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Microsoft E3 2012 Press Conference – Impressions


16:3705/06/2012Posted by D+PAD StaffNo Comments

So here we are, at the conference which marks the official beginning of E3, and as is tradition it is Microsoft stepping up to the plate first. The company was always going to have a tough task on its hands, after the early confirmation that there would be no hardware announcements, so it was starting on the back foot. Also, last year’s presentation was met, at least by ‘core’ gamers, with apathy in the main. It was too Kinect-centric for most, and was selling the 360 as a multimedia hub, rather than a games machine. So, could Microsoft change perceptions this year and cater for all of its user-bases? Let’s find out.

Guess who’s back

Lights down…an orchestral swell…a live action trailer of the interior of a space ship. It can only mean one thing – Halo 4. It appears that upon discovering a new planet, humanity is in danger (again). As the ship plummets towards the surface, we see the Master Chief stood on a cliff top, gun in hand and Cortana in head, as the ship roars over his head. Followed by the Covenant, of course.

Cut to gameplay, finally, and it’s clear that 343, the incumbent developers, have done their homework. It maintains the look of Reach, but it is clear that they have polished the engine to within an inch of its life. It starts in a jungle, which looks remarkably similar to the beginning of Halo 3. As the action unfolds though, it’s clear that this new Halo is trying to deviate, at least in terms of the enemy, as you fight against unspecified AI.

Other new(ish) features seem to include a Batman inspired scanner, and some Metroid Prime aping weapons. The AI looks solid, and the gameplay is reliant on the battles, rather than set pieces. So far, so expected. The stage then cuts to a montage of the game in its entirety, with an impressive range of levels and environments by the looks of things. Then, screen fades. Cue whoopin’ and a hollerin’.
More than a games machine

Enter Don Mattrick, president of interactive entertainments. He must be the first person in the world with that job title. He explains that the 360 is the best selling console worldwide, the standard rhetoric really. He emphasises the fact that Xbox is more of a brand than a console now, as slowly our fears of a repeat of last year’s show are realised. But then, in a very slight deviation, the screen cuts to a gameplay trailer, and it’s the return of none other than Sam Fisher.

It seems to be a departure from the Splinter Cell of old. Sneaking around, shrouded in darkness, silently snapping necks, all are a thing of the past seemingly. Conviction shifted towards action, and this seems to have taken a further step in that direction. Mark and Execute is still present and correct, but now this seems more visceral, more violent, with the addition of ‘Killing in Motion’, which makes all the violence more fluid, almost balletic. No more knockouts, instead being replaced with a swift knife to the chest. Oh, and it’s set on the Iraq/Iran border. Yawn. Good response from the audience for this though, and it seems that ol’ Sam still holds some sway with the masses.

Sports!

Next up is a quick EA presentation where the focus is – you guessed it- Kinect integration. In all fairness, it does look like it could be useful and amusing for both games shown, namely Madden 13 and Fifa 13. In Fifa, you can use voice commands for tactics and substitutions without having to pause, so it’s essentially a shortcut. Also, if you swear at a decision from the ref, the commentary will pick you up on it. Now that is forward thinking. For Madden, they bring out Joe Montana (presumably famous ‘football’ player), and it’s predictable stunted and awkward. You use Kinect to call out plays, so again, it has its uses. A major benefit of these features is the fact that lag doesn’t affect them, so they should be genuinely beneficial.

Following this, we’re given a sneak peek at Gears of War Judgement, and Forza Horizon, both of which look impressive, particularly Forza, which seems to have taken a few notes from Burnout, and developed more of a personality. Gears is due in 2013, with Forza coming later this year, and both will likely be more of the same quality we have come to expect, but are unlikely to break any new ground.

SmartGlass

Now, this was probably the main surprise of the conference, and has the potential to be truly impressive, but it’s somewhat disappointing that the main surprise isn’t something you can play. This is a program which is set to link your smartphone, Xbox, laptop, TV and table, so that they all communicate with each other, all the time, regardless of branding. The more impressive examples of how it could be used were primarily based around using a smartphone/tablet for complimentary information. If you are watching Game of Thrones on your 360, for example, your phone will have info on where each character is in the fictional world, where they are going, and why. I can see the benefit here, particularly with sprawling, complex series like GoT.

Other uses were for making custom plays in the upcoming Madden game, using your touch screen, or watching films on one device, and the other continuing where you stopped watching. It seems impressive, and if it all works properly, it could be special, but that’s a big if. Also, we couldn’t help but feel that this would further sap the already short battery lives of the various devices involved. Time will tell though.

Also announced – the internet, for Xbox. Voice controls etc. Hooray for innovation.

You are still the controller

Again, MS seems to be determined to get us off our sofas and in front of its well intentioned, poorly executed additional hardware. First, we see a very serious advert for Fable: The Journey, which seems an attempt to atone for last year’s lack of core Kinect support. This falls a little flat though, in all honesty. It’s a cartoon-style game, and the presentation is played entirely straight, and it just seems a little odd. An attempt to placate the core audience with a po-faced, almost patronising presentation will almost certainly not work.

This is where the conference starts to grind. Three average looking XBL titles are shown, with little indication of what the final product will be like. Ascend: New Gods appears to be an uber-violent, low budget Shadow of the Colossus, followed by what looks like an unofficial game of Tron Bikes, and finally a puzzle game called Matter. We found it very difficult to get enthusiastic about any of these three, which begs the question, ‘why were they shown?’ Again, it could be MS trying to convince their audience that they have plenty of exclusives, but it seems forced.

Also, a partnership with Nike+ is announced, along with a supposedly super accurate fitness programme, which gives the same level of analysis as a personal trainer. The tagline is ‘If you have a body, you’re an athlete.’ Aspirational, sure, but completely untrue. It could be interesting though, with full integration with Nike+ on tablets and smart phones, similar to Smartglass by the looks of things.
Resident Evil: Zombie Warfare, and Tomb Raider: Lara’s Deception

Ok, so neither of the above are the actual titles, but you can’t help but wonder why these once grand and distinctive series have taken such heavy inspiration from the Call of Duty, and Uncharted games respectively.

Firstly, Resident Evil is not the series you once knew. That’s not to say this is a bad thing, but Resident Evil 6 just a different game. The trailer was just set piece after set piece. QTE, cover shooting, QTE, run. You’re with a partner in the trailer, so presumably the co-op from Resi 5 returns. The nature of the video just seemed to be a third person version of Call of Duty, with zombies. Again, this will be a big draw to some, but for fans of the series, it just seems like another step away from the roots. Maybe the final game will be different, but it certainly seems like Capcom want to market this as an action game, rather than horror.

Then came the ‘reboot’ of the Tomb Raider series. The series which inspired the brilliant, if linear Uncharted games. The series which, apparently, has decided that they would come full circle, and imitate the games which they inspired. Yes, this Tomb Raider looks every bit the Uncharted spin off. Spectacular set pieces? Check. Corridors of action? Check. Fallible hero? Check. One thing that is notable is the grim reality of it all. The incessant screaming from the young Lara, the bloodstains, the injuries. The horrific injuries. It all adds up to a serious, oppressive looking game, and if we’re honest, one that may be a little over the top in terms of the torture of the main protagonist. It’s almost uncomfortable to watch, let alone play. It will be difficult, come release, if this is the tone for the entire game.

Ushering in a ‘new’ era

New Dance Central announced. Usher danced and mimed. The masses applauded. Little was learned.

The big finale

So, this is where we were hoping Microsoft would pull something out of the bag which would blow everyone away. So far, so predictable, so they needed something more than timed exclusive DLC, more than games that had been announced months ago, so…we got Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. Oh. There was gameplay footage, but it was all so familiar. Big, smooth set pieces. Camaraderie. Vehicle section. Essentially yet another game from the mind of Michael Bay.

As we know, at least some of it is set in the future, and this was the footage shown, but there were no obvious signs that it was 2025, other than the Alien like helicopters, and one weapon which was stolen straight from Perfect Dark (the Farsight), which allows the user to shoot through walls. If you’re a CoD fan, then we’re sure this will be right up your street, but we just expected something bigger. Maybe an exclusive, or a hint at new hardware. But it was not to be, and CoD still has what it takes to wow an audience. Or at least, most of one.

Our thoughts

As conferences go, it was fine, but that’s it. Everything was exactly as we all expected. Halo, Gears and Forza were all shown. As was Fable, although it’s clear that the star on that is fading. The fact that the big finale was a multiplatform game announced weeks ago, though, is just a little bit of an anticlimax. Everything was very polished, but a little devoid of personality. It certainly won’t go down as one of the great conferences, nor was it a disaster. It was merely serviceable, and points towards the twilight of a great console in the 360. With that in mind, I just hope that next year, we will have more to shout about.

It was clear that Microsoft is comfortable. It has no new hardware to worry about, and has a huge installed user base, so they just had to play to the crowd. With Sony’s Press Conference largely underwhelming, here’s hoping that Nintendo will take a much bigger gamble, and will hopefully mean that E3 is once again something to write home about.

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