Monday, June 6, 2011

Blog Post: My thoughts on Microsoft's E3 2011 Press Conference

It's that time of year again; E3. For video game fans, pretty much the place to be for new game announcements, surprises, and, of course, a giant celebration of the hobby that we all know and love.

You wouldn't know this from Microsoft's press conference, which was overall pretty much more of the same from last year. This time, they opened the show with Modern Warfare 3 instead of Black Ops, they showed off some 3rd party multiplatform stuff, including a demo for the new Tomb Raider (which isn't coming until Holiday 2012, which is a lonnnnng way off, MS) and the likes of Mass Effect 3 and a new Tom Clancy game, with demos both highlighting these games' new Kinect voice recognition features...not a whole lot to get excited about. Mass Effect 3 will undoubtedly be an amazing game, and is one of my most anticipated of the year, but did anybody seriously think that the Mass Effect series needed voice recognition? Did anybody think at any time while playing Mass Effect 2, "Hey, this game would be so much better if I could voice my dialogue choices instead of selecting them with an analog stick" ?

Therein lies my biggest problem with the Kinect and Microsoft's conference in general. I just don't think the Kinect is particularly necessary. We haven't yet seen a real game that's truly benefited from Kinect controls; it's all been substitutes for controller usage that add nothing to the experience except a novelty and some gimmicks. Games that really benefit from Kinect support are games that can only be played with a Kinect, and I just don't think there are a ton of *actual* games that can be played without a controller.

To give Microsoft credit, the Kinect is great for younger audiences, something they're obviously well aware of, having spent a large portion of the show demoing (though the demos were either fake or incredibly laggy, watch for a seriously delayed golf swing in Kinect Sports 2) Tim Schafer's upcoming Sesame Street game, a Disneyland Theme Park Adventure title, and some other new Kinect features involving importing and tracing objects....all cool stuff, and if I had kids, something I'd consider getting them if they were good,  $150 is still a lot of money to spend on a toy...and that doesn't include the price of the system itself.

For gamers, the Kinect again leaves us out in the cold. Is a rail shooter really the way we want to play a game like Fable? Again, I have to ask the question; did anybody ever think, while playing a Fable game, that a more immersive Fable experience would have been created if we were locked on rails? I doubt it. I also doubt that a Kinect game was what many people had in mind when Crytek's Codename: Kingdoms was revealed last year, now revealing itself to be an M-rated, melee-driven Kinect title.

For the controller, Microsoft showed off more of Gears of War 3, and for Gears of War fans, I'm sure it'll be a great piece of more-of-the-same action. I've never been a huge fan of the series, and the demo didn't do a whole lot to change my mind. The long-rumored Halo: Combat Evolved remake was also showcased, undoubtedly a quality game but a pretty big sign of the sad era we're in; when games only 10 years old are being remade just so a publisher can have a new franchise entry out every year. Halo 4 will be arriving next year, (Winter 2012) as was revealed at the end of the conference with a pretty cool trailer, making the Halo 1 remake seem even more unnecessary. Halo's a fantastic series and Halo 4 will definitely be great, but it's hard to shake off the feeling of "more of the same." Microsoft's newest, most "exciting" features are all on the Kinect. If nothing else, this press conference made clear that those looking for controller gaming on the 360 should accept the fact that we're just about done with that era. Why not buy a PS3 (or upcoming Project Cafe, which we'll see in all its glory tomorrow) to play future 3rd party multiplatform titles? What does the 360 have to offer that its rivals won't?

Outside of Kinect games, none of which (I feel) look like they'll be particularly compelling among gamers over the age of 10, and the likes of Halo, it's clear that the Xbox 360, from a 1st party perspective, is done with. It's cool to see Microsoft jumping eagerly into Kinect, their determination to avoid a SEGA CD-like fate being pretty admirable. I just wish they weren't leaving the rest of us out in the cold. I actually thought the Kinect Adventures showing last year was pretty fun, but this year, none of the Kinect reveals looked even remotely compelling to me. Kinect Sports 2 and Dance Central 2 are blatant attempts to grab another $50 from people for content that should be downloadable, the kids games are just that; kids games, with likely little to offer for anyone outside that age group, and the hardcore Kinect titles shown are more of the same rail shooter-type experiences that we've been playing for years on the Wii.

Meanwhile, for the controller, no surprises.

My rating: C-

Not a trainwreck, just not a whole lot to get excited about.

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