We are having an awesome time here at B3 in Atlanta, 2000 miles away from E3 and getting potentially caught in The Big One should it happen to strike California at any monent. I sure am glad I’m not there, I like being not trapped under rubble, giant Fear 3 banners, and people with terrible hygiene. But I did watch Microsoft’s Press Briefing from the safety of my living room and scribbled out some random thoughts about it. In short- it’s all about Kinect this year. Read more, if you dare. Or if you’re not already sick of hearing about E3.
The 2011 Microsoft Press Briefing kicked off with a playthrough of the entire Modern Warfare 3 single player campaign- all fifteen minutes of it. It looked beautiful. But it also looked like more like a heavily scripted theme park ride directred by Michael Bay than a video game. Ditto for Tomb Raider, despite the promise of “open environments” to be revealed later. It looked amazing and I want to get on board with a Lara Croft origin story, but when the gameplay shown is almost non-interactive other than QTEs, I get suspicious. One of my all-time favorite video game feelings was in the first Tomb Raider when you would walk into a big area filled with ruins and realize that you can explore the whole thing. I don’t know if I like a restrictive, linear Tomb Raider. I guess it all has something to do with the Bermuda Triangle.
These and the other big core titles weren’t exactly surprises. We’ve all played at least some of Gears of War 3 already (but not with Ice-T and Cliffy B.), the Halo HD remake has been in the aether for awhile, and Forza 4 was shown in a preliminary state last year. Forza 4 comes out on my birthday and I do really like cars. I’m just sayin’. No surprises here, but all are typical, solid-looking games that will certainly sell bazillions of copies. I’ll skip on the Halo remake though, I’ll gladly never slog through that incredibly boring campaign again.
It was pretty surprising to hear that Ice-T will be reuniting Body Count for Gears of War 3, sans dead original guitarist Ernie Hudson. I saw them at the very peak of the “Cop Killer” controversy opening for Sepultura and Ministry- filling in for Helmet, who had crashed their bus on the way to the venue. It was awesome. He said “they told me they was gonna arrest me if I do this song, but I’mma do it anyway” and they of course, played “Cop Killer”. He did not get arrested. I think that Charleton Heston’s reading of the lyrics to that song is one of the greatest moments of Western Civilization.
Kinect was definitely the focus of Microsoft’s showing. And truth be told, this was the briefing that Microsoft should have had last year when Kinect made its big debut with a bunch of junky post-Wii “family activity” games. They came out swinging for the hardcore fences by demonstrating almost ALL of their games with Kinect integration. And that’s the key right there- integration rather than games to encourage your aging mother to shake her “bootay”. And who would have thunk it- Minecraft for Kinect?! I bet Mojang can afford a Lamborghini Countach at this point. And that, my friends, is a barometer of wealth.
I was actually quite impressed at some of the Kinect features shown. The voice responses in Mass Effect 3 seem cool and immersive, although I wish I had a nickel for every time some gamer out there tries the command “Liara, take off your top”. I love the idea of possibly verbally arguing scientific ethics with Mordin Solus. I balked when I saw the “Better than Kinect” tagged on ME3, but…you know, it may just be. One thing that was kind of weird was saying the on-screen prompt and then Shepard said something else. They really write the dialogue to match up so that what you say leads into Shepard’s response.
I was also impressed with the functionality shown by Ubisoft’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier despite the weird, cat-like squatting the demonstrator had to do with some very non-intuitive gestures triggering controls. Was it me or was he doing jazz hands to shoot. The gun customization looks absolutely nuts, like a Gran Turismo for firearms- you can customize parts in a fully manipulative exploded view. You can call for an optimized weapon for QCB or long range. The actual gameplay was just a firing range, but if they bring forward the more tactical approach of past Ghost Recon games, it could be pretty darn good. No wonder this game has been pushed back so much- it looks like they may actually be trying to do some new things with it. After the nightmare of Ghost Recon Wii, I had kind of written this series off…but what they showed was interesting. But it also wasn’t campaign gameplay, so there’s that.
Kinect looked much less impressive in the games where it’s the central control input. Crytek’s Ryse didn’t look that impressive to me at all, although I’m sure our very own Bill Abner will be putting on his Caesar costume from Party City and jumping around his living room. Fable: The Journey I couldn’t care less about. Come on Molyneux, couldn’t you have made some more strident claims while you were up there? The world was watching, tell us how we’ll never possibly understand the depth of the gesture-based farting mechanic or something!
Disneyland Adventures, Star Wars, and Double Fine’s Once Upon a Monster (the Sesame Street Game) looked like fun stuff for kids, but I’m still not feeling the “you are the controller” business. But the Sesame Street game looks really, really cute. If my boy was just a little older, I’d get it for him. Kinect Sports Season 2, who cares. The Wii Sports ship sailed out a long, long time ago. The guy playing quarterback and hollering should be ashamed of himself. Dance Central 2? I’ll just go to a club, thanks. One that plays music that I like.
Kinect Funlabs is a great idea, and the demonstrations were shockingly cool in terms of creating content and its scanning technology. It’s one thing when the device recognizes and recreates your face, it’s another when it does your clothes too. Crazy stuff. The cool thing about Funlabs is that it really shows what can be done with it on an experimental level. They pulled a Saturn on it- it’s available right now.
Bing, YouTube, live TV. Snore. I guess I’m old fashioned. If I want to see a video of a cute puppy howling along to “Boyz n the Hood”, I’ll do it on my phone. I don’t watch TV, and I still use Yahoo. It is smart business though, making the console more central to home entertainment. 40% of Xbox Live traffic isn’t even gaming, and that’s quite significant.
They closed it all out with Halo 4, which again wasn’t exactly a surprise. Just an announcement teaser, really. Another big fat Barnes “so what” on that one. Yeah, of course I’ll play it just like everybody else, Holiday 2012. In all, it was a fairly decent presentation without many embarrassments or disappointments. I was really surprised at how decent Kinect appears after being out for months without anything interesting to do with it. It still remains to be seen if all these promises pan out and if it turns into a significant gameplay feature rather than another novelty, but I think if they stick to this concept of Kinect as an optional enhancement for core games then they could be onto something.
Holy shit, Skyrim footage. I need to go get a drool rag, I’m slobberin’.