The Canadian gaming press converged in downtown Toronto on August 28th for the latest Xbox event, featuring some of the hottest titles to hit the console this fall. This event seems to have been largely ignored outside of Canada, perhaps due to some bitterness regarding the cancellation of X'07 in both Europe and the United States. However, the Canadian crowd may very well have benefited from those cancellations since the event featured an unusually strong proportion of high-profile games. Microsoft didn't skimp on the extras either. The roughly 80 Xbox consoles were plugged into high-end Samsung LCD HDTVs, none less than 30" and some reaching close to 50". Complementing the picture were a few high-end sports cars with large PGR4 decals, incessantly circling the neighbourhood with passengers looking for a quick taste of adrenaline. And let's not forget the not-so-discreet open bar, with a wide assortment of refreshments and an ever-changing variety of foods. In fact, nobody seemed to agree on exactly what had been served at the buffet.
The event attracted a proportionate crowd, such that few stations were ever devoid of guests but leaving enough breathing room to squeeze through the rowdy crowd jamming to the tune of Rock Band. As the thought that the event had went off without a hitch was slowly beginning to formulate itself, that light bulb suddenly went dark. One of life's little mysteries had finally been answered: "If several dozen Xbox consoles lost power all at the same time, and a room full of people were around to hear it, would it make a sound?" The answer is an inevitable yes; a gasp of disappointment from representatives and journalists alike. Microsoft personnel were quick to dispel the hypothesis that the immense power consumption of the event was at fault for the blackout, pointing out that the whole block had been affected. Most shrugged, and in a calm and orderly fashion promptly exited the exhibition area and directed themselves towards the open bar. One thing's for sure, the combined heat of the consoles and the guests, which had been competing with the air conditioning for hours, quickly rose the temperature of the room as rapidly as Microsoft's bar tab.
The PGR4 cars redoubled their efforts to entertain the guests, most of which were now sitting outside and having drinks on the club's patio, to the dismay of the neighbourhood's party poopers who swiftly notified the local police about the increasing ruckus. The authorities, apparently suffering from a slow day at the office and wanting to get in on some gaming of their own, converged on the premises from all directions with a foot patrolman rounding the corner as three cruisers blocked both ends of the street. Perhaps it was a bit much to hope that Kane and Lynch would run out of the building guns blazing and commandeer the PGR4 Ferrari 360 to make a quick getaway through the narrow streets of the downtown core. We were later informed that the street was being closed to make way for a large portable generator brought in by Microsoft to restore power to the building. It was too little too late unfortunately as most representatives left to catch their flights back home.
Canadians sure know how to throw a party.
And the award for weirdest game goes to...
Amid the many high-profile games featured at X'07 Canada, a single game stood out like the ugly duckling among the swans. Noticing the blocky graphics deserving of the original Nintendo console and colour schemes more outlandish than the distorted vision of the highest of stoners, I delved in for a closer look. The game was none other than the latest title of the highly popular Japanese series, Katamari, published by Namco. Players must rebuild planets accidentally destroyed by god-like hovering space-heads by sucking up particular objects on other planets. This is accomplished by controlling a super-sticky ball, rolling over objects to stick them on and capturing bigger objects as the ball's size grows. Everything in the world can be picked up with your giant ball of stuff, including the unfortunate inhabitants of the worlds you visit, who let out humorous yelps as they get sucked into the pile. With a bizarre storyline and even stranger premise, Beautiful Katamari hopes to keep the ball rolling in North America. If only we had access to those crazy Japanese hallucinogens...
On your Christmas list this year
The GamingExcellence team made it through most of the exhibition before happy blackout hour. Here's an overview of some of the high-profile games featured at this event, which you can look forward to this holiday season.
- Halo 3: Microsoft's highly anticipated Halo 3 impressed our reviewer with much improved AI and revitalized graphics. The refinements over the previous titles are probably insufficient to attract numerous new players to the franchise, but are sure to appeal to its already colossal fan base. Halo 3 is scheduled for release on September 25th.
- Kane & Lynch: Dead Men: Eidos and IO Interactive take the shooter genre in a new direction with an original storyline and exciting physics. With intensive action and amazing graphics, this one feels like you're playing a blockbuster Hollywood movie. The next edition of Hitman from the same companies, scheduled for October 12th, stands on the sidelines in comparison. Look for Kane & Lynch on November 13th.
- Call of Duty 4: Activision's graphically-orgasmic shooter returns in a modern-day warfare scenario, taking you to undisclosed Russian locations to fight new waves of terrorists bent on world revolution or destruction, whichever comes first. Featuring realistic body and materials physics, many multiplayer modes and handling up to 18 players online, this one will be flying off the shelves in November.
- Enemy Territory: Quake Wars: The Quake series is revitalized in Activision's team-based game which takes place during the first landing of the Strogg army. With a multiplayer-driven concept, the developers drastically improved the AI of their bots to make them useful members of the team. Enemy Territory ships with 12 maps and three game modes on October 2nd for the PC, with Xbox 360 and PS3 versions following later.
- John Woo's Stranglehold: Despite all the hype and TV ads, Midway's flagship title seems very much like a Max Payne 3, with an almost identical engine adding some additional moves involving the environment but lacking the sensational film-noir effect characteristic of Max Payne 2. We'll know the public's reaction soon enough as the game is available next week.
- Turok: Vancouver's Propaganda Games reinvents the Turok franchise with a new more developed storyline, an array of conventional and futuristic weapons, and ferocious dinosaurs to boot. The redesigned dinosaur AI makes them less pure-evil and allows you to create situations where they'll actually attack your human enemies. The game is scheduled to hit the market much later than most, on February 5th.
- PGR4: Bizarre Creations' Project Gotham Racing returns as a slightly more polished iteration with some nifty visual effects but feels very much the same as the previous version. The added depth of the game, with more cities and vehicles, makes it almost seem like an expansion pack. PGR4 launches on October 2nd in North America.
- NHL 2K8: Drastically improved compared to 2K7 in a number of areas, 2K Sports' NHL title for 2008 also features outstanding gameplay. The developers targeted the basics to improve gameplay and AI: a faceoff system that allows the player to take fine-grained control and a new set of goaltending behaviours. NHL 2K8 gets started ahead of the season, on September 11th.
- NHL 08: EA's competing NHL title skates in with subtly nicer graphics and new creative options such as the ability to design plays before game time. However, the most significant improvement is the "on-the-fly" AI which adapts to the player's style, so guaranteed one-timer goals may finally be a thing of the past. NHL 08 jumps on the ice at the same time, on September 11th.
- Ace Combat 6: Namco's latest title in the series combines elements from all of the previous releases with stunning visual detail and city landscapes and multiple game modes. The flight dynamics are well balanced and the controls will certainly suit the dedicated flight simulator enthusiast. Namco plans on releasing additional planes and maps as future downloadables, but the game ships as early as October 23rd.
- Blazing Angels 2: Ubisoft offers a different take on the flight sim franchise by taking gamers to an alternate reality. Though the controls are a little simplistic for the dedicated pilot, useful camera angles and a whole new generation of fictitious planes and weaponry will capture your attention and may indeed add some spice to the genre. You won't have to wait too long either since this sequel is available in stores on September 13th.
- Skate: EA offers a challenge to the Tony Hawk series with impressive graphics and revolutionary controls. The "flickit" control method introduces a different way to virtual-skate and adapts to the player's style. Skate glides into stores September 12th.
- Tony Hawk's Proving Ground: Activision brings back Tony Hawk yet again in a game that revamps the controls by giving the player full control over the character's both arms. Besides the new landscapes and some creative options, the game seems otherwise pretty similar to previous titles. Tony Hawk skates into a store near you on September 9th.
- Devil May Cry: Capcom launches into the world of devils and demons for the fourth installment of an action game providing players with interesting swordplay and acrobatics. As if that weren't enough, the game also promises an interesting storyline but hasn't yet set a fixed release date, though it's expected to arrive close to the New Year.
- Lost Odyssey: Mistwalker has developed an epic RPG game with stunning visuals based on a gripping storyline written by famous Japanese novelist Kiyoshi Shigematsu. With some of the Final Fantasy guys on the team, this title is a strong contender for the classics category. It's now targetted for the Spring of 2008.
- Eternal Sonata: Namco has crafted an intensely colourful RPG for the somewhat younger crowd with a well developed fighting engine that removes some of the staccato feel of traditional RPG fighting. It's strongly based on music and musical arrangements, elements which are required to advance through the game. We'll find out if this works out when the game is released in November.
- Assassin's Creed: Ubisoft is working on an action-packed third-person game set during the third crusade. Featuring interesting abilities, non-linear gameplay, highly detailed graphics and fully-reactive bystanders, this game's not quite like anything we've seen before. Check it out on November 13.
- Mass Effect: Bioware is developing an RPG like no other. Mass Effect's vision of the future seems akin to a Star Wars universe, replacing the Jedi's force with your squad's biotics. The game is mostly played in a close-up third person view and feels like a shooter, but has the depth, customizability and non-linear storyline of an RPG and allows you to control your other squad members using a novel mechanism. The game is set to be released on November 20.
- Rock Band: MTV, Harmonix and EA partner-up to produce the ultimate music game incorporating all elements of traditional rock bands: guitar, vocals, drums and bass. The game is certainly entertaining but our only concern is the likely heavy price tag attached to the equipment required to enjoy the game to its fullest. Rock Band is set for release sometime in November.
- Guitar Hero 3: Activision will be heading the release of the latest in the hit series after the acquisition of RedOctane. Available October 29th, the gameplay hasn't changed too much but the awesome track list should be enough to carry this title.
-- With files from Warren Dunlop and Andrew Sztein, GamingExcellence.