E3 2011 Review – Microsoft
It’s that time of year again where gamers across the world get all excited about the latest video game releases at this years E3 showcase, kicking off with Microsoft as has become the norm. Most of what was shown by the company was already known about through various snippets of information and leaked footage online and in magazines, but nevertheless there was still plenty for the various Microsoft representatives to talk about.
The show started with an extended look at a single-player campaign level from the latest game in the Call of Duty franchise, Modern Warfare 3. It looked typically exciting with lots of explosions and gunfights, but from that footage alone it seemed like more of what fans of the series have seen before. Of course it’s impossible to judge based on that alone, but early signs indicate there might not be as much new content to this game as people might expect.
A reboot (basically completely restarting from scratch) of Tomb Raider was up next, showcasing Lara Croft’s daring escape from captivity in a large cave. The gameplay starts with our heroine suspended and cocooned upside-down, and the player then swung her body to set fire to the rope suspending her and thus setting her free. We were then treated to several quick time events (QTE’s) as Lara attempted to make her way through her captors lair, twice being nearly captured. The game looks visually excellent but I’m hoping it’s not too reliant on QTE’s, it’s definitely something to keep an eye out for though.
From here on out despite being mere minutes into the conference the focus switched almost entirely to either Kinect titles or Kinect-supported games for the Xbox 360, starting with Peter Moore from EA Games announcing four sports titles with Kinect functionality – Tiger Woods PGA Tour, Madden NFL, FIFA and a currently unannounced final title, my money’s on their next NBA Basketball game.
Dr. Ray Muzyka then came on stage to talk about Mass Effect 3, and demonstrated the Kinect abilities that game will also feature. Basically you can expect voice support in both dialogue and battles, which seemed to be well received by the audience in attendance but personally I’d feel a bit silly screaming “LIARA! TAKE COVER!” during the heat of battle. Still, that is an optional feature but still one I doubt I’ll be using. The game is released on March 6th next year.
A trailer for Ghost Recon: Future Soldier was the next game to be introduced by Yves Guillermot, a game that was shown in detail at last years’ E3. This year Mr Guillermot mainly wanted to discuss the new Kinect features the game will incorporate, which includes voice commands, arm gestures (like reaching over your shoulder to arm yourself) and a rather cool looking gun customisation feature. It’s obviously very gimmicky but I think this could be the game that shows how Kinect functionality should work in first-person shooters. Guillermot also announced that all future Tom Clancy games will feature some kind of Kinect support as well.
The next set of announcements centred around new features for the casual entertainment aspect of the Xbox 360 and Kinect, which includes:
- A new dashboard
- YouTube integration
- Live TV channels
- Live UFC streaming, with a betting scoring system against your friends
- A virtual Disneyland experience with various themed games
The Disneyland game was certainly memorable for all the wrong reasons, mainly due to the kids playing it under strict instructions to act as cute and over-the-rop as possible. They ended with the boy shouting “FIST-BUUUUUMP!” which has most likely already become in internet meme.
Fortunately a sense of normality was restored after the fist bump incident, featuring a co-op gameplay demo of Gears of War 3 by Cliff Bleszinski and Ice-T, followed by trailers for a first-person fighting Kinect game entitled Ryse (formerly Codename: Kingdoms), the rumoured Halo remake being confirmed with enhanced graphics and online multiplayer, Forza 4 with Kinect ‘head tracking’ and voice commands, Mincecraft (with Kinect support of course) and the previously shown Star Wars game with plenty of arm waving.
Peter Molyneux also announced Fable 4, which this time will be played from a first-person perspective for the benefit of Kinect users. It’s ‘on rails’ (much like the Star Wars game) which means the game will automatically take you to where enemies are situated and once you’ve disposed of them you’ll move on to the next bunch. Wisely Molyneux didn’t ramble on about cutting edge features, revolutionary gameplay or the fact that he does indeed have the ability to excrete solid gold blocks, much like almost every title his company Lionhead studios has made since its birth 10 years ago Fable 4 will probably not live up to whatever hype Molyneux decides to give it. I think he’s finally realised it’s not a good idea to do that though.
Tim Schafer was next out on stage to play his latest family game entitled Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster. Once again an over-the-top child came on stage to play it with him, but as you can imagine the game itself didn’t particularly interest anyone. It’ll obviously be great if you want to play a video game with a very young child, but for those of us who either don’t have kids, do over the age of about 5 or like to bring up their offspring the old fashioned way with reading books, toy cars or indeed taking them to play outdoors Sesame Street definitely won’t be for you.
Kinect Fun Labs was the next Kinect feature by Kudo Tsunoda in his trademark enormous sunglasses, which will see various tech demos of features the Xbox community and games developers have made to share with other people. Currently you can make your own realistic looking avatar, although it’s currently unusable as a replacement for what you already use. I can see why as that makes the majority of the avatar shop completely pointless, but in turn that makes the feature itself completely useless other than for the initial five minutes you’ll spend trying it out. It does work quite well though, my face looked a little weird due to light coming in through a window on my right side, but the fact that it picked up my Fozzy band t-shirt almost flawlessly was impressive. I’d love to be able to use that as my proper avatar but that probably won’t be likely unless Microsoft charge something like 240 points for the privilege. The finger tracking demo looked cool although as I type this it’s currently not available for us to try for ourselves, and finally there’s an object scanning feature that I haven’t had an opportunity to try yet. Results from the Internet community seem to be mixed, with some people having trouble scanning in even the most simple of objects.
Following that were demonstrations of Kinect Sports Season 2 and Dance Central 2, which as expected made good use of exactly what Kinect is supposed to be used for. Kinect Sports obviously features new sports games to play and Dance Central 2 sees two players dancing together at the same time rather than one after the other as you can only do on the original Dance Central game.
Halo 4 was the last game to be announced at Microsoft’s conference, apparently the “dawn of a new trilogy on Xbox 360” due out late next year. More information along with gameplay footage will probably be shown at next years E3, but for now it’s something for the fans of the Halo series to look forward to.
On the whole I thought Microsoft dedicated far too much time to Kinect, despite selling millions of units worldwide it’s not something the general E3 viewership either own or have any interest in owning. The fact that Microsoft are gradually steering the 360 in the direction of casual family entertainment is worrying, seeing as Nintendo already cater to the casual gamer and Sony already have entertainment functions in the form of a Blu-Ray player on their Playstation 3. As a result I was left less than impressed by Microsoft’s showing, as someone who personally isn’t really a fan of Halo, Call of Duty, Gears of War or shooters in general I was left disappointed by the end of it.