E3 2009: Day 1 Reflections

Day 1 of E3 2009 — full of press conferences from Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, and the big press event from Microsoft earlier this morning. Having spent the day taking in what each of these groups had to offer, we've got a little bit of judgment to pass now. Sure, it's early, but here are some thoughts coming out of the first day... Based purely on what's been shown today, and assuming things go to plan:

The Sure-fire Big Winner: Xbox Live

Direct download capability for 1080p movies and Xbox 360 games; an expanded Netflix lineup; Facebook, Last.fm and Twitter tie-ins to come in the fall; and a whole host of exclusive downloads and DLC content for games coming this year. That $50 a year spent on an Xbox Live gold account keeps looking better and better, and regardless how the games turn out, what you'll be able to do with the system grows and grows.

Most Important Announcement: Microsoft's Project Natal

It's waggle, Jim, but not how we're used to: Microsoft's Project Natal could well be the biggest announcement at E3 2009, but we won't know for sure for years.

We knew it was coming. It may even have been shown a year ago, before Microsoft acquired the company responsible for the technology. But actually seeing Project Natal — Microsoft's code name for its controller-less motion control device — was very stunning. Sure, some of the tech demos displayed (a ball kicking/punching/heading game, motion to control the Xbox dashboard) were a bit hokey...but they showed a level of motion-recognition that was very tight and reactive. The big deal was Lionhead Studios (publishers of Fable 2, Black and White and many other games) and the tech demo they created where players could interact with a schoolboy named Milo. To say it encroached on the uncanny valley is an understatement; if it's what the video demonstration billed it to be, it's less a game and more interacting with a legitimate AI character. Absolutely stunning.

To say that Microsoft could capitalize on the market the Nintendo Wii has pioneered while also pushing the boundaries of what's possible as an interactive activity with Project Natal is an understatement. The potential is there; whether it comes to fruition in the final form will be interesting to see.

Nothing's Shocking: The surprises that...well...didn't.

  • Hideo Kojima taking the stage during the Microsoft press conference (accompanied by a "!") to announce Metal Gear Solid: Rising, which will feature Raiden.
  • Bungie is working on something other than Halo 3: ODST in the Halo universe — Halo: Reach.
  • EA Sports is adding a mixed martial-arts game, EA Sports MMA, to its roster.
  • Brütal Legend is going to kick everybody's ass. Hard.
  • Sequel-tastic: Left 4 Dead 2, Crackdown 2, Metal Gear Solid...and plenty more from EA and Ubi.

The Day and Date Club: Games that made a great first impression.

Here comes the sun: The Beatles: Rock Band broke cover excellently today at E3.

  • The Beatles: Rock Band. After months of speculation, teases and being under wraps, the game was finally revealed today. It was a hell of a start to Microsoft's press conference.
  • Forza Motorsport 3. Another game that had lived under cover until now showing its head, and it is looking good as well. Especially innovative could be the game's replay editor – if the Turn 10 spokesman was being truthful during the demonstration today, it could yield spectacular results.
  • Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction. Site editor Aaron Thayer was particularly enamored with this game's combination of stealth and action. The lighting system and revamped hide-in-the-shadows gameplay along with the extremely visceral action is a tantalizing prospect for this fall.
  • Brütal Legend. The metal Zelda. Tim Schafer's (well deserved) golden ticket-in-waiting.
  • Honorable mentions: Assassin's Creed 2, Mass Effect 2, Alan Wake.

We'll be sure to have more for you tomorrow after Nintendo, Sony and a host of others make their presentations and the show floor opens.