E3 Day 1, Microsoft, Killzone, And Sushi

July 11, 2007

With the first day of E3 behind us, and not even an official day at that, it seems offensive that I could be as tired as I am, surely not a good sign for the presumably hectic week ahead – so says my day planner. Today also gave a glimpse at the greatest drawback to the wholly decentralized layout of this year’s event, as walking from place to place has grown from the annoyance of year’s past to being an outright inconvenience. I’m truly not looking forward to the morning trek each day this week down the road from the hotel to the cluster of event venues hugging the Santa Monica shoreline. There is undeniably a benefit to paying the extra Geld to sere a room in one of the posh E3 hotels, and while my wallet convinced me that the savings outweighed any potential benefit, the blisters on my feet this evening are singing a very different tune.

But I digress.

The day kicked off with an arrival at the Fairmont Hotel, as I made my way to an alarmingly empty registration room. Granted I had arrived at the 11th hour, but previous E3 events had prepared me for a room that would be abuzz with activity at all times. Then again, I didn’t have to wait in line to get my picture taken and slapped onto a badge. Perhaps this would be a sign of the show’s proposed exclusiveness. Or maybe it’s just a sign of me being really damn late.

Of course the day’s star attraction was the evening’s press conference, this time taking place outside at LA’s Shrine Auditorium, instead opting to entertain the media at an outdoor amphitheater-style venue. Appropriate, since Microsoft began its onslaught of lights and sounds with a musical performance by a group of indie artists out of Illinois who rocked out a fantastic rendition of the Halo theme. As someone who is not particularly a Halo zealot, even I can appreciate a great tune, and it was hard not to get swept up in the atmosphere of the lead musician’s intoxicating violin prowess. Then again, I have a weakness for rocker chicks, and the way she banged on that instrument made me swoon just a little bit.

Besides the initial volley of aural and visual delights, there was little that surprised about the event. Most save for a small few games we had already heard about, most on more than one occasion, though it should be said that a lack of surprises should not undermine the apparent ferocity of Microsoft’s upcoming lineup. From Mass Effect (still looking awesome), to PGR4 (ditto!), the Xbox 360 will have no shortage of heavy hitters filling out the remainder of 2007, and I dare say that both Sony and Nintendo better reply with a similar attitude because Microsoft came to play.

Following the event, which sadly did not reciprocate similar swag to the press that many might have hoped (the reason perhaps many including myself made off with the largely uncomfortable Xbox 360 branded seat cushions we had been using to protect us from the venue’s concrete steps), Sony was lurking just outside, a representative holding up a nondescript sign adorned with a PlayStation logo. The reason? A select few of us had been selected prior to the show to be shuttled off to an exclusive private party designed to promote the second coming (or is that third?) of Killzone. And this being Sony, they spared little expense.

The presentation took place in a back room theater behind Santa Monica’s own Sushi Roku on Ocean Avenue, which Sony had rented out for the evening’s meet and greet. Attendees elbowed their way through the crowd of a hundred of so fellow journalists in order to get at the open drink and sushi bars, as everyone conversed with familiar, and not so familiar faces. But of course, that is not why you are reading this. Still, the spicy tuna roll was the stuff of legends.

Anyway, as said Killzone 2 was completely playable at the event. As long as you were one of the developers at Guerrilla. Press were taken into the back room theater in smallish groups and shown a 30 minute presentation, played in real-time, of what amounted to an entire level beginning with an air assault and culminating with the destruction of a massive lighting cannon guarded by some sort of giant flying mech… thing. The Killzone faithful may know the characters’ more appropriate descriptors, but even as a novice I found myself impressed. While certainly not the visual feast of the now infamous E3 trailer from years gone by, the game still demonstrated why it remains one of the PlayStation 3’s most anticipated future releases.

Taking a page from Ubisoft’s Advanced Warfighter, the game moved more or less seamlessly from real time cutscene to actual first person gameplay, with just the occasional stutter associated with a game still in development there to remind us that Killzone’s latest may be further off from release than we may have hoped.

The game actually reminded me a lot of Resistance: Fall of Man, with its gritty setting that was low in color and high in frenetic chaos and destructible environments. The level we saw took place on the enemy homeworld, and featured a fair share of independent and squad-based tactics. One of my favorite included working with a group of AI controlled soldiers to take down a more heavily armed opponent, requiring an almost artful display of cat and mouse in order to trick the big guy to show his more vulnerable backside.

Altogether, Killzone 2 impressed, and as said, I came into the event only aware of the franchise in passing. The PlayStation 3 needs another top franchise, and so long as people are not left waiting for too long, this could be it. The game and series does not have the recognition or support of, say Microsoft’s Halo, however, and Sony would be remiss to think otherwise. Even so, this is one that I am personally looking forward to playing first hand, though you don’t have to take my word for it. Beginning at 3 p.m. Pacific time Wednesday, Sony will have the game’s latest and greatest trailer up for download on the PlayStation Store.

Let us know what you think!