Console gaming blog
By John Falcone
Senior associate editor, CNET Reviews
FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2005 Ubisoft's Kong is king
We had a chance to see an exclusive live demo of Ubisoft's King Kong, the game based on Peter Jackson's upcoming summer blockbuster. Let's just say that we can't think of a more fitting way to end our coverage of console gaming at this year's show; the game looked amazing, and we watched the demo while sitting in an enormous theater whose sonic excesses were typical of what E3 had to offer. Graphics aside, we were intrigued by the game's billing as an Indiana Jones-meets-Jurassic Park action-adventure that lets you play the role of both the movie's protagonist and the big ape himself. As we saw in the demo, when you're playing as Kong, you'll have the chance to battle angry T-Rexes, which should be worth the price of admission all on its own. King Kong will be available in some form on nearly every platform later this year, including the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3.
Kong vs. T-Rex
Posted at 5:10 p.m. ET
You don't know Black
Another no-Spore-for-you consolation prize was a peek at EA's upcoming title Black, a first-person shooter from the developer behind the popular Burnout series. Black's programmers enthusiastically told us that their approach to the game was one of "solving problems with a gun," and to that end, they've placed special emphasis on environmental damage effects as well as on big, Hollywood-style gun battles. Truth be told, the game--which should hit stores in the first quarter of 2006, on both Xbox and PS2--showed off some incredible visuals for a current-generation title. Action-starved fans of gunplay and mayhem may find it hard to resist.
Assistant Editor Robert Dubbin contributed to this report.
Posted at 4:22 p.m. ET
Sega's Xbox 360 offerings
As my colleague David Carnoy noted in his Portable gaming blog, Sega is one of the only publishers to have demos of Xbox 360 titles at its booth. Condemned: Criminal Origins is the rare face-breaking, first-person, action title that emphasizes melee combat over gunplay; to that end, you'll be able to pick up a variety of objects from your surrounding environment to use as weapons. We have a feeling that, combined with the Xbox 360's graphical prowess, the loose-two-by-four-as-a-weapon aspect will greatly increase Condemned's realistic feel. Cast somewhat in the mold of Sony's Twisted Metal series, Full Auto is an automotive combat game with Gran Turismo-esque visual quality. Definitely one to keep an eye on. Both titles are due out toward the end of the year.
Posted at 3:52 p.m. ET
Majesco goes to the movies
When we visited Majesco's booth, the company's Clive Barker-authored PS3 title, Demonik, was little more than a prerendered demo on a plasma screen; that's understandable, given the title's early stage of development. Majesco did, however, have a bevy of movie-licensed games on hand for us to preview, including Aeon Flux, Jaws: Unleashed, and--I'm not making this up--Taxi Driver. Aeon Flux, based on a forthcoming Charlize Theron remake of the old MTV cartoon, looks like a futuristic Tomb Raider knockoff, but if a game lets you stare at Charlize for hours on end, you won't catch me complaining. The spin on Jaws is simply, and I'm quoting directly from the buzz on the show floor here, "You play the shark." Taxi Driver, meanwhile, isn't a Crazy Taxi remake. Rather, it's an interactive take on Scorsese's classic and disturbing 1976 film. For my part, I'm gonna pass on playing as Travis Bickle and boot up Majesco's recent title Psychonauts instead.
Posted at 3:27 p.m. ET
Keep your friends close and EA closer
The invitation-only backroom screenings for Spore, EA's promising evolution title from Sims impresario Will Wright, were completely booked. But EA was kind enough to show us a playable version of another showcase title: The Godfather. In the game, you play a Corleone family soldier looking to solidify your grip on the criminal underworld through violence, intimidation, and cunning. Unfortunately, in its current incarnation, this licensed title is looking like an offer you can refuse: strip away the celebrity voices and likenesses (James Caan, Robert Duvall, and even the don himself, Marlon Brando, contributed), and you're left with little more than Grand Theft Auto: Little Italy. Still, the combat system was impressive, and the game's 1940s look and feel effectively evoked the atmosphere of the classic movie. Look for it later this year on Xbox, PC, and Xbox 360.
Posted at 1:44 p.m. ET
Sonic's evil nemesis, blood-soaked ancient warriors hitting consoles this fall
Though its underappreciated Dreamcast system remains a cult fave, Sega itself has long since exited the hardware business. Still, the company's console "defeat" has been a victory for gamers, as great Sega games are now available on all three of the major consoles, and whatever your gaming preference, that makes for a win-win-win situation. Case in point: two upcoming Sega titles we saw at the show, Shadow the Hedgehog and Spartan Total Warrior, will be available for Xbox, PS2, and GameCube. The former is a darker spin-off of Sega's standby Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, though this edition's gun-toting protagonist could be decidedly less kid-friendly. The latter is a sword-and-sandals action game from the developers of the PC's Total War series. Look for both titles to hit all three consoles this fall.
Shadow the Hedgehog
Spartan: Total Warrior
Posted at 12:40 p.m. ET
THURSDAY, MAY 19, 2005 The PlayStation 3 controller: Boomerang Watch
Well, that didn't take long. Only a few days after unveiling its next-generation console's jaw-dropping graphical abilities (gamers: "Hooray!") and its oddly boomeranglike controller (gamers: "Huh?"), Sony appears to be having second thoughts on the design of the heir to the highly popular (and decently ergonomic) Dual Shock II. Engadget reports that, during a backstage visit with the PS3, Sony reps hedged their bets by downplaying the curvy, new gamepad as a "conceptual design." Sony executives will now symbolically throw the failed boomerang controllers out of their office windows, then helplessly watch as they fly right back in again.
Assistant Editor Robert Dubbin contributed to this report.
Posted at 5:18 p.m. ET
Three for the 360
Microsoft was showing off three Xbox 360 games in its booth (and when I say booth, I mean green monstrosity that takes up one-eighth of the convention center's South Hall). Yes, showing only three titles sounds a little thin, given Microsoft's promise to deliver "25 to 40" 360 games by year's end. But considering that Sony and Nintendo aren't publicly showing any games running on their new consoles yet, we'll cut Microsoft a little slack. The titles in question were Microsoft's own Kameo: Elements of Power, Activision's Call of Duty 2, and EA's Need for Speed: Most Wanted. For my money, Call of Duty 2 was the pick of the litter. I'm biased toward first-person shooters, but this WWII actioner seemed to maximize the Xbox 360's improved graphical and processing prowess moreso than the other two.
Call of Duty 2
Posted at 11:22 a.m. ET
Battlefield 2 ready for marching orders
You won't have to wait for a next-generation console to play Battlefield 2: Modern Combat. EA's 21st-century sequel to Battlefield 1942 will first come to the PC, then eventually make its way to the Xbox, the PS2, the Xbox 360, and even the PSP. The official release is still months away, but Battlefield 2 was looking combat-ready in the Xbox booth, where four players were going head-to-head in a United States vs. China confrontation. Look for Battlefield 2 to conscript any remaining holdouts who haven't yet taken the online console gaming plunge.
Posted at 11:19 a.m. ET
WEDNESDAY, MAY 18, 2005 GameCube: first casualty of the Revolution?
Nintendo's gargantuan E3 booth is jam-packed full of fan boys (and girls), but all the activity seems focused on the company's mobile games. Most of the floor space seems dedicated to the DS and the Game Boy Micro, as the just-announced Revolution is, at this early stage, still being kept behind closed doors. So what of the GameCube? It's here, of course, and the new Zelda game, Twilight Princess, gives 'Cube owners something to look forward to. But while Sony and Microsoft are still enthusiastically pushing scads of titles for their now "obsolete" Xbox and PlayStation 2, you can't help but get the feeling that Nintendo's all but written off its quirky current-generation console. With the Revolution guaranteed to be backward-compatible with all GameCube titles, the company almost seems willing to let potential GameCube buyers save their $99 for a down payment on the Revolution.
Game Boy Micro: not a GameCube
Posted at 7:18 p.m. ET
PS3 up close
At Sony's coming-out party for the PlayStation 3 on Monday, we got our first look at the console--on giant projection screens. Today, in the VIP area of Sony's booth, the PS3 was ready for its close-up. Of course, it was under glass, so the demo wasn't quite hands-on, but I was still mere inches from the black, silver, and white flavors of Sony's superconsole. A/V geek that I am, I was more interested in the back panel: in addition to its dual HDMI ports, it looks as if the PS3 sports three onboard Ethernet ports--hammering home the message that Sony intends the new PlayStation to be the nexus of an Internet-capable home-entertainment network.
Posted at 6:49 p.m. ET
Sony PlayStation 3: $500(?!?!?)
This is some serious hearsay we're passing along, but Engadget is reporting that the Japanese press has estimated that Sony's PlayStation 3 will cost just a shade less than $500 when it launches in America in 2006. Now, though we'll advise you to take this information with a tremendous grain of salt, it's worth noting that the PS3 and the Xbox 360 both have specs worthy of high-end gaming PCs, which themselves generally run in the $1,000-plus price range. And if gamers want the teraflops and gigatexels promised by this next generation of consoles, they're going to have to pay for them. But if these rumors are borne out, and Sony's console indeed carries a hefty price tag at launch, it will present a unique opportunity for, say, Nintendo to gain back some of the market share it lost in the previous generation. Given Nintendo's reputation for outpricing its competitors, we rate that a distinct possibility.
Assistant Editor Robert Dubbin contributed to this report
Posted at 6:27 p.m. ET
Console wars, part 4: welcome to the Revolution
Remember Nintendo? The company that single-handedly revived the moribund home-gaming market in the 1980s has, in the two decades since its heyday, slipped to number 3. And despite some theorizing that it should stick to its current cash cow of portable gaming--the company debuted an updated Game Boy, and its DS has sold well--or become a software-only supplier to its competitors, à la one-time console king Sega, Nintendo proved that it will not go quietly. Its slick Revolution console may not have the technical chops of the PS3 or the Xbox 360, but it has a great ace up its sleeve: a backlist of 20 years of Nintendo titles, stretching all the way to the original NES. The Revolution will run 'em all, and Nintendo will make them available for download on its new, Xbox-Live-style Wi-Fi Connection service. Considering the thriving market in retro gaming and emulation, this could be a major selling point for nostalgic gamers looking to relive their past glories. We hope that Nintendo prices its console--and the old games--as aggressively as possible so that the Revolution doesn't become an either/or proposition for gamers. Oh, and we hope the company reissues the light gun so that we can fire up Duck Hunt again.
Posted at 12:11 p.m. ET
Console wars, part 3: Xbox 360 vs. PlayStation 3
From what we saw in Sony's Pixar-quality tech demos, the PS3 seemed to make good on its promises of raw performance. By comparison, the Xbox 360 titles looked more like amped-up games from the current Xbox. In a way, that makes sense--the 360 will hit stores this autumn, while Sony won't be launching its superconsole until spring 2006, fully half a year later. Microsoft is clearly hoping to get the jump on the competition, and we suspect ity'll also put some serious price pressure on Sony. Neither company has announced pricing details, but the Xbox 360 seems to sport a more modular design--wireless networking and HD video cables, for instance, look to be add-on accessories--that could mean a lower entry-level price point compared to Sony's feature-packed supercomputer gaming console (the built-in media reader, Blu-ray drive, dual HDMI ports, and other niceties will almost certainly drive up the Sony's price). But what about Nintendo? Their next-generation Revolution console is also due in 2006; how does it fare against Microsoft and Sony's offerings? More on that next time.
Posted at 11:23 a.m. ET
Console wars, part 2: Sony's PlayStation 3 bowls us over
At 3 p.m. PT on Monday, it was Sony's turn. After hours of waiting, a huge throng of journalists from around the world--one of the speakers suggested we numbered 2,000, which looked about right to me--was ushered into a soundstage at Sony Pictures' Culver City film studio. The presentation started slowly, focusing first on the storied history of the PlayStation's ascendancy to total dominance in the world videogaming market. A revolving panel of Sony brass from Asia, North America, and Europe began touting PlayStation 3's superior hardware, but initial salvos were limited to dry tech specs.
Sony PlayStation 3
Finally--more than an hour, it seemed, into the presentation--the real show started: live tech demos showing exactly what all the PS3's vaunted teraflops, gigahertz, and megabytes could actually do. Demos started small and abstract: rubber ducks in a sink, nymphs dancing underwater, and desert gas stations exploding. All impressive, but it wasn't until the PlayStation 3's graphical prowess was shown in an actual game--a next-gen version of EA's Fight Night--that jaws really hit the ground. Sony calls it photo-realistic, which is a bit of a stretch; it was certainly discernable from watching a boxing match on TV, for instance. But we had to admit they were some of the most realistically rendered humans we'd ever seen in a game--to our eyes, they appeared on the level of the characters in the all-CG film Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.
Sony wrapped its presentation with a demo reel of some equally impressive games, ranging from franchise favorites such as Final Fantasy VII to all-new games such as Motor Storm, designed from the ground up to optimize PS3's awesome hardware. Finally, the console itself was unveiled in a hail of flashbulbs.
Up next, I'll pit Microsoft's Xbox 360 against Sony's PS3 for a little head-to-head action.
Posted at 10:27 a.m. ET
Console wars, part 1: Xbox 360's shot heard 'round the world
The Electronic Entertainment Expo officially kicks off here in Los Angeles today, but this year, the battle for next-generation supremacy was joined long before the doors opened to the masses. Microsoft launched a preemptive strike against its competition on MTV last week, airing a prime-time Xbox 360 special that was long on showbiz glitz and short on details. Nevertheless, the Xbox 360 was officially out of the bag, and the initial positive buzz culminated in a downright fawning Time magazine cover story that hit newsstands on Monday.
Unlike the steady stream of leaks and speculation about the Xbox 360 (a slew of images and specs that appeared on the Web in the weeks leading up to the 360's announcement--many of which turned out to be right on the money--kept the Microsoft console at the center of conversation in the blogosphere), Sony's new console was cloaked in a shroud of secrecy that would make Steve Jobs proud. Among the few details known about the PlayStation 3 were the fact that it would be powered by a superchip known as the Cell processor and that it would use Blu-ray media, Sony's alternative to Toshiba's rival HD-DVD format. But when we finally saw the PlayStation 3 for ourselves, it was clear that the next-gen console war would be more closely contested than the Xbox's wave of positive publicity first led us to believe. More on that in a few.
Posted at 9:33 a.m. ET