Microsoft Review - Where are the games???
Overall Rating : C+
So the first of quite a few press conferences has come and gone and Microsoft has led the pack. Overall the press conference ran smoothly from a technical standpoint, and had a nice and sleek set and stage for the event. While there were very few surprises (as expected) the overall conference featured a wide and decent range of content for all.
MS began with some Halo 4 footage and gameplay, a nice way to start the show. The visuals looks very good and the gameplay appeared smooth. Don Mattrick then took the stage to welcome everyone and "tease" the conference. It was interesting to note that this is the first year the conference has been streamed live on Xbox Live. After Mattrick left some Splinter Cell Blacklist footage was shown followed by live gameplay. So far so good MS.
After we get through Splinter Cell, Andrew Wilson (head of EA Sports) took the stage to demo some of the Kinect integration teased at last year's E3. FIFA and Madden we're shown, with Joe Montana taking the stage to thunderous applause to demo the new Madden voice commands. Montana seemed a little awkward onstage but still managed to get through the demo with no hiccups and even a few laughs.
Next a trailer for Fable : The Journey is played with no game play footage to follow. After this we head into the usual Microsoft territory, how the Xbox is transforming our living rooms into the totally connected and integrated place to be. After some reveals of new service partners joining the array of Xbox apps (Nickelodeon and Paramount being among them), we learn ESPN is being expanded although the ways and details of precisely how weren't clearly discussed. And finally for this segment, Microsoft unveiled Xbox Music, what basically appears to be their own version of popular streaming music sites such as Pandora and others.
Next, a Nike rep took the stage to discuss how fitness is being expanded through Kinect and announced a new Project called Nike + Kinect Training. Fitness enthusiasts should be thrilled, gamers on the other hand are starting to get bored by this point with the drought of any core gaming announcements.
Probably the addition which will be the most talked about will be the official unveiling of Xbox Smart Glass. Essentially an app (available across multiple platforms and devices) will allow you to connect all your devices together and let multiple devices work for your current selection of entertainment. Examples of such interface comes from someone watching a hit movie on their tablet and then pausing the movie and resuming it directly on your TV connected to your Xbox. In addition, while you are watching an episode of your favorite show, your other devices can provide additional information directly related to the episode you are watching (say a virtual show map with pins representing where key events in the storyline took place).
Some game integration featuring this service was also shown. While the tech is quite impressive, how you will have the time to be looking at your other devices while actually playing a game (and not getting killed) remains to be seen. Also how much of this additional content for Movies / TV / Games, etc will be completely dependant on the developers remains to be seen.
Finally to wrap up the Smart Glass section it was announced that Internet Explorer would be coming to Xbox 360. Full Kinect support available as expected. By this point in the conference it becomes very apparent that Microsoft will not allow anyone onstage unless their product in some way uses Kinect.
After this we finally got back to some games. Crystal Dynamics showed off a new section of the new Tomb Raider game and admittedly it looked very good. Fans of the "vocal" Lara fear not, she was just as grunty in this level as in previous sections. A few new smaller IP's were teased following this but considering the vagueness of the unveils not much is apparent yet about these new titles.
Resident Evil fans then got a treat with some gameplay of RE6. The gameplay looked tight and fans of the series should hopefully still enjoy the game despite the fact that the survival horror element of the genre seems completely abandoned for more over-the-top action packed gameplay. Also a lot of the demo was focused on a context sensitive cutscene where your involvement stems to simply push buttons by onscreen prompts. Haven't developers yet learned that this isn't a successful way to involve the gamer in a cutscene?
Following this Alex from the Xbox Live team (the only female to hit the stage mind you) came to the stage and proceeded to give the most awkward performance of a new Kinect game called Wreckateer, available as part of Microsoft's annual Summer of Arcade series this year.
After this came the highlight of the conference for me, some South Park The Game footage. Now called South Park : The Stick of Truth, the game looks very appropriate for the universe and while actual gameplay footage was at a minimum the game still managed to shine bright with the usual South Park humor we've come to know and love. Trey Parker and Matt Stone took the stage to talk about the game a bit as well as the challenges they have been facing (namely actually mapping the town of South Park after 13 years of it's existance as a TV series). They also managed to slip in a little jab towards MS and its desire to control every device you own, something I found remarkably humorous.
If South Park was the highlight of the show, the lowlight would shine next. A Harmonix trailer for Dance Central 3 is shown with a small interview of Usher featured in the video. To the surprise of all Usher says in the video he will show you his new Dance moves, and then proceeds to come to the stage for a live show. While I'm all for the advent of live entertainment, this was absolute garbage as it was just Usher performing onstage. No gameplay of Dance Central even accompanied this performance. For shame Microsoft, your conference should be about games not trying to win the non-gaming public to your event with unspeakably awful choice of performers and performances.
Don Mattrick thankfully took the stage after this to rap the event down, but of course not without one more "surprise". That surprise, naturally, was in game footage of the new Call of Duty title Black Ops II. Considering the lengths to which Microsoft goes to ensure every E3 presentation of theirs for the last 4 years has had Call of Duty be a part of it, one begins to wonder what Microsoft would do if the franchise ever failed to make an annual appearance? Might they 'gasp' have to actually be creative and come up with some original content???
So there you have it, a rundown of the Microsoft Press Conference. All told, it wasn't as painful as previous years (see Felicia Day messing around with Dashboard crap, Xbox Live Labs, and children onstage playing Kinect). That being said, Microsoft once again has failed to wow the hardcore audience, choosing to ensure you get a boatload of Kinect stuff jammed down your throats instead on inventive new IP's or even 1st party games that can invigorate the platform. Some of the 3rd party entries we're great to see, but Microsoft has once again failed to captivate the demographic of gamers that put them on the map. And as disgusted as that audience is right now, you can absolutely place money on the fact that all will be forgiven when we get a glimpse of the much anticipated next iteration of the Xbox brand, the Xbox 720 (or whatever the console will ultimately be called).