The opening conference from this year’s E3 was of course, Microsoft, finishing up moments ago in shiny Los Angeles. Microsoft had what many agree to a be thoroughly consistent showing this year, consistent with their approach of trying to create a multimedia, multiplatform, but mostly Kinect-centric experience that treats playing video games like a weird, occasional thing you might want to do with your console.
Not wanting to waste any time, Microsoft opened with the heavy hitters. Halo 4 was up first, opening with what is presumably the opening cinematic: a USNC ship crashing into the atmosphere of an unknown planet over the head of Master Chief. As soon as the ship has passed, a high-tech sphere of alien origin pops out of the ground and chases after it, leaving poor Master Chief to slog it there on foot. On the way he encounters other creatures in the vein of the tech-sphere, which are quickly identified as being of Fore-runner technology. The whole thing has a huge Metroid: Prime vibe to it. The audience is suitably impressed.
Don Mattrick takes the stage next, explaining that this year, it’s all about the Xbox 360 – neatly putting paid to any hopes that the next-generation console would be discussed at today’s event. Then we cut quickly to a gritty scene from a game, where a man is brutally interrogating an Arabic-looking prisoner. The man removes his headcloth to reveal that he is, in fact, Sam Fisher – andSplinter Cell: Blacklist is confirmed.
Ubisoft takes the stage to demonstrate Blacklist to the audience. Sam is now the head of the new ‘Fourth Echelon’, and he’s infiltrating a terrorist compound on the Iran/Iraq border to interrogate a man for more information on the ‘Blacklist’, which is described as a ‘terror ultimatum of escalating attacks on US interests’. A shopping list for terror, if you will.
Sam’s ‘execute’ mechanic from Splinter Cell: Conviction has returned intact, and Sam can now also channel the spirit of Altair and climb up walls and rock faces like a mountain goat. Setting the tone for the rest of the Microsoft press conference, the Ubisoft staff uses the Kinect microphone to distract guards and call them over, as well as call down missile strikes on key locations. Before the leave, they confirm that Blacklist will feature spies vs. mercs gameplay, co-op gameplay, and have a spring 2013 release date.
Sports Madness and Trailers Galore
EA Sports follow quickly behind, demonstrating a variety of new features in the next FIFA, the most innovative of which is the fact that you Kinect will listen to you while you’re playing and gauge whether or not you’re happy with the referee’s decisions. Presumably since the game is run by robots and there’s no margin for human error the referee is unlikely to change his opinions, but the audience giggles appreciatively nonetheless.
We’re then treated to a slew of trailers. The ‘bold new direction’ for the Fable series is up first with Fable: The Journey, the trailer for which looks remarkably similar to previously seen footage. Gears of War: Judgment follows, with a full-CGI outing that reveals little other than that the main character will be Damon Baird, the Locust will return, and we should expect to play it in 2013.
Finally, it’s Forza: Horizon. All the previously-leaked details are true: it’s an open-world racer set in Colorado, and the trailer is filled with sweeping shots of cars streaking along the open road. After a few moments, the trailer music switches inexplicably to dubstep, and the cars start smashing into walls and each other. Nobody understand what is going on, but it looks very pretty. We’re given a release date of October 23, 2012 to ease our confusion.
More Things That Aren’t Games
Microsoft then reclaim their own stage to deploy the first in their arsenal of non-game related technologies. Voice searching on the Kinect now supports searching by genre, Microsoft’s head of marketing and strategy gleefully exclaims. We’re then treated to him also querying his Xbox in Spanish, which, while not particularly enthralling, bodes well for the device finally properly understanding Australian accents. A bevy of sporting channels are also announced, none of which are available to people outside of the US at all.
Tired of listening to music on your other devices that aren’t your Microsoft ones? Also announced was ‘Xbox Music’, a service that works across Windows 8 PCs, tablets and phones to create a single, unified music collection and discover tool for you – presumably. The sneak peek we were shown actually had no details on it whatsoever other than a montage of people dancing, so presumably activating Xbox Music in your house has a similar effect on you.
The head of ‘Digital Sports’ at Nike then takes the stage, to talk about how they’re working with Microsoft to develop a Nike-sponsored exercise program, followed by the head of Xbox LIVE to introduce Microsoft ‘SmartGlass’ – a technology that aims to ‘enrich’ your viewing and gaming experiences. Some examples provided were showing you movie information about what you’re watching, tracking the movements of your favourite Game of Thrones characters on a map, or looking at a schematic of a fictional gun from Halo. Microsoft made special mention of it being available not only on MS-specific platforms, but iPhones, iPads and Android platforms as well.
Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, and Exclusive DLC
Finally, after what seems like an eternity, we return to the world of video games. Crystal Dynamics appear to demonstrate a section from their upcoming Tomb Raider reboot. We see stealth kills with the bow and arrow, as well as the use of a cover system and XP mechanics. Lara interacts with the environment heavily, using flaming arrows to ignite certain areas and pushing barrels down slopes to knock enemies over. It’s gritty and kind of borders on uncomfortable for Lara, who never looks like she’s in control or even having a remotely good time. Crystal Dynamics are, however, as they announce that they are “thrilled” to reveal that the first piece of DLC for Tomb Raider will be a timed exclusive for the 360. Thrilled.
Now we’re shown a quick handful of new titles: Ascend: New Gods, an ‘asychronous multiplayer title’, LocoCycle, a game that appears to literally be about a motorbike who is also an assassin (yes, really), and Matter, from the creative mind of Gore Verbinski, who apparently really wanted to make a game about squares and spheres fighting it out. Capcom are the follow-up, who play through a huge section of Resident Evil 6. It’s got quicktime events galore, but is full of the same gorey zombie-shooting action the crowd seems to know and enthusiastically love. Little mention is made of the fact that RE6‘s DLC will be locked to the Xbox 360 as well, but it flashes up there on screen for a split second.
Usher in a new age
The creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, are next up. They begin with what will probably become one of E3 2012′s most iconic moments: pulling the absolute piss out of Microsoft for trying to network every single device in their house together for no reason at all. “You would not believe how many hours of R&D went into making that distinctive crappy look of South Park,” they joke, showing off a trailer from the upcoming Stick of Truth RPG before making their excuses and leaving to go continue work on the game (yes, really).
Perhaps seeking to punish anybody who laughed at Parker and Stone’s barbs about Microsoft, the company deploy their ultimate weapon: a four-minute long live performance by Usher, designed to show off Harmonix’s new Dance Centralinstallment. Everyone is suitably chastised.
Don Mattrick closes out the conference with an accidental pun about ‘ushering in’, before showing off some never-before-seenBlack Ops 2 footage. It lasts for many long minutes, and incorporates a rescue-the-president sequence which shows the player making storyline-branching decisions, shooting down enemy drones, performing escort duty in aircraft, and generally shooting the hell out of some terrorists. On the big screen the texture quality is noticeably bad, but there’s more than enough explosions to make up for it.
Please forgive any spelling or grammatical errors in this piece, which was written at 3AM. Goodnight!