E3 2007: Microsoft’s Press Event

My ears hurt like I’ve just left a Tool concert, my ass feels like I’ve been sitting on concrete for 90 minutes and my feet are sore. The new E3 has just begun and already it’s feeling a lot like the old one.

“Tonight we let the games talk,” said Microsoft frontman Peter Moore, drawing to a close the most bombastic press event in recent memory. The evening began to the tune of the Halo theme as performed by “five Halo fans from Illinois,” a rattling off of a series of impressive-sounding sales numbers (did you know that Microsoft has sold 18.1 million games for the Xbox 360, and they’ve grossed 2.4 billion dollars?) and the claim that this holiday season, Microsoft would unleash the greatest lineup of games “in the history of gaming.”

OK, so maybe the games weren’t doing all the talking.

The fan band’s opening set was followed by what Microsoft hopes will be the headliner this season, but what I can’t help but think is going to be a disappointment. A handful of heavy hitters from Harmonix took the stage to demo Rock Band, and with Peter Moore playing along, cemented (at least in my mind) what’s wrong with this title: it makes people look like idiots.

Each time I see the game demonstrated I can’t help but be embarrassed for the poor sods on stage, and this time was no different. To make matters worse, even on the gigantic, IMAX-sized screen at the event, the Rock Band interface looked cluttered and confusing, not nearly as simple and inviting as it’s guitar-bound predecessor. I may be wrong about this one (and I open the door wide for that possibility here), but I expect Rock Band will be the surprise dud of the season.

But the assault on the senses didn’t end with Peter Moore getting booed off the Rock Band stage. After Corporate VP of Global Marketing (and natural tenor) Jeff Bell left the stage, leaving behind an announcement that Microsoft had partnered with Disney to bring Disney, Touchstone and Miramax pictures to the Xbox Live Marketplace starting tonight (and forever more) and a rousing Madden 2008 session with New Orleans Saints star Reggie Bush (Bell called him “bro” about a dozen times), Moore retook the stage to attempt to breathe life into the sputtering Games for Windows brand, with a little help from Cliffy B.

Not only will Epic’s monster hit, Gears of War be making its debut on PCs this year, but Games for Windows Live support is now being built into the Unreal 3 engine, paving the way for increased support of Microsoft’s fledgling integration scheme.

And then Infinity Ward stepped up with a real time demo of their latest, Call of Duty 4. Befitting the bombast of the evening’s proceedings, CoD4‘s creators grabbed the mic proclaiming that with their latest game, they would be going “deep and hard.” And in spite of the infantile euphemism, their presentation stole the show.

Call of Duty 4 brings the series into the modern age with a conflict centered on the radiated Ukrainian countryside. The visuals were gorgeous and the gameplay looked like a cross between a Tom Clancy title and Saving Private Ryan, which is another way of saying “best seller.” The scene where the player, in a camouflaged ghille suit, must evade a tank regiment trooping through high grass mere feet away left me breathless, and provided one of the few thrills of the evening.

After that, the surprises were fairly unsurprising, but interesting nonetheless. Moore showed his one exception to the rule that all games demonstrated at the event would be slated for 2007 release, with a teaser trailer from Capcom’s Resident Evil 5, due out next year some time for the Xbox 360. He also announced the long predicted Halo 3 hardware bundle, unveiling a Halo 3 themed Xbox 360 slated to hit store shelves this holiday season. No details were provided, but we can assume it will be top of the line. Let’s hope after the repair bill comes in, there’s some of that 2.4 billion in sales left over for R&D on the new machine.

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