Summary: JCal puts together all his stories on CES and gives a complete gaming rundown of the show.
Saturday, January 6
Even while workers were busy at the Las Vegas Convention Center putting up the exhibits for the coming week's Consumer Electronics Show, the event's organizers held a press preview event at the nearby Sands/Venetian Convention Center on Saturday. The rather small meeting room was crammed with journalists checking out small table sized displays from nearly 60 of CES's exhibitors. "Press Preview" is actually a little bit of a misnomer since many of the products shown have already been released with more than one exhibitor saying that when CES really begins on Monday they will show off and announce all new products.
Sunday, January 7
Sunday was the day with a ton of press conferences, mostly with companies like Toshiba, Panasonic, LG and other talking about their upcoming HDTVs. LG did create a stir with the announcement of their new HD-DVD/Blu-Ray combo player that's due out later this year.
Of course, Windows Vista is set to be released to the consumer on January 30 and during the keynote new Vista features were shown off. One feature is plugging in an Xbox 360 controller to a Vista PC. Not only can you play games with the controller, a demo was shown that used the controller to handle a flyby of a 3D version of Las Vegas using Google Earth, complete with real time traffic information. A new feature of the Vista Media Center was also shown; Sports Lounge. In this demo not only can you watch sports on TV but the Media Center version gives you scores and even stats on players (perfect for fantasy football users). The familiar desktop themes from Windows 95 and Windows XP can also be expanded via Vista. A demo was shown that put in full motion video for your desktop and have that video become part of your Vista background.
Later in the keynote Gates showed off the HP Media Smart Server (due out in the second half of 2007) that uses Windows Vista. The new line of Windows Home Servers is designed specifically for the consumer. The server will be able to store terabytes of content that can be accessed to other home PCs as well as devices like the Zune and Xbox 360. Gates then introduced Robbie Bach, the head of Microsoft's Entertainment division (which includes Games for Windows and Xbox 360). Bach talked first about their partnership with MTV on their Urge online music services. Bach also talked about Zune which he said was the number 2 music player and is on track to sell 1 million units (no specific date to reach that number was revealed). Windows Mobile devices like smartphones from a variety of companies are currently outselling the Blackberry system, according to Bach.
Bach then talked about gaming. First he talked about the PC Games for Windows program. A video was then shown that had footage from a number of mostly upcoming games including Hellgate London, Crysis, Bioshock and more. One interesting video showed Geometry Wars, the popular Xbox Live Arcade game, on a PC, which is the first indication that this popular Xbox 360 game will be coming to the PC at some point.
Bach then talked about the Xbox 360, confirming earlier reports that Microsoft has shipped 10.4 million consoles worldwide so far. The previously released pre-rendered Halo 3 trailer was shown to the CES keynote audience (sorry, no new footage). Xbox Live membership has now reached 5 million members, according to Bach. A new live demo of how Xbox 360 and Windows users will play with each other was then shown as a person played a Windows Vista version of UNO and then goes to a friends list on Vista to find another person who is playing the same game on an Xbox 360 so they can play with them. Bach said this kind of function will go live this summer.
Bach then talked about the HD-DVD movie disk drive for the Xbox 360, saying that the drive was a big seller but not taking about actual sales figures. He also talked about downloading HD movies and TV episodes via Xbox 360 (Lionsgate is the latest movie studio to offer movie titles for the Xbox 360 service). Microsoft also announced that their IPTV cable service will work with the Xbox 360 to deliver cable TV content to the Xbox 360. The service will be made available sometime this year via cable TV companies.
After the speech, we headed to Caesar’s Palace to attend the separate Digital Experience event. It's not officially affiliated with the Consumer Electronics Show but Pepcom' own mini-electronics show had over 100 exhibitors with table top exhibits that showed off their products including some that will officially debut today at CES. Some of the highlights included HP showing off their Home Media Center prototype at the event that was first shown at the Microsoft keynote. The server, which will run on Vista's home server software, can hold up to four hard drives inside its casing and can hold even more hard drives with its four USB ports. The Home Media Center will be released this fall. The ultra portable PC computer company OQO also showed off a new version of their product, the OQO model 2. The new device has a 1.5 Ghz processor, a 60 GB hard drive, WiFi, Bluetooth, EDVO and 1 GB of memory yet weights about 1 pound. Saitek showed off their upcoming and very impressive looking X52 Pro flight sim joystick and throttle. Priced at $199, the new flight control set up for serious PC flight sim players is due out later this month with backlit buttons, military style materials and programmable buttons. Velocity Micro showed off its upcoming Vista-based Media Center PC with support for several internal hard drives, an aluminum casing and support for HD recording. It will be released around the time Vista is released. We even saw a jukebox with an iPod jack.
During CES we got a chance to check out a build of CellFactor: Revolution, the upcoming full version of Artificial Studios' multiplayer first person shooter that uses AGEIA's PhysX hardware engine. While the build we got to play was still in an alpha development phase we saw new content that was not included in the one level demo version that was released around the time the PhysX hardware shipped. The outside playing field had a number of bots as they fought us and each other with not just high powered weapons but psionic powers like flight and telekinetic abilities. The abilities were shown with some impressive effects as tons of objects on screen (barrels, boxes, large pipes, etc) were thrown around the large outdoor level. There will be three character classes in the full game; all weapons, all psionic powers and a mix of the two.
The level also had a number of drivable vehicles, everything from a Halo style jeep to a hover mech to a full blown battle mech that can fire rockets. Again it's still in an alpha state and we also saw only one level of the five that are slated to be in the full game but overall CellFactor: Revolution looks like it will use the physics hardware support to generate some interesting gameplay. We will have more info on the game in the months leading to its spring 2007 release.
During CES we also got a chance to chat with AGEIA VP of Marketing Michael Steele to get an update on the hardware and software game physics company. The company launched its first PhysX card last March during GDC via PC makers like Alienware and Dell and companies like BFG have also sold add-on PhysX cards. However, Steele would not comment on how many PhysX cards they have actually sold, saying only that the release of new PhysX supported games like CellFactor: Revolution and the newly revealed NetDevil shooter Warmonger will help spur sales of the product.
Steele also told us more about Warmonger. The folks at NetDevil apparently have an aggressive timeline for releasing the first version of the game. The Unreal Engine 3 powered title is scheduled to ship sometime this spring as a four or five level title, much like CellFactor: Revolution. Steele told us that it's still undecided if Warmonger will have a traditional retail release or if it will be packaged with a PhysX board. One thing that Steele did tell us is that NetDevil intends this title to actually grow from a traditional first person shooter into an MMO title (specifics were not mentioned). He also emphasized the highly destructible environments that the game will have. One thing that is interesting is that NetDevil is working with a Hollywood special effects company to scan real life environments and then take the 3D images to place them in the game. We hope to get even more info in the next few weeks about Warmonger, including the first screenshots.
Finally we asked Steele about plans for a next-generation hardware card from AGEIA. Again, Steele would not comment but hinted that more on that subject would be revealed at GDC in early March.
Some of the new weapons include an ice tank that freezes units and then can shatter them with a regular shell. The Allies have some defensive weapons like an energy shield that can protect units inside but prevents those same units from firing past the shield. The Russians have an APS that can actually drill underneath a map. If you faction doesn't have radar set up, it makes the unit completely undetectable. The Germans have battle mechs that can machine gun down units and structures.
The game also has hero units that can be used in both the single and multiplayer portions. A Russian female unit can hijack enemy vehicles for their own use. Another male hero unit can start a berserker rage to take out more enemy units. We told that units below a certain level of technology will be no match for the hero units. Each side has three. The Allies and Germans are playable in the single player campaign while the Russians are only playable in multiplayer.
Graphically the game is looking pretty sharp with some cool physics effects that you can see topple trees realistically as well as unit destruction (Digital Reality developed their own physics engine from scratch for the title). At the moment War Front is looking like it will be a game that fans of the Command and Conquer: Red Alert titles will embrace. Again the game is due out in stores on Feb. 19.
Last year at GDC, a company called Novint debuted their PC game controller titled the Novint Falcon, a strange looking device that is designed to not just be a point and shoot controller but also a way to make people feel objects beyond the typical force feedback effects. Today at CES we got a brief demo of the Falcon playing Half-Life 2. The device sits on a table while you hold its small sphere in one hand with your various action buttons. The small sphere is connected to a larger sphere that creates the effects like different feels to weapons fire (brief effects for the handgun, sharp feels to the hand with the shotgun, etc).
Even more interesting is that you can actually feel when enemies like Half-Life 2's spinner robots run into you. Your hand jerks while holding the device when this happens. If you pick up an object such as a barrel in the game world you can actually feel an effect that makes it feel like you are actually holding on to something.
Novint is already taking pre-orders now for the Falcon on their web site for $189. The device will come with a disk containing 24 mini-games that take advantage of the controller's features along with drivers that will allow the controller to work with Half-Life 2. It's a tad unusual to be sure but this rather quirky PC device could generate some interest. The final version is scheduled to ship this June.
Several months ago, Microsoft announced it would be porting its Xbox first person shooter Halo 2 to the PC but that it would also be an exclusive for the Windows Vista platform. At CES, we got a chance to see and briefly play a quick multiplayer deathmatch game on Halo 2 Vista. Basically the game looks pretty much like the Xbox version, except that the textures and visual look slightly sharper thanks to the higher resolution that's supported by the PC version. You run around in your Master Chief armor, you pick up weapons like the sniper rifle, grenades and more and shoot at your enemies.
What is interesting is that Microsoft offered players of Halo 2 Vista the chance to play the game via the normal mouse and keyboard PC set up or by using the Windows Xbox 360 controller. Most players, perhaps used to playing Halo 2 on the Xbox 360, decided to opt for the Xbox 360 controller. Using either format didn't seem to affect the matches themselves much; people who used the Xbox 360 controller could and indeed did take out their mouse-keyboard enemies and vice-versa with equal amounts of carnage. This of course continues the old "console vs PC" debate of controlling a first person shooter.
During Microsoft's CES keynote, it was hinted that Halo 2 Vista would be able to play against their Xbox 360 counterparts, something that previously had been written off by Halo developer Bungie as not possible. Microsoft reps told FiringSquad that the CES keynote was perhaps a little premature. They are looking into having multiplayer work with the PC and console version but nothing is set in stone just yet. Hopefully we will learn more about this possible major feature for Halo 2 Vista before its release later in 2007.
Gods and Heroes
Sony Online held a CES related press event this week and brought over a number of games, including the Sigil Games developed MMORPG Vanguard: Saga of Heroes (now in extensive beta testing before its scheduled launch late this month; look for our preview soon). Another title they showed off is Gods and Heroes from developer Perpetual Entertainment. We got to see a couple of new features in our brief demo of the game. The title (in case you are not familiar) basically uses the Greek and Roman classic myths as its background with Perpetual's unique take on the universe.
The demo showed off Gods and Heroes' squad based combat system. Your character can gain more and more followers that will fight alongside you with magic, melee and ranged fighters to choose from. The higher your character's level, the more followers you can have and the more you can put into actual combat at any one time (if you reach the level cap of 40 you can have access to 8 followers at any one time). Just like a tactical shooter like Rainbow Six or Ghost Recon, Gods and Heroes allows you to adjust how you position your followers around you when you take out the bad guys. Do you want to just have a lot of melee hitting everything that moves or do you want your ranged weapons teammates to stand back and attack from afar while your magical use fire their spells. The UI of the game allow the player to create the layout of your character's squad and how they are positioned with ease.
While combat in the game is fun pitting you and you squads against NPC enemies and humans, you also have to fight off huge monsters of myth like Cyclops creatures and more. That's when your character's god powers really come into play. In our demo we got to see how selecting a god can grant your character some special attacks from giant spears that come down from the sky to lava that comes up from the ground. Each god in the game has a special set of powers to give to your character which of course affects how you start developing your player in the first place. Gods and Heroes is still in the early beta phase but Perpetual and Sony Online plan to release the game later this summer.
Jade Empire is a fantasy game that takes a lot of inspiration from Asian mythology as well as kung fu movies. Your character is learning to be a martial artist when the game begins; naturally the character gets caught up in events that force him to learn to become a fighter quickly to deal with an external threat. If you played and enjoyed the Xbox version you will be happy to know that the PC port will contain a few new items such as weapons and fighting styles. The most impressive version in the PC version is in the visual look of the game. The graphics are quite good from the lighting effects to the natural environments like tall grass that your character moves through. The character models are a bit on the low polygon side but overall the graphics don't look as dated as you might expect from a port of a two year old Xbox title.
As per usual with action oriented titles, you use the keyboard in Jade Empire: Special Edition to move around in the environments and your mouse button for attacks. The mouse buttons allows you to activate the various attacks in the game and use your special chi power to add even more to your attacks via the E key. You will be able to switch between different fighting styles in the game as in the original Xbox version. If you have never played Jade Empire it truly was a fun game in the Xbox version that perhaps didn't get the critical attention it deserved when it was first released. BioWare and publisher 2K Games are hoping to make new followers when it releases Jade Empire: Special Edition for the PC next month.
Earlier this month we gave the nod to Crysis as FiringSquad's most anticipated PC game of 2007. At CES this week in the Microsoft Games for Windows booth, we got a chance to see how developer Cruytek's upcoming first person shooter looks and plays in DirecX10 via a brief live demo (just as a reminder it will also be released for DirectX9 as well).
The visuals we got to see look even better than the gameplay movie that was released late last week. From detailed character and weapons models (the faces of enemy soldiers are very lifelike and not plastic looking at all) to the lust jungle environment to lighting effects and motion blue features, we really felt that we were inside a Steven Seagal flick rather than a game. The demo level had us attacking an enemy jungle compound with the final boss battle being a helicopter attack that you have to take out with the game's rocket launcher. The chopper has some surprisingly good AI; it will dodge your rockets if you fire head on at it; firing from below or just behind has a better chance of taking it out.
In addition to shooting things, your character in Crysis also has access to a power suit where you can switch between different kinds of fighting styles. Go for strength and you can lunge barrels, people and even knock down jeeps with your fists. You can also knock down walls and ceilings of certain buildings, freeing you from the usual "Why can't I shoot down a wooden door?" feature so common in other FPS style games. Another setting is self-explanatory; Speed increase your run for a short time until your energy runs out (you regain your energy automatically). Stealth mode makes you harder to detect by enemy forces as well. Even weapons mode allows you to customize weapons via new additions that you can put on your firearm on the fly. Mention must also be made of Crysis's physics engine which allows things like jeeps to be shot in individual pieces rather than all at once and explosions that can bring entire buildings on its ears.
The demo was extremely brief (no aliens to fight off unfortunately) but seeing the DirectX10 visual made us feel even better about our pick of Crysis as our most anticipated PC game. Publisher Electronic Arts is still staying mum about an exact release date but they are still targeting a release for sometime this year. Look for even more coverage of Crysis in the months ahead.
Over at the Microsoft Windows for Games booth at CES a lone PC was running World in Conflict, the upcoming alternate history RTS game from developer Massive (makers of the great Ground Control sci-fi tactical RTS series). It's been a while since we had seen the game in action and our brief look showed that this game from publisher Sierra/Vivendi Games still holds a lot of promise.
While the game is set in the present day, it takes place in an alternate timeline where the Soviet Union never fell and decided to engage in an all out invasion of the US. This isn't Massive's version of Command and Conquer: Red Alert, however, with weird weapons and even odder acting performances. World in Conflict is playing it straight with real world military units battling it out on American soil.
Our brief demo once again showed off World in Conflict's decidedly action oriented gameplay. This is not about finding resources but getting your units to the enemy front and shooting at them. The map took place in a wooded environment similar to the look of the Pacific Northwest. We got to see Apache helicopters buzzing around and firing their missiles at enemy tanks that wanted to raid a nearby dam. Controls are the same as in other RTS games; drag the mouse and guide your units to the slaughter. Again this is primarily a strategy game but World in Conflict's action oriented mode means that thinking about how your forces will be aligned on the battlefield will have to be done on the fly. Oh, and did we mention the tactical nukes you will have access to? Oh yeah, they are still in the game.
The demo itself was mainly a repeat of the scenes we saw way back in May at E3 but it was still great to see that World in Conflict was still deep in development and looking just as good as it did several months ago. The unit models and animations are spot on and the visual effects for things like explosions (nukes, remember nukes) are already excellent. The new bit of news from the World in Conflict team is that this game will also ship with a DirectX10 version for Windows Vista and that of course means that the game, which already looks terrific, could look even better for those of you who will have Microsoft's newest OS (sorry, the version we saw was running DirectX9).
The publisher still hasn't set a definitive date for World in Conflict other than sometime in 2007. Originally set for release sometime this spring we were unable to confirm if that date will still be met. However, this game i s already one to watch for in the RTS genre and we hope to get more info (including DirectX10 details and screenshots) in the near future.
Age of Conan
Besides Crysis, there was only one other game at the Microsoft Games For Windows booth at CES that was running under DirectX10 and Windows Vista. That game was Age of Conan, the upcoming and long-in-development fantasy MMO from developer Funcom. We got a chance to see a brief demo of the DirectX10 version earlier this week.
Based on the fantasy world created by the late Robert E. Howard, Age of Conan will actually begin as a single player game with your character finding himself in a strange land and with no memory as to who he might be. We've seen this amnesia plot twists in games, movies, TV shows and books but it always tends to be effective at setting up mystery. Throughout the course of the game, you try to find out who you are while exploring the land that the barbarian adventurer Conan calls his home.
Age of Conan's intro gives you a chance to make your character you own with ways to change his appearance, wardrobe and weapons much like other MMORPGs. The big difference is that in this game the combat is a little different than the semi-turn based stuff in other titles. You actually have to do some aiming with your massive sword (or ax or whatever melee weapon you want) in order to take out your foes. The demo showed our character battling it out with an array of enemies while trying to protect a barbarian woman with little clothing on her back (yes, this is definitely a Conan game).
"But what about the DirectX10 graphics?," you might be asking yourself at this point. "Do they look cool?" The answer we will give based on seeing this early pre-alpha build is, "Kinda." Funcom's visual look for Age of Conan was already on the high side for an MMO title but the demo at CES only looked marginally sharper than most games of this type. The character's faces are a little more detailed and there are some environmental lighting effects (sunlight streaming through trees for example) that look good. But we admit to being spoiled by the DirectX10 demo of Crysis and in comparison, the demo of Age of Conan is currently not the huge leap forward in graphics for MMOs as Crysis is for first person shooters.
That's not to say that we think Age of Conan is bad looking; far from it. The game is still several months from completion so we think Funcom has plenty of time to really charge in with their support for DirectX10 (yes, a version for DirectX9 is also coming out). We still want to crush our enemies in this game and we will be following its progress on the development and graphics front the months before its scheduled release later this year.
At Microsoft's Games for Windows booth we got to play a build of Hellgate London and even several months before its scheduled summer 2007 it was as addicting a game as you will ever play. The backstory is simple; a crack in dimensions in the near future has brought London, England transformed into a bleak and battered city with creatures of literally all shapes and sizes roaming around. In our demo we got to play as the Hunter class which is being made specifically for people who enjoy first person perspective. With the use of futuristic firearms in this player class, Hellgate London could be confused at first for an FPS but it's clearly an RPG with impoved skills and levels, an inventory and more.
You begin your quests in the London tube system (subways to us Yanks) where you get your missions from various people in the tunnels. You can buy or sell items at the local merchant to alter your inventory and you can set up combos like rapid fire and double shooting to keep your character alive. From retrieving items off certain creatures to rescuing people in need, the quest system in Hellgate London will likely keep you busy.
Combat is in real time, not turn based and that means Hellgate London has you blowing away some really odd looking creatures in the devastated city. You have lots of giant zombie like beings coming after you along with small blizzard like creatures and an enemy that looks like a cross between...well we can't really explain it. Killing creatures can generate new loot as well as shooting objects like boxes that can reveal other items that you can keep, use or sell to get the stuff you really want. Visually the game (which uses Flagship's own graphics engine) is looking excellent and the art design is fantastic even at this early stage. Hellgate London will also support DirectX10 which means the graphics can only get better.
As you may have read in this Shacknews story, Hellgate London is being targeted for an extensive multiplayer experience and Flagship is even developing its own online network to support it (in fact they are creating an all new mini-RPG to test out the network before Hellgate is released. At the moment the multiplayer aspect is a little up in the air in terms of if it will be a totally free service (a la Diablo and Guild Wars) or whether some form of fee will be charged (a la MMO titles).
Hellgate London is one of our most anticipated games for 2007 and we think we will be loosing a lot of hours playing it by ourselves or online. We hope to get more info on the game and perhaps get on the beta test before it's planned release this summer.
At CES this week at the Microsoft Games for Windows booth, developer Turbine was showing off a build of Lord of the Rings Online, their long awaited MMORPG based on the classic fantasy novels (not the movie version) of J.R.R. Tolkien. It's taken years and years to get an MMO based on the fantasy trilogy underway (one developer tried and failed to create a similar project started) but Turbine is very close to shipping this title. How close? Read on..
The demo at CES was fairly subdued; we didn't get to see anything like combat; it was basically just seeing a pre-created character move through the world of Middle Earth (which we will told during our demo is about 30,000 square miles of game space which only a portion will be available to play at the game's launch). The game is looking about as sharp as we have seen it in past trade show with an art style that takes its inspiration from the various fantasy illustrations for the Rings books rather than the film version. You will still recognize various settings from the books, from Hobbiton in the Shire to Tom Bombadil's house (which is up on top of a hill overlooking a waterfall just like the books describe it).
When you select one of the playable races in Lord of the Rings Online (hobbits, elves, dwarves, and humans, it determines where in the game world you begin your quests (hobbits start out in the Shire for example). Graphically everything is already looking solid with impressive water effects and as we mentioned previously the attention to detail for the visual look of Tolkien's Middle Earth. We were told that Turbine is working on a DirectX10 version of the game that will be released after the DirectX9 version ships to stores so people who own Windows Vista will likely get some improved graphics.
And when does the game ship? The Turbine rep we talked to said that the shipping date will be announced very soon (most likely targeting a date sometime in the spring) and that more people will soon be joining in the game's current closed beta test. We will be keeping an eye out on this potentially popular title in the weeks ahead of its release.
Supreme Commander is one of the most highly anticipated PC games of 2007 (hey, we put it at number 5 in our recent top 20 list) and developer Gas Powered Games and publisher THQ recently released a multiplayer beta of the title. At CES this week at the Microsoft Games For Windows booth, we got a quick look at the single player skirmish portion of Supreme Commander which we haven't seen since E3 last May.
Overall the single player game is shaping up to be as cool as we have anticipated it to be; a massive sci-fi blast fest with huge units, enormous battles and huge nuclear explosions. At the Microsoft booth we saw the THQ rep controlling his armies on several fronts at once, quickly jumping in and out of different viewpoints of the battle, from tight views of individual units all the way back to a planetary view where your armies are represented as little dots. You may have heard that Supreme Commander supports two PC monitors so you can see both the close up battle and the planetary viewpoint at the same time. You may not be aware that if you don't have two monitors, you can split the view from a single monitor to do essentially the same thing (albeit with a shrunken down screen).
Nukes are always fun to play with in RTS games. In the CES demo we got to see one up close and personal as the missile carrying the warhead was fired from one distant location on the huge map, heading into the upper atmosphere and then heading back down to its target. The enemy didn't have any defenses to take out the missile beforehand so we saw a blinding flash of light as the supreme commander went up in nuclear flames.
If you have played the multiplayer beta, you know that Supreme Commander is no slouch in the graphical department. What you may not know is that like many of the other PC games in the Games for Windows booth at CES, Supreme Commander is slated to get a DirectX10 upgrade via a patch sometime after it ships to stores. Vista owners should get a significant boost in the eye candy department when that happens. Meanwhile, Supreme Commander is slated to be released to stores in late February.
People who have played the free demo of Motorstorm already know that this off-road racing title is one of the sharpest games for the PS3 on a visual basis, thanks to the detailed car models and especially the near-photo realistic American West inspired desert tracks. The tracks we played on were in the same kind of setting but with one important difference; there was mud in portions of the track that not only could you drive on but have your vehicles get covered in mud with. The particle effects that are behind Motorstorm's mud don't necessarily add to the gameplay but it's certainly adds to the verisimilitude to the title.
Other differences compared to the demo build included more paths to drive on besides the mostly linear approach of the demo level. We also got to see some new vehicles including the massive tractor trailer like trucks (how they don't get stuck in the mud, we don't know) that can be rather pushy on the track, particularly if you just have an ATV. There's also junk on the tracks (car hulks, barrels, etc) that you will have to avoid.
A version of Motorstorm was released in Japan in time for the PS3 launch in that country but it apparently will not compare to the US version in terms of content, especially with the addition of both online and offline multiplayer (can you believe the Japanese version has no multiplayer features at all?). Motorstorm is still shaping up to be an impressive racing game and we hope our CES look at it bodes well for the full release.
Over at the Sony booth during CES this week (where we also saw a cool exclusive clip from Spider-Man 3 by the way), a build of the upcoming Factor 5 developed dragon action game Lair was running and we decided to check it out.
It has to be said up front; Lair is easily one of the best looking games we have ever seen. From the highly detailed character models of the dragon itself to the huge bridge level in the demo to the thousands of enemy soldiers to fry on the bridge to the photo realistic water, there is nothing to complain about in the visual department. Factor 5 is taking the PS3's hardware to town for Lair and that alone might make it worth a look.
Unfortunately, Sony decided to put in cords to the SIXAXIS PS3 controller for their CES demo unit. As a result, playing Lair was a lot more difficult than it should have been because our movement of the controller was restricted. You move the dragon via the SIXAXIS motion sensor features but with the restraint of the cord at CES there was really no way to properly pilot the dragon.
That doesn't mean we think Lair is going to be a bad game; it's just unfortunate that Sony felt the need to be a little paranoid at the prospect of their controller getting stolen. Lair still looks great and we think it might play great but we may not know the truth until the game is released later in 2007.
During CES last week we got a chance to chat briefly with VoodooPC head Rahul Sood who gave us a couple of hints about the company's upcoming plans. As you may know, VoodooPC was purchased by mega-sized PC maker HP in mid-2006 and Sood told us that this year we should see the first fruits of the HP-VoodooPC partnership. Sood showed us their newly announced ENVY HW:201 notebook which among its other features has a 20.1 inch display, which VoodooPC says is the biggest for any notebook. Sood, however, said that the ENVY HW:201 was under development before the HP puchase. Now that VoodooPC has HP's R&D system to back them up, Sood told us that their notebook line will be getting a complete revamp with all new designs and technology. While he wouldn't reveal what they have planned specificially for their new notebook line we should see the first results of their efforts announced later this year.
Sood also showed us something in their VoodooPC exhibit that had a large curved display running a racing game while people controlled the game via a racing chair. The display was being handled by two standard projectors but Sood told us that this was just a mockup of a plan to release a thin client display that would be similar to their projection screen set-up. Sood told us to imagine a display that would have the resolution of 3 1080p screens and curved inward to give the PC player a more immersive experience. Once again, Sood declined to talk about specifics but if he and VoodooPC can pull off such a display it certainly would be a PC gamer's dream. Naturally we will be keeping up with what VoodooPC will be doing in the months to come.
As previously noted in our extensive interview, Crackdown takes place in a fictional city (Pacific City) that has found itself the subject of a gang invasion. In playing the demo at CES it was rare to find a section of the city that wasn't overrun by members of various gangs. Your character, however, are part of an elite group called the Agency that are being brought in to fight the gang war and as you play Crackdown you discover that you can have access to enhanced abilities like huge leaps in the air, super strength and more. In our CES demo we got a taste of Crackdown's gameplay as we found ourselves in the Agency's headquarters. We drove out one of the company cars and we instantly found ourselves in a firefight. The demo not only allows you to randomly take out warring gang members but also accomplish special tasks and missions to advance the storyline.
Getting improved abilities in the game for your character is pretty straight forward. If you like shooting the bad guys you get extra shooting skills. If you like taking on gang members mano-a-mano you are eventually rewarded with extra strength abilities. Even driving over enemies gives you extra skills when you operate vehicles. Like games in the Grand Theft Auto series there are also vehicles in the game that you can steal at any time. One of the big plus in the Crackdown demo is enabling the two player co-op multiplayer which gives the open world action game a whole new wrinkle.
One of the most talked about aspects of Crackdown ahead of its release is its visual style which has aspects of cel-shaded graphics similar to games like XIII and Ultimate Spider-Man among others. However, in playing the Crackdown demo at CES, we didn't find ourselves distracted by the different art themes in the game. On the contrary the cel-shaded graphics are being used in a more realistic way than other games that have tried. Previous titles have attempted to replicate a comic book style for their cel-shaded visuals but Crackdown looks more like a Jim Lee created game than the more cartoony style we have seen in other titles.
Crackdown is the first big Microsoft published Xbox 360 title of the year and in a few days you will get a chance to play the demo that we played at CES. We think you will be very surprised (in a good way) with what you will find. We hope the final game, due out in late February, will turn out as well as the demo has.
CES is no doubt a massive trade show with 150,000 people attending and spread out over several locations yet with all the attention that the PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii got last year console and PC gaming definitely was a very tiny portion of the show’s content. There was still plenty there to see in terms of games and game related hardware but there was more exhibit hall space given to flat-panel TVs and car stereo units. The ESA’s decision to revamp E3 from a CES style trade show to a smaller invite only event may mean that in future years CES could expand its game related exhibits but for now video and PC gaming is being treated as a wicked stepsister
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