E3 2011Features

Recap: Microsoft E3 2011 press conference

Somehow, I got the feeling that Microsoft’s E3 press conference might be the toughest to recap. I wonder if it was the lack of leads pointing to anything special, the fact that no one else from our crack team of writers wanted to bother with it, or the number of the “HAHAHA have fun recapping that lol!” comments I’ve been getting. At the end of it, I figured (with some help from Sam) that it is because, unlike last year, they didn’t separate their Kinect from their core game showings. And why would they? The sheer amount of content put behind Kinect is insane. It outnumbers their core titles like the Covenant do Master Chief, so much so that they could rename the Xbox 360 to Kinect and no one would blink an eye.

Amidst the precession of sequels, which included Dance Central 2 and Kinect Sports Season 2, there were some titles with promise. Tim Schafer’s take on Sesame Street with Once Upon a Monster looked drop dead gorgeous, and so did Crytek’s Ryse, which could possibly be the title that gets the hardcore hooked onto Kinect with its epic Roman setting and brutal, visceral combat. Before you wonder why I didn’t mention Kinect Star Wars, it’s because the demo had super slow AI reactions, and even slower response times to the point where you could tell that the guinea pig errr…kid on stage was performing moves that were totally different from what was happening on screen. Can you say lag?

Further adding to the list of big name properties making it to Microsoft’s quasi next-gen console-slash-add-on is Kinect Disneyland Adventures. Graphically, it looks great, but at the end of it all, it just seems like a re-skinned version of Kinect Adventures. Major advantage: it suddenly becomes a lot cheaper for parents to take their kids to Disneyland without the hassles of ticketing and visas. Mad props go out to Fun Labs for keeping one of the early Kinect promises – this collection of mini-games allows you to scan yourself, allowing for an accurate avatar, beer belly et al, rather than having to hide behind something pre-made by the folks at Rare. You can also scan real world items (yes, even your PS3) and have them present in-game.

Though Fable: The Journey‘s spell casting (in first person no less) looked cool and seemed like it could work, as did weapon customisation in Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, this isn’t anything that dramatically enhances your need for Kinect. Yes, even Forza 4‘s headtracking (outed a few days earlier by Major Nelson), is rather non-essential. These feel more like complementary options rather than compelling Kinect titles. While shoehorning Kinect functionality into a core title like Mass Effect 3 might be more than just a bullet-point on the back of the box and a shiny purple stripe in front of it, it does feel like that for us Indian users simply because Kinect voice commands are locked for us. So unless you have a US account, you won’t be able to tell Liara to cast singularity or get down and dirty with you.

Speaking of US accounts, there’s a lot more that will be locked out for us in addition to (hypothetically) voicing alien sex commands. The new partnership with UFC, through which live fights will be streamed along the ability to place bets with your friends, won’t be available to Indian users, neither will the spiffy new live TV streaming service thanks to the gigantic mess up that is global content licensing. At least we’ll get Bing and Youtube, both of which will be present in the new dashboard update that should be out later this year. Sometimes you can’t help but think that Microsoft is stuck in a time-warp. Don’t get me wrong; Youtube is a decent addition, but kind of redundant since you can watch it on almost any device. A way for the folks at Google to get a potential revenue stream from Microsoft, maybe?

The slick Modern Warfare 3 demo, the impressive second E3 outing for Gears of War 3, the perplexing announcement of Minecraft for Kinect, the intriguing Tomb Raider demo, and the very well timed “oh, one more thing” announcement that was Halo 4 (the first of a trilogy, no less), may have fooled you into thinking that Microsoft is true to its words; that the Xbox 360 is all about the games. Heck, you may have even shed a tear in the knowledge (post-conference) that you would soon be able to back up your profile and saves to Xbox Live. In reality, however, we’ve known about these games for a while now. Barring Halo 4, there really wasn’t anything new on show.

But the fact of the matter is that Microsoft’s E3 2011 is a marriage of a ton of ideas that let them do what they’ve been trying for the longest time – make their box the only one you need in the living room. They’ve managed to throw in TV streaming and tied up with popular properties such as Star Wars, Sesame Street and Disney to help get the masses into the equation. Along the way, they’re trying to nudge the hardcore by pushing Kinect with offerings such as Mass Effect 3 and Ghost Recon. From a business point of view, it is a very sound, almost bullet-proof strategy, as you’re trying to cover as many consumers as possible. But as gamers, especially those in India, it is a half-empty rather than half-full affair, because there’s evidently a greater focus on the services element at an event that should be all about the games. It’s a summation of all they’ve been trying to do since the days of WebTV, when they were contemplating adding it into the original Xbox.

Factor in the fact that we won’t be receiving any of the TV-based services, that Kinect voice commands are locked out, as well as the lack of fresh, new games, and it makes this a very interesting period of time for Xbox. Could next year be the Xbox 360’s last? It sure looks like it.

As for me, well, I’m still pumped at the prospect of playing Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary with some old friends over Xbox Live, and at the same time wondering how Halo 4 can be the first game in a trilogy.

For more E3 2011 coverage, head over to our IVG at E3 page.

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