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The E3 Preview: The Video Game Lineup from Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft

Digital Journal — If there’s any three days in the calendar year to get a sneak peek into the hot video games soon to be released, it’s the upcoming E3 Media & Business Summit. From July 11 to 13, industry insiders will learn about console upgrades and much-anticipated games such as Halo 3, Grand Theft Auto IV and Assassin’s Creed.

Even before E3 has begun, the big names in the gaming business were quick to get the hype buzzing. The eye-opening news today was Sony’s $100 (all number US) price cut for its PlayStation 3, bringing the 60GB console to $500 (making it one of the least expensive Blu-ray player on the market, too). It’s a smart move for a company ranked third in units sold since launch date, trailing behind Microsoft and Nintendo. Sony needs to excite consumers over its powerful console, even if it can be disappointing to gaming fans expecting the best from such a digital entertainment giant.

Sony wasn’t done with just slashing prices. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Sony also announced a new 80GB $600 PS3 that will include a free copy of the online racing title MotorStorm.

But critics are still sceptical whether the PS3 is good enough to warrant a purchase.

As Billy Pidgeon, an analyst with IDC, told the Chronicle in the same article:
You can’t get by with a weak game library. It’s not just one title, you need a range. So far, even with 92 titles, [Sony] doesn’t have go-to titles that you can only play on the PS3 that defines that experience. At E3 this year (with a pared-down focus to include mainly industry professionals), Sony will try to reverse that sentiment. Bound to garner the most attention this week will be the shooter Killzone 2, a graphics-rich game previewed in 2005. There’s a rumoured swanky launch event at a sushi bar, and the game is estimated to cost a whopping $20 million to produce. Is this the kind of title Sony hopes will be the ultimate Halo 3 killer?

Buzz circulating around the PlayStation 3 title Killzone 2 hints that the first-person shooter should give Sony’s console a much-needed boost in its gaming library

Other PS3 games winning a spotlight at E3 include God of War: Chains of Olympus, Tekken 6, SOCOM and Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. There’s also an historical action game called Assassin’s Creed, which is set during the Crusades era, and produced by the brains behind Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell. BBC News reports Assassin’s Creed is gaining attention for “its huge environments, life-like crowds that react to the player’s actions and the acrobatic way the main character gets around towns and villages.”

Sony’s closest competitor is also spinning its creative wheels to unveil new games destined to attract headlines. Microsoft is betting on Halo 3, one of the most popular gaming franchises in recent years, to corral even more attention to its Xbox 360 console. Undoubtedly, Halo 3 will make gaming nerds slobber over every minute frame, but the billion-dollar question is whether mainstream consumers will clamor to the Halo saga once again.

But Microsoft is not just resting on the laurels of Halo 3. Other buzz-worthy new releases to debut at E3 include Guitar Hero III, Too Human, Clive Barker’s Jericho, Project Gotham Racing 4, Virtua Fighter 5 and All-Pro Football 2K8. Titles by Electronic Arts are also in the mix to satisfy sporting fans who crave the annual updates to their favourite baseball, basketball and hockey game franchises.

The potent lineup comes at a key moment for Microsoft, which has failed to reach a target of shipping 12 million units of the Xbox 360 since its introduction in November 2005. Also, the 360 faced some negative press recently when Microsoft announced an extension to warranty coverage on repairs and replacements, in light of system crashes many 360 owners were reporting in the past year.

The highlight of E3 will belong to Halo 3, which features more weaponry, environments and aliens for gamers to play with when it debuts Sept. 25

Halo 3 will attract hardcore gamers, but there’s another area where Xbox 360 can do some necessary tweaking: console price. Analysts quoted in the Seattle Times said Microsoft could gain more market share by lowering its price by $100 per console. Much like the PS3 price cut, the reduced cost of the Xbox 360 would be enough of an incentive to convert diehard PS3 or Nintendo fans. After all, the online play, DVD playback and powerful guts on the 360 have long been its main attractions, and the introduction of Halo 3 will only sweeten this already delicious deal.

A baby in the E3 extravaganza, Nintendo is focusing on games this week as opposed to last year’s big splash by introducing its innovative Wii console. Now that the Wii is appreciated by both critics and gamers alike, the rollout of new games should excite Wii owners who have already mastered the swing-and-click controller technique.

Nintendo Wii’s contribution to E3 includes the launch of Super Mario Galaxy, where the plucky plumper battles enemies throughout spherical and flat space worlds

The Wii games to be launched at E3 include: Super Mario Galaxy, which is set in outer space and lets you twirl Mario by making a circular motion with the Wii Nunchuk; Corruption, the third Metroid Prime game featuring various control schemes; and Mario Kart Wii should give a nice booster shot of nostalgia to GameCube fans who couldn’t get enough weapons-heavy racing starring characters from the Mario universe. The lineup sounds impressive for Nintendo, which is constantly looking for new ways to take advantage of its unique controls and affordable price range.

No matter what game is the pride of E3, the three-day gaming expo should add more punch to the gaming industry this summer. Not that it needs it. The $6-billion market has seen intriguing growth in demographics not usually associated with strafing and level bosses: In 2005, 25 per cent of Americans over 50 played video games, an increase from nine per cent in 1999, according to the Entertainment Software Association. Also, 80 percent of gamer parents say they play video games with their children.

If anything, the news coming from E3 Media & Business Summit will appeal to parents and kids who want to rock the axe on Guitar Hero III or disintegrate aliens in Halo 3. The fantasy world of video games will continue to be an escapist activity for the glazed-eyed digital die-hards for as long as game creators pump out mind-blowing titles.

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