The Xbox Press Briefing is the first of the big E3 briefings each year, and in 2012 Microsoft certainly pulled out all the stops to impress. Held at the Galen Center at the USC Parks campus (which is more like a stadium than a theatre), there were some empty seats but not many. With pre-show leaks galore, unexpected announcements were few and far between, but the audience was treated to spectacular live playthroughs for highly-anticipated titles. Kinect featured heavily, we saw Xbox’s answer to the Wii U, and some big names were pulled out to wow the crowd.
Although genuine announcements were a bit thin on the ground, we did get confirmation of Splinter Cell: Blacklist, with an impressive live demo which featured interesting Kinect interactivity. It is now possible to distract enemies directly with your own voice and call in air support vocally.
Perhaps the most impressive announcement was the Xbox Smart Glass, which brings mobile device functionality to the Xbox. This is clearly a move to cut Nintendo’s WiiU off at the pass, as it allows extra content for games and other content to beam down to your phone or tablet while playing or watching. Microsoft made that it should work with all platforms and devices rather than requiring a proprietary peripheral (take that Nintendo). For example, it should be possible to view ship schematics and world details while playing Halo 4, or to view a current map of Westeros during an episode of Game of Thrones. It is also designed to build into new Internet Explorer functionality to make your mobile phone a remote, and every TV a smart TV with a browser that is actually not eye-gougingly frustrating to use. Well, that seems to be the plan anyway… let’s see.
Live playthroughs were a huge highlight, and they showed high production values. They were played live in front of the audience as well as being accompanied by more than adequate volume levels, light shows, and peripheral screens to display tangential content. The show started with, predictably, Halo 4. The audience virtually cheered when Master Chief appeared, and we got a good look at the promised new enemy, who seem to be some sort of teleporty non-organic creatures, who furnish the player with a whole new set of Forerunner-based weapons.
Another very impressive playthrough was Tomb Raider, where we were treated to the gritty new-look Lara Croft in a high-action play through trailer. Here she carried her new-trademark bow and arrow coupled with a shotgun, which introduced a vulnerability to her fighting (especially at a distance). The environment was lush, dynamic, and highly destructible, and environmental kills and melee executions were smooth and seamless. The trailer ended with a breathtaking cinematic set piece of a brutalizing escape from the elements. The new Lara is definitely something to keep an eye on.
One of the more anticipated games of the show is Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, which was showcased with a spectacular playthrough beginning with a cinematic helicopter ride through a conflict-ridden near-future Los Angeles. We also saw some of the new gameplay elements including branching tasks (sniper or front line) and air support from unmanned aircraft, controlled by a Pip-boy-like wrist device.
Resident Evil 6 looks to pursue more of the action motifs and gameplay that we’ve grudgingly come to expect from the series, with city-destroying cinematic set pieces. We were also teased with some intriguing but shadowy exclusive announcements, including Ascend: New Gods (looking like a synthesis of God of War and Shadow of the Colossus), as well as Loco Cycle and Matter, which were quite short on detail but looked interesting. The trailer for Gears of War: Judgment was much shorter than we had hoped, but a full version has now popped up online.
Unsurprisingly, Kinect featured heavily in the presentation. Aside from the Splinter Cell features, a short trailer for Fable: The Journey was shown and voice commands for both Madden 13 and FIFA 13 were shown. New voice commands for the Bing search engine on Xbox will make it (apparently) easier than ever to search for music and film content. A major presentation focussed around a new partnership between EA Sports and Nike Digital (Nike+), bringing together Nike’s sophisticated sports measurement expertise and the “power of Kinect”. Apparently if you have a body you are an athlete, which should please everyone.
In addition to all of the above, Xbox pulled out some big names to help draw attention to some of their major projects. Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana was brought in to demonstrate Madden 13 with Kinect, and Usher performed a song that he has choreographed for Dance Central 3. The crowd favourite though was, hands-down, Matt Stone and Trey Parker as they talked through their passion for South Park: Stick of Truth. These four guests rounded off the hype train quite nicely, and formed a strong foundation for E3 2012.