Sports! Microsoft's E3 Press Conference

Microsoft’s press events tend to flip between two different audiences: The ‘core’ gamer and the morning-show crowd. For every Gears of War or Halo gameplay demo there’s a TV partnership or an all-audienes Kinect game. This year was no different; if anything, the two seemed to be heavily separated.

The event began, as you’d expect, with Halo 4. From the gameplay demo, 343 Studios seem to be diverging a little bit from the Bungie games. It looks like control will occasionally be taken away from you, for instance if an enemy tackles you out of nowhere or when you’re checking out your new alien gun. Halo 4 will be released on November 6.

This was followed up with a genuine surprise, in the form of Splinter Cell: Blacklist. This sequel will see Sam Fisher snapping necks in a desert warzone. You could tell Ubisoft have a decent intranet, as there were touches small touches from other Ubi properties, from the wall-climbing of Assassin’s Creed to small UI touches from the recently released Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. The game will also feature Kinect functionality, allowing you to distract enemies or call for airstrikes with your voice. It’s set to be released Autumn 2013.

Speaking of Kinect, EA then went on to the stage to talk about Madden 13 and FIFA 13, now Better With Kinect™. To be honest, the only point of interest here is FIFA’s implementation of voice commands, potentially carding your player if you shout and swear at your Kinect.

Speaking (still) of Kinect, you can now use Bing to search by genre! …Yeah!

If you like sports, then Xbox’s partnerships with NBA, NHL and ESPN will be of your interest; if not, then how about Nickelodeon and the Spanish-language network Univision? It remains to be seen when and if these’ll reach Australia.

Keeping on the sports train, Microsoft also announced they were partnering up with Nike to release Nike+ Kinect Training. The game will produce four-week training programs and will link up with your phone, pushing workout reminders to your phone.

After you’re all sported out, you can sit down with the new Xbox SmartGlass, an app for your tablet or phone (including iOS and Android devices) that will let you explore and experience your Xbox from a second screen. They demonstrated off some of the potential uses, from following a map of Westeros during Game of Thrones to setting up plays in Madden 13 or checking out your stats in Halo 4.  If you have a mental image of the Wii U GamePad, you’re not the only one. However, SmartScreen does look like it has the potential to do some interesting things, especially if more games incorporate its features.

Not so interesting is Internet Explorer for Xbox. Both it and SmartScreen will be released worldwide in Spring.

Back to video games, Square Enix showed off a solid block of Tomb Raider gameplay. There was an emphasis on stealth and covertly taking enemies out with your bow and arrow. There was also a distinct lack of luck on Lara Croft’s side, as she went from one bad situation to another to another to another. It’s paradoxically looking good and looking like the feel-bad game of the year. It’ll be released on March 5 2013 with exclusive DLC for the Xbox 360 version.

Microsoft then announced a trio of games they’ll be publishing with its partners:

  • Ascend: New Gods is being developed by Signal Games, makers of Toy Soldiers, and will feature asynchronous multiplayer across the Xbox and mobile platforms.
  • LocoCycle is the first game to be released by Twisted Pixel since Microsoft acquired the company last year. Very little of this game has been revealed, but if it’s anything like their past games, I want in.
  • Microsoft also announced that they were partnering up with Pirates of the Carribean director Gore Verbinski to develop Matter. Here’s hoping that ends up like the surprisingly decent EA-Steven Spielberg project Boom Blox.

Capcom then took the stage to show off some Resident Evil 6 footage. They appear to have gone even further from the series’ survival-horror roots, as they showed off Leon Kennedy moving and shooting with agility, decapitating zombies with a roundhouse kick (!) and running away from explosions. Lots of explosions! Resident Evil 6 comes out October, with the Xbox version to get timed exclusives on DLC.

And then there was Wrecketeer, one of the games in this year’s Summer of Arcade alongside Hybrid, Deadlight, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD and Dust: An Elysian Tail. Think Angry Birds on the Kinect. Really think Angry Birds on the Kinect. That aside, it’s actually looking like a competent Kinect game, a category that is depressingly sparse at the moment.

Probably my highlight of the show was South Park: The Stick of Truth. The trailer promises a game which very much looks and feels like an episode of South Park; I sincerely hope that this is the case. Unfortunately no gameplay was shown, but at least we got Trey Parker and Matt Stone on stage and going off autocue. I am very much looking forward to March 5 2013, the expected release date.

Everything went sideways from there with Usher performing his new single and plugging Dance Central 3 in the process. …Yeah. I am looking forward to playing more Dance Central, though.

Finally, there was an extended demo of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. Apart from future weapons and a section where you control a jet fighter, it’s looking very much like a Call of Duty game – take that as you will.

All up, there were a couple of interesting games to come out of Microsoft’s press event. South Park: The Stick of Truth and Tomb Raider look promising. AI must say Splinter Cell genuinely surprised me; in the modern age of rolling news cycles and leaks, it’s refreshing to see an announcement come out of nowhere. Outside the realm of games, Microsot’s don’t seem to be aiming at our demographic, particularly all the sports and fitness offerings.

Onwards and forwards, then, to the rest of E3.


PS. It looks like we have an early candidate for The King of E3 2012. Presenting, via Spike’s pre-Microsoft show, Peter Molyneux!