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 be 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 off 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 looked 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 its 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 be, 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 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 latter, 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 do 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 they’re 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 danced, 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.