It seems as if every single E3 show for the past four years has been a big success for Microsoft, announcing key exclusive titles, live demonstrations, and new ways to game. This year Microsoft still finds themselves in a superior position over the other two giants with many exclusives that will most likely see release by year's end. But what should we be prepared for?
Obviously the elephant in the room is the question that has been on gamers' minds since Nintendo launched their console in 2006: how Microsoft will counter Nintendo's motion controls. My answer: by not creating a motion controller. Instead, given rampant rumors, it seems that their answer will be in the form of a new camera system that detects motion in ways that the Vision camera couldn't. This new camera, developed by a company named 3DV that was recently bought by them, will have motion detection tech according to the Wall Street Journal. How will developers be able to take advantage of its power? I couldn't honestly tell you since I'm not certain that the tech has been shown to that many third-party teams and probably won't be integrated until 2010. Who knows, maybe a little Rock Band integration?
Another question that people are wondering about is what's next for the XBL dashboard. My answer: nothing. Microsoft spent years working to get this new dashboard up and running and I don't think we'll be seeing any significant upgrades other than possibly offering customized channels for users to create. Instead one can expect to hear about a diamond level service that will offer special perks including early access to DLC and priority bandwidth just for them. Odds are the service will cost at the bare minimum $70 versus the $50 charged to gold members but if you're really willing to put up the cash then the perks may well be worth it.
The Xbox Live Arcade, already chocked full of great titles, will be seeing a great improvement this coming year. The recently announced TMNT IV: Turtles in Time remake will do doubt be a gigantic hit for those who played it at the arcades and on the SNES. Look for other big titles to be hitting the system as well such as Secret of Mana, Pac-Man Championship Edition 2, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom II, and the cult classic Radiant Silvergun.
As far as first-party games and exclusives go you can look forward to the standard fare of Microsoft exclusives. Halo 3 ODST will obviously be the talk of the show with a on-stage demonstration of a section of the singleplayer with the possibility of a demonstration of Bungie's new render-to-video sevice that's currently in beta. The obviousness of this next one shouldn't surprise anyone but don't be surprised if Microsoft announces that, in cooperation with developer Gearbox Software (makers of Aliens: Colonial Marines and Borderlands), Halo 3 will be coming to the PC in early 2010 with the additional ODST content and a level editor. Sorry folks, but no Gears 3 news this year, though you can expect mention of the Dark Corners expansion disc coming in June and MAYBE a demonstration of the "lost" campaign chapter that was removed from it earlier. Peter Molyneux will make a stage appearance this year to talk both Fable 2 as well as his other "top secret project" but don't expect to hear much from this new title. Crackdown 2 will see its first trailer this year but probably won't see a release until at least 2010. Also Alan Wake will FINALLY be shown to the world and damn better well be worth the wait. A representative from Valve may make an appearance this year to finally show off a teaser trailer for Half-Life 2 Episode 3 with a tentative release date in the first half of 2010 but I personally don't expect it to see store shelves any sooner than 2038. More about Rare a few paragraphs down.
Sony is in a mixed position that will reflect in the nature of their press conference. Obviously Sony has been hurting lately thanks to their extremely lackluster hardware sales and unfortunately it's starting to show. Sony is in a difficult position hardware-wise and will therefore focus on software demonstrations this year, touting PSN improvements including the long-awaited integration of Netflix into their system. Expect an announcement about the 3.0 firmware update that would include eight player chatting similar to what is offered with the XBL party system. Rumors of yet another PS3 redesign have been spreading high and low as of late and I don't know what to make of it given the "leaked" pictures of the box art for the system. I'm leaning toward it being fake but with a Taiwan law firm sending out cease and desist orders to websites that show off the pictures I can't help but wonder...
Sony's big news will come in the form of the "revelation" that a new version of the PSP is on the way with radical redesign decisions. While the UMD format will undoubtedly not be abandoned most of the focus will be on making most of the games for the system download-only with an internal SSD hard drive of capacities as high as 40gb. The screen size will remain the same but the controls will incorporate a right control nub that will allow for FPSes to be developed for the system. The system will most likely use a slider-system common on many cell phones in which the screen section slides upward to reveal the buttons underneath. Don't expect that many games shown off with the enhanced abilities of the new system but do expect a price point of $200 or more.
Despite the fact that they have many more exclusives this year than they did versus Microsoft (that we know of) in 2008 I don't see Sony truly taking advantage of that fact. The biggest title to talk about is God of War 3 which will be released this winter to massive sales and an early demo sometime in July or August. MAG, or Massive Action Game, should be playable on the show floor and allow for sixty-four player matches in its current form with a release in October. Little Big Planet should be getting an expansion this Fall with new gameplay options and the ability to share and download levels from the LBP website. Expect to see footage of Ratchet & Clank Future: A Clank in Time as well as gameplay footage of the multiplayer portion of Uncharted 2. Sony will FINALLY announce the release date for Gran Turismo 5 for this Fall (thank god) but I don't think we'll be seeing anything of Yakuza 3 other than the announcement of an international port sometime next year. Team ICO will also tease their new game but will say almost absolutely nothing about it until the Tokyo Game Show in September. Trico, the supposed leak video showing early gameplay, might be real but I'm not gonna count my chickens before they hatch. The problem I see is that I don't think that Sony should be touting GoW3 and MAG anymore than they should be. Instead they need to focus on other key titles in their library including those that don't get nearly the amount of coverage that they should. Games like Heavy Rain and White Knight Chronicles deserve the press and stage time that their innovation delivers. If Sony can get some time to show those off then they might be able to demonstrate how different they are from its competitors.
Nintendo has a lot of ground to catch up on after last year's disastrous showing that left a bad taste in everyone's mouths. Despite their promises that this year's E3 press conference will "do a much better job than last year" I'm still leery about the whole thing. I mean, didn't they promise that a year ago now and didn't we get Wii Music? Okay, enough complaining, I'll step off that for now.
I feel confident that this year's show will be better though. Nintendo's theme this year will have to be diversity if they want to keep ahead of the game with an equal showing of both hardcore and casual titles that show off what you can really do with the hardware. Last year Nintendo mentioned offhand that new hardcore first party titles like a new Zelda and Mario were on the way but nothing else came of it. Unfortunately this will change very little in regard to those two as only their title designs will be shown with only a handful of information given to us by Reggie himself. What will be interesting to see will be an on-stage demonstration of Red Steel 2 utilizing the Wii Motion Plus adapter as well as a listing of titles that will utilize it. It would also be reasonable to see a demonstration of Dead Space Extraction, but let's not get ahead of ourselves here.
Despite the success of the launch of the DSi I don't think Nintendo will be celebrating quite as loud as one would expect them to. Nintendo will completely focus their handheld announcements on the DSi, showing off the first batch of titles that will use the system's "unique enhancements." I don't think it's unreasonable to hear an announcement of a DSi port of Ocarina of Time but that may be just me. Mario & Luigi RPG 3 will no doubt be shown off (given that Japan has had the game since February) along with a couple third party titles but other than that it'll be relatively quiet.
The Konami Countdown
By now most of you have stopped by Kojima Production's teaser site and noticed the countdown timer and the accompanying "5" or "S" in the background. What could it be? Well, in this writers opinion it is way too early to be MGS5 like many imagine it to be. Though I still pray that it is actually all about Zone of the Enders 3 (come'on Kojima, you know you wanna) I personally believe that the site we've been focusing on for over a week now is related to the already announced Tornado Outbreak as revealed previously by Gamefly. The most logical explaination for the "5" flashing on screen would be that it refers to an F5 tornado, the most destructive type of whirlwind that is rarely seen. While I'm 50/50 on MGS4 actually getting released on the Xbox 360 much like MGS2 Substance was last generation I think that Konami understands exactly how much more money they could get if they ported it and are actively doing some code rewriting that would enable a two to three disc port. The only potentially destructive problem is the disc number restrictions Microsoft utilizes, something that has been plaguing Rage developer id.
The Ubisoft Gambit
The company to watch at E3 this year is definitely Ubisoft, the game company that has expanded massively in the past couple years and consistently has great titles accross all platforms (the Imagine DS series not withstanding). This year we've got A LOT to look forward to with two titles clearly looking to be the talk of the show: Assassin's Creed II and Splinter Cell Conviction. Assassins' looks to be as great as the original was and, with a development team of over six hundred people, may just be THE game to get this year. Splinter Cell, a title that's been in development for over three years and has remained in the shadows since 2007, may just revitilize the stealth genre in ways that we weren't expecting. The game most likely saw some strong revisions after MGS4 was first shown, contrary to that of claims of Assassin's Creed changing their design team's direction. Either way, the marketing engine has been fired up and will probably be one of the best looking games of the year.
Other than those two titles, Ubisoft has two more that may suprise us more than we think. Rabbids Go Home, despite not having Rayman in the title, may be the first non-party game in the series in several years. Ubisoft has been talking about this one quite strongly in comparision to the other Rabbids titles. Could we be looking at the Rayman adventure game fans have been wanting since the Wii launched? The other suprise title could be in the form of Ghost Recon 4, announced in Ubisoft's quarterly fiscal results. Despite how good the Advanced Warighter titles were I think Ubisoft may be taking the series back to its routes of strategy first, action second like the original game was built upon. Odds are we'll be looking at the same kind of reboot Rainbow Six went under with Vegas, possibly involving a strong connection to EndWar with Mitchell being taken out of the limelight (EndWar occurs only six years after GRAW II) and the player being put in the hands of a rookie with a persistent team. The game could arrive by the end of this fiscal year (April 2010) and since Ubisoft is not hosting an Ubidays event this year, E3 is the perfect environment to bring players back into the fold of the Ghosts.
The EA Attack
Electronic Arts has a bunch of good stuff going for it this year despite the fact that it just doesn't feel the case. Harry Potter 6 and G.I. Joe The Rise of Cobra stand out as their key license titles and though Harry Potter will sell well I can't help but feel fear in my heart at the thought of a brand that has not received a proper video game adaptation since the 8-bit era getting as desecrated as the movie coming in August will serve to be. Seriously, with such an excellent ensemble of talent at EA's hand is it too much to ask for a game that uses the Battlefield engine and plays out like the cartoons did back in the 80s?
The key titles for EA to show off this year will be Mass Effect 2, Dante's Inferno, and Brutal Legend. All three deserve the top spots though I don't think Brutal Legend will be shown off nearly as much as it should be as is the case with pretty much all Tim Schafer games. E3 will be both Battlefield Bad Company 2 and Army of Two 2's coming out party which will probably be far superior to that mixed-bags we got when their predecessors were released. EA will also blitz us with playable demos of all three Need for Speed titles in order to counter Blur, Split Second, and Gran Turismo 5. This year's going to be heavy on the racing games so pick and choose wisely. The Beatles Rock Band game will be a big hit for all those fans out there (myself not one of them; sue me) and will probably have a playable demo for everyone to try out on the show floor. The one game I really hope they show off this year is The Saboteur being brought to us by Pandemic. Combining elements from Okami, Grand Theft Auto, and Splinter Cell, I don't see what there is not to enjoy about this game… provided it delivers.
The Activision Assault
Activision, the company who determined last year that most of their revenue should be due to sales from sequels, has pretty much thrown out the possibility of any original IPs being shown at E3 which is just a shame. The elephant in the room for them will be Modern Warfare 2, a game that can't seem to decide on whether or not to put Call of Duty next to its name, but will no doubt be one of the top three games of the show. Treyarch should be a no-show obviously as well as Blizzard which announced that it won't be showing anything at E3 back in February so for those hoping for news about Starcraft 2, Diablo 3 and Blizzard's new IP should keep on waiting until Blizzcon in August.
The big theme for Activision this year will be Neversoft and their music games lineup. Whereas EA only has one title coming out this year, Activision has five of them including Guitar Hero 5, Band Hero, Modern Hits, Smash Hits, and DJ Hero. Quite frankly Smash Hits is the only one that interests me so far as it is a compilation of the "best songs" of the first four games but GH5 has me enticed with their recent reference to "All Along the Watchtower." DJ Hero is the most disappointing to me however as it looks like nothing more than a complete knock-off of Beatmania, Frequency, and Amplitude, the latter two of which it almost looks identical to. Harmonix, if there were ever a time to sue Activision now's the time. I'm also not a fan of having to get ANOTHER piece of proprietary plastic equipment to add to my already crowded living room. Seriously, I've already got a drum kit and three guitars taking up much needed space, is it too much to ask for the game to be playable on a REGULAR CONTROLLER?
Other than these three big companies there are PLENTY of other things to be shown at E3, none the least of which is Bioshock 2. Expect the previously shown sections to be playable (with a demo probably coming in August) as well as new footage. Id's newest title Rage could be, well, all the rage if it gets the proper treatment and I can only pray that they give us a teaser trailer of Doom 4. Sister studio Raven, hot off the release of the surprisingly good Wolverine game just a few weeks back, should be showing off Singularity at the show which looks fantastic. Alpha Protocol might be good but it's still too early to tell given that I just can't bring myself to truly trust Obsidian after releasing a game with a third of the content done with KOTOR II. Capcom announced that their Japan division won't be at the show so you should feel as disappointed as I do when you realize that Dead Rising 2 won't be there. Shame Capcom, shame. E3 will also be a great time for Gearbox to show off Borderlands and would be a great opportunity to show us that Aliens: Colonial Marines is not cancelled.
In short, E3's back to what it was at it's prime: noisy, expensive, and awesome for the folks back at home. Next year I'll be attending provided the world doesn't end and I'll have more for you than speculation but nothing's certain in this world. What are you all anticipating this year? Comment below!