E3 2012: Microsoft press conference impressions

Written by: Michael Spada

There’s no new Xbox, but Microsoft fans have plenty to look forward to.

At their E3 press conference this year, Microsoft managed to show off plenty of new games, some features a lot of people probably won’t care about, and found a way to add Kinect to practically everything. There was lots to love and plenty to yawn about, but you would never expect any less from an E3 press conference.

Things kicked off with a bang, featuring brand new gameplay footage of Halo 4. As someone who is personally not a fan of the series, I can still see how this game would excite those who are – there was shooting and space marines and Master Chief was back behind the helmet after a two-game absence. Things moved quickly into some gameplay of Splinter Cell: Blacklist, a game that looks very much to build upon its predecessor, Conviction, but with Sam Fisher now in the Middle East. An overdone setting, sure, but the action was as thrilling as ever. Kinect was subtly used to call attention to enemies for stealth kills; a nice touch that doesn’t force Kinect down your throat. Unfortunately, Michael Ironside is no longer lending his gruff voice to Mr. Fisher; that role is now taken by Smallville’s Eric Johnson. Sam Fisher now sounds like he’s 25. Weird, man.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist

Splinter Cell: Blacklist

Things immediately took a turn for the boring, at least for those who don’t care for sports. EA came out to present both types of football – FIFA 13 and Madden 13. Only fans will be able to tell what sets these versions apart from previous years, but there’s no denying the neat Kinect integration. Both titles will now enable voice commands for things like calling plays in Madden or popping in substitutions in FIFA. Like Splinter Cell before it, Kinect is being used as a handy accessory instead of a forced gimmick.

After that, a few new trailers showed up. Fable: The Journey is the definitely-not-on-rails-but-clearly-on-rails magic shooter set in the Fable universe. As far as games loaded with Kinect gestures go, this does look to be a bit of fun. Throwing balls of magic and spells all over the place to take out enemies in the colorful land of Albion is alright by me. We also got a CG teaser for Gears of War: Judgment which looks to be focusing on Baird this time around. There was a LOT of fire in it. Forza: Horizon was shown off as well, an absolutely gorgeous racer that is apparently going to be an open world title. Should be interesting to keep an eye on.

Microsoft has been criticized in recent E3s for not caring enough about games and focusing too much on ancillary entertainment, like videos and music. This criticism will likely once again be laid on the ‘Soft with more video-related content being introduced for 2012. In addition to the new ability to use Kinect to Bing Search for all kinds of video content using a variety of search criteria, some new sports-related video apps were introduced as well. These are NHL Gamecenter, NBA League Pass, and WatchESPN. Pretty self-explanatory here – these video apps allow hockey fans to watch more hockey, basketball fans to watch more basketball, and ESPN viewers to watch more ESPN content. Simple enough, and probably really awesome for those who care. Finally, they showed off Xbox Music, which looks to be replacing the Zune Marketplace entirely with a brand new music interface. Xbox Music seeks to integrate itself with your Windows 8 PCs, smart phones, and tablets for a completely connected music experience. Well alright!

Nike’s got a videogame now! And it actually doesn’t look atrocious. While it’d be great if they took the helm on a Track & Field reboot, they’ve instead opted for a Kinect fitness title: Nike+ Kinect. Called the “most personalized digital training experience in the world,” Nike+ Kinect looks to analyze things like age, weight, and fitness levels to create super-personalized workouts. From there it’ll be able to assess your performance, give you feedback, and continue to adjust your workout accordingly. This actually looked quite slick and smart, unlike a lot of fitness games seen on consoles before.

Nike+ Kinect

Nike+ Kinect looks to be the ultimate fitness game

The newest and most talked-about new feature shown at E3 is called Microsoft SmartGlass. While I found it to be completely unnecessary and a bit cumbersome, the technology behind it is really cool. It’s essentially a way to keep your other devices synced up with your Xbox. If you’re watching a movie on your phone, you can instantly resume watching it on Xbox. If you’re playing Madden, your tablet can help you make plays. It’s similar to the Wii U’s controller in the sense that it offers supplemental content for games, but its media integration is what will surely appeal to those who are often out and about. SmartGlass will also hugely aid in navigating the internet now that Microsoft will be bringing Internet Explorer to the Xbox 360. Using a phone or tablet, the internet can be navigated with the swipe of a finger, with clicking and pinching translating onto a large-screen web browser. Let’s just hope Internet Explorer on the Xbox isn’t terrible like the computer-based Internet Explorer.

The brand new Tomb Raider was shown off and while it looks to essentially be Uncharted but with Lara Croft (though many argue Uncharted is Tomb Raider with a dude!), it looks like a great evolution for a series that’s had a shaky track record in years past. In the demo, Lara was shooting enemies with a crossbow, blowing heads off with a shotgun, and stabbing people to death. While it looked a bit more violent than classic Tomb Raider, the action setpieces were still very much alive and well. A thrilling conclusion to the demo had Lara shooting down a river, destroying obstacles, and landing in a crashed plane. From there, the plane’s window shattered, and she fell down a waterfall into the forest, parachuting her way to safety. Thrilling stuff!

A trio of shorter trailers were shown off after that. Ascend: New Gods looked to be a violent action game set in mythological times, LocoCycle appeared to star a female motorcycle (huh?), and Gore Verbinski’s Matter will be a Kinect-enabled game with a steel ball rolling through a futuristic future of platforms and killer blocks. Sure.

Resident Evil 6

Resident Evil 6 looks to give you the ultimate heart attack.

Up next was Resident Evil 6, which in a short gameplay demo already looked to knock the pants off of Resident Evil 5, while falling short of the exceptional Resident Evil 4. In the demo,Leon is traversing a zombie-infested city, but instead of shooting them all before moving on, he simply shoots enough to get by. It’s that infested. After battling his way through a destroyed building and engaging in some close-quarters combat with zombies, including some impressive jaw stabbings, Leon made his way to a helicopter to try and escape. While in the helicopter, loads of horrible things continued to happen to him, and quick-time events helped keep the action moving at a fast pace while still player-controlled. It’s looking immensely sharp and will hopefully be bringing the series back to putting an emphasis on the survival part of survival horror.

Then we saw Wrackateer, a shameless knockoff of Angry Birds/Crush the Castle using Kinect. Let’s not talk about that one.

The trailer for the upcoming South Park RPG, South Park: The Stick of Truth was shown off and looks absolutely brilliant. The game looks and sounds identical to the show, with the trailer featuring a destroyed South Park in ruins after being attacked by the likes of vampire children and hippies. It’s a turn-based RPG where you play the new kid in town, and every second of the trailer made this look like a South Park game will finally be good. After the trailer, my personal heroes, series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone showed up to talk a bit about the game. They are very hands-on with the title, having written the game’s entire script and working side by side with developers Obsidian. The duo are known for being genuine hardcore gamers, so with them so tightly involved in the game’s production, it’ll be tough for this to be anything but perfect when it comes out next year.

Usher then showed up. Not AN usher, but Usher, the R&B sensation. He sang and he danced, and then he sang and danced while playing Dance Central 3. It was neat. Usher is a good dancer, but I find his music to be horrendous so I paid very little attention to this segment. That being said, fans of other Dance Central games are unlikely to be let down, considering Harmonix is consistently excellent at what they do.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 looks to set itself apart from other Call of Duty titles

The show closed out with a trailer for Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. I must ask in advance for you to not punch me, but I think this could be the best Call of Duty title in a long time. It looks remarkably fresh, and the action looked varied and exciting. After a highway basically explodes with explosions, the player gets to shoot down airplanes from the sky en masse, do a little thermal sniping, shoot enemies in a burning plaza, witness some kind of weird gravity-nuke, and fly a fighter jet! A lot happened in the short demo, but it looks like Treyarch is getting close to stepping out of Infinity Ward’s shadow.

While a lot of people complained about Microsoft’s conference, it truly wasn’t all that bad. No matter what, corporate figureheads and marketing personalities are always going to look awkward and uncomfortable discussing games, because most of them don’t play them and don’t care about the actual product as long as they’re moving units. Not everybody can be as charming and affable as Trey and Matt were. Especially not the woman who presented Wreckateer. Oh man. But corporate awkwardness aside, we got to see a lot of really cool upcoming titles. There were no megatons dropped on the gaming world, but we got to see things we were looking forward to – Halo, Call of Duty, Resident Evil, and a bunch more. Microsoft’s core crowd should certainly be pleased.

The entertainment stuff, I felt, wasn’t as heavy as it was at last year’s E3, and Kinect has been relegated to where it always should have been – a neat accessory. Splinter Cell didn’t have you snapping the air’s neck, and Madden didn’t have you throwing imaginary footballs. Kinect is being integrated in smart, subtle ways, and the games that focus on gestures and zaniness are for an entirely different crowd anyhow. Microsoft’s got some killer titles coming out in the next year, and games like Resident Evil 6 prove we aren’t exactly in desperate need of a new console, either. Let’s give it another year and enjoy the ride.

Author: Michael Spada

Michael Spada is a gentleman who plays videogames and then writes about them on the internet. Solid Snake is his hero, but he'd just as quickly settle down with CM Punk. You can follow him on Twitter if you'd like.

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