The 15th annual E3 Expo (e3expo.com) once again served as a window to the future of the multibillion-dollar interactive entertainment industry.
More than 40,000 industry-only attendees swarmed the Los Angeles Convention Center, which has about 350,000 square feet of showroom floor space, to play upcoming games and new hardware.
After two years of a quieter and more intimate approach, the E3 Expo has returned to its boisterous roots, featuring enormous video screens, live musical acts and plenty of photo ops with costumed characters and celebrities ranging from Steven Spielberg to Paul McCartney to Pele.
After three thumb-numbing days playing tomorrow's titles, here are some of the most promising games and peripherals worth saving for.
Project Natal (Microsoft; for Microsoft Xbox 360)
The biggest news — and buzz — at the show wasn't a video game, but rather, a fascinating peripheral that might change how we interact with games. Code-named "Project Natal" (pronounced "nuh-tall"), this device looks a bit like the eyes from the animated robot, Wall-E, and includes multiple sensors, cameras and microphones. It can sense your movement in a 3-D space — without you needing to hold anything in your hands. One demo, "Milo," lets you talk with a lifelike boy, who laughs at your jokes, follows you around the room and gives you items "through" the TV screen. Reach out your hands to "feel" the water in a pond and it ripples and splashes accordingly. Amazing. No price or launch date was announced.
Modern Warfare 2 (Activision; for Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3, PC)
The sequel to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the 2007 first-person military shooter that has sold more than 13 million units to date, looked and played amazing. The game once again drops you into a fictional near-future world in which a Russian ultranationalist threatens world security. The intense close-quartered fighting with modern weapons, multiple solo and multiplayer game modes and huge and fully interactive environments (ranging from the snow-capped mountains of Kazakhstan to the streets of Rio de Janeiro) all will ensure this gripping sequel, due Nov. 10, will please hard-core Call of Duty fans and newcomers alike.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii (Nintendo; for Nintendo Wii)
If you prefer a more family-friendly game, Nintendo took the wraps off its incredibly fun New Super Mario Bros. Wii, allowing you for the first time to navigate the trap-laden side-scrolling worlds with up to three friends at the same time. Players can drop in and out whenever they like to play along with the single-player campaign or partake in separate cooperative and competitive modes. Hold the Wii remote sideways to use the buttons and shake to launch your character into the air. Due out this coming holiday season, this party game will feature colorful graphics, accessible controls and a cast of familiar characters.
DJ Hero (Activision; for Xbox 360, PS2, PS3, Wii)
Speaking of party games, Activision's next social music phenomenon will let you spin and mix records like a club DJ by following on-screen cues and listening to the beat. Bundled with a peripheral that resembles a turntable you must "mash-up" two different songs into one — such as Gorillaz' "Feel Good, Inc." with Marvin Gaye's "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" or Nirvana's "All Apologies" with Rick James' "Give It To Me Baby" (DJ Shadow Mix) — and earn points by pressing the correct buttons at the right time, scratching and cross-fading between the tracks. Add a guitar or microphone peripheral for even more fun.
Brutal Legend (Electronic Arts; for Xbox 360, PS3)
From the ingenious mind of Tim Schafer ("Day of the Tentacle," "Psychonauts") comes a refreshingly unique and funny third-person action game that stars Jack Black as roadie Eddie Riggs. Our hapless hero gets zapped into a fantasy world, where heavy metal album covers come alive, and he must rally an army of head-bangers to save humanity from an oppressive emperor and his demonic army. Full of great rock tracks, voice talent (including Ozzy Osborne, Rob Halford and Lita Ford) and comedic action, Brutal Legend looks to be Shafer's best to date. Look for it Oct. 13.
Assassin's Creed II (Ubisoft; for Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Ubisoft had one of the strongest booths at E3, with extraordinary third-person action games including Splinter Cell: Conviction, James Cameron's Avatar (playable in 3-D to mirror the upcoming feature film of the same name) and one of the hottest games of the show, Assassin's Creed II. Step into the Italian Renaissance period as the ultimate assassin and use stealth and cunning to roam about incredibly lifelike worlds (with authentic late 15th-century European architecture). The demo had players leaping silently from rooftops, blending in crowds or soaring the skies using one of Da Vinci's inventions.
God of War 3 (Sony Computer Entertainment America; for PS3)
Sony's PS3 lineup was solid, including titles such as Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and Heavy Rain, but the third and final game in the coveted God of War trilogy was one of the most fun games to play at this year's E3. Due out in March 2010, God of War 3 is a beautiful yet brutal mythological universe in which Kratos, a Spartan warrior, battles creatures with the aid of a pair of blades chained to his wrists. The stunning E3 demo had players fighting (and riding) hawk-like flying creatures, defeating minotaurs and tackling enormous boss characters including horned beasts and fire gods.
Honorable mentions: EA Sports' Fight Night Round 4, BioWare/LucasArts' Star Wars: The Old Republic, Microsoft Game Studios' Forza Motorsport 3, MTV Games' The Beatles' Rock Band, and BioWare's Mass Effect 2.
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