Few expected Microsoft to unveil much of anything regarding its upcoming next-generation console, reportedly codenamed "Durango." But even those that were skeptical had perhaps hoped that at least a small tease of the things to come might be in the cards. After all, with no hardware to talk about and only a few big exclusives on the horizon, what the hell else were they going to talk about for 90 minutes?
Tragically, those fears mostly came true during a primarily uneventful showing that offered a few glimpses of some very promising games, but also leaned extremely heavily on extraneous media apps and web browsing functionality that didn't exactly scream "let's talk about this stuff on a giant stage in front of a live TV audience!"
The show did at least start off promisingly enough, with a lengthy Halo 4 demonstration that offered some solid glances at in-game action, and a lush jungle setting that showed off some of the game's visual prowess. That was followed by the debut of Splinter Cell: Blacklist, the long-awaited next Sam Fisher adventure from Ubisoft's Tom Clancy machine. The demo showed Fisher in a terrorist encampment on the Iran/Iraq border, infiltrating a group and effectively laying waste to everyone using a new version of the mark-and-shoot functionality, complete with requisite slo-mo. The game will also feature Kinect support, as is custom nowadays, allowing Sam to distract bad guys with vocalizations and even call in airstrikes. Unfortunately, Michael Ironside does not appear to be returning to voice Fisher this time around.
This demo was followed up by an EA Sports presentation, featuring FIFA and Madden 13 and their all-new voice commands. Madden features the expected play-calling, audible-at-the-line functionality (as demonstrated by a depressingly hunched Joe Montana), while FIFA features the ability to call substitutions using Kinect, as well as some kind of swearing sensor that actually drew a yellow card when the player cursed. That seems like it'd be pretty useful for XBL chat, especially in Gears of War multiplayer.
Much of Microsoft's conference was regrettably dedicated to media apps and functionality that, quite frankly, didn't offer much excitement. The announcements of NHL and NBA live streaming via their respective sports packages, as well as the addition of several new networks (including Nickelodeon and Machinima) are fine gets, but the amount of time dedicated to these things, as well as elements like improved Bing search and the perhaps inauspicious debut of Internet Explorer on the console seemed out of whack.
The same could be said for the company's new fitness initiative. Long-rumored and now confirmed, the company introduced Nike+ Kinect Training. The package seemed to offer all the sorts of bells and whistles you'd expect of a piece of fitness software, but it didn't exactly make for a compelling demo on stage. I mean, let's be real about this: there's probably no good way to demonstrate fitness software. So dedicating several minutes to it maybe doesn't play so well.
The one big tech announcement Microsoft did have at least turned out to be an intriguing one. SmartGlass is a tablet-and-phone-based app that allows your Xbox 360 and smart device to sync up to one another. The example shown involved someone watching a movie on their tablet, then immediately syncing that movie up to the Xbox upon returning home. In-game functionality was also teased, though little concrete information was actually shown. Presumably, it may offer similar concepts to what's been shown via the Wii U's GamePad, as well as the app functionality used in Mass Effect 3. Microsoft says that SmartGlass will be available for multiple devices, including iOS-based ones.
Among the highlight games shown, South Park: The Stick of Truth debuted a new trailer, which was followed-up by series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone offering up the only unscripted speaking portion of the morning. Their levity was a welcome break from the usual rounds of corporate speak, though no live demo of the game was shown. However, the pair did offer up a release date for The Stick of Truth. It'll be headed to stores on March 5, 2013.
Dance Central 3 was also finally unveiled, thanks to a lengthy performance by featured artist Usher, who did not actually play the game, but did actually sing while back-up dancers performed moves more or less similar to what will be played in game. Sadly, Don Mattrick did not join them on stage.
Several smaller games also received some attention. Xbox Summer of Arcade title Wreckateer got a full-blown stage demo, while Twisted Pixel's new jam LocoCycle, the new game from Toy Soldiers dev Signal Studios (Ascend: New Gods), and Gore Verbinski's game project Matter were all shown via short trailers.
That was about it for surprises, however. Lengthy on-stage demos of Tomb Raider, Resident Evil 6 and Call of Duty: Black Ops II offered more or less what you would expect from these games, which are mostly known quantities at this point. Additionally, a few brief trailers for Gears of War: Judgment, Fable: The Journey and Forza Horizon were shown. Each of those demos looked suitably strong, but weren't quite enough to overcome the prevailing sense that Microsoft really just didn't have that much to show this year.
That's not a slam against the company--after all, in a year when they had no new significant hardware to talk about, nor any major initiatives outside of additional media-ization of the console, it's tough to really come off in a huge way unless you have a slew of big games to show. And therein lay the ultimate issue with this year's conference: outside of Halo 4, there wasn't much that really seemed to blow anyone away. A handful of interesting smaller titles, and some big third-party, multiplatform games are always good to have, but in the absence of some other noteworthy surprises, the overall offering felt a bit paltry.
- The absence of the shrill, piercing laughter of children at this year's event was, at the very least, a welcome surprise. Only adults were allowed to humiliate themselves during Kinect demos this year.
- Whoever applauded during the announcement of Internet Explorer does not deserve to be sitting in the audience of an E3 press conference. I don't care if you work for Microsoft. If they're not holding a gun to your head, there's no excuse.
- Don Mattrick's hair continues to be amazing. It looks self-aware.
- For as little as was shown of LocoCycle, I am disproportionately excited for it. Crossing my fingers that it turns out to essentially be Heat Vision and Jack: The Game.
- No Phil Harrison on stage, which is surprising, given that he's actually kind of good at delivering these robotic stage demos. None of the guys on stage this year had much to offer, so maybe next year.
- Anyone else notice that the conference just kind of abruptly ended? Like out of nowhere? I mean, I know that Black Ops II demo was dragging, but that seemed pretty harsh.
Look for more recaps later as we hit EA, Ubisoft, and Sony today. Nintendo tomorrow. And by all means, feel free to comment to your heart's content about everything you believe I am wrong about here. I enjoy it, really.