Microsoft's pre-E3 briefing began with a roundup of some of their upcoming triple-A titles, and moved on to discuss their new dashboard and several new functionalities for Xbox Live. After revealing some upcoming titles for Xbox Live Arcade, including a sort of expansion pack for Portal, Square Enix's president took the stage to discuss upcoming S-E games for the Xbox 360.
If one thing was emphasized over the course of the briefing, it was a renewed focus on cooperative play. Many of the games that were shown were either party games meant for multiple players or otherwise introduced an unexpected cooperative element for an upcoming title.
The briefing was initially given over to new footage and gameplay demonstrations from Fallout 3, Fable 2, Resident Evil 5, and Gears of War 2 (the latter of which is previewed more in depth elsewhere on this site).
Fallout 3 is reportedly playable on the show floor, so I'm hoping to have more to say about it tomorrow. The demo featured a long combat segment set in the ruins of Washington D.C., with the player fighting agents of the Enclave, the last remnants of power within the American government. There honestly wasn't anything there that we hadn't seen before, with highlights on the combat system (enhanced with extra gore courtesy of the Bloody Mess perk) and the sheer size of the game world. Fittingly, the demo ended when the player used the Fat Man nuke launcher to destroy a large group of Enclave troops.
Frankly, the best part of the Fallout 3 demo was the opening segment, featuring a long, tongue-in-cheek ad for American families to sign up to take refuge inside one of the Vaults. There's a fully equipped kitchen for Mom, cute boys to date for little Susie (I really hope this bit goes online at some point because if nothing else, the baby-flinging graphic deserves widespread acclaim), and plenty of other kids to play with for Junior!
Two of Resident Evil 5's producers played through a brief segment, set within a ramshackle city in Africa. The game will feature the ability for full cooperative play, with one player as Chris Redfield and the other as a female operative named Sheva Alomar. Chris dispatched several infected villagers, many of which were armed with various farm implements, before finding a gap he couldn't leap across.
At that point, Chris gave Sheva a boost across the gap, and Sheva held off a sudden incursion by villagers with her machine gun while Chris provided supporting fire with a sniper rifle. Sheva shot the lock off a door allowing Chris to rejoin her, whereupon they both encountered a familiar enemy: a chainsaw-wielding villager with a burlap sack over his head. At that point, the demo ended, with the announcement that RE5 will be released in North America and Japan simultaneously on Friday, March 13, 2009.
When in action, the game quite resembles Resident Evil 4 with a solid dose of next-generation graphics. Headshots and "stumbling" enemies were both on display, along with enemies that behaved like RE4's Ganados. It very much seems to be RE4 version 2.0, which is just fine.
Fable 2 also had an unexpected emphasis on multiplayer. While you're exploring your version of Albion in Fable 2, your friends are also visible in the game world as floating orbs of purple light. If you want to, you can walk up to one of the orbs and pull your friend into your version of Albion, allowing him to do things like fight you, fight at your side, socialize at bars, or chat up your wife.
From there, as per the usual format, Microsoft moved to discussing Xbox Live Arcade. The big news coming out of this was that Portal is receiving a sequel, Still Alive, featuring new single-player levels and a challenge mode. This will be exclusive to Xbox Live Arcade, of all places, and was announced by GlaDOS. Other titles shown were the four-player UNO Rush, Galaga Legions, developed by the Pac-Man: Championship Edition team, and an honest-to-goodness official Geometry Wars 2, whose trailer prominently featured four-player co-op.
Much of the rest of the show was devoted to discussion of the new 360 dashboard system, which allows players to construct "Avatars" of themselves and host "parties" with up to seven of their friends; in these parties, players can chat in real-time, play movies, share photos, and play various game-show-based party games. The entire look of the 360 dashboard is about to change to a more visual format.
Microsoft is focusing a lot on playable casual games, from Xbox Live Arcade, to a new installment of Scene It!, to You're In The Movies, a minigame-laden party game that takes players' action and cobbles them together into campy B-flicks.
Musical games, of course, are still a cornerstone of Microsoft's casual arsenal, and Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero: World Tour led the charge with several track announcements. Apparently Bob Dylan has licensed a track to Rock Band 2, marking this as the first time he's ever licensed his music to anyone, and the first track released as a single from Guns 'N' Roses' upcoming "Chinese Democracy" will be released to Rock Band 2. AC/DC also finally joins the music game licensing collective — their single "Let there be Rock" is also slated for Rock Band 2.
Finally on the music front, Microsoft announced Lips, a karaoke game that looks surprisingly like Sony's SingStar. It's being developed by iNiS, which explains why we haven't heard a peep out of them since releasing Elite Beat Agents and Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2. Outside of the developer pedigree, the other big draw of Lips is its included motion-sensitive microphone, whose features outside of functioning as a virtual tambourine have yet to be disclosed.
Square Enix closed the show, with a short, relatively content-free trailer for Last Remnant and, as a surprise, a complete trailer for Final Fantasy XIII, which will be released for the Xbox 360. As Microsoft couldn't help but point out, a lot of the old standby PlayStation franchises are making their way to the Xbox 360, further cementing their place as the #1 company in the current console wars.
Geson Hatchett contributed to this preview.