
After what seemed like an entire year of waiting, they finally got round to showing the footage. It opened with a heavily armoured variant on the FROG soldiers from MGS4, something darts across in front of him and he opens fire, Raiden drops in behind him and after a brief skirmish cuts him into ribbons with his sword and pulls out his spine... tasteful. At this point it all looked impressive, but not exactly revolutionary. Luckily this was followed by some very exciting game play footage of Raiden darting around a very colourful town slicing through everything, walls, people, vans, watermelons, it looks like there's nothing that can't be carved up in this game. The physics and damage models were utterly fantastic, and it looks like there will be a lot of potential for applying your own tactics when playing. In one flash, Raiden cuts through the concrete support structure of a building's balcony causing it to tumble and crush the guards that were stood below. The way the sword is aimed for cutting looks very clever with the user choosing the exact angle at which they make the slices. It appears to be very similar to the way that aiming is in any traditional third person game. No announcement of a due date or anything along those sorts of lines, but its certainly looking amazing and fairly finished already.

Phil Spencer briefly comes on stage to inform us that everything that follows from this point forward will be a 360 exclusive. Cliff Bleszinski is the next guest to take to the stage, and there isn't any suspicion about what game he was going to demo. What was a little surprising for anyone who hasn't been paying close attention to Gears Of War 3 news, is that it will feature four player co-op through the story mode, and it was that multiplayer element that they were showing off today.
It was hard to get a feel for the multiplayer aspect, in fact if it weren't for the occasional shout from the other members of Epic staff playing alongside Cliffy B it could easily have been mistaken for footage from single player. The only new interactions seemed to be the ability to pass weapons. The focus of the demo was instead showing off a variety of Lambent enemy types, some of which start off as normal Locust and then mutate into new super-powered ones as the battle goes on. The game looked very good running on the updated Unreal Engine, there seem to be improvements in the way depth of field is handled and in overall graphical quality. The mutated Locust especially stood out as they were a mess of tentacles and slime all flailing around in a manner you'd expect from such creatures. After some running away from the mutated locust and some giant worms (there's a definite giant worm theme in these games) the team is attacked by a really brilliant looking Lambent Berserker, with loose flesh flapping around on it's face and all sorts of tentacles spewing out everywhere. Although ultimately, it was still just a berserker and kept the usual attack pattern, punctuated with a few jumps around. The demo ended with the thing surviving an attack from the hammer of dawn, so maybe things aren't quite the same. The graphical improvements are certainly appreciated even though the Gears franchise could never be accused of being poor in that regard, however the game play looked to be exactly the same as everything we've seen before.

Cliffy B teased that they will be showing a new multiplayer mode entitled 'Beast' on the show floor from tomorrow, best guess is it will be all players working against a super enemy, with the last person to kill it getting to gain control, we'll know for sure tomorrow. Peter Molyneux was the next guest to take to the stage, but he didn't have Milo in tow this year, instead it was a trailer for Fable III. The trailer teased a little about the story and the ability to rule a kingdom, it also spoke about the connection between two brothers, but other than that it looked just like Fable II with slightly spruced up graphics. Unfortunately, there wasn't a game play demo which makes it incredibly hard to get a feel for what the game will actually be like, but there seemed to be an emphasis on bigger battles and a grander scale to the world. Molyneux closed by stating that the game will be released October 26. The Fable III trailer was followed by a live action cryptic Crytek trailer for some form of Roman gladiatorial game currently called Codename: Kingdoms, apparently its part of an exclusive partnership between Crytek and Microsoft.

Marcus Lheto, the director of Bungie walked out following this trailer and went on to talk about the success of the Halo franchise. In summary; 'Its doing rather well', but he wasn't just out on the stage to present the crowd with a bunch of statistics they already know, he announced that Halo: Reach will be in stores September 14, and then started off some in game play footage. Its impossible not to be impressed by the quality of the graphics when compared to the previous entries to the Halo franchise, the Spartans are of course the stars of the show and have been given a makeover, as well as unique individual outfits. The game is still unmistakably Halo and all of the series' standards are represented. For example, we saw lots of running at enemies, recharging shields, and sticky grenades, but these were also accompanied by new features to the series such as 3rd person melee take downs and sprinting. The battle took the small team of Spartans up through a rocky beach and into a USNC base. There was a lot of action going on and the game did a good job of making it look like the player was involved in a full blown conflict and wasn't just a lone super soldier running around dispatching hundreds of foes. The move between the bright light outside to the creepy interior of the base under attack was particularly frantic, with the player fighting enemies inside, grabbing a rocket launcher and attacking an approaching wraith that was blowing chunks out of the environment. The battle culminated with the taking of a launch pad, this triggered a cut scene of the Spartans jumping into some kind of space fighter and flying up to joining the epic space battle that was raging overhead. Most importantly of all, it looked like the player had control over the space fighting. That would be an excellent direction for the series to take, I don't think I've ever been so interested in a Halo game before.

After the Reach video it was time for the presentation of Kinect, please see part 2 of the article to read all about it. Once the Kinect segment of the show had finished it was time for one final announcement... there is going to be a new model of the Xbox 360, this is considerable smaller, shiner and has built in wifi and a 250GB hard drive, it is also 'Kinect Ready' which means that Kinect won't require an additional power supply if being used with one of these new models. Even more excitingly the new look console will be the same cost as the existing 120GB Elite ($299) and to cap off the fantastic news it was announced that the system was shipping today and will be available for purchase later this week. Everyone in attendance was then informed that they would be receiving one of these new look systems for free, alas the deal did not apply to those journalists watching online!

Don't forget to check out Part 2 of our Microsoft Keynote coverage for information on Kinect. We will be covering the EA, Nintendo and Sony conferences as well, and keep checking back for all the most interesting news from E3 throughout the week.

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