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Sneak peek: New Xbox, New Lara Croft
E3's just six weeks away. What games and new consoles be on display?
April 6, 2005: 10:21 AM EDT
Game Over is a weekly column by Chris Morris
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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) – Calling this year's E3 the biggest video game show in the industry's history might sound like hyperbole run amuck. For once, though, it appears the hype might be justified.

When the show (formally named the Electronic Entertainment Expo) kicks off May 18, more than 400 companies will cover more than 540,000 square feet, showing off new games, new consoles and new gaming gadgets.

The new consoles will get the lion's share of the spotlight, for obvious reasons. But software publishers have a few surprises up their sleeves that may shift the focus back to games by the time the show wraps up. (Before you start planning your trip, I should point out that E3 is closed to the general public. We'll have full coverage next month here at CNN/Money, though.)

Microsoft has the most riding on this year's show. On Monday, two days before E3 officially begins, the company will finally take the wraps off of its next generation Xbox (which will almost certainly be named Xbox 360). Microsoft hopes the new machine will help it unseat Sony from its long-held industry leader position, which won't be an easy feat.

While there are still plenty of mysteries surrounding Xbox 360, a few details have leaked out. All games will be optimized for high definition televisions. All will have some online functionality. And the graphics engine will be more powerful than anything on the market today.

A hard drive is still a possibility. And Microsoft (Research) is working hard to make the machine backward compatible with current Xbox games, though that hasn't been easy due to a change in hardware vendors.

Things like price and launch date have been kept under wraps. Expect those to come right before the show.

Don't expect Sony to shy from a fight, though. The company will unveil the first details about its next generation PlayStation just prior to the start of E3 – and after Microsoft has spilled its beans. Since the PlayStation 3 (or whatever Sony decides to name it) isn't due out until 2006, though, don't expect to hear all the details.

Instead, Sony (Research) will likely focus on new games for the just-released PSP and holiday titles for the PS2.

The story will be much the same at Nintendo, which is expected to highlight new games for the DS, along with the highly anticipated "Legend of Zelda" for the GameCube. The company will, however, give the first details on its next generation home system, currently code-named "Revolution". As with Sony, though, don't expect to know all of the answers.

"This year's E3 is not Revolution's coming out party," Reggie Fils-Aime, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Nintendo of America told me last month.

So much for hardware; what about the games? Well, in terms of AAA titles, it looks to be a banner crop.

Obviously, with the introduction of the new Xbox, we'll get our first real glimpse of several next generation titles, including "Perfect Dark Zero" from Rare, which has been in the works for several years, and "The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion". Also, don't be surprised if Electronic Arts has a next gen version of "The Godfather" on display alongside with versions for current systems.

Action fans could be facing a banner year. id Software confirmed to me that E3 2005 will be the world's first chance to see "Quake 4" in action. The game (which will be published by Activision (Research)) is a direct sequel to "Quake II," with a multiplayer experience that resembles "Quake III: Arena".

The show's biggest surprise, though, will likely be the revelation of "Prey". Gamers first heard of "Prey" in 1997. The game, originally about a Native American who fights several nefarious alien races, was thought to be cancelled, but quietly restarted a few years ago. The new version will use the "Doom 3" graphics engine and is said to be a visually striking title. There's no word on whether the story has changed.

3D Realms, makers of the popular "Duke Nukem" series, originally worked on "Prey," but word is they have handed development to a third party and are overseeing work on the game. Take Two Interactive Software (Research) is the likely publisher for the game, given its relationship with 3D Realms, but has not made any announcements.

Also keep your eyes open for a new edition of "Unreal Tournament" (which likely won't ship until next year) and perhaps even another new title from developer Epic Software.

Lara Croft fans will see yet another incantation of the buxom heroine as Eidos (Research) shows the newly revamped "Tomb Raider: Legend". The newly red-headed and less buxom Lara will return to her tomb raiding roots in this game after her ill-fated journey into the streets of Paris and Prague in 2003's "Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness". Series creator Toby Gard, who hasn't worked on a "Tomb Raider" game since the original, is overseeing work on this one.

"Sims" creator Will Wright unveiled his next project last month to an audience of game developers. In May, it will likely get a more public debut. "Spore" is quite unlike anything most gamers have seen before. Ostensibly, it's a simulation game – but one that lets you control life on any scale imaginable. You'll be in charge of a creature's evolution from primordial ooze to advanced space technology.

It's an ambitious gamble, but one that has got tongues wagging all over the industry.

And, finally, let us not forget the sequel to "Katamari Damacy," for my money one of 2004's most surprising and enjoyable console games.

And that's no hyperbole.

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Morris is Director of Content Development for CNN/Money. Click here to send him an email.  Top of page

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