Let's cut to the chase: Halo 3 did not debut at X05, the latest of Microsoft's annual Xbox conferences. And no, the Australian release date for the Xbox 360 hasn't been pushed forward -- we're still slated to receive the new console sometime in early 2006.
The event kicked off in Amsterdam overnight with a typically flashy press conference at a converted Victorian-era factory packed with more than 1000 members of the press. But while there was some major news about the Master Chief's first film outing, the biggest revelations were the announcement of nearly a dozen new 360 games, three of which will be exclusive to the next-generation console.
The event began with Chris Lewis, regional vice president of Xbox Europe, taking the stage. After a brief retrospective about the "lessons learned" with the current-generation Xbox, he stressed that the platform will be "viable for a while longer." He then played a montage of footage from high-profile games coming to the platform, most notably Half-Life 2.
After smoothly segueing over to the subject of the Xbox 360, Lewis showed a television advertisement for Perfect Dark Zero, one of eight games confirmed by name thus far for the console's 22 November US launch. The advertisement featured some new footage of PD0, but wasn't as impressive as the lengthy co-op demo Lewis performed afterwards, which featured the Hong Kong rooftop level. Epic Games's Cliff "Cliffy B" Bleszinski also treated the audience to an all-new Gears of War demo, featuring more of the title's hybrid survival-horror and military tactic action.
However, the palpable exhilaration generated by the Perfect Dark demo quickly dissipated when chief Xbox officer Robert "Robbie" Bach took the stage. He played up the success of the first-generation Xbox, reminding the audience that Microsoft has sold 22 million units of the console and that two million people subscribe to Xbox Live. Bach also delivered the now-familiar speech about how the Xbox 360 is tailor-made for tomorrow's "digital lifestyle" and will help bring gaming to a mass audience. He promised that the 360 would become the "number one console worldwide", thanks to it having the "best games and launch lineup" of all time. However, he did not specify which games the launch lineup would include.
The talking stick was then passed to chief XNA architect J Allard, who gave an in-depth demo of the final version of the new Xbox Live. After running down the various features of the 360 dashboard, including chat, he revealed that Xbox Live Arcade will be built into the console's hard drive, and played a brief game of Hexic. He also touched on how the Xbox Live Marketplace will offer demos, trailers, and dashboard themes -- presumably for a price. He then downloaded a Project Gotham Racing 3 dashboard theme -- which changed the appearance of the dashboard blades--before going into a proper PGR3 demo.
Next up was Peter Moore, corporate vice president of worldwide Xbox marketing and publishing. The executive was quick to point out that there were 200 Xbox 360 games in development, including "many launch titles". He then showed several trailers, including one for Kameo: Elements of Power, one of three first-party titles Microsoft confirmed for launch at the event, along with PD0 and PGR3. He also showed trailers for Quake 4 from Activision, the just-announced MotoGP 2006: Ultimate Racing Technology from THQ, and Peter Jackson's King Kong from Ubisoft.
Singling out Ubisoft for praise, Moore also revealed that two PlayStation 3 games from the publisher would also be coming to the Xbox 360: Gearbox-developed WWII shooter Brothers in Arms 3 (tentative), and the still-mysterious Project Assassin, which looks like a bloodier version of Thief. He also offered the first glimpse of Splinter Cell 4 via a trailer that promised that the game is coming "online and offline in 2006".
The executive also gave the public its first look at Crackdown, an urban action game set for release in fall 2006. Developed by Real Time Worlds, the game comes from the mind of David Jones, who helped create the original Grand Theft Auto and Lemmings. It will be published by Microsoft Game Studios and will be Xbox 360 exclusive.
Crackdown will be full of the over-the-top action of the criminally oriented GTA, but will let gamers play the other side of the law. The action-driving game will take place in a persistent urban world, in which players must "clean up the streets" by going after the city's organised crime syndicates by any means necessary. Agents will be able to enhance their abilities, such as increased speed, jumping ability, and strength, and use instruments from the environment as weapons. The game will be open-ended, feature hundreds of licensed music tracks, and feature online cooperative play.
The next trailer gave official confirmation that Too Human, a game long rumoured to be coming to the 360, is indeed in the pipeline. Like fellow Xbox 360 titles Kameo and Perfect Dark Zero, the sci-fi adventure game was once slated to be released on the GameCube until its developer, Silicon Knights, ended its exclusivity arrangement with Nintendo in April 2004. Before that, it was slated for release on the original PlayStation.
Now published by Microsoft Game Studios, the third-person action game is part one of a trilogy that follows the cybernetic god Baldur as he defends mankind from an uprising of machines. Too Human uses the Unreal Engine 3 to power its combination of melee- and weapon-based combat, as Baldur will partake in epic battles against a "vast number of enemies". Too Human is scheduled for a holiday 2006 release, and will also be Xbox 360 exclusive.
The next trailer unveiled a new, all-original title from developer BioWare, the role-playing game specialists best known for Baldur's Gate and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Titled Mass Effect, it will be a real-time RPG, a la Jade Empire, set in a science-fiction universe. It puts gamers into the role of the first human member of Specter, a group sworn to uphold peace in the galaxy. Gamers will lead a squad as they protect the universe, through tyrannical or humanitarian means, from a former Specter agent and his new sinister army. Battles will take place between a variety of combatants, from alien beings to mechanical enemies.
In addition to progressing through the main story, users will also be able to explore alien worlds, uncovering new life forms, technologies, and archaic civilisations. The Mass Effect Web site, which Bioware launched during the event, has more information, including a trailer. Mass Effect will also be published by Microsoft Game Studios exclusively for the 360.
Developer id Software, known for the Doom and Quake franchises, revealed that it is bringing another of its popular first-person shooters to the Xbox 360. The Castle Wolfenstein series, one of the first mainstream FPS games, will make its first appearance on a console since 2003's Xbox shooter Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Tides of War. This new chapter will once again take place during WWII, amidst the Nazi experiments with the occult and supernatural. id CEO Todd Hollenshead was on hand to express the excitement his team felt developing for a next-generation console for the first time, and video clips showed id co-founder John Carmack making similar comments.
Xbox 360 owners will also be left Alone in the Dark -- and as fans of survival horror games know, that's a good thing. Atari has confirmed that the franchise will make its way to the 360, but has not yet given a timetable for release. The game was previously announced for the PlayStation 3 at the Tokyo Game Show. Little information has been released about the game, but French developer Eden Software (Test Drive Unlimited) will handle the game's creation.
Another game unveiled at the event was Electronic Arts's adaptation of director Bryan Singer's big-budget, big-screen version of Superman, which Electronic Arts's Tiburon studio has been openly recruiting developers for since February. EA's senior vice president and general manager of European publishing, Gerhard Florin, was on hand to hype his company's overall relationship with Microsoft, and showed off 360 versions of Battlefield 2 and The Godfather. He also reiterated that EA would have five Xbox 360 titles available at launch: Need for Speed Most Wanted, NBA Live 06, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06, Madden NFL 06, and a 360-exclusive edition of FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup.
Last but not least, X05 saw brief appearances by two figures of near-mythical importance in the game and sci-fi pantheons. First was a short trailer of the Xbox 360 version of Tomb Raider: Legend, which saw the slinky new Lara Croft briefly saunter across the screen. The day's other big news came as Moore introduced a videotaped message by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, in which he expressed his excitement about executive producing the Halo film adaptation.
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