The Activate conference is Activision’s annual grand game unveiling event. It’s always a great chance to get an early look at the big titles that will be keeping gamers glued to their screens over the next few months. This year, game producers, developers and even the guy who invented Guitar Hero flew to Auckland to show a select few the latest and greatest.On the first day we were ushered into a conference centre to watch presentations for Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, Call of Duty: World at War, Guitar Hero World Tour, The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon, Crash Bandicoot: Mind over Mutant and finally James Bond: Quantum of Solace. Unfortunately, the new Crash looked and played well below average. I loved the original Crash games, but since last year’s Crash of the Titans the game has concentrated on too much “action” and not enough puzzles. The co-op mode was probably its only shining light. Spider Man was also nothing special, similar to the disappointment of Spider Man 3 in 2007.On the other hand, Call of Duty looked amazing. It was a weird decision to revert back to a World War Two setting after Call of Duty 4: Modern Combat last year finally escaped the almost-cliché 20th century war. Thankfully, after playing it for a few hours, there’s no doubt it will be one of the biggest sellers when it’s released in mid-November. James Bond was probably the surprise hit of the conference. It combines some of the storyline from the upcoming Quantum of Solace movie with bits from Casino Royale into one game. Stealing the graphics engine from Call of Duty for first-person shooting, adding a third-person cover option while also mixing in lots of stealth-action makes this game look and - more importantly - play like a dream. I can’t wait to get my hands on the full game in late November. First impressions of Spyro weren’t good. The little dragon can now fly, which I thought meant there would be no more platforming, but there are certain sections that restrict flight. It actually felt like a G-rated Tomb Raider or God of War game. But I played for about an hour and was so impressed that I think this might be the best Spyro in the series.We also got our hands on Fracture - a third-person war game set in the year 2161. Your futuristic weapons have the unique ability to raise and lower the terrain, which seemed fun in theory, but in practice it felt a long way from being any good.
THE MAIN EVENTThe game we were all waiting to play was Guitar Hero: World Tour. The Guitar Hero franchise has become a cultural phenomenon, selling over 21 million units and earning over US$1 billion. For those new to the Guitar Hero franchise, the games come with guitar-shaped controllers to simulate the real thing. It really is the ultimate party game and I’ve yet to meet anyone who hasn’t enjoyed giving it a go. World Tour has now evolved from two guitars battling it out into a full band experience with a lead guitar, bass guitar, drums and vocals. And these controllers aren’t cheap and nasty either. No, this is high-quality stuff. The drum kit has three drum pads, two raised cymbals and a bass kick pedal, which are all pressure-sensitive. Best of all, they’re all wireless. I was expecting big things from the next Guitar Hero, but I never expected it to be this good. Everyone at the Activate conference was impressed when we were shown the innovative new Music Studio part of the game that lets players create their own music from an extremely vast complement of tools utilising all of the instruments. You can even share your recordings online! Overall, the highlights of this year’s Activate conference were definitely Bond, Call of Duty and Guitar Hero: World Tour. Activision is certainly making it tough for gamers to decide what to spend their money on these Christmas holidays.