E3 2012 Recap: Microsoft Press Conference

Microsoft once again led off the E3 2012 Press Conferences.  With this console cycle reportedly winding down, I was curious to see what they were bringing to the table.  Surprisingly, Microsoft brought out some big guns in the SmartGlass, which I felt stole Nintendo’s thunder for their upcoming WiiU console.  More importantly, did Microsoft once again for get about the main reason for their console?  Did they bring the games?  Lets take a look…

Announcements
Halo 4: Everyone in their right mind has played Halo at one time or another and with Bungie no longer at the helm of Microsoft’s flagship franchise, everyone was wondering what the new guys on the block, 343 Industries, were cooking up.  Well, I think it’s safe to say that they dropped jaws with what they brought to the table.  The graphics alone are such an upgrade over the previous games in the franchise, it’s pretty striking.  The lighting and detail just pop out at you.  While the game looks great, the same can also be said for the gameplay.  It retain’s the classic feel and I got a very strong “Metroid” vibe from the new enemies you’ll be facing and their technology.  Tell me they don’t look like Space Pirates from Metroid Prime.  I think it’s safe to say that fans can rest easy, the future of Halo is in very good hands. 

Splinter Cell: Blacklist: This was one of my big hopes for E3, that the new Toronto studio would finally reveal the Splinter Cell game that they had been working on and they delivered.  Blacklist picks up after the events of Conviction with Sam leading a new division called Fourth Echelon, as he hunts a blacklist which contains details about American agents and confidential information.  If you want more, check out my article from earlier this week on the upcoming game.

EA Sports: Next up came FIFA 13 and Madden 13, each on stage to detail more or less the use of Kinect.  Interestingly enough, in FIFA, if you swear at a referee, the Kinect will pick up on that and the ref may give you a yellow card.  When Madden was being shown off, Quarterback legend, Joe Montana was brought out to show how accessable the game was this year as Montana could use the Kinect to change plays on the fly.

Fable: The Journey: Surprisingly, Microsoft didn’t spent too much time on this title as a trailer shot past showing someone playing the game.

Gears of War: Judgment: Revealed the Friday before E3, I was hoping to get a good look at this prequel title during the conference but only a trailer was shown.  The guys who gave us Bulletstorm (People Can Fly) teamed up with Epic to work on this one.  Looks good, but I’m going to need to see some gameplay.

Forza Horizon: Again, another trailer shot past but what’s interesting is that this game looks to be less sim and more arcade style.  Graphics and cars are still highly detailed.

Xbox Live News: It’s at this point in the show were things seemed to slow down as we got away from the games and dove head first into new features coming for Xbox Live.  The biggest news piece in here is that Internet Explorer 9 is going to be integrated into the 360 to allow for an easy and fast way to browse the web.  Bing will be fully integrated so you can search using your voice along with content from Nickelodeon, Paramount, Machinima and Univision.  In addition, sports and music are going to be integrated further with the NBA, NHL, and 4 additional ESPN channels being added to Xbox Live.  On the music front, you’re going to be seeing Xbox Music soon which will contain 30 million tracks for you to download.  This functionality will also be coming to Windows 8 tablets and phones.

Nike + Xbox: I guess you could call this Microsoft’s Wii Fit, it’s essentially a partnership with Nike to create a fitness game for Kinect. The game will use training methods, real-time feedback, and assessments measurements that Nike uses with pro athletes.  So I guess you could say a more grown up Wii Fit.

SmartGlass: If I had to pinpoint Microsoft’s key announcement, it would probably be this.  To me, it seemed that this was Microsoft trying to steal the thunder from Nintendo.  SmartGlass works with any smart devices, including Windows phones, iOS devices, and Android devices to allow them to interact with one another.  So for example, you’re watching a movie on your Xbox but you have to run out.  You can take the movie with you by putting it on a handheld device or a tablet for example.  Tablet and smart devices can also act as a companion device giving you information on what your watching or allow you to control the 360 dashboard like you’re using a remote control.  For game’s, Madden was shown off as the game was running on the 360, you could bring up another device like a tablet that would let you redraw plays or in Halo 4 being able to browse multiplayer matches on your handheld as you wrap up a campaign save and then get instantly sent into the multiplayer match.  This could be some very interesting technology when it hits later this year.

Tomb Raider: For me, this was the most impressive game at the presser.  I’ve been waiting to see some solid gameplay and Crystal Dynamics didn’t disappoint one bit.  First thing you’ll notice is that it gives off a total Uncharted vibe and I’m prefectly fine with that.  There’s also a hint of desperation as Lara is low on supplies and firepower.  There’s smoe great platforming sections, combat sections, and the game is as beautiful as ever.  The gameplay also hints at a pretty deep story as she stumbles into a camp where people are talking about the boat crash and one of her friends from the boat is kidnapped frmo a campsite she had set up.  I can’t wait to see more from this one.

Xbox Live Arcade Teases: Not a huge discussion of upcoming XBLA games, but three high profile ones were teased through trailers.  The first is Ascend: New Gods, brought to you by Signal Studios who are better known for their Toy Soldiers games.  Ascend has a more mature look as you play a heavily armed person and you seem to fight progressively bigger enemies until you have a Shadow of the Collossus style battle.  I don’t know much more than that. 
Next up came Lococycle by the wild bunch over at Twisted Pixel.  The trailer really didn’t say anything about the game but it did show a futuristic cycle that gave me a huge Extreme-G vibe.  We’ll see how that goes when more information is released.
Wreckateer was also shown off, and if you want more detail, check out this article. Spoiler: it’s pretty fun.
Finally, we were shown a game called Matter which looks like someone cross-bred Super Monkey Ball, Marble Madness, and Wheatley from Portal 2.  Also, we were told that Gore Verbinski (big time movie director) is somehow involved with this project.

Resident Evil 6: Capcom took the stage now and gave a pretty lengthy gameplay demo of this upcoming action horror and zombie killing simulator.  In the demo we saw Leon and his very healthy looking hair travel with a girl through the decimated streets full of zombies.  The biggest change is that you can now move and shoot at the same time which really speeds up the game.  The second part of the demo features Leon trying to fly a Helicopter via a series of quicktime events.

South Park: The Stick of Truth: Line of the night comes from South Park co-creator Trey Parker: “How many times have you been watching an episode of South Park and thought ‘I’d like to be able to watch this on my television while hooked into my mobile device, which is being controlled by my tablet device, which is hooked into my oven, all while sitting in the refrigerator'”.  Fantastic jab at Microsoft’s SmartGlass announcement.  Oh, and the game looks very good as well as it has that classic South Park look and humor you’d expect.

Dance Central 3 aka Usher Concert: Strangely enough, once the game was revealed, a video of Usher came on saying how he was involved with the project.  It was directly after that in which he came out and performed his new song.  Very little was actually shown of the game.  It was mainly a concert at this point.

Call of Duty: Black Ops II: Of course, it wouldn’t be a Microsoft E3 Press Conference without some Call of Duty.  Treyarch took the stage and showed the crowd a future level where you had to defend the President during an attack.  All the typical CoD stuff was here with high action, slow motion sequences, and fast run and gun gameplay.  The interesting aspect (which you very easily could have missed if you were not paying attention) was a decision point near the middle of the level.  You had a choice where you could use a futuristic sniper rifle, or you could storm the ground level.  Later in the demo, you’re given access to fighter drones which honestly looked a little overpowered.  The footage really didn’t do much for me as it looked like a typical Call of Duty title.  I’m sure it’ll be solid and sell millions and millions of copies.  Though, that’s an article for another day.

Concerns/Dislikes
Lack of First Party Titles: Once again, the main concern is the lack of first party titles.  Sure, they’re bringing major titles like Halo 4, a Kinect Fable game, a new Gears of War and a new Forza to the system, but outside of that, there’s really nothing much to report outside of Xbox Live.  The interesting thing is last year at this time, we had exactly the same first party games coming out (Forza, Gears, Halo game).  It makes me wonder if Microsoft is relying heavily on third party titles so they can concentrate on the future of Xbox.  Time will tell on this one. 

Usher: True, some of you may have enjoyed this, but for me, I just didn’t need to see him perform his entire song.  Sure, he was there for Dance Central 3, but the game was hidden behind smoke and pyrotechnics.  Wasn’t this a games convention?  Seems like it became a concert.

Momentum Crash: Microsoft opened the show very strong with Halo 4, a new Splinter Cell, and other exciting trailers.  Then, someone hit the brakes and we dove straight into new Xbox Live features.  I mean, I’ve got nothing against added features to Xbox Live, in fact, I’m looking forward to them, but it just seems that it was the wrong place to start this segment.  A lot of talking and slide shows took over before the momentum returned with Tomb Raider.

Overall: A-
I felt that Microsoft had a strong show this year.  Yes, it dragged in certain spots, but I felt they did a better job of “cutting the fat” that has plagued their conferences in the past (Skittles anyone?).  They stayed focused more on the things that mattered (games) and touched on some new interesting features (SmartGlass, Xbox Live features).  I’m still a bit concerned about the lack of first party titles however.  It seems like Microsoft is trying to position Xbox Live to become the ultimate destination of entertainment which may lead into their upcoming next generation console.  Smart move if you ask me.

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