E3 ’08: Review: Day one

E3 ’08: Review: Day one
As Don Mattrick kicked off E3 today at Microsoft’s media briefing at the LA Convention Centre this morning, one thing was clear – despite fevered rumour mongering, the platform holder believes it is software, not hardware, that will finally see Xbox become a real contender in the casual space.

The audience had hardly drawn breath before Mattrick introduced a flurry of Triple-A soon-to-be-releases to the crowd.

Getting the hardcore fans onside early, Bethesda’s Fallout 3, Capcom’s Resident Evil 5 and the firm’s own Fable II and Gears Of War 2 were all rifled through in front of the assembled media masses.

But it was the casual sphere, rather than the blood, guns ‘n guts traditional gaming sector that was to enjoy the real treats from Xbox.

There was time, of course, for Mattrick to turn his guns on PS3, declaring with no little pride or defiance: “I’m willing to declare Xbox 360 will sell more consoles this generation than PS3.”

And there was no little exposure given to Microsoft’s ambitions as a movie and TV distributor, crowned by the long-touted announcement of its partnership with Netflix.

But when Xbox Live boss John Schappert took the stage, it became clear where Microsoft felt its real rocket fuel lay. The revelation of a new software download for the service was obviously a big deal for the format holder – with particular focus on the new online interface and avatar system being particularly celebrated.

A string of could-be casual classics took up the bulk of the middle section – with rhythm-based offerings Guitar Hero, Rock Band 2 and Lips all giving the attending journos cause to whistle on the journey back to their hotel.

“For the first time in history, a consumer electronics device will be completely reinvented through software,” chimed Schappert – making clear just how big a deal this new push is to Microsoft.

XBLA’s ‘best ever’ line-up followed – including the mouth-watering prospect of a South Park game – as well as the EyeToy-aping You’re In The Movies from Codemasters.

After all that mainstream tickling, however, Microsoft’s non-casual intentions were given the rubber stamp by its final announcement: PlayStation mainstay Final Fantasy’s debut on the system.

Mattrick could hardly hold down his glee about the coup as he told the crowd that a host of former PlayStation-associated franchises had “found a new home” on Xbox 360.

EA’s presentation was a less revolutionary affair, but no less impressive – and no less camped in the casual arena.

The announcement of The Sims Animals – which, with its globally loved brand, promises to achieve what Viva Pinata almost did first time round – was a big deal, as was EA’s showboating about its support for Apple’s portable systems.

But the mega-publisher was, quite understandably, most buoyed by its new deal with yet another gigantic studio – ID. When it introduced John Carmack on stage to celebrate EA’s backing of ID title Rage it was the hardcore massive – not mum and dad – who put a full stop on the day.

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