Though Microsoft led off this year's E3, it came without the sort of fanfare I had hoped for. Though the company had already stated that there were no plans to discuss new consoles at this year's show, I'm not sure I was prepared for what would equate to an all around dull media briefing. Though games and features were showcased, there was a noticeable lack of excitement both by the presenters and the audience throughout the presentation, which caused an ominous atmosphere that put a damper on the whole affair.
The tone was set when Microsoft decided to trot out the latest entries in the Halo and Splinter Cell franchises at the very beginning. While the combat in Splinter Cell: Blacklist seems interesting, and the jungle landscape appears to take up at least a portion of Halo 4's campaign looks fun and different, it was hard not to have a feeling of de ja vu even with some of the more obvious changes. Even the footage of the new Tomb Raider game, also present at last year's Microsoft presser in playable form, directly plays on gamers's familiarity with the Uncharted franchise.
And this sense actually permeated the rest of the conference, especially when the multimedia capabilities of the 360 were being mentioned. In case you were wondering the Kinect can still search on Bing. If you don't have some OnDemand service television channels like Nickelodeon are now going to be coming to the 360 at some point. And if you like all (non-NFL) sports the 360 has you covered by teaming up with the NBA and NHL in addition to continuing their work with the MLB to offer live streaming games to those specific organization subscribers (in addition to the Xbox Live Gold subscription required to stream content), while also adding all ESPN networks. Presumably this means I can watch Skip Bayless without changing televisions though, so that's fun I guess. Nothing revolutionary, and you never know how these things will shake out until they are launched, but it is nice to see consoles continue to become multimedia machines.
Multimedia was actually a large theme of this press conference, as perhaps the biggest announcement came in the form of Microsoft's new technology Smart Glass. This basically seems to turn any tablet device (including Android and iOS devices) in to another screen that is connected to your 360. Presumably while one plays or watches content one can click a button to check a guide, execute a specific strategy, or read up on more about the film or show being watched. The proposition is interesting, but splitting attention between two (or more?) screens seems problematic and I'm not sure how it will work while also holding a controller in one hand.
At this point in time the biggest surprise kind of appeared and disappeared just as quickly. Twisted Pixel said they would be announcing a new game, and the trailer for LocoCycle seems interesting. But it's just a trailer that seems to imply you control a motor cycle. Following along with the slightly funny edge, it was great to see the trailer for South Park: The Stick of Truth along with South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. No gameplay was shown, sadly, and while the successes and failures of a similar TV-to-game adaptation, The Simpsons: The Game, have been well documented, Matt and Trey's guidance will hopefully elevate genre expectations above the usual 'make fun of silly game mechanic and then proceed to have the player use said mechanic.'
And then it all ended with Usher performing and showcasing Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. Harmonix does great work with their Dance Central franchise, so Dance Central 3 should be more of the same. Treyarch, and all involved developers really, always make highly polished, enjoyable games, so Black Ops 2 ought to also be more of the same. It's odd to see that franchise move in to Modern Warfare territory, but I guess it kind of had to at some point.
Realistically Microsoft's event was a collection of known commodities. Some exceeded my expectations, Halo 4 doesn't look bad if the story can start taking more of a central role along with gameplay upgrades, while other aspects have me curious but hesitant, as is the case with Smart Glass. There was no mention of a new console, as expected, but I also didn't feel like there was much 'new' or exciting going on either. And that's not a great way to kick off the show. There's just not much substance, it all seems here and now.
Here's hoping Sony ups the stakes tonight.
What did you think of the Microsoft Press Conference?
Were you wowed by anything, or were most of the commodities known?
Are we ready for the 'next' generation?
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© 2011 Richard James Thorne