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E3: Next-gen console scrap kicks off in earnest

The three biggest games industry press conferences of the year are over -- so who 'won'? Will the Wii overcome its horrendous name? Can the Xbox 360 win the hearts of GTA fans? And what about a little company called Sony?

The big beasts of the console industry flaunted their wares in enormous great flashy press conferences yesterday and on Monday. First up on Monday was Sony and its PlayStation 3 hoopla. The controller was the same old Dual Shock design, but with a motion sensor instead of vibration. High-def footage of a new Gran Turismo title was distinctly underwhelming, but a dramatic Metal Gear Solid 4 trailer raised more than a few eyebrows. There was also some cool linkage with the PSP, but this didn't seem to have much practical application. The big news here was the price: €499 (£340) for a limited, 20GB version and €599 (£410) for the HDMI-equipped (and therefore hi-def capable) 60GB version. That's a large chunk of anyone's change.

Nintendo didn't announce pricing or release dates for the Wii (yes, we're getting used to the silly name now), but is committed to a fourth-quarter 2006 release date. And it'll be a site cheaper than the PS3, that's for sure. Highlights of its press conference included a play demonstration of Zelda: Twilight Princess, which used the motion sensitivity and light-gun capabilities of the Wii controller to fun effect.

This new control system seems suited for Nintendo's big in-house franchises -- Zelda, Mario and Metroid -- but we're not sure how third-party developers will adapt, especially as no other system will be able to use all the motion features. Ubisoft has made a cracking start with Red Steel, though -- a first-person actioner where you swing the Wii remote around to control your sword.

Last up was Microsoft. You know Redmond is taking gaming seriously when Bill Gates turns up, and here he was extolling Windows Vista's credentials as a gaming platform. The big news was a system called 'Live Anywhere' that lets PC users play against Xbox 360 users and, interestingly, mobile phone users.

On the games front, Xbox 360 owners can look forward to Grand Theft Auto IV at the same time as PS3 users, along with exclusive online episodic content -- more missions, we imagine. Also on show was Forza Motorsport 2, the gory Gears of War, the child-friendly Viva Pinata and the expected HD DVD player add-on. Oh, and the last thing they showed was a short trailer for Halo 3, which apparently was created using the in-game engine. It was stunning.

So who won, as fanboys might say? Well, the devotees of each system will have plenty to boast about -- there's tonnes to be getting on with for the next year. The Xbox 360 looks further down the track in terms of next-gen graphics in games, but this will change as the Sony developers get a move on. But neither of them produced anything that looked as much fun or as innovative as the Nintendo in-house titles. Game and set to Nintendo. Match? We'll have to see. -NH