Call of Duty: Black Ops
Microsoft's show opened up with a bang, with the debut of the new Call of Duty: Black Ops. Developed by Treyarch, Black Ops is set during the Cold War and promises a grittier, less modern take on warfare. Players are taking on the role of black ops soldiers who are sent to do the things that history won't write about. We got to see a brief hands-on demo of one of the game's levels, and it certainly was a striking difference from Modern Warfare 2. Players must find their way through a dirty, cramped tunnel. When we rejoined the main characters, they were infiltrating a camp of enemy soldiers who were guarding a Hind helicopter. After quickly and brutally dispatching the foes, the player took control of the Hind.
The Hind sequence looked surprisingly intense. The player has full control over the helicopter, including its missiles and machine guns, and can destroy enemy campsites, vehicles and even bridges. He seemed almost unstoppable — until a nearby surface-to-air missile silo locked on to him, forcing him to take it down before the chopper was shot out of the sky. It was an action-packed sequence that was certainly much grittier than the similar video we saw last year.
After the demo was over, Microsoft dropped a fairly large bomb. It has formed a special partnership with Activision for Call of Duty games. Until 2012, all map packs and CoD add-ons will come first to the Xbox 360. It's unclear exactly how long it will be until these materials come out on other systems, but considering what a big deal multiplayer is for CoD titles, it's easy to see the 360 becoming the system of choice for Call of Duty fanatics. Call of Duty: Black Ops is scheduled for release on Nov. 9.
Metal Gear Rising
The newest game from Kojima Productions hasn't changed much from what we saw last year. It still stars Raiden, the protagonist of Metal Gear Solid 2, and chronicles his adventures before the start of MGS 4. According to producer Shigenobu Matsuyama, the game is based on the idea of "Dan-Zetsu," a word made up by the developers to describe the style of gameplay. Roughly translated, it means "cut and take." Despite being an evolution of the Metal Gear franchise, this is more of a pure action title.
The video opens up with a robotic soldier patrolling an abandoned warehouse. In a flash, Raiden cuts the soldier to pieces, pulling out the robot soldier's energy-infused innards and draining them. From there, we cut to gameplay footage; it looks like a straightforward action game in which Raiden dashes around and cuts soldiers to pieces. What makes it stand out is that you can cut almost anything, with a surprising level of control. Although we didn't get to see the specifics, we got to see that Raiden's sword-slashing ability can be precisely defined. You can control exactly where and how Raiden cuts objects, ranging from watermelons to enemies. The gameplay is probably going to revolve around making precise cuts instead of the usual combo mechanics.
Gears of War 3
The same basic Gears gameplay is almost unchanged in Gears of War 3. The major addition is four-player co-op, which adds two extra characters to the mix. The Locust have begun to mutate into strange creatures called the Lambent, which resemble a mixture of the Locust and Resident Evil monsters. They're fast, powerful and grow new tentacles and limbs at the first opportunity. Sustained fire from multiple characters seemed to be the only way to take them down, and they were powerful enough to disable several members of Marcus' Delta Squad. The show-stealing Lambent was the Lambent Berserker, a terrible monster that seemed almost invincible. The demo ended when the powerful Hammer of Dawn orbital laser was called down on the Berserker, only for the powerful mutant to emerge unscathed. Gears of War 3 is due for release next April, and Cliff Bleszinski promised that a new multiplayer mode, Beast, will be revealed during the E3 show.
Another unsurprising revelation was the next entry in Peter Molyneux's Fable franchise. Set nearly five decades after the end of the prior title, Fable III begins with the fictional country of Albion in dire straits. The king has died and left Albion to one of his sons, a cruel and ruthless ruler who believes that the country exists to serve him. The only hope comes from his brother, a simple family man who is forced to overthrow his brother. Albion has changed over the years. Fashion is slowly becoming more modern, and weaponry has also changed, with muskets and cannons seeming commonplace. Magic and monsters aplenty still exist in the land, and bullets don't seem like they're enough to save the country. The video was brief but gave us an interesting glimpse into what awaits in Albion's future. Fable 3 is due for release on Oct. 26 of this year.
The next video was by far the most mysterious. A new exclusive game for the Xbox 360 by Crytek, Codename: Kingdom features Roman centurions (or fictional characters who strongly resemble centurions). Other than the developer and a brief glimpse at what seems to be the main characters, there was no other information to be gleaned from the trailer. Those hoping for more info on Crytek's next game will have to keep tuned to the rest of E3, where more info is hopefully coming.
Since 2.7 million people participated in the Halo: Reach multiplayer beta, it was no surprise to see the game at the press briefing. The brief demo gave us a glimpse into the single-player mode, in which a group of Spartan super soldiers was dropped into the middle of a Covenant attack on a human base. The team fought its way through hordes of troops, and we even got a glimpse at some of their new powers. One Spartan, seconds from being splattered by a Covenant hovercraft, activated a powerful shield that caused the hovercraft to violently explode when it touched him, leaving the Spartan unharmed. The player character also pulled out a nasty-looking grenade launcher that let him lay waste to the Covenant forces. The real surprise came when the Spartans were forced to evacuate. The player character hopped into a Saber spaceship and took off into space. Yes, this means that Halo: Reach is going to feature spaceship combat, so players can dogfight against the Covenant forces. We didn't see more than a glimpse of this gameplay, but it certainly has the potential to lend an interesting twist to the usual Halo action. Halo: Reach was confirmed for release on Sept. 14, 2010.
The star of this year's show was the Kinect. Microsoft is clearly giving its all in pushing the former Project Natal, and over half the show was dedicated to showing off its features. Some of it was repetition of material that we saw at last night's unveiling, but there were enough unique things to understand why Microsoft is devoting so much of the show to this gadget.
The presentation began with a demonstration of how the Kinect will function as an interface for the Xbox Live Dashboard. Signing in requires no more effort than waving your hand. Doing so causes the Kinect to match your data with one of the profiles on the Xbox and automatically sign you in. You can also speak directly to your Xbox to command it to do various things, such as pause a movie or activate Zune or Netflix. It makes you sound like Scotty from "Star Trek 4," but it could be an interesting way to handle things, assuming the voice recognition functions well outside of a controlled environment.
The next major thing was VideoKinect, which is a live video chat program that will be released for Xbox Live and Windows Live Messenger. Using either Kinect or a video camera, VideoKinect allows you to talk to your friends, send them pictures, hold face-to-face conversations over the Internet, and even watch movies and television shows together. Face-to-face communication has been done before, but it's a neat way to show off Kinect's video capabilities. If you move while voice chatting, Kinect will also follow you around, so you can talk without having to be fixed in one spot at all times.
Most of the games were almost identical to the videos from last night's Kinect unveiling, although we finally learned the game titles. The tiger cub game will be called Kinectimals and promises over 40 different kinds of animals and 30 different activities, ranging from simple games of fetch to playing slow-motion jump rope with a cute wild animal of your choice. It seems similar to Nintendo's Nintendogs, although noticeably more complex. It's hard to judge how good the virtual animal's responses will be, as much of the video seemed to be canned.
The aforementioned sports game collection is being released under the staggeringly original name of Kinect Sports. It's difficult to not see this as an updated version of Wii Sports. It includes bowling, boxing, hurdles, javelin throw, ping-pong, soccer, sprinting and volleyball, each of which involves a unique motion-controlled minigame. Considering the popularity of Wii Sports, it's easy to see Kinect Sports attracting similar attention, although the fact that it is a stand-alone game instead of a pack-in title could potentially hurt it.
Kinect Joy Ride is a kart racing game built around the Xbox Live Avatars, and a brief video gave us a basic idea of the features. To drive, position your hands as if you were holding an invisible steering wheel, and then you turn and twist your hands and body to move the car. You can perform stunts by doing things with your body while the car was in mid-air, such as spinning in place in order to do a 360-degree turn. Doing so earned you boost gauge, which could then be spent to speed ahead of your opponents. As a kart-based party game, this title has a lot of potential. It's pretty easy to see how much fun could be had by making your friends perform silly or embarrassing tricks to initiate a boost gauge to win the race.
Kinect Adventures is a competitive minigame collection based on two or more players undertaking wacky contests while Kinect photographs them in ridiculous poses. The first minigame involved two players on moving platforms who had to position their bodies to collect items and avoid obstacles. A flying camera hovered around their Avatars, waiting for the perfect moment to snap an embarrassing photo. The second involved two players working together in a raft, twisting and moving their bodies in unison to guide the raft around obstacles and collect trinkets. Like the first game, this one involved a lot of embarrassing jumping and flailing, all of which the Kinect captured in perfect detail. The best part is that these photos can instantly be sent to other people or uploaded to Facebook.
After that, we saw our first Kinect application. It feels weird to call it a game because it really isn't. Ubisoft's Your Shape: Fitness Evolved is basically poised to be a Wii Fit competitor. It is an exercise simulator that scans your body and tailors a workout for you. Users can choose to have a virtual personal trainer work them through a customized workout or pick individual exercises like Tai-Chi or yoga to burn calories. There will also be family-friendly minigames that combine competitive fun with exercise to get the whole family in shape. It looks like a significantly better workout tool than Wii Fit, and since it won't require more than the Kinect and a 360, it might be easier to swallow than a Wii Balance Board and game for those who already own the system.
Probably the star of the show is Dance Central, the previously unnamed dancing game we saw at the Kinect unveiling, which is being developed by Harmonix, creators of the Rock Band franchise. Like Rock Band and other similar games, Dance Central is based on the idea of hitting as many consecutive "beats" as possible to earn a high score. In this case, the "beats" are various dance moves that you have to perform correctly. As mentioned in our earlier write-up, there will also be a tutorial mode that gives you step-by-step instructions for each dance move, allowing you to learn the game at your own pace. It will feature a wide variety of licensed music from artists such as Beastie Boys, Lady Gaga, No Doubt and many others. Harmonix has worked with a number of famous chorographers to get the best possible dance routines. Some are totally original while others are designed to mimic the song's choreography. Dance Central will also support DLC, allowing more songs to be added to its lineup. If the Kinect has a killer app, it's possibly this, and it's easy to see Dance Central capturing the hearts of people who don't usually play games.
There were some new games to be seen as well. Turn 10 Studios is working on a new Forza title with built-in Kinect support. Like Kinect Joy Ride, this game forgoes a traditional controller in favor of allowing you to hold an invisible steering wheel to drive around the track. It was by far the best-looking Kinect title we've seen, although the gameplay video was rather brief. Most of the time was dedicated to how the Kinect will allow you to study your favorite car in detail. Using body movements, you can walk around the car, "touch" it, and open the door to get inside. This mostly involves simple canned movements, but it could be pretty interesting for hardcore car fans because you can get incredibly detailed statistics on car parts.
We also got another glimpse of the Star Wars title, but the video was identical to the one we saw last night, so there wasn't any new information, except that the game is due out sometime in 2011. In addition to this, Microsoft showed a list of Kinect launch titles:
- Adrenalin Misfits
- The Biggest Loser: Ultimate Workout
- Dance Masters
- Deca Sports Freedom
- EA Sports Active 2
- Game Party: In Motion
- Motion Sports
- Sonic Free Riders
- Zumba Fitness
One of the new features coming to the Xbox Live experience is ESPN Live and On-Demand video, which allow you to watch ESPN-hosted sports, including live games and classic favorites, on your Xbox at any time. ESPN promises over 35,000 different games at launch, including sports such as college basketball, college football and soccer. "Most" sports videos will be in HD, and you will also have instant access to sports news, trivia and statistics without having to switch away from the game. Like most Xbox features, the ESPN On-Demand service will support Kinect, allowing you to issue commands from the comfort of your couch without needing a controller.
The Xbox 360 Slim
One of the worst-kept secrets of the show is Microsoft's announcement of a new Xbox 360. The console is slightly smaller than the classic Xbox 360, boasts a larger hard drive and clocks in at a comfortable 250 GB, which should be enough for even the most hardcore gamers. Also included is built-in 802.11N Wi-Fi, which Microsoft says is the fastest Wi-Fi available on a home console. It is the same price as the older system, $299.99, so anyone who purchased an Xbox 360 in the last week may want to return it. The slimmer 360 is shipping to stores today and should be available for purchase by the end of the week.