Bright eyed, bushy tailed, I awoke this morning in happy expectation of this years opening to E3; otherwise known as 'Gamers Christmas in July”. Which is weird, considering it's June. Either way, I grabbed a bottle of Root Beer and planted my rump firmly in front of my desk for the next few hours, hoping for awesomness to rain from the Microsoft flavored heavens that is their press conference.
Poppy showtunes start off the presentation. I can live without those, so I'm using the time to wipe the sleep from my eyes. Or, in reality, to nap on my desk for a few minutes. Global media briefing, the first man says? What kind of...never mind.
They're starting off with Halo 4, which was unexpected. They certainly aren't afraid to throw out their killer apps quickly. The live action trailer reminds me of the stink that happened over Killzone 2. Graphically, the title is definitely sharp, but I don't think anyone is surprised at that. What I was surprised over was the Covenants presence. I thought those guys were taken care of? Must've just been the Elites what made peace with humanity. Ah well, the new enemies--the Forerunners, the ones who made the original Halo's--look awesome in their form and armor. Weapons are pretty sweet looking too; has a sort of Ancients from Stargate look, with the moving and levitating parts. The guns literally assemble in mid air as Master Chief picks them up. Along with his jet pack seen in the earlier trailer (which was not shown in this presentation), Master Chief also sports new visors in this trailer. I wonder if multiple visor settings will be a gameplay mechanic, because he used his to give a black-and-white scan of the surrounding area, revealing enemies. One can always hope, right? To further complicate things, Cortana is apparently going insane. A recently released issue of Game Informer mentioned that AI's in the Halo universe start to degrade after several years and get taken out of commission, and, as stated in the trailer, Cortana has been 'alive' and working for eight years now. Whatever the case, Cortana has taken a flying leap off the deep end and you have to wonder what the Chief will have to do about it.
Don Matrick (senior VP of something or other) walks on stage to applause and eager faces to start the preamble. He claims the X360 is the number one best selling console in the world. Why does it seem every console out now is suddenly the number one selling console in the world? Someone's playing with statistics again, I think. He's also praising the Xbox for the large variety of non game related media opportunities it presents, but I can't help but think that the PS3, and even the Wii, offer similar items. Hmm...now he's talking about connecting all your devices...Windows Live connectivity? Nope. Hinting at something new.
The next clip shows a middle eastern man carrying his half dead comrade into a tent containing three men puzzling over maps. As they turn and frantically care for the their comrade, the other man lifts the veil off of his face and in a violent display kills them all. But wait...is that a Splinter Cell title? Oh snap. With Sam Fisher as the veiled man? What did I miss by not playing Conviction yet? There's a weird sort of bullet-time mechanic called "Killing in Motion", which is used to target multiple enemies and take them out in rapid succession. Seems sort of the like the system introduced in Conviction. I like it, though it seems from the demo as if the game is more stealth-action rather than the pure stealth of the traditional series; another facet brought in by Conviction, I think. Sam also seems much more agile than I'm used to; scaling dirt walls, flipping over barricades and doing all manner of fancy knifework with incredible speed. Also, it's not Michael Ironside voicing Sam, much to my disappointment. Oddly, it uses Kinect for voice commands (“Sam”, or rather the man playing the game, calls in an air strike in the demo) for various things. Fancy. Sam seems to be tracking down a list of assassination targets known as 'the blacklist', and so, shipping Spring 2013, the game is called Splinter Cell: Blacklist.
EA Sports' Andrew Wilson takes the stage next. The new Madden (august 28th, 2012; gotta love specific release dates, even if I'm not looking forward to the title) and Fifa (this fall) are both using Kinect extensively in their builds. They're really pushing Kinect this year, not that the voice commands aren't cool (especially in Splinter Cell). Fifa keeps track of how you react to the ref, and throws down penalties if you respond badly (in the demo, a guy cursed at him and was flagged for it). Nice. That's actually a really cool mechanic. I know some people who wouldn't be able to play with Kinect on. Now the focus switches to Madden. Blast, who is that guy walking on stage now? He's a quarterback, I know. I missed the name, shoddy reporter that I am. Kinect connectivity is actually pretty cool in this title too; the game responds as you speak the calls. Again, not a title I can appreciate, but I can see how the voice features could be used to enhance gameplay. Or (to be fair) in a noisy environ, severely detract from it.
The next clip shows sparkly magics firing at all manner of traditional fantasy critters. I like fantasy magics, so this already looks like fun. Surprisingly, it's Fable: The Journey (holiday 2012). Seems to be a rail shooter version set in the Fable universe. Didna expect that turn. Extensive use of Kinect of course (leading me to believe the title is Kinect only) but that may not be a bad thing; You use your hands to throw the various forms of magic. No complaints over that. Wish they'd shown more though. Hopefully they'll release other info over the course of the Expo. I could see this turning out to be a really fun game.
Next guy walking on stage, and I missed his name too. What is wrong with me? I may or may not have been thinking about the new Fable game too much to pay attention to the talking. Anyway, new Gears game. And it looks like...Baird takes lead? I need to play Gears 3 as well, apparently. Called Gears of War: Journey. Release date is TBA, far as I can see. Surprised that there's not a lot more on this title. It was a short little clip that really showed nothing about the game aside from its existence and the silly smile on Baird's face.
Next clip is Forza. I do love me some sim-racing, and Forza: Horizon looks...shiny, at least. They've added new features, like what looks to be real-world driving on car-laden highways and byways, as well as a day/night system. Not much is shown, but they've amped up the crash mechanics too. Cars were flipping and shredding, as opposed to the rather tame damage done in Forza 2. Assuming, at least, that wasn't just a demo trailer spoofed to make you buy the game; but we all know they wouldn't do that to us, right? Forza Horizon releases October 23rd, 2012.
The next guy up is Yusef Mehdi. Caught that one, and it's always nice to see a familiar face from last E3. He's detailing the Bing media search on Xbox; it's getting genre voice searching. Cool thing, if, again, you have a Kinect. Uncertain why they're listing as a sparkling feature something that other consoles, or TV guides, or entertainment companies, already had standard. It's also getting twelve other languages to use as well. Culturally unsound as it is, I never considered that it did not accept other languages already. Xbox is also getting the Nickleodean network, Paramount movies, Machinima, and Univision videos. Also looks like they're getting an NBA channel, NHL (next season), and later this year the magic Box is getting 24/7 ESPN. Yay? I suppose if you enjoy sports, you may be thrilled. The voice control, which they really seem to be pushing, is pretty fancy I guess. I didn't buy the console to watch TV or movies, however.
Or, for that matter, to listen to music. Coming soon is Xbox Music. Examining the Xbox Music interface and services, it looks like a repackaged version of their Zune software. Which is good stuff, but hardly new. Also it's going to be available on some tablets and phones, throwing your music around various devices.
The X360 is also getting a fitness program from Nike, presented by Stefan Olander (a higher up from Nike). What is this conference turning into? A shoe ad? A multimedia presentation? Nike claims if you have a body, you are an athlete, and so this program (I can't call it a game, in good conscience) is for you. Inspiring. Creepily enough, Nike fuel (a service they offer aside from Xbox related stuff) seems to track your every move and help you 'get fit'. That, however, just leads into the Nike+ (plus is the name, not an addition sign) Kinect training, a 'digital training experience'. Still spooky, but it's a creative thing in its own way. Looks to be a fairly detailed and meaty exercise program. Plus, you're able to compete against others in fitness over Xbox Live. It's an Xbox flavored Wii Fit, basically. Releases later in 2012. Though it strikes me as funny how many 'core' gamers (you know, the ones Microsoft claims to cater to) made fun of the Wii for having Wii Fit. Wonder what Sony is going to dream up for the health crowd?
Mark Whitten walks up next. I forget his title and rank within Microsoft, but he claims people love their smartphones and tablets and the connectivity they offer, and carry them everywhere. I don't have a Smartphone or a tablet, actually, and really don't see the point. But now he's talking about that new way of connecting they mentioned earlier (though I personally wonder if we really need to watch bonus features as we watch the show), and it turns out to be their new service: Xbox SmartGlass. It seems to work cross platform as an app for download, and he's showing off the fact that he can track the characters from Game of Thrones with a map on his iPad as they travel in the TV show. He used Sherlock Holmes as an earlier example; as well as stopping the movie on, say, his iPad, and picking it up in the exact same spot on his TV, the iPad starts to showcase trivia and tidbits about the movie as the TV picks up the feed. Now he's talking about immersive entertainment. And it works with games too, not just movies and TV. He customized a play in Madden on his tablet and it showed up in real time on the big screen. In Halo 4 (again, using an iPad as the portable device) it seems to act as both a nifty tidbit option, and also as a hub for multiplayer endeavours. That's the first feature I've seen that I consider cool, to be honest. Well, that's not exactly true. It's cool tech and very impressive, but just not what I wanted from an E3 conference. Now he's going on about how 'No one uses the browser on other consoles'. Which isn't true, and humorously enough was also a defense tried by Sony last year at E3. Didn't work then either. Anyway, his point was that Internet Explorer 8 is coming to Xbox later this year and revolutionizes console web surfing. Not my choice of web browser, and no word whether it'll require Live Gold in order to use or not. It also seems as if it requires Kinect voice control to use smoothly, and/or a tablet/smartphone using SmartGlass. He shows off a Prometheus trailer he reached only by voice, and then uses the touch screen on his phone as a mouse controller for the Xbox. Both SmartGlass and IE are coming this Fall, and are supposed to work with devices (TV, smartphone, tablet) you already own. Now he's running Windows 8 advertisements; Connecting computers, games, everything else. Dear sweet monkey fudge, where are the games here? Cool tech, but really.
Daniel Bissom, and Darrel Gallagher walk on stage now to show off a Tomb Raider demo, and it's the first time I've personally seen the new look. It showed Laura using a bow extensively (in both ranged and melee kills) as well as the 'traditional' Tomb Raider weaponry, like shotguns. I liked the bow mechanics, actually; enemies react to where they are shot with it (prompting me to make an 'Arrow in the Knee' joke to myself) and she'll also be able to use multiple arrow types (the demo showed normal arrows, as well as flaming ones used to set off gasoline, much to the men standing in the petrol's chagrin). It also showed off a skydiving segment (actually, a falling out of a plane segment) in which the player controlled her flight as she tried to a void trees. Interestingly enough, it also appears as if the Laura character will show physical damage as she takes it, and the game is said to have a fairly in depth survival mechanic, a completely different spin on the series. The first piece of DLC available will be an Xbox exclusive, though no mention of what it was.
Now they're talking about new games, as opposed to old favorites, to which I say: Yay! I was starting to lose hope. And they're doing one better: world premiere exclusives. They turn to a clip of Ascend: New Gods, which shows a rather big monster of sorts fighting off other monsters in titanic fashion. Not really much is shown, other than the fighting style favors God of War in its approach. Coming out sometime in 2012, I'm definitely keeping an eye out for this title.
Next thing shown is not much at all. No name, and no title that I saw, only a bike that seems like a female (and deadlier) version of Kit from Knightrider sitting on a stand. It favors Tron in it's graphical scheme. Coming 2012, whatever it was, so I expect more info revealed later, or at least punishing comments detailing on how I missed the title and release date. Either way, I'm good.
For the next clip, funnily enough, they threw "Director of Pirates of the Caribbean" up in big letters on the screen as a major thing, but left "And Rango" in small letters near the bottom. Visually the game reminds me of Tron (again) mixed with Portal. All the clip shows is wildly shifting metal architecture and two orbs that seem to want to connect with each other. It's called Matter, for Kinect and it's scheduled for release in 2013.
Unfortunately, I cannot spell the names of the Capcom reps taking the stage, and annoyingly enough I can't find it on Google. So sorry for the shoddy reporting, and no disrespect intended. Leave me a comment if you know. That aside, they're showing off Resident Evil 6. Leon is back, it seems, with a lady partner I first took to be Claire. They've added a nice melee kill option, and hopefully that'll be something you can use throughout the game and not just in certain triggered sequences. Now Leon and lady are entering a building to escape the zombie laden streets, and I have the urge to scream “Don't go in there!”, but Leon blows up several dozen shuffling dead in gory, limb tearing fashion and I'm suddenly confident of his abilities. Now they're trying to get to a helicopter and...yep, it's blowing up and the pilot has turned zombie. Fairly cool trailer, actually. It definitely seems to follow in the footsteps of the fourth and fifth entries of the series, with all that implies.
A lady named Alex Ruiz is now showing off Wreckateer, an Xbox Live! exclusive Kinect title. You use Kinect to control projectiles fired from a crossbow and blow up stuff., with differing ammunition such. Reminiscent of a 3D, beautifully animated Angry Birds. No complaints here either, except they're really, really pushing Kinect this year. Wreckateer is launching on Live this summer.
Next is South Park: the Stick of Truth. Tray Parker and Matt Stone, creators of South Park, are presenting it in humorous fashion. And now Tray (I think) is making fun of Smartglass. I like him a bit more. They're stressing that they wanted it to look like the series does in order to stay true to it, and that they were pleased to succeed. Fans will be pleased, I think. Now they're talking about how tricky it was to imagine the locations and maps of the series, since normally they'd just cut to them. In the Stick of Truth, you play the New Kid in Town and try to fit in with 'the crew' in order to save the city, in what appears to be turn based RPG fashion in a mockingly fantastic fantasy realm of sorts. These guys, considering they actually talked about a game, brightened up the conference a bit. Though with an "everyone knows Jews can't be saviors" joke, and a bit of knowledge of typical South Park humor, I'm likely going to pass.
Now Usher unexpectedly pops up on the screen and is talking above an upbeat pop tune about how he helped out with a game. My Internet decided to be lackadaisical at this point, and starts freezing up a bit. But I can already see where this is going; or hear it, rather. And...yep. Dance Central 3. Seems as though Usher is actually at the conference coming out from backstage, and not just in a video clip. The good thing is, there's FIRE and pyrotechnics. Can't go wrong with fire on a stage show. And it's sort of distracting from the fact that 30-45 minutes of this presentation were about SmartGlass. Judging from the still shots I'm getting of the scene (internet...oh the internet) I'm not missing much. I mean, I saw the fire. What else is needed? Now if only the audio would die too. This has turned into a music video, rather than a gaming conference, and so I'm tempted to go get a sammich until I can no longer hear the music. Cool enough though, the real world dancing of Usher and his crew is blending seamlessly into the DC3 video behind them. There were a few "Oh snap that note was sour and hurt my ears" moments that I laughed at, however, so I am not sad when Usher leaves the stage.
Don Mattrick again. Makes a joke about 'Ushering in the future'. Nice. Talking about connecting everything for entertainment, and you can tell he's leading up to something, but still. I have no need to connect my TV to every facet of my life, and even less so to connect my mythical smartphone into every movie and song I own.
But then Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 pops up on the screen, and I am satiated for the moment. Very futuristic, very cool. It's making the leap Modern Warfare made compared to the original Call of Duty, and is set in 2025. The demo shows a city under heavy attack by drone fighter planes, complete with decimated cars and blowed up scenery. Looks like perhaps it features multiple path selection, but I could be wrong. Weapons have, obviously, taken a futuristic leap as well. He's showing off a sniper rifle with a scope capable of tracking enemies through solid objects when...Wait what? Clip editing for sake of time? I'm pretty sure everyone would want to see the whole thing, time issues or otherwise. Now he's using a PDA-like wrist device (a smartphone with SmartGlass, probably) to call in several UAV's for fire support, and uses them to blow up an enemy vehicle. Sweeeet. And then a building falls over in slowmo because of a fiery explosion, all of which is detailed in surprising depth, and all is laid to burnination. Or at least covered in dust. Now, in an oddly different and pretty exciting feature for a CoD game, the main character is flying a jet, guarding a vehicle. A futuristic jet, complete with motion tracking HUD and the ability to lift straight off the ground, nonetheless. As the clip fades, the slogan “The future is...BLACK” pops up on screen, and I'm left to bask in the glow for a few moments. Looks pretty amazing, fanboy as I may be.
And then...it's over, with the same pop music it started off with. I'm filled with equal parts excitement and disappointment. The games that were exhibited looked good, especially Splinter Cell, Black Ops 2, and (though I never thought to say it), Tomb Raider. But there weren't really very many games displayed; an acknowledgement of another Gears game, and a Dance Central game (really looking forward to that one, you know), and what feels like several hundred Kinect titles and several hours on the subject of connecting (or, dare I say it, 'Kinecting') various media devices into a conglomerate personal entertainment network. I can't say I'm thrilled over the fact that the conference seemed less fun this year, with more 'global media presentation' and less 'here's our new games'. Still, a small load of solid titles, and plenty for sports fans. Here's hoping the rest of the Expo reveals more X360 titles of worth, and that Sony and Nintendo up the ante on their conferences.
Check our our Sony E3 2012 impressions
Read our summary of the Nintendo E3 press conference