E3, this year, is shrouded in delicious mystery. There’s a questionable uncertainty about what may or may not be revealed and there’s an edge-of-your-tonsils air of wonder about the potential of the next generation. And that’s really how it should be. Last year, anything that could have been considered a speciality wasn’t so much leaked as it was spurted in everybody’s eyes days before the janitor even bothered sweeping the E3 venue floor in pre-event anticipation. What’s more, there are very few ways that the keynotes in general, certainly in regards to the BIG THREE, could be any worse than they were last year, so that’s a positive too. Sort of.
On Monday, the first day of the Expo, reality as we know it subsided slightly, and Don Mattrick, Xbox head honcho, otherwise known as the bloke with long, floaty arms who appears at E3 every year in a suit that doesn’t quite fit, took to the stage to enlighten us, with the Microsoft 2012 E3 Keynote.
And enlighten us he did! Well. Ish. Kicking off with a dead long trailer for 343’s HALO 4, we were treated to a live action opening which ran with the familiar polish you’ve come to expect from these Halo mini-movies, and left the palpable, lingering question of why they haven’t been shovelled an unthinkable amount of money to make the inevitable cinema debut, which will likely be unforgivingly appalling. Shortly after we’re finally treated to some gameplay, which is nice.
To say it looks run of the mill would be harsher than Megan Fox’s dietician, and just as anti-humanistic, though certainly it’s not exactly Earth-moving. With crazy Grevious-esque robot enemies and a disintegrating new weapon, we can’t imagine Halo 4 to be anything but excellent, though we’re still looking for the hook that’s going to bring the crown back, post-Bungie era. We hope that hook is Sgt Johnson.
Next up, Sam Fisher makes a vocally concerning return in Splinter Cell: Blacklist. A direct sequel to the hair-tearingly excellent Conviction, Sam’s back in the sneak suit, albeit not being immensely sneaky in this demo. We watch Sam acrobatically glide through a middle-eastern bad-guy camp amidst a hail of bullets, like Louis Spence but in a parallel universe, a more merciful one… marking up and executing enemies on the move this time. The big news here is that, because Ubisoft are doing the mo-cap and the voice sessions at the same time now, resulting in a more thorough and believable cinematic experience, a la Uncharted; Michael Ironside isn’t voicing our hero anymore. He’s ‘not the right build’ apparently. Which is a crying shame because Michael Ironside is undoubtedly a king amongst men. Eric Johnson is taking the reins this time, and we’re OK with that. Well sort of.
Following the announcement of Kinect voice-integration, so you can call out at your enemies to lure them to your position, if intermittently pleading with the TV is your ideal way to play, EA take the stage to bore another few minutes off our lives. FIFA 13 AND Madden 13 will both include Kinect voice functionality as well! Presumably EA deducted that people hurl obscenities at the telly whenever they play FIFA anyway, so they might as well make it do something.
After Gears of War: Judgement, the next game in the Gears franchise that, by some baffling oversight, stars Baird, and the official trailer for Forza Horizon that proceeds to dubstep everybody to death, whilst simultaneously looking utterly excellent but revealing relatively little, it’s time for MS to step up and somehow forget about games entirely.
The big reveal for Microsoft’s next step with the 360 is Smartglass. Incidentally not a window that makes unnecessarily insulting comments , Smartglass is essentially a framework that allows phones and tablets to interact with the Xbox. Initially it seems to include ways to navigate the dashboard and share media between devices. We’re told about pausing a film being watched on the train via a tablet, sending it to the Xbox and resuming play from where it was left off. Not only that but the tablet then instinctively displays information relating to the movie, synopsis, actors, reviews etc. Fancy eh? Well yes, but we’re not exactly leaping from our seats and claiming the future has arrived from the precarious position of atop a lampshade. Smartglass certainly goes a little deeper though, with the idea clearly being to integrate this multi-device set-up into the games themselves, adding things like Halo Waypoint and Madden touch tactics to the phone or tablet capacity.
Sound underwhelming? Well it is. Though the announcement that iOS devices will be compatible with Smartglass is an impressive and bold move from Microsoft, not limiting the service to Windows phones and tablets, as we certainly suspected would be the case.
Not only that, but after many years of desperate yearning, the world’s worst browser is finally coming to the 360! Internet Explorer will be Kinect-compatible, voice enabled, and, through Smartglass, you’ll be able to use your phone or tablet to navigate the browser. Clever eh.
Essentially, Microsoft is now gearing the Xbox to compete with companies on much different, larger scales, perhaps pre-empting the forth coming iTV and the experiences Apple, Samsung and Google are creating in the living room. Or attempting to create. Does this mean Microsoft believe they simply see Sony as a defeated opponent, reaffirming their sights on becoming the all-encompassing living room machine? We think that’s unlikely, really. Is this more an introduction and perhaps stress test of the framework that will be the basis of the inevitable next generation? Almost definitely.
A slew of those old fashioned GAMES follows this huge chunk of media-related garble, so much so that by the time they actually show us the new Tomb Raider I’d pretty much forgotten what a game was. And where I was. And who you are. Surprisingly though, Lara’s looking pretty decent, which is an achievement since Tomb Raider games haven’t been good for a decade, and even then her inability to just do as she was told made playing her games less fun than sanding down your own teeth with an angle grinder.
After Resident Evil 6 appears to reveal barely anything new, other than a pretty cool scene in which Leon not only ruffles his flowing golden locks, but also torches a load of zombies making their way up a narrow staircase. There’s nothing here we haven’t seen though, and I’m still approaching RE6 with the type of suspicious caution you typically reserve for tasting food you’re certain you’re going to hate.
Kinect game Wreckateer is pussing at the sides with bubbling potential. A Kinect game where you SMASH things up? Brilliant. A Kinect game that is impossibly similar to Angry Birds but with somehow less depth and less satisfying sound effects. Not so brilliant. Oh well.
Next up, none other than Trey Parker and Matt Stone take the stage to announce South Park: The Stick of Truth. The charisma comparative to anybody else who has touched the stage so far is overwhelming, opening with a joke on Microsoft’s unrelenting media announcements, and continuing to be excellent, the duo steal the show and roll a video that entails no gameplay, and is generally just confusing. Regardless, South Park: The Stick of Truth looks flipping great.
Usher dances, presumably to the delight of nobody with eyes, and Microsoft’s big E3 finish? Are ready for it? Here it comes everyone… Black Ops II.
It’s a funny old time for the big three at moment, on the cusp of the next generation no doubt, and as such we’ve only really seen early implementations of ideas that’ll go in to these new machines. And very, very little in the way of games. By all accounts an underwhelming start to E3 2012 Microsoft. So THANKS.