We didn't expect a great deal from Microsoft's press conference, there wasn't much riding on it, and it gave us exactly what we thought it would in Halo 4, Forza Horizon, some Kinect filler, huge amounts of media name-dropping, and one or two interesting curios for XBLA.
Halo 4 was a splendid carnival of retina-melting space marine machoism, with plenty for fans to get excited about, intriguing new enemies, lots of hints towards narrative drama with Cortana at the forefront. Elsewhere, Forza Horizon just served to remind me how much I love the outlying areas in Burnout Paradise, and Gears was passed over so quickly that I almost blinked and missed it.
Truth be told, Microsoft weren't here to show off games, this presentation was all about media. After the usual swathe of media name-dropping, most of which meant nothing to anyone outside of the States, SmartGlass was unveiled. Annoyingly this seemingly fantastic, software-based tech was demonstrated primarily in conjunction with TV shows, when what we really wanted was to see how it might blow the fucking doors off of our gaming experiences with simultaneously connected devices enhancing gameplay. Typically, though, Microsoft plodded on in relatively apathetic fashion.
As was the case with all three platform holder pressers this year, it fell to third parties to save the day. Crystal Dynamics' Tomb Raider is almost certainly going to be one of my games of the show, and I could not be more excited for THQ and Obsidian's South Park : The Stick of Truth. Trey Parker and Matt Stone saved that press conference.
Master Chief is back, and he’s looking slicker than ever. Halo 4 certainly looked impressive as it made its in-game debut on stage. The Forerunners getting all up in the Chief’s grill will make for a change of pace, and the series has by no means lost its sense of the word ‘Epic’ in terms of presentation. Then we had EA Sport give us more reasons to yell at our TVs using Kinect. Am I the only one that’s a little weirded out that it will recognise when you’re swearing and reflect it in-game?
Fable: The Journey once again failed to show anything of worth to me, and Forza Horizon, while looking incredibly beautiful, needed to show more gameplay and less wub-wub in its trailer. Gears Of War: Judgment could have done with some in-game footage as well, but I forgive them simply because we get more Cole Train and Baird.
While the expansion of media options and inclusion of Bing search is a nice touch, I think the application of Smartglass could be rather interesting moving forward. I will say this though; about damn time with bringing Internet Explorer to the Xbox, even if it is very late in the game (and not as groundbreaking as they were making it out to be.)
Ascend: New Gods, Lococycle, and Matter were the trio of new titles announced, but showed nothing to get me excited due to the short manner of their appearance, and came off looking like an afterthought. Elsewhere, it was just reminders that Triple-A titles were going to be on the system. At least Microsoft had South Park to show, with Trey Parker & Matt Stone providing the funniest part of the show (at the expense of MS’s marketing jargon.) Overall, a relatively safe showing by Microsoft, but the problem is I don’t want safe. I want exciting.
“Goofy” is unfortunately the word that most represents Microsoft's showing this year. Goofy Kinect integration for the otherwise excellent-looking Splinter Cell Blacklist. Goofy demonstration of a Kinect-controlled Madden title replete with 'probably shouts at his kids for playing video games' ex-athlete and awkward scripted 'banter'. A needlessly dramatic introduction to the intentionally goofy world of Albion powered by, erm, Kinect. You get the idea.
We fully expected to be bombarded by Kinect at this year's E3, but Microsoft have truly outdone themselves, and I mean that in the worst possible way. There's simply no excuse to almost entirely overlook the 'hardcore gamer' demographic that have so far supported them so fervently.
There were a couple of diamonds in the rough, with Halo 4 providing an explosive forerunner to some of the presentation's later (and arguably lesser) reveals. 343 Industries truly look to be reinvigorating the franchise, albeit taking a few cues from their first-person competitors along the way. Speaking of setpieces, Tomb Raider is looking more and more impressive with every viewing, though it was difficult to tell exactly how much of the action was interactive as opposed to passive. Resident Evil 6 went about fulfilling its promise of a more 'action-oriented' experience, with Leon showing off his newfound agility by ducking, weaving and rolling through yet another batch of setpieces. Usher also made an appearance, but he was awful.
Overall, a predictable and underwhelming conference, and one that's going to struggle to live on in the memories of even the most ardent of Microsoft's followers.
I was quietly thinking that we might get some new hardware at Microsoft’s E3, failing that lots of new games. But no, just more Kinect bullshit. Apparently, adding voice commands to search by genre is a big enough deal to warrant a slot on Microsoft’s most important stage show of the year. And let’s not forget the epic announcement of a web browser five years too late. Gears showed up with a very forgettable teaser trailer.
Some games did catch my eye though. The new Splinter Cell was initially very amused seeing Sam trying to stealth his way around Iraq in broad daylight and imagining the rage of hardcore Splinter Cell fans. It looks nothing like the old games, which for me, is a good thing. The killing in motion sequences look slick, but I have a feeling they’re going to be quite automated in a similar style to Assassin’s Creed’s countering system.
Tomb Raider is looking all sorts of amazing, probably the best game of the show so far thanks to a large number of set-pieces and brutal fights. It’s a little strange to see how quickly Lara has gone from fragile newbie to seasoned killer though. How long has she been on this island? It’s up there with Bioshock: Infinite as one of 2013’s most wanted.