Editorial: Microsoft E3 Conference Recap

“Sorry, gamers, Kinect is here to stay. Aww, don’t cry! Here, have some Ice-T playing Gears of War. Not doing it for you? Well how about some Halo Combat Evolved Beautiful Edition? Still not enough? Oh, well, you can have Halo 4 I guess.”

The above paragraph neatly describes my experience with this year’s Microsoft E3 press conference. Apparently unfazed by the mild backlash towards last year’s focus on family friendly Kinect-powered hand-waving, Microsoft belted out a conference tall on said hand-waving and short on truly exciting news. Sure, the hand-waving might now be accompanied by voice-speaking and bolted on to games you may well care about, but the press conference was a disappointing affair nonetheless.

Modern Warfare 3 footage surprising no-one opened the show with a ”Meh”-inducing submarine shootout and boat chase, before giving way to a Tomb Raider Gritty-’Boot gameplay demo we’d read about months ago. Despite impressive graphics and promising news about this game, the demo failed to excite me, largely due to the part featured being so scripted watching it on a livestream would likely not differ dramatically from actually playing it.

Shortly following was the charismatic Peter Moore, talking about Kinect support for slightly annual EA Sports games.More interesting about the EA segment was Mass Effect-like Mass Effect 3 gameplay where Shepard’s dialogue-options were determined using Kinect. After selecting dialogue options, first with ever-lovable Mordin Solus, then with -gasp – a female Krogan, Shepard stabbed an armor-wearing goon with his glowing Sci-Fi knife while the voice-commanding his squad to attack other armor-wearing goons.

Speaking of squads, after the Mass Effect 3 gameplay there was new trailer for Ghost Recon: Future Soldier featuring ironically-used classical music and time-freeze camera-pan tacticoolness. A french-accented Ubisoft rep briefly strolled out on stage to chat about the game, before handing over the reigns to a younger fellow who demonstrated the dismantling, building, and accessorizing of guns using Kinect in the game. “Optimize ranged”, he would utter, and the game would assemble a long-barreled assault-rifle with a scope for him. The Minority Report-like motion-based menu-navigation shown off was thoroughly impressive, but past being thoroughly impressive, is there any benefit to playing this way? I’m skeptical.

However, the gun-porn was quickly cut short by a PR speech about a “new entertainment experience” using Kinect, in the form of a new Xbox dashboard. We were shown videos of attractive people elegantly motioning at the  screen to watch X-men films and use “that-other-search-engine” Bing to look online for more X-men stuff. Also included in this “New experience” is the ability to watch UFC with your friends using online social networking magic. The presentation was eerily similar to last year’s, the primary difference being Bruno Mars having been replaced by X-men and UFC.

This far, it was not a thrilling conference. Nothing that had been shown would have been massive news during any normal week, let alone E3. Not good enough, MS.

"I'll be doing the soundtrack too, right?"

The conference needed something bigger. It needed something better. It needed something more badass. It was lucky then, that Cliffy B himself strutted into the limelight accompanied by none other than Old-Skool gangsta-rapper ” Ice-T. Together, they played Gears of War 3, which looked like the solid cover-based shootery Gears has always been. The demo given depicted took place in what looked like a level set onboard a tanker ship, and featured a battle against a towering boss with a glowing eye as weak-spots. Cliff and Ice-T shot the weak spot and concluded the level. “Gears of War 3 is looking quite excellent”, you might have thought to yourself. “Maybe things are looking up.”

And for three more trailers, they kind of did. First up of these was Crytek-developed Project Kingdoms, now named “Ryse”. The mysterious teaser shown last year did not offer much info about the game, so I was naturally intrigued as a powerful voice boomed out at me while images of a dog roaming about the streets of a war-torn Roman-times Rome among armored men stabbing each other passed to reveal the player would participate in this stabbing action through the magic of, you guessed it, Kinect. As you may have deducted, I’m not a huge fan of the peripheral, but as far as swinging your arms goes, doing it to simulate melee battle seems rather fun and apropriate, especially when it’s being brought to you by highly competent studio: Crytek.  Having said that, the Kinect has hardly had luck with fighting-games in the past, as the Metacritic score for Fighters Uncaged can testify to.

After the Ryse trailer, the huge screen overlooking the stage went dark as the soothing voices of a female choir began to sing some very distinctive notes. The rumors were true: Halo remake! As the Nostalgia-triggering Marty O’ Donnel masterpiece pumped out of the speakers, we were presented with lovely HD renditions of Combat Evolved’s levels filled with bright colors and shown a release date of November 15, dooming the game to compete with CoD.

The final third of this trilogy of decent excitement was a slickly-directed Forza 4 trailer using Kanye West’s tune, “Power”. Apparently Turn 10 had forgotten that Saint’s Row 3’s recent trailer also used the very same song in a similarly slick way. It’s Forza. But with more stuff. As good a recipe as expected.

Then, ultra-ambitious hype-machine Peter Molyneux appeared briefly to announce his wonderful next Fable game, combining the two elements all gamers hold dearest: On-rails shooting and gesture-based combat. Oh, wait. After a rather unexciting demo, I was left with little of that classic Molyneux hype. Is Fable: the Journey, as it’s called, what became of Milo & Kate?

The strangest segment of the conference was the following announcement, about which I’m unsure what to feel: Minecraft, coming to Xbox! Being a fan of Mojang’s indie megahit, I still see no point in Minecraft being released on consoles. In my opinion, the entire idea of Minecraft is based around total freedom regarding what you want to do with the game. Community-texture packs, modding, and other PC-exclusive shenanigans are what define Minecraft. Relocating it to Microsoft’s strictly-monitored console seems pointless to me.

From there on, the conference proceeded to present a stream of other Kinect titles barely worth mentioning. Suffice to say, last year’s two decent Kinect titles are getting sequels, Double Fine’s Sesame Street looks cute, and that Star Wars Kinect demo showed last year is actually a game.

Finally, Microsoft closed off the conference with Halo 4, unexpectedly numbered, expectedly announced. The has-to-be-CG teaser trailer showed Master Chief being awoken from the coma he was left in at Halo 3′s end by AI lady Cortana, whom he promptly slots into his helmet. Dodging bits of exploding spaceship, he jetpacks out of the frigate and into space, where he faces a massive, glowing, alien construction with some sort of portal in the center.

Did Halo really need any more sequels? Not really. Am I excited about Halo 4? Naturally. Was this a good press conference?

Hardly. A misplaced focus on things the majority of the E3-attending crowd has little interest in – though it was probably inevitable that the focus would be placed on Kinect given the peripheral’s good sales last Christmas – as well as total lack of any truly unexpected announcements has left me somewhat bitter about the Xbox’s near future. Sure, many of the games shown off will likely be great, but the conference was lacking the surprise and bombast you want from E3. Here’s hoping the upcoming conferences deliver.

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Author: Magnus Risebro View all posts by
Magnus Risebro lives deep in the bowels of Norway. He writes about videogames for Vagary.tv.