2012-06-05

E3 2012: Microsoft – Microsoft Press Conference

by Yo Snyder

Well Microsoft didn’t really have many surprises as they kicked off
E3 with their press conference; excuse me, their “global media update”.
They had the expected titles, they focused on Kinect as expected, and
they talked about Xbox Live and the many ways it wants to the hub of
living room entertainment, as expected. However, they also did one
rather unexpected and intriguing thing; turning the Xbox 360 into a
possible Wii U clone. (Or would that be a Wii Too?) Here’s how it all
went down.

The show got started with Halo 4. No surprise there, that is the
big gun of the year for Microsoft.  The gameplay demo showed of some
rich environments, some new enemies (who apparently have some sort of
phasing ability), some cool looking new weapons (that are identified as
Forerunner tech), but aside from that, it all look very Halo. Some
interesting things were revealed including the fact that perhaps Cortana
is slowly losing it. All in all, it looks like something that should
please fans.

Next up was a small surprise, at least for me as I hadn’t heard anything about this game yet. Splinter Cell: Blacklist
was revealed with some impressive gameplay footage. It was all out in
broad daylight (good for those who get tired of usual shadows in
Splinter Cell games), and it showed off a new mark and execute maneuver
that has a lot more flair; Sam offed baddies using mark and execute
while in motion. It was pretty slick. Also, as Ubisoft promised for all
their games, there’s some Kinect integration. The demo showed the player
saying, “Hey you,” which got the attention of a guard, who they then
proceeded to execute once they got close enough. It’s a classic Splinter
Cell tactic with the new flair of voice command; which is cool. The one
thing I noticed however, and I could be wrong, is that it didn’t sound
like Michael Ironside’s voice playing the role of Sam Fisher; that’s not
possible, is it? The game will feature co-op and spy vs. mercs and
releases in Spring 2013.

Next EA unveiled some Kinect features for FIFA 13 and Madden NFL 13.
Both games now feature voice commands. In FIFA this allows you to call
out subs, formations and more without pausing the gameplay. Pretty
slick. Then Joe Montana came out and demonstrated voice commands for Madden 13.
He called out plays, audibles, players and routes. He even changed a
blocking scheme. It seemed to work pretty well, although there did seem
to be some lag between when he said hike and when the ball was actually
snapped. Still, it’s something that could prove useful; time will tell.

A trailer for Fable: The Journey didn’t reveal anything new,
but did suggest that if you take this game too seriously, you’re going
to look kind of silly playing it when it releases this holiday season.

Next up we got a peek at a new Gears of War. The game is called Judgment, and apparently it stars Baird.

This was followed by a peek at the new Forza game. It’s not Forza 5, but a new spin-off called Forza Horizon.
The trailer suggested gamers will get to take the gorgeous cars of
Forza onto the open road, off-road for some rally racing, and even get a
chance to race at night. And we’ll get to do all of that this October. I
love Forza, so I hope this game delivers on it’s blend of Forza and the
Dirt games.

Then the focus turned to Xbox being a hub of entertainment for the
living room. New features were announced for Bing search such as being
able to search by genre, and over a dozen new languages being added.
Plus, new content providers will double the current number, including
Nickelodeon, Paramount, Machinima, and Univision.  Sports are also
getting an upgrade on Xbox. The NBA and the NHL are coming, and the
NFL…sort of. ESPN is expanding what they do on Xbox, so this season
we’ll at least get the chance to see Monday Night Football on
Xbox. And of course all of these events will feature nifty interactive
features you can “only” find on Xbox Live and Kinect. I’m a bit
skeptical as to how much of a difference they can make to the viewing
experiencing of watching sports, but we’ll see. Xbox Music was also
introduced to what seemed like a collective reaction of “so what” from
the gaming community gathered in the theater.

Next, fitness on Xbox and with Kinect is getting the Nike touch. Nike announced a new fitness “game” called Nike Plus Kinect Training.
To hear the spiel, you’d think that it’s the next best thing to having
an actual Nike trainer be there with you in your living room. Perhaps it
will, but they’ll have to overcome some of the responsive and accuracy
issues that other fitness games have run into with using Kinect. Still,
if it delivers on even half its aspiration, it could be a great fitness
“game” for the Kinect. We’ll find out this holiday season (just in time
to help us work off all those holiday sweets).

Then it was time for the big surprise of the event, the moment when
Xbox proclaimed that they wanted to be Wii Too. I was wondering why
Nintendo decided to reveal so much about the Wii U before anything
happened at E3. Well, apparently they got a whiff of what Microsoft was
cooking up for this year’s show, and they wanted to a make some
announcements first. Can’t blame them, because Xbox SmartGlass seems
like nothing more than a strategy designed to steal any thunder the Wii U
might generate. In short, Xbox SmartGlass allows you to use your smart
devices, such as a tablet, with your Xbox. Send a movie from your smart
phone to your TV. Watch TV and get info and details about the show on
your tablet. Watch a movie and basically get special features info on
your smart phone as you watch the movie. And of course, it has some
gaming applications as well. Microsoft showed some concept ideas for
this with Halo 4 and Madden 13; things like drawing up
your own plays for the later, and getting extra details for levels or
instantly jumping into a multiplayer match with a friend with the
former. SmartGlass will also allow you to browse the internet on Xbox
with Internet Explorer. SmartGlass launches this Fall, and I have to
admit it looks like it could have some cool applications; but so does
Wii U and its tablet controller. My favorite part was how Microsoft
constantly harped on the fact that you could do all of this with “the
tablet you already own.” Subtle. As a part of all of this “connecting
every smart device to everything else”, it was also announced that Xbox
would be on Windows 8.

Crystal Dynamics finally got things back to what gaming consoles were originally designed for, gaming, with a Tomb Raider
gameplay demo. The game still looks gritty and brutal, but this demo
was less about the scripted events and showed Lara Croft being a little
more Lara Croft. She certainly had some unique ways to use the
environment to her advantage when fighting bad guys. It’s still tough to
get a bead on this game, though; I just don’t quite know what to make
of it. Will it be a successful reboot, or will it not be Tomb Raider-y
enough?

Microsoft then announced three exclusives that, quite frankly, were rather underwhelming. Ascend: New Gods looks like a God of War combat game. LocoCycle looks like…well, I don’t know, we didn’t really see much (but it’s something about an assassin motorcycle?). And Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski has a new game coming, some sort of Kinect puzzle game by the looks of it, called Matter. Hard to make much of any of these, but hey, at least their original exclusives; aren’t many of those left.

Resident Evil 6 was shown next. Actual zombies make a return
in this game, and on the whole the gameplay demo made it look kind of
like Die Hard with zombies.

Then some more Xbox imitation with a new XBLA game called Wreckateer. You fling stuff to knock down structures. If that sounds familiar, well, my first thought was a Kinect version of Angry Birds for Xbox Live. We’ll see if it’s more than that later this summer.

South Park: Stick of Truth was next. The creators Trey Parker
and Matt Stone were on hand, and had one of the funniest moments of the
show as they ribbed how Microsoft presented Xbox SmartGlass earlier;
“What if you could watch South Park on a TV connected to a smart phone
connected to a tablet connected to your oven while you watched from your
refrigerator.” The game doesn’t do that, but it does let you experience
what it would be like to be a character on the show.

Dance Central 3 made an appearance next, with the promise of
learning some classic dances from yesteryear, like the hustle, which
could be a lot of fun. You’ll also get to learn brand new moves, and
Usher showed up to give us an example. He didn’t actually play the game,
he just sang and dance, and for a moment I thought I was watching the
MTV Music Awards. From this demo, apparently the crotch grab will be one
of the biggest new move additions to Dance Central. Goodie?

And the show wrapped up with Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. All
the DLC for the game will show up first on Xbox 360, as expected. The
gameplay demo looked about as you’d expect, although there was a moment
where you had a choice of how to proceed in the level. That’s new, and
intriguing. However, you started the level when the vehicle you were in
crashed…I kind of hoped we had left that type of thing behind with
MW3.

So no big surprises from Microsoft this year, but a lot of
imitation. They certainly aren’t waiting around when it comes to
competing with the Wii U. They made the mistake of waiting too long to
get into the motion controlled game when the Wii was introduced, but it
looks as though they’re determined to get ahead of the game when it
comes to “multi-screen” entertainment here in the Wii U era. 
Interesting move on their part. They also continue to push the Xbox as
the hub for entertainment in the living, but they have the goods to
deliver on that front. No mention of an Xbox 720, so I think it’s safe
to say the 360 still has a good couple of years left.