The biggest news from Microsoft is the company's move towards a Wii-like controller system, Natal. However, while obviously inspired by Nintendo's insanely successful console, it does take the whole motion sensing thing a few steps further. As said, it's called Natal and it's a camera for your XBox 360 that keeps tracks of the movement of your body - your entire body. It does away with the controller altogether, as your only input method is your body, which is a few steps beyond the Wii. Natal allows for some very cool stuff in games, and the Dashboard itself will gain Minority Report-style controls: use your hands to flip between dashboard items, and move stuff around. It also comes with voice recognition to really free you from your controller, and facial recognition so the XBox 360 will know who's playing [insert creepy Microsoft backdoor conspiracy theory here]. The following video will give you a good idea of what Natal is capable of.
This wasn't the only announcement coming out of Microsoft. Microsoft is clearly trying to put the XBox into the centre of your home, and will add support for Last.FM, Twitter, and Facebook to the 360. In addition, a full HD (1080p) video download/streaming service will also come to the device. Lastly, Microsoft will also introduce a game download service - not just for small games or old XBox games, but for full 360 games as well.
So, what about the stuff that really matters? You know, games? Well, Microsoft had some pretty serious surprises up its sleeves, the biggest of which is most certainly the announcement that the follow-up to the massively successful PC/XBox 360 exclusive Left 4 Dead, imaginatively called Left 4 Dead 2, will arrive November 17 for the PC and XBox 360. The game will feature new survivors, a new setting (looks like New Orleans to me), and new special infected. There's a gameplay video, and an official trailer. Yesterday, while I was paying Left 4 Dead online over XBox Live, every player was abuzz about L4D2.
Microsoft had more to offer, though. The weirdly successful Crackdown, one of the earliest XBox 360 games, will finally get a sequel in Crackdown 2. Dead Rising will also see a sequel, and The Beatles: Rock Band will be an XBox 360 exclusive, leaving Playstation 3 owners out in the cold. Then again, I never understood the appeal of smashing on plastic instruments while pretending to actually be able to make music, so I guess I'm not the right person to gauge the significance. Another intriguing exclusive is Alan Wake, slated for release early 2010.
Nintendo seems to be content with further milking the various golden cash cows it has with the Wii and the DS, which isn't necessarily a bad thing: the company sells bazillions of machines this way, and it's the only company actually making a profit out of their hardware (as opposed to Sony and Microsoft losing money with every console sold).
The MotionPlus controller, which should finally make the Wii-mote controllers much more precise, was shown off a couple of times in conjunction with Wii Sports Resort and an archery game. Nintendo also unveiled Wii Fit Plus, the sequel to what is probably the best selling game in the world right now; Plus will come with six new strength and yoga activities.
All fun and well, but what about real games? Nintendo had a bunch of those lined up as well, and apart from the usual Mario regurgitation, there were some interesting items in there, such as the open-world Final Fantasy: The Crystal Bearers and Red Steel 2. The DS also gets some interesting titles, such as Kingdom Hearts, C.O.P. The Recruit, and Golden Sun DS. Still, the biggest news, game-wise, is probably that Nintendo has teamed up with Team Ninja for a new Metroid game, The Other M. Metroid is by definition cool, but I must say that the trailer looked surprisingly un-Metroid to me. Let's hope Team Ninja doesn't mess it up.
Sony had a bit of a problem with this year's E3, as the company's biggest announcement had already been widely leaked across the internet. Sony introduced the PSP Go, a smaller variant of the PSP (it does away with the UMD drive, for instance) which will sell alongside the current model. The PSP Go will feature downloadable games - as in, all titles going forward will be available both in retail and via download. It also comes with the obligatory video service, which can be used to directly load video from the device, instead of having to use an intermediary. It will sell for USD 250 in the US - which isn't cheap. Will Sony ever learn?
Sony also showed off motion sensing technology (like the Wii, not like Natal), but the company doesn't yet know when it will arrive; somewhere 2010, it believes. Where Microsoft seems to have at least tried to come up with something beyond the Wii, Sony's seems a lot more "me too!" than an actual attempt at innovation.
Game-wise, there was a bit more to talk about, such as Agent, a PS3 exclusive game by Rockstar, which takes the player back to the '70s to play a spy during the Cold War. Final Fantasy XIII was also shown, and its follow up, Final Fantasy XIV (that's 14, people, not counting the various off-shoots) will be coming in 2010. And here you were, thinking Nintendo was the Dead Horse King, while in fact, Square Enix takes that crown easily.
The PS3 exclusive The Last Guardian really blew my socks off, and I must say that I'm quite intrigued by this game, which comes from the same hands that built the impressive Shadow of the Collosus. God of War 3 was also shown off, as well as Gran Turismo for the PSP.
MiscThere was also lots of news unrelated to either of the three big console companies, like the announcement from Ubisoft that Assassin's Creed 2 will arrive on November 17, which is sooner than expected. A new CGI trailer was shown as well,
Overall though, some pretty interesting and impressive games are on their way. Now, if you don't mind, I'm enjoying a few days off, so I'm back into the world of Ancaria with my Seraphim in Sacred 2 for the XBox 360. Only 93.7% of the map left to explore after 24 hours of playtime!