For those people who don’t know (in which case–why are you on a gaming website?), E3 2012 began on Monday, May 4 with four press conferences–Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft, and Sony. I’ll recap the events and share my thoughts on everything that was shown today, starting with Microsoft.
Things started off right at E3 this year with a live demonstration of Halo 4. Halo 4 is the first all-new game in the series to be developed by 343 Industries, so Halo 4 needed to impress people at Microsoft’s press briefing. Impress it did. Halo 4 runs on a reworked version of Halo: Reach‘s engine, but Halo 4 looked graphically superior to its predecessor in every way. It’s not the best-looking game at the show–more on those later–but Halo 4‘s graphics did not disappoint. We saw the return of Covenant enemies–a particular highlight for me was hearing an Elite say “wort wort wort”–before being introduced to the game’s new enemies, the Prometheans. The Prometheans are apparently a sentient race of machines that glow orange. They look fun to fight and should provide a nice new challenge for longtime Halo fans like myself who can kill Covenant in their sleep. A new trailer then showed some more impressive footage of the game, with hints that Cortana may go rampant in this game and actually be an antagonist to the Chief.
After Halo 4, we were treated to a demo of the just-revealed Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist. The demo shown almost reminded me of a third-person Call of Duty, except with the mark-and-execute feature first seen in Splinter Cell: Conviction. It looked good, but seemed to be taking the series even further from its roots than Conviction did. I’m all for updating the series, but Splinter Cell seems to have lost some of its identity in the process. At least Blacklist will see the return of the series’ much-loved “Spies vs. Mercs” competitive multiplayer.
After Splinter Cell came boredom. Yup, the wonderful time when Microsoft stopped focusing on games and started focusing on services and gimmicks was upon us. Kinect support for EA Sports games FIFA 13 and Madden NFL 13 were demonstrated. Shouting obscenities at refs in FIFA is neat, but I don’t care about soccer/football. Microsoft then debuted Xbox SmartGlass, something that will connect Xbox 360s with Windows 8 PCs, phones, and tablets. Considering that I don’t even own a smartphone or tablet, I took no interest in this part of the conference. Many other people in the gaming press seemed impressed, though, and at least I got to see some more footage of Halo 4 that Microsoft snuck in there.
The worst part of the entire conference–and, indeed, any conference from the day–was easily Nike+ Kinect Training, however. I had to sit through about 20 minutes of some person talking about this, and I still don’t really know what it is. A brief video was shown to explain it, but I was falling asleep by that point. Boo! Why was this garbage given more time than Gears of War Judgment?
Microsoft then talked about some upcoming XBLA games. None were given much time. Microsoft also briefly announced Gears of War Judgment, but no gameplay was shown. After the briefing, though, it was revealed on Spike TV that Judgment will feature a new multiplayer mode that combines the Horde and Beast modes from Gears of War 3. The mode will also feature dedicated classes (medic, sniper–stuff like that). It sounds great; it’s too bad we didn’t get to see any of it since we were subjected to Nike Training for so long.
Another game we didn’t get to see much of was Forza Horizon, a new “action” racing game. This game looks like it will compete with EA’s reinvigorated Need for Speed franchise (more on that later), with a shift away from outright realism and towards arcade racing fun. We did get to see a lot of Wreckateer, a new Kinect game that focuses on destroying castles by way of slingshot. It’s a lot like mobile sensation Angry Birds and featured an overly-enthusiastic developer playing the game that annoyed me quite a bit. Dance Central 3 was shown off–kind of–with a dancing performance by Usher. We did get to see a logo for the game behind Usher and about five seconds of actual gameplay, so Dance Central 3 does exist, apparently.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is a new RPG from developer Obsidian Entertainment. A bit of footage was shown (the game looks great), but more impressive was the presence of South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. These two were funny and probably even managed to piss off Microsoft with jokes aimed at Kinect and other alternative input gaming devices.
A lengthy demo of Resident Evil 6 showed beautiful graphics and plenty of action, but wasn’t too scary. It looks good, but does Resident Evil 6 have a chance of impressing when Dead Space 3 is coming soon? I’m not sure; Dead Space has become the better action/horror franchise.
Microsoft then closed its conference with demos of two more highly-anticipated games; Tomb Raider and Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Tomb Raider was very action-focused and not at all like the old games, but those games grew stale quickly anyway. Besides, this new Tomb Raider looks fantastic, with gorgeous graphics, a darker tone, and platforming elements that remind me of Uncharted. Call of Duty: Black Ops II looked really good, as well. The graphics are still a bit outdated, but they do at least seem to have been improved a bit from previous games. What’s more, what was shown in the demo was thrilling, with two highlights being an exciting sniping sequence (the player could have also chosen to rappel to the street below instead) and a fully-controllable jet flying sequence. I’m quite impressed by what I’ve seen and heard of Black Ops II so far, and that’s saying a lot since I haven’t been excited about Call of Duty in years.
Overall, Microsoft’s conference was neither a huge success or an outright failure. Games like Halo 4 and Tomb Raider looked great, but I still feel that Microsoft is leaning too heavily on third party software that can also be found on the PS3 and Wii U. The middle stretch of the briefing was boring too, with the Nike thing being outright unbearable. Microsoft seems to focus on positioning the Xbox 360 as an entertainment device rather than a gaming console, but I don’t see the appeal–I have a PC and cable TV, after all.