|It doesn't seem
like all that long ago that Microsoft's PC games were roundly reviled by almost everyone.
Then along came Age of Empires, and then games like Motocross Madness, and
we had to
seriously reconsider our attitudes about Microsoft's gaming crapulence. The next thing we
knew, Microsoft was acquiring stellar games like Mechwarrior 4 and Crimson Skies and Links
LS and hiring developers like Bruce Shelley and Alex Garden and Chris Taylor.
You gotta hand it to them--Microsoft Games has made one smart move after the other, and have inexorably
buffed themselves up into one of the
biggest and most successful empires in PC gaming. And whether you hate Microsoft
(TM) or not, you gotta admit that the games produced under the Microsoft imprimatur are
consistently good and very often excellent.
I'd passed through the Microsoft area briefly on the first day of
E3, and it looked, as I had feared, like an emerald-green temple to the unholy
Xbox. As a dyed-in-wool PC Gamer (TM), I've always had an aversion to
console systems, and have in the past habitually taken advantage of
any excuse to trot out my litany of reasons that consoles are vastly
inferior to PC games--the graphics are hideous, the gameplay is
twitch-oriented inanity aimed at eternal prepubescents, online gaming
doesn't exist, and the average game (except for ponderous digi-tomes
like the FF series) provides about 30 minutes of gameplay. Sports
games I gave a pass--they're usually better on console systems--but I
must confess that in my heart of hearts I was a middle-aged computer
I was. My resistance to console systems melted wholesale immediately
after I bought my sons a Dreamcast. Suddenly, all my objections were passť.
Games looked fabulous, you could play online, and it had some smart,
fun titles. Still, I remained skeptical about the PS2 (and I'm right
so far) and the Xbox (and here I was wrong). Shawn and I spent the
first hour or so of our Microsoft meeting playing Xbox games and
getting the official Xbox lecture, and I must admit the games are
sweet. Now's not the time for my Xbox review, but games like NFL
Fever, Amped, Munch's Odyssey, and Bloodwake looked and
played great, even in beta (Halo we'll have to see about--it didn't
seem all that special to me.) So I kinda got swept up in the
consolemania that dominated the Microsoft booth and the Expo in
general (and if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone). By the
time I got over to Microsoft's PC section, I was running a little
Nobody seemed surprised
by this; the PC section was clearly getting second billing this year.
There were many more people crowded around even average Xbox games
than the PC area, which had maybe a fifth of the space that
Xbox-related displays commanded. I'd have wondered about Microsoft's
commitment to PC gaming if the games I saw over the next hour or
so--and again for another couple of hours on Saturday--weren't so
excellent. Microsoft's lineup for 2001 is a nice combination of the
utterly new games and serious reworkings of old classics, and was definitely
one of the strongest PC booths at E3.
We'll get previews up of
games like Freelancer, Zoo Tycoon (I love this game), and Train
Simulator soon, but today we'll focus on Microsoft's Big Four--the
games that look like sure hits: Age of Mythology, Dungeon Siege,
Mechcommander 2, and Sigma.