To put it mildly, last year's Microsoft conference was embarrassing. The event was kicked off with a Call of Duty game of all things and too much of the conference was devoted to Kinect hijinks, particularly the voice command system. It had very little substance to offer dedicated gamers, especially those not interested in Kinect.
This year’s event at least started out with a game exclusive to the 360. Predictably, it was a trailer for Halo 4, the next installment in Microsoft's most iconic dollar franchise. Microsoft showed a mix of CG cut scenes and gameplay, both of which were focused on a space ship crashing into a jungle covered planet. Master Chief thankfully happens to be in the neighborhood and makes his way to the spacecraft’s crash site, shooting away at Covenant baddies and new robotic foes. Halo 4 look’s to be shaping up to be a fully qualified entry in the series, despite its new developer.
Microsoft’s President came onto the stage to tout the Xbox 360’s position as the #1 selling console worldwide. All our entertainment all in one place, he declared, brought together by the magic of Kinect (you could almost hear the collective groan of gamers across the internet). He also introduced Microsoft’s new central strategy of bringing Xbox entertainment to our computers, phones, and tablets. According to him, it’s never been a better time to own an Xbox 360 (probably because all the hardware defects have finally been ironed out).
Next up on the schedule was Splinter Cell: Blacklist from Ubisoft. It featured main protagonist Sam Fisher using his mastery of stealth and brutal takedowns to progress through hostile territory. Sam moved quick and smoothly through the environment, shooting and stabbing everyone in his way. Kinect support was confirmed, though it was relatively low-key, such as using the voice detection feature to attract an enemy to a certain area for a stealth kill.
EA Sports came on to hype Kinect support coming to their titles. Madden 2013 and FIFA 2013 were unveiled, though I don't really see the point of devoting conference time to revealing titles everyone knows are going to come out. Joe Madden made an appearance to play his namesake game, but that was the extant of any excitement.
The Kinect Fable game was reintroduced after Madden left the scene. The trailer featured some dude forming magic attacks in his hands and shooting them at bad guys on screen. From what I could tell, the gameplay was strictly of a shooting gallery variety. Nothing about it looked overly compelling, but it's not as though the standard for Kinect games is particularly high after Kinect Star Wars.
Media personality Phil Spencer came on to promote the Xbox's apparently great game lineup and introduced the trailer to the recently unveiled Gears of War Judgment. The trailer didn't really show much, but it's Gears of War, so everyone knows what to expect anyway.
The Gears of War trailer was immediately followed by a trailer for a snazzy-looking racing game. Cars raced through stunning vistas at break net speeds. The name Forza Horizon flashed on the screen and Microsoft’s Head of Marketing and Strategy took the stage to talk about the Xbox 360's non-game entertainment. Kinect's improved voice search abilities were shown off and was just as silly as last year. A huge new variety of ways to watch sports on the Xbox 360 were debuted along with Xbox Music, a huge music library that can be accessed from Xbox 360 and Windows PCs, tablets, and phones. The guy continued his Kinect praise with a new Kinect fitness program developed with help from sportswear giant Nicky. Nicky+ Kinect Training can measure body movements and bring personal training to the living room. I’ll give Microsoft this, it certainly look’s far more substantial than Wii Fit.
The Head of Xbox Live then entered to introduce the Xbox 360’s new interactivity with Tablets, TVs, and smart phones. Xbox SmartGlass allows devices consumers already own to connect to their Xbox and display information about whatever the system is running. I can’t say I'm very attracted to the idea of constantly being distracted while watching tv or gaming, but to each their own, I guess. Finally, through the power of Xbox, the magic of Kinect, and Xbox SmartGlass; Internet Explorer is coming to Xbox 360. Fast intuitive web searching on a TV screen is accomplished by using a tablet or phone to easily control mouse movement. I admit it looked pretty nifty, not that I actually see any reason to surf the web on the TV when it can be done already on dozens of devices, an actual PC or laptop notwithstanding. Xbox content will also be connected to the upcoming Windows 8. Wait, Windows 8! I just got used to Windows 7, darn it!
At last the conference returned to displaying actual games, this time with the upcoming Tomb Raider. Lara Croft is shown sneaking around a mountain path, sniping bad guys with a bow and arrow and platforming across the cliffsides. Along with traditional weapons, Lara also made use of environmental traps such as lighting oil spills on fire with flaming arrows. Lara takes out every thug in her path before falling into a raging river. At the last minute she parachutes to safety at the very edge of steep drop down a waterfall and sails through the forest top, bumping into trees on the way. Overall, Lara’s gritty origin story look’s awesome and I'll be sure to check it out when launches in March 2013.
Microsoft introduced some new IP next, though none of them left much of an impression. The first was a violent fantasy action game featuring a hulking red armored warrior going up against a horned giant. Titled Ascended: New Gods, nothing about it looked very distinct. The next two titles were just bizarre. Loco cycle is apparently about a motor cycle assassin and it was followed by a Kinect game called Matter, which featured a floating sphere going through a series of challenges. We’ll have to wait and see if these three titles have any merit.
Two Japanese developers from Capcom were the next to take the stage, and they showed off a gameplay segment from Resident Evil 6. Leon Kennedy and Ada Wong were faced with a horde of Zombies and a hostile helicopter. Overall, the game seems to be shaping up to be an intense action game, with a constant stream of enemies to kill, little in the way of horror, and fast-paced action. The trailer killed a lot of my excitement for the game, as it seemed to suggest that the Resident Evil has truly given up survival horror. Unfortunately Capcom can’t even make a compelling shooter to replace it, instead filling the demo with quick time events and a constant stream of set pieces. Compared to Resident Evil 4’s expertly paced combat, Resident Evil 6 doesn’t seem to be as focused on actual gameplay.
Following Resident Evil’s showing, a woman named Alex Ruiz hit the stage to show off a useless Kinect game called Wrecker. As a pair of medieval dopes with offensive accents cheered her on, Alex catapulted projectiles into a defenseless a castle, succeeding quite well in making herself look like a complete fool.
South Park: The Stick of Truth was shown next and it looks to be shaping up to be a hilarious parody of RPGs with a capable turn-based battle system backing it up. After the trailer, the creators of South Park came onto the stage. They playfully joked about Microsoft’s previous connectivity spiel, before going into depth about the game. However, not a lot of new content was shown that wasn’t in Game Informer’s South Park cover story a few months back.
Next was Dance Central 3, but I doubt there's anyone who actually cares about that. Just know that alongside some gameplay footage, there was an onstage dance show performed by some celebrity whose name I don’t know.
The event continued with some guy summarizing Microsoft’s spiel about connecting devices before showing gameplay footage of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. It was…well, what you’d expect from Call of Duty at this point; tons of set pieces, explosions, and linear FPS shooting. While some futuristic tech was thrown into the fray, not even that was enough to produce much excitement. The game definitely looked very graphically impressive with plenty of onscreen excitement, but the gameplay just didn’t seem very compelling.
While Microsoft showcased a number of hardcore games this year, the only major exclusives it had on display were Halo, Gears of War, and some Kinect software. Like last year, a lot of its presentation time was devoted to new corporate sponsorships and gimmicks, this time focusing on a new connectivity strategy. Microsoft obviously wants the Xbox 360 to become a multimedia platform, but at the end the day, it’s first and foremost a video game console, and Microsoft’s game lineup was simply very basic. The most interesting games on display were multiplatform, which further highlighted the Xbox 360’s limited first party support.
My personal grade for Microsoft’s 2012 E3 Press conference is a B- Its main focus was unappealing and there just weren’t many games that I was interested in.