At 4:30 am Microsoft's Peter Moore took to the stage to present the first of this year's pre-E3 media briefings. 90 minutes later it's plainly obvious that Microsoft has an extremely impressive Holiday 2007 line-up, but what lies ahead isn't so clear. The platform holder decided to focus entirely on games due this year, meaning there were no real surprises, but a lot of excellent games.
The show opened with a group of Libertyville teenagers playing the Halo theme live on stage, before Moore took over and proceeded to take part in a Rock Band live demo. Never one to hide, Moore took a Guitar and played through, despite a rather off-pitch performance by the woman on vocals.
Things then moved to Viva Piñata, with one of the only real new game announcements of the show. Viva Piñata: Party Animals will hit Xbox 360 this year, and as the name suggests is a party game with over 40 mini-games. Sadly, along with a version of Viva Piñata for Games for Windows, that was all MS had to say about Rare, with Banjo Kazooie not being a 2007 title.
Confirmed for this year though was Mass Effect from BioWare, set to ship this November. It will join fellow first-party RPGs Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey in the 2007 line-up - a triple whammy that MS was keen to talk about and understandably so.
Talk then moved to sales, with Moore announcing that 5.6 million 360s have been sold to date in the US, with sales since the new rival consoles launched also strong. Head to head the 360 is practically on a level footing with Wii, while both consoles are outselling the PS3 by 2:1. On the software front the 360 trounces the competition and third-party titles perform substantially better than on rival formats. $2.4 billion has been spent on Xbox 360 software and peripherals since November 2006.
Moore talked about the perfect storm of gaming that hit in holiday 2004, made up of Madden, GTA San Andreas and Halo 2, and a repeat is set to happen this year. Those were the three biggest selling games of that year and this year the Xbox 360 will be the only system where you'll be able to play the latest games in each franchise. A huge list of games for this year then followed, clearly highlighting the strong line-up Microsoft's console will be home to.
Xbox 360 games due this year:
Dynasty Warriors: Gundam
Call of Duty 4
Guitar Hero 3
NBA Live 08
Medal of Honor Airborne
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08
Ace Combat 6
Spider-Man: Friend or Foe
The Simpsons Game
Splinter Cell Conviction
Madden NFL 08
Tony Hawk's Proving Ground
Crash of the Titans
The Orange Box
Bee Movie Game
Naruto Rise of the Ninja
Next up on stage was Jeff Bell, Corporate Vice President of Global Marketing, Interactive Entertainment Business. His job was to talk about games for the whole family, and while nothing ground breaking was announced a few surprises were in store.
Firstly, the Xbox 360 will be getting a fully interactive HD version of the hit game Scene It? Not only that, the console will get its own set of special controllers, not too dissimilar to Sony's brilliant Buzz! controllers.
EA Sports will once again have a full line-up of titles on Xbox 360 this year and Bell announced that every game will run twice as fast as last year, presumably at 60 frames per second instead of 30. No mention was made of how this compares to rival systems (notably the PS3) but a sly dig was clear to see.
Xbox LIVE has been one of Microsoft's biggest success stories for the Xbox project and the company announced that members now stand at 7 million, with a forecast for 10 million by this time next year. LIVE Arcade has also been a huge hit, with over 45 million game downloads and 100+ games on the service by the end of the year. A host of titles were shown, but the only big reveal was Marathon Durandal.
Video Marketplace has also been a big hit for MS ($125 million spent on content since its launch) and that is set to continue after two big announcements. The service will arrive in Canada and Europe by the end of the year, and Disney will provide movies from its catalogue in HD, including many titles that were previously only available in HD on Blu-ray. Europeans will also be pleased to hear that the Xbox 360 Elite will be released on August 24, complete with the bigger 120GB hard drive.
Games then took over again, with Shane Kim, Vice president corporate officer MS Game Studios, running through further key titles for 2007. PGR4 was demoed and given a September release date, and two new titles were announced for Games for Windows: Gears of War and Viva Piñata. Notably, Gears for Windows will run on XP and Vista and will feature new multiplayer content and five new single-player chapters.
Keeping with Games for Windows, Windows LIVE support was announced for SEGA, Eidos and THQ titles, and Epic's Unreal Engine 3 will feature built-in support for the service. Games for Windows will see over 60 branded titles this year including big hitters such as Crysis and World in Conflict.
The next game demo was for Infinity Ward's Call of Duty 4 and it looked mightily impressive. While the game is also due for PC and PS3 as well as Xbox 360, Microsoft's console will be home to an exclusive multiplayer beta later in the year.
Nothing new was shown for GTA IV, but Moore did reveal that all the footage that we've seen so far has been captured from the Xbox 360 version of the game. The two exclusive downloadable episodes were also reaffirmed, said to offer hours of new content that will make the Xbox 360 version the only complete GTA IV experience.
Japanese publisher support was then discussed, with titles like VF5 with online play and Devil May Cry 4, but a short teaser for Capcom's Resident Evil 5 was also shown. Sadly this was the one featured game that won't be out this year, but a full trailer comprised of Xbox 360 footage will be on Xbox Live Marketplace on July 26.
As the presentation approached its end Ubisoft strode onto the stage to demo Assassin's Creed, which is looking as good as ever, but the show couldn't end without more on Halo 3. For a moment it seemed we'd have to make do with a short live action Halo movie and a new Halo 3 special edition console, but Peter Moore didn't disappoint us, ending a solid show with a new in-game Halo 3 single-player trailer.
Overall Microsoft did an impressive job at highlighting its 2007 line-up, leaving no doubt over its quality, but the lack of announcements for what's to come was a little disappointing. Titles mentioned, but not due this year included Alan Wake, Too Human, Fable 2, Banjo Kazooie, Halo Wars and the new Halo Game from Peter Jackson. While undoubtedly strong sounding titles for next year, it would have been nice to get a sneak peek, the kind of which Sony and Nintendo are almost certainly going to deliver.