Gamescom: Microsoft Booth Round-up

By Richard Pilot

Two weeks have gone by since Gamescom closed its doors to the public and we returned from Cologne, Germany, our thoughts still drifting to the mass of games that we played throughout the show. Unfortunately, many of you weren’t able to make it so we thought we should share our impressions of the booths and games being shown by the major players at the event. To this end, we kick the start of a new feature we’d like to call the "Gamescom Booth Roundup", highlighting a specific publisher or developer from the show and giving you our impressions on what they had to offer. Today, we’ll take the first of the big three console manufacturers, Microsoft.

As many of you know, Microsoft had a lot to answer for, revealing their controller-free, motion-based technology, Kinect, at E3. Gamescom was the first time that fans were able to put this new 'controller' to the test. This meant that a large portion of the booth was taken up showing off Kinect. A number of perspex rooms lined the outside of the area, where the general public could queue up and try out one of the Kinect games that would be available at launch. For more insight into the Kinect system and its games, please check out our Kinect Impressions articles (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) that we put up during Gamescom week. As a quick summary, most of the first party Kinect games were available to try, including Kinect Sports, Kinectimals, Joyride and Kinect Adventures, as well as a few third-party titles such as Ubisoft’s Your Shape and EA’s latest Harry Potter game. Overall we were impressed with the range of titles available to play, but unfortunately, some of the more concept-based demos, such as the new Kinect-enabled interface and the EPSN integration were unavailable (although the latter will not be available outside of the US anyway).

For those who wanted something a little more mainstream, there was plenty to satisfy which we’ll detail below.

Fable III

Two portions of the game awaited fans of Lionhead’s hotly anticipated sequel. I choose to try out the very beginning of the game, with all the setup and story telling that went with it. Players will take on the role of a young prince, son of the legendary hero that you played in the second game. You also have a nasty older brother who became King, and there was much conflict between the two characters early on in the game. We’ll hold off on a more in-depth analysis until the game is released but (avoiding spoilers) we’re confident in saying that a lot of plot points were introduced within the first 10-20 minutes of play and we can’t wait to see how they pan out.

A number of characters appeared and we were pleasantly surprised to hear the wealth of British voice talent that have made their way into the game. Players also got to make a number of choice early on in the game, making a few key decisions. In each case there was an immediate right or wrong choice, but we were also left wondering how these choices will affect the overall game. Their impact is currently a mystery to us, but we’re looking forward to seeing how the adventure will continue.

Halo: Reach

The other AAA title on display here, Halo:Reach, was hidden away on the inside of the booth next to Fable III. Sadly we didn’t get to try any of the space combat but the Firefight mode was available for teams of four players to test their skills against incoming Covenant forces. Even though I didn’t try the beta, this still felt like classic Halo 3 multiplayer, albeit with some nice additions such as the grenade launcher-sporting warthog.

Sonic 4: Episode 1

There’s not much we can really say about Sonic’s latest entry in the series. It is undoubtedly classic Sonic and a welcome change of ‘pace’ (pun intended) from his most recent outings in the adventure/RPG space, capturing a lot of the fast-paced action from the Mega Drive days. The graphics have been significantly improved and it looks fantastic in super sharp HD. A few annoying platforming elements were there, including swinging from a vine mechanic that we required a combination of perfect timing and just the right amount of speed. We’re not sure how much of what we saw will be in the first episode but the game is heading in the right direction.

DJ Hero 2

The Harmonix sequel to the latest game thats adding more plastic peripherals made an appearance. The interface has been changed significantly, a big improvement on the first entry in the series. Along with this, several new multiplayer modes were on show that pitted DJ vs DJ with the aim being to out perform your opponent for specified portions of the track. Overall we were very impressed by the game and it seems like the developers have learnt from their mistakes in the first one, delivering a much more streamlined experience here. Owners of the original game and peripheral will find plenty to like.

Highlight of the booth:

For us, the best part of the Microsoft booth was checking out some of the Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) titles that would be dropping onto the console over the next few months. XBLA titles usually take a back spot compared to show of the more mainstream titles so it was a refreshing change to see some of these titles given highlights of their own. We were really impressed by ilomilo and you can see our thoughts on the game in our special preview article.

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