They Make Software, Too!
Microsoft Game Studios to keep PC and Xbox gamers busy in 2004

Microsoft does more than make the Xbox, and this year, the company has a nice helping of titles certain to keep gamers glued to their TVs and PC monitors for hours on end.

Halo 2 is easily the biggest horse in the Microsoft Game Studios stable, and it's expected to consume gamers' time from now until the end of time (or the arrival of Xbox 2, whichever comes first). The sequel to the 4 million-selling award-winner, Halo 2 isn't just expanding the original's story and pushing the Xbox to the very limit with richer gameplay and graphics--it intends to redefine online play via Xbox Live as well. Halo 2 is set to ship this fall.

Role-playing titles are the other big Xbox releases for MGS this year. Fable and Jade Empire have generated huge amounts of anticipation, with the hype edge perhaps going to Jade Empire since it's being developed by BioWare, maker of the award-winning Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Jade Empire takes place in an ancient, mythical China, with gamers roleplaying as martial arts masters. The gameplay is sweeping in ambition and scope--players travel through a beautiful game world, rally followers, and use a realtime fighting system that includes 30 different combat styles.

Fable is just as ambitious. Its developer, Big Blue Box, has access to the design talent at Lionhead Studios, including design guru Peter Molyneux. Fable aims to bring a player's every action to life. As a character grows from innocent child to the most powerful being in the world, every decision, every act, every feeling is physically reflected in the game world to make you feel like a legend.

Microsoft has also announced Forza Motorsports, an Xbox racing game that should be a gearhead's dream. Poised for a holiday release, Forza will let players earn money through hundreds of races to purchase upgrades and aftermarket parts to change real production cars into deadly racing machines. Gamers will be able to tune up and trick out models from over 60 top manufacturers like Mazda, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Ferrari, Porsche, BMW, and more. Forza will also offer online racing through Xbox Live.

On the PC side, MGS has two very disparate sequels in Dungeon Siege II and Zoo Tycoon 2. Dungeon Siege II will focus more on story and tactics than its predecessor, while Zoo Tycoon II will build on its winning formula with new animals and enhanced tools for building your dream zoo. And, really--don't we all have a dream zoo lurking deep within us?

BY ROBERT COFFEY


 
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