The keyword for the Microsoft Press Conference is "dull." Nothing particularly exciting happened, and more often than not, the stuff they were showing felt like a huge waste of time. It's gotta be one of the worst press conferences in years, and it left me feeling almost worried about the industry. I'll break it down chronologically:
The conference started with a bang: Halo 4. I'm not a Halo guy, so I was ready to write it off immediately, but it actually looked pretty good. The graphics were terrific for the 360, and the new enemies looked like a welcome departure from the Covenant. Halo isn't really my thing, and it doesn't look like Halo 4 is going to change that, but I was very impressed with the short demo they gave.
Next up was a demo for Splinter Cell: Blacklist. Hands down, the most impressive thing I saw at the conference. Fundamentally, it looks like more Conviction, but that's not a disparaging remark - Conviction was a kickass game weighed down by some unfortunate flaws. It's too early to say for sure, but it's looking like Blacklist is going to fix some of the problems of the first game, while capitalizing on the stuff that made Conviction great. Ubisoft clearly has a knack for fun and accessible stealth combat, and if the demo is any indication, Blacklist could be their finest work yet. Spring 2013! As for the Kinect voice stuff: sure, why not? It didn't look terribly offensive.
(I'd like to go on a tangent here and bring up the fact that it's insane and baffling that voice commands are only now starting to find their way into mainstream games. Microphones have been a part of PC gaming practically since the beginning of time, and the fact that the Kinect's built in microphone is being treated like some innovative feature is fucking ridiculous. What's worse is that the voice support never finds its way into PC ports. For shame.)
Next up was EA Sports. Footballs, Kinect, quarterbacks, something something...
Oh hey, Fable: The Journey! It looked like a generic, decidedly un-Fable-like experience. The best looking parts of the game are things that aren't actually going to work because Kinect just isn't precise enough. Looked really dull and gimmicky.
After that, Phil Spencer revealed that they were about to show a new Forza game that combines the realism of Forza with the freedom of open world environments. Then they showed a Gears of War trailer. Yeah, it was kind of odd. But anyway, the new Gears looked a bit interesting. I'm pretty sure it was a prequel, because parts of the trailer featured Locust (who, of course, should all be dead). It looks like it follows Baird as the main character, and I get the impression that you'll be fighting humans at some point instead of Locust. Didn't really grab my interest, to be honest. It feels like exactly the kind of post-trilogy cash grab I was expecting.
And then, suddenly, Forza. The new game is called Forza: Horizon, and it looks really really good. The cars look great, it's got a great sense of style, and the new open world format sounds incredibly exciting. Coming October this year.
I think I fell asleep during the next segment. Yusuf Mehdi, Senior Marketing Man, took the stage to talk about Xbox Bing. He started talking about new search features as I dosed out of consciousness. I awoke during the part where he showed off his Spanish, and fell back asleep. After that was a lot of sports and music and other non-game related bullshit.
Suddenly, FITNESS! I don't actually remember the name of the game but it had something to do with Nike. I could tell because John Nike himself took the stage and talked about shoes and Kinect for like 15 minutes. "If you have a body, you're an athlete." Has this guy ever seen an average North American body...?
Next up was Xbox SmartGlass. It basically allows you to interact with your Xbox through a mobile device like a tablet or smartphone. It can give real time information related to the content that you've got running on your TV, theoretically supporting movies, games, and social media. It also enables your mobile device to serve as a controller. Basically, it's the Wii U controller. Nothing sarcastic to say here. It looks like an alright feature. I don't think people should be making a big deal about it, though - I've been able to do most of this stuff with my PC for ages.
But, hold on: stop the fucking presses. Internet Explorer is coming to Xbox later this year! Also here's a quick little Prometheus spoiler.
Fuck you, Microsoft.
Anyway. Next up was Crystal Dynamics with Tomb Raider. It was nice to finally see a video game, but their demo didn't leave me feeling too positive. Last year, they talked up the exploration and survival mechanics in the game, but the demo they showed didn't acknowledge any of that stuff. It was an incredibly scripted, barely playable rollercoaster ride of Lara getting horribly beat up in increasingly ridiculous ways (and the brief gameplay bits were shamelessly pulled from Uncharted). Over the course of about 30 seconds, she fell through a waterfall, crashed into a plane, fell through the glass, parachuted through trees, and fell down a mountain while getting violently tossed around every step of the way. No, I'm not even exaggerating. No part of what they showed was believable in the slightest, and it kind of made the whole thing seem like a creepy girl violence fantasy. The emphasis of the game seems to be horribly violent things happening to Lara and her moaning and breathing heavily through all of it. I thought it was a little uncomfortable during the demo last year, but it's much worse this year. Shame too, because I really wanted to like this game. I guess I'll keep my fingers crossed.
Following that was three trailers shown back to back. First up was Ascend: New Gods, which is some kind of 3rd person action fantasy game made by the Toy Soldiers guys. Looked pretty violent, but I didn't get any indication of what kind of game it even was. Immediately after was a teaser for Lococycle, which is perhaps the greatest game name ever. It's Twisted Pixel's newest game, but I have no clue what it is yet. It's Twisted Pixel though, so you know it's going to be awesome. Finally: Matter. It looked like the cores from Portal floating about the Geth server level from Mass Effect 3. If I had to guess, I'd say it's some kind of abstract puzzle game. Looks neat.
After that: Resident Evil 6. Looks fluid, fun, and very Japanese. RE5 had some of the most stiff and unresponsive controls in the genre, and it's looking like RE6 is trying to go as far in the opposite direction as possible. The stuff that's actually happening is INSANE - it's probably the silliest and most unashamedly Japanese game in the series. And that's exactly what I'm looking for in my Resident Evil. The demo didn't last long, but I came away impressed.
Next up was Alex Ruiz with Wreckateer. Looks competent, but there's not much else to say about it. It's a 3D Angry Birds for Kinect. That's all you need to know.
The next thing was South Park: The Stick of Truth. Trey Parker and Matt Stone (the South Park guys) took the stage and began with a joke making fun of the Xbox's ridiculous over-connectivity thing. I thought the the trailer was kind of hilarious, which was a nice surprise considering I don't normally like South Park. I'll cross my fingers for this one though. It's kind of an odd thing, but I've never played an Obsidian game I've enjoyed. And I've played most of them.
Dance Central 3 was next. They showed a trailer that looked identical to the last two Dance Central's, and then Usher himself was released from his cage and began to "perform" on the stage. Fuck you, John Drake.
Afterwards, Don Mattrick took the stage, and made some godawful "usher" pun. There were audible moans from the audience. Thanks for that, Mattrick.
To conclude, they showed a very lengthy demo of Black Ops 2. It's exactly the fucking game you would expect. It starts with some exposition filled with meaningless military jargon (danger close, alpha one tango!), your vehicle crashes, you crawl out all disoriented, a dude tells you where to go, you follow him, you shoot dudes in a glorified war setting, there's a on-rails vehicle sequence, and then they pull the "huge building falling down towards the character" scene directly from Battlefield 3. It's the same boring shit that we've been playing for years. It's another fucking cash grab by Activision. It really ended the conference on a sour note.